Sunday, August 29, 2010

Does your blog represent who you are?

Ah, the wonderful world of the blogosphere! You love to pour your souls on the pages of your blog. But, are you doing yourself a favor or disservice? Your blog can be seen as your public persona, a representation of your professional self. Blogs nowadays are your reputation so guard it well. If you use the blog for fun, make sure that your posts are not going to compromise your personal or professional life in any way. You often read in the newspaper about Facebook horror stories such as houses broken into, pedophiles befriending children, teens exposing themselves, and employees badmouthing their bosses just to mention a few. Like Facebook, your blog is a double-edged sword. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it. You don’t know who’s reading your blog. When in doubt, remember the Six Degrees of Separation Rule which refers to the idea that everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in six steps or fewer. And with all the “followers” you have in your wonderful blog, hmm you’d better think twice before you publish the next post. Our private lives should be, well, “private.” Don’t you agree?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is your narrative smooth sailing or failing?

Last night I read part of a short story I found on a website. The story had typos, was cliché-laden, and the narrative was stagnant. This was a reminder to both my friend and me as we continue to edit each other’s work. We hate editing but after discussing how on earth this story made its way online, we definitely realize how crucial editing is.

Historical novelist, Sara Sheridan reminds us of some techniques that help the narrative of a story.

1. Think of your story as a storyboard, like a comic or graphic novel. Run through it action by action. Anything in your text that isn’t part of the storyboard simply isn’t pacey enough. If you have pages and pages of description, you’re asking a lot of your reader. They won’t stick with you. But give them something to see happening, and they’ll stay up all night with your book.

2. Consider the tone of the narrative voice of your story.
What vocabulary have you used? Ornate language can distract a reader or evoke a particular place or time, so it’s a tightrope of which you have to be aware. Also, what is the balance between prose and dialogue? To assess this, read chapter endings in isolation to check that the narrative voice is compelling. That might sound odd. After all, no one is going to only read the endings of your chapters. But this is a great way to get a sense of the narrative voice of the whole book.

3. The easiest way to improve narrative drive is to simplify your verbs as much as possible.
In English we have a huge amount of tense formations and a high proportion of irregular verbs. It’s astoundingly easy to use three or four words where one will do. Keep it simple—make every word count. Stick to the simple present, past, and future where possible. If you can write in the present tense your prose will have especial immediacy.

3a. Be very careful of deluging your reader with adjectives.
It is far more evocative to use the action to create a description and a reader, in any case, can only process so much description at once. Choose your adjectives carefully and use them sparingly.

4. Editing.
Unlike writing itself, publication is a team activity. You have to edit. I have learned more from working with editors than from reading or going to any kind of course. There is a sense in which the act of writing the book often makes you less able to comprehensively edit it. Novice writers are often ambivalent about editors, and think their book is perfect. No one’s book is perfect. I’d say that it’s absolutely worth getting an appraisal from a professional editor. However painful it’s going to be, ask for any criticism, and ask about suggested changes to narrative drive specifically. Your book won’t sell without it!

Does your narrative have what it takes? Ask fellow writers and friends and when in doubt, hire a professional editor. I have! Boy, did I learn tons in the process.

Original article appears as a guest post in the Writer’s Digest on August 17, 2010.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Make your writing a fun workout!

Today was Writing Day for me. After a two-week hiatus, my hand was a slug, dragging the pen over the paper leaving a blue trace of nonsense. This is the reason my fellow writers and I meet twice a month. It helps us get our creative juices flowing. As I’ve written in my previous posts, my writing group is my fun workout (No dumbbells involved!). Today we had three writing prompts and we chose two. We timed ourselves: fifteen minutes max. We read the stories out loud and gave each other feedback. Then we repeated the process with another prompt. This served as our warm up and, boy were we ready! The rest of our meeting was used to continue our work in progress.

Fellow writers you can have fun doing this exercise even long distance. One of my best friends who’s an aspiring writer asked me for writing prompts. I told her I’d include her in today’s Writing Day group even if she lives in the US. Well, it worked! She sent me her work via email. I printed copies of her story for my group to read and we later gave her feedback.

So, because we had so much fun doing it together, why not let you in the fun as well. I’ll share with you the three prompts we used. Choose one and give yourself fifteen minutes (No cheating!). You’ll be amazed at your own creativity. Remember: Absolutely NO editing!

I want to hear from you. Everything! Let me know if this was a good exercise, if it was fun, and if it gave you energy to write some more (e.g. your WIP).

Writing Prompts:
• Write a story about an empty glass.
• Write about the color of hunger.
• Write from the point of view of a clean sock that was mistakenly placed in the hamper.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Do you research your facts?

A fellow writer asked me to read one of her short stories. She told me she was having a hard time finishing this one because she needed to do a lot of research on the topic (one that she is not familiar with). Like her, I find myself in the same predicament. My latest tale involves some medical terminology and illness that I have little knowledge of.
I was lucky to find “Three Strategies for Solid Research,” an article by bestselling novelist, Gayle Lynds. She says that before you can incorporate your research into your writing, you first need to be as smart as possible about the research itself. Ms. Lynds reminds us of the following research strategies:

1. Develop a system for tracking your legwork. “Take a digital camera with you, photograph everything, dictate notes … never lose anything. Never lose anything,” says David Hewson, international bestselling author of the Nic Costa thrillers. “I keep a journal on every book I’m writing that notes down ideas, locations, characters, themes—and I keep a running diary on the book as I’m writing it. This is separate from the draft, so it acts as a left-brain perspective on the whole exercise.”

2. Get in the habit of vetting your research as you go—particularly research conducted online. Verify facts from multiple reputable sources before you record them. This way, you’ll already know that all your notes are accurate when it comes time to incorporate them into your work.

3. Be wary of cutting and pasting research nuggets directly into your manuscript. You don’t want to become guilty of plagiarism by letting someone else’s words get inadvertently mixed in with your own. If you do feel the need to paste in a block of research while you’re writing, be sure to highlight the copied text in a different color so you can go back and remove or rewrite it entirely later.

(Article reprinted from the Writer's Digest, July 20, 2010)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

THE RESULTS ARE IN: The winner of the Summer Writing Contest is…

I would like to thank all participants in this year’s Summer Writing Contest. Since this was a privately organized contest, there was no monetary compensation. However, the prize was a great opportunity to work with Canadian author and poet, Michael Mirolla who’s also editor-in-chief and publisher of Guernica Editions. He was kind enough to donate his valuable time to work alongside the winner.

The contest was a great success and some emerging writers have asked me if I’m having another one in the fall. I am working out details with possible sponsors in order to have cash prizes. I’ll keep you posted so keep reading my blog.

The winners were chosen by author Michael Mirolla.
1) First Prize Winner: “A Walk in the Snow” by Colette Vidal
2) Second Prize Winner: “Brian’s History” by Dan Saragosti
3) Third Prize Winner: “Garbage Day” by Marijke Vander Klok

Although there were a lot of good stories, we could only choose the best three. Thanks for your submissions and keep writing!

Monday, August 16, 2010

And the Award Goes to...

Another blog review under my belt and I want to return the favor to my fellow bloggers. Ms. C was very kind to award me with The Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks Ms. C! (To visit her blog, click here)

There are 4 rules that come with the award:
1 - thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them when creating the award post
2 - share seven things about yourself
3 - pass the award on to 15 recently discovered blogs
4 - contact the bloggers to let them know about the award

Seven facts about myself and they’re in no particular order (almost):
1) I love animals
2) I am a vegetarian
3) I love traveling (I want to be fair here to all the countries I’ve visited, so I’ll keep my favorite destination(s) a secret)
4) Writing has become my second passion
5) Blogging has become an addiction (LOL!)
6) I’m a social butterfly
7) I have a fascination for foreign languages
I've chosen 7 of my favorite bloggers for this award based on the quality and message of their blogs (it was really difficult for me to choose as I like a slew of blogs out there). For those I have listed, please don't feel obligated to follow up on the rules of the award. By the way, the nominees are in no particular order.

Drum roll please!

1) One Word Pundit, for her inspirational posts.
2) The Giraffability of Digressions, for her quirky posts, keen observations on everyday life, and for her love of giraffes.
3) Writers in the Sky Podcast, for her professionalism and willingness to help other writers.
4) Artsy Butterfly, for her lovely posts, photographs, and creativity.
5) NouveauWriter, for her insightful posts.
6) Thomasinatafur, for her dedication to helping businesswomen.
7) Metamorphosis, for her positive attitude and creative soul.

Please click on each of their names in order to visit their blogs. Congratulations to the winners!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Myths and lies that can turn into a horror story

It’s Friday the 13th and it’s a lucky day for us writers! That’s right! We’re lucky to get great tips from Matt Mikalatos, freelancer and author of the novel Imaginary Jesus (BarnaBooks, 2010). For those unpublished writers out there, forget 13 is an unlucky number. I say 5 will be your unlucky number if you don’t follow Mikalatos’ advice.

Mikalatos says that writers tend to be creative in many areas of life, so it's no surprise that they can get creative with the truth. Here are 5 lies unpublished writers tell themselves and the truths that can get them published.

I write amazing first drafts. If there were a contest for first drafts, mine would win every time. So I told myself, "Writing is not rewriting." Other people might have to do multiple drafts, but my first drafts are so solid I could publish them as-is. For years I believed this. So if there are some rules that you think don't apply to you, think again. It might be the rule preventing you from getting published.

Ah, those blood-sucking agents and editors. I'm pretty sure they have meetings in a secret underground lair where they talk about how jealous they are of my writing skills and how they should team up to keep me from being published. If you're getting rejected it's because you still have work to do either as a writer or as a marketer.

Which is exactly why you aren't published yet. You have to do the hard work of writing a spectacular query and proposal. Notice that you have to "write" the query and proposal. You're not being asked to do an interpretive dance or draft blueprints to a rocket ship. It might not be your style, and it might be hard work, but being a published author is hard work, complete with e-mails you don't want to answer, deadlines, accounting and marketing!

It is way more fun to read Writer's Market over and over—memorizing the publishers and agents—than it is to write your book. And while this is good practice for when your book is ready to shop, if the fantasy-to-writing ratio tips toward fantasy, it's time to get back to writing. Unless you are writing a fantasy, in which case you are probably fine and keep up the good work.

If you're like me, you love picking up a book from the "Top 10" rack, flipping it open and cringing at the terrible prose. But this author (who is, keep in mind, a worse writer than you) somehow got a contract, got published and is selling well. I said this most often before I had finished writing the first draft of my first novel. Perhaps it's just that the "hack writers" out there actually finish their books.

These are a few of the lies that I wish someone had confronted me with when I was an unpublished writer. Now, here's one last truth for you: You can do this. Work hard, keep writing, improve your craft and be persistent. We're all waiting to read your masterpiece!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do you know how to approach a publisher?

Last week, I talked about agents and what they look for in writers. Today, I want to mention the other important aspect of the writing industry: finding a publisher.

I decided to write about this topic when one of my friends shared that she’s just finished her YA novel (kudos to anyone who realizes this feat). Like her, some fellow bloggers have posted in their blogs that they’re fishing for publishers. So, I went fishing myself for a good article that gives us pointers on how to approach a publisher.

Lynn Serafinn, Personal Transformation Coach, Speaker, Talk Radio Host, and Author of The Garden of the Soul, wrote an article on how to approach a major publisher.

Lynn says that in her experience, there are seven main factors to consider in your decision to approach a publisher:

1. Discipline. Could you make a commitment to meet writing deadlines if given them? Have you transcended the trap of only being able to write when you are "inspired," or can you sit down and get into the groove when you need to?

2. Stylistic maturity. Is your writing style "mature" (well past the embryonic stage)? Could others easily talk about your style and your message as compared to other books? Is your style powerful and developed enough that editors would not want to change it significantly?

3. Emotionally prepared. Are you ready to "show up" as a public image? Are you ready to be seen and critiqued? Are you ready to speak transparently on a global level? Are you ready to release your vision, regardless of whether people like it or not?

4. Identity. Do you know who you are as a writer and as a person? Do you have a clear idea of your "public image" (i.e. who you are to your readers, fans and audience)? Can you stand calmly within the wisdom of your own identity when dealing with a publisher?

5. Platform. Do you have a well-established platform (i.e. a large fan base of people who know your name and your writing)? This is undoubtedly one of the major factors publishers will consider when you approach them, and something that will make it much less likely for them to try to "reshape" your image.

6. Marketing. Do you know how to reach your audience? Do you understand principles of marketing? Can you explain how you would market your book to publishers in a way that would make them say, "Hey, this one has some great ideas"?

7. Time commitment. Are you ready and able to commit LOTS of time to promoting your book? Is your life free or flexible with regards to family or other work commitments? Could you travel frequently without disrupting the rest of your life?

Lynn went on to say that speaking for herself, in 2009, when she went to publish The Garden of the Soul, she'd say she had these covered about 75 percent. But, in her opinion, 75 percent wasn't enough for her to approach a publisher at that time. Before she approached a publisher, she wanted to be able to give her full 100 percent. Then the time would be right . . . at least for her.

"When I wrote my proposal this year, I felt it to be truly a transformative process. I realized when I was writing it that I had finally reached my "100% Ready" place. I knew who I was. I felt I could write at the drop of a hat. I had a platform. I understood marketing. And most of all, I had already written my book and I completely believed in it."

"Being a self-published writer was absolutely the best thing for me when I had chosen to do so. The experience helped me develop as a person, as a writer and as a businesswoman. But now that I have firmly established my platform and really know who I am as a writer, I feel confident about making the shift to working with a publisher over the coming year. At the same time, I also have the confidence that I am able to flourish as a proud indie author, and enjoy the ride on my own as well."

"I hope you found these reflections and pointers to be of value in your own journey as an author."

Friday, August 6, 2010

“A” is for Agent: Learn the inside scoop from an agent

On August 5, I interviewed Sam Hiyate, literary agent and CEO of The Rights Factory. He was kind to offer some insights into this business. Hiyate started as a book publisher and editor of a literary magazine. He did it for ten years. However, he felt he was at the wrong side of the chain. So when he became an agent, he said, “It wasn’t a big transition, really.”

Being an agent is not as stressful as some people may think. “I wouldn’t call it stressful because I enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. Hiyate added that he can manage his workload, phone calls, e-mails, and his schedule. However, the unpredictability of the business keeps him on his toes. The economy is a good example. A couple of years ago, they had a lot of deals with American authors but once the recession hit, Hiyate and his team had to redesign their market. “A good business is able to change plans accordingly. Instead of representing just books, we turned our focus to foreign rights, TV, film and books that could work in film and TV,” he explained.

Since the inception of The Rights Factory in 2004, Hiyate has worked with approximately fifty authors which most of them are established clients. The bond he developed with his authors transitioned to friendship. “In more than half of the cases, I become friends with the authors because we work and socialize together,” Hiyate said. Networking is a key factor for both the agent and the author. He explained that, “I throw a lot of parties for my authors because I want a strong community where all writers meet and get to know each other. Editors sometimes attend these parties as well as publishers and some book deals come out as a result.”

Speaking of publishers, Hiyate works equally with the Davids and Goliaths of the publishing industry. He told me, “In the US we’ve worked with Knopf which is owned by Random House. We’ve also worked with Grand Central Publishing which used to be Warner Books. In Canada we work with Penguin, HarperCollins, and Random. And internationally, we’ve worked with publishers from twenty countries.”

