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Creative Process

A New Look, with Edit Giveaways to Celebrate!

in Creative Process/Giveaways/News by

Dear Readers…

Welcome to DearEditor.com’s new look! Fresh face, easier navigation, same great features:

>> answers to your questions about the craft and business of writing
>> Revision Week Archive with 25+ revision-focused interviews of award-winning, bestselling authors
>> Guest Editor posts by experts and authors
>> 2 ways to quickly find more about the topic that interests you most — Search icon and Categories bar
>> comments section for adding your insights or asking for more
>> featured flashback posts at the bottom of the page *NEW*

Mobile users will find all these features with a simple tap of the Menu icon or a flick of your scrolling thumb.

Please celebrate this redesign with me by entering one or both of the two drawings below for a free picture book edit or a free partial edit of your novel manuscript. It’s my of saying thank you for visiting, and enjoy your stay. And of course, tap Write the Editor to send me your burning questions because I’m here to help!

Happy writing!
The Editor

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re: What’s the Difference between Plot and Reading Experience?

in Creative Process/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I seem to be stuck – not just with my current picture book WIP but caught between “plot” and “reading experience” and I think I’m confusing myself. How do I know which I’m working on? I can’t quite put my thumb on the difference, not in any practical way.

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused…

Let’s take this one on the road: You’re a passenger in a car. Your ride is smooth or bumpy, it’s noisy or quiet. You feel big and safe, or big and clunky, or small and vulnerable, or small and zippy. That’s the experience. The pieces of the car and the way they work together create that experience, and the carmaker is responsible for those pieces and their interaction. You’re the carmaker. The plot is your pile of pieces and how they work together, the readers will be your passengers. Do you want your readers to feel big and powerful? Then construct a plot with bold events and big triumph. Want them to enjoy being bumped about and then be left breathless and satisfied? Construct a plot that twists, jars, surprises. Whee! Decide what you want the reading experience to be, then lay out a series of events that create it. Don’t get tunnel-visioned about plot creation, though: Just as a car gets painted and tricked out, you’ve got word choice and rhythm and, eventually, illustrations to help shape the experience. Plot is a core element and matters greatly, but it’s not Everything.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Delete My Short Story from Wattpad When I Turn It Into a Novel?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

The novel I’m finishing is based on a short story I wrote last year, which won a medal in a Wattpad writing contest. Should I leave the story up or take it down since I’m planning on submitting the novel form? (The short story is basically the first two chapters of the book. . . but I’m already making revisions and improvements to those two chapters.)

Sincerely,
Wattpad Woman

Dear Wattpad Woman…

Leave the short story up while submitting your novel, at least, as proof of its medal status. Your future agent or editor may prefer you take it down when the novel goes into production because you’ve revised the story so much, but not necessarily. In pre-Internet days, published short stories that grew into full-length novels had no option to delete the original short story from existence. The two just existed simultaneously. That precedent prepared readers to understand and accept that there are differences between a novel and the short story that inspired it. Since you’re comfortable being on Wattpad in the first place and you’re confident in your short story despite the changes you’ve made for the novel, let your medal-winning story lead readers to your new novel.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Much Time Would an Editor Give Me to Revise?

in Creative Process/General fiction/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

How much time would an author be given to revise a novel manuscript after receiving editing instructions from her editor? Let’s say the manuscript’s about 75,000 or 80,000 words. I want to make sure I’m mentally ready when I do get a contract!

Sincerely,
Mac

Dear Mac…

Every revision is unique, of course. A rushed book isn’t in anyone’s best interest, so your editor will plot a schedule that lets you be successful. They’ll take your writing style into consideration. (Easier to do after your first book with your editor.) They’ll adjust for the depth and complexity of the revision. (The editorial notes require rethinking characterization or major plot points? You’ll get elbow room.) Other factors aren’t transparent to you at home awaiting your notes and deadline. Like the time needs of your whole book team (designer, copyeditor, production manager) and the production needs of the books sharing your pub list. And like outside factors that impact your marketing campaign. (Got a royal wedding in your story? Your publication may be timed for a real-life royal wedding!) For the sake of numbers, I’ll assume the most generic scenario: I’d expect a novelist to get a month for a straightforward revision, and up to two months for a more complicated one. Let’s flesh this out by getting real: Readers, how much time did you get to revise your pubbed novel(s)?

Happy writing revising!
The Editor

Re: Can You Stay True to Your Story If You’re Reading Others’ Stories?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

In a lit agency’s online submission form, I replied to question about comparable titles by saying I don’t have time to keep up with all the stories that are currently on the shelves. The agent replied: If I want to write middle grade fiction, I must read current middle grade fiction. She said immersing myself in it is the best way to capture the voice and pulse of these stories. I was always taught to write the story that I am comfortable with, my truth, my ideas. Not write what is currently hot now. Am I wrong on this? Should I be reading current MG? I don’t know how to fit in the time—I barely squeeze in the occasional adult novel, magazines, and Publisher’s Weekly. Most importantly, I don’t want to end up writing something that’s already out there. Thoughts?

Thanks,
Time-Crunched

Dear Time-Crunched…

She’s right. Read current middle grade novels. Two reasons: As a businessperson you must know what’s happening in your marketplace. Not so you can chase trends—most of us can’t get books written, bought, revised, and produced that quickly—but so you can position your book as akin to this or that but different in these key, marketable ways when it’s time to submit. That’s what agents, editors, and store buyers do with every book they buy or rep. You’re submitting, so I know this isn’t just your passion, it’s your business. Know your business. On the craft side, reading other MG will deepen your sense of middle grade voice and sensibility, and your writer’s toolbox will expand, improving your versatility as a storyteller. Please don’t be afraid of sabotaging your stories. Writing doesn’t work like that. You’ll mix and match new tools and strategies in ways only you can, flavored by your unique perspectives, interests, and experiences. As for the time crunch, one word: audiobooks.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Choosing When to Chuck a Joke

in Creative Process/General fiction/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m seeking confirmation. If a joke/gag doesn’t advance the plot/story, is it best to chuck it? As I revise my middle grade fantasy manuscript, that’s what I’m inclined to do, especially if the gag/joke, while possibly funny enough, stalls the advancement of the story. Got to keep things moving, right?

Sincerely,
The Jokester

Dear Jokester…

I say that’s mostly right. Plot advancement is a crucial gauge for keep-it-or-chuck-it choices. Just don’t let good intentions regarding plot advancement take you on some joke-axing rampage that squelches your humor in service of brevity and focus. As with all things writing, revising humor is about finding balance. A joke that doesn’t directly advance the plot can stay if it’s organic to the story, evolving from the character or situation. That contributes to the personality of the project, which is essential, too. Be tough with these criteria. The jokes that don’t pass the test with room to spare—the funny-for-funny’s-sake gags—should get the ax.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Which Writing Software Should I Use to Write My Book?

in Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

I’ve recently been inspired to write a New Adult novel. I have a pretty clear idea of what I want my book to be. I’ve never written a book before so I decided I would do some research and came upon your book Writing New Adult Fiction. I’ve read a good part of the book and think it can definitely help me as I move forward with my story. The only thing I’m not quite sure about yet is which software/app I should use to write my book. I’ve heard of a couple but I’d really like to know which ones you would recommend I use. Thank you so much for your help!

Best regards,
Veronica

Dear Veronica…

The best choice for you is the software that facilitates your unique creative process rather than impedes it. I’m comfortable with Word so I use it exclusively, as do many writers I surveyed this week via social media. After receiving your question, I posted, “Writer friends: Your fav writing software and why?” The detailed responses were so illuminating I’ve compiled them anonymously as a pdf for you: Writing Software Testimonials. (Dear readers, I’d love to hear your fav and why.) Many writers shared that they use different programs at different stages of writing. Well-known  Scrivener is beloved for features that help organize the story, tracking characters, plot lines, etc. If research is part of your project, you might like its split screen feature, allowing you to view research as you write the story. It can be complicated to a newbie but its devotees are many. Sometimes writers use Scrivener for outlining only, or maybe writing a first draft, then move to more straightforward Word (or Pages, Apple’s word processing program). Power Structure was praised for organizing, and Evernote for collecting inspiration and research. Dragon Naturally Speaking Premium is new to me: this voice-to-text software can read your words back to you, helpful for editing because you “hear things your eyes might miss.” Co-writers told me they use Google Docs to work on the same manuscript from separate computers. And let’s not ignore old-fashioned pen and paper. My dear friend Jean Ferris first-drafted all her novels longhand on a legal tablet, then edited as she typed that into Word. Many writers hail the tactile act of putting pen to paper as essential to their creative process. Read the 2-page pdf—it’s intriguing! Whichever your choice, you’ll eventually convert the manuscript to Word, the format most agents, editors, and publishers require for manuscript transmittal.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Smarter to NOT Rhyme My Picture Book?

in Creative Process/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I’ve learned my rhyming picture book manuscript needs A LOT of work—specifically, I need to learn more about meter. Daunting and exciting. I’m hearing, though, that some agents/editors are reluctant to consider rhyming picture books from unknown writers. Do you think my time would be better and more strategically spent by writing a non-rhyming version of the book, rather than working further on the rhyming version?  I’ve learned not to treat any of my writing too preciously, so I’m happy to follow either route, but just want to do what would benefit this project (and position it for a possible sale) the most.  I’d love to know your thoughts on that.

Sincerely,
To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

Dear to Rhyme or Not to Rhyme…

Children’s book editors do have a high bar when it comes to rhyming manuscripts. “A LOT of work,” eh? In that case, I say that since you’re just as happy with the idea of a non-rhyming version, go with that option. Strive for fabulous rhythm, structure, and fun-in-the-mouth word choice. That’ll give you the read-aloud quality you’re probably aiming for, but without the challenges inherent in trying to tell a story while maneuvering the rules of rhyme. You use the word “strategic.” Alternatively, you could indulge your excitement about mastering meter, nail the rhyming version, and then submit that rhyming manuscript after you’ve placed a different project with an editor. Lots of writers use the strategy of submitting their tougher-to-place projects after their foot is in the door.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Revision Week: Winner and Week Off

in Creative Process/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

I hope you enjoyed the 4th annual Revision Week. I created this event to inform and inspire your own revision and am honored by the authors who’ve helped. Want more? Visit Revision Week Archive. Want to dig deeper into craft? Check out the advice from myself and 20+ author, editor, agent, and industry contributors including Revision Week guest Jane Yolen in Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies and Writing New Adult Fiction. DearEditor.com will return June 13 with answers to YOUR craft and industry questions.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Thank you…

PAM MUNOZ RYAN. Check out her recent Newbery Honor book Echo. pammunozryan.com

SALINA YOON. Check out her new book Duck, Duck, Porcupine! salinayoon.com

CHANEL CLEETON. Look for her Wild Aces: Into the Blue July 5. chanelcleeton.com

JANE YOLEN. Look for her How Do Dinosaurs Write their ABCs with Chalk? June 28. janeyolen.com

MARIE FORCE. Look for her Fatal Identity July 26.  marieforce.com

Revision Week: Marie Force

in Creative Process/General fiction/Revision Week/Romance Novels by

Dear Readers…

Revision Week ends with a flourish thanks to the fabulous Marie Force, author of some of our favorite contemporary romance series. Marie has sold more than five million copies of her books worldwide, some self-published, others traditionally published. She is talented, prolific, and here to give us a glimpse into her process. Today also brings us to the grand finale giveaway: a Free Full Manuscript Edit by the Editor. Read the full post for giveaway details and Marie’s interview.

Marie ForceMarie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of over 50 contemporary romances, including the Gansett Island Series, which has sold more than 2.3 million books, and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books, which has sold more than 1.2 million books. In addition, she is the author of the Green Mountain Series as well as the new erotic romance Quantum Series, written under the slightly modified name of M.S. Force. For more intriguing insights, pop over to Marie’s website and read her full bio to learn about her experiences as an author who works with traditional publishers while also self-publishing to great success. The tenth book in Marie’s Fatal Series, Fatal Identity, comes out July 26.

Marie’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s Free Full Edit by the Editor giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You’ve told me you work toward a publishable first draft. How does being a “pantser” affect your efforts to reach “publishable” in a one draft? I write from the beginning and go straight through, going back repeatedly to the beginning to edit, tweak, refresh, update, and remind myself of what I need to get done in the remaining pages. Re-reading is a huge part of my process and usually sparks new plot ideas. I just did a re-read on my work in progress today to get back in the writing groove after the weekend.
FatalAffair
At what point will you typically stop to re-read? I stop to re-read whenever I feel the need to remind myself of where I started. Sometimes I do it frequently during the writing of a book and other times I only do it once or twice. It’s always a good reminder of where I’ve been and where I’m intending to go with the story.

MaidforLoveWhat role do critique partners, beta readers, or professional editors play in your process? I’ve never had critique partners. I don’t want another writer’s voice inside my head when I’m writing. I have three longtime beta readers and one of my team members acts as a front-line reader, too. They are helpful in identifying missing words (my specialty), questions that need to be answered, and any plot holes that might need to be addressed. I have a copy editor and proofreader for my indie books. My traditionally edited books get some minor developmental edits and line edits, but they are never much.

Treading WaterYour first book took you three years to write. Can you share a key insight or change in your process that have contributed to your current ability to write books in weeks and months? I learned all the biggest and hardest lessons with my first book, Treading Water, which I massively overwrote. I ended the first draft with a bloated 155,000-word manuscript in which I was highly indulgent of my muse. I’ve roped her into submission since then, and that’s never happened again. My second book, the follow-on to the first one, was written in 90 days and came in at 90,000 words. I’ve hardly touched a single word of it in the nearly ten years since I finished it. Whereas I continued to tweak and fine-tune the first one until I published it six years after writing The End. By then, it was a much leaner, meaner 92,000 words, and it was the same exact story. Those are the kind of lessons I didn’t need to learn twice. Now if a scene I want to write doesn’t move character X’s story forward in a meaningful way, it doesn’t get written. I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to getting rid of the bloat and keeping my story zipping forward.

