Archive for the 'Diana Peterfreund’s Posts' Category
Friday, January 4th, 2013 by Diana Peterfreund
Someone told me, about three published books into my career, that it was “unprofessional” to write “THE END” at the end of your manuscripts. That came as news to this professional writer, this writer who’d been paying all her bills with writing for several years. Not a single agent or editor had ever mentioned it to me, and when it disappeared during copyedits–well, so did the symbols I’d used to indicate page breaks and the formatting on my chapter headings.
Bottom line is, if “THE END” is considered a no-no, it’s not a make it or break it no-no. I promise you that not a single editor in the history of acquiring fiction has ever looked at a book and gone, “What a gorgeous piece of writing! What marvelous characters and splendorous plotting and expert pacing. This is a highly marketable work. Too bad they wrote ‘The End’ — REJECT.”
Which just goes to show you that writers are going to receive a lot of advice with words like “must” and “have to” and “never” attached to it — a lot of advice that tells you there is only one way to do things and you will never ever be published, never ever have a career as a writer, unless you do it like that.
And I’m here to tell you: Screw ’em.
There’s one rule: write. (Well, there’s two: “write well” — but that can get so wonky and eye-of-the-beholdery that I’m not even going to try to define it.) Everything else: what you write, how you write it, when you write it, how you market it, where you go with it — that’s all up to you. More than ever before, there is no “one” path (and even when I was starting out, pre-digital revolution, there were plenty of paths, and I didn’t get published until I figured out that the path I was being advised to take, even by well-meaning mentors, was not right for me).
The thing that works for you may be anathema to me, and vice versa. I may not even be aware of the thing that’s working for you. And that’s cool. There are many, many roads to get there.
Now, having said all that, I’m going to give you my top six bits of writing/publishing advice. (It was going to be five, because people like “top five” things, but what the hell. No rules, right? Besides, six is a “perfect” number according to the ancient Greeks.)
This is advice that has worked for me, and worked for me well. They may also be my favorite pieces of writing/publishing advice, you know, this week. Things change.
1. Get in late, get out early. I think this is Elmore Leonard. This is advice I always have to keep on the forefront of my mind, because I’m one of those writers who would otherwise be tempted to tell you the backstory of every character that pops up on screen, and would have seventy five epilogues about the main characters great great grandchildren and fourteen prologues explaining the entire political history of the world… the story is the story. Focus.
2. Keep secrets from your reader at your own peril. Writers are magicians. Our work is all about the reveal. Obviously, you start every story with a whole mess of secrets–the biggest one being, of course, what is going to happen–and when and where and how you reveal them is the whole point of the story. But you know what’s not the point of your story? Keeping the secret. If your work starts to become about the secret instead of the story, people get bored (Note to M. Night Shyamalan). If you take too long getting there, people get annoyed. This goes double when it’s the narrative host (i.e., POV character) who is keeping the secret. Nothing makes me put a book down faster than the POV character who keeps very obviously NOT telling the reader what is driving him/her. Can it be done well? Sure. I liked The Sixth Sense and Speak. But ninety nine times out of a hundred, if your character is keeping a secret, they can probably trust the reader. Remember the advice of Hitchcock: suspense is what happens when the viewer knows there’s a bomb under the cafe table, even if the characters don’t.
3. When writer’s block strikes, it means you’re making a mistake. Back up to the last part you loved and try again. Unlike HelenKay, I do believe in writer’s block. I think it’s our subconscious telling us something we’re doing isn’t working. Maybe it’s a plot point, or a character choice — sometimes it’s even been a character name. But when I hit the impassable mud of writer’s block, I know there’s no choice for it but to back up and try another, drier, road.
4. Write for your reader. I am about to blow your mind: people are going to hate your work. You cannot please all of the readers all of the time, and trying to is a losing battle. In this day and age of Amazon and book blogs and Goodreads, you’re going to run into all types of readers, and they all have a different idea of what makes a book good. My last book, which generally got the best reviews of my career, also got plenty of readers who hated the very parts that other readers said it made their favorite book of all time. Some people aren’t into the very thing that made you want to write the book in the first place (::coughcough:: killer unicorns). And there’s nothing you can do about that. Write for your reader. Write the hell out of what you do best for the reader who loves that very thing. There are more of them than you think. And, connected: Write for your reader. You are trying to entertain them. There’s nothing wrong with giving them what they want.
