Friday, January 29, 2010

Learning from Mistakes

I've been busy the last week working on two new novels. One is a YA, the other is an adult mystery. Writing these two new books has made me realize all the mistakes I made with the first drafts of Eternal Starling. Eternal Starling was my first book and I was learning as I wrote. I feel like my writing has improved dramatically because of my mistakes and what I learned from them, so I thought it might help my other writer friends to post about some of those issues.

1. Contractions!!! Who knew these silly things can be the difference between your dialogue sounding authentic, or forced. Throughout college and for the past eight years, I've worked in the professional writing world where contractions are a sign of poor writing. But in fiction, if you don't use contractions, your dialogue sounds crazy. I'd know, mine was almost contractionless when my beta editor Amazing Ashley got a hold of it. Which leads me to another point...

2. Read out loud! There are so many things you catch by actually hearing what you wrote. Awkward pauses, phrases that don't fit, contractions that aren't being used. I'm not saying break out your manuscript and force your dog and significant other to listen to a 325 page reading, but if you have a section that doesn't seem to be working, read it out loud and more often than not, it will help you fix the problem.

3. Awhile. This is a tricky little word and honestly, until Amazing Ashley pointed it out, I thought it was always one word. It's not. The rule I've read about it says that it's one word if you mean a short period of time, and two words if you mean a longer period of time (usually defined as more than an hour). A good rule of thumb for it is whether the word 'for' precedes awhile. If you say for a while, then it's always two words. If there's not a for in front of awhile, it's up to you whether you decide to use it as one word or two.

4. Painless Grammar. When Amazing Ashley finished editing Eternal Starling she gave me a copy of a reference book that looks like it should be given to a third grader. I take comfort in the fact that Amazing Ashley also recommends said third grader book to her college English students. Painless Grammar was so helpful to me while I tried to remember grammar rules, especially because I've been using AP Stylebook rules for so long in my career. For fiction and even non-fiction writing, it seems like most editors tend to follow the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style. And if you pick up the Chicago Manual of Style to look for rules, I wish you well. Trying to find information in that massive reference manual is harder than finding the Fountain of Youth.

5. Italics. Should you use them? And if you do should you underline them? I know some agents abhor italics, others don't mind them. Some agents say that if they ask for a submission they want italic words underlined instead of italicized, others don't. This is one of those rules that you just have to research to find out what the agent wants. In all the submissions I've sent, I've left the italic words italicized because the agents haven't stipulated one way or another. But like I said, it differs depending on the agent.

Those are all things I can think of for now. I'll add more as I remember them though. What about you wordsmiths? What did you realize you needed to fix as you were writing/revising your manuscripts?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy Award!

Cute Courtney Reese was nice enough to give me a Happy Award for my blog. She's a writer with excellent taste in books and a really cool blog layout. Since I've been busy beta reading for one of my critique partners, I've neglected posting much this past week. So the Happy Award gives me an excuse to take time and post ten things that make me happy.

1. My hyper Pomeranian, Pippin, who makes me feel like a star every time I walk into a room.

2. Laughing so hard my stomach hurts.

3. Modern Family, Arrested Development, Glee, and especially Lost!!! I can't wait for Season 6!!!

4. Cupcakes. If it wasn't for my relationship with the cupcake shop, I doubt I'd get any writing or revisions done at all.

5. A good book with characters I fall in love with and want to read again and again.

6. The kiss between Aragorn and Arwen at the end of The Lord of The Rings, Return of The King. Every man on earth should have to take kissing lessons from that scene.

7. The gnocchi at Cucina Toscana in Salt Lake City.

8. The sound of a V8 muscle car.

9. The smell of rain.

10. Hearing a great song that I haven't heard in awhile and remembering how much I love it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Honest Scrap Blog Award

The lovely Kristin Rae was nice enough to give me my first blog award! As part of accepting the Honest Scrap Award, I'm supposed to post 10 things about myself. So, here are some things you might not know about me. 1. I've been a vegetarian since I was 5. My parents weren't thrilled about my choice and tried to change my mind, but I was a stubborn little kid. 2. I seem to meet famous people at restaurants. Ben Affleck at Hard Rock in Salt Lake City, Michael Jordan at Ghidotti's in Park City. 3. I plan on getting a tattoo for my 80th birthday. 4. Since childhood, I've been terrified of the TV show Dr. Who because of an evil red-eyed monster I saw on the show. To this day if I hear the theme music, I still get chills and cover my ears. 5. I'm a germ freak. I always carry anti-bacterial spray and clorox wipes. 6. In high school, I spent a good deal of time in fields hunting for the hubcaps that had flown off my 1966 Mustang and taken little adventures on their own. 7. I'm terrified of spiders but I can't kill them. Instead I just trap them under a cup. If my husband sees an upside down cup on the floor, he knows there is a spider waiting and he should dispose of it. 8. The first concert I ever went to was Neil Diamond when I was 11 years old. It took me 8 years of dating my husband before I could admit to him that I'm a Neil fan. 9. Much to my dad's chagrin and wonder at where he went wrong, I am a liberal of the few in Utah. 10. My husband has started a numbering system for my fictional boyfriends. Ranger Manoso, Peeta, Jace, and Patch. *sigh*

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Trailers

Book trailers are becoming more and more popular so I decided to make one for Eternal Starling. It was surprisingly easy and if I can do it, anyone can! A bunch of my great YA writer friends on gave me suggestions on how to make a trailer. I had no idea there were so many options out there. If you're interested in making one of your own, I used a program that came with my laptop, Windows Movie Maker. I used a sample song that also came with my laptop and the pictures are my own. If you're looking for a good place to get photos, you can buy them at for $1 per image.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Are You Writing A Book? Do This...NOW!!!

