Friday Desk Report 2-17-2017

The return of the Friday Desk Report! And look at that fabulously almost-symmetrical date.

So, there hasn’t been a Friday Desk Report for a while, mainly because for the past couple of months they all would have read something like, “Tried to work on the novel edits this week in between bouts of feeling utterly depressed with the world. Drowned my sorrows in Guild Wars 2. Also, winter.” I mean, how many times would you want to read that?

But here’s the good news: there’s actually news. I turned in the novel manuscript! I turned in the short story! I edited and submitted another story! So things have really picked up again around the old desk. With luck, it will continue. I have a few new projects pestering me for some attention, and some older ones lined up in the “go back to” queue. Time to open up my year-out project planning spreadsheet and fill in some things for the next few months.

I’ve also been asked to give a WFNS workshop this spring, which is exciting. We’re calling it “Exploring Speculative Fiction,” and I’m looking forward to spending a day talking genre with folks writing and hoping to write specfic stories. So over the next few weeks some of my desk time will be spent putting the workshop together.

I’ve also been busy Saving The World Through Knitting. Well, okay, not *quite* saving the world. But making a small difference. So far I’ve knit ten hats from my yarn stash, which will be sent to an organization that distributes such items to refugees in need. I’m finding it a very useful strategy in coping with stress, distress, and the darkness demons of the winter months. (In the course of this project I’ve also become addicted attached to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I expect I’ll be writing some new mysteries this year…)

Friday Desk Report – September 16, 2016

Oh, my, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

But in my defense, there wasn’t a whole lot of activity at the old desk this summer. We travelled for most of July, and then there was much to do for the Big Fat Geek Wedding happening at the beginning of September. What? You want a picture from that? Well, here you go. It just happened to happen on my own anniversary, so we celebrated at the photo booth.

sherry-terry-geeky-anniversary

 

And of course, I took a little bit of time for just enjoying summer. I did manage to read and make notes on a novel manuscript while on airplanes, and I have a new novella in the editing stage. So I guess I wasn’t entirely a slacker, was I?

This week has been mostly getting ready for CaperCon. This is the second year for this convention, and last year’s was a tremendous success. This year it looks like things have only grown, so I’m looking forward to being a guest. Here’s my schedule for the weekend:

Reading/Q&A – Friday @3:30
Crafting Stronger Stories (with Third Person Press) – Friday @6:30
Self-Publishing for Success – Saturday @ 11:00
Plotting and Outlining – or Not – Sunday @ 10:30
Blue Pencil Cafe (with Third Person Press) – Sunday @ 12:00
Writing a Series – Sunday @ 1:30
Insider’s Guide to Marketing and Publishing (with Third Person Press) – Sunday @ 3:00

If you’re there, please drop by my table and say hello!

Writing the Blurb

DSCN5084When I wrote my series of blog posts about mistakes made by self-publishing authors, one key stumbling-block I mentioned was the blurb. I picked out three major problems with blurbs in that post…in this one, I’m going to try to help you learn how to write a great one.

Earlier I said, “The blurb is your chance to sell me on reading your book.” That’s true–but how do you do that? There’s a lot going on in your book, I know, so how do we boil all that excitement down to a couple of brief paragraphs?

I’m going to propose a template here for a three-point blurb, and show you a couple of ways I’ve used it myself. I’m not saying these are the best blurbs ever written, but I think they’re solid and I’ve had readers tell me in both cases that they decided to read the book based on the blurb alone.

1. Start with your character(s). Who are they at the start of the story? Give them names, professions, status–whatever it is that makes them who they are and is important to the story. Do they have a goal, a dream, or a problem at the outset? Is there something about their world or situation that’s important? Can you also give a clue about the type of book this is?

Captain Luta Paixon of the far trader Tane Ikai needs to know why she looks like a woman in her thirties–even though she’s actually eighty-four. (character, profession, problem, genre)

Kit Stablefield is a detective with a secret and a crush on a guy she knows only online, in a future where magic is a part of everyday life. (character, profession, setting, problem, genre)

2. As I like to tell students when I do presentations about writing, stories are fueled by TROUBLE. So add a sentence or two telling us what the character’s biggest challenge or challenges are going to be in this story. What’s the one (or even two) most vital problems that must be faced and solved or the story will fail? Why is there no easy solution? Does something happen that compounds existing trouble or creates a new problem?

