Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Not Everyone Should Start With A Seven-Volume Series

I know we've started talking plot, but I came upon a post at Write It Sideways that deals with getting started with a writing career. Since The Weekend Writer is all about getting started (it's been here at OC for four months, and we're still working on finding stories), I thought it would be appropriate to pause and focus on Want Agents to Read Your Novel? Do This First.

Now, we haven't found our stories yet, as I mentioned in the above paragraph, so forget about agents right now. Instead, pay attention to what Suzannah Windsor Freeman has to say in Do This First. I'm talking the do this first part--developing a publishing history.

So often I hear people who have never written anything at all talk about writing a book. I've heard elementary school students talk about writing books. Books--they are big things. They involve enormous amounts of time and effort and knowledge of writing process. And then, if you manage to finish one, you may find yourself having a lot of difficulty getting anyone, agents or editors, to even look at it because you've never done anything to indicate that you know how to or are capable of writing a book.

Does that sound unfair? I don't think so. In what other field of work would you be considered for a a job that's the metaphorical equivalent of publishing a book without having had a previous job, an internship, or an academic background relevant to the work you want to do? Not many. But when people who have never written anything but the book they think is publishable send it off to agents and editors that's what they're trying to do.

Read Do This First. Think about how you can create the portfolio Windsor Freeman describes. Note that she makes the point that not only will a portfolio help you get attention from agents and editors,  you will actually be improving your writing with the short fiction and essays you produce.

That's why agents and editors want to see that you've written something besides the book-length manuscript you're submitting, something an editor found publishable. It indicates that you have learned how to write.

Friday, June 28, 2013

July Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar

Wed., July 24, Frank Dormer, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 4:00 PM. Superhero drawing demonstration.Contact bookstore to reserve seat.

Sat., July 27, Janet Lawler, Fish Tales, Tugs, & Sails, New London Waterfront, 12:00 to 12:30 PM Story time

Sat., July 27, Anna Westbrook, Fish Tales, Tugs, & Sails, New London Waterfront, 2:30 to 3:00 PM Reading

Sat., July 27, Mollie Wilson, Fish Tales, Tugs, & Sails, New London Waterfront, 1:20 to 1:50 PM

Tues., July 30, Janet Lawler, R. J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, 10:30 AM. Story time.

Tues., July 30, Janet Lawler, Farmington Public Library, Main Branch,
Farmington, 3:30 PM Story time and games

Remember, you can access this calendar at any time by using the link in the side bar to your left.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Celebrity Author Thing

It's been a while since I've had anything to say about celebrity authors. Six years, in fact. And more. I have an outsider's attitude toward the subject, meaning that I don't have the same attitude as some of my blogging buddies. I really can't rouse a lot of ire on the subject.

I'm only thinking about this at all today because Ms. Yingling brought it up in relation to My Teacher and Me by Al Yankovic. Ms. Y. notes some of the on-line feeling "against celebrity authors," but, she says, "this is WEIRD AL. I liked When I Grow Up, and am really, really looking forward to reading this new book."

I'm not on Ms. Yingling's level as far as Yankovic love goes, but I have enjoyed and appreciated his work from time to time over the years. I recognize that he has worked and has maintained a career over a long period of time. Isn't that what he's known for? His work? And should he be punished for all that work by having new work rejected because he's known for the first work he did?

I think a big factor in the celebrity author issue is the actual meaning of the word celebrity. And, sure enough, an argument can be made that the definition has evolved.

In Toward a New Definition of Celebrity, Neal Gabler says that cultural historian Daniel Boorstin described a celebrity as a "person who is known for his well-knownness," someone who has no "substantiality." This was back in the '60s, and it's a definition of celebrity I am familiar with. It's a big part of the reason that I don't see people like Madonna or Jamie Lee Curtis or Henry Winkler as celebrity authors. Whatever the quality of their writing may be, these are people who have worked and achieved a level of success in a particular field. That  is why they are known. They are not simply known for their well-knowness, famous for being famous.

Gabler feels that Boorstin's definition doesn't work, though, because so many of the people we think of as celebrities actually have become famous for having achieved something. (Like Madonna, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Henry Winkler.) They are known for having done something. I would argue that the word is just being used incorrectly, but maybe this is a case of the cow is out of the barn, forget about closing the door. People have been applying the word celebrity  to describe people who have become famous for the high quality of their work and now that's what it has come to mean 

But if that's the case, how can celebrities be condemned for trying to pursue a new line of work (as in writing a children's book) because they've been successful in their original line of work?

A question unrelated to celebrity authors--if the word "celebrity" is used to describe those who are famous for what they have done, what do we use to describe the Kardasians and Kate Gosselins of the world, people who truly are famous merely for being famous?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Adult Thrillers Retooled For Teens

I just finished reading Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon. (The paperback comes out next month, by the way.) I was only a few pages in when I thought, Wow, this character, Noa Torson, has a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo vibe. We're talking a seriously computer literate young girl character living on her own who even has a Scandinavian name. (I think we're told it's Danish, while Lisbeth Salander is Swedish.) Clearly making that connection was not a novel idea on my part. Gagnon's website describes the book as "A technothriller: GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO for Teens."

