Monday, October 29, 2012

Continuity & Copyedits

It's amazing to me the things that slip past my writer's eyes. I expect the first edit to catch all kinds of problems - changing a character's name midway through the book, starting a sentence one way only to end it in another, random periods, comma splices (err... a couple hundred of those), and various "mis"spelled words that are actually spelled correctly - like a misplaced "the" instead of "he," and vice versa.

It happens. It's expected. By the second or third editing pass and a few critique partners and beta readers' feedback there are still an amazing amount of flubs that eek by. Little bittie bastards, I call them. Minor things that spell check won't catch and my brain (and the CP's and betas' too, apparently) seem to auto-fix as we read. For example, I had an errant spotting of the mythical item called "lip floss" instead of "lip gloss" hanging out in a YA ms that had been through... well, I won't tell you how many smart people had read that thing and never caught it.

Then the agent passes through and catches a lot of those little bittie bastards, and usually the agent passes through it again to catch the little itty bittie bastards. At that point we all feel pretty secure, and the ms goes out on submission. Hopefully it gets picked up (hooray) and then the editor jumps in.

I've talked before about the editing process when you've got a real pro on your side, so I won't go into that here. Once your ms has passed through the editor it should look amazing, right? It should have a nice veneer on it like an Edwardian teak desk, right? Well... sure, it kind of does.

But there are times when that desk looks awesome but perhaps it's missing a drawer. Sometimes really, really obvious things that completely undermine a scene have slipped past you, your CP's, your beta readers, your agent and even your editor.

How can that be? Hopefully it's because all the people above were so lost in your storytelling that they simply accepted what you're saying and rolled with it. Lost in the moment, they didn't realize that the moment didn't have any right to exist in the first place.

My example - my copyeditor found a spot in NOT A DROP TO DRINK where my MC is finally letting her emotional walls down and taking a moment to study the face of a sleeping friend in the flickering shadows of firelight. Awww... it's really sweet. It's pretty much the first time she has acknowledged to herself that she actually cares about another human being. It makes people tear up, which I guess blurs their vision a little, because they forget that the scene is taking place in a concrete basement, it's past midnight, there's a blizzard outside, and they just shut the door to the cast iron stove a paragraph above so.... technically my MC can't see jack shit.

Yeah... need to fix that.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut NOT A DROP TO DRINK - a post apocalyptic survival tale will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


By Erin Cashman

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. It has always been my dream to be a published author.  I majored in English at Bates College, where I read and read and read, and wrote and wrote and wrote. My favorite class was Creative Writing.

Following graduation, my father encouraged me to go to law school, so that I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years.  But when I had children, I felt that familiar pull . . . I needed to write. I wrote partially finished manuscripts and stories that sort of fell apart in the middle. I took a creative writing class, hoping to bring my writing to the next level.  It didn’t. 

And then one day I had nothing to read, so I picked up a book I had already read and loved. I read slowly, and really paid attention to the voice, the descriptions, the story arc, and the characters. I underlined the book, wrote notes in the margin, and folded down pages.  I jotted down ideas and thoughts in a notebook. By becoming more of an active reader, it was as if the author was teaching a writing class.  I read more books – slowly and carefully. I finally understood why reading is so crucial to writing.

As the ideas started to germinate inside my head, I discovered something else. Sometimes my best ideas don’t come to me when I’m sitting in front of the computer screen, or with a pen perched in my fingers, but when I tune everything out and let my mind wander. Often, if I’m having trouble with a character, or a plot issue, the solution comes to me when I’m walking my dog. I usually start out thinking about the day’s activities, but soon into the quiet rhythm of the walk (no ipods!) my mind wanders and my imagination takes over. Other times a great idea comes to me as I lie in bed somewhere in the never-land between dream and reality, or when I’m driving alone in the car (no radio or cell phones!). In our very busy, hectic lives, we have so few times when we allow our minds to wander freely. And yet -- at least in my case -- these are the times when inspiration hits me like a lightning bolt.

