Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 25-27, 2012

Apologies for missing you yesterday: 3 hours on the road for a 2 hour meeting will chew up a big portion of a day. So we’ll catch up with a 3-day post today and Monday’s will cover just what’s left of today plus Sunday and early Monday.

Interestingly, the best posts of the last few days have either been about the business of writing, or just plain fun pieces. Nice contrast. Let’s get the work done first.

BUSINESS

We’ve all heard about (pun fully intended) audio books—they’ve been around a long time. Jordan Dane (@JordanDane) writes about her experiences in Self-Publishing in AUDIO on The Kill Zone. She worked with an organization called Audiobook Creation Exchange, so other sites and companies will be somewhat different. For Your Information.

James Watkins (@jameswatkinscom) provides seven reminders/warnings to follow to ensure you Don’t Sabotage Your Writing/Speaking Career on WordServe Water Cooler. Many of these cautions are against having “unprofessional” e-mail addresses, business cards, web presence, social media posts, and so on. Having a bad reputation is, of course, bad. And so is having taken advantage of “free” publishing opportunities in ways that brand you still an amateur. Remember: writing is, at the end of the day, a business.

Along that desperate-amateur line of thinking, Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) has put up a couple posts on Writer Beware ® Blogs warning of Two More High-Entry Fee Book Awards and a dodgy America’s Next Author Contest. Strauss goes into detail on why each of these programs are ones you should stay away from. Far away. Desperation to be published is one of the worst reasons to give up your rights as an author. Don’t.

In that same vein, Kristine Kathryn Rusch (@kriswrites) discusses Rights Reversion in her weekly Business Rusch column. What is “rights reversion?” It’s getting back certain of the publication rights (part of your overall set of copyrights) from a publisher after a certain period of time has elapsed or certain conditions have been met. In this very long post, Kris discusses how publishers can play games with authors to keep rights from reverting, and how authors can unwisely sign away any chance of having the publication rights to a given work ever come back to them. This post IS long, but if you don’t read any other one, read this one.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) writes a long post discussing the question Do Publishers Need to Offer More Value to Authors? The key word here is “need” and the underlying question is who has the need. To summarize the piece, Jane says that while authors would like publishers, particularly the “Big 6” publishers, to provide more author-centered service, publishers do not yet see the need to do that, and until they do—and she believes they never will—they won’t. Depressing? Maybe. A case for more and more self- and e-publishing? Probably.

OK, enough depressing stuff. Let’s have some

FUN

Could you write your own memoir in just six words? That’s Rachelle Gardner’s (@RachelleGardner) challenge to her readers in Too Much Coffee? No Such Thing, which, by the way, is hers.

Bad reviews are depressing, right? But what about, in the scope of history, they also turn out to be wrong—really wrong? Enter Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) of 101 Books, excerpting some such reviews from a longer list on Flavor Wire, in “Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking.” It’s interesting to note how many of these reviews come from the New York “Literary” circles. Guaranteed to raise a smile.

And finally, John Vorhaus (@TrueFactBarFact) complains about (with tongue planted firmly in cheek—I think), then engages in Verbing the Nouns on Writer Unboxed. This is all about playing with words to create our unique writer’s voice, and while it’s laugh-out-loud funny, there’s also a serious point to it. (I know, I know: how disappointing. J)

What Great Stuff have you discovered? Let us know in the Comments.

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Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, August 14, 2012

Another day of great variety, and only one with much focus on “craft.” Where to begin? Where to begin? Oh, heck, how about here:

  • “Doctor Rita,” a.k.a. Dr. Rita Hancock (@RitaHancockMD) warns on WordServe Water Cooler that SEO is Not Enough To Grow Your Blog Subscriber List! Her point is that while SEO (Search Engine Optimization) done right will get you initial hits/visits thanks to the search engines finding your blog, there are three other value-adding things that will cause one-time readers to become subscribers: forward links out to other blogs or web sites, back links coming from other blogs or sites to yours, and the emotional connection the content of your blog makes with readers. If they feel it, they’ll read it. And come back to read it again.
  • This giving value is what Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) discusses in a way, today, when she counsels Give Them What They Want. Now I admit have more than a little discomfort with the way this post begins–while acknowledging the sometimes-necessary utility of the philosophy–but when Rachelle gets to the end and reminds us to follow submission guidelines, I’m all over it. Cold-hard-world reminder: publishers, editors, and agents DON’T have to buy your work. It’s the Golden Rule of Business: he who has the gold, rules. If you can’t, won’t, or don’t follow their rules, don’t be surprised when they reject you for failing to do so.
  • Still in the vein of doing your homework, C. Hope Clark’s (@hopeclark) guest post on Writer Beware identifies The Red Flags of Writing Contests. Clark lists half a dozen things that can warn you away from entering your work in a contest, ranging from the contest being brand new to one that demands ALL publishing rights from the winners. A very useful post if you’ve ever considered entering you work in a contest.