I actually liked this book better than Dragon Tattoo, which I didn't finish because it seemed very bloated and dragged. (I saw all the Swedish movies made from the trilogy, just to keep me in the loop.) I did think the point of view switches between Noa, who, when we first meet her has just woken up on some kind of gurney and has what sounds like a pressure bandage on her chest, and Peter, whose home is invaded during his introduction by men in black types who appear to know his parents and take his laptop, slowed things down a bit. I also wasn't crazy about suddenly bringing in a third point of view around the halfway point. I think it's also around the halfway point that we come to realize that this isn't just a thriller. It now  also has what could be described a science fiction angle. I will admit, however, that that these points are all author talk. General readers probably aren't going to obsess about the kinds of things I obsess about.

For general readers, this is a book that is not a fantasy, not a mean girls story, not a romance. It's a plot driven adventure/thriller/mystery with some scifi thrown in that's set in real world Boston. I'm sure there are teenagers who would be relieved to get their hands on this. It's the first book in a trilogy, of course.

An interesting point, I think: Michelle Gagnon is the author of four adult thrillers. Don't Turn Around was her first book for YAs. It reminded me of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber. That was Schreiber's first book for YAs after having begun his career writing horror and Star Wars novels. We're talking another teen thriller. Both books could easily have been written for the adult readers the authors usually write for by simply adding a decade to the main characters' ages.

Another similar book is I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. Lyga isn't an adult genre writer turning to YA. He's always been a YA author. But I Hunt Killers has that same kind of adult thriller reworked for teenagers feeling to it. We're talking a Dexter-type of story, with a Dexter character as a teenager, before he goes off the rails and gives in to blood lust.

Which adult books could we see in YA next?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Checking On This Year's Goals And Objectives

Remember those goals and objectives we all created for this year back on New Year's Day? Yes? Hmm? Well, we're at the halfway point in the year. It's time to check in with them to see how we're doing, which goals and objectives we've completed, which ones we're working, which ones we want to focus upon in the next few months, which ones we need to tweak, and, possibly, which ones we should be eliminating altogether.

Goal 1. Publish Saving the Planet eBook at the end of January. It was published in February, but it has been published.

Goal 2. Publicize Saving the Planet throughout the year. To date, I have visited several hundred blogs and environmental sites looking for appropriate spots to contact regarding reviews. I've only contacted between 30 and 40 because of that "appropriate" issue. Many bloggers do not accept self-published books or do not accept eBooks or focus on a specific genre or are no longer accepting books for review at all. The Internet attention the book has received, to date, is archived at my website. I continue to collect sites to contact and try to e-mail a few each week. I'm also pulling together sites that are interested in guest posts and working on some guest post ideas to pitch to them. Various marketing efforts will continue until at least the end of the year.

Goal 3. Maintain Time Management Tuesday project. I had four objectives for this goal:
  1. Continue Tuesday posts at least twice a month during this second year.  Except for two Tuesdays, I believe I've managed weekly posts, which included two special multi-week projects, one on willpower and one on meditation. I'm planning a summer reading project for TMT in the coming months.
  2. Read The Power of Habit  Done
  3. Plan NESCBWI time management workshop for May. Workshop planned and conducted.
  4. Look for opportunities to write on the subject. I hope to combine this objective with Goal 2, creating a guest post that will help publicize the Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook.
Goal 4. Submission Binge I have four objectives for this goal:
  1. Plan a month or two period to do revisions and submit, probably September and October  I did a binge in March  that wasn't all that successful. I made only 3 submissions, 2 of which I'm still waiting on. But I can try for another month this fall.
  2. Look for markets in the months leading up to that point. I'd like to start making a little market research for short fiction/nonfiction a regular weekend practice. No success with that yet. I did do some reading during my March Madness binge and frequently posted links to favorite finds at my professional Facebook page.
  3. By July have one or two old stories selected and be working on them to make use of "archived" material. I actually did a revision of one of the stories I submitted. It was some of the most satisfying writing I've done in a long time.
Goal 5. Write and submit an essay on blogging. I have ideas for two blogging essays now. This is still a viable goal.

Goal 6. Work on an outline for "mummy book" during May Days. Three objectives:
  1. Finish reading Wired for Story because I think we organic writers often don't know what our story is prior to writing, which makes plotting difficult. Done prior to May
  2. At least skim The Plot Whisperer for same reason Did this during May and just finished it maybe a week ago.
  3. Go over old research for this project and continue with more. Got a lot done on this
I made a lot of profess on this goal. I'd like to get one specific plot point resolved, before trying to move on with the project.