Writers love to translate their ideas into stories but are oblivious to what percentage of their book sales translates into earnings and expenses. Well, Hiyate clarify that for me. Agents take 15% for domestic deals (North America is considered domestic market). 20% for International deals (UK and China). And the percentage for films is between 10 and 20. This is standard for most agents.

Signing contracts and book deals is just one side of Hiyate’s job. As an agent, he also offers valuable advice to his authors. He said, “We offer advice all the time. We are their career managers.” Pay heed fellow writers as he opened the Holy Grail of Advice for writers:

CDB: What do you look for in a writer?

SH: Somebody that can take criticism and somebody that I like, that I feel I can be friends with later on.

CDB: What do you look for in a book?

SH: For fiction, two things: great writing and great story telling. I look for people who can do both. Some writers are great story tellers but are not good writers and some writers can write extremely well but cannot tell a good story. I also look for a book with a commercial side, one that would appeal to a great market including one with international appeal and possibly film rights. We might say no to a great Canadian novel due to lack of salability.

CDB: What’s your pet peeve?

SH: I don’t like it when authors tell me they have another agent, or the book will make us millionaires (it’s up to me to make the money). I don’t like it when they change from an existing agent and say ‘my agent hated the book, can you help me?’

CDB: What genre do you think sells the most in Canada?

SH: I think in Canada literary fiction is a major market. In Non-fiction anything that has to do with psychology or current affairs, and entertaining books. Poetry is very hard to make any money.

CDB: Give me three top reasons why you stop reading a manuscript that has been submitted?

SH: 1) I don’t care about the characters. I want to see them succeed whether it is a memoir or a narrative. 2) I don’t care for novel that has not enough plot to keep me interested. There has to be some complexity in the story for me to continue turning the page. It has to be engaging. 3) I don’t care for the writing. It can’t be cliché. It has to have some rhythm and it has to be polished. I also have a preference when it’s a first person narrative. I feel it’s more personal and what they’re saying it’s truer.

CDB: What advice would you give to an emerging writer who wants to publish his/her book?

SH: The biggest advice is not to submit until they’re sure it’s their best copy. After they have done a lot of editing paying attention to writing, characters, and plot (story line). I encourage people to take writing classes or to go for an MFA.

CDB: Sam, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule.

SH: No problem. It was a pleasure.

If you want to learn more about Sam Hiyate and his agency, check out The Rights Factory or you can follow them via Facebook.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Writers and their many personalities (No, it’s not MPD!)

A lot of emerging writers think that being a writer only entails putting those wonderful ideas on paper. Being a writer means you have to wear different hats in the process. First and foremost, you’re a writer. After long grueling hours of editing, you learn to be an editor. Along the way you become a marketer (that’s right, you have to do a lot of PR if you want to get published), and last but not least, you discover you are a networker while at the latest schmoozer (you didn’t know you had it in you, did you?). I bet some of you developed these newly-found personalities simultaneously without even realizing it. Don’t worry you’re not suffering from multiple personality disorder. I know it sounds insane (no pun intended), but as writers you have to learn how to be all of them.

I decided to write about this topic because next week I’m interviewing an agent. I need to take my writer’s hat off and put on my…er…interviewer’s hat? Interviewer! That’s not under my writing job description. Well, I still have to type my questions and then write down the answers. It’s still writing, right? So, wearing my interviewer’s hat will give me the opportunity to learn more about what agents look for in a writer, what publishers look for in a story. You see what I’m getting at?

What about when I edit my friend’s stories? I’m not a professional editor but, I can safely say that revising her work has helped me tremendously when I tweak my own work.

And let’s not forget my networker’s hat. Who would have thought that writer and networker could fit in the same sentence? My friends tell me I’m a great networker. They even quip they’ll hire me as their agent. I see it this way: if I just sit at my desk, typing stories and not promoting my work, nobody will. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by attending networking events. I’ve met wonderful people (some of them who have become my friends and mentors). These people have introduced me to other people in the industry…and the rest is “writing” history.

So go ahead, be bold and wear all your different hats. Just make sure you wear the appropriate one for the right occasion.