Zooming along

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern technology, something new comes along.

In the past two weeks, I have participated in no less than five Zoom meetings: two club meetings, one county convention, and two family meetings.  My son pointed out that Zoom is not exactly new, for we have had Facetime and Skype, but for some reason, Zoom has caught on. I love seeing everyone, once people catch on to how it works. You know, like how to turn on their mic or camera first. And I don’t mind people seeing me, for we all have bad haircuts. My granddaughter said she has “quarantine bangs” after a DIY with scissors.

I have tried to keep my person-to-person meetings to a minimum, but when I make a necessary trip to the grocery store, I am appalled by the number of people choosing to go maskless, refusing to obey the one-way signs in the aisles, or staying the recommended distance from other shoppers. I value my health and the health of others and it pains me to see how careless people are. If they don’t care about themselves, they should at least care about their older friends and relatives. I guess there isn’t enough technology in the world to cure stupid complacency.

Is it just me, or does this look like a dragon fell from the sky instead of a broken off tree-top?

 

My less rewarding technological effort has been with formatting my book. I have done it before, but somehow I got the page size wrong and from there everything went downhill. My proof copy was not at all what I envisioned, so here I am doing it all over again. I hate being tied to the computer on these nice days! I’d much rather be outside.

And, I need to be outside. In addition to the regular yard work, the high winds lately have contributed to my chores. First, three large limbs came down from the pine tree in the left corner of the yard. I think one limb struck the limb below it, and both then took out the third. Anyway, I managed to saw off the smaller branches and ended up with three logs I can hardly move. In fact, I got the hand truck out of the basement to move two of them to one side. I don’t know how many trips I made from the back of my property to the road with a wheelbarrow full of debris.

Then, just yesterday, high winds snapped a sweet gum in the right side of the yard “half in two” and I now have that mess to clear up. Luckily, neither mishap hurt any overhead lines.

Now that would have messed up my technology — as well as my neighbors’!

 

 

Cover reveal and other accomplishments

During this period of social distancing I have accomplished several things. One is that my kitchen cupboards and drawers are much cleaner and neater.

I could not believe the things I found while organizing. For example, a perfectly good coffee grinder. I purchased one not so long ago after receiving a bag of coffee beans.  I mused that this is what I got for not checking to see if I already had one.

I also found a waffle maker I didn’t know I had. I cleaned it up and bought some waffle mix and syrup. I am looking forward to a Sunday morning treat.

Along with the usual housework (and I am still ignoring that full ironing basket), yard work, and crafts  — why, oh why, did I think it would be fun to do a cross stitch of a black cat? — I finished my book!

Yes, it was written, edited, and critiqued. But then there was the formatting to do, and then uploading the cover. For some reason, KDP kept telling me it didn’t meet their criteria. It seems the cover width was  — picture me pinching my thumb and forefinger together — this much too short.

I couldn’t figure it out. I was using their template, so shouldn’t it be the proper width? After several unsuccessful attempts, I took the darn template itself and changed its dimensions by the veriest smidgen.

Yep, that worked. So I ordered a proof copy, and if all looks good, I may have the book for sale by May 15.

I am happy that is something I can check off my list.

Now, let’s see if I can complete that cross stitch cat!

 

 

In praise of beta readers

A few weeks ago, I put out a request for beta readers. I had “finished” my latest novel and needed some feedback. I explained that I had an editor working away on the manuscript and that I didn’t need them to search for typos or grammar errors. What I wanted them to concentrate on was readability, flow, world building, dialogue, and character development.

I put the word “finished” in quotes above because when I got the results, I discovered I was far from done.

One reader pointed out a comment  made by a main character and said it was uncharacteristically cruel. My thought was that we all say things in anger or fear that are uncharacteristic, but her feeling was that the comment showed a meanness in him that had come to the fore.

I deleted it.

Another reader questioned words or phrases they didn’t understand. I felt the words reflected the period (early 19th century). This reader does not normally read regency or historical novels, but I decided those who did would recognize the words. I let them stay.

However, this same reader caught a grave mistake on my part. I had totally overestimated what a horse cost in 1820. When he asked if the price was realistic, I did some fact checking and saw that where I had priced the horse at a thousand dollars, the actual cost for a horse with impeccable bloodlines was about two hundred dollars. An average horse went for about twenty-five dollars. I priced “my” horse at a hundred and had another character exclaim it was surely too much! So thanks to that reader for bringing this to my attention.

Still another pointed out that I had one poor woman pregnant for almost a year. A farmer, he said the gestation period seemed long to him. I agreed, and changed the dates.

Some beta readers responded with only a few spot-on comments; others made detailed comments in red ink that took me back to my school days.