The explanation might lie with her geneticist mother, who disappeared over sixty years ago, but even if her mother is still alive, it’s proving to be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. (possible solution, not easy)

But when millionaire Aleshu Coro walks into the offices of Darcko and Sadatake with a message from the Murder Prophet and fourteen days to live, everything changes. (new challenge, upsets “normal” life)

3. The third point can do a few things: it can pile on further problems or complications; it can expand on why solutions are not easy to find or add further threats; it can pose a question that the story promises to answer, and the reader is now interested to see answered. You can also take the opportunity in this or any other point to give further clues about the tone, mood, and genre of the story.

With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the furthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart. (complications, further threats, more genre clues)*

With her eighty-six-year-old grandmother insisting on helping out, and a sentient goose who simply won’t stop pestering her to watch his “killer” video game moves, Kit has more than her hands full as she races against the clock to prevent Coro’s murder…and possibly her own. (complications, further threats, tone)**

Very often, even if the question isn’t explicitly stated in the latter section of the blurb, it’s there inherently. (Will the character succeed?) But you may want to pose a more universal or thematic question as well. While some folks don’t like questions at the end of blurbs, I’m not convinced that they’re a bad thing if they serve to get the reader wondering and invested in the story.

A few things to remember:
For each of the three points, limit yourself to one or two sentences only. This helps you really focus in on the vital points of your story.

Be honest! Write the blurb for the book you’ve written, not something else. If the book doesn’t deliver what the blurb has promised, you’re going to have a disappointed or even angry reader, and no-one wants that.

Don’t be satisfied with your first attempt. Rewrite, and rewrite again, trying out different elements or structures. Edit your blurb as carefully as you’ve edited your book. The blurb, as well as telling a potential reader what your story is about, also reveals how proficient you are as a writer. Make it sharp, clean, vivid and intriguing, and you’ll have readers wanting to know more.

*The full blurb for One’s Aspect to the Sun is here.

**The full blurb for The Murder Prophet is here.

Photo credit: pippalou

The Five Obstacles Self-Publishers MUST Overcome – Part 5

typewriterOne more hard truth, fellow self-publishers, and then I’ll stop haranguing you.

Obstacle #5 – You, the Author

This might sound harsh, but all the other obstacles we talked about really stem from one source—the author. Here’s what a lot of authors miss:

Self-publishing does not mean that you can, must, or should do it all yourself.

I think that’s what trips us up. You may be passionate about doing things your way, sticking it to the “gatekeepers,” or just sharing your story with the world. But don’t lose sight of the fact that publishers do not do everything themselves, either. They use editors. They use cover artists. They use book designers. They use marketers. They use people who are trained in these skills, and like it or not, your book is competing with those books for readers’ money and attention.

Yes, it’s possible to do all those things yourself, and do them all well. Maybe you can. But don’t expect to. Don’t assume you can. Instead, assume you have to educate yourself. You have to learn how to do these things, all of these things, well. And you have to accept that sometimes your best effort will not be enough, and you’re going to need help.

Let’s face it, as writers, we all have to have a touch of ego. We want to tell our stories. We want others to listen. We admit, by the mere fact of writing, that we believe we have something to say. But that ego can be our downfall. It tells us we can make a good book cover—or one that’s “good enough”–with no training or experience at all. It tells us that our writing is pretty darn good without any expensive and time-consuming editing. It tells us that if only we shout and shout and shout about our book enough, make our work “discoverable” enough, people will listen and feel compelled to read it, because it’s just that good.

That ego lies. Don’t trust it. View everything it says with suspicion. Assume you can’t do all those things yourself, and educate yourself if you’re determined to try. There’s a much better chance then that I’ll buy your book, and not put it down after the first five pages. And that other readers will follow suit.

The best news in all of this is that it’s not too late. Even if you’ve made one or more of these blunders, thrown these obstacles up in front of your potential readers, you can fix it. You can upload a new cover for an ebook. You can rewrite and change your blurb. You can upload an edited version of your story. You can start promoting more (or less!) or more effectively. You can decide to educate yourself or get help in the areas where your skills are lacking. If you’re in this for the long game, it’s never too late to improve.

Good luck!

The Five Obstacles Self-Publishers MUST Overcome – Part 4

1164137_stacked_mailAre you mad at me yet? Do you think I’m being too harsh on self-publishers? I hope not. My goal is to help you make better, and better-selling, books. Keep reading for the next obstacle you have to overcome.

Obstacle #4 – No Editing

This is a big one. Huge. Overwhelmingly huge. Your future as a writer rests on this. Again, this is one of those admonitions that I’ve read over…and over….and over. And still a lot of writers aren’t listening.