4. Protect the Work. In this day and age of Amazon and book blogs and Goodreads and people tweeting reviews directly into your inbox that they claim are not for you, you really can’t avoid seeing what people are saying about your book. Lots of people. And you know what they say about too many cooks. We’re living in an age where readers are far more involved in your day to day process, where consumers are reading ARCs and you are expected to discuss intimate aspects of your career choices on Facebook. Option one: pull a J.D. Salinger (or Suzanne Collins — didn’t hurt her sales). Option two: Grow the kind of tough protective covering that would make Emma Frost jealous. I try a combination of the two. Keeping in mind my reader (see number 3), I let the haters hate, and ignore them. I have stopped reading blogs that use authors as punching bags to boost their readership and egos. I also keep some things private. It doesn’t help me creatively, to talk about my work online before I’m done. I’ve even kept my agent and publisher from announcing deals until I was ready before. The speculation and uninformed opining –even if well-meant–is really distracting. But I’m still working on a balance. Find out what works for you, keeping in mind that the bottom line is the work. Not the promo, not the blogging, not the twitter. Protect the work. the work is all that matters, even online.
5. Your career is not this book. Your career is your career. It’s far too easy, especially for beginning writers, to work endlessly on a project that isn’t going anywhere. Your career is about more than one book, Hopefully, it’ll be about fifty. So if a project isn’t selling, set it aside for now and work on something new. You aren’t putting it away forever. You are loving your career. And for us established types, it means sometimes admitting that we need to try something new — new genre, new series, new house. Our career is about our career. The work will be there. Nothing is ever wasted.
Thank you to all of my fellow Genreality bloggers, especially to Sasha for working so hard on this blog and for inviting me to be a part of it.
Go. Write. Win.
Friday, December 21st, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
For our last excerpt week, I’m posting the first-ever excerpt from Across a Star-Swept Sea, my upcoming (fall 2013) futuristic YA spy caper (inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel). In the scene below, my heroine Persis pretends to be a spoiled, airheaded aristocrat to help hide the fact that she’s secretly a super-spy, a plan that’s complicated when she gets an unexpected houseguest…
Shoving herself to her feet once more, she reengaged the screen and pulled the lever on her bath. A rush of hot mineral water flowed into the high-backed basin, and Persis tugged off her shift and slipped into the slightly sulfur-scented water. She didn’t even bother with perfumes. The obsidian wall above the bath was polished to a high sheen, and she checked out her reflection. Bloodshot, baggy eyes, but that was probably the sickness, not any lingering effects of the genetemps itself.
“By the way,” came Justen’s voice from the other side, “your friend gave me a message for you. The one with the blue hair?” His tone dripped with disdain. “She said she took your packages straight to your tailor.”
More good news. Persis slumped in her bath, allowing a small smirk at the thought of the league’s medic, Noemi, being called a tailor. Noemi would hate that. But she would know what to do for the children. Persis leaned her head back as the heat soaked into her aching muscles. “Thank you.”
Thank you, Justen Helo. Persis covered her face with her hands and groaned. Her whole life, she’d imagined what it would be like to meet a member of that famous family, perhaps when she went with Isla to one of Queen Gala’s parties. But it had never happened. Instead, this was what happened: Justen Helo had saved her life, and she’d thrown up on his shoes. So much for the elegant, charming Lady Persis Blake.
There was silence for several minutes on the other side of the screen, long enough for Persis to contemplate falling asleep again. But Justen couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Lady Blake? Do you plan to be very long in there?”
“Am I keeping you from an appointment, Citizen Helo?” She knew the Scintillans servants would have seen to all Justen’s needs, not only because he was Persis’s guest but because of his famous name. Regs would do anything for a descendant of the Helos. Justen was no doubt considered a model citizen back home.
And that’ s why letting him wander around out there unattended might not be the best idea. With a groan, Persis pulled herself up to a sitting position in the warm, soothing water. She’d soak her bones later. For now, she needed to deal with the Galatean revolutionary standing in her bedroom.
She dialed in the instructions to her bath, which promptly responded with a flow of frangipani-scented water. Rinsed and perfumed, she emerged, dried off, and garbed herself in an ocean blue kimono that covered her from neck to foot. Properly armed, she exited the bathroom only to be greeted by an empty space. She looked around in confusion, and spotted Justen outside in the garden, near a table set with breakfast for two. He was kneeling on the vibrant, manicured lawn, while Slipstream balanced on his hind legs, his long neck stretched up as he begged for the bit of manguava cake Justen dangled over the sea mink’s glossy black nose.
“He’ll balance treats on his nose if you want,” she said from the steps, squinting as the full sunlight hit her face.
Justen tried it and sat back on his heels, impressed. “Very well-trained pet you have.”