I have yet to hear from a few who are either busy, slow readers, or are making line-by-line edits. But I do have enough feedback to prove to me that beta readers are necessary to any author. They know the characters and swiftly react when something seems wrong. They check facts. They question timelines. All things that the writer, caught up in the story, may miss.

This is entirely different from editing. I expect to hear from my editor soon and will go through another round of corrections. These will be the details that trip us all up.

After that, formatting and back cover blurb. I had hoped for a March release date, but that isn’t going to happen. Still, I had rather my novel be as good as it can be before putting it before the public.

Beta readers help me do this.

 

 

And now … drum roll, please

Almost there! Well, not quite, but close.

I did my revisions, then my self-edits. Now the manuscript is in the hands of my very able editor, who will find every typo and grammatical error I missed. I think he has the original fine-toothed comb.

Then I sent out a request for beta readers. To my amazement, I had six offers in as many minutes. I sent them all a copy (with fingers crossed). Some are friends, some are members of my writer’s club, and some are members of a professional writers’ group I have never met. So it should be a good mix. I have no fear my friends will be biased, I asked them because I know they will read with an open mind. They are avid readers and know what they like and don’t like and they won’t be afraid to tell me.

I still need to work on the title and the blurb. I do believe those two chores are more difficult than writing the story. The title should hint at what the story is about, right?  This book is the third in my historical series, and the first two have one-word titles. I should do the same for this one, but I am having a hard time coming up with one.

As for blurbs … how do you condense a book into a couple paragraphs meant to entice someone into buying it? You can’t tell too much and give it all away or why would anyone bother buying the book? Yet too little and the prospective reader won’t know what the story is about. It gives me a headache just contemplating it.

And, I  need to do more about publicizing the first two books, something that I have sadly neglected. Maybe now I will have time to do that. My Facebook feed is inundated with ads telling me how if I take this course or sign up for that service, my sales will skyrocket. I’m wondering what is the biggest bang for my buck — I mean, return on investment.

All this with an author appearance coming up. I had hoped to have the book ready to offer but better it be delayed and done right than to put a sloppily-done book in my readers’ hands. So I will do some reading from the book and take orders. I had another offer to do a book-signing this morning, so it may be ready by the time that is finalized. Who knows?

This all takes time. Honestly, if I had known how much work was involved after writing “The End” I might never have started writing.

Now I will share some good news. I compared my tax forms from my publishers from last year to this year’s, and was pleasantly surprised to see my royalties had gone up by a considerable percentage.  They won’t put me in another tax bracket, but it is nice to see that there have been steadily increasing sales. I guess the old adage is right: don’t worry about publicity as word of mouth is still the best advertisement. And a second piece of advice I have read: just keep writing and as your book numbers increase, so will your readership. I hope that is happening in my case.

No matter where you are in your writing career, I wish you the best. It’s a long and rocky road, but worth all the pain and yes, the disappointments, when someone comes up to you and says, “I loved your book.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it happens to you

When I saw the message in my inbox, I was excited. I had been waiting for this issue of a well-known magazine that caters to indie writers. Three months earlier, I had submitted “Morven” for a review and now, here it was.

I was devastated when I read it.

Yes, I had expected better. “A Question of Time” received 4.5 stars; “Riverbend,” 5.0.”  But “Morven” received a mediocre 3.0.

I had never received any  review less than a 4.0.  How had this happened? All my readers had told me this was my best book ever. I suppose the praise went to my head, making this review that much more of a bitter pill. How could the reviewer have so misinterpreted the scene she damned with faint praise?

I have blithely written before in this and other places that a writer should not take a bad review to heart. The reviewer may have had a bad day. She may not really like the genre she was critiquing.  And so on.

Yet I know this reviewer had plenty of time to read the story, so one bad day would not have influenced her. And the magazine carefully pairs the story to reviewers in that genre. So those excuses were empty.

Is it a poorly-constructed story? Were my readers and friends attempting to spare my feelings? Should I send it out for another impartial review? Should I even care?

I am nearly finished with the sequel and the first thought I had after reading the review was, “I should just quit now.”

But after two days of moping, I decided I would not stop so near the finish line. I will complete the novel and then go over it to make it the best writing possible. Beta readers will be asked to give their honest opinion. I will make changes even if they hurt.

Looking back, it wasn’t a bad review. It just wasn’t a good one. I can take it in stride and let it encourage me to do better.

And I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counting down

It seems I cannot stop making errors. I printed out out some bookmarks to bring to the book signing Sunday. Only after they were all printed and trimmed did I discover that somehow the most important information had been cut off at the margin.

The bookmarks are to advertise a promotion my publisher, Cleanreads, is doing starting Monday. My paranormal alternate history is going to be offered free in the coming weeks!

Maybe FREE is the most important part?

A Question of Boundaries September 9-13.