For me, the part I enjoy the most about writing is letting the story unfold.  I love listening to the characters as they become like real people living inside my head.  Once my first draft is done I celebrate! And then, after a month, I look at it again and start to seriously edit.  This is my least favorite part of the process, and the most work.  I edit, edit and edit some more. And when I think I’m finished, I read the entire manuscript out loud.  It’s amazing how many mistakes I catch! And reading it out loud also really helps when it comes to crafting natural dialogue.  I want all my characters to speak beautiful, proper English. Unfortunately, people don’t speak like that! 

So . . . I finished my manuscript, edited it, and read it out loud - twice. I submitted it and found an agent and a publisher, right? Wrong. It took me three novels and five years to find an agent and a publisher. I didn’t give up on my dream or myself, I kept trying, and finally, I found an agent and a publisher for my third novel, The Exceptionals.  For all of you aspiring authors out there, here are the four things that helped me the most:

1.      Be an active reader.

2.      Unplug from the world and let your imagination take over!

3.      Edit, edit and edit some more. Try reading your manuscript out loud!

4.      Keep trying!

I hope these tips help you as much as they did me!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A cover story, part two!

By Julie Kibler

I posted about seeing my cover for Calling Me Home a few months ago. Then the unexpected happened, which, it turns out, isn't so uncommon in the midst of book pregnancy!

Shortly before I went to New York to meet my agent and editor for the first time in person, I learned my cover art was going to change. At first I was shocked, to be honest. "How can this be happening?" I thought. "Everyone's already seen it. It's plastered everywhere." And, as I mentioned in the original post, even if it takes you a few minutes to decide you love something, it eventually wiggles into your heart and brain. It 
becomes the book, in a way. It becomes part of who your book baby is. And when you learn it's going to change pretty dramatically, it's almost like discovering that your baby, the one you thought had curly red hair and fiery green eyes, is really a silky blonde with eyes like chocolate drops.

I needed some time to take it in. But soon, I remembered that the cover is packaging. It's not the book. It's not the story. And the packaging may change numerous times as various editions of the book release. And in the end, even if the packaging looks a little or a lot different on the outside, the story is still the story. With that realization, I trusted the professionals (in this case, the sales and marketing departments and booksellers) to know better than I do what will allow the story to sell the very best it can.
My old cover art was anchored in metaphor, in symbolism, in nuance. The new cover art tells a story. Some people have commented that since they've seen the new cover, they understand the old one. That was interesting to me and made me realize that sometimes you just need to be blunt. I know exactly what my story is about. I understand perfectly what the gold and silver leaves in the old art represented, but to the reader browsing a bookstore shelf or website, a mysterious cover may just be too mysterious. The new art doesn't necessarily touch on everything the old art did, but it gives the reader a point of reference. 

One of my critique partners showed the new cover art to her 13-year-old son, who knows nothing about the story. He said, "Ohhh, a love story. They are probably driven apart by prejudice." He thought in the end, they would probably be together. I won't spoil the story here, but I can say that this young man made some fairly accurate predictions based simply on the cover art. He knew what he might get it if he picked up Calling Me Home, more or less.

I think this is going to be a good thing. And after wrapping my brain around the change for a few weeks while the art department at my publishing house tweaked and finessed the new cover, I became quite enamored of it. I also had a good reminder of old adage: It's what's on the inside that really counts. I hope you'll be drawn in by this cover, too, enough to discover what's hidden within.

Calling Me Home is available for pre-order now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, and other online retailers! The new cover is trickling in at these sites little by little.

Monday, October 15, 2012

NEIBA and NAIBA and Independent Bookstores

What do writers and independent bookstores have in common? More than you might think. 

  • We all love books.
  • We love readers.
  • We want readers to buy our books.
  • We are small business people.

When my publisher (Harper Collins/Morrow) suggested that they would send me to a couple of the Independent Bookseller trade shows, I was thrilled. This would be an opportunity to meet booksellers in person and hopefully interest them in my novel. But the truth is I didn’t know a great deal about the inner workings of bookstores. I knew I loved them. I knew they generally only have so much floor space for inventory. I knew independent bookstores were an important force in the market, particularly in the wake of recent changes.