I’m sad to say I stopped reading the last three self-published books I took a chance on. In one, the first three pages were entirely missing paragraph breaks. Yup, three pages consisting of one big paragraph. The content was pretty much just the main character explaining stuff that, at that point, had no relevance or meaning to me as the reader. Now, you may think I’m too picky, but for me, that was enough to kill the book for me. The lack of paragraph breaks, such a fundamental technical element of writing, told me that no editor had passed this way. The content was not vital, exciting, or interesting enough to convince me that I should persevere. I can and will overlook mediocre writing if the story is good enough, but if you lose my trust in the first few pages, it’s pretty hard to gain it back.

In another of those books, the first chapter was interesting, but it was liberally sprinkled with misused words and awkward, confusing sentences. It became too much work to keep going, so I stopped. Again, editing could have made the difference.

In the third book, I got a little further. The writing wasn’t bad, the story was interesting. But then things started to go downhill. Events stopped making sense. Characters acted without apparent or understandable motivations. The story went off the rails and again, I lost faith in the author. This book was in need of plot or substantive editing. As writers, we’re not always fully aware of points when the book on the page is not as clear as the book in our head. We need that second pair of eyes to find those things and point them out to us, so we can fix them.

You might say, “Well, so what? You bought the book, so the author got his/her money!” Indeed. But they won’t be getting any more from me, because they lost my trust. And they will also not be getting the good review that could have sparked further sales.

Editorial services are expensive, I get that. Not everyone can afford them. But they’re not your only option. You can swap manuscripts with writing group pals and edit each other. You can get some books on self-editing (I like this one) and teach yourself how to improve. If you can get honest feedback from friends and acquaintances who are avid readers, they might at least be able to tell you that your manuscript has a lot of spelling errors, or doesn’t hold their interest, or doesn’t seem “ready.” This kind of advice may be vague, but at least it tells you that there’s more work to be done. None of these tactics is going to produce the polished manuscript that a professional editor will, but at least you’re making an effort, and it will show in the finished book.

I know. You’re excited about this thing you wrote. You love it. You want to share it with the world. But here’s the hard truth: the world doesn’t want it straight from your keyboard. Look at this graphic from @TheUnNovelist. This is the truth of writing, and your writing won’t do well until you accept it.

There’s one more obstacle I’m going to talk about—the most important one of all. Come back for it tomorrow!

Treadmill Desk – January Stats

P1040283So, some of you know that I set up a treadmill desk near the end of last year. I bought a secondhand treadmill in good condition, and my husband and I rigged up a prototype desk attachment with wood and duct tape so I could see if I was going to like it. I did. It took me a very short time to get used to typing while walking, and I used the desk a fair bit during NaNoWriMo in November. Not much in December, what with holidays and catching up after November. :)

Now we’ve ditched the prototype and made the “good” desktop from a piece of project pine. It’s bolted into place and there to stay (although it could be removed quite easily and the treadmill converted back to non-desk status in the future). I still need to put a few coats of finish oil on the wood, but it’s done for all intents and purposes. (If you are interested in more details on the DIY, please let me know!)

I planned that starting in January, I would try to track my usage of the desk (and the various outcomes). January turned out not to be what I consider a “normal” month, since some serious illness in our family affected both the time I had to walk and the things I did while walking. Still, I kept my records, so I can share them now. Aren’t you excited?

I track the time and distance I spend walking, average speed, the calories the treadmill tells me I burn (fwiw), and how I spent the time each session. Also, if I’m writing “new” words in a first draft, the number of words written. The breakdown for January is:

Time: 902 minutes (just over 15 hours)

Distance: 26.93 miles (Yes, I’m in Canada, I should be tracking kilometers; however, I haven’t figured out how to change that setting on the treadmill yet. However, being of a certain age, both miles and kms make perfect sense to me, so it’s all good.)

Calories burned: 5077 (Wow, that sounds like a LOT. It translates to having lost 3.6 pounds, so it IS a lot!)

Avg. speed: 1.78 mph (I try to keep up around 1.8-2.0, but depending on what I’m doing while walking, sometimes a bit slower is better.)graph-treadmill-january

Activities: For this, I made a chart! As you can see, I spent half my time on the treadmill in January–playing Torchlight II. I make no excuses for this. It was good stress relief at a very stressful time for our family. The editing was for the deadline I was working toward on the 15th of the month; I think all of it took place at the beginning of the month, and then I moved on to Torchlight in the second part of the month. I am hoping the breakdown for February will be different, because that will mean things have improved. :)

I have to say, I love my desk. Although it takes up a fair amount of space in my relatively tiny office, it’s well worth it. Writing is by nature a sedentary pursuit, but it doesn’t really have to be! (And yes, I wrote this while walking on the treadmill!)