Goal 7. Continue with community building. I had eight objectives for this goal, all of which I've addressed to some extent. Most recently I have created a method here at the blog so that readers can get to the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar at any time and I've applied to attend a writers' retreat this fall.

Goal 8. Publish a free Hannah and Brandon e-short story to support the Hannah and Brandon eBooks published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. Earlier this year I decided that if I write a new Hannah and Brandon short story, I'll try to publish it traditionally. This could be worked in with the Submission Binge goal.

Goal 9. Plan publication of My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth eBooks for winter, 2014.
By February I was already having second thoughts about this goal. I'm definitely putting it off. The Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook isn't doing well enough at this point to justify the big investment of time it would take to publish more eBooks this coming winter. I do have the rights back to Club Earth now, which was one of my objectives for this goal, and I can always put this entire goal into play sometime in the future.

Over the next six months, I would much rather work on the following:

New Goal A. Revising Becoming Greg and Emma for adult readers.

New Goal B. Working on a first draft of "The Mummy" book.

New Goal C. Begin researching agents for adult work who might be interested in Greg and Emma.

Okay, so do we all feel we've made good use of our time so far? Do we all know what to focus our time upon for the rest of the year?

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Do The Gauthiers Talk About When They Get Together?

We have a moving images archivist in our family who has been maintaining a site, and later a blog, on television history for ten years. Recently we were discussing the amount of content that people like ourselves can generate on-line over a decade.

Archivist Gauthier pointed out that unless someone does an Internet search on a specific subject that we wrote about back in, say, 2007, our perfectly good material is going to be pretty much buried under all the copy we've written in the intervening years. To deal with that issue, he's planning to dip into his vault on a regular basis in order to expose his present readers to work they wouldn't otherwise know about.

When he told me his plan, I looked at him and said, "Why, that must be why Liz B. is republishing older reviews." She's pointing new readers to material they never saw and reminding long-time readers about older books. (Bless her.)

Just a couple of months ago, I set up a link in my side bar so that readers can access the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar at any time. No hunting for it. After the little professional gabfest with my family member, I've added two more links. Look over to your left, and you'll see that you can also pull up all the  Time Management Tuesday and The Weekend Writer posts. That doesn't take you way back into OC's past (the Time Management Tuesday series goes back the farthest, and that's only a year and a half), but it is a beginning attempt to make some of that original content more available.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Weekend Writer Takes A Day Off

This weekend writer spent today helping some family members move. I managed to do some professional reading this afternoon, but I'm afraid it wasn't about writing process. No plotting today.

Friday, June 21, 2013

This Is Going To Encourage Me In A Not Very Good Way

One of the first things Mitali Perkins did after moving to California was hit a studio to record an intro for an audio book. She did an excellent post at her blog describing the experience.

I, of course, picked up on a minute detail and got carried away with it. Mitali described her history with reading aloud, including "...when I read in church, I strive for reverence and excellence..." I had to stop there and ponder my own sad attitude toward my moments at the pulpit. I read in church once or twice a year, and I tend to treat each trip to the front of the sanctuary as an opportunity to up my public reading game. Which, I guess, isn't exactly reverent.

I focus on using a little theatricality to convey meaning, which, of course, means I have to understand the passage in the first place. This can sometimes mean e-mailing the minister to say, "What the heck, Bob?" The version of the Bible my church uses has an on-line site where I can download the passage I'm reading and enlarge the text. Seriously, I mark it up for pronunciation and note spots I want to emphasize. I rehearse for a day or two ahead of time. Unless I'm really pressed for prep time, I try to be comfortable enough with the text so that I can periodically look up and appear to be making eye contact with audience members--I mean members of the congregation. That's why I like to read from the enlarged text I downloaded from the Internet instead of the pew Bible. The larger text means I'm less likely to lose my place after I've looked up at my listeners

I don't really worry a lot about going over the top with these performances because we're supposed to be a Christian community and be supportive of one another, right? Plus, if you end up reading in the summer, as I sometimes do, there's hardly anyone there to care. On top of that, I figure if the deacons don't like what I do, they'll have a board meeting and vote not to ask me back. Since I don't take offense easily, that's not a source of anxiety for me.

I suspect that now that I've read about Mitali's trip to the studio and I know that writers sometimes record audio for their own books, I will behave even worse in church.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Something Dark For Me

Jonathan Stroud is the author of one of my favorite books, Ptolemy's Gate. I've had a copy of Stroud's book, Heroes of the Valley, on my To Be Read heap for a couple of years. I bought it at a yard sale from a professor who was selling hundreds of books. It was a beautiful October day. Ah, a lovely memory.

Heroes of the Valley is not my favorite Stroud book. The story is slow getting started for my taste. The disturbance to main character Halli Sveinsson's world, and disturbances are what initiate plot, doesn't come for a while. I never got over that.