Are you working on a book, finished a book, have a outline for book you think you might write in 50 years? You might think this is strange, but here's a suggestion:

Email yourself!

I'm not kidding. As soon as you finish reading this post, do it ASAP and here's why:

Right before I started querying Eternal Starling I stopped by the bookstore and happened to see a display for a YA Fantasy book. I try to read a lot of YA Fantasy since it's one of the genres I write in and I was especially interested in this book because a local author wrote it. I took it home and started reading, then immediately wanted to bang my head against the wall. As I kept reading, I kept wanting to go to the wall for more head banging. The reason? The book had several plot points that were eerily similar to things in my book. I'd never heard of this author or their book before I saw it in the bookstore, and even then, I just picked the book up on a whim.

I frantically spent weeks rewriting many aspects of the plot and cursing the writing gods for giving the other author and myself similar ideas. Eternal Starling is better now because of the revisions, but if I'd just done something as simple as emailing myself, I wouldn't have had to worry...or at least, not as much. This experience taught me what I need to do to protect myself as an author.

Here's the thing: all ideas are essentially ideas other people have had before, they're just packaged in an original way when you write your novel. There's a good chance some other writer out there has an idea comparable to yours. When it comes to getting sued for plagiarism, you only need to be able to prove that the idea in your book was original to you. One of the best ways to do this is to attach the draft you're working on to an email, then send it to yourself and save the email in one of your account folders. How often you do it is up to you, but if I'm working on a writing project, I email an updated draft to myself about once a month. Having these emails with a time stamp on the email/attachment can help protect you if you're ever sued for plagiarism.

I decided to start emailing my drafts after my software engineer husband suggested it as a way to safeguard my work. I also got some information from a patent/copyright attorney. I later found out that even bestselling authors email their drafts to themselves as a way to protect their ideas.

So start emailing yourself my dear writers! Trust me, your head and your wall will thank you. :) If you have other suggestions for protecting your work, I'd love to hear them! Please post in the comments below.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Eternal Starling Story...So Far

Recently I've had some other aspiring authors ask about my experience writing and querying for my novel, Eternal Starling. I thought I should post the answer here so everyone can read it.

My book is a Young Adult Paranormal Romance, though technically, since my main character is starting college, it could be considered Adult. I started writing Eternal Starling in the summer of 2008. I was working on a couple other book projects when I got the idea for E.S. and then I just couldn't get the story out of my head. I wrote Eternal Starling in three months, then gave it to some family members to read (more about that later). I took the input from my family members and edited it myself a few more times before I gave to a friend who is an English Literature Professor (Amazing Ashley). Giving it to her was the best thing I could have done. She ripped it apart. She told me where all the plot holes were, what parts of the book just weren't working, things she liked and didn't like about the characters, and how to improve the manuscript. I spent about 6 weeks working with Amazing Ashley and editing the book before I started sending out query letters. While I was first sending out queries, I kept giving the book to other readers (friends, other writers, people in my target audience) and got feedback from them and continued to make changes to the book based on what they told me. My total number of beta readers was 15 and I had two editors: Amazing Ashley and a journalist friend (Extraordinary Emily).

I decided to send my query letters in rounds so I could learn from each agent response and improve the letter for the next round of queries. You should plan to query between 80-120 agents. Rejection letters are just part of the process so don't get discouraged. I know that's easy to say and it's a lot harder to deal with, but you get immune to it eventually and the rejection is just part of the process. I just repeat the "It's SO subjective" mantra over and over again. It really is about finding the right agent and the agent has to click with your work. And honestly, that's what you want! I know when you start querying you think: An agent! Any agent! The agent could be an ostrich, I don't care, I just want an agent! No, you want the *right* agent. You're hopefully going to spend the rest of your career with this person and they will help shape your writing career. You want to make sure you have the best agent for you and your work. Once you start sending queries and getting rejections, use the rejections to improve your query and your manuscript. If you do that and you have a good query letter, you will get partial and full requests.

My day job is in marketing, advertising and PR so I decided to start marketing my book as soon as I began sending query letters out. I posted a few chapters on my website and and now I have an audience around the world--which certainly doesn't hurt when it comes time to try and sell the book. I also began networking with agents, editors, editorial assistants, and other authors on Twitter. That's been a huge help because agents/editors/editorial assistants recognize me as someone they tweet with when they see my query. I also read agent blogs every day. The blogs taught me about the publishing industry, what agents were looking for, and how to write a query letter. Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson, Janet Reid, and Query Shark, were all really helpful to me while I was trying to learn more about the publishing industry and I still read those blogs now.

The biggest mistake I see other writers make is that they finish their rough draft, read it over a few times, maybe let a couple family members read it, spell check it, and then send it out to agents. Trying to get an agent to read your manuscript can feel daunting, especially now. A few years ago, agents were getting around 50-100 query letters each week, now they're getting between 200-500 a week. So, making sure your query letter is fantastic and your manuscript is pristine is important if you want to get the attention of an agent. While family is great for boosting your confidence and giving you general suggestions, a good editor will be able to find things most readers don't think about (ie. misplaced modifiers, faulty parallelism problems, and general plot issues that most regular readers won't see). Some agents are "editing agents" and they want to help you improve the book before they send it out on submission to publishing houses. Other agents want the book ready to go to publishing houses and won't take you on as a client unless the book is very close to being ready to submit. In any event, make sure you wait to query until your work is as close to perfect as you think you can get it.

The whole process can feel overwhelming and that's why it's important to have other writer friends who understand what you're going through. I don't know what I would do without my writing mentors and a network of people to ask for advice.

That's my story so far. Hope it helps!