The Things You Do as an Author

Over the weekend, we had some family in town. In the quiet times, when one member was reading, and another was Facebooking, I was trying to squeeze some editing in. I grabbed my 3-ring binder with Launching Justice in it, made sure I had my spiral-bound notebook inside it for making notes for its sequel, grabbed a water bottle, and plopped down in the chair.

Only to burst from my chair a minute later.

You see, I had opened up my binder to where I was editing and thought, “I wonder how Jupiter would look from the surface of Mars.”

Now, for some of you, you may be thinking that that’s a really strange question to ask. But the thing is: my character was looking at Jupiter, not from the surface of Mars, but not from far away from Mars, either. So very relevant.

I’m pretty sure I startled my family who was in the room with me when I jerked to my feet quickly, dropped my binder on my chair, and crossed the room to my trusty laptop, stood over it for about three minutes as I Googled my question, then returned to my chair as though nothing had ever happened.

But I got my answer. And it was exactly what I was looking for.

Sometimes, as an author, you startle people.

For the record, this is what Jupiter–and Earth!–looks like from near Mars: earth_jupiter_i1The round dot at the bottom–that’s Jupiter. Depending on your screen and how good your eyes are, you may be able to pick out three of its moons surrounding it. From left to right, you can see Callisto, Ganymede, Jupiter, and Europa. (Callisto, I think, is where I set some of my action in Launching Justice. It may be Europa–I can’t quite remember.)

At the top are visible Earth and our moon. Makes someone feel very small to realize how truly vast our solar system is, and to think about how small it is compared to the galaxy, and the universe…

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A Punch In the Gut

Everyone needs a punch in the gut once in a while. Whether it’s physical or mental, something that brings you back to reality is never a bad thing.

I got my own slap in the face last week. I was lamenting (okay, I was whining) to a writer friend that even though I’d “improved” my query, and done some tweaking to my first pages of my novel, that I was still only getting form rejections to the agents I was sending to.

She offered to take a look at my query (both old and newly revised) as well as my first five pages.

Now, this writer friend is kinda like my Texas momma, and I’ve told her so on several occasions. We laugh and joke, and I know without a doubt that if we ever have the chance to meet, after the initial awkwardness, we’d have the same relationship offline as we do on.

So when the first line of her reply was, “Get out the rifle, you’re gonna wanna shoot me”, my heart sank.

What do you mean my story isn’t ready yet? Really? I’ve been querying and making a fool of myself–again?

Basically, in all my editing, I’ve managed to leave some B.I.G. beginner errors in my novel… which is probably why I’m not getting any nibbles.

Seeing as my TX Momma is published, and works as an editorial assist to a small press AND her lit agent, I’m inclined to take her advice.

So, here’s to hunkering down–again–and doing another MAJOR pass on “Homebody”… and hopefully, I’ll get it right this time.

Until next time,

Liberty

Am I Ready?

Well, I’ve missed the last week or so blogging… And, I really have no excuse. I’ve been here. I’ve been at the computer. But things went Ca-ray-zy! I swear! (Of course, when in my life have I not described it as crazy?)

This is going to be more of a writing update than anything… After submitting to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest two weeks ago, the contest closed early, which was a little nerve-wracking…. especially when I started going over the manuscript in question, and started catching little tweak-y things (including a missing punctuation mark late in the last chapters.)

But, this means I’m doing something I’m still not 100% sure I’m ready for (mentally–the book is ready) and that’s submitting to agents.

On Friday, I sent out 10 queries with the appropriate items requested by each agent (and I don’t think ANY of the requests were the same!) Saturday morning, I got a rejection–yeah, that was FAST. I was disappointed since it’s from an agent I admire and follow on Twitter, and it was a standard form rejection. But, I could chalk that one up to not being exactly what she’s looking for, or maybe she’s full-up on mystery writers right now.

So, now Number 11 went out late Saturday morning/early Saturday afternoon. I figure I’ll try 20 – 25 agents, see what happens, and continue to tweak as I go through the process.

It’d be nice if I make the first cut on the Amazon contest, which I’ll know probably in about 10 days.

Ten days. Wow. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep in that time!

Of course, I will, but if I get as wound up as I’ve been lately right before bed, it’ll be difficult (which is also why this post may be a bit disjointed–my insomnia has been acting up and I actually had to medicate last night.)

In the meantime, I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’ll finish up the pass on my manuscript in case I get that coveted partial–or full!–request, and I’ll continue work on my cross-genre novels (which I think pretty much describes the projects with the working titles of Cora’s Song, Beyond Dead, and its sequel, Dead Before Arrival.)

I still have my work cut out for me.

Until next time,

My Book Is Done… Now What?