The book has a couple of interesting aspects, though. First off, the basic setup involves a valley dotted with twelve houses/villages founded by twelve heroes. Their descendants are the lords of the manor, so to speak. The heroes lived in a rough and tumble time when creatures called Trows were a danger to the people of the valley and the heroes, including Halli's ancestor Swein, fought them.

Okay, this sounds a little run-of-the-mill. The unique twist here is that the tales of Svein's exploits have just a bit of an undertone of ugliness. I like that. I am someone who finds the so-called hero Odysseus a bully and a nasty piece of work. Stroud's portrayal of Svein falls into that same kill-and-take-and-sing-my-praises vein.

I also appreciated the fact that Halli Sveinsson and his sidekick/love interest Aud Ulfar's-daughter aren't particularly likeable people. They are put upon and hassled by other characters who are even less likable, but, still, our leads are not traditional, cookie cutter book people readers want to identify with. I get very tired of likable characters, personally. I am unable to identify with them, as a general rule.

It was these dark aspects of Heroes of the Valley that kept me reading.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I'm Finding This Overwhelming Rather Than Inspiring

Early on in my blogging career, I spent quite a bit of time stalking JaneYolen on-line. This wasn't as bad as it sounds, because she was my virtual sensei/mentor. It was no problem for her, because she knew nothing about it. No idea I existed. I  had to give the stalking up, though, not because she found out about it and called the law, but because I began to feel that spending so much time with her wasn't  good for me. She is mind-bogglingly productive, and she maintains a social life I can only dream of.

Well, after I started using Feedly reader to keep track of my blogs, I was better able to manage blog reading, so I took courage in hand and added Jane's. Earlier this week I found a great piece of flash nonfiction blog writing that she had done. But then today I found one of those round-ups she writes in which she relates info about the incredible amount of work she did in two weeks and the huge number of people she saw, people she wasn't related to and wasn't responsible for taking care of in some way. I know  I should find her inspirational, and I should make her my role model. But this is just two days after I did a whinefest here. I'm feeling more intimidated and embarrassed than inspired.

Perhaps I should  start stalking Shannon Hale. She sounds kind of worn out, and I think I might make a  better match with her than with Jane. Shannon and I could take naps while Jane's out shopping and having dinner with friends, after having done lunch with her agent.

Oh, wait. I just remembered. I'm not supposed to desire the life of others because desire leads to unhappiness. Right. Thank goodness. Now, I'm feeling better.

Off to work on an essay and an outline.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: The Fourth And Last Week Of Developing Discipline With Meditation

I've seen a little bit around the Internet lately about writers feeling pressure to write faster and more. Meditation, I suspect, is just not about speed. I've already used the watched-pot-never-boils metaphor/cliche in relation to meditation. If it is going to improve concentration and discipline, meditation should help us stay on task with work and manage time better. Yeah, maybe we'll be able to work faster. But how quickly is that going to happen?

Here's a little tale I may have told here before but not in relation to meditation. It may illustrate how meditation works:

Eleven years ago, I started training in taekwondo. After a few weeks of hating class and only sticking with it because I'd paid for three months and I was too cheap to leave that money on the table, endorphins started kicking in and I was totally into the other-world experience I was living during my hours in the dojang. I was into it.

I found an old beat up book on martial arts in my local library. This is one of those mystical book type deals where you are probably the first person in years to touch a volume on a shelf, and it has something just for you. The book has been waiting for you. In this case, what the book had for me was the advice that I should train for the sake of training. I totally got that. I didn't know anything about rank advancement when I started. I never cared about it. I just liked to train. My only goal was to have my dobak clean for the next class.

The martial art experience was so huge to me that I believed something from it would surely extend into other aspects of my life. My work, for instance. Something good was going to happen with how I worked because I was doing taekwondo. I kept waiting and waiting. What would it be?

A couple of years ago, I realized that I was writing for the sake of writing. I wasn't selling anything anymore. Blog readership and feedback and dropped dramatically. I wasn't getting any of the traditional rewards people get from their work. I was simply working for the sake of the work, just as I trained for the sake of training. And I had been doing it for a while. I just hadn't noticed. It had become part of my work life without me being aware of it. No bells and whistles or releasing of balloons.

My point? I suspect something similar will happen with meditation. If I am able to keep up the practice, at some point I will notice an impact on my work, probably one I don't expect and can't predict. It will be something that will have become part of my work life without me being aware of it. No bells and whistles or releasing of balloons.

Actually, that's kind of exciting. What will it be?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Writing And Care Giving

Shannon Hale has a post up on tumbler today called Writing and Mother: How I (Sort of) Do Both, in which she lays down a few hard truths about working and parenting. She uses the term "care giver" several times, and if she had used it in the title of her piece, it would have made it more universal, capable of covering more of human experience. The experience of elder care, for instance, which is remarkably like child care in terms of the time and effort and degree of intensity involved.

