Friday, September 25, 2009

Subliminal Plagiarism

A few weeks ago, Cathy asked:

I know you read a do you keep the plots and twists and characters that you have previously read about from becoming a part of your book? I mean the leftover spaghetti from Sunday, the corn and green beans we had Monday, and the roasted chicken leftover from tonight will become chicken vegetable soup tomorrow...each part recognizable from some other dinner. How do you make it a "new meal" in your head rather than leftovers you remember?

Click through to The Stiletto Gang today to see my thoughts about subliminal plagiarism. Has this been a concern for those of you who write?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NaNoWriMo: I've lost my mind

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming and I'm taking the plunge.

Every November lunatic writers everywhere--thousands more every year--race to pound out 50,000 words in a single month. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write with reckless abandon, totally and completely ignoring our inner editors. It's about quantity, not quality. "Make no mistake," NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty says on the website, "You will write a lot of crap."

Well. (clearing my throat) I do that anyway.

And the timing is perfect this year. I'm about to wrap up a manuscript. The November 1st start date is the incentive I need to finally finish it. In November, while my agent reviews the draft for Book 2, I'll use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to explore ideas for Book 3.

Stay tuned for the frenzy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Upcoming Mystery Conferences

Janet Rudolph, my virtual go-to gal for everything Mystery, has started a list of upcoming mystery conferences. These events are great fun for authors and fans alike and are invaluable for new writers. I'm planning on Bouchercon (Indianapolis, October), New England Crime Bake (Boston, November), Left Coast Crime (Los Angeles, March), and Malice Domestic (D.C., April). If you're attending, I'd love to say hi in person.

Friday, September 18, 2009

When did you know the manuscript was ready?

Today's post addresses the second part of Sian's question:

When did you know you were ready to approach editors? Did you have your manuscript completely finished with multiple rewrites?

Fiction projects absolutely must be complete and polished before new authors approach agents or editors. Non-fiction is often handled differently, going through a proposal phase first. Since my book was a novel, yes, it was finished with multiple rewrites before I began to query.

While finishing the first draft, I collected and saved the comments from my critique partners as the book unfolded. In special cases, I rewrote scenes or chapters, but for the most part I saved their comments for later and pressed ahead with the next chapter. When I finally reached the end of the first draft, I knew I had a lot of work to go back and fix. I had stacks of notes to prove it.

It took a few months but I systematically went through the manuscript with those notes in hand and changed the things I knew needed to be fixed. These were issues that my critique partners raised that I agreed with. I should say here that I agreed with almost all of their feedback. There were a handful of smaller details that I liked the first way, so I left them alone. A point of interest is that when the book finally sold, one item I didn't fix got called out by my editor. Guess I should have listened the first time.


I changed all the things I'd written in my notes and made a final pass through the manuscript correcting passages and sentences that I thought I could improve. Of course I spell-checked it multiple times.

Then I was at a cross-roads. Send it out as-is or get a professional opinion first? I had little confidence in myself as a writer. Even though my critique partners were mostly encouraging, a part of me wondered if the book would read amateurish to a professional reader. I ended up hiring an author who also worked as a freelance editor.

His feedback was positive and he caught a few plot elements in the story that I made sure to clarify or clean up before querying. He also copy-edited it, which was all the better. When our exchanges were finished, I felt like I had done everything I could do. It was time.

My advice to anyone about to query is to get the book as clean, perfect, and totally polished as you possibly can before you send it out. If you can afford it, hire an editor. If you can't, give it to someone who hasn't read it yet, preferably to someone who is not a relative or a friend.

I had read here, there, and everywhere about the importance of turning in a polished manuscript so I really took it to heart. I feel like that advice served me well so I pass it along here emphatically.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

And by "sales" you mean what, exactly?

Backspace Writers has a long-but-worth-it post today that explains why it's so hard to tell how a book is doing. Here's Noah Lukeman's take on how to gauge a successful book.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How did you stay motivated?

Sian asks a two-part question:
I am new to your blog. As an aspiring writer I have two questions for you. 1)How did you stay motivated? I know you took at least a year off but still managed to persevere and, not only complete your novel, but also get it published. 2)When did you know you were ready to approach editors? Did you have your manuscript completely finished with multiple rewrites? You may have already addressed these two questions in your blog but I thought I'd ask anyways. Sian

Thanks for following the blog, Sian. This post addresses your first point, and I'll talk about the second one next time.