A Question of Loyalty September 16-20.

A Question of Time September 23-27.

Here’s what got cut off: Free e-book @ amazon.com

I do hope you will take advantage of this and get the books. Did I add, free?

Meanwhile, although I said I was through traveling for a while, I am going on another trip. In 2003 I wrote a book called “I’d Rather Go to California.” My doctor had calculated that it would be as many miles to drive to California as it would to drive to my radiation treatments 33 times. Hence the title. A few years ago my middle son and his wife moved out there, and they have invited me several times to visit. I finally said yes, and booked a flight.

Any burglars reading this, please note I have three attack cats and they are not declawed.

I am excited about finally seeing the Pacific Ocean among other sights. So, I am counting down the days until I arrive on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, Dorian came and went and I am happy to say my Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina families are all safe. Please say a prayer for those in the Bahamas, though. My heart breaks for the people there and the devastation they are going through. If you want to donate to help out, prayerfully consider the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Every penny goes to relief and none to administrative costs.

Chapter headings and other catastrophes

I was determined not to let this week get away from me as last week did. Yet here we are at the weekend already.

I did get some yard work done, thanks to the cooler and less humid weather. I finally raked up all the pine straw in the corner of the yard between the fig tree and the creek–a project I would usually have accomplished by mid-May at the latest. Surprised a little toad that, instead of hopping away, sat there and watched. I guess I was his equivalent of a hurricane, destroying his habitat. I told him there was lots more pine straw on the slope to the creek that I won’t touch. because the last thing I want to do is fall in.

My writing is a lot like yard work. I plan to do so much, yet accomplish so little. I don’t know how other authors churn out three or four books a year. I only finish  book because people keep asking when the next one is coming out, and I have to say something. I prefer to work on the story in my head, not put it down on paper. Or keyboard, actually.

My upcoming book signing (2-4 p.m. on Sept. 8 at the Drake Gallery in Wadesboro, N.C.) spurred me on to get the book finished. I ordered a proof copy, made corrections. and uploaded the corrected version. Then I started on the electronic format, using Smashword’s guide. It wasn’t until I was linking the chapter headings to the index that I realized that in eliminating some nonessential parts of the story I had forgotten to change the chapter numbers. The book went from chapter 17 to chapter 20. People would think I had cut two chapters and wonder what they had missed. They would be right: I had cut two chapters, but they weren’t missing anything important. The story itself was intact.

I quickly made the correction to the print version, thankful I had not yet mentioned anywhere that it was available. I wanted the release date to be September 8, but Amazon insisted on releasing it a day after I uploaded Morven.doc. They don’t give you a choice, which I should have realized and held off until my preferred date. But what if it hadn’t been approved and wasn’t available on my target date?

That was the least of my worries. I had to fix those chapter headings fast because I had already ordered copies for the book signing! I admit it, I prayed over it. I had always laughed at people who prayed for things like an open parking place near the store. Surely God could not be bothered with such trivial requests.

But this wasn’t trivial to me. I asked God/Universe: Please let them not start printing the books until after the change was made. I had a two-day margin.

When the box of books arrived, I tore open the carton, opened a book, and flipped to the last chapters.

The book was the corrected version and the chapter headings were what they should be.

I did a happy dance and said another prayer of thanks.

So I am ready for the book signing. And this time a little ahead of the game as I am half-way through the next one. And with summer winding to an end, maybe I will have time to sit down and finish it.

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

This is what I know for sure

Today (Sunday) I am doing the program for our monthly writers’ club meeting. Many of you realize I write this post well before Sunday, when it is published. So today is Friday in the real world. You can see I have let it slide just a little.

But that isn’t quiet true. I have been thinking about it ever since one of our members asked if I’d mind sharing my publishing experience. What can I say about a journey that started 20 years ago and is still ongoing? I did confess last week how easy it is for the hopeful beginner to get scammed. And that’s because, as beginners, we know nothing.

I certainly didn’t. Back in the day, convinced I had written a great novel (it wasn’t), I sent off my manuscript to any publisher I thought would take a look. I got the names and addresses from the  Novel and Short Story Writers’ Market at the local library. I would go inside, pull the book, sit at a table, and copy addresses down.  I’d take my manuscript to the post office, weigh it with the required SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope), and again without the SASE, and put the exact postage on each envelope. The SASE was so the publisher would return my ms. Although I painstakingly made a copy, if rejected I’d want to send the original out again. And again. Oh, how I hated seeing those manila envelopes pop up in my mailbox. What I wanted to see was a long, white business envelope.

Alas, rejections were roughly 100%. Okay, exactly 100%.

The advent of the home computer helped a lot. Publishers and agents began accepting e-mail submissions. That saved a lot of money, but didn’t alleviate the waiting time. Sometimes I heard nothing back at all. Other times it was a matter of months. And sometimes, within a week.