Hale says, "I need help." Yes, care givers do. After years of working to keep one elder in her apartment, her condition deteriorated to the point that she needed placement in a skilled nursing facility. For the other elder, we have given up trying to maintain her home ourselves. Landscapers do her lawn and driveway. We hire contractors for house maintenance. We're going to be looking for contractors to do some work in our own yard. But even the search for the help seems to be too time consuming.

Hale says, "The balance is insane." To which I have to say, "What balance?" There's nothing even remotely like balance here.

Hale says, "I can write. I can mother. And that’s it." Yes, I can sort of write. I can sort of take care of a variety of family problems. I can barely manage my own life maintenance. (We haven't had much time to eat particularly well these last two years, which may have been a factor in my illness last month.) And that's it. All the things Hale talks about giving up are gone for me, too.

Hale says, "I take a day of rest." She's right. She should. I should. The family problems and commitments don't take weekends off. Not even Sundays.

Hale says, "Writing is not a hobby."  I fear nearly every day that I will get to the point when I am only writing when I have absolutely nothing else to do. And then I will have to accept that I am not a writer any more.

Hale: "I know it’s the right thing for me." Gauthier: "It's pretty much the only thing for me. I've kind of worked myself into a box here."

Hale ends her  post by pointing out that not everyone has to write, that it's possible to be happy doing other things while raising children. I'll end mine by pointing out that writers aren't the only people struggling with work and care giving. We just are so very aware of it because we have so little in the way of boundaries between our professional and personal lives.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Beginning To Play With Plot

I put off discussing plot, because it's so difficult. Many people complain about plotting. It's particularly a problem for organic writers such as myself. We have this overall impression of a profound and meaningful concept or situation, but we don't have the details down. And plot, which is the series of causal steps that make up a story, has a lot to do with detail.

So many people have trouble with plot  you'd assume that it's a good thing that so much is written about it. There are lots and lots of plot planning information and how-tos out there. Over the next few weeks, I'll be writing about some of them. To get started, take a look at Why The Hero's Journey is a Tourist Trap by Lisa Cron (Wired for Story), which appeared at Writer Unboxed just this past week.

The Hero's Journey describes common elements that occur in mythic tales and even some contemporary ones. In the years since it was first identified by Joseph Campbell, it has become the basis for workshops and books on plotting. In Cron's article for Writer Unboxed, she argues that writers should start with character before plot and that conforming to a plot pattern like the very formal one involved with the Hero's Journey doesn't necessarily mean creating a a particularly compelling story. It's just a structure.

Cron says, "Focus on the story first, then worry about structure..." But, remember, that means knowing your story in the first place.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gail's Environmental Book Club

Nearly a month ago, I did a post called Environmental Book Club, listing green books for kids. I stuck with lists from The Nature Generation's Green Book Award because the book descriptions there seemed the least pedantic and heavy handed. In hunting for green books elsewhere it seemed to me that writing about the environment and environmentalists, ecology and ecologists, nature and naturalists always sounded instructive and dead serious. You want to argue that these are subjects which people need to be instructed about because they are dead serious? My response to that is, Yeah. Good luck with that. Does the expression "humorless treehugger" mean nothing to you?

I am beginning a quest, people, a quest to find environmental/ecological/nature related books, for various age groups, that do not read like textbooks or sermons. There's got to be some out there. I'm sympathetic to the cause, and I still want my green talk palatable.

I've found a very palatable green book to begin with. It even has a recipe.

The Rainforest Grew All Around (for ages 3 to 7) by Susan Mitchell with illustrations by Connie McLennan is a lovely book that an adult reader can adapt to the interests of very young children and keep adapting as they grow  older.

"On the ground,
there fell a seed....
the fluffiest seed
that you ever did see.

The seed in the ground,
and the rainforest grew
all around, all around,
the rainforest grew all around."

As you read on, a variety of things happen to the seed and near it. "...there grew a tree...the tallest tree that you ever did see."  A cat lays in the tree, and near the cat there is a vine. More and more things appear around the tree and the accounting for all these creatures and plants involves a lovely repeated pattern:

"The vine near the cat,
and the cat in the tree,
and the tree from the seed,
and the seed in the ground."

At the end of each page of  text, we get an actual repeated passage:

"and the rainforest grew
all around, all around,
the rainforest grew all around."

For reading with very young children, an adult reader might want to leave out the repeated pattern and move from the introduction of the new forest element directly to "and the rainforest grew..." When the children are older, you can read the whole thing. (It's like a new book!) When the children are still older, you can add the educational sidebar info. "Thick woody vines called lianas are usually as thick as an adult's arm."

For teachers using this book (or parents who just have to be instructive) there are two pages of educational type things at the back. And there is a recipe for Rainforest Cookies, which use several ingredients that come from the rainforest. (Bananas, for instance.) I just made them. They're a little cakey for my taste, but a nice flavor.