“That’s what my father paid the gengineers for.” Persis turned her attention to the sea mink. “Slippy, end!” Slipstream flipped the cake off his snout and caught it in midair as Persis stepped off the stairs and onto the soft, loamy earth of the lawn. “Ever seen a sea mink before?”
“We don’t use gengineering for personal pets in Galatea,” Justen said, rising to his feet. “just for stock animals, guard beasts, stuff like that.”
Stuff like mini-orcas to feed your enemies to. But she wouldn’t dwell on that now. Not when Justen had been so kind as to save her life. Not when she had so much shallow socialite to convince him of.
“Slipstream is an excellent guard beast,” she replied as the animal scurried to her side. “I’ve never had my yacht stolen even once.” A servant had set out a breakfast she wasn’t quite prepared to tackle until the tsunami in her gut died down. Instead, she poured herself a cup of jasmine tea and sank into the cushioned chair. “So, Citizen Helo, have you been enjoying my estate?”
“Justen is fine, Lady Blake.”
She smiled at him over the cup. “So is Persis. After all, we’re good friends now that you’ve spent the night at my place.”
His gaze flickered away from her then, and Persis’s smile grew wider. She’d have answers from him yet. He might be handsome and famous and smart, but she was Persis Blake.
“So, what brings you to Albion . . . Justen?”
“Just a vacation.” He shrugged, but he still wasn’t quite meeting her eyes. “You visited my country for fun.”
“I can’t imagine your wanting to leave Galatea when things are going so well for you back home.” Persis crossed her legs, allowing the silk of her robe to part to her knees as Justen did his best to ignore the sight and busy himself with the teapot. The Galatean was hiding something.
Justen poured himself his own cup of tea, then took a long draft. After a moment, he looked at Persis again. “No, not really. No true patriot of my homeland would relish the violence happening now. I am a regular, I am a Helo, but I do not condone what is being done to Galatean aristos.”
His words hit hard. Persis swallowed and fought the urge to pull her robe closed. Maybe he wasn’t hiding so much as seriously disturbed by the horrors in Galatea. “I’m happy to hear that,” she managed.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting the hospitality of any aristo without explaining my objections to my government’s tactics.”
Persis longed to ask him why, then, if he was a Helo, he didn’t use his influence to stop them? Why was he not fighting to help his countrymen, the way his grandmother had when she’d invented the cure? Persis was fighting. What was wrong with the rest of the world?
But that wasn’t the sort of thing Persis Blake asked anyone anymore. Not the Persis Blake who’d spent the better part of the year convincing everyone that she was empty-headed and ornamental and absolutely indispensable to the glittering court of Princess Isla. Those sorts of questions were reserved solely for the Wild Poppy these days, and the Wild Poppy was out of commission—at least until Persis recovered from Tero’s mistake.
Intrigued? Across A Star-Swept Sea won’t be out until next fall, but it’s the companion novel to my current release, For Darkness Shows the Stars, which was named a top YA of 2012 by both Amazon and The Atlantic Wire.
Friday, December 7th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
So my copyedits for my fall ’13 novel, Across a Star-Swept Sea, came in yesterday. This will be my ninth novel, and the first time I’ve ever done “electronic” copyedits on a novel (I’ve done them on short stories and essays before). My last go around were done electronically by the copyeditor, but then were printed out and sent to me to review on paper. This time, I’m supposed to review them electronically.
That lasted about half an hour.
Turns out I really count on the different format at this stage in the game. I like to look at it on paper. So this is what I did:
Thank you, Staples.
So now here I sit, my desk cleared of distractions (I’m about to close my laptop down, even), with just the things i need to finish these copyedits: the copyedits themselves, a cup of tea, my space heater (I have such thin Floridian blood), and this nifty combo pen/highlighter/sticky note thing (shown) I found at Staples while waiting for the clerk to coil bind the manuscript.
She had to coil bind it in two, because this is a looooong book (almost 400 pages):
Fun stuff, huh?
Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Read a great blog post from author Kate Elliot the other day about why Cat, the warrior heroine in her “second world” fantasy series is a seamstress. Great post. Go read it.
There’s so much good stuff in that post — stuff about the importance of worldbuilding being more than capital-letter naming a few castes and drawing a map, the importance of not eschewing feminine-coded qualities for your female characters in a misguided attempt to make them “strong, and (the one I’m interested in talking about now), the importance of making sure that your characters actually are real people. That they aren’t, as one commenter called them, “hobo murderers.” What are these people when they aren’t on the job. What hidden talent or skill or interest do they possess? What makes them more than an archetype moving around on the board? Even if the character is larger than life, he or she is still alive.
