Fatuous Friday: My Summer Reading List

I won't be posting any reviews, but here is my Summer Reading Thing List:

  • Bone Warriors by Bron Bahlmann (Interested to see what a teen can do.)
  • Trail of Storms by Marcia Ward (One of my reviewers told me I had to read it. I am nothing, if not obedient.)
  • A few others that I'm waiting to come out later in the summer


Help! I Queried Too Soon!

Let's say I'm a dingbat and started to query while I was still editing my manuscript. Even with submitting queries via email, I thought it would take several weeks to hear back from anyone. (Everyone writer I know complains about how long it takes to get a response to a query so I thought I was safe.)

But, amazingly, I got a response the next day, requesting a full manuscript. What do I do?

Do I tell them it will be a few weeks before I get back to them? Or do I not say anything and send it when it's ready? Is this going to be a problem? Have I totally wrecked my chances with them?

First off, everyone learn from this writer's mistake. Do not send a query until your novel is ready to go—written, edited and as good as you can make it. (This is not an issue with non-fiction, as those queries are often sent before the book is finished.)

The good news is that unless whomever you sent it to was brand new and desperate for reads, they are either very efficient or you simply got in on the day they were clearing through their query file and sending out responses. Chances are they aren't sitting there tapping their foot, waiting for your full. However, if your query was so awesome that they really, really want to read your mss, they might possibly be wondering what's taking you so long. (I've had a few mss that I was excited to see. I bugged my assistant every day, asking if they had come yet.)

The other good news is your query was probably really good. Really good queries and really bad queries typically get fast responses, while those queries that fall in between take some time to think about. If your mss was good enough to want today, it will be good enough to want in a few weeks—probably.

The bad news is that the longer you wait to submit the full, the higher the reading pile will be on top of it and there's a possibility that someone else will send in something similar to yours and beat you to the punch.

If you can get it done in two weeks, I wouldn't bother responding. I'd just buckle down, work really hard, and do whatever it takes to get that mss finished and off (even if it means taking time off work and neglecting the family). If it's going to take you longer than that, I'd send a very short email (just a few sentences) explaining the situation and letting them know you'll send it as soon as it's ready.


Writing Tip Tuesday: Giving Your Characters Voice

I've read several novels lately where all the characters sound the same; you can't tell them apart without a dialogue tag. Sometimes I've even had to retrace a conversation between two people back to the last dialogue tag and then count them out to know who's talking.

Ooops. Not a good thing.

Here are some tips for giving your characters unique voices:
  • Spend some time getting to know your characters as people. Who are they? What are they like? What's their backstory? When you know your characters well, they become unique individuals to you—with unique language patterns.
  • Give your characters favorite words or expressions. You don't want to overdo this or, well, does "Holy overdone expressions, Batman" give you an idea?
  • Loosely base your characters on people you know—how would they say it? Then tweak it a bit.
  • Go hang out where people like your characters are. Listen to the way they talk. Incorporate that into your dialogue.
  • Read your dialogue aloud—as if you were performing it on stage. Does it sound right?

Readers, what tips or tricks do you use to give (and keep) your characters' voices unique?


Summer Reading Thing 2009!

Join us for the Summer Reading Thing 2009 reading challenge!

SRT 2009 is a low-pressure, easy challenge where you set your own goals for reading fiction by LDS authors.

We did this last year under the title Summer Book Trek. It was a lot of fun.

This year's reading challenge starts in exactly one week. That gives you time to come up with a goal.

Click HERE for details.


Fatuous Friday

Do you ever feel like jumping the LDS ship and moving to New York where you could be rich and famous?

No. I am committed to the LDS industry. Although I might consider working with national titles that promote LDS values and themes.

But I would love to be rich and famous right here in this little niche. (It could happen.) (Maybe.) (Whatever—a girl can dream. . .)