A while later Harper gave me the specifics; they were sending me to NAIBA (New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association) and NEIBA (New England Independent Booksellers Association.) Interesting names I thought, and I searched their websites. I knew that a few other Book Pregnant members, Lydia Netzer, Wiley Cash and Stephen Dau had attended the Winter Institute (American Booksellers Association) last season and done signings there, met booksellers and so forth, but still I didn’t know quite what to expect.

These conferences are not the ones to which we are accustomed. These are not about writers or our books. These are about how booksellers make their stores function better, how they can cope with the changing market and economy. And yes, the conferences are about books. The publishers give away galleys. Independent bookstores must be selective about which books they put on their shelves, because they have limited space. This is a chance for them to sample.

At NAIBA, I attended a tour of a Washington D.C. bookstore called Politics & Prose.

It’s something of a landmark, having served the area for (I should have taken notes so don’t quote me on this, but I think…) about 28 years. They changed owners several years ago, and the original owners actually put potential buyers through a series of interviews because they wanted the new owner to maintain the store's integrity. The store has about 8000 square feet and 50 employees. They do over 700 events a year, hold classes, they have one of those print on demand machines… My point is this is not your average independent bookstore.  And the other people on the tour with me were bookstore owners looking to see what they can do to make their own store more profitable. In other words, this tour was fascinating to them. And honestly to me – because I began to appreciate what booksellers are up against, not to mention I had the opportunity to see the machine (below) print a book in about 5 minutes.  

I was not scheduled to attend any other events, but I did sneak into a session where editors were talking about their newest and biggest finds. I believe the majority of the sessions were geared to bookstore workings. I know there was one on how independent bookstores might break into the e-reader market. Apparently they’re working on something with KOBO, but unfortunately I didn’t hear the scoop.

I smiled and walked up to booksellers. “Hi, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Priscille Sibley, the author of The Promise of Stardust. I see you’re from Doylestown Books. That’s not too far from where I live. Doylestown is lovely.”  (Doylestown really is lovely.) Then after a little back and forth I’d give my elevator pitch. “My book is about a woman who suffers a devastating brain injury, and just as they are about to remove her life support, they find out she’s two months pregnant.”  I watched their faces for reactions. And I got them. Then we talked some more, about their stores, their book clubs, and their challenges. I tried to make a human connection.

I admit the schmoozing was a little outside my comfort zone, but the more I did it, the more comfortable I became. I asked about their bookstores and how they were doing. Believe it or not most of them said they were doing pretty well. They have loyal customers. (Love readers!) Some of the owners were just venturing into bookstore ownership. A brave thing to do; I applaud bravery. Nothing good ever happens without it.

For me in the pre-publication phase, this was my first book signing, so you can imagine I was extremely excited (and a little nervous).  

(Priscille Sibley with author, Patsy Harman)

 The area was full of publishers tables set up with their books. Also, there were other distributers of products that bookstores might use, calendars, bookmarks, mugs, pens, reading glasses and so forth.

Later, that evening I also attended the author reception where each author had his or her own café table set up with books. I gave an ARC to every bookseller I could entice. (If they read and like, hopefully they will order – remembering small bookstores have small inventories).

Oh, and did I mention that the lovely Erika Robuck was there, too? 

NEIBA, held in Providence, RI is bigger than its counterpart outside D.C., but I was there for a shorter time. I drove up for the signing only. Held at a convention center, the exhibitors (publishers and other sponsors) filled a larger room.  But the experience was similar. I looked at the tags booksellers were wearing. I held out my hand and introduced myself.

And I met them. That, down the heart of it was the best part. I learned about booksellers. We have the love of books in common. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Almost Live From the Baltimore Book Festival—Finding the Courage to Write

by Sophie Perinot

Sophie Perinot (right) with Kate Quinn
(another woman who found the courage
to pursue her writing seriously).
This past weekend I had the pleasure of being a presenting author at the Baltimore Book Festival.  Among the panels I sat on was one entitled “Finding the Courage to Write.”  Finding their courage is certainly something every book pregnant author has done—otherwise we wouldn’t be in a family way would we?  But I’d never really reflected on that fact, or what precisely it meant in my own experience until I received my list of panel assignments. What follows are the conclusions I came to while preparing my remarks for the Festival. 