I’m not a huge fan of those “character worksheets” where you, a priori, fill out the character’s favorite pop song or ice cream flavor. Usually, I think to myself, “if my character eats ice cream, I’ll know which flavor is her favorite.” But once I know the character, I find it very easy to figure out those things if I have a reason to. And just because it doesn’t make it into the book doesn’t mean I don’t, on some level, know the answers. Often, after a book comes out and I’m doing guest blog posts, I’ll be asked questions like, “What is Elliot’s favorite color?” and I’ll find that I already know that answer, without ever having consciously considered it before. I’ll find that, over and over, I’m dressing Amy in yellow, without necessarily realizing it’s her signature color. And I think the readers pick up on it, even subconsciously.
Who are the characters beyond the roles you’ve given them in the story? The most fascinating characters, whether hero or villain, is the most complete. Just as we like villains better if, on some level, we can root for their quest, we also like heroes better if we know there’s something else going on behind the do-gooding, or badassery, or both. Look at The Avengers; that movie was like 90% heroes and their stuff, and 10% fighting aliens. And it’s chock full of characters who have all kinds of things going on on top (or underneath, or driving, or preventing) their heroism.
But you know what most people remember, what was so poignant that Samuel L. Jackson’s character was able to use it to finally motivate the squabbling heroes to save the day? The fact that the highly capable “suit” — Agent Colson — had collected Captain America memorabilia since he was a boy. Not just a G-man, not just there to get involved in the periphery of a whole host of superhero movies… Agent Colson had a hobby. It informed his character, explained why he has the job he does, and made us all cry over his death.
Does your character have a secret, unexpected quality? A hobby you don’t expect? An interest that not only makes them who they are, but makes them bigger than the role they play in the story. Do they sleep with a teddy bear? Do they teach TOEFL classes? Are they a crack baker? Are they training for a marathon, do they always have a weakness for sushi, or tea, or bourbon? (All three, right here.) Do they have pets? Do they call their mothers on the weekend? Do they always have to wear thick socks or they get blisters?
Who are they?
Friday, November 23rd, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
A few weeks ago, while flying to YALLFest, I found myself seated next to a gentleman in the real estate business. What started as a conversation about our smartphones morphed into a longer discussion of my business. He was fascinated that I was close friends with so many other writers, or that such an event as a book festival would be organized by writers. “Aren’t you just helping your competition?”
It had been a long time since I thought of any other writers as “my competition.” On one level, I suppose, it’s true. If a publisher picks X many titles for a particular promotion, your title is only chosen at the expense of another. I’ve certainly received rejection in foreign markets from publishers who say they have too many books like mine on their list. But this situation doesn’t hold a candle to the many publishing opportunities writers get because of their “competition.”
When a genre or a topic has a hit, it forges a path for every book remotely like it. Unlike the Highlander, there are many many more than one. Readers don’t read one book, and htey can read way faster than writers can write. Fans who flocked to Twilight couldn’t wait for Stephenie Meyer to finish her next opus, and a ton of other paranormal romance and vampire YAs hit the big time in its wake. There wouldn’t be a “dystopian” trend right now were it not for trailblazers like Suzanne Collins and Scott Westerfeld. You see the same effect in adult genres — Fifty Shades of every kind of erotica you want, all selling like hotcakes now, thanks to E.L. James.
And it’s not just the blockbusters that drive “readalike” sales. The reason events like book festivals, group tours, and group signings work is because fans that come for one writer’s work is likely to discover another whose style will appeal to them just as much. It’s the same idea that drives “author blurbs” on books. Additionally, the thing about writers is, we’re all voracious readers. When we discover a writer we love, we want to scream it from the rooftops. Authors are amazing book pushers.
At YALLFest, the keynote speakers were Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, who spoke on the topic of literary friendship. And as it turns out, this whole world of writers propping up other writers — “the competition” — this is not a new development. Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens were so close that they often collaborated and Dickens even offered to finish one of Collins’s novels when he fell ill. The friendship between Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings is also a famous one.
My weekend in Charleston was filled with conversations about writing, conversations about publishing, conversations about life with fellow writers. And in the weeks since, as I have sought advice from my writer friends on such varied topics from plotting to contracts, there is no denying that my career would not be where it is were it not for the help and support of these folks.
I feel so lucky to have these people in my life. They aren’t competition — they are fellows.
Friday, November 9th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
This theme week on Genreality is supposed to be about what we would write if we didn’t have money and contracts to worry about. I feel like in many respects this is a loaded question, because it presupposes that we are slogging through stuff we don’t love, you know, for the money.