I'm interested in your Whitney picks. And I'm also interested to know if you edited any of the Whitney finalists. But I suspect those questions are in the same category as "who are you?"...

Whitney picks: Two of my picks won.

Editing: Uhm, well, I better not say. However, there were several nominees and finalists that made my red pen twitch.


Very, Very Basic Self-Publishing Tips

I want to talk a little bit about self-publishing. This is becoming more of an option with publishers accepting fewer titles.

First, before jumping into it, get yourself an education. Read up. I recommend The Complete Guide to Self Publishing by Tom and Marilyn Ross. It's complete, it's thorough, and it's balanced.

There are also some good books by Dan Poynter. He has solid information, but he's a little too pie in the sky. It's not quite as easy as he makes it seem.

Here are some basic self-publishing tips:
  • Non-fiction is easier to self-publish and sell than fiction.
  • Before you print anything, get a distributor. If you're targeting the LDS market, you need a distributor that can get your book into the bookstores. If you're going national, you need to get your book into Baker and Taylor and/or Ingram, and on Amazon.
  • Hire a professional editor.
  • Hire a professional typesetter who has experience with books (if they use Word or Word Perfect, they are not professional).
  • Hire a professional book cover designer. (A good graphic designer may or may not know anything about designing for books.)
  • Yes, you need an ISBN number and the correct type of scannable bar code on the back.
  • Yes, you need to register it with the Library of Congress.
  • Create a publishing company with a professional sounding name and list that as the publisher. Do not use your own name. In most cases, advertising that you're self-published is not a good idea.
  • Plan to do a LOT of marketing. Your distributor may or may not actually market your book. Find out what they do and don't do, and then make up the difference. (What's "the difference"—read one of the books I suggested.)
  • Plan to do a lot of hand-selling of your book.
  • Lower your sales expectations. Do not print 10,000 copies at first. I recommend starting with a POD printer. The per book cost is higher, but you won't end up with 2,000 copies sitting in your garage.


What's With All the Fantasy?

I noticed in the Whitney Awards that not only is there a Speculative Fiction category, but all of the Youth Fiction category nominees were fantasy. What's with all the fantasy?

Uhmm, that's what is popular right now.

The Whitney's, being a reader nominated award, is going to reflect the general popularity. Right now, fantasy is hot in youth fiction. That's what everyone is buying and reading. (And by "everyone," I mean lots and lots of people.)

Which is a pain for people who don't like fantasy.

But eventually, the pendulum will swing back. The masses will get tired of fantasy and you'll see more realistic novels coming back. When that happens, other genre fiction will show up in the Youth Fiction category.


Writing Tip Tuesday: Paragraph Length

This tip was prompted by a question:
At my last writers group meeting, I was told that my paragraphs were way too long. Can you give me an idea of appropriate paragraph length? Is is a certain number of sentences? How do I know when to make a new paragraph? Help!

First, let's define "paragraph".

Short answer: A paragraph is "a distinct portion of written or printed matter dealing with a particular idea." (Dictionary.com)

Longer, more detailed answer: CLICK HERE.

A paragraph can be anywhere from one sentence (even one word) to a dozen sentences or more. In today's world, shorter is better. (When editing, I frequently add paragraph breaks; rarely do I suggest combining paragraphs.) When a reader sees a page that is all one paragraph or has one long paragraph after another, they stop reading. It's visually overwhelming. Breaking your text up into paragraphs makes it much easier to read.

So, when do you start a new paragraph?
  • When a new person speaks
  • When you start a new topic
  • When you move to a new time or location
  • When you need to give your reader a break or rest
  • When you want to create a dramatic effect


Grammatically Correct, But Oh So Wrong

While editing my WIP I came to the realization the my characters often begin to. They begin to cry. They begin to run. They begin...well you get the point. At first I laughed because it was funny. Do these guys ever get around to doing anything? Then I realized it wasn't so funny because I was the one who did it and I had to fix it. Thank heaven for the search function. That got me thinking. So I searched for started to, able to, and seems to. (I blush at how long this took.) So now my characters run, cry, jump, eat, etc. It reads better but I'm wondering...what other problems are lurking in my WIP that I skim over because I've read it so many times? (And my wonderful readers have missed too?)

So here's my question. What problems do you often see in manuscripts that are grammatically correct - yet awkward? Do you have a list of common errors that writers should search for while editing?

All of your examples fall under the category of "passive voice"—something that should rarely be used. Pretty much any verb followed by to is passive. Other indicators are verb phrases that use a form of be—such as am, are, been, is, was, were. Also look for the phrase by the or just by after the verb. CLICK HERE for a great list of passive tense verbs.

One note on passive voice: Sometimes it may be appropriate. For example, in first person dialogue. The key is to use it consciously and for a specific reason.

Other common things that I see and regularly delete or change:
  • author's favorite words (varies by author)
  • too many adverbs and adjectives
  • of (as in "He jumped out of the window.")
  • overused words—just, that, however, so, because, although, etc. (CLICK HERE for a great list of examples.)
  • names that end in s—this is a personal thing. It's just so visually awkward to make possessive or plural
  • another personal peeve—irregular verbs that have been forced to be regular, for example, lighted. I change it back to lit.

(P.S. Everything went as expected. All is well.)


Writing Tip Tuesday: Give it a Rest!


Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your writing is to take a break. This is especially true during the editing phase. Let it sit for a day or week. Then go back to it with fresh eyes and a fresh brain.

It's also good to take an occasional day away from your story to just go play, relax, have fun. Energize the creative side of you.

Of course, I don't recommend taking a break if you're on a roll or if you're way behind deadline. But every once in a while, give it a rest.

And I'm going to follow my own advice. I'm having a medical procedure (routine, nothing serious) that requires follow-up pain killers and who knows what I'd write under that influence. So I'm taking a break for the rest of the week. Go browse through past posts—commenting on old posts enters you into the contest to win the books in the sidebar. Or head over to the LDS Fiction site. We've got new titles popping up every day for awhile.


Getting on My Black List

A commenter asked this question, referring to this post:

What ELSE will land an author on the never-publish-this-person list?

There are only two things that will get you on this list.

1) Dishonesty—which includes plagiarism (as mentioned in the previous post), also lying to me, and unethical behavior with past publishers


2) Being too hard to work with. This includes personality conflict issues, fighting me on every single thing, refusing to market their book, behaving in ways that make it harder to sell their books—basically being obnoxious and/or clueless and refusing to change.

This is what gets you on MY list. Other publishers, editors and agents may have different things on their lists.


Fatuous Friday

Welcome to the first of the Friday all-about-me posts, where I answer your questions about me without giving you any real information as to my true identity. Fatuous Friday will continue as long as you continue to ask questions about me, or until I get bored, whichever comes first.

Why did you go into publishing?

  1. I love words, books, reading, stories.

  2. I have an ego the size of Texas and believe I can polish up anyone's work and make it shine like a diamond.

  3. Someone dared me to do it and I didn't have anything better to do with my time. (This is true, btw.)


Image Copyrights

I would like to use a few graphics in the book. Is there a specific form or format that you need the approval from the source to be in?

For instance, the cover. I can find the artist and ask permission to use his/her work, but would a simple email stating that he/she has allowed me to use it suffice?

What if the artist has died many years ago and dozens of art dealers sell the same picture? Do I still need to get permission from someone to use the Art?

As an author or self-publisher, a simple e-mail will do it most of the time. Just be sure you've contacted the correct person and that they, indeed, own the rights to the work.

As a publisher, I required a little more from my authors because I was not contacting the original source myself. I had a contract they could use. In some cases, I needed the contract notarized.

Even if an artist has died and others sell the artwork, it still may be protected. You have to do your research to find out if it's protected (then yes, you need permission) or if it's in public domain (no, you don't need permission).

I've mentioned The Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers, Editors and Publisher by Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C Schechter before, but I highly recommend it for anyone (read: everyone) writing non-fiction and quoting other sources. I got mine at my local Barnes and Noble, but it's also available on Amazon.

This is a reasonably priced book and has lots and lots of really good information on the topic, including how to tell what's protected and what's not, getting permissions and releases on artwork (and literary works), how to find artists, and sample contracts in the appendix (including ones for art).

There is another very good book, Kirsch's Handbook Of Publishing Law: For Authors, Publishers, Editors And Agents by Jonathan Kirsch, but it's currently out of print and not available at Amazon. It was also pretty pricey when it was in print. This one I recommend to agents, editors and publishers.


Self-Editing Before You Submit

Julie Coulter Bellon class on self-editing was wonderful! Oh how I wish I could make her notes into a booklet and make it mandatory reading before submission. (Julie, we should talk. . .)

I cannot tell you how many manuscripts I've rejected over the years due to the issues Julie discussed in her class. (Lots and lots.) Too many errors will cause a good story to be rejected simply because of the time it would take to clean it up.

Julie covered basic editing (CLAW—4 Secrets to Self-Editing) and Deep Editing. Just a few of the items she mentioned were:
  • Spelling and grammar errors—run your spelling and grammar check but don't rely on it to find all the mistakes.
  • Watch out for too many adverbs and adjectives, inconsistent tense and subject/verb confusion, clich├ęs and repititious words, and POV problems.
  • Let others read your mss before sending it out.
  • Print and read a hard copy. On-screen editing is not good enough.
  • Take a break (days or weeks) and come back to it when your eyes are fresh.
  • Create a checklist of things to look for that are specific to you—your favorite overused words and phrases, your problem areas.
  • Create a big picture checklist, covering things like voice, chapter hooks, character motivation, story timeline and other things an editor will be looking for.

It's very important to send your very best, highly polished work out.


Writing Tip Tuesday: Super Glue, Epoxy and Duct Tape

One of the most common laments from new writers—and even from more experienced writers who have fallen off track—is, "Where do I find the time to write?"

The answer is, you don't FIND it. You MAKE it.

Simple as that. We all have people and responsibilities tugging us away from our computer or notebook. Whether it's the distraction of the television or Internet, or the very real need to support a family, we've all got reasons not to write.

What you have to find are the reasons inside yourself TO write—that burning desire that won't go away. Stoke it every chance you get. I guarantee that if you really, really want to write, you'll be able to eke out a few minutes here and there to do it—even if it's only 15 minutes a day.

It's all about choices. Choose to write. Choose when and where. Then support your choice. Do whatever it takes to get yourself in front of your computer and stay there during your allotted time—even if it takes a little duct tape.


No-No's That Stop an Editor Cold

Janette Rallison started her class at LDStorymakers with a statement that all of you should understand: Agents, editors and publishers will continue reading your manuscript until you give them a reason to stop.

Any of the items listed below are reasons to stop reading:
  • Problems with POV
  • Improper use of dialog tags
  • Starting your book too far away from the world-changing event that propels your characters
  • Lack of character motivation and/or goals
  • Sentence structure and grammar issues

Janette went into detail on these and other no-no's and gave examples of correct and incorrect ways to deal with them.

Before you submit, be sure to check and double-check your manuscript for these things.

P.S. Conference photos are up.


May 2009 Prize Sponsors

Last month's prize winners announced HERE.

Please take a moment to learn more about our wonderfully generous sponsors.

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Agent in Old Lace by Tristi Pinkston

Shannon Tanner has it all, a perfect family, perfect job, perfect boyfriend—or so she thinks. What Shannon doesn't know is that her boyfriend, Mark, is stealing money from her father and making millions doing it. When Shannon learns Mark's secret, he turns on her, and Shannon's life abruptly goes from perfect to perilous.

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