 

The Five Stages of Novel Revision

Pick an emotion…any emotion…

The other day I watched a video by James Andrew Wilson, called The Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel. It’s both funny and true, so if you’re a writer (or even if you’re not) you should go and watch it.

Having recently been asked by an editor to revise a novel*, I think there are several stages to that process, as well. Here they are:

1. Elation Disappointment Disalation? I don’t know what to call this stage. Someone likes your novel and has said nice things about it! They think it has promise! Hurray! But you have to change things. It’s not perfect. The road ahead is paved with hard, hard work. Wah! It’s wonderful and horrible at the same time. You need a drink, some ice cream, or (insert favorite comfort item here) while it all sinks in.

2. Despair You don’t know how to do this. You can’t do this! Those changes won’t work! They’re too hard! They’ll wreck your novel! You can’t cut that subplot because then no-one will understand why the vagrant had to be blind. You can’t cut the busboy character because wasn’t it obvious that he was the one who saw the murder and reported it anonymously to the police? And how can the novel work at all without the circus? *headdesk*

3. Planning Okay, you just need to take a while and think about this. Think, and make a lot of notes. Maybe buy one of those huge whiteboards and diagram the entire novel on it. No! Better still, paint a wall of your office with chalkboard paint and diagram it there! Also, print out all the editor’s comments and highlight them with different colors according to level of importance, then glue them onto giant pieces of bristol board and brainstorm revision ideas around them! Oh yes, the pieces are all going to fall into place now…

4. Actual Work Half the time allotted for the revisions has now flown past. You’ve started seven different methods for working out how to fix your novel, but they’re all too much work or are too confusing. Finally you sit down with a printout of your novel and a red pen, and start reading and making notes. When you’re done, you start typing in your changes. It takes you all the rest of the time you’ve got and you have to alienate your family and friends to get it finished, but you do it. You think it stinks.**

5. Collapse You’ve sent in the revision just in time. By now you hardly care if the editor likes it or not–all that matters is that it’s done and you don’t have to look at the horrible thing any more…at least until the editor emails you…

*more details on that another day
** or you think it’s brilliant. Don’t worry, that won’t last.

The S-Word Again

So first, a project update–yes, I’ve been working on my summer edit. I’m about ten chapters in, and it’s going well, if a bit slowly. Not because there’s a whole lot to mark up–a relatively small number of pages actually look like the one in the photo–but because, well, it’s summer. There’s a lot going on. But I don’t want to let Bare Knuckle Writer down, so I am plugging away.

However, the sad realization struck me the other day that once I finish this editing pass, I’m going to have to write a synopsis. I could wail and moan a bit about that, but I won’t, because it is part of the writing process (well, if you want to submit your work anywhere, it is) and simply a Thing That Must Be Done. Instead of griping I thought it would be more productive to offer some advice on writing one.

I’ve found that there are two things about writing a synopsis that I really find difficult. One is starting. The other is holding the whole novel in your head in the proper order, so you can distill out the important bits. Fortunately, I’ve hit on one method that effectively deals with both these problems.

Note: if you are an outliner, you probably don’t have either of these problems. You already have the bones of your synopsis in your outline, so you just need to flesh it out. I might hate you a little bit, but I digress.

Since I never have an outline that’s an actual outline before I start writing (I might have pages and pages of story notes, but that is not an outline that’s of any use in creating a synopsis), I’ve learned to outline as I go. I’ve mentioned before that I use Writer’s Cafe Storylines for this. I write a scene or chapter, and either when I finish it, or at the end of the writing day, I create an index card and jot down just a couple of sentences about what just happened. I note where the scene or chapter takes place, and who is present. If I have multiple storylines/subplots, I might have cards going for each of those, too. I do the same thing for the next scene or chapter, and the next, etc. If I go back and insert a missing scene, I insert the appropriate card(s) for it, as well.

In this example, I have three rows of cards going. The dark purple row is the scene-by-scene breakdown. The light purple row tracks which characters appear in which scenes. (That helps avoid that “whatever happened to character X?” question.) The green row tracks the time and setting of each scene. Each column is a scene, and the black headers show me where the chapters break. (I have the wrapping option turned on, so that’s why you can see a second set of colored cards.) You might also note that some scene cards bear a checkmark–those are the ones I’ve marked up in this editing pass. I can see my progress at a glance.