Fair warning: these next two posts are quite long.

  • Porter Anderson’s (@Porter_Anderson) EXTRA ETHER: Bookstore Bake Sale on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog is a response to Sarah Callender’s (@sarahrcallender) Writer Unboxed plea, Imagine Saving a Life: An Indie Bookstore Pledge, in which she advocates making a commitment to regularly buy books from independent bookstores to keep them open. To summarize, Anderson disagrees with Callender’s suggestion (which he calls a “bake sale approach”), the “misguided” idea that Amazon.com is the enemy of the independent bookstore, and the lack of creative thinking on the part of independent book sellers and their advocates to create a market niche in which they can not just survive, but thrive. Controversial stuff, maybe, but thought-provoking.
  • Finally, speaking of Writer Unboxed, comes Therese Walsh’s (@ThereseWalsh) Interview with Yuvi Zalkow on the occasion of the release of his first novel, A Brilliant Novel in the Works. Now, I realize the wry, neurotic, self-mocking style of Yuvi’s WU videos (and the book trailer, viewable from the interview), which apparently carries over to the novel, isn’t for everyone, and the interview deals a lot with his process of creating a likely very “literary” pseudo-memoir featuring a protagonist named Yuvi Zalkow. So if you’re not into self-revelatory memoir or fiction, most of the interview may not be for you. But Yuvi’s final comment, to Therese’s request for his advice to writers is, in Yuvi’s typical style, worth repeating here: “Never pretend like you know what the hell you’re doing. Keep stumbling.”

Stumble on!

 

 

Revision as Experiment

This spring, I began the final (I hope) revision of my memoir about my years with parrots and the search for the human love of my life. Rather than approach the manuscript willy-nilly, I wrote out a plan, plus a few general ideas I wanted to keep in mind as I worked. I posted these on my computer screen as Stickies. This is one of the most useful programs I’ve encountered, and it’s free. (www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/stickies/)

My list included reading through the entire stack of critiques from two previous versions of the book, from two different writers’ groups. When you’re talking about this amount of paper, you have to measure it with a ruler. My stack was a foot high.

Right away, I ran into trouble, and not just because of the sheer volume of paper and suggestions. In both versions, two critiquers–men who read science fiction and action novels–suggested that I needed to remove my personal backstory from the first chapter and weave it into later sections. They agreed that Chapter 1 needed to focus on the beginning of my relationship with the parrot I’d just brought home and that the bits of personal history slowed down the action and might keep readers from getting hooked.

The biggest problem I had with their comments wasn’t technical; it was neurological. I had read and revised that first chapter so many times without making any essential changes that it had become grooved into my brain. I couldn’t see how to make the suggested changes. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to. The women in the group thought the backstory and pacing were fine, and I believed that the majority of my audience would be female.

OK, Stephen King says that if you receive contradictory suggestions from roughly equal numbers of trustworthy readers, you can call it a push and write it the way you want. I was inclined to do just that. But there was another element: My ego had gotten involved. The chapter had won first place for nonfiction at a writers’ conference. Didn’t that mean it was good enough? If an agent or an editor at a publishing house–someone with a check in his/her hand–thought the backstory should come out, I’d do the rewrite.

Two questions kept gnawing at the back of my brain and finally shook me out of my complacency:

  • What if the way the book was structured kept an agent or editor from getting to the point of asking for revisions in the first place?  They might reject it with a casual “not for us,” and I would never know why.
  • What did it mean to win that competition?  I wanted it to suggest that I had written the most memorable prose the contest judge had ever read. What it really said, though, was that of all the work submitted, she thought mine was the best; nothing more.

With these insights, my ego finally yielded, and I saw a way to approach the revision: Think of it as an experiment to which I did not have to commit. I wasn’t burning any bridges. I could always revert to the original version–especially if my agent or editor wanted to see another approach.

The point of an experiment is to find out something. What did I learn?

  • Not to get too attached to a particular version of a piece–or to notice when that’s happened.
  • Try different approaches without getting too serious about them. Play with a variety of ideas. You’re just going out to coffee with the revision, not making any until-death-do-us-part promises.
  • Don’t let the resistance build up. If I’d tried this experiment the first time someone had suggested it, I wouldn’t have made the mere thought of revision so difficult to consider for so long.

Here’s the laugher: Once I found the right way to look at it, the whole experimental revision, including transitions and storing the parts I had cut in their own file for use elsewhere, took about two hours. This brought to mind my mother telling eight-year-old me that if I had spent half as much time and energy cleaning up my room as I had complaining about it, I’d already be outside, playing hide-and-seek with the rest of the neighborhood kids.