There are no value judgments being made in this book. There's no talk of damage to the rainforest, there's no call to action. Child readers can just feel part of that environment. The Rainforest Grew All Around is a beautiful looking and beautiful sounding book that children can grow up with.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's A Self-Publishing Author To Do?

I've been collecting articles on self-publishing, and this post is an attempt to lay them out in some kind of meaningful order. They deal with conflicting attitudes toward the subject.

First off, The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book at Media Shift. I think a similar article appeared at last summer's IndieRecon. In a nutshell, this writer contends that self-publishing can cost from $3,600 to $37,000. (That's in round numbers.) The high end figure is for a book that needs a lot of editing and whose author has purchased reviews at Kirkus, Publishers Weekly Select, and BlueInk Reviews. Be sure to read some of the early comments on this article. I've read elsewhere to expect to pay around $1,000, anyway, but that's for a book that's not had much done for it in the way of professional editing or marketing or, probably, cover art and design.

The big expense for self-published writers is developmental editing, so finding a good editor is important. Jane Friedman's site offers 5 Ways to Find the Right Freelance Book Editor

Freaked out by the possible expense involved with self-publishing? Friedman has created a graphic describing the Key Book Publishing Paths that could help self-publishing authors come up with the best publishing plan for the money they have to spend.

Okay, so now you've spent your money and published your book. How many copies do you have to sell to Make a Self-Published Bestseller? Answer: A lot.

The future is no fun: Self-publishing is the worst got a lot of attention when it was published at Salon early last month. Again, interesting comments. This guy's self-publishing experience had barely begun, and he was already disappointed. A lack of understanding about how to market a self-published book looks to have been a factor here.

The Future Of Self-Publishing  deals with traditional writers' anxiety that self-publishing "is an awful lot  of work" and involves "a steep learning curve." The author, Suw Charman-Anderson, is realistic about  self-publishers' chances of getting reviews. "Access to book reviewers, for example," she says, "can be problematic for the self-published. At the very least it’s highly time-consuming to do the research into which reviewers read in your genre and which of those accept unsolicited books from self-published authors. At worst, there’s a whole swathe of reviewers who are simply out of reach of self-publishers." But she holds out hope that things will change, that eventually it will take less of self-published authors' time to get going and the financial burden of hiring freelancers will lessen if their careers move along faster.

So today's links suggest that for all the self-publishing angst being experienced now, there is still a chance that the self-publishing model will become more and more workable.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Week Three Of Developing Discipline With Meditation

If this were not a discipline initiative, I would continue with the mediation but blow off writing about it here because meditation is one of those things that's difficult to see results from. What am I supposed to tell you here, particularly in relation to meditation and time management? No, I am not noticing any big difference in my management of time, especially since I've had unusual things going on here the last few weeks in relation to my nonworking life. Sickness, sick relatives, elder care--those things pop up at their pleasure and wreak havoc with a work schedule, making it difficult to determine whether or not something you're trying is having an impact on your self-discipline.

As if two weeks of doing anything would have an impact.

This is the issue, though, with much of what we writers do with our time. Everything is a gamble, and we often can't tell if the gamble paid off. Will the ten or fifteen minutes spent meditating instead of writing make a difference and when? Will the time spent developing workshops and author presentations instead of writing advance our careers? Will the time spent studying process instead of just hoping all the words come out on the paper okay mean a real improvement in our work? Will the time spent self-publishing an out-of-print book generate sales for it? Or should we have worked on a new book instead? And, of course, the question that is raised over and over again and never, ever answered because no one can--does the increasing amount of time authors spend marketing instead of writing make one bit of difference to their professional lives?

The ten-to-fifteen minutes a day I'm spending on meditating instead of writing is nothing compared to all the other so-called work related activities I'm involved with instead of writing.

Brain Pickings has a little essay relating to Annie Dillard and the tradeoffs between presence and productivity, though it's less about the gambling I'm talking about and more about living mindfully. Not terribly helpful for those of us who really want to produce more, but those who don't want to forget "how to be truly present in the gladdening mystery of life" might appreciate it.

Next week will conclude our Developing Discipline With Meditation arc here at OC. After that, I'm going to do a time management summer reading series. We'll begin with Manage Your Day To Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, which is already loaded onto my Kindle. This book may or may not deal with some of today's issues relating to anxiety over which way to go with our work time.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Saving The Planet eBook Now Available For Kobo

The Saving the Planet & Stuff eBook is now available for Kobo, as well as Nook and Kindle. All three of my eBooks published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, Happy Kid!, A Girl, a Boy, and a Monster Cat, and A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers, are also available in all three formats.

While Kobo isn't as well known as Kindle and Nook, it is supposed to account for 20% of the e-reader market. In addition, Kobo has a relationship with the American Booksellers Association, which involves independent booksellers selling both the Kobo readers and eBooks.