This is not the case for me. I have been wildly passionate about every single book I have published. This is why my backlist is a bit on the eclectic side (I have published chick lit, YA contemporary fantasy, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi — and that’s not even counting the short stories.)
But I have been limited by contracts and market forces. I have not finished my “killer unicorn” trilogy yet because it makes better business sense for me right now to grow my audience. In the two years since my child was born, I haven’t been able to write more than one book a year, so I haven’t contracted for that either, and my adult mainstream career has been placed on a temporary hold.
If I was the kind of writer who could churn out five or six books a year, the market and contractual choices that have determined some of my publishing decisions would not exist. I would be able to keep mainstream contracts that would grow my audiences, and do mainstream (or not) books like the third unicorn book that would be in service to the dedicated fans of that series.
It’s been interesting to watch the way my readers have responded and, often, misinterpreted my limitations as a producer. I recently did an interview where I was asked why I “moved from adult to YA.” In actuality, I started writing my adult and YA books in the same year, but do to my quick publishing schedule in the adult market, the incredibly long lead times in the children’s market, and a worldwide recession that pushed release dates all over the industry, my first YA was not out until a few months after my fourth adult novel. For two years, I had two out at once. Then, in 2011, I had zero books out, because I was busy being very pregnant and very sick. Adjusting to life as a mother these past few years meant that two books a year were going to be off the table for a bit, and YA books were the ones I had under contract.
It’s also interesting to see the expectations that series have to come out one book a year, boom boom boom. Some of the most enduring and beloved YA series don’t work like that (the Eugenides series by Meghan Whalen Turner comes to mind), and some do and suffer for it (names withheld to protect the guilty). The fan backlash when authors deviate from this expected norm is astounding (George R.R. Martin is probably the most famous example). I’ve seen writers post big apologies and promises to continue with series when announcements are made about new/unrelated projects they have taken on.
As for me, all I can do is promise readers that the unicorns are alive and kicking. In fact, there were two new unicorn stories out in anthologies this year. I have not walked away from the project, and it is something I will be turning my attention to in the coming year. I don’t have any cool announcement to make or anything like that. But that’s okay. Because sometimes series don’t come one a year like clockwork. And that’s fine. I know readers are hungry for more, but from my perspective, it’s important to create the best story I can and publish it in the way that though it might not be the quickest, has the best chance of reaching as many readers as want to discover it.
And also to say that every single thing I write, I write with love. There are easier jobs than this one to have. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it.
Friday, November 2nd, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
I’ve been reading a disturbing number of tweets and blog posts in the last few days from professional authors hating all over NaNoWriMo, not to mention the number of industry pros I see deriding it. The latter i understand. From conversations with industry pros, it has become clear to me that so many amateur writers send out queries on December 1 talking about their “NaNoWriMo novel” that the term has started to make industry folks a little twitchy. I saw a tweet the other day from an editor who said she hated spending a day putting together a “substantial developmental ed letter” for an author who just announced on Twitter that she was doing NaNo.
(Methinks this particular editor/writer pair need to have better ways of communicating, but I digress.)
What really bothers me is all the pro writers who feel the need to dump all over NaNo every year. So it’s not for you. Newsflash: It was never meant for you. It was not, in fact, designed to be for those people for whom writing is a day job, or a night job, or a sure thing of any kind. It was always supposed to be a fun game for the kind of people I often meet at cocktail parties, the kind who say, “I always wanted to write a novel.”
I have written thirteen novels, four of which I’d written before I’d ever even heard of NaNoWriMo. It obviously was not meant for someone like me. But I have participated in the game four times, not a one of which I ever even came close to winning. And for me, that’s not the point. I know I can’t write a novel in a month. The only time I ever came close to writing a novel in a month, it was based off a screenplay (and it wasn’t for NaNo, either.) But I do like the word tracking tools, and the write-ins with locals at coffee shops, and the camaraderie and the fun and games.
I suppose these pro haters dislike the way NaNo has morphed from the “fun and games” of a couple of amateurs to being this albatross of a creature that bombards inboxes (and now, I suppose, Kindles) every December 1st. Maybe they feel it cheapens their “art.” But at the same time, I’m not sure why it should matter to them what someone else does. NaNo is not making a bunch of amateur writers any promises. They aren’t like some other amateur writing programs I can mention, like those sponsored by publishing houses, that hold out elusive contracts if you only get enough “likes” from your fellow players to be allowed to submit. Save your contempt for that. NaNo is a game, and if it’s not for you, then don’t play.
I’m off to write my 1,667 words of the day. I doubt it’ll last long, especially since I’m going to YA’LL fest next week, but it’ll be fun while it lasts.