When I heard title “Finding the Courage to Write” I immediately thought about how so many women writers—including myself—transition to writing from other careers or from being stay-at-home Moms.  I mean I wasn’t always a writer (were you?).  In fact, I am not even one of those people who always knew she wanted to be a writer.  I do not have stacks of journals under my bed dating to my adolescent days. I’ve always made up stories, sure (mostly for my sister’s entertainment) but when I was a little girl I dreamed of being the junior senator from Ohio, not a novelist.  Then I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer and in due course I went off to college and law school and became one. And that is when I discovered that being good at something doesn’t mean you enjoy it.  Which brings me to the courage thing. 

When people like me—those who come to writing somewhere down the line in life—talk about “Finding the Courage to Write” what we are really talking about is something bigger.  We are talking about finding the courage to REINVENT ourselves and commit, fully to that reinvention.

In my own case my sister helped me find my initial courage.  As I mentioned I was my in my dream job but it was turning out to be not-so-dreamy.  I knew I wanted to do something new, but deciding what to be when you grow up when you are already grown up is an angst filled business.  I don’t do angst without my sister (much as she doubtless wishes I would).  So I was on the phone using her as an unpaid career counselor/therapist when she said, “I know you are making up a story right now in your head.  Whatever that story is pick up your dictaphone and start saying it out loud.”  I was leaving on a family beach vacation, but I took my dictaphone along and followed my sister’s orders.  The result was my first completed manuscript.  But putting words on paper was only the first step down the road to being reincarnated as a writer—and for me it was NOT the most difficult or courageous.

What took the most guts was getting up the gumption to admit that I wanted my writing to be more than a hobby.  That it was a serious, professional endeavor.  And here is why I think that was so difficult:

1)      When you write as a hobby you don’t really have to put yourself on the line.  You can begin writing part-time, in your spare time and entirely as a hobby.  Nobody has to know you are writing.  Other than my family and a few very close friends, nobody knew I was working on that first book.  And the GLORIOUS THING ABOUT BEING AN “IN THE CLOSET” WRITER is that you cannot fail at something nobody knows you are doing.  Even if you choose to share your stories with friends or family, as I did, there isn’t much risk—if your mother or your friend doesn’t like your book she is going to be too polite to say so.  Besides chances are they will love what you’ve written because when we evaluate something created by a person we care about we are likely to see it with kind and enthusiastic eyes.
But while you can be a writer as a hobby you cannot remain a hobbyist and become a published author. So unless I wanted to just tie every manuscript up with a ribbon and put it in my linen closet I had find the courage to say out loud—first to myself, then to writers in a writing community, and finally to agents in the form of a query letter—“I want to be a professional writer and I am seeking publication for my work.”
2)     Going public with your dream opens the door to a whole lot of hurt. The big fear of course is public failure.  If you proclaim that you intend to write and publish a book and then fail . . . ouch.  Or you can have a book published and it can belly flop into oblivion. But even before you get to the edge of that cliff, the road to publication involves finding an agent and a publisher—steps that require you to show your manuscript to industry professionals.  Handing over your manuscript to strangers brings with it the inevitable sting of rejection when someone (and doubtless more than one someone too) tells you your baby isn’t good enough or isn’t marketable.
It’s a true “no guts no glory” situation.  But plucking up your courage has more to recommend it than just the long term dream of publication.  If you admit that you want to write professionally a lot of doors open.  For example, once I’d owned up to my desire for a career in writing all sorts of new opportunities for learning about the publishing industry and growing my craft presented themselves.  I attended my first writing conference, and in three days learned more about my genre and the industry than I had learned in all my blog and article reading at home.  I also joined an on-line writing community to which I still belong and where I am now a moderator.
So by gathering your courage and acknowledging your dream you not only open the door to ultimate professional achievement—a book pregnancy and many happy returns—but at the same time you improve your chances of realizing that ultimate success.
If you are out in the BP audience quietly working on manuscripts and just storing them on your hard drive I am here to tell you (with my seven-month-old book baby on my lap) that if you can find the courage to own your dream of being a writer you can reach that dream.  And I think that a reinvention worth finding the courage to take a chance on.