Thus making their eBooks available on Kobo gives self-published writers an opportunity to maintain some kind of connection with independent booksellers.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Weekend Writer: Hunting For Your Story With Voice

Well, well, well. I'm finding very little material on voice to offer up to you here, which strikes me as odd. Voice is one of the most compelling draws for a piece of writing. A major hook for a reader. The books on my shelves have nothing on it. Internet sites tend to tangle it up with point of view or get involved with the your voice concept, as if writers should  have a voice that they use in every book. The best description of voice I've been able to find in this last half hour appears in a post at World Lit Cafe: "Voice is a style of writing which conveys the narrator's attitude, personality, and character." This writer goes on to say, "Basically, it’s a persona of a writer." I would argue that it is the persona of a character.

Voice is extremely important in YA. It's not unusual to hear editors and agents talk about an "authentic YA voice," which, in my experience, tends to sound a lot like an updated Holden Caulfield. For female characters, many authors were copying Georigia Nicolson's voice a few years back. In YA, the publishing world seems to want to hear the same voice. We may frequently see blurbs on books saying, "A new voice in YA," but we rarely hear them.

Nonetheless, a really great voice is like flypaper. It keeps a reader glued to a book.Think Bartimaeus in any book in which he appears.Think any of the characters in the Larklight books. Skulduggery Pleasant. Dodger. Krystal Weedon is not the main character in The Casual Vacancy (there isn't one), but hers is an incredible teen voice in an adult book. Flavia de Luce is another child with a marvelous voice in an adult book.

Okay, Gail. Voice is important. We get it. How can it help me find my story?

Because story is something that happens to somebody and the significance of that event. If the somebody in that equation has a specific attitude and personality, a persona, that will go a long way toward helping writers determine how he will respond to what happens to him or what she may want to do. 

Some things that can impact voice:

  • Region where the story takes place (Yes, that cliched small town southern child who is wise beyond her years voice. Had enough of that one, myself.)
  • Social class (Excellent class distinctions by way of voice in The Casual Vacancy.)
  • Era in which the story takes place (This is hard. Characters from other time periods should not sound like twenty-first century people, but if they sound too different, that can be a barrier for the reader.If memory serves me, Octavian Nothing is a fine example of a good voice from another era.)
  • The character's life experience (You see this in particular in noir.)

You can develop an understanding of voice if you've read books in which it plays a major part. Try reading a few of the books I mentioned earlier to begin to appreciate what voice can do for a story.

One way to help writers find a voice for characters is to actually "talk" to them. You can "interview" characters by addressing them with questions about themselves, about their feelings regarding the things you're planning to do to them or others in the story in which they're taking part. Yes, this is a very odd, even creepy, thing to be doing. That's probably  the reason your characters may cop an attitude with you, and there's the beginning of their voices.

Voice tends to be stronger and easier to develop with a first-person narrator, which is why you see so many first-person narrators in children's and YA. One thing you can do to try to find a voice for your character is to write in the first person for a while, even if you're hoping to end up with a third-person narrator in the end. As with interviewing, it gives the characters a chance to speak for themselves for a little while.

Yes, with interviewing and writing in the first person, you're essentially trying to channel characters. 

It's not unusual for writers to say that once they'd found the voice for a character, everything fell into place for them. So it's a very useful method for finding a story, in addition to making a piece of writing a treat to read.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Did You Read "The Casual Vacancy?"

I did. Loved it.

Why Am I Not Good Enough?

I found Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks on my To Be Read pile a couple of months ago. It was part of my haul from a used book sale last year. The style of the cover seemed familiar to me, and I realized that Faith Erin Hicks' book Friends With Boys was a Cybils book last year. In fact, it was the winner in the YA graphic novel category. Hicks copyrighted the illustrations, and after reading Friends With Boys, it is easy to recognize her work.

Brain Camp is sort of a traditional nightmare camp story. In this case, parents send their average, or less, maybe, achieving kids to Camp Fielding, "America's best new educational summer camp, guaranteed to prepare any child for the SATs and beyond." The camp administrator looks for kids who "got turned down for math camp, computer camp, art camp..." and have never done well on a test in their lives, to paraphrase one mom speaking of her son. The kids leave camp stellar students because of a mysterious plot, which our two intrepid, and not at all gifted, protagonists discover.

The really intriguing part of this book wasn't the story itself but the feeling it carries of its characters being unacceptable to their families as they are. Love is not unconditional for the children who are sent to Camp Fielding. In the course of the book, we learn just how conditional it is. Yeah, there's a science fiction plot here, but it's the mood that makes readers feel that these children are being thrown to the wolves by the adults who are supposed to love them simply because they can't conform to a standard of achievement that makes Brain Camp striking.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Week Two Of Developing Discipline With Meditation

Not a lot to say about a week's worth of meditating, engaged in hoping to improve concentration. I suspect this is a "watched pot never boils" type of situation. It's probably not a good idea to start asking yourself, "Am I concentrating better now? What about now? Now?"