VirtuousNewHow do you know you’ve got the final draft? The last thing I do is read the manuscript on my Kindle, the way a reader would. By the time I get to The End, I’ve already edited the first half numerous times, so final edits tend to focus on the second half. Once I am able to read the book all the way through without stopping for any reason, it’s done. That usually happens fairly close to actually finishing the writing, because I’ve been fine-tuning all along. That’s how my first draft becomes a finished book.

Thank you, Marie!

You can follow Marie on Facebook, Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram, join one of her many reader groups, and get on her mailing list for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Contact Marie at marie@marieforce.com.

FatalIdentity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revision Week: Jane Yolen

in Creative Process/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

What a pleasure to share with you, on Day 4 of Revision Week, insights from the amazing Jane Yolen, celebrated author of over 300 books for young people. Jane has written picture books, novels, and poetry collections, in genres including fantasy, science fantasy, and fairy tales. She’s a master at craft with an endless imagination, a work ethic that staggers, and a deep respect for her young readers. Please join Jane and The Editor for Day 4 of Revision Week, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.30.48 PMJane Yolen has written over 300 books, won numerous awards, and been given six honorary doctorates in literature. A poet, a fairy tale teller, a writer of fiction across genres and for all ages, Jane has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Some of her best known books are the Caldecott Award winner Owl Moonthe National Jewish Book Award Winner The Devil’s Arithmetic, and the beloved How Do Dinosaurs… picture books. Jane is also well known for teaching writing to young people and adults. She honored me by writing an essay about crafting distinct voices for my book Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, and today she shares insights regarding the revising process with all of us.

Jane’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s “Free Partial Edit by The Editor” Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

As prolific as you are, will you work on multiple WIPs in a single day or do you prefer to stay in one fictional realm per day? I work on multiple things as well as on my students’ pieces/revisions. I find that such literary multitasking keeps me on my toes and keeps me from getting stale.

Would your ideal writing day begin with original drafting or with revision? Why? It all depends on 1) deadline, 2) a revision request sailing in from an editor, and 3) what else is on my plate at the time.

Devils ArithmeticFor novels, how many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? I am not a planner and plotter, so my novels come together in the latter stages of revisions. But they feel fresher to me for that. I call it “flying into the mist.” Others call it pantser (seat of the pants) writing, which has a pejorative and hectoring tone to me.

Owl moonHow much revising typically happens after you involve your editor? Depends on the editors. I had one who told me my novel needed nothing. And I said, every piece of writing needs something. She said, “Take out the exclamation marks.” Since I hate them in formal writing (though not to friends!!!) I went through the novel again. Made a number of small but important revisions and took out the one exclamation point. Most editors are much more hands-on.

Sarah BarkerCan you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did? I had an historical novel called The Gift of Sarah Barker, which takes place during three days in the 1840s in a Shaker community. In the end, I thought I was going to have the young woman, Sarah, and her new husband, Abel (Shakers are not supposed to marry but be as sexless as angels), going out into the world. He was to join the Union Army and be killed. She would take their new little daughter and go—as her mother did with her—to live again with the Shakers. But when I got to the end, I loved Sarah (who was smart and sassy) and Able (who was kind and giving) too much to have that be their (un)happy ending. And while the editor loved the book, she questioned why it took place in three days. As I tried to explain it to her face-to-face in a meeting, I suddenly realized that I—as a fairy tale teller—was trying to impose the Rule of Three on a historical novel. And when I told her that, she smiled enigmatically and said, “You must trust your audience. They will reward that trust by following you wherever you go.” It ended up one of the most satisfying re-writing experiences I have ever had in a novel AND simply made the book work.

How do dinosaursYou’ve said, “If I ever write the perfect book, I’ll stop writing.” With perfection off the table, how do you know when you’re looking at your best and final draft? Geeze—I wish I had someone who could tell me that! Sometimes an editor simply takes it out of my hands.

Thank you, Jane!

You can follow Jane on Facebook and Twitter @JaneYolen.

How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revision Week: Chanel Cleeton

in Creative Process/New Adult Fiction/Revision Week by

Dear Readers… Day 3 of DearEditor.com’s Revision Week brings us Chanel Cleeton, author of four popular thriller and romance series, including the brand new Wild Aces. Please join Chanel and The Editor for Day 3 of Revision Week, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Chanel CleetonChanel Cleeton writes contemporary romances, women’s fiction, and thrillers. She is the author of the International School series and the Capital Confessions, both contemporary romance, as well as the New Adult thriller series Assassins. Her newest novel, Fly with Me, is the first in the new Wild Aces contemporary romance series and pubs next month, with the second book, Into the Blue, following in July. Chanel is published by Harlequin HQN, Penguin/InterMix, and Penguin/Berkley.

Chanel’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s Free Partial Edit by the Editor Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? Each manuscript varies for me, but I typically feel pretty good about major arcs fairly early on and then I go through many, many drafts cleaning up the manuscript until I can read though it without finding anything I want to fix. I’m a pantser, but I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters and developing them and the story threads in my head, so by the time I start writing I’m familiar with the world I’m building and am able to follow the threads as they unspool. I spend a lot of time tweaking my manuscripts for things like dialogue, sentence construction, etc., but big picture items usually don’t change very much from first draft to final.

Fly with MeDo you use critique partners or beta readers? I typically don’t. I tend to work best in my head so I like to finish the draft and then send it off to my agent and editor to get their thoughts. My traditional publishing schedule often makes it tough to get feedback from critique partners or beta readers if I’m on a tight turnaround for a book.

I+SEE+LONDON+COVERWhich draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft? This varies by book, but I would say at an absolute minimum, I go through four drafts before I send a book to my editor. Sometimes the number is higher. Once I’m through with the first draft, I ALWAYS edit once on my computer, once on a printed draft, and once on an e-reader because changing formats always helps me to catch new things. Sometimes I’ll go through this process a few more times if I’m still catching things. My editor can see anywhere from my fourth to twelfth draft. When I get edits back, I typically like to go through each stage of edits (developmental, copy, and proofreading) three times to make sure I’ve caught everything.

Flirting with ScandalCan you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did? I find a lot of writing solutions when I step away from my computer so I’ll often find that some of my best ideas come when I’m doing something else. For some reason, I seem to be super productive when washing my hair. 🙂 I think about my characters and story all the time when drafting and often letting the story live in my head a bit helps me to think outside the box and come up with a solution for whatever might be stumping me.

Between ShadowsWould your ideal writing day consist of original drafting or revising? Why? That’s a great question! It definitely depends on my mood. I LOVE revising because there’s something rewarding about polishing your manuscript and whipping it into shape. At the same time, I love the magic of drafting and watching my story unfold and take me in unexpected directions.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft? I try to read through my manuscript as a reader would and flag anything that pulls me out of the story or doesn’t flow properly. When I can read through the manuscript without flagging anything and I’m happy with it, I consider it my final draft. From the first moment I sit down at my computer to the moment a reader has my book in their hands, I’ve typically gone through about fifteen drafts of the story.

Thank you, Chanel!

 Fly with Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revision Week: Salina Yoon

in Creative Process/Picture Books/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

Revision Week continues with Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of more than 160 books for kids. Salina’s characters Penguin and Bear are adored by young children around the world, and it’s an honor to have her here talking about the revision process with picture books, both the text and visual storylines. Please join Salina and The Editor for Day 2 of Revision Week, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.24.33 PMSalina Yoon is an award-winning and bestselling author/illustrator of over 160 books for children, including her popular picture book series with the adventurous Penguin and the lovable Bear. Other titles include Be a Friend, and Duck, Duck, Porcupine!, the first book of a brand new early reader series. Learn more about Salina and her books at salinayoon.com. Also, enter to winsigned a copy of Duck, Duck, Porcupine! (a book that made me laugh out loud), which just pubbed last week!

Salina’s interview follows the Rafflecopter forms/entry links for the signed copy of Duck, Duck, Porcupine! and today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For your books, you’re both author and illustrator. Do your stories start their development as words or pictures? Stories begin for me with an idea or a concept. Once I feel like there’s an idea to explore, I come up with a specific character that would best execute this idea. When the character is imagined, it helps to develop the story with more authenticity.

DUck Duck PorcupineHow many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? Usually, it’s around the third draft of storyboarding (sketches and text) where I feel like it’s either there or it isn’t. That doesn’t sound like much, but most drafts are being thought out in my mind before it’s even written. I mull ideas over and let them stay in my head until they feel worthy enough to be put on paper.

Be a friendWhich draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft? This depends on which editor it is going to. The editors I work with regularly for on-going series projects will get much looser, earlier storyboard drafts. For new editors on a new project submission, I would dummy out the entire book with tighter sketches and lots of finished art samples to have a clear representation of the final book. For Be a Friend, I dummied up nearly half the 40-page picture book with finished illustrations. After it was acquired, I ended up re-doing the artwork for the entire book because I was unsatisfied with my own quality of the illustrations. So doing the final artwork in the submission stage does not necessarily mean you will have less work to do once it is acquired. After the book was sold, I did two minor revisions with my editor, though the first revision required a new ending! But the ending did not require the beginning or middle to change in this case. thumbnails[Editor’s note: Over the years I’ve witnessed Salina’s personal encouragement of writers and illustrators­, so it’s no surprise to me that she’s gone the extra step of providing sketch drafts for us. Click on this pdf to see her original third draft of the Duck, Duck, Porcupine! storyboard, the version she shared with her editor. The coin in the scan shows how small those sketches actually are—roughly 3″x2″. That’s as big as she works until going to final art. She enlarges the thumbnails digitally then sends them to her editor to comments upon. thumbnails2You’ll see her editor’s notes in green; the other notes surrounding the spread are Salina’s as she begins the revision process.]

Do you use critique partners? I do not have critique partners, but I have a couple of trusted writer friends that I like to share my ideas with.  Or sometimes, I just go straight to my agent to hear what she thinks. For sequel ideas, I go straight to my editor.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did? I approach writing a story like solving a puzzle. Each piece is critical in telling the story. I cut out the pieces of my thumbnails so that each spread is loose. I arrange them in page order and see which scenes are weak, or not progressing the story. Then I simply replace the weak link with a revised piece, or simply delete it and move on. There is always lots of cutting, swapping, and taping in my crafty hands-on approach to revising.

Penguin and PineconeWhat’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising? I’ve changed the goal of the character, which of course changed the plot, and of course changed the ending! And another time, I changed the ending… which required me to change the beginning… and revise the middle. It’s hard to change one part without impacting everything else in the story.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft? I have many false finals before it gets to the real final! This is a tough thing to know for certain, but it’s when it goes to press that I feel confident that this is it!

Thank you, Salina!

You can follow Salina on Facebook and Twitter @salinayoon.

Penguin and Pinecone on Vacation

Revision Week: Pam Munoz Ryan

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Dear Readers… Revision Week kicks off with Newbery Honor author Pam Munoz Ryan. She’s written picture books, beginning readers series, and middle grade novels, many of which are taught in schools nationwide, including one of The Editor’s favorites, Esperanza Rising. Please enjoy Pam’s interview, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

 

Pam Munoz RyanPam Munoz Ryan is the author of more than 30 books for young readers, including four beloved novels, Riding Freedom, Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind, which collectively have garnered, among countless accolades, the Pura Belpré Medal, the Jane Addams Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Pam’s latest novel, Echo, is a Newbery Honor Book. Pam has written picture books and beginning readers, but for this discussion of revision we focus on her novel writing. www.PamMunozRyan.com

Pam’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

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How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? Does this vary substantially for picture books versus novels?  I don’t know, exactly, how many drafts it takes before I feel confident about the character and the story. I think I work on both until the last rewrite. Since I work on a computer, I don’t print every draft, so it’s hard to determine a number. Also, I’m a recursive writer. I begin a novel in an opening scene. The next time I sit down to work, I read what I had written previously, rewriting a bit as I go along, and then I continue writing to build the story. The next day, I start at the beginning again, reading and rewriting, and inching the story forward. There does come a point in novel writing that I don’t go all the way back to the beginning, but start, for example, several chapters back from the point I had stopped. For me, writing is an evolution, more than a process.

Do you use critique partners? No. I’m not in a critique group. It’s just me and my editor, Tracy Mack. I don’t have anyone who reads my work before she sees it.

Esperana-Rising-Cover-660x1024Which draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?  I’ve been working with Tracy at Scholastic for almost twenty years. There’s no one procedure for how we work. Every book has had its own idiosyncratic order of things. I usually discuss the story idea with her very early on, before I’ve ever written a word. When I know she’s on board and loves the idea, I start moving forward with the writing. I might write a treatment of the story to get a feel for the overarching plot. I might share that with her. Or, I might just start writing. Sometimes I’ve waited to show her a completed rough draft. Other times, I’ve shown her the first few chapters and given her a synopsis of the rest of the book. Different books have required different approaches. I would say though, that by the time she sees a complete first draft, I’ve rewritten over a dozen times. But as I mentioned before, it’s hard to gauge that. For me, rewriting is a constant and I can’t seem to separate it from the writing, or give it a number.

ECHO-medal-693x1024Echo, your latest novel, required you to balance storylines for several protagonists across several time periods and countries as well as an original fairy tale that opens and closes the book. I saw the white board in your office that you used to track the different storylines and main threads. Impressive! Did these extra efforts to harness the story during the original drafting reduce revision for this book compared to your other novels? Unfortunately, no, it did not reduce revision. But it helped me keep a lot of information straight. I tried using the computer program, Scribner, but it wasn’t a good fit for me and this book. So I tried the giant (7′ x 4′) freestanding white board. The revision on Echo, was very long. It’s almost a 600 pages! My editor and I knew the overarching organization of the book—three main stories and a transition story, framed by an original fairytale. All of the stories had to be woven with common threads. That’s where the white board came in. I could track, in one large visual, the leitmotifs, the recurring themes, words, phrases. I could see each character’s challenges and fears. Later in the editing process, after the big picture and the big themes were established, we broke it into sections. I would rewrite and fine-tune the first section, send it to her, and while she was editing it, I would work on the next section. We had many discussions and passed many notes back and forth.

Becoming-Naomi-Leon-Cover-650x1024How do you know you’ve got the final draft? Book manuscripts always want more. Putting them to bed is like putting a toddler to bed. You tuck them in and think that’s it, yet they want one more kiss, a drink of water, a song, the blanket fluffed, a night light. . . . Once I receive typeset pages, I know I won’t be making dramatic changes. After it goes to copyedit, I feel I’m almost done.

Thank you, Pam!

You can follow Pam on Twitter @pammunozryan. 

 

Welcome to DearEditor.com’s 2016 Revision Week!

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Dear Readers…

I’m thrilled to announce DearEditor.com’s fourth annual Revision Week! Five best-selling and award-winning authors with 598 books among them sharing revision tips, insights, and been-there/done-that tales. Starting tomorrow, stop by each day for a new author interview and daily ‘Free Partial Edit by the Editor’ giveaways and one grand finale ‘Free Full Manuscript Edit by the Editor’ giveaway. Read the rest of today’s post to learn to learn about the authors participating…

Welcome to five days of free edit giveaways and revision advice and insights like these…


Pam Munoz RyanPam Munoz Ryan
, Newbery Honor-winning, bestselling author of 30 books for young readers: “Manuscripts always want more. Putting them to bed is like putting a toddler to bed. You tuck them in and think that’s it, yet they want one more kiss, a drink of water, a song, the blanket fluffed, a night light. . . .”

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.24.33 PMSalina Yoon, award-winning and bestselling author/illustrator of over 160 books for children: “I approach writing a story like solving a puzzle. Each piece is critical in telling the story.”

Chanel CleetonChanel Cleeton, popular author of four New Adult thriller and contemporary romance series: “I ALWAYS edit once on my computer, once on a printed draft, and once on an e-reader because changing formats always helps me to catch new things.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.30.48 PMJane Yolen, celebrated author of over 300 picture books, novels, and poetry collections for young people: “Literary multitasking keeps me on my toes and keeps me from getting stale.”

Marie ForceMarie Force, New York Times bestselling author of 50 contemporary romances: “I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to getting rid of the bloat and keeping my story zipping forward.”

 

Guest Editor Carter Higgins: How to Tackle a Big Revision

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Dear Editor…

From a practical (logistical) standpoint, do you have any advice for how to tackle a large revision of a manuscript I haven’t read in over a year? I’ve just had it professionally edited. I’m thinking I’ll read through those edits, then print out the manuscript and read the whole thing. And make changes as I go? Or read it through once and then go through again and make changes? Or read it electronically and then make changes and then print it out? I just can’t decide quite how to approach it.

Sincerely,
J.

CarterHiggins1Carter Higgins has traveled a storyteller’s career path, from librarian to motion graphics designer and back to librarian. She is also the author of the middle grade novel A Rambler Steals Home (HMH, 2017) and the picture book Everything You Need for a Treehouse (Chronicle Books, 2017, illus. Emily Hughes).

Dear J….

I recently tackled a pretty large scale revision of my debut middle grade novel, A Rambler Steals Home. RAMBLERAnd when I say big, I mean big. Ultimately I rewrote approximately the first two-thirds of the novel, eliminated a beloved character, and changed a lot of intricately woven plot points which resulted in a domino effect through the pacing and structure of the entire thing. It’s a much better book thanks to the wisdom and vision of my editor, and the way I navigated her very thorough and very smart suggestions. Your mileage may vary with these steps, but this process helped me break down what seemed like an impossible and daunting task:

1. I cried. Not because I disagreed but because it was so overwhelming to even figure out how to begin. And not because I was intimidated, but because the warm fuzzy feelings of storytelling had to be replaced with good, hard work. I had to get ready for that.
2. I read my editor’s letter over and over and over again until I could feel it more. I took bulleted notes on it and rephrased chunks of it into my own words to really, truly understand what she was suggesting. I read it on my computer, I read it on my Kindle, and I read it on paper.
3. Then, I reread the current/old version of the manuscript in order to see it through the eyes of that editorial letter.
4. I identified what the story was really about—those were the parts that we were trying to heighten and tighten and strengthen, and made a loose outline of a new sequence of events to reach that goal.
5. Which for me, meant rewriting most of the story. Because I’d reread it before beginning this revision, I knew where I could pull chunks of words that I liked, even if I was re-crafting everything around it.
6. Finally, I read the manuscript again, start to finish, and immediately reread the edit letter. For me, it was all about feeling if I hit those points and less a checklist of sorts. After a couple of rounds of back and forth, once I felt like the draft breathed the same air as the letter (and when I was also happy with it!) I called that revision done.

– Carter

re: Bad Idea for Multiple POVs to Alternate Between 1st and 3rd Person?

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Dear Editor…

I’m beginning work on a YA thriller. I plan to use multiple POVs. It feels right to use 1st person when my protagonist is telling the story, but 3rd person feels right for everyone else. Do you think it’s okay to switch back and forth or would that bother readers? I plan to identify the person whose POV we’re getting at the beginning of each chapter.

Sincerely,
T.

Dear T. …

Do experiment with this idea. Readers love the mind manipulation of thrillers; you could do some cool manipulating with one 1st person narrator among several 3rd person narrators. Maybe the 1st person POV would establish your protagonist as the most trusted narrator, when in fact readers should be trusting someone else entirely. Maybe timing the switch to 1st person could alter the tone strategically—perhaps allowing readers to pull back from high action for a quiet mull in someone’s head, or maybe increasing intensity as the 1st person narrator pummels readers with a more immediate sense of emotion. I do hope there’s an underlying logic for the single 1st person narrator. I don’t want readers feeling like the author is being clever for clever’s sake. Your concern about clarity and reader comfort suggests you’ll handle this smoothly, so I’m not worried readers will struggle.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: How to Not Annoy Readers?

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Dear Editor…

I have a story idea: Two strangers’ lives tragically collide in a hit & run accident, leaving the DRIVER with haunting visions of the VICTIM. Driver’s visions of Victim become more desperate and her guilt more debilitating, so she decides to return to save Victim—and herself. My question: What do you think of this non-traditional structure: Book 1: Victim’s POV pre-crash; Book 2: Driver’s POV post crash; Book 3: Victim’s POV & resolution of Driver’s story. I worry about leaving Victim’s story in limbo for all of BOOK 2. Readers won’t know if the protagonist they just spent 100 pages with is dead or alive. Is that enthralling, or just plain irritating? I know I could do alternating POV chapters, but I don’t care for that style. Ideas?

Thanks!
Plotting Author

Dear Plotting Author…

The unknown fate could be cool. Try it! Your awareness of potential irritation means you’ll strive for a story that nails “enthralling.” I have two recommendations for your proposed structure: 1) Keep Victim present in Book 2. Not physically, but through Driver’s story. Perhaps this is a small town and after the crash Driver encounters people that readers met in Book 1. These people are doing business that somehow relates to Victim, none knowing Victim was in an accident. Perhaps Driver discovers a link to Victim, or a hint as to Victim’s identity. The point is to make Book 2 as much about Victim as it is about Driver. Don’t abandon Victim yourself. Keep her with us and even advance her story, building readers’ desire for her rescue beyond basic justice. Then the unknown fate isn’t gimmick but an essential contribution to both characters’ arcs. 2) In Book 1 Victim must have her own story of struggle substantial enough to carry the book to its cliffhanger. Victim’s plot and character arcs in Book 1 should then stoke Driver’s arcs in Book 2, with all arcs merging in Book 3. Like those ideas?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Making the Dream Happen

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Dear Readers…

Today’s is a special post—an update from a DearEditor.com reader who feared the dream of being a Writer was unattainable due to struggles with a mental illness that saps self-confidence. You supported JC with your comments, your suggestions, and your own stories of struggling for your dreams. With JC’s permission, then, I share with you the note that made my day.

The Editor

 

 

Dear Editor…

Just wanted to update you on the progress of my non-fiction book. I decided to write a book about my experiences with a mental illness, which has been the basis of two questions I’ve submitted to you before (one on writing when you have a mental illness and another about word count intimidation).

Well, last week I managed to pass the 40,000-word mark of the first draft. That was important to me because I’ve held that figure of 40,000 to 60,000 words for a Young Adult Novel in my head as the goal I need to work towards. Obviously, I know that fiction is going to be much more difficult than factual content based on my experiences, but before this project, I hadn’t written anything more than five or six thousand words.

I’m currently using a blank document to write anything new so the scale of the main document (running at over 70 single-spaced pages now) doesn’t overwhelm me, and I’m just taking every day as it comes. I still have quite a bit more I want to say, but I take every word as a bonus now and I hope that reaching such a milestone offers hope that I’ll be able to achieve such a word count when I come to tackle my first Young Adult Novel. It still worries me that I won’t though.

Anyway, I just wanted to update you on my progress. I never thought I’d reach 40,000 words, it’s just such a large number. I’m going to keep writing though as if I’m writing on a blank document and I’ll just have to see how high that word count goes, whilst keeping in mind the quality of what I’m writing.

JC

re: Getting Past the Blank Page

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Dear Editor…

I really want to write a novel, and I have a couple of ideas, but once I sit down at the computer and try to write, I end up staring at a blank page. I’ve looked online for ideas for motivation, but nothing has worked. Suggestions?

Sincerely,
Foiled by the Blank Page

Dear Foiled by the Blank Page…

You need to get words on the page–any words–to punch through that white wall. Try this: Open a new document on your computer and type “Today I’m writing about a [man/woman/thing/whatever] who is [doing such-and-such].” Then explain why s/he’s doing that thing, then write what s/he says to the first character to come along. You’ll slip into a conversation, then a full scene. It could be a scene for the beginning of the story or something much later; not everyone writes stories linearly. In fact, that expectation could be the source of your writer’s block. You can decide where/how the story starts later. Award-winning Richard Peck once said he rewrites every book’s opening after he’s finished the entire first draft. He doesn’t know the characters when he starts a book, so how can he write the perfect opening for their story? Get words on the page so you have something to shape and develop. You can begin every writing session with this way.

Readers, what helps you get past the blank page?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Word Count Intimidation

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Dear Editor…

As I understand it, a young adult novel needs to have a word count of between 40,000 and 60,000 words. The thought of having to write that much paralyses me at word one. I don’t know how I’ll be able to write that much, how I’ll be able to stretch my story and whether I may be wasting my time. What should I do?

Sincerely,
JC

Dear JC…

Well, at least you know your freak-out trigger. Now let’s take aim at it. I’ve got two assignments for you. First, be done with numbers. Pledge not to count words until you type THE END on the final scene. Do not set word count goals for your writing sessions. Do not set a word count goal for your finished manuscript. Word count means nothing to you if you haven’t even written the story, so you don’t care about it anyway. Second, stop thinking about “completing the manuscript.” Shift your entire concept of writing this book to scene-writing rather than manuscript completion, then make each writing session goal be about working on a specific scene. “Today I’m going to write that fight between Max and Bob… today I’m going to see how Jane reacts to Joan’s news.” Scene are conversations, and conflicts, and action. Scenes are story, not stats. You can outline your story by viewing it as a sequence of scenes; you can revise your story by attacking scenes and scene sequences. None of that requires counting. Trigger eliminated, and story unleashed.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: My WIP Is Giving Me Nightmares

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Dear Editor…

I’m having seconds thoughts about continuing the psychological thriller I’m writing. Maybe it isn’t the right time for it, I’m not sure. But I feel it is affecting me. By this I mean that the story itself is giving me anxiety and causing unsettling dreams. I don’t want to spend the next several months having nightmares. I feel frustrated, I’m not sure what to do, after all this time brainstorming. It isn’t the writing, I’m quite happy with the first 2K words. I don’t want to stop for the wrong reasons, or because I don’t want to get out of my comfort zone. But somehow I feel this is different from other thrillers I’ve written. Maybe I need to work on something lighter at the moment? How do I find out? How do I know for sure? Your thoughts and advice?

Pandora

Dear Pandora…

Something about the subject or about your protagonist, whose head and heart you must inhabit, is notably different than anything you’ve handled in your previous stories. Put the WIP away. Maybe just for a while, maybe forever. If it niggles at you, come back to it fresh and perhaps with emotional walls in place. Then you’ll know definitively if this is a story you must write: you’ll either finish it without the extreme response, or the anxiety will flare up, confirming the decision to let it go. You wouldn’t be the first writer to put the kibosh on a project. That’s not a failure, and it’s not starting an unproductive habit. Writers invest themselves emotionally, poking at questions and issues relentlessly so as to explore them and affect change in their characters; we can’t always know what can of worms we’re opening. If you’re finding this investment to be intense in a way that’s unhealthy for you, it’s okay to poke around elsewhere—the human mind has a million enticing recesses to explore in a new thriller.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Does Paragraph Length Matter?

in Creative Process/Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

Do paragraphs have to be the same size?

Sincerely,
Adele

Dear Reader…

Unless we’re talking about a deliberately stylized narrative or something text-booky or manual-like where paragraph uniformity can be an organizing tool, I recommend variety in your paragraph lengths. Your story’s rhythm is on the line. Pages full of uniform paragraph blocks can create a staccato feel that may wow at dramatic moments but overwhelm across an entire book. Variety relaxes readers, helping them sink past your words and into your story. Try to think of paragraphing not as a technical decision but as a rhythmic tool. Do you want the story to energize? Lay down a bunch of short paragraphs. Bam, bam, bam! Do you want it to calm down? Time for some long, rich paragraphs. Ahh…. Time to shake things up or reveal or shock your readers? Flow out a succession of long paragraphs then kick in good and hard with a single-sentence punch of a paragraph. Embrace the power of rhythmic storytelling and manipulate your story’s tone, tension, and impact.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: My Editor Doesn’t “Get” My Project — What Now?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m worried about stepping on toes. I have an editor, and have published a number of books. She’s not quite “getting” my latest project, though. I have her revision suggestions, but I don’t agree with them at all. She hasn’t acquired the book, so I want to try submitting it elsewhere. Do I tell her? Will she be angry with me? What’s the protocol?

Sincerely,
Trying to Tread Carefully

Dear Trying to Tread Carefully…

Tell her. Communication has a better chance of preventing future tension. Imagine the awkwardness you’d have explaining the book suddenly popping up on another house’s list? She did take time and care to make revision suggestions, so thank her for sharing her ideas, then tell her you’re not ready to break away from your original vision yet and want to try the project elsewhere before you try changing it. Editors understand that happens. And she’s likely aware that you two aren’t connecting on this one, in which case she won’t be shocked. Be sure to include that you look forward to working with her on your other projects and, who knows, maybe this one, too. Editors know authors publish with many houses and she’s acknowledged that the project isn’t working for her yet, so the air should stay clear.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Does My Mental Illness Mean Writing Is a Bad Idea?

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Dear Editor…

My life is stressful due to suffering from mental illness and that clearly brings with it more negativity and self-doubt than average. As I’m socially isolated, research is a nightmare too and I feel like being a Writer is the worst thing I could attempt. As such, I sometimes feel like its a massive mistake to start down that path. What do you think?

Thanks,
JC

Dear JC…

You’re not alone — self-doubt nags every writer. I do get that it’s particularly imposing for you, though, as I’ve worked with writers suffering mental illnesses and they share their ups and downs with me. Notice I said “ups.” They struggle, but they also gain from writing—the joy of creation and self expression, an escape from the daily grind, and, yes, confidence. Their trick: stoking self-confidence by seeking visible improvement. Writing comes in many forms, so why not start small, with poems, essays, or short stories, and with things that don’t require research? Thus you reach “The End” quickly then can revise or start something new. Writers improve with every new draft and project. Seek out new techniques from writing books, take online courses since those don’t involve the social pressure of showing up in class. If money allows, hire a freelance editor to suggest improvements — but see it as suggestions, not criticism. You’ll see improvement and increase your confidence. Then tackle bigger projects if that’s your goal, saving submission for publication until your craft can compete.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Vonna Carter re: Choosing Online Writing Courses

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’ve been following you for the past few years. I fell off the wagon with my children’s writing and am thinking an online class might get me running again. Can you suggest a good class with regular assignments and instructor feedback. Doesn’t matter where the class is located since I’m thinking in terms of online.

Thanks very much,
Cheryl

Vonna CarterVonna Carter—Middle Grade writer and Keeper-of-the-Lists—rounds up info on editors, art directors and agents attending conferences, retreats and workshops, plus online classes and where to get that elusive MFA in writing for young readers.

Dear Cheryl…

This is a question many people are asking. We are fortunate these days to have abundant options for online classes and workshops, but they are not one-size-fits-all. I maintain a list of them on my website at Online Workshops. Before signing up for a course, analyze your criteria for the class. Here are some points to consider:

Level: Are you new to writing for children? Have you completed manuscripts but need help revising? Are you an experienced writer looking for a master class?

Budget: Are you looking to spend $300 or $3000?

Time: Do you want a two-hour workshop, a four- or six-week course, or an ongoing class? How much time can you spend on homework assignments?

Genre and Age Group: Do you write picture books? MG? Romantic YA? Adult thrillers?

Topic: Do you need an in-depth course on voice, plot, pacing or other focus area?

Interaction: Do you enjoy engaging with other students or do you prefer working alone?

Format: Are you open to video conferencing? Are you comfortable posting on forums or engaging in conference calls? Do you prefer one-on-one emails with your instructor?

References: An important consideration is the class’s reputation. Some wonderful teachers use their websites or newsletters to shine a spotlight on their former students who are now published authors, but not all classes make it this easy to see references. Can you contact writers who have taken this course?

Taking an online class can be a great experience. I hope this checklist helps you find classes that are best for you.

-Vonna Carter

Re: NaNoWriMo a No-No?

in Creative Process/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I am doing NaNoWriMo and am doing surprisingly well! I was looking up NaNo fun (proscrastinating) when I stumbled upon something from another editor saying that they won’t publish anything from NaNoWriMo. They called it stupid and useless! Is this true? I understand not publishing something on December 1st, but can a novel from NaNo still be good if edited properly?

Sincerely,
Still Just a Teen

Dear Still Just a Teen . . .

Publication can be the eventual result of NaNoWriMo. I know a novelist whose debut started there. “Started” being the key word. It’s not reasonable to think you can submit what you draft during this intense month without substantial revision. Likely many drafts. First drafts are about discovery and allowing a big ol’ embarrassing pile o’ Ugly to land on the page. NaNoWriMo helps you turn off your inner editor and vomit all that ugly out. Then the digging for Beautiful begins. Veteran novelists will tell you they spend more time revising than writing Draft One. For inspiration, read my Revision Week interviews with lauded writers here. NaNoWriMo gets you over the Draft One hump, and that’s not “useless.” I’m following prolific YA/NA author Jennifer L. Armentrout on Facebook right now as she posts about touring a bestseller while NaNoWriMo’ing her next book. So erase “stupid” and “useless” from your mind and regain that productive mindset that had you cranking out your personal pile o’ Ugly. Beautiful awaits.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What’s Up with the Super Short Picture Book Texts?

in Creative Process/Picture Books by

Dear Editor…

I was wondering if you would know why the word count for picture books is dwindling. Now I have heard it’s 500 words or less. Why the decrease in word count? Same number of pages. Is it to focus more on illustrations?

Sincerely,
Patti

Dear Patti…

It’s a combination of market demand and product potential. Sales are strong for shorter, character-driven picture books, as opposed to stories with longer, more detailed narratives and plots. Concept always matters, but it’s the characters who drive this bus. Illustrations are key to their presentation. If the characters hit big, you’re looking at more books, even a franchise. Writers crafting this kind of text should strive for concise, rhythmic wording for a rich read-aloud quality. As for plot, think episodically, seeing the story in a series of scenes that use page turns and rhythmic breaks to transition from one moment to the next. That leaves room for the illustrator to swoop in with a strong visual storyline utilizing those same turns and breaks. Fewer words, but the same goal: a story that’s fun to read, delivers a great message, and offers characters with whom kids can connect.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Get Useful Feedback from My Beta Readers?

in Creative Process by

 Dear Editor…

I’d like to know what guided questions a writer can give to beta readers to get the best feedback from a manuscript.

Thanks,
Beth

Dear Beth…

Most beta readers aren’t writers, so ask about their impressions. Which of the characters seemed like they could be real people? Which did not? What would you change about any of them? Did any of their actions seem unbelievable? Did you feel confused at any time in the story? Did your mind wander at any point? At what point did you start to care about the main character? What scene first pulled you into the story? Did the main character’s problem seem important to you? Could you predict the ending? Did it satisfy you? Did the characters talk like real people? Which settings could use more description? Ask your readers open-ended questions or follow-up with questions like “Why?” or “When?” to encourage them to expand. And while you want to be thorough, too many questions can overwhelm a beta and shut them down. This is a good starter set. Readers, do you have favorite questions that you ask your readers?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Finding the Story among the Facts for a Biography

in Creative Process/Nonfiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve done so much research on my obscure historical figure that I think I know what kind of candy and dogs he would have liked. How do I begin to write a PicBk Historical Fiction or Biography when there is SO much to his story?

Thank you,
Pat

Dear Pat…

Writing a biography requires giving your subject’s life a unifying narrative—which requires narrowing your focus from all those facts to personal interpretation. What do you see when you look at that collection of facts? A man embodying the phrase “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done”? A man helping others at his own expense? Picture book biographies help children identify qualities that they already have in themselves or would be wise to cultivate. At this point you should identify the personal qualities that underpin the facts and events of this man’s life. To do that, make a list of catch phrases that describe his most notable qualities, as I did above. Then, pick one of those phrases to act as your book’s theme. THAT’s what you’ll write about, following that quality through the person’s life, using the facts to show that quality/theme at work. And if you get to talk about candy, all the better. It’s a book for kids, after all.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The Secret to Writing Regularly

in Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

How do you motivate yourself to write daily? How do you structure your day/environment? How do you get in the mindset or zone?

Thank you,
Jennifer

Dear Jennifer…

There are a zillion tricks for cranking out the pages. (Your favorites, Readers?) All of them come down to “motivation.” Here are 5 ways to get and stay motivated to write: Write what makes you happy – When a task is enjoyable, you’re more likely to start and stick with it, so instead of writing to trends, write what you want to write. Write as often as makes you happy – People think they must write daily, so even when they write 6 times a week they’re bummed. How about twice a week? Two times out of 2 is 100%, and 100% feels good. Write the amount that makes you happy – Small bites are OK. Fifty scenes a year is better than 5 full chapters sporadically produced. Compare yourself to yourself – Cultivate authentic inner power by improving yourself rather than competing with others. Celebrate often – Wrote a scene? Cheer on Facebook. See an improvement? Draw a happy face on your calendar to memorialize the day. Build yourself up, and build your WIP in the process.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Scare Readers with Your Mind, Not Your Monsters

in Creative Process/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

I want my WIP to totally scare readers, but it hasn’t scared even one of my Beta readers. They agree that the monsters are cool and the chases are exciting, but scary? Not so much. I’m frustrated. Advice?

Sincerely,
Wannabe Scary

Dear Wannabe Scary…

I bet you aren’t digging deeply enough into readers’ psyches—or your own. Readers will never be in physical peril when reading a book, so you can’t rely on monsters jumping out of corners to get them jittery. Instead, trigger a psychological sense of peril in your audience. Try tapping into your own deep-rooted fear, because if something scares you, you’re primed to convey your discomfort in your writing. What scares you about your monsters? Their jaws and claws? Their immortality? Make an actual list. Now consider what makes those things scary for you. Do they symbolize something else, something that’s out of your control? Do they evoke a problem from your past? A fear for your future? Your monsters need to tie into a deeper fear that can resonate with readers. Then focus your plot decisions on pushing that fear relentlessly. That, not the monsters, will freak folks out.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: When Is Too Many Words Too Many Words?

in Creative Process/General fiction by

Dear Editor…

My fantasy is at 126,000 words; I can probably cut to 115-120K but maybe not to 100K without ruining plot. In a market in which short is seen as more viable, should I worry about this?

Lorie

Dear Lorie…

It’s telling that you think you can cut 6,000-11,000 words. Do it! If you can see those cuts so easily, they’re probably necessary. Avoid indulging in nonessentials (or over-writing), especially when length is an issue. FOCUS is a writing mantra. As for what the market will bear, there’s no definitive “FULL” line. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix clocks in at 257,000 words (766 pages), yet even kids read it. But of course Harry defies most publishing norms. For the rest of us, size matters. Readers are generally daunted by a thick book block, and there’s only so much interior design and paper tweaking can do to slim it. Maybe e-books will change that since we don’t see a physical hunk of paper and ink, but for now, thick can thwart. Can you break your story into two or more episodes? Consider tying up subplots or phases of your story in separate books even as you keep greater character and plot arcs going across multiple installments.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Fictionalizing Real-Life Settings

in Creative Process/General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My mc attends a design school in LA closely based on the Fashion Institute (FIDM) there, a fairly well known school. Should I change the name? Details regarding curriculum, location, and the facility will play into the story and her decision to be a student there. Am I allowed to use the material I received in my research trip to the school and NOT call it by its real name and not be “plagiarizing”?

Thanks,
K. R.

Dear K. R….

I see two issues here. Regarding plagiarism, don’t pull words from their promo materials, class materials, or even course titles. Summarize or write fictional materials and course titles. Most readers probably won’t know the difference—or care. More murky is the potential risk in using a private school’s name and staff. Must you be so real? Anybody can sue, forcing you to spend money and time defending yourself, even if their claims ultimately have no legs. Do you want to go down that path? Sure, writers do set stories in private institutions like Yale, using the school’s real name. It depends on how your particular institution feels about its portrayal in your story and how litigious it is when it comes to protecting its “brand.” If the school will get a good or an even portrayal in your book, why not ask its permission? Then you’d have a definitive yes or no. The school might love it! If you don’t want to ask, your safest bet is to fictionalize the elements.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Making Sense of “High Concept”

in Creative Process/General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

There are so many definitions for “high concept” floating around. Can you help me understand what this really means?

M. Moon

Dear M….

Imagine a novel about two best friends in an all-girl high school. In this novel, the protagonist learns an agonizing lesson about true friendship, and she falls in love for the first time but is unable to tell the boy the truth about herself. There are juicy universal teen themes in the book, and it’s wonderfully written. NOW imagine that same story of friendship set in an all-girl school for spies, where each girl speaks 14 languages and knows 7 different ways to kill a man, and the protagonist’s love interest is an “ordinary” boy who thinks she is just an “ordinary” girl. This book has juicy universal teen themes and is wonderfully written, but the spy school adds a distinct, easily articulated concept that pops it out of the pack in a big way. That’s the difference between a “quiet” book and a “high concept” book. The book? Ally Carter’s fab I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, from the Gallagher Girls series.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can I Query Agents Before My Manuscript Is Done?

in Creative Process/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is it appropriate for an unpublished writer to query agents before her MG/YA manuscript is complete? Provided there is an outline and a synopsis of the work, is it okay to test the waters halfway through? Another thought: Agents are seasoned professionals and would know right away whether they like a manuscript or not. It makes more sense to have someone guide you along the way to completion before you finish the project than to take you through numerous revisions once you have. What say you?

Sincerely,
Rosie

Dear Rosie…

You’re barking up the wrong tree. Agents don’t have time to guide an untried writer through a first draft. They’ll carve out time for their current clients, who are published and proven, but not for someone who may not even stick with the manuscript to the end of that first draft, much less persevere to a polished submittable draft. Lots of people get halfway through manuscripts but never finish them. Life gets in the way. Passion fizzles. Writer’s block strikes. Other projects beckon. Even veteran authors will stuff half-cooked manuscripts into the drawer and then slam it shut forever. Seek guidance from freelance editors, writing instructors, and critique partners. Do not submit your half-written manuscript. Agents reject rickety early draft writing. What’s the hurry, anyway? Getting published should not be a race against the clock. Be patient and polish the manuscript, then step forward with your best foot. That’s how you’ll land an agent.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: The Secret to Writing Dystopian Fiction?

in Characterization/Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

I’m attempting to find a good how-to article on book on how to get started on writing a dystopian novel. Any suggestions??

Thanks!
Karen

Dear Karen…

“Dystopian” is the word of the week, with The Hunger Games movie setting records and dystopian novels making trumpeted debuts (Lissa Price’s Starters) and landing on the bestseller lists, as did Jeff Hirsch’s debut The Eleventh Plague. Jeff was a Guest Editor here recently addressing fears that dystopian was “over.” Read that, then visit The League of Extraordinary Writers, a blog by 10 writers immersed in the craft and news of the genre. But don’t focus on learning to “write dystopian.” Learn to write strong characters. Dystopian fiction is distinguished by characters who embody the quest to understand humanity. They live in societies that have morphed to emphasize humanity’s ugliest aspects, with the setting usually embodying this mindset. The dystopian hero recognizes the faults of his world and acts on this realization in a way that affects his world and makes readers believe that humanity’s strengths will ultimately triumph. Or at least have hopes of doing so. That’s the bottom line: hope. Strive to write characters who are rich enough to shoulder this literary burden, and read widely in the genre so you won’t write cliches but rather offer a fresh take on this noble quest.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is a Nom de Plume a No-No?

in Creative Process/Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

What are the pros and cons of using a pen name? What if you are quite a private person? Is this enough of a reason to use one? If so, what are some good ways to choose one and how do agents and editors feel about the practice?

Many thanks,
The Writer Behind the Curtain

Dear The Writer Behind the Curtain…

Whenever I hear news of yet another privacy violation in this all-access world we’ve created, I get a knee-jerk “I should’ve used a pen name” feeling. But I’d already established a career in publishing under my own name, so a nom de plume wasn’t a consideration. If you’re just starting out, you’re clear to go with a pen name—and there’s no reason you shouldn’t. As long as you consistently use it in your promotional/networking/social media existence, there won’t be any confusion. Agents and editors don’t care. As for picking the right pseudonym, you’re not trying to be conspicuous a la “Lemony Snicket,” so choose a name that sounds normal so no one will question it. Consider using your real first and middle initials or your nickname, though, so that you can comfortably respond to it when you’re in a book-related encounter.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Winner, Wonder, and Week Off

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

Three months ago, many of you made this New Year Resolution: “Finish my manuscript!” It’s likely time for your follow-up resolution: “Revise my manucript!” Revision Week was designed to bring you tips, insights, and inspiration for that very task. Thank you many times over to the fab authors who pulled back the curtains on their revision processes, thank you all for joining in, and congrats to the week’s final giveaway winner, Patti J. Kurtz. Next week DearEditor.com will return to the usual format, with answers to the craft and industry questions you wonder about. Until then…

Happy revising!
The Editor

The Editor is indebted to the authors who made Revision Week such an informative and inspiring event that it will now be an annual event. If you missed any of their posts,click directly on the links below to jump to their insightful interviews…

Cynthia Leitich Smith, bestselling YA gothic novelist, picture book writer, short story writer, and popular children’s lit blogger. http://deareditor.com/?p=3459

Kathleen Krull, author of more than 60 books, especially picture books and biographies for young readers. http://deareditor.com/?p=3570

 R.L. LaFevers, author of the 13 novels for young people, including the popular middle grade series Theodosia Throckmorton and Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist, and now the forthcoming His Fair Assassin YA trilogy.  http://deareditor.com/?p=3517

Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Theo Baker, popular, bestselling chapter book collaborators. http://deareditor.com/?p=3599

Mark A. Clements, horror/suspense author, screenwriter, and prolific ghostwriter. http://deareditor.com/?p=3552

Nathan Bransford, top blogger and former literary agent-turned-author of the Jacob Wonderbar middle grade books. http://deareditor.com/?p=3531

Rachel Caine, bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including the popular series The Morganville Vampires, the Weather Warden, the Outcast Season, and  The Revivalist. http://deareditor.com/?p=3696

Revision Week BONUS Interview: Rachel Caine

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

The Editor is thrilled to present a BONUS Revision Week interview . . . with Rachel Caine! Rachel is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including the YA series The Morganville Vampires, the Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series. Rachel’s newest series, The Revivalist, launched in 2011 with Working Stiff, and her stand-alone YA novel The Great and Lamentable Tragedie releases this year.

Please join Rachel and The Editor for the Revision Week finale, and find out how to win the final “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Rachel Caine has been honored with a Paranormal Pearl Award and an RT Booklovers Award, and was recently awarded a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times. She has appeared as a guest at over 100 science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance conventions and conferences over the past 20 years, including Dragon*Con, San Diego ComicCon, the World Fantasy Convention, and the World Science Fiction Convention. Rachel has been featured in several national publications including People magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Vanity Fair, and on international, national, and local television and radio. Today Rachel talks about revising when you’re under the gun.

*After Rachel’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Manuscript Edit Giveaway.

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

I’m in a very odd position. With a book due every three months, I don’t have a lot of luxury to rework things—they need to be close to the target (very close!) on the first draft. With the schedule I and my editors have, I have to be (somewhat foolishly) confident of my first draft. (Watch Rachel talk about The Morganville Vampires series here.)

Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

Generally, Version 1.5 gets sent in—I may have time for a fast read-through and tweak, but that’s pretty much it.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

None, until I get her notes; a LOT, after I receive those. I generally do a page one rewrite once I know what she sees as the strengths and weaknesses and problems, and comb through very thoroughly as I make those changes. Then, there are usually smaller questions that arise during copyedits that need solving. (Watch the Last Breath trailer here.)

Do you use critique partners?

Honestly, under my schedule, there’s no room for them. I’d love to have them, and when I have something that *isn’t* under that fierce spotlight of deadline, I do it. Generally, my agent (fellow author Lucienne Diver) also reads my manuscripts and gives me feedback while the editor is reviewing it as well, so I have additional input. I have nothing against critique partners, and have been a member of several groups, but it’s a timing issue now.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

Oh, yes. I just finished copyedits for that book, Two Weeks’ Notice (Book 2 in the Revivalist series). My original first draft was solid, but it had a huge plot hole—I specifically said that a certain virus took a month to incubate and become active, and then I had it happening almost immediately to a second character. That seems like an easy fix, but what the second character did under the influence of the virus was critical … and it seemed like a dead end, because I needed that one-month incubation period for story purposes. I solved it by realizing that what the second character did could be transferred to a third, unrelated character who could plausibly have been infected a month before. And it worked!

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

I once cut out half the book. HALF. Just took everything that happened after the “broken” scene and started over from scratch, because that scene was pivotal and everything after followed the wrong trail. It was difficult, but it worked in the end.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

There’s never a final draft for me, only the one you have to turn in because you’re out of time. But I guess if I had the luxury of having all the time in the world to do it, I think it would be the point at which I was bored with the story, where I didn’t want to play in that world anymore. There’s a certain fatigue that sets in, and I think if you’re reworking past that point, you’re not helping the story.

REVISION WEEK’S FINAL GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away one last FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 11, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 12, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck . . . and thank you for a fun week!

Revision Week: Nathan Bransford

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

Today was scheduled to be the grand finale of Revision Week, but the event has been so fun that The Editor can’t resist posting a bonus author interview tomorrow. Stop by for that surprise guest, along with a bonus edit giveaway.

For today, we’ve got the wonderful Nathan Bransford, author of the Jacob Wonderbar middle grade series and former literary agent with Curtis Brown. Nathan offers a unique view of the revision process thanks to his experience both as an author and as an agent ushering writers to book deals with publishers.

We’ve also got the promised “FREE Full Manuscript Edit” Giveaway from The Editor!

Nathan Bransford is the author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow and Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, the first two novels in a middle grade series about three kids and their planet-hopping adventures. He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. from 2002 to 2010, but is now a social media director and the writer of the popular blog about writing and publishing, www.nathanbransford.com.

*After Nathan’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway.

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you’ve made?

This is a tricky question for me actually because I tend to edit as I go and don’t typically go through discreet drafts. But the novel is usually done for me after the third or fourth major overhaul.

Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

Whatever draft it is where I can’t bear to look at it anymore and have exhausted every possible idea.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

It depends on the book, but usually two major rounds of revision.

Do you use critique partners?

No, I don’t show it to anyone before I send it to my editor. I’m fortunate to have a really fantastic editor, Kate Harrison, who helps me mold the book into a much better form once I’ve gotten as far as I can go on my own.

As an agent, did you ever work through revisions with authors before submitting them to publishers?

Definitely, I was a very hands-on agent. I always thought it was important to make sure the manuscript was as good as possible before going out to editors.

Do agents work through revisions with writers before agreeing to represent them?

It depends on the agent. When I was an agent I preferred to work with authors on an exclusive basis but without an offer of representation in place. That way we could both see if we were happy with how the revision process was going and our working relationship and formalize the relationship once we were confident in the manuscript. But situations vary.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

When I started Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe I had this particular opening that was how I had always envisioned beginning the novel. But when I wrote it out and sent it to my agent and editor… it just didn’t work. I had to completely re-imagine the opening and start over from scratch. It was daunting at the time and I had to kind of take a deep breath and regain my confidence, but it was definitely the right choice. The revised opening is much stronger and I’m so fortunate I had an opportunity to take a new approach. (Watch the Jacob Wonderbar trailer here.)

What’s the most drastic revising experience you’ve been part of?

I had one client where I advised her to completely change the genre of her novel and revise the plot to match. It was a ton of work for the author but it worked! The new version of the novel ended up selling and doing really well. Sometimes at the heart of a draft there’s a great novel that needs to be brought to the surface and polished. (Hear Nathan’s thoughts about “pitching,” videoed at the 2010 San Miguel Writer’s Workshop here.)

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When my editor says it’s done.

TODAY’S GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away a FREE FULL MANUSCRIPT EDIT of your manuscript. The edit will be a “Substantive Edit,” in which the author receives general feedback about the manuscript’s overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, plot development/narrative arc, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children’s books only), and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience, as The Editor determines appropriate and necessary after reviewing the entire manuscript. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line “Line Edit.”

Here are the rules:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. Your manuscript must be COMPLETE and SHALL NOT EXCEED 90,000 WORDS. In the case of a picture book entry, the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 10, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 11, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Full MS Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Extra bonus entries – SPREAD THE WORD. Blog, tweet, or otherwise electronically tell others about this Revision Week giveaway to get additional entries today. Send an email to DearEditor.com with “I Spread the Word!” in the subject line, and in the body include a link to your blog post or your Twitter address or your Facebook wall or whatever social media you used to spread the word. Don’t send screen-shots; attachments won’t be accepted. Include your title and full name in the body. Spread the word more than once? Then send an “I Spread the Word!” email for each one!

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Revision Week: Mark A. Clements

in Creative Process/General fiction/Guest Editors/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues with award-winning author Mark A. Clements. In addition to being a horror and suspense novelist, Mark has ghostwritten numerous books, giving him a distinct view of the revision process.

Please join Mark and The Editor for Day 5 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Mark A. Clements’ first horror novel, 6:02, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award. It was followed by the horror mystery Children of the End and the mystery thriller Lorelei, both of which received multiple nominations and awards. Mark’s The Land of Nod earned the Theodore S. Geisel “Best of the Best” award. All of Marks books have been optioned for film, and he also wrote the script for an original short, Dreamweavers. Mark is widely loved for his tireless work running critique sessions at writers conferences—often staying up to the wee hours to make sure every writer gets the chance to read and field full feedback.

*After Mark’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

For me at least, the use of word processors pretty much destroyed the meaning of the word “draft.” Back in typewriter days I did about four drafts of each novel…now I write 30 or more versions of some portions, and five or six versions of other portions. I insist that there’s a correlation between quality and all the extra dinking around. I insist, I tell you!

Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

The one I’m satisfied with. I always prefer to give an editor as little work (i.e., interfering) to do as possible.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

Typically not much.

Do you use critique partners?

“Partners?” No, no, no. I belong to a read and critique group with which I share portions of the work to see if it’s doing what I want, but I never share even slightly rough material and I don’t seek out advice on how to “fix” something. I don’t believe in writing by committee.

How does revision work in ghostwriting? How do you strike a balance between your judgment as a writer and the preferences of the person you’re writing for?

I never did strike that balance; I usually wanted to strike the person I was writing for. So I don’t ghostwrite anymore.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

My current novel features an organism that is alive but does not become conscious or self-aware until a third of the way through the story. I shuffled through two dozen openings before I realized that conscious or not, the organism needed its own point of view in order for the book to work. Getting there was a difficult but in the end very satisfying process.

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

Thrown out 75 pages of stuff I originally thought was essential. Big lesson there….

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

There’s no other way to put it: the story feels done.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away one more FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 9, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 10, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Revision Week: Co-Authors Lin Oliver, Henry Winkler, & Theo Baker

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues with co-authors Lin Oliver, Henry Winkler, and Theo Baker. All three authors team up today to discuss the part collaboration plays in the revision of series and chapter books for young readers.

Please join Lin, Henry, Theo, and The Editor for Day 4 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Lin Oliver has written several series with her co-authors—17 best-selling “Hank Zipzer” books and now three best-selling “Ghost Buddy” books with Henry Winkler, and the brand new “Sound Bender” series with Theo Baker—plus a series of her own, the “Who Shrunk Daniel Funk?” series. These prolific co-authors have learned a thing or two about revision. They’ve joined forces once again in an insightful tag-team interview for Revision Week.

*After the interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

How does revision work within a collaboration?

LIN:  The first step in revising with a collaborator is to agree on what you want to revise. Even when working with someone with whom you’re very attuned, you will always have differences of opinion, or differences in ear—how you hear the words. A lot of back and forth conversation is involved in deciding what changes you want to make in your manuscript, and often, one of the two partners has to compromise. It helps to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so you can fairly adjudicate your differences of opinion. Working with Theo on Sound Bender, he thinks I tend to go for the funny rather than the dramatic. He’s right, and knowing that helps us realize my limitations. I think he’s sometimes too long-winded, so I always want to trim his material. (He calls me Dr. Scissorhands.) You have to be very flexible in your negotiations so both parties come away feeling ownership of the final draft, and also very sensitive not to make it a critique of your partner’s talents but a decision of what works best at any given moment in the manuscript.

THEO: It’s completely different than working alone. For one thing, you always have a nominally sympathetic reader waiting for pages—so there’s no need to put drafts in a drawer to try to forget about them before revising. But while revision is sometimes much more difficult flying solo, revising with a collaborator can often be much more painful! If something doesn’t work for your partner—even if it’s something you love—it skips the drawer and goes directly into the garbage can.

When you’re writing a series, you know your characters well. How many drafts are needed once you get a series established? What kinds of things are you refining at that level?

LIN:  The first book in a series is always the most difficult because you are discovering your characters’ voices, peculiarities, habits, backstory. Many drafts are necessary to deepen your understanding and portrayal of your characters. I find that several books into the series, the voices come very naturally and require less conscious effort. However, plot is always a sticky point for me, and that always requires revision and tweaking to keep the tension going and the scenes relevant. I also find that in series, you have to be a strict cutter, because when you know the characters so well, it’s easy to let them ramble on a bit, and those digressions—although interesting—can really stall the story.

THEO: Though I’ve only written two books about the same characters, writing one book is enough to get to know your characters well. Too well, in fact. In writing Sound Bender 2, I just plodded along with my boys (and girls), and then after the fact, we went back and established most of the major characters so our readers wouldn’t be quite so lost! Readers may read books in a series continually, or they may space out the books by years. I think most readers, even very good ones, are mostly confused most of the time. So we try to help them as much we can with character info early and often. Makes the reading experience a little less tense.

How early does your editor come into each new book?

HENRY and LIN: Our editors are always involved in the concept phase—both formulating the concept for the series and in a conversation about the plot line in general. Usually, we have to submit a title early on in the process, for marketing purposes, so the title often helps define the concept. Then we go away and write the book, and the editor comes back to us with notes after we submit the first draft. Often there is a second set of notes, usually much more specific in nature, and we make those adjustments. That pass allows us to do a line polish of our own, having had some time and distance from the manuscript. That’s when we go through and take out a weak joke, an unnecessary adjective, a flabby verb, an unnecessary line of dialogue.

THEO: The editors come in at the very earliest stages—and are usually the ones who remind you that you owe them another book, and for the love of coffee, you should probably get started on it. They usually want a brief outline or synopsis up front—just to know that you’ve got a sound map to follow, so they can sleep at night. Editors are great at this stage; they read so much and in such a particular way that they can see problems way down the road. Once they’ve helped you with your map, then they leave you alone for several months—ostensibly so you can write.

Henry, the Ghost Buddy series is a new one for you and Lin. Did the first manuscript fall into place quickly, or did it take a few rounds to settle into the new characters and voices?

HENRY: As I remember, because we are now happily on our third Ghost Buddy, it did take a little longer than usual to do the first book in the series. Billy Broccoli and The Hoove, our main characters, were pretty clear. It was the supporting characters that needed to become fully alive to us. We also worked really hard on the rules of having a ghost in the story—to set a clear and consistent set of rules and hold ourselves to them. This is not an easy task. (Watch Henry and Lin talk about writing the Ghost Buddy series here.)

Lin, your new supernatural series “Sound Bender” (with Theo) is for older readers and has an edgier, more adventurous tone than your books with Henry. How has working with a new collaborator on a new project for a new audience affected your approach to shaping a story?

LIN: Well, it’s important to note that my new collaborator is also my son, which complicates the interaction in both blissful and complex ways. We have to work hard not to make this a mother-son relationship, but an interaction between two colleagues of equal ability. Theo has a great sense of adventure and is always very close to what our key readers … tween boys … are interested in. I always defer to him in those areas. I am a bear about staying on story, keeping the tension high, making sure each scene serves a purpose in advancing the story, keeping things pacey. Theo, I think, is willing to tolerate a more meditative pace. We bump into each other a lot on that spectrum…how fast to move the story, how much digression to include, how much scientific and historical fact to highlight. The happy news is that I believe both Sound Bender books have benefitted from our collaboration and specifically from our having to work out this very issue. They are deeper than they would have been if I had written them alone, and quicker than they might have been had Theo written them alone. I think this is one instance when compromise resulted in a better all around book.

Do you share your manuscripts with kids to test them out?

HENRY: No, we don’t. If we laugh in the room, it goes in the book. If the rhythms we come up with in telling the story land easily on the ear, it goes in the book. If the theme moves us emotionally, it becomes the book.

THEO: I share them with my inner child, but no actual kids. I was a tough and discerning eleven-year-old—most of them are; they can spot lies and phoniness a mile away. My inner child will respond right away to anything fake with a devastating eye-roll and a sarcastic, “Yeah right, that’s so stupid.” He’s tough, and it hurts every time.

Lin, do you use critique partners when you write your “Who Shrunk Daniel Funk?” series, which is not a collaboration?

LIN: I don’t use critique partners, but I have several first readers who are central to me. I always talk through the plot with Steve Mooser, my SCBWI partner of the last 40 years. He is invaluable when it comes to hearing a story and foretelling whether it will work. Plot is always the area where I need the most help. When it comes to actually writing the scenes, I’m pretty sure-footed with my particular comedic voice. However, I’m about to begin doing research on a new kind of novel for me, a multi-generational historical saga, and I’m hoping to use critique partners there. It’s a brand new tone for me, and I’m sure I’ll need smart feedback.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

LIN: My story problems are always in the Second Act. I usually know the First Act, establishing the problem. And I usually know the Third Act, solving the problem. Where I stumble is in the middle, trying to create complications that are relevant to the story and build tension. In the second Sound Bender, which Theo and I just finished, we really struggled with the middle. Our hero, Leo, has to find the other half of a mysterious Siamese twin mask from Borneo. He uses his sound bending powers to do so. The middle of the story involves a trip to Borneo, and a journey down the river into the jungle (an homage to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness). What was really tough was how to make all the adventures on the river build tension and not be just exciting episodic events. In the end, we had to cut that act by at least half, to get rid of those scenes that were temporarily exciting but did not really contribute to the building of tension. It was miserable work, getting through that Second Act. We got lost on that damn river so many times before we could paddle our way out.

THEO: There’re so few rules in writing that I’ll latch onto anything that seems wise or helpful. One aphorism I like (and have no clue to its origin) is: If the narrative seems slow, that means you’re not focusing on the right things. (paraphrased)

If a story isn’t working, it seems flat, lifeless. And the reason why it feels lifeless is almost always because the main character is so overwhelmed with story and narrative beats that he can’t be himself, and can’t respond like a living person.

When I’m staring at a lifeless scene, one thing I like to do is what I call an “emotional draft.” When revising, it’s easy to get so bogged down in the weeds of language, story development, the “way it should be” that it can feel suffocating—both for you and the character. So the “emotional draft” is a blank page draft, where I just focus solely on what the characters are actually feeling in the moment, while momentarily forgetting about all the other work on that scene I’ve already done. It’s a very safe and playful exercise, and a great way to add life into empty words.

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

HENRY and LIN: We usually have a very concise and clear outline before we start writing. What amazes us each time we write a book is that the story itself has a mind of its own and when we’re trying to go right, it often goes to the left. We have learned to faithfully follow, even if the result is a drastic change from the original plan.

LIN’s additional note: I often find I have to cut a character completely. I love to build in supporting roles, and on many occasions, have fallen in love with a character who doesn’t really have a vital role to play. I let myself write that character in the first draft, and then have to examine whether or not they’re just taking up space, no matter how charming I think they might be. I have an imaginary room in my house where those characters live. They’re all banging on the door trying to get into the next book. Some of them make it.

THEO: Short of incinerating entire drafts while sobbing, we’ve cut whole characters, whole finished chapters, whole subplots, etc. In our latest book, Sound Bender 2, we took a 140-page section and crunched it down into twenty-five compact pages. Lin says there’s nothing wasted in writing, but I think she’s full of it.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

HENRY and LIN: We know it’s done when we literally have come to the end of the story. Then we send it to our editors and get their thoughts. We carefully go over every thought and decide which ones resonate intellectually and emotionally. In the nineteen novels we have written together, we have never really had a major disagreement with our publishers that required us to change anything about what the book is that we imagined it to be.

LIN’s additional note: I have never read a published book of mine where I didn’t wince from wanting to go back and change it. I think this supports my belief that a book isn’t really done, it’s due. And thank goodness for that, or we’d just go on revising and tinkering forever.

THEO: There is no final draft. There are no endings, only countless beginnings. Just try to do your best work in the time you have, then beg and plead for another extension.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away yet another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 8, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 9, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Revision Week: Robin LaFevers

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues today with Robin LaFevers, the author of fourteen books for young readers, including the Theodosia series, the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series, and the much buzzed-about new His Fair Assassin series.

Please join Robin and The Editor for Day 3 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit”from The Editor.

Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and 19th century poetry, so it’s not surprising that she grew up to be a hopeless romantic. She has also spent a large portion of her life being told she was making up things that weren’t there, which only proves she was destined to write fiction. Robin’s most recent book, Grave Mercy, is a YA romance about assassin nuns in medieval France and has received three starred reviews and is a 2012 Indie Next Spring Pick. Robin was writing the final words of Grave Mercy’s follow-up (Book Two in the His Fair Assassins series) when The Editor asked her to participate in Revision Week. Robin steadfastly refused to answer a single question until she’d typed “THE END” on the draft for her editor. How’s that for maintaining focus?! Thankfully, Robin made her deadline and is now free to share her hard-earned insights on the revision process.

*After Robin’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

You jokingly dubbed yourself the Queen of Multiple Drafts. How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

Oh gosh, that really depends on the book and how long it’s been percolating in my head! Since I tend to divide books into acts, my process usually involves working on act one for a number of drafts—four to five at the least, although sometimes it can be upward of seven. In those revisions, I really work on nailing down the character’s voice, the tone of the story, the world, and the major components of the character’s internal arc—what they think they want vs. what they need, the whys of all that, and then trying to understand and brainstorm what keeps them from achieving that. I can’t move on in the story until I get all that figured out. With the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist books, I did a lot of that in my head before I ever set pen to paper, so only needed a two or three drafts. With Grave Mercy, I worked all that out on the page in a daunting number of revisions.

When I do it that way, I find the rest of the book requires fewer revisions—maybe only three or four. And of course, once I reach The End and have the entire book complete, I have to go back and massage the first act so it all fits together, which is another revision or two.

Do you go through fewer drafts when you’re a few books into a series?  

Yes, thank goodness! And that is because so many of the elements are already established—the character’s voice, the essential personality, the players, the world. That and because those are written on contract with hard and fast deadlines.

Which draft gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?  

Which draft I show to my editor depends on whether it is part of a continuing series or not. I don’t like to write books on spec, so if it’s a new project, I will typically have as polished and perfect a version of the book as I can. Or as polished and perfect as I can make it at that point in time. A critical part of my process is letting the book lay fallow for a while between drafts. When I do that, I find my subconscious does a huge amount of the heavy lifting for me, which always makes things easier.

So, for new projects probably anywhere from the seventh or tenth draft gets shown to my editor. For continuing projects, probably the third or fourth draft.

Now, the upside to doing so many drafts myself is that I usually only have to do one revision for my editor, and usually a fairly light revision at that.

For my most current project, the second book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, I had to turn in a much earlier draft than I am used to and I have to say, it makes me hugely uncomfortable. Like showing up at a business meeting in my jammies. In fact, I was so twitchy about it that I sent along a copy of my revision notes—all the things I knew still needed work—to my editor, just to try and streamline the process and let her know I didn’t think all the manuscript’s bald spots were okay.

Do you use critique partners?  

I don’t use critique partners because it isn’t helpful to me to show my work while it’s in progress. I do use beta readers though (although that may be a matter of semantics) who read the entire manuscript and give me their thoughts. I find them to be enormously helpful. For me, beta readers are highly trusted readers (most often writers) who have similar reading tastes as I do and like/read in the genre that I’m writing. They are also, and perhaps most importantly, able to help me write the story I’m trying to write as opposed to giving suggestions on how to write it as if they were writing it—which of course would make it an entirely different book. That’s a really important distinction though, because oftentimes we can get too much feedback or feedback that is at crosspurposes to what we’re trying to accomplish. So I pick my first readers very carefully.

I usually hand off the entire manuscript to these readers after a few drafts but before the final draft—that way the manuscript is still malleable in my mind and hasn’t “set” yet. Sometimes, if I get it all polished up and think of it as “ready”, making big changes can be too hard!

Do you ever share your manuscripts with young readers to test them out?  

No, I haven’t really done that since my kids have grown up, but when they were little, I definitely used them for guinea pigs!

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?  

Oh, merde! I think I told you I have done countless drafts of Grave Mercy, mostly because there were so many story choices available, it took me forever to figure out which story I wanted to tell. Then once I did, I got to page 200 and realized that third person POV simply wasn’t working. So I had to change the entire book to first person, which is much, MUCH more than simply changing pronouns. There is an entirely different flow to language and narration when you change POV. The manuscript flowed much better, but I was still having problems. It wasn’t until page 350 (of a 420-page mss) that I realized the darn thing had to be in first person PRESENT tense. That was a giant scream heard round the world, let me tell you. And writing in first person present is like speaking an entirely different language, so I had to completely rewrite the whole damn thing. (View the Grave Mercy trailer here.)

Which taught me an important lesson: experiment with tenses and POVs in the early stages of a book—just don’t set your POV choice on default mode.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When it is sent to the printer.

Seriously. I could fiddle and tweak forever. In fact, I have been known to tweak and edit on a printed copy of the book before doing a reading. But there is a point where you aren’t necessarily making it better—just making it different. Or so I try to tell myself.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

Today The Editor is giving away another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 7, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 8, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Revision Week: Kathleen Krull

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Picture Books/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues with award-winning author Kathleen Krull. In 2011 Kathleen was awarded the Children’s Book Guild of Washington D.C. Nonfiction Award, an honor presented annually to “an author or illustrator whose total body of work has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children.”

Please join Kathleen and The Editor for Day 2 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Kathleen Krull has written some 60 books for young readers, most notably the award-winning series of “Lives of” books, now with new jackets and new titles forthcoming. The Editor had the honor of working with Kathleen on many of the “Lives of” books as well as other books at Harcourt Children’s Books.

*After Kathleen’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

When you write a new picture book manuscript, how many drafts does it typically take before you’ll show it to an editor?

From the days when every penny counted, I’m so cheap with paper that I don’t print out a draft after I make every little change, so it’s hard to say. I print at least 10 to 15 drafts, representing what seem like substantial changes, before I’m happy. When I get to the point of taking out commas and putting them back in again, I feel ready to send it off.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

A lot, as you know, Deborah, from sitting across the desk from me once upon a time. A good example is Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. True story: between what I thought was my final draft, and what emerged after the editorial process, only one sentence stood intact: “Grapes, when ripe, do not last long.” It’s not that I deliberately send in something unpolished, it’s that editors are indispensable. (Note from The Editor: Kathy gave me permission to take credit for coming up with the “Harvesting Hope” title. I credit Kathy’s other wonderful editor at Harcourt with the revision fun.) Watch the National Endowment for the Humanities book trailer for Harvesting Hope here.

You’ve started co-writing with your husband, author/illustrator Paul Brewer. How does that collaboration work?

It’s truly a collaboration. One of us will start with an idea (Fartiste, needless to say, was his), a paragraph, or a first page, and we’ll then pass drafts back and forth, endlessly tweaking. Paul specializes in research. With Lincoln Tells a Joke, he found all the jokes. Same thing with our upcoming funny book about the Beatles. My focus is the final fine-tuning of the words. He typically works at night and I work days, so I’ll hand things off to him at the end of the day and find it back on my desk the next morning.

Did you use Paul or other critique partners for the books you wrote solo in the past?

Paul is usually the only one I show manuscripts to, for the simple value of watching his face as he reads. I can tell when he gets hung up, confused, or amused, and I use those reactions as clues when I’m revising.

Do you ever read your picture book manuscripts to kids to test them out?

I’ve tried this, but haven’t found it that helpful. I lean toward the “too many cooks” theory, that my views and the editor’s (and sometimes Paul’s) are what matter. More input than that can be muddling.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

With my biography of Dr. Seuss (The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss), I found it flummoxing that his life, from all outward appearances, was pretty darn charmed. I like to write about obstacles overcome, battles fought and won, and with him the more I researched, the less conflict I found. After many many drafts, I was finally able to tease out the theme that fooling around with words and pictures was not considered appropriate for an adult—but he did it anyway.

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

With Fartiste, Paul and I tried every which way to tell the story of Joseph Pujol, a real French performer whose entire act was farting on stage. Nothing clicked until I hit upon telling the story in rhyme. Paul thought this was a terrible idea—among other reasons, most editors hate stories in rhyme. But then I came up with a few funny verses, and we were off and running. I’d like to use this remedy again, but it would have to be the right subject.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When the editor and I have wrestled it into a story that seems to have written itself—that’s the goal anyway.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

Today The Editor is giving away another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 6, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 7, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.)

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Revision Week: Cynthia Leitich Smith

in Creative Process/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week kicks off with Cynthia Leitich Smith, the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Diabolical, and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story. Her award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Holler Loudly.

Please join Cynthia and The Editor for Day 1 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit”from The Editor.

In addition to the kudos Cynthia Leitich Smith gets for her many books for young readers, her website www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. And she is a frequent speaker and writing instructor. Some serious multitasking going on here! In fact, Cynthia replied to DearEditor.com’s questions about revision as the final draft of her newest teen novel was rolling out of her desktop printer.

*After Cynthia’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

1. How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

It varies wildly from project to project and has changed over the course of my career. My latest picture book, Holler Loudly, was completed over six years and significantly re-imagined several times. However, there were countless “tweak” drafts along the way.

Back when every novel I wrote was wholly new, I used to write a “discovery draft” wherein, after some prewriting, I plunged in and wrote a full story (with a beginning, middle, and end—say, 35,000 to 60,000 words) to get to know my protagonists, their goals and their world. When I was done, I would print it. Read it. Toss it. And delete the file. It sounds harsh, I know. But the idea was to take some of the pressure off. Nobody but me would ever read that dreaded first draft. And I certainly wasn’t planning to build on such a shaky foundation.

With the Tantalize series and its new spin-off Smolder series, I’m largely revisiting previously featured characters—sometimes promoting a sidekick or ally to hero—so I don’t need to start as if from scratch.

Also, over the years, I’ve shifted from a writer shopping completed, polished manuscripts to one who sells on proposal. Even though the execution of those stories may vary from the original concept, that still requires me to do a lot of big-picture thinking up front. (Watch the Tantalize trailer here.)

2. Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

Of late, I tend to send the third draft.

3. How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

Anywhere from one to three rounds of revision—typically two, plus copy edits and pass pages.

4. Do you use critique partners?

I used to be in a wonderful critique group, but then I started teaching MFA students and found that I could only read thoughtfully for so many writers. At the moment, my only critique partner is my husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith. We’re tougher and more frank with each other than we’d ever be with anyone else. A comment might read: “No way is this going out of the house with the family name on it.”

That said, I don’t generally recommend having a family member as key reader. I’ve seen it create conflict that goes beyond the page. Keep in mind that Greg is in the business—he’s well-published himself—and we met as first-year law students, so we’re long used to working together in a competitive context.

5. Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

Not really. I have this unshakable belief that the answers to every story are somewhere in those early drafts. We just have to read our own writing carefully enough to find them.

6. What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

Eternal, a love story between a vampire princess and her “slipped” (not fallen) guardian angel, was originally a love story between a vampire princess and the son of Santa Claus. He was an elf. A short elf named Topher. The working title was “Fangs and Mistletoe,” which I still think is adorable. Santa died in that original draft, and those of you who write for young readers should take special note of the following: You should probably not kill Santa Claus in a book. Especially a book for kids.

Trust me on that one.

It was my editor’s assistant who suggested substituting an angel, and we released Eternal a season before the angel trend hit. I’ve been asked how I knew vampires—and then angels—would be big in YA. I had no idea. I was just writing the kind of books I’d loved to read as a teenager. (Watch Eternal trailer here.)

7. How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When I have nothing left to give, and my editor starts making concerned noises about shuffling the manuscript off to the copy editor, which oddly, always seems to happen at about the same time.…

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is celebrating Revision Week by giving away a FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 5, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 6, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.)

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Extra bonus entries – SPREAD THE WORD. Blog, tweet, or otherwise electronically tell others about this Revision Week giveaway to get additional entries today. Send an email to DearEditor.com with “I Spread the Word!” in the subject line, and in the body include a link to your blog post or your Twitter address or your Facebook wall or whatever social media you used to spread the word. Don’t send screen-shots; attachments won’t be accepted. Include your title and full name in the body. Spread the word more than once? Then send an “I Spread the Word!” email for each one!

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Welcome to DearEditor.com’s 2012 Revision Week!

in Creative Process/Giveaways/Revision Week by

Dear Readers…

This week DearEditor.com brings together eight prolific, bestselling, award-winning authors for a week of revision tips, insights, and stories from the trenches. Learn from writers who turn first drafts into lauded books every day—and enter the daily drawings for Free Partial Edits and the grand prize Full Manuscript Edit giveaway.

*Giveaway directions will be posted each with the interviews, starting tomorrow.

Welcome to a week of free edit giveaways (directions to be posted each day starting tomorrow) and revision advice and insights like these…

Cynthia Leitich Smith, bestselling YA gothic novelist, picture book writer, short story writer, and popular children’s lit blogger: “Back when every novel I wrote was wholly new, I used to write a “discovery draft” wherein, after some prewriting, I plunged in and wrote a full story (with a beginning, middle, and end—say, 35,000 to 60,000 words) to get to know my protagonists, their goals and their world. When I was done, I would print it. Read it. Toss it. And delete the file.”

Kathleen Krull, author of more than 60 books, especially picture books and biographies for young readers: “When I get to the point of taking out commas and putting them back in again, I feel ready to send it off.”

R.L. LaFevers, author of the 13 novels for young people, including the popular middle grade series Theodosia Throckmorton and Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist, and now the forthcoming His Fair Assassin YA trilogy: “There is a point where you aren’t necessarily making it better—just making it different. Or so I try to tell myself.”

Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Theo Baker, popular chapter book collaborators: “[With collaborations] you have to be very flexible in your negotiations so both parties come away feeling ownership of the final draft, and also very sensitive not to make it a critique of your partner’s talents but a decision of what works best at any given moment in the manuscript.”

Mark A. Clements, horror/suspense author, screenwriter, and prolific ghostwriter: “I never share even slightly rough material and I don’t seek out advice on how to ‘fix’ something. I don’t believe in writing by committee.”

Nathan Bransford, top blogger and former literary agent-turned-author of the Jacob Wonderbar middle grade books: “I was a very hands-on agent. I always thought it was important to make sure the manuscript was as good as possible before going out to editors.”

rachel caineUPDATE: The Editor is honored to add a BONUS interview – Rachel Caine! Rachel is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including the YA series The Morganville Vampires, the Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series.

 

Thank you for joining us. Tomorrow, Cynthia Leitich Smith pulls back the curtain on the revision process…

Announcing DearEditor.com’s Revision Week, March 5-10!

in Creative Process/News by

Dear Readers…

The Editor is thrilled to host eight prolific, bestselling, award-winning authors for a week of revision tips, insights, and stories from the trenches. Learn from writers who turn first drafts into lauded books every day—and enter the daily drawings for Free Partial Edits and the grand prize Full Manuscript Edit giveaway.

Read on for more…

Mark your calendar for a week of free edit giveaways and revision talk with these talented and generous authors:

Henry Winkler, Lin Oliver, and Theo Baker, popular chapter book collaborators. Henry and Lin collaborated on 17 books in the Hank Zipzer Series and now pen the Ghost Buddy series together. Lin and Theo are the creative duo behind the new Sound Bender series. And Lin has flown solo with her Who Shrunk Daniel Funk? series.

R.L. LaFevers, author of the 13 novels for young people, including the popular middle grade series Theodosia Throckmorton and Nathaniel Fludd Beastologist, and now the forthcoming His Fair Assassin YA trilogy.

Mark A. Clements, horror/suspense author, screenwriter, and prolific ghostwriter. All of his novels have been optioned for feature films.

 

Kathleen Krull, author of more than 60 books, especially picture books and biographies for young readers.

 

Cynthia Leitich Smith, bestselling YA gothic novelist, picture book writer, short story writer, and popular children’s lit blogger.

 

Nathan Bransford, top blogger and former literary agent-turned-author of the Jacob Wonderbar middle grade books.

 

Please join us!

re: Did That TV Show Just Kill My Book?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Uncategorized by

Dear Editor…

I just pitched my book as “Glee meets West Side Story” to an editor, who loved the idea. Yesterday, I read that Glee is doing WSS. I’ve never even watched the show. What do I do? Is my novel dead? I’ve been working on it for three years.

Sincerely,
Cathy

Dear Cathy…

Brace yourself, because you’re not gonna like my answer: I think you’ve been beaten to the punch. It doesn’t matter that high school music departments have been doing West Side Story for years. One of the most popular shows on television is basing a good portion of its season on its fictional high school’s production of WSS. The burden is now on you to distinguish what makes your book different from what’s happening on TV even though you wrote your story first. Comparisons will be made. You made the comparison yourself in your pitch—albeit without full knowledge of just how on the nose you were. Some editors may be wary about potential difficulties, others may be intrigued by the possibility of piggybacking on a popular show. The concern there is that even though Glee doesn’t have a lock on WSS, the people behind the show have a propriety interest in the franchise and may be active about protecting it. Defending against claims is the author’s responsibility, not the publisher’s. The legal wrangling could be costly and stressful to you even if you prevailed. It would be wise to have an experienced publishing attorney vet your manuscript to judge the amount and significance of the similarities and assess your risk. See, I told you: I’m a total bummer. Sorry I can’t paint a rosier picture.

The Editor

Guest Editor Gary Soto re: Heeding Your Creative Instinct

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have a short story that my writing group thinks could be a whole novel. I worked hard to distill this character’s story down to its essentials . . . I can’t seem to get my head around expanding it meaningfully. I feel like I’m adding stuff for the sake of adding pages. I hear about great novels that started off as short stories. What’s their secret?

Thank you,
M.

Dear M.…

If you’re in a writers group, you may be expected to heed advice of others—that’s why you’re there, right? To listen, absorb, learn from others who are practicing this art of ours. However, I find that some will suggest revisions where revisions aren’t needed, new titles when the old titles will suffice, introduction of more tension (more screaming please!) when the story is adequately tense, etc. Now a colleague in the group—perhaps as he or she set her coffee cup down—has blurted, “Hey, this might be good as a novel, not a story?” Everyone chirps, “Great idea. You go, girl!”

I sense worry. I sense doubt. I side with you as we remember the maxim “When in doubt, remain in doubt.” In our art—fiction and short story writing—we live by hunches, what talent we are given, perhaps even the temperament that defines us—you, by nature, may color a smaller canvas. What’s wrong with that? This is you. You are not the Jackson Pollack of large canvases! You have a hunch that what you have done is a short story and will remain a short story. Are you being difficult? Are you losing an opportunity for a larger work? Probably not.

In short, if you try to lengthen the story into novel length, you’ll probably discover that it’s tough going—and, yes, those are tears of frustration falling on your keypad. My advice: recognize that the story is done. Now begin something else.

Stay strong,
Guest Editor Gary Soto

Gary Soto is the author of many much-loved middle grade and young adult novels, short story collections, poetry collections, and plays, including the acclaimed Baseball in April and Other Stories. He’s just published the new short story collection for young readers called Hey 13! and his first e-novel, When Dad Came Back. For more about Gary and his books, visit www.GarySoto.com.

re: Opportunities in Children’s Book Categories

in Creative Process/Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have ideas for both fiction and nonfiction children’s books. What category is easier to break into?

Thanks,
Amy

Dear Amy…

“Easy” is no word for publishing. The economy and industry changes have publishers proceeding cautiously. Embrace “opportunity” instead. If your nonfiction ideas are curriculum-based, you’ll rely on institutional sales (mainly schools and libraries) where budgets are being slashed, slimming opportunities there. Nonfiction picture books with rhythmic narrative are finding homes, though, appealing to institutional and consumer buyers alike. Consider Me…Jane, a picture book biography that offers a simple, rhythmic story and leaves the facts for the backmatter. Children’s fiction has opportunities: YA can make money, MG sales are up, and the market for fictional picture books is improving. But “opportunity” becomes “success” only if you’re ready for it. Developing ideas into fresh, standout additions to any category is hard work, and hard work only happens when you’re passionate enough about an idea to pursue it doggedly. So add “passion” to your word list, too.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Finishing a Novel Despite Self-Doubt

in Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

I just started writing a story, but I want to know how I can be motivated to write a novel!? Make it long, and beautiful. Every time, I think, It’s never going to be good. Is there any way I can lose this feeling, and continue on writing it?

Sincerely,

Xena

Dear Xena…

Stop trying to motivate yourself to finish a novel and instead motivate yourself to finish your story. “Complete a novel” is a task to check off a list. Bleh. A story, though, that’s something you can get jazzed about. A story has characters you grow to care about, and problems that threaten them, and relationships that make them laugh, cry, mourn. You continue writing a story because you want to see how your fictional friends’ lives work out. Try writing with the aim of discovering just a little more about your characters each day. Eventually you’ll know what happens to them and can type “The End.” Story (and novel) accomplished.

Happy writing!

The Editor

 

re: Can Online Critiquing Hurt My Pub Chances?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Will posting my pb manuscript on online discussion boards for peer critiques hurt my chances of publication?  I have commented on several on SCBWI’s discussion board, but always hesitate.  What are the pros and cons of this?

Sincerely,

Wendy

Dear Wendy….

Editors and agents don’t care if your material has been posted in online critique forums. In fact, some publishers are actively searching for unknowns online, as evidenced with publisher-founded writing communities such as Authonomy (HarperCollins) and the brand new Book Country (Penguin; see today’s Publishers Weekly). But don’t post in online critique communities with the goal of being “discovered.” No one can attest to the odds of that happening or even to the likelihood that publishing companies can realistically maintain such a communal ideal. Post because you seriously want critiques and you seriously intend to give them. Because when all is said and done, the reason such forums exist is to serve your very real need for constructive, objective input on your writing. Before you commit to any critique community, follow it for a bit to get a feel for the quality of participants’ criticism. Then work to build relationships within that community that are built on respect, dependability, and trust.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: 3rd Draft . . . Last draft?

in Creative Process/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Now I’m ready to work on the third draft of my YA novel. I’ve never been here before. How do I do this? Should I start over for the 3rd time or just edit parts of it that need work? Is this still the cutting down on characters/bettering the plot time? How do you know when you’re done?

Sincerely,

Melody

Dear Melody…

Alas, “done” isn’t an empirical pronouncement. It’s “best guess” city. Here are five questions to help you decide if big character or plot changes are still needed: If you take the protagonist as he is in the final scene and drop him back into the first scene of the book, will he behave so differently that you wouldn’t even have a story? Did you force your protagonist out of his comfort zone at crucial moments? Has each obstacle pushed the plot and characters forward? Are the consequences of failure dire enough at each stage of the plot? Does each scene in each chapter contribute to its chapter’s overall goal, and does every chapter contribute to the character’s achievement of his story goal?

If you’re confident answering yes to all, you may indeed be at word-tweaking stage and perhaps last draft. Don’t force it. Louis Sachar wrote five drafts of Holes before he sent it to his editor—and that book went on to win the National Book Award and the Newbery Medal.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Guest Editor Mary E. Pearson re: Help! I’ve Hit a Wall!

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I attended a week-long retreat a year ago. I hit a wall and have been lost in confusion about everything: my story and my ability to write. How can I get my confidence back? I seem paralyzed.

Sincerely,

Maureen

Dear Maureen…

I don’t know if misery loves company, but I do want to tell you that this is completely normal for every writer, and it seems to happen at some point with every book. I thought that once I was published that would give me the confidence to boldly move forward in my writing.  Unfortunately that doesn’t happen because every story presents its own unique challenges that can undermine your confidence. In other words, as I’m writing, I still frequently ask myself, What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into now?!  This story is hopeless! It will never make sense. I don’t even know what it’s about! Sound familiar?

I think the worst point is somewhere right around the middle where everything seems to be out of control.  When I get to that crazy spot where I feel like I can’t move forward, I will do all kinds of things to help me keep going, like:

  1. Print it out.
  2. Read and highlight key points or emerging themes.
  3. Force myself to write a one-liner (or several) that seem to describe the book.
  4. Force myself to write a short flap-jacket type synopsis so I can try to understand what the book is about.
  5. Look at emotional questions (inner plot) I have raised. Did I answer too soon and let the steam out of the story? Sometimes it’s simply the last chapter or two where I took a wrong turn and I need to rewrite in order to move forward.
  6. Remind myself it doesn’t have to be perfect in the first draft. Go ahead, Mary, write crap. That’s what revision is for.
  7. Share a partial with friends—every writer needs encouragement. (But be careful about sharing too much too soon. This can derail a lot of writers, especially if the vision for the story is fragile.)
  8. Picture myself a year from now with a finished book. I know the only way I will get there is writing a few words each day.
  9. Trick myself. I sit down to write and tell myself I only have to write ten words and then I can get up and do whatever I want guilt free. TEN. That’s all. But I have to do it every day. It’s amazing how quickly ten little words can grow into a whole page. And then the mind spins during downtime so that your story is always being written. But that daily jolt of writing keeps those ideas spinning.
  10. Reread one of my books about craft. These are like mini-conferences and are a good shot in the arm.
  11. Tell myself I’m just going to hurry and finish this mess so I can move on to something else. But I have to finish it because all my time invested up to that point would be a complete waste.
  12. Banish all the devils sitting on my shoulder whispering all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of writing.  I literally tell myself, “You will never please everyone, so when all is said and done, you damn well better please yourself.  Write the book that YOU want to write!” And I mean it.

I could go on and on with the many ways I’ve invented to help me beat doubt. The point is to keep going, Maureen. You are not alone. Writing is hard, uncertain work and stories have no clear pathways. Don’t beat yourself up when you hit one of those walls. Take a moment to catch your breath and find a way around it.  You can borrow one of my ways or invent your own (I am still inventing new ways) but I know you can do it.  Ten words. . . . It’s like digging a little hole under the wall and before you know it that wall is far behind you.

Best wishes,

Guest Editor for the Day Mary E. Pearson

Author of five award-winning teen novels, including the new The Miles Between

re: Is Branding Wicked or Wise?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m sort of eclectic when it comes to my YA novel genres. But I know “branding” is really important for a writer. When I’m creating my urban fantasy followed by my light, contemporary romance followed by my edgy issue novel, how concerned should I be about consistency as a writer in the market?

Sincerely,

Heather

Dear Heather…

“Branding” calls to mind glowing coals and sizzling iron Xs, and some writers resist the term as if it means just that. The idea of sticking to one kind of story, genre, or audience seems antithetical to the creativity that drives them to write. Branding yourself as a writer of something specific is a valuable strategy because it helps readers discover and stay with you long-term. They know what they’re getting—and they want more of it. Fortunately, eschewing branding doesn’t mean sabotaging your career. Plenty of MG/YA writers enjoy careers where their consistency is not in genre but in the quality of their writing. Look at M.T. Anderson, author of the cyberpunk YA Feed (a National Book Award Finalist), the two-volume YA historical fiction The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (both volumes are Michael L. Printz Honor Books; the first also being a National Book Award Winner), the wacky, satirical middle grade series “Pals in Peril” (of which Whales on Stilts is my personal favorite), and the lauded “Norumbegan Quartet” fantastical adventure series (upcoming: The Empire of Gut and Bone), among others. Anderson’s brand is his name, which has become synonymous with brilliant writing. Now there’s a brand worth cultivating.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Letting Your WIP RIP… For a Spell

in Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

It’s a good idea to take a break from a WIP for a period of time, say, three months, to gain perspective. But when? After I finish the rough draft? Or once I’ve revised to the point where I’m thinking the story’s in good shape?

Sincerely,

Jay

Dear Jay…

There’s no rule for this one, so let the goal of the Big Nap determine your timing. That is, the point of not looking at a work-in-progress for a short spell is to make it possible for you to see weaknesses you’ve become blind to during your deep immersion in it. If you don’t see anything to revise after the first draft, then that’s your moment. But because first drafts usually resemble a bunch of ragged swatches duct-taped to a sewing mannequin, you’ll probably spot plenty of revision possibilities then. I’d expect the blindness to set in more commonly after the second or even third draft, when, yes, you think the story’s in good shape. That’s when fresh eyes are imperative.

Happy Halloween!

The Editor

re: Are Three Pens Better Than One?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Two writer friends and I have collaborated on a mg novel. Are editors leery of taking on collaborations and working with three authors and three agents? Is there a preferable way to package our talents so that we can be marketed as a team versus individuals?

Sincerely,

Natasha

Dear Natasha…

If your material is The Goods, editors won’t balk at a 3-person writing team. But be ready for extra scrutiny from them and reviewers: Three authors? Must be three times as good! Your voices must be seamless if they’re meant to blend. Or, if there are three different parts, each voice must be distinct, and changing from one to another must offer insight you could only get from that voice.

For insight into packaging a threesome, I tapped my favorite publicity collaborators, the duo at Blue Slip Media. They do point out possible marketing challenges: 3 author names on promo materials is tricky design-wise, and it’d be 3 times more expensive to bring all of you to conferences or go on tour, and having 3 agents pushing for top billing for their authors could be a headache for the Marketing Director. These might be arguments for packaging the group under a pen name—one that hints at or directly declares your team-up. You can brainstorm it with the Marketing Department when the times comes; you needn’t have it completely finalized when you submit. Despite these challenges, Blue Slips says that Marketing would welcome the unique possibilities your threesome offers: 3 sets of networks to tap into, 3 locales where you can push for local publicity, and potential for some great trade coverage (like Publishers Weekly and general newspapers/magazines) for the unusual approach to writing fiction. Having 3 authors makes the book stand out from the pack, a key in publicity. Just be sure you work together seamlessly (that word again!) so you can agree on things quickly and move forward.

I also checked with a publishing law attorney, Lisa Lucas at Lucas LLP. After all, a collaboration is a business partnership, and many authors forget that in the excitement of creating and submitting. Turns out Lisa blogged about this very issue earlier this summer. Her main message: Brainstorm the entire process, consider all the things that may come up, then assign responsibility and memorialize that on paper. For instance, when one author is at a conference doing the selling, should she get a bigger cut of those sales? Your agents, too, must work things out among themselves before bringing in the outside pressure of a publisher. Of course, you can’t predict everything (Lisa cites a case where one author in a collaboration commits murder—yikes!), but do take to heart her message about proactively discussing touchy things.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Are We Running Out of Original Titles?

in Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

I’ve noticed that we seem to have run out of original titles. Old book titles, old movie titles, old used and reused quotation titles seem to be appearing more often. Ever wonder why? What could be the benefit of copycat titles?

Sincerely,

K.L.

Dear K.L….

You know, the music industry has been singing the same tale of woe recently. Only, in relation to band names. It seems all the good ones are taken. And the bad ones, too.

But we talk books here, don’t we? Publishers Weekly just reported that 764,000 self-published books were produced in 2009, plus 288,355 traditional books. With that many books pouring into the marketplace, you’re bound to get duplicate titles, or recycled titles from the past. The good thing is, you can’t copyright a title. But think twice before you reuse one. If it’s established—like, say, Dune—you aren’t doing yourself any favors by choosing it. Instead, strive for a title that reflects the distinctiveness of your story. Titles that suggest themes—Betrayal, for instance—tend to land flat with readers. They don’t promise ‘fresh.’ Find something particular in your story that is the crux of the deal, and build your title around that. For example, I can’t imagine why in the world anyone would ever repeat, by accident or on purpose, Because of Winn-Dixie, or Whales on Stilts. Those titles are specific to those stories, and they have immense personality. You worked hard to come up with a fresh angle on a universal theme for your story, do the same for the title you hang on it.

A call to all readers: I’ve always LOVED the topic of titles—hearing good ones, brainstorming new ones with authors. For the sake of inspiration, let’s share some favorites. I’ll start: Love Among the Walnuts. Yours?

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: This Story in my Head Won’t Leave Me Alone

in Creative Process by

Dear Editor…

I’m an engineer but I’ve had this story floating around in my head for a few years and it won’t leave me alone. It’s really starting to bother me because I don’t have the foggiest idea about writing styles or even where to begin. I do know I have to get it out of my head. Help! Where do I begin?

Sincerely,

Joe

Dear Joe…

Stuff that TI scientific calculator back into your shirt pocket and whip out your Roget’s thesaurus, because you’re about to become a writer. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest community college and enroll in a fiction writing class. If there’s a university nearby, they’re sure to offer a fiction class in their extended studies program. At this point, it doesn’t matter if that raging idea in your head is for a nonfiction book—which I doubt, given your use of the word “story”—because even nonfiction writers must learn how to craft engaging narrative. Fiction, in a formal writing course, is your starting point. There, you can let the genie out of its bottle in a step-by-step manner under the guidance of a pro. Your instructor will help pinpoint your specific genre and audience, at which point you should tap into the online organization for that genre and get into a critique group. Then read all you can in that genre to learn its idiosyncrasies as well as general craft, as each genre has its own quirks. Above all, stop resisting. Many writers would kill to have an idea that passionate in the wings. Work it, boy, work it!

Happy writing!

The Editor

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