I spent a lot of days thinking about your motivation question. The first thing to share is that I didn't write the book with a goal to have it published. That idea came pretty late in the game, actually. The second thing to share is that I've never been much of a competitor unless the opponent is me, in which case it's on like Donkey Kong.

In marathons and triathlons, for example, I'm a total hack but will always finish. Never mind that real athletes finish in half the time. I don't really care. These are things I do because they're fun and on some level I believe they make me a better person. Trying my hand at writing was similar to committing to my first marathon. In that case, I wanted to find out if I could finish. With writing, I wanted to find out if I could plot a mystery. I loved reading mysteries, never figured them out, and got really curious about how the authors were pulling that off. So I started paying attention to their tricks and tried to think up a story of my own.

Why'd I finish? After thinking about it for a few days, I've decided my critique partners are what kept me motivated. It's kind of like meeting somebody at the gym. You go, even when you don't feel like it, because you know they're waiting for you. Running used to be that way for me. Now I run marathons alone. Writing used to be that way too. Now I write alone too. In most of my bigger life challenges, the support and encouragement of friends got me through until the desired behavior became a personal habit.

Back then I really wanted to impress my critique partners as much as they were impressing me. I had two wonderful on-line writer friends, one on the west coast and one on the east, and we each posted a chapter every Thursday. One woman already had a finished manuscript. So she would take our comments and clean up pages during the week. I, on the other hand, was winging it, coming up with new material every week. The deadlines, though self-imposed and totally voluntary, are what motivated me to keep my head in the story even though I had a day job, two little ones, and a baby on the way.

As work on that first book was wrapping up, I started attending writers' conferences with a mind toward learning more about dialogue, scene, structure, and those sorts of things. Turns out those conferences are equally geared to educating writers about the publishing business. As I sat in a room full of aspiring authors and listened to them ask questions about getting agents and landing contracts, it occurred to me that I'd already gone to the trouble to write the darn thing, maybe I should send it out.

And that's a good breaking point for transitioning to your second question about how I decided when I was ready to do that. I'll talk about that next time.

Wrapping up here, though. We all write for different reasons and I think people find various rewards in all the things that they do. I write for slightly different reasons now but the personal challenge still tops the list. I have no plans or desire to ever quit my day job because working at NASA is kick-ass cool. Writing is still fun, and while I'd like to be successful at it, I don't define success by Amazon rankings, best seller lists, or royalty statements. To be bluntly honest, if my publisher has me back for a second book I will feel like a success. I'll count that one as a success if I'm lucky enough to write a third.

In skydiving we say a good jump is the one you walk away from. In marathoning, a successful race for me is the one I finish. And in writing, so is a successful book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends

ALERT: Today's post is interactive.

Lately I'm getting invitations to do guest blogs around the Internet. A guest blog is when another blogger, in my case usually another author or someone in the publishing community, invites you to write for their blog. Kind of like being a guest on Letterman, only... well, okay. Nothing like being a guest on Letterman. But I had a nice daydream there for a second.

Anyway, guest blogging is a great opportunity for new authors like me because it's a way to reach out to readers who otherwise would never hear our names. It's an honor when someone invites you to their blog. It's their way of showcasing you to all of their followers and friends.

Here's the deal.

When I blog here at Write It Anyway, it's like sitting in my living room with twenty of my closet followers, just kinda chillaxin' in my lounge pants and an oversized tee. I can tell you the stupid things I do, like forgetting how old I am or trying to beat the younger, better looking Rachel Brady in Google rankings, and you don't hold it against me. We're all friends here.

Visiting somebody else's blog is different. I liken it to "first impression" stress. Guest blogging feels more like getting dressed up in fancy clothes and full make-up and trying really, really hard not to say something stupid at the dinner party.

Topics matter. At least they do to me.

So here's where you guys come in. Could you give me a hand with suggestions for upcoming posts? For the writers who subscribe here, is there a question you'd like to have answered? I'd like to make the blog more interactive and I think the best way to accomplish that is to address topics and questions that are on the minds of those of you who are kind enough to stop by.

And a final thought. If nobody comments on this post, that is SO like leaving me hanging for a high five. Please speak up! :-)

...gonna try with a little help from my friends.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Surprising rejection quotes

A nice, short article at Boxing the Octopus about keeping rejection in perspective.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Closet Writing (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Bethany Warner invited me to join her on the Word Nerd (love that name!) blog today as part of her series on authors attending the upcoming Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in October. I wrote a piece confessing my years of closet writing. After Final Approach came out, so did a lot of people I know--they came out of the closet, that is. Secret writers are all around us. :-)