I can say I've had a couple of maintain-the-mind-of-a-beginner experiences this week:

First off, because I've tried meditating before, I didn't bother watching the how-to-sit videos that are part of the Yoga Journal meditation program I'm using. Hey, I knew how to sit, right? Even after changing my mind and watching the videos a couple of days in, I'm still struggling with finding the best seated arrangement of props and me for sitting.

Secondly, again, because I have tried meditating before, I at first found Week One's guided meditation annoying. Am I not supposed to be working on thinking nothing? I thought. This woman's constant chatter is distracting me from my nothingness. However, I can recall in my earlier efforts struggling to even try to meditate for 4 or 5 minutes. The guidance did keep me on the cushion for nearly 8 minutes, which at the very least was getting my body used to the position.

Perhaps the ego must be broken down before discipline can be improved.

Last week someone at the May Days Facebook page noted that while she was working on being more disciplined in her writing because of her involvement with the group, she noticed that her house was cleaner. She was becoming more disciplined about that, too. In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal says it's not  at all unusual to see that kind of thing happen. While someone is working on one willpower goal, they'll report an improvement in other aspects of their lives that require willpower.

I may not care that much about a clean house, but improved discipline spilling over into other aspects of life is certainly motivating.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Another May Days Wrap-up

Well, the merry old month of  May came to a close three days ago. That means the May Days Facebook group I am part of is pretty much done for the year, too. The May Days involves a group of writers working on writing two pages a day, every day. How did I do? Better than last year, at least.

I was better prepared going into this project this time, but still not as well prepared as I'd hoped I'd be back on January 1st when I set a goal of working on an outline for a mummy book for May Days. I had achieved only one of the 3 objectives I'd wanted to reach before May. I also kept getting diverted once the month started, first by the NESCBWI Conference, then by an illness and a long recovery that didn't actually take me out of play, but left me not at the top of my game.

Nonetheless, I now have:

3 pages of a first chapter (Yeah. Hurray.)
6 and 1/2 pages of notes on historical background
9 pages of character notes
9 pages of scene notes, which are laid out in the order in which they could possibly occur, so that's like the beginning of a plot.

That's a total of 27 and 1/2 pages

Additionally, I worked on the two unmet objectives from my original May Days goal back in January. I've read 38 percent of The Plot Whisperer (That's right, I'm reading it on my Kindle.) and I've been going over old research I'd collected for this project. On top of that, I got a few Original Content posts out of this. With the May Days, blog posts count toward the goal of writing 2 pages a day. And as a result of the plot studying I've been doing, I'm in the process of pulling together what I might call a...a...plotting philosophy.

So while this didn't turn out exactly as I hoped back in January, I am far, far ahead of where I was before I started working on May 1st. I have a number of irons in the fire, balls in the air, so I can't continue to give the mummy book as much attention as I did last month. But  I  am at a point where I think it is realistic to try to dedicate a few units of time a week to it.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Weekend Links

I already shared this at my professional Facebook page and Google+, but I'm sure I haven't hit every Judy Blume fan who wants to trace her career. (At New York Magazine.)

Author of  is a lovely looking new site that involves interviews with writers.

Leila's Dispatch from BEA#1: the Bloggers Conference at Bookshelves of  Doom is interesting reading. It made me feel perfectly okay about not being there.

I almost didn't look at the trailer for Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo because it's about twice as long as I usually want to sit through. But it's good. This is like movie theater trailer quality.

I haven't heard of most of these young detectives in a Guardian article, but that's why it's good to read book news from another country once in a while.

I've actually read a couple of these greatest essay collections of all time.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Weekend Writer: More On Theme

Well, last week when I started writing about finding your story with theme, I failed to define the term. I don't think I made a big deal about defining other terms, such as characters, but theme is iffy. People often have trouble working out just what it is. What it is not is a moral or lesson. Teachers and people of the cloth deal with lessons. Writers do not.

Theme is more of a life issue that the writer is interested in exploring. To go back to last week's examples, an author writing about the impact of divorce on children should be able to do so without hammering readers with a moral lesson on the subject. Working a story around a quite unsavory character who commits one mind bogglingly generous act can raise the question of whether or not people can redeem themselves in such a way without insisting that, yes, anyone can do it.

In The Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson says that theme reflects the story's view about life and how people behave, which is a far cry from teaching a lesson about life and how people should behave. She also says that a character's transformation over the course of a story often involves theme.

According to Alderson, if you're working on creating a plot (which we haven't discussed yet) before you sit down to write, you can try to work out where theme comes into the story, just as you work out where action comes in. That will be discussed more thoroughly another weekend. But the point I want to make here is that in order to do any planning with theme, you first have to know what theme/world view you want your story to reflect. So it's better to give that some thought before you start writing then to decide after you've finished that, Oh, I guess that's my theme.