I’ve been fortunate in that in all these years I’ve had only two discouraging rejections. In fact, they were so hateful and mean-spirited that I was brought to tears. I can only think the recipient was having a particularly bad day and I happened to be the one to bear the brunt of their fury. Most editors are kind in their rejections (when they bother to send one) even if it is just a standard paragraph sent to everyone alike. Some were kind enough to say, “This isn’t for us, but do keep writing and try us again.”

I’ve had acceptances from small presses, and they were a pleasure to work with even if they weren’t one of the Big New York Publishers. I never expected to hit the NY Times Best Seller List with my first novel, although it has been done. I know my limits.

I worked with one editor for nearly a year before she reluctantly passed when we couldn’t agree on the ending. That story is now in the hands of another house, which has had it in “in review” since June.

I guess the best advice I can give is first, write the best book you can, ask beta readers to give their opinion on what works and what doesn’t, and if you can’t afford an editor, at least ask a friend to proofread it. This friend should have a good command of English. I am lucky to have a friend who was a newspaper editor and is gifted with a sharp eye for errors.

That done, you should write a query letter that explains what your book is about, what the conflict is, and what genre it falls into. Hint: No conflict, no sale. And write a synopsis. This can be from a paragraph to 10 pages, so check the guidelines of whatever publisher you are going to submit to as they all differ.

Only then should you begin submitting. and for gosh sake, make sure your target publishes books in your genre. Don’t send a romance to a Sci-Fi publisher. I can’t emphasize enough that you need to check the submission guidelines for each publisher or agent. A submission can be rejected out of hand if you don’t follow the rules.

In a nutshell, that’s what I know about publishing. I’m sending out queries now, and waiting, checking my in-box just as I used to check my mailbox on the curb.

Some things never change.

 

 

 

 

write in the am–sketch in the pm

Last January, I had plans and a partial outline prepped for my WIP-edits; but, as I shared in last week’s post, my year was interrupted by deaths, injuries, dramas and car troubles. I was a shell-shocked hull, reserving all my energy for my Mother-in-law –who was emotionally gutted and extremely fragile. Now, we’ve survived the worst of the first eight-month hump. Many issues resolved and dramas quelled.

IMG_2070.jpgNow, I’m ready to start editing. But, when I look at my notes I find myself confused with more questions than answers. I’m also painfully out of practice. In some ways, writing for me is like sketching or music -it takes daily practice to keep sharp.

I decided a good way to hop back on that horse was to participate in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. Since, I’ve also rebooted my art work, I’ve begun working on an illustrated novel, based on an Irish myth I found in an old mid-19th century book in the Boston Public Library reference reading room. It described the discovery of the first harp. It was a sweet story of love and compassion that stuck with me. My version of this myth will be my NaNoWriMo novel. More

Basket weaving 101

I gave up knitting long ago, don’t ask me why. I guess too many dropped stitches and losing track of the pattern discouraged me. Still, I recently decided I wanted something to do with my hands.

So I took up basketry. Afraid that that weaving baskets might be as daunting as knitting, I took a one-day course on making pine-needle baskets. Sounded easy. All you need are pine needles, a (steel) needle, and raffia. And then you go round and round, somewhat like making a clay coil pot.

 I should have known better Nothing is easy. But the movement is soothing, so I’ve kept at it. I think each little basket is just a smidgen improved over the one before it. And I’ve learned something with each one.

You need a good foundation. Unless you get those first, crucial rounds right, nothing you can do will make the rest come out the way you want it.

You need to maintain the coils of pine needles so they are of an even thickness throughout. Otherwise, your basket will will come out lopsided. Same with the width between rows of stitches. You can see where I have some too close together and some too far apart.

You need to be careful whenever you add a new length of raffia. If you weave in the loose ends carelessly, your basket will have lumpy places or stitches where you don’t want them.

So,  in the end, I am still losing the pattern and dropping (or adding) stitches. I’m not discouraged, though. I can see progress, and I feel  the next basket will come out the way I want it.

I work on the my baskets when I need a respite from editing. I had ordered a proof copy of “When He Said Goodbye” and found, to my dismay, some typos that had escaped detection. And, to be honest, there were places I felt a another word would be better. Or where a sentence simply wasn’t necessary.

So that I would not gloss over the same mistakes that had eluded me earlier, I started at the back of the book and read each sentence in reverse order.  Its a tedious process, but it works. Errors become clear. But reading backwards tires the eyes more than just reading, so I needed frequent breaks.

Maybe writing and weaving baskets aren’t so different.  Start out without a plan and you will soon find your story off course with no prayer of getting it back. Dialogue, action, and narrative need to be balanced. Introduce new plot lines carefully or you will lose track of the main story. You should have an idea of where the story is going and what the end result will look like.

I hope to have the book published within the next few weeks. I need to finish it (although to be honest, I could keep fining ways to improve it every time I read it) because I am eager to start on the next book that is now taking up space in my head.

My ambition is to have it be an improvement over my last book, just as the next basket will be better than the one before it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter Title Here

I’ve been involved in a round-robin of editing. I’m editing a friend’s new book and another friend is editing my latest endeavor. If she ever writes a book and asks friend #1 to edit it, we will come full circle.

I feel it important to ask another pair of eyes to look over any manuscript. My years as a newspaper reporter and editor taught me that our own mistakes often go unnoticed because we “see” what ought to be there.  The friend I mentioned is good at catching misspellings and typos. I am going to ask another friend to read for clarity, flow, plot holes, etc.

And of course, I ran spellcheck and took its advice 90% of the time. It has no sense of humor and doesn’t catch dialect.

Meanwhile … oh, meanwhile. I was asked for a full back in June and have been checking every day for the verdict. And, I am still sending another work out and getting really nice rejections, even a suggestion of another publisher that might take a look. I don’t want to give up hope, so I keep sending it out. I got to thinking lately that the title might be part of the problem (although I have heard editors reserve the right to change a title, I never have had one to do that).

Anyway, on reflection, it doesn’t really say what the story is about. So I brainstormed and came up with about ten alternate titles.

Here’s where I need your help.

The blurb:

Marcie Wicker is the only person, including the police, who doesn’t believe her husband, Stan, is sunning himself on a tropical beach somewhere after withdrawing every cent from their joint savings account. She refuses her father’s advice to seek a divorce and her mother’s advice to move on, and grieves that her college-age twins are letting their anger sully the memory of their father.

With the arrival of the new pastor, Adam Shepherd, Marcie realizes that she is ready to love again, but as neither wife nor widow, she is torn between accepting that Stan left her or stubbornly clinging to her belief that he has come to harm. Adam, a divorcee,  is struggling with regaining the confidence of his rebellious 13-year-old daughter and wonders if he is ready for another relationship.

When the truth is finally revealed, families are not only turned upside down, but also are made stronger.

The working title is “Wherever You May Be.”

Her are my alternates:

Missing, Presumed Alive

When He said Goodbye

When He Disappeared

Without a Word

Looking for Answers

Holding On/ Letting Go

Maybe Today

Gut Instinct

A Wife’s Heart

No One is Listening

The Stubborn Wife

Okay, no none of the above are stellar. Any suggestions?

I’d love your input! And if I choose your title, I will give your name to one of the characters in the novel!

 

 

What’s your process?

I had just wakened when the phone rang. It wasn’t too early to call, but I’d slept late because of binge-watching “Longmire” the night before. So the question took me by surprise.

“What process do you use when you write?”

“Huh?”

My mind clicked into gear and I said, “Well, I don’t outline. I tried it once and it didn’t work for me.”

So what do  you do when you first start writing, the caller asked. Do you begin with dialogue? Narrative? Action?

I had to think a minute. How do I start a new work? A song went through my addled brain: “…start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…”*

I just start writing I said. I tried to explain that before I sat down to write, the entire story is laid out in my head. I have spent months going over it at odd times, three a.m when I can’t sleep, standing in line, driving … the scenes get worked out, I imagine what the characters will say, I know what’s going to happen and how it ends. I don’t worry about jotting down fragments on stray sheets of paper or in a notebook (although I carry one because I read somewhere that’s what writers do).

It’s as if the entire novel is already written in my mind and when I sit down at the computer I am not writing so much as taking dictation. I begin by setting the scene in a specific time and place, introducing the main character, and describing the goal or problem that must be reached or solved.

Then I tell the story. I try to limit narrative as being a “tell” rather than “show.” Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I’d rather let the reader find out through action and dialogue. Narrative is limited to describing the scene where the action takes place. I’ve been told dialogue is my strong point, so I use it more often than narrative.

My caller asked how I handed the second, third, and consecutive drafts.

I stumbled over that, being still only half awake. What I should  have said was that I look for problems in pacing (using shorter sentences and paragraphs when the action heats up), flow, plot holes, repetitive narration or description, and other stumbling blocks that might make a reader stop and scratch her head in confusion. I also believe it is important to pay attention to white space on the page. Dense paragraphs are off-putting. Again, crisp dialogue helps balance the longer, necessary descriptions.

Then I edit for grammar and construction. And finally, look for typos.

When I’ve done all I can, I ask trusted beta readers to read the manuscript. I take their feedback and make any changes I find applicable.

Only then does it get submitted to a publisher, where an entirely new process begins.

So that’s my process. What’s yours? How do you begin your story?

We all want to know.

* “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music

 

Good news — I guess

I am so near completing my work in progress that I can envision myself writing “The End” and sitting back with a happy sigh.

But I also know it isn’t finished. As every writer has discovered, there is more to the process. I still have to do the final edits, send it off to Beta readers, and then make any corrections they suggest (and that I agree with). And after that, decide whether to make the round of submissions or to self-publish.

So the good news is, I am almost there as far as one goal is concerned, tempered by the fact that there are more goals to reach before the process is complete.

As of this writing, I have two novels in the submission process. One publisher asked for the full manuscript, so I am biting

Jack is ready to go outside if someone will just open the door

my nails waiting for the verdict. So in between working on my current novel and researching unsuspecting agents willing to take on new clients, my mood and expectations have been as up and down as a Ferris wheel.

And of course, aside from writing, I have the usual stuff going on. No one can write 24/7, because in addition to my imaginary lives, I also have to cope with my real one.

I decided to get a security system and talked to reps from two different companies. I decided on the second and now every time I open a door to let a cat in or out, a disembodied voice says “Back door open.” At first, on hearing it, the cats refused to come inside.

Now they ignore it, just as most pets learn to ignore the radio or TV as not being real, therefore not requiring their attention.

And so it goes. I will post when and if I hear anything about my submissions, that is, if one of them gets accepted. No one wants to hear about rejections, least of all me.

Hope you are having a great summer as we slide into August. Let’s hope it is not as hot as July has been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back into the fray

I had a wonderful birthday week. My sister came to visit from Pennsylvania and together we drove to the Golden Isles in Georgia to visit my oldest son and daughter-in-law. My second-oldest son flew in from California, making my birthday wish to have all my family together almost come true. (My youngest son and wife couldn’t make it.) Of course, none of the teenage grandkids could come because of summer jobs and/or school. So it was an adult gathering … very relaxing and enjoyable.

Since I have returned home, I’ve been busy bouncing back from yet another rejection and sending out queries and submissions. If the rejections hadn’t been so positive I might have given up, but the encouragement to keep trying is very persuasive.

And, working on my WIP. Isn’t there always a WIP? If not, there should be. It”s the only way to stop worrying about the submissions — did they get it? did they like it? when will I get a reply?

And keep dreaming and hoping for a “yes” this time around.

If writers didn’t dream, there would be no stories. Oh, they might still write them, but the results would be

These daisies didn’t succumb to the dry weather and heat while I was gone and were a welcoming sight when I returned home.

hidden in a box under the bed, read only by trusted friends and then returned to dust and darkness. So we dream up stories and then dream of them finding a home on someone’s bookshelf.

And if we’re honest, on many, many someones’ bookshelves.

This writing path has had many twists and turns since I had my first acceptance after years of writing and submitting. My first two books were accepted and published, only to have the publisher close their door.  I got my rights back and self-published, figuring all the editing and formatting had already been done, so why not? Then I self-published another because it was fairly easy and let’s face it, instant gratification.

 

My next three were accepted by a publisher, which was and is thrilling. The series was fun to write. Then I wrote another book and self published it because I was too impatient to do the necessary round of submissions.

It seems my sales are about equal for the traditionally published and self-published novels. I think there is more of a sense of satisfaction when you get that acceptance letter, but today there is no real downside to self-publishing, either. I think either way is perfectly legitimate. So if you are wondering which path to choose, it depends on how quickly you want to see your book in print. But if you do self-publish, it’s very important to have your work proofed, edited (there is a difference), and professionally formatted. See Mark Coker’s excellent guide (Smashwords) if you decide to format it yourself. And don’t forget your cover, which is the first thing a potential buyer looks at.

My, I’m full of advice! Some gleaned from reading books on getting published and some from my own experience. And, in my opinion, real-life experience is the best teacher.

Write on!

 

 

 

 

Growing a book

I have been on a roll, waking every morning for the past six days to roll  out of bed  and walk two laps around the park. Then home for coffee and to read the newspaper, after which I sit down and write.

Yes, I have also been writing every day. I’m pleased with my progress and how the story is developing. Maybe I feel just a little smug as I pat myself on the back.

I fully intended to follow that routine today, but so far the walk is the only goal I can check off. It’s been hot (have I said that before?) and because it hasn’t rained in a few days, my plants started drooping. So after my walk and checking the news, I decided to water them. Then I needed to pick off the dead blossoms.

I remembered I had purchased new clippers the day before, so it seemed like a good time to try them out while it was comparatively cool. Noticing that the grass and weeds around some of the larger shrubs had grown, I got out my

I wish my astilbe looked like these!

weed-whacker and  whacked away, accidentally decapitating one lily plant. Oops.

That done, I clipped around some plants and pulled some weeds. One weed was wrapped around an astilbe, and I accidentally (not a good day) pulled out part of the plant. So I dug a hole and replanted the separated plant and while I was at it, dug up and re-planted another that had unexpectedly popped up several feet from the parent plant. So now they are all in a nice row.

Swept the sidewalk, washed my tools, and washed my knees which were muddy from kneeling on the ground.

Gardening is a little like writing. You start with an idea, and it grows. Then you need to weed out the parts that don’t belong. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved from one chapter to another to make the story flow more clearly. As you write, time slips away until you realize you have accomplished more than you had planned.

It’s a good feeling, either way. My flowers are happy and now I am off to work on my novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready, Set … Goal!

Having made the statement that I was going to revisit an old manuscript and revise it because I know now more than I did then, I had several people respond that they couldn’t wait to read the story.

Not only that, but in my writing group I set my next month’s goal to finish at least four chapters. We each put in 25 cents and write down our goal for the next meeting. These slips of paper are put in a pot and drawn. If your name is drawn and you have accomplished your goal, you win. If not, the pot rolls over to next time.

It isn’t about the money. The last person who won walked off with a whopping $5.00. It’s about setting that goal and reaching it. No one wants to admit that, for whatever reason, they didn’t do what they vowed to do. It’s not only  embarrassing, but shows a lack of commitment.

So I set both a short-range and a long-range goal to revise and finish this story. I’m excited. For one thing, in the past 10 years or more since I started it, I’ve learned more about pacing and structure. I’ve changed from pure pantser to more of a plotter, because I’ve discovered that if you go down a  road without checking a map first, you could very well find yourself at a dead end, or almost as bad, someplace you never intended to go and no way to get back on course.

I would most likely finish the story without having made my intention public. But now I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to my few but loyal fans.

Setting a goal is good and we all do it. Sometimes the only person aware of the goal is yourself, and if you fail you are the only one who knows it.

However, if you set a goal and talk about it to friends and write about it, you  have a lot more riding on its completion. And if that doesn’t make you sit down and start writing, I don’t know what will.

 

 

 

Drastic surgery

Once upon a time, I wrote a long, rambling book that I was so in love with that I couldn’t see its flaws.

Its many, fatal flaws.

I revised it several times, but I still couldn’t get anyone interested. At 180,000 words, I now know why. I love, big books. I’ve actually read “War and Peace.” Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors and I just finished “The Punishment She Deserves” by Elizabeth George which  is 690 pages long.

But Follett and George have something I did not: a established following. By that I mean readers who will follow them anywhere, even if it means reading a book that could double as a doorstop.

More to the point, most readers prefer something shorter and editors strive to give them what they want

Back to my book. It concerned two girls, Damaris and Morven, whose lives intertwine although they take different paths. It was a story of friendship and loyalty and a lot of other lovely things. I had to put aside my fondness for the story and do as doctors do when presented with conjoined twins and decide how best to separate them.

I carefully cut and pasted and managed to get Damaris’ story free of all entanglements. The result was “Riverbend,” which came out in May 2017.

Now I’m working on Morven’s story. Like Damaris, she’s a young girl alone in the world. Unlike Damaris, she doesn’t marry the first man to offer and suffer the consequences. Instead, she manages to build a family for herself and only then find true love and her HEA.

It’s a little trickier. I’m cutting entire chapters and eliminating any distracting side plots that don’t move the story along.

 I wrote this book almost 20 years ago, so as I read I am both amused and appalled by my naivety.

But I’ve learned along the way. I can (hopefully) correct my earlier mistakes. And, by letting it “sit” for awhile, I can be a little ruthless and throw away those passages I loved then but question now.

Writing isn’t always just sitting down and putting words on a page, although that seems to work for some authors. For me, it’s revision and cutting and revision and rewriting, and then revising again. Maybe that’s why I don’t publish a book every three months or even every year.

But like the tortoise, I somehow manage to get to the finish line.

 

 

a’s and b’s of contests

I’ve entered a few contests in my time and have been a) mortified or b) uplifted by the judges’ comments.  I have had entries returned with angry lines scrawled across my hard-written efforts and I have had very nice remarks that almost made me feel good that I had lost. Judging is difficult, but it is akin to critiquing. You try to point out flaws gently and kindly.

Gently and kindly is best.

So when I judge, I try to keep in mind how I would want to be treated. Maybe there are issues. How best to tell the would-be writer that maybe, just maybe, they might want to take a teeny-tiny revisit and oh, say change a word or two here or there to make the sentence more coherent?

You almost have to choose your words as carefully as if you were writing a query letter, which everyone knows is the hardest writing of all. And a contest all its own, of sorts.

Because the last thing a judge wants to do is discourage a writer just as she is starting out her career. You don’t slap their hands with a ruler because they made a little error in spelling.

Spelling is the least of it. Spelling can be corrected. But when the writer makes a great big error in plotting, or in pacing, it’s a little more difficult to point it out. I can say, “I got a little lost here…” or “a bridge paragraph might work at this point” and go on my way.

That said, the beginning chapters of the three manuscripts I read made me eager to read more. The opening sentences were spot-on to rouse my interest. The unfolding plot lines kept me guessing.

If these authors are amateurs in the sense that they are not yet published, the established authors had better look out.

Or not. There is always room in the world for a good, fast-paced, and interesting novel. One thing I have learned about writers is that they do not feel as if they are in competition. They are always eager to help one another.

What I take away from judging is that a) I can see other writers’ mistakes more easily than I can see my own and b) I look forward to reading more from these talented ladies.

 

Ain’t nothing easy

Formatting is such a frightening word. When I hear it, I think of some guy in his room, window shades down, typing away on his computer and generating strings of mysterious code.

I recently formated Riverbend for submission to Smashwords. In case you don’t know it, Smashwords sells books in every available format so readers can download their purchased book on a Kindle, iPad, Nook, telephone, or even, I suppose, their watch if they like to read books on their wrist. Moreover, Smashwords uploads your book to other outlets such as Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Overdrive, and I don’t know where else, saving the author the trouble of individually uploading each book in a different format.  You only have to do it once and they do the rest.Image result for hacker images

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. I spent two entire days formatting my book. But, and here is the kicker, all I had to do was follow the instructions in Mark Coker’s guidebook. And the book is free and very user-friendly. If you follow it precisely, your book will be readable with no deep paragraph indents or inches of white space. I’ve read other books with a table of contents and buy links at the back and wondered how they did it. Now I know! Never too old to learn new tricks.

The other thing I’ve been working  on is converting Riverbend to Audible. I put up the info and a script, but so far no one has auditioned. I’m not very hopeful as an experienced reader can charge up to $500 an hour to read a book and ACX calculated it wold take 7.9 hours to read my book. That isn’t just reading, but editing. I can’t afford that, so I went the second route, which is to share royalties 50-50 with the reader.  Because I don’t have a large “platform” or following, I really can’t expect anyone to take the chance that their hours of work will pay off.

I thought of reading it aloud myself and making a file to upload. I like reading aloud and am told I have a pleasant, if soft, voice. That might be just right for Riverbend, whose main character is a genteel Southern woman. But where would I go to record? I’m afraid any recording I made would be interrupted by barking dogs, meowing cats, cars honking, birdsong, and me coughing when my throat gets dry. The birdsong might be a nice touch if I knew how to edit everything else out.

So that’s what I worked on this week. And you thought writing was only about thinking up a plot and inventing characters to act out the story.

I did too, once upon a time.

Commercial: If you want to read an excerpt from Riverbend, here’s the link: www.sandrazbruney.com

 

 

 

 

 

The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

Have you ever had a let-down that left you sobbing in your pillow?

I’m sure you have, way back in your angst-driven teenage years. But we get older and learn to ride these disappointments into the sunset with a brave grin on our faces, hiding the fact that we don’t know where we are going from here.Image result for woman crying cartoon

I have spent the last couple of months back and forth with an editor with a pretty well-known publishing house. Not one of the big 5, but respectable. She loved the story but hesitated on the ending. If I would re-write it, she’d take another look.

So I sweated out an alternate ending and got–a rejection. It was a very nice rejection and she gave me some invaluable advice on further revisions. But I guess it came down to that she lost faith in my ability to give her what she was looking for.

I can totally see it. I plan to take her advice and revise yet again, and submit elsewhere. And if you are a beginning writer and just now sending queries, you should know that getting a personal, two-paragraph reply is relatively unheard of. Any rejection that isn’t a form letter with one impersonal sentence, is gold.  The sender isn’t just saying no–she is telling you that you have a good story, it just needs work.

On to the other book in progress. I submitted the first 500 words to a workshop in mid-January. The idea was that other participants critiqued my entry and I critiqued several others. It was very worthwhile in that I got some great suggestions as to how to make my beginning stronger. The first 500 words are critical to engage the reader, as writers have been told from the get-go.

So now I have two books I need to work on before I submit (again!)

The moral of the story is that disappointing news can become the platform from which you leap to greater things. And when people gently point out what you’ve done wrong and suggest how to make it work, you don’t sob into your pillow.

You get busy and use the advice you’ve been given because you know, deep down, that you are not perfect. And the only way to get there is to be humble and accept this help, which was freely given, as opposed to arguing that your book is publishable as is and those editors and other writers in the workshop don’t know anything.

I have to admit that the person who doesn’t know everything is me. But I’m learning.

 

 

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