So, the outliners out there are probably wondering how this helps me write the story–it doesn’t. But what it does do is twofold: it shows me at a glance an overview of the arc of the storyline (very helpful when I start revising), and later, it gives me a jumping-off point when it comes to writing a synopsis. Because I can run a report in Storylines and export the information from the cards that I want, and I have a rough outline of my synopsis. All the important stuff is there…because that’s what I’ve jotted down on the cards. The bones are good.

The rest–well, the rest is mostly rewriting it in coherent and well-formed sentences, and polishing it until it’s intriguing, explanatory, and shows the editor that you’ve got a solid story told in an engaging fashion. Yeah. That’s the easy part.

Note: You can use this method perfectly well via the low-tech method of real paper index cards, too. But I’m a big fan of Writer’s Cafe and all the other things it can do as well.

Summer Project

So, that Bare Knuckle Writer really knows how to pull the strings and make me dance, whether intentionally, or not. She’s got me blogging more often (almost, like, regularly), and yesterday she threw down a gauntlet. (Yeah, she’s a little confrontational, but in a very endearing way.)

You really should go and read her entire post, because it’s fun and quirky as usual, but here’s the gauntlet part:

Every writer’s got one. That project whose time never comes. All it needs is a little love, but somehow it keeps getting pushed back in favour of new things and shinier ideas…This is its time. Dig that thing out, take it out to the back deck or the beach or the patio with you, and get to work.

And…she’s right. Of course she’s right. Who doesn’t have one (or more) of those projects, whether it’s a half-finished story, a novel, or something else? Honestly, I have more than I care to admit, but I’m not going to think about that or I’ll start crying into my keyboard. Or start a new chocolate binge. Possibly both. But I digress.

After reading the challenge yesterday, I printed out the manuscript you see in the photo above. It’s so close to being done that you can almost smell the done-ness on it. One more line-edit pass, that’s all it needs. It’s already been rewritten, revised, substantively edited and mostly line-edited.

Why has it been lying around for so long in this state of almost-finished-ness? Because it’s a bit of a strange project. A bit unclassifiable. A mash-up of genres. In plain words, I have no idea who might want to publish it.

But that’s not really the point, is it? The problem of what to do with it is not a problem until it’s done. So I’ll finish it. And then I’ll worry about what to do with it.

Sounds like a plan. BKW, I hope you’re reading this.

Self-Editing For Dummies

By Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOh, calm down, I’m not really calling you dummies. But after thinking about my post the other day regarding the dearth of attention paid to editing lately, I realized that some portion of the blame must come to rest on the author, as well. The better we are at self-editing, the lesser our dependence on outside editors to catch all those little things that are dragging our stories down. Which, of course, puts us in a better light–both when editors and publishers read our submissions, and when our work (eventually, hopefully) finds its way into the hands of our readers.

So–how do you become a better self-editor?

1. Practice. Repeat after me: the first draft is not a finished work. Yes, you may complete your first draft in a rush of adrenaline and endorphins and think it’s the best thing anyone has ever written, anywhere. It’s not. Never send out something until that first fine rush has ebbed and you start to doubt. Once the doubt is there, you can start looking for all the things that are wrong, and begin to fix them. And fix them, and fix them, and when you think they’re fixed, see #2, below.

2. Other Eyes. My friend Steph has a great post over here about the necessity and value of first readers. The more eyes you can get on your work–knowledgeable, practiced eyes–the more chances you have of finding those things that editors will (or should) only fix later anyway. So those problems won’t be there to trip up your readers later.

3. Tools. Don’t underestimate the value of your word processor’s built-in spell-check and grammar-check; at the very least, they should make you slow down and look at possible problematic areas of your work. But they’re only the very minimal basics. One tool I love is Cliché Cleaner. Run your work through this handy little program to find clichés, overused expressions, and internal repetitions. It’s amazing how much one tool like this can help you clean up your work. You may have your own favorite cleanup tools–just don’t forget to use them.

4. Distance. Remember that first rush we talked about, that comes with completion of your first draft? One way to avoid falling victim to its siren song and sending your story out too soon is to get some distance from the work. Let it sit until it’s no longer totally fresh in your mind–a week, a month, even longer if you have the luxury. There’s nothing like coming back to it with some heightened objectivity to clear away the tint of those rose-coloured glasses.

5. Humility. No matter how competent or skilled a writer you are, you will always benefit from remembering that you are not perfect and neither are your early drafts. Expecting that your work will need polishing allows you to see its flaws more easily. Accepting that others will spot problems that you haven’t seen will make you more open to using their suggestions wisely.

For more advice on good self-editing, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. Got your own self-editing favorites? Share them in the comments!

Image courtesy of Kadellar (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons