Archive for April, 2012

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Leveling Up

You ever played D&D?  Then you know about experience points and leveling up.  It’s actually a neat system for advancing characters through bigger and better adventures.  When characters complete adventures, the Dungeon Master grants experience points.  In the games I’ve played experience points are generated based on the difficulty of monsters defeated, problems solved, and the quality of roleplaying.  For example, when I played a bard, I’d get points for actually composing songs and poems about our adventures.  I’m sure I still have copies of those somewhere…

Anyway, when you reach a certain number of accumulated experience points, your character advances to the next level.  Skill points are higher, fighting ability increases, ability to resist damage increases, and so on.  Usually, after that, the bad guys and monsters your character encounters are tougher.  It’s like that old saying, what’s the reward for a job well done?  A harder job.  (Now that I think of it, this may not be a bad way to think about advancing a character through an ongoing series. . .  Hm, must ponder.)

Some of my writer friends talk about “leveling up” in the business, and I like the metaphor.  You accomplish a bunch of things, tick off a bunch of goals, and you’re feeling pretty good — then you find yourself encountering a whole new slew of monsters you’ve never seen before.  I’ve been feeling this lately.  Over the last couple of years, I’ve accomplished a ton of great stuff, and on the one hand I feel like I have superpowers.  But on the other hand, holy cow look at those new monsters…

*straps on armor and hefts +2 red pencil of copyediting*

Just for fun, here’s a tumblr of Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.

Saturday, April 28th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Four Days of Introvert Writer Paradise

Howdy folks and happy Saturday!

Every once in a while I get to go do very writerly things.  One of my favorite writerly things to do is…well…go away and write.

My stepbrother’s wife’s parents have a vacation house out on Willappa Bay that they’ve been kind enough to let me use from time to time.  Last Monday, after a full day with the girls, I loaded up and headed off to Bay Center.

I used to work in Wahkiakum and parts of Pacific County back in my days in community economic development.  It was probably one of my most favorite gigs.  So I stopped at Duffy’s Irish Pub, in Grays River, on my way through.  Amazingly enough, I bumped into a fellow I knew through that job  — glass artist Kyle Gribskov — which led to a great hour or so of catching up.  I had an amazing oyster and garlic pasta served up with Guinness, which of course they have on tap.

I arrived to Bay Center and got settled in.  Then, took a walk down to the beach.  It was quiet except for birds and wave and wind.  That night, I watched the first half of the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (which I still say is a fine, fine remake.)  Then, after ten hours of sleep, I woke up, brewed coffee, took a walk and sat down to write.

I took myself out for dinners and being a fan of oysters served me well.  Some of the best oysters in the world come from the Willappa Bay.  And again, did I mention the quiet?  I spoke at meal time — to order my food.  Otherwise, I listened.  Mostly to the locals.  Or the quiet.  Or my writing playlist.

Over the course of the week, I built fires when I got cold.  I slept in.  I walked in the mornings.  I wrote.  I ate.  I napped.  I watched The Day the Earth Stood Still and Get Him to the Greek.  I read the first fifty pages of Almuric.   It was a restorative, lovely time.

And I put 5,700 words away.  Half of what I hoped for but not bad.  I’m five chapters from finishing my fourth novel.

And now, as you read this, I’m probably on a panel at Ooligan Press’s Write to Publish event at Portland State University.  A nice week.

So what does your writerly paradise look like?

Friday, April 27th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Mo’ Contracts, Mo’ Problems

Lucky you guys. It’s a Diana double hitter this week.

Yesterday’s post about revisions vs. rewriting was told from the perspective of a writer who had the work in question under contract. That’s the position I’ve been in for seven years now. I haven’t written anything — book, short story, essay — that I haven’t either been asked for or (more relevantly) contracted and paid for since 2004.

Honestly, this is not something to be particularly proud of. If I was a more prolific and industrious writer, perhaps, I would have been breaking into unexpected markets like Ken and Sasha do (hello, science fiction periodicals) or would have made sure I always had two revenue streams (two genres, two houses, two series, two pseudonyms) going at once, the way HelenKay, Bob,  and Carrie  do. I’ve played it very conservatively, producing for the people who were already offering me money.

But the thing is, that’s what makes rewrites, as I wrote about them yesterday, so scary and stressful. If you’re rewriting something that’s not under contract, if it’s just your play novel. that you take out and bat around whenever you get a chance, the work that you talk about “writing some day” with your friends over a bottle of wine, or even the book that you actually have written and sent out in to the world, and just isn’t gelling for some reason or another (wrong agent, flat market, exploded publisher, bad timing) — then there’s no pressure. You just stick it back in the drawer for a few months or a few years or whatever. You feel free to cannibalize it for other stories. You let it marinate for a while and, at your leisure, figure out what the story’s really about. You wait until the right agent and the right market for the story comes along.

Once a work is under contract,it’s a different situation. Playtime is over. You have promised a work to a publisher. You have almost always been paid at least some for it. And if the work you deliver isn’t what the publisher is expecting, it’s you, the writer that has to go back to the trenches and fix it, usually under a good deal of time pressure. The publisher is not necessarily the evil, black-hearted villain in the piece. They aren’t gleefully rubbing their hands together and wondering how they can make their writers’ lives miserable. Here’s a short and by no means exhaustive list of how s*** happens:

  • Between the time that the publisher bought the book and the writer delivered the book, another book came out and went gangbusters, and now the publisher is under serious pressure to deliver something for that book’s fans (see: the explosion of paranormal romance in YA thanks to Stephanie Meyer, or the more recent explosion of “dystopian.”)
  • The acquiring editor has left, and the new editor doesn’t have the same vision for the book.
  • You sold them what you were both, at the time, describing as “pasta.” Then you delivered lo mein while they were expecting lasagna.
  • In between the time that you sold the book and delivered it, you went gangbusters in another house/genre/etc. and all of a sudden they want the kind of thing that you’re selling so well elsewhere.
  • In between the time that you sold the book and delivered it, a Major Life Event happened and all of a sudden the book you thought you were writing morphed into something completely different and either you or the editor are going to have to convince the other as to why one way is best.
  • In between the time that you sold the book and delivered it, the publisher has decided to go in a different direction with their imprint (or cancel it entirely).
  • In between the time you sold the book and delivered it, a major buyer has decreed that all books of a certain market segment MUST have XYZ, that your book does not.
  • Your publisher has heard a rumor that you’re departing for greener pastures with a book that has a much higher sales potential, and so is going out of their way to make you miserable  — okay, this one’s a little black-hearted villainy, but it’s also pretty rare. What usually happens in this instance is the publisher goes out of their way to kiss your butt so you’ll give the project to them instead.
  • You bit off more than you could chew with your new book.
  • You are absolutely writing the wrong book, and deep down, you know it.
  • Major Life Event is happening, and you’re not on your game.
  • Your standalone has turned into a series.
  • Your series has turned into a longer series.
  • Your publisher has decided to cancel your longer series and is giving you the chance to change your book so that all the loose ends are tied up (lucky you?)
  • You signed a blank contract.
  • You thought you and the editor came up with the idea together. Your editor thought it was more of a work-for-hire deal.

Every single one of these instances I described above are real. They resulted either in major rewrites and publishing delays or, in the more extreme cases, cancellation of the contracts in question — sometimes upon the request of the writer (known as “buying back a contract,” and sometimes on the request of the publisher. All the writers involved are now older and wiser. Some have completely changed their business strategies as a result of their experiences, no longer putting their eggs in one publisher’s basket, or not longer signing contracts on proposals, or no longer writing series or doing work for hire or dealing with particular editors or etc.

If you can (and want to) buy back your contract, then you’re a lucky one. Most folks don’t buy back contracts unless they’ve exhausted all other options, like rewrites, or substituting Book X in contract for Book Y. (I know one NYT bestselling author who jumped genre ship for her publisher, achieved great stardom, and no one involved even thinks about the tiny little midlist titles she never finished eight years ago in a series in her old genre.)

So even though it feels like it — especially if you’re under contract and are counting on the money — rewrites aren’t actually hell. They’re often the very best thing that can happen for you book and your career.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Revising vs. Rewriting

Revising: Your printed out draft is covered in red ink.
Rewriting: You didn’t even bother printing it out.

Revising: The editor letter says, “I need to see more of the heroine’s motivations in chapter 4-7.
Rewriting: “I need to see more of the heroine’s motivations in chapter 4-7. Oh, and dump the other chapters.”

Revising: “How do you feel about adding a POV?”
Rewriting: “How do you feel about changing the POV?”

Revising: At the booksignings, you talk about how pleased you were that the climactic scene is almost word-for-word the same as when you wrote it.
Rewriting: At the booksignings, you don’t necessarily recognize the scene the reader is asking you about.

Revising: One of your critique partners asks what happened to the dog.
Rewriting: One of your critique partners asks you when you started a new manuscript.

Revising: “You need to do more to reveal the rules of this fantasy world.”
Rewriting: “Wait, this is a fantasy?”

Revising: “So if you can get the final to me by next month…”
Rewriting: “I think 2015 looks like a good release year…”

Revising: Major surgery.
Rewriting: You guys have read Frankenstein, right?

Revising: “Hi, family. Here’s the number for the pizza place.”
Rewriting: “Daddy, does Mommy still live here?”

Revising: A glass of wine with dinner.
Rewriting: A pitcher of margaritas for breakfast.

Revising: “So, how’s the book going?”
Rewriting: Back slowly out of room. Don’t make eye contact.

Revising: You’re not a failure as a writer. You just need to fix some stuff.
Rewriting: You’re not a failure as a writer. You’re not a failure as a writer. You’re not a failure as a writer. You’re not a failure as a writer…

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Have a Career Plan as a Writer

A while ago I asked Susan Wiggs for some career advice. We’d taught together for seven straight years at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. She also lives one island south of me. She emailed me back within 20 minutes of my query with a very detailed explanation of the route she followed for success.

First, Susan said she studied successful authors in her genre.  She looked for the patterns.

Second, what she came up with was a plan to write three books. Since they were romances, she couldn’t use the same protagonist in every book; so she looked at a unifying concept. She decided on a fictional town. Suzanne Brockman uses a Navy SEAL team. This gives reader continuity. I’m using West Point as my unifying concept in my current Duty, Honor, Country series.

Third, you need a unifying theme. In romance, well, it’s usually some form of romance. I’m using the theme of loyalty versus honor. I’m applying that theme on two levels: personal for the characters; and also in the big picture because my focus is on the Civil War.

Fourth, the goal is then to sell the heck out of the first book and get a commitment from the publisher to push the numbers on the three books. Now that is out of your control. Both Susan and I have experienced publishers that didn’t push a series.

I think though, if you approach agents and publishers with a plan, you have a much better success of the plan working than not having a plan.

In fact, I was on an agent panel at Pacific Northwest Writers (no idea why I was on panel—guess because my agent was sitting next to me). And I mentioned the idea of having a plan. After the panel was over, one of the agents told me in all the years he’d been agenting, no one had ever approached him with a plan. He said he’d love it if writers had one.

I think that is the Catch-22 that a lot of agents and editors can’t get past, they would love a new author to have a plan, but they don’t have the time or energy to teach you how to develop one. So we’re still working on the throw 100 new books against the wall and hope 1 sticks paradigm. I really think we need to get smarter.

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 by Sasha White
Your way.

I’ve never been a plotter. When I write a synopsis for an unwritten book, it resembles a back cover blurb. My brain just shuts down and my imagination freezes when I try to think too far ahead in a story. And yet, when I started selling to NY publishers, I was urged by people who knew I wanted to build a career, and not just sell a book or two, to come up with a series idea. And of course, I froze. A series? Uhmm, I can’t even plot one book let alone a series!

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with a series idea. Everything sounded idiotic, or had been done, or my ideas could cover one book, but no way could they cover a series. I just couldn’t do it. I got down, I got a bit depressed, and I resigned myself to writing stand alone books. What was the big deal? Sure the trend was trilogies, or series, but the trend isn’t always the way to go. Especially if your mind is like mine, and it doesn’t always follow the same path everyone else’s does. Besides, plenty of authors have built careers on stand alone books. Yet now, almost nine years later, I look at the novels I’ve written and surprise, surprise, I see not one series, but Two!

And guess what? I’m actually aiming to continue one.

Okay, I admit it, everything you’ve read in this post before now was actually written in a post I wrote 5 years ago, All I did was change the 4 years to almost nine years…So what does that tell you? I know what it tells me.

I’m not a plotter. Seriously, what drew me to re-reading my old post was the fact that I’m trying to outline three more books in my Dungeon series and I’ve been struggling a bit. I know which characters I want to write, and I think I know what the stores will sort of be, and thats usually enough. Only this time I’m stuck because I can;t decide what order they should be in. Isn’t that silly? Part of it is that I know which one calls to me right now, and it’s not the one I’d “planned ” as the first one. I’d gotten myself so tangled up in planning that I forgot that for me, the best thing to do is get writing, and true that it’ll work out. AFter all. Thats been my way all along, and it’s worked pretty well. There’s a damn good chance the stories I’m planning will never happen, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come up with connected stories that will be better than anything I’ve planned. After all, it’s happened before.

From my old post….

The first single title I ever wrote was BOUND, and in it was a ‘throw-away” character named Karl. Karl was just a guy that hit on the heroin in the bar one night. A hot guy she was attracted to sure, but he wasn’t a planned character. He was just something that needed to happen for the heroine to figure some things out. When I wrote the next single title for Berkley,(TROUBLE) a totally unrelated story, Karl turned up again, as the hero’s best friend. Half way through TROUBLE, I contacted my editor and asked her if we could scrap the idea I’d sold her for my third book, so I could write Karl’s story instead. And she said yes. That book is WICKED.

And you know what? WICKED, the completely unplanned, on-the-fly novel, is my bestselling one. Out of everything I’ve published, this book is the one that’s sold the most, and has been nominated for awards. That’s proof enough for me that I need to stop thinking so hard, and trust myself.

Now, to wrap this up..I’ll leave you with the end of my original post..

All of my books stand completely on their own, but at the same time, they tend to be connected by location and secondary characters. And in my mind, it just goes to prove that no matter what craft books, or workshop instructors, or even writer friends say… you don’t have to be a plotter to develop a series.

To this day, I still can not plot a book, let alone a series, but one thing I’ve learned to never forget is that it doesn’t matter what other people tell you can and can’t be done…it only matters what you do!

Monday, April 23rd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Writing For Yourself

I spent this past weekend at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.  This was my very first full-on writer conference of this kind.  When I was a struggling/aspiring writer, I never went to anything other than science fiction conventions and small-scale workshops, so this was a whole new world for me.  I have some thoughts on what it was like to attend my first conference as an instructor and panelist rather than as an aspiring attendee, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

One of the highlights of the weekend for me was sitting on a panel with Jeffrey Deaver, Robert Crais, and Joe Lansdale.  I know, right?  Three veteran, accomplished, amazing writers — and me.  I confess to feeling a bit intimidated beforehand.  Fortunately, all three of them are gracious, thoughtful, and generally cool folk to hang out with, so I had a great time.  Plus, the topic of the panel was The Series Writer, which I happen to know something about, so I definitely had something to say.

One of the topics that came up, that we all agreed on, was how you have to be your own first reader.  You can’t listen to your readers.  I think I’ve talked about this before, that when you’re writing a series, you get to a point where your readers have ideas about what should happen next, and they’ll tell you, or write about it online, or whatever.  And you, the writer, simply can’t listen to any of it.

You have to have faith that your readers keep reading because they like what you’re doing, and you have to keep putting you into your books, not anyone else.  The minute you start listening to what people want to you do with the series and your characters, the series stops being yours, and you’ll lose what made your series unique in the first place.

For that reason, I’ve been grateful that I’m usually a couple of books ahead of my readers.  The Kitty novel coming out this summer, Kitty Steals the Show, is the tenth.  The rough draft I’m working on right now — number twelve.  It’s been like that pretty much the whole way through.  That means that I can’t possibly react to what my readers say.  I’ve done things my readers don’t like — but I’ve already moved the story along a book or two, and I can’t go back to change anything.  This ensures that the story I’m writing is mine, and not reactionary.  I think this has been all for the best.

As a corollary, I recommend, that when you sell your series, when you get that two-book contract, and the first book is written and on the publisher’s schedule for maybe six months to a year out — write the next book before the first one is released.  Get it done.  Get your vision on paper before you can possibly get a reaction from the general readership.  That way, you’ll never second guess yourself.