Photo by Liberty Speidel

So, you’ve finished your novel. Congratulations! What an amazing step.

After you’ve been through many revisions, pulled your hair out, and agonized over every line, character, and location setting, you may think you’re ready to send out your novel.

Close. Have you formatted it correctly, though?

What’s this, you say? What’s formatting??

I’ll give my heart a moment to calm down.

In order to be taken seriously as a professional writer, you need to put your best foot forward. This means making sure you present yourself (i.e. your manuscript) in its best light. Sure, having your book in purple cursive font with every third word underlined and printed on Princess Pink paper may look good to you, but an agent or editor may think differently–and could result in your otherwise carefully prepared manuscript ending up in the slush pile.

When I started writing about 15 years ago, and thought I was ready for publication, the industry standard was just that–standard.

Nowadays, though, standard has become a more fluid term, especially with e-mail coming into play with more and more agents and editors accepting only online submissions.

You can find “how-to” guides for novel formatting almost everywhere. I did a search, and got more than 3 million hits. Holy cow! (Now, once you’ve read this post, it’ll be 3,000,001.)

As a general rule of thumb, here’s some basics:

Keep your formatting the same throughout. Use a readable (and, if doing an e-submission, common) font in 12-point. And make sure you double-space everything manuscript-related. (Synopsis and query letters can be single-spaced, though the synopsis may depend on required length.) Indent every new paragraph, don’t indicate it with extra space.

Once you have those in mind, things become a bit more free-form. I’ve seen guidelines that indicate to still use the “old” system of 25 lines a page, with a width wide enough to average 10 words a line (so each page is estimated around 250 words.) Others say to use a more rigid guideline of either 1 or 1.5 inch margins all around.

My general rule of thumb is to scour the websites of the agents I’m going to submit to and see if they have any special requirements. If so, I modify my manuscript to suit, but if not, I use the following template:

  • 1-inch margins throughout.
  • Times New Roman or Courier New 12-point font (this is usually a judgement call as to which I think looks better, and presents my story in the fewest number of pages. Right now, Roman is winning that battle.)
  • Double-spaced with Widow/Orphan Control ON.
  • First line indentation of one-half inch for new paragraphs. Paragraphs should also not have any additional space between them.
  • Each new chapter heading should be in all caps and begin on the 4th double-spaced line by hitting return 3 times.
  • A header that reads in the format of: LAST NAME / TITLE / PAGE NUMBER.
  • No header on the first page.

These are the basics I pulled from former agent and new author Nathan Bransford’s site. I think they look the cleanest, and are the easiest to manage.

If you haven’t formatted you novel in this manner, it’s pretty easy to change, as long as everything is in one file. Presuming you’re using Microsoft Word, you can alter all of these settings on a relatively speedy machine in under 5 minutes.

Of all of these items listed above, I’ve found that the trickiest for me to setup is the “no header” part and have it number everything correctly. These instructions apply to Word 2003; if you have an older or newer version, they may not be applicable.

  1. On the View menu, click “Header and Footer.”
  2. On the “Header and Footer” toolbar (which should pop up automatically), select the Page Setup button. (Hint, on my version, it looks like an open manuscript with the first page opened.)
  3. Select the Layout tab.
  4. Click in the box for Different First Page and click OK.
  5. Leaving the first page blank, insert your desired text on any of the subsequent pages. As long as you have no section breaks, your first page number will start at 2, unless you instruct it otherwise. 

 There! That’s it!! Your manuscript is ready to be sent out to an agent. Keep in mind that most agents will delete any unrequested attachments, so while this may look pretty if you copy and paste your first 5 or 10 pages into the body of an e-mail, some e-mail programs will turn it into virtually unreadable gibberish, so always send yourself the e-mail first to make sure everything will look appropriate before making a fool of yourself in front of that agent you want to sign with.

Until next time,

Hiking = Writing

Yesterday, Sunday, TMOTH and I took my daughter, son, and Labrador Retriever for a hike at a nearby lake.

A photo from a trail I frequent… yes, this *is* Kansas!

Upon reflection, I learned a lot on that hike… about writing.

The trail we chose started out flat, across grass in a wide-open field. As we approached the woods, it got muddy, then rocky, and had a steep slope down to the lake. Once on the shore, we trudged over driftwood, rocks, and, again, mud until we decided to turn around and head back the way we came.

The flat, open part of the hike reminded me of how I usually start out on a writing project: good initial progress, seeing a portion of where I’m going, but not clearly the whole trail (even when I’ve outlined.) I usually hit some point where I’ve got a good feel for where I’m headed, but the writing gets rocky, and I slow down, carefully finding my next step.

Then, I get to the middle. Fits and starts, I’ll progress in quick bursts, then find something I have to climb over, go under, or around. (In the actual hike yesterday, this was difficult since my son was in a carrier, pulling me off balance!) My daughter taught me a few things in this portion, as she forced us to take breaks (allowing for reflection, possible changes, or redirection in my writing analogy) and look at bobbers, shells, rocks, or throwing sticks and stones into the water.

Sometimes, in these sections of my writing, I get hurt, as I did on the hike (it wasn’t bad–a scrape on my shin when my foot slipped as I was climbing over a large, fallen tree.) I have to backtrack, rethink what I’m doing. Often, these instances happen when I’m editing. On my most recent edit of Homebody, I had several major changes, some of which I’m still tweaking. When I started writing this story, now going on five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined some of these types of twists in my story.

On the way back up the hill, I’m starting to pick up steam. While I’m watching my footing carefully, I know I’m headed for the climax: I’m about to write “The End” soon. I may have to take a breather now and again–after all, it is a steep climb!–I’m moving steadily upward, and know how far I’ve got to go.

Then, I crest that hill.

I can see the end!

For me, this is often the fastest part of the hike–and the writing. Renewed energy hits. Frequently, I can write a 30 or 40 page section in first draft mode in a single evening, especially the closer to the climax I get.

Then I reach the car–or write my last lines. Relief! My characters are out of danger, my feet can rest (and I can get another cool bottle of water from the cooler and turn on the A/C!)

Do you have a favorite analogy on how you write? How has that taught you about your writing?

Also, I want to extend my hearty congratulations to Linda Yezak, who guest posted for me last summer, on the publication of her debut novel, Give the Lady a Ride. I can’t wait to get it (hopefully on my Kindle!) and read it!

Until next time,

Should I Hire a Freelance Editor

Today’s post was originally posted at Lit Agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rants & Ramblings (March 25, 2010). Enjoy!

Lately more and more people have been asking me if they should hire an editor prior to submitting to agents. Here’s my take:

Using a freelance editor can be a great idea – if you use it as a learning experience. You need to do most of the work yourself. I think it’s wasted money if you’re counting on someone to fix your manuscript for you. The point is to get an experienced set of eyes on it to help you identify problems and figure out how to fix them.

Prior to being represented or having a contracted book, the best way to work with an editor is to have them give you notes on your book, but not make changes themselves in the manuscript. Then you can go back to your manuscript, grasp the reasons for the changes they’re suggesting, and implement them, all the while learning how to make your book stronger. Hopefully you’re going to take that new knowledge with you into writing the next book.

It can be very helpful for an editor to give you an evaluation of your first few chapters, so that you can then rework the entire manuscript according to what you learned. It’s a terrific learning experience and can help you grow as a writer. It’s almost like having a writing tutor.

If you get an agent and/or sell your first book based on a manuscript that has been heavily edited by others (or is the product of intense critique group feedback), plan to do the same thing with your second book before submitting to your agent or publisher. And your third book, etc. Over time you’ll grow as a writer and become less dependent on outside help.

Many agents and editors are uncomfortable with writers having too much outside editorial help prior to being contracted, because it can mask a writer’s true abilities. I’d hate to get you a 3-book contract with a publisher based on that stellar first book, only to find out that you had a ton of help with it and are not able to deliver that quality of book a second time.

Q4U: Have you hired an editor? Have you considered it? Do you think it’s a good idea?

Rachelle Gardner is an agent with WordServe Literary Group based in Denver, Colorado. She live with her firefighter husband, two middle school-aged daughters and a fun-loving yellow lab at the breathtaking elevation of 7,000 feet in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. When she’s not reading, you can usually find her out running, hiking, skiing, or having coffee with her girlfriends.

Until next time,

 

Keep an Eye on the Stupid Things

Through the experience of submitting work to agents/editors and having work submitted to me as a free-lance and PYP editor (and from having a friend/crit partner/mentor who knows all), I’ve learned some interesting points. Most of them you can find on any good blog or website, but few folks write about the “stupid things” that can trip you up.

Linda Yezak

I’m not going to say that these things can keep your manuscript from being accepted, but by the time your masterpiece hits the submission trail it should be spit-shine perfect. It should reflect not just your writing abilities, but also your professionalism. Finding too many of these unprofessional “stupid things” in someone’s piece can tip the scales of whether I will accept the work or not–and I’m just a newbie with few submissions. Can you imagine what it’s like for a seasoned pro with hundreds of submissions a week?

So, after you’ve perfected all the major stuff that makes up a great novel and before you pray over your piece and send it out, check for some of the stupid things:

Chapter Headings–make sure they’re uniform all the way through. That includes having them on  same place on the page. If you type Chapter One on line sixteen, then all the chapters should be on line sixteen, too. If you type Chapter 1 on the first page, don’t have Chapter Thirty on page 385. If you have chapter titles, don’t have chapter one’s title Like This and chapter thirty’s title Like this. Uniform location, type, capitalization and font all the way through.

Numbers–in general, these should be spelled out. Of course, there are exceptions. No one expects you to type out seven hundred thirty-seven million, five hundred thousand fifty-three. I’m not even sure how to do it. Where do the commas go?

Generally, numbers under 101 should be spelled out. Different style manuals have different rules, so consult the manual preferred by the agent/publisher you’re submitting to. (Port Yonder Press prefers The Chicago Manual of Style, the heavy hitter of most publishing companies, while many Christian publishers prefer The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. One or both of these should be on every writer’s desk–or at least a copy of Polishing the “PUGS” by Kathy Ide, which hits the high points of most major style manuals including Chicago and Christian Writer’s.)

Contemporary Jargon–until the powers that be recognize “alright,” it’s not all right to use. Spell it out in its two-word form. “Okay” is different. Sometimes it’s okay to use OK, but usually the preference is to spell it out. Again, check your style manual and the preference of the folks you’re submitting to.

Holy Pronouns–if you write Christian fiction and refer to our Savior and Lord, decide early whether you’re going to capitalize Him and stick with it. And not just “Him,” but You and His also. Jesus shouldn’t be the Messiah in one place and the messiah in another, Savior here and savior there. Check your manual; be consistent.

Only–this word can be an adverb, adjective or conjunction, but the placement can change a sentence’s meaning entirely. Watch how you’re using it; make sure you’re modifying the word you intend to modify.

Using the example I found on Dictionary.com (“I cook only on weekends”), I’ll show you the difference in meaning with different placements of  “only.”

    Only I cook on weekends (no one else cooks on weekends).
    I only cook on weekends (I don’t do anything else but cook).
    I cook only on weekends (I don’t cook during the week).

Punctuation–this is a biggie. I’m going to assume you know how to punctuate a sentence, so let’s get to some of the annoying things.

Overuse–ellipses and dashes can be overused so easily, and when they are, they lose their effectiveness. In dialogue, ellipses are used when a thought tapers off, and dashes are used to illustrate an interruption. In prose, dashes are used to set off a thought, idea or something that would otherwise be parenthetical. Exclamation points should rarely be used. They illustrate shouting, anger, excitement, but overuse dilutes their power.

Quotation Marks–unless you use italics, full quotes should be used around “things” you want to set apart in your sentence in prose. Not partial ‘quotes’ but the “real deal.” Also, periods and commas go inside the quote. Other punctuation has different rules depending on whether they’re part of the quote or speaker’s dialogue. While we’re at it, keep an eye out for open quotes: In dialogue or any time you use quotation marks, be sure you close the quotes.

Apostrophe Direction–this is the one few ever pay attention to. I never did, until I read about it in one publisher’s submission instructions. This is obviously somebody’s pet peeve, and can be one of the stupid things that’ll trip you up. But I seriously doubt it’ll prevent acceptance.

You use the apostrophe when you’re leaving out a letter in a word or making a contraction, and usually it’s faced in the right direction. But when you’re omitting the first letter, the apostrophe is faced in the wrong direction. It’s a pain, but it’s not too difficult to change ‘nough said to ’nough said. Just type ‘’ together and delete the first one. Okay, okay, I know. Petty, picky, peevish. But now that you’ve read this, I bet it’ll drive you nuts too.

This micro-proof reading should be the last thing you do before you pray over your work so all the corrections you’ve made will be checked, too.

Good luck!

Linda Yezak is a two-time finalist in ACFW’s Genesis Contest as well as a two-time judge in the contest and a judge for smaller competitions. She has been published in Christian Romance Magazine and her review of Riven by Jerry Jenkins was published on the Tyndale website for the book (under the “Reviews” tab). Linda writes blog posts for several sites including AuthorCulture, 777 Peppermint Place, PeevishPenman and VibrantNation. Her first novel, Give the Lady a Ride is currently being considered for publication. She is an editor for Port Yonder Press, a small, traditional publishing company, and a free-lance editor.

Thanks so much for sharing your pet peeves, Linda! Apostrophe direction drives me insane, too, so I shut off “curly quotes” in Word when I’m writing–it keeps the direction neutral!

And for you, my delightful reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed this respite with our guest bloggers. I’ll be back two weeks from now with a fun little post before I get back to the important business of harder-hitting posts. Thanks for your support and readership during these few months as my family and I have adjusted to having another child in the house!

Until next time,