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.

 

 

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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.

 

Good advice/bad advice

 

Image result for tooting own horn gif

 

Our local writers’ club is again sponsoring an event. We held a writers conference for several years, but lately we are focusing on more intimate workshops. BUT we are still sponsoring a story-telling event. This will be our sixth year for that.

So I find myself once again doing the publicity: designing fliers and posters, writing articles for the newspapers, posting on websites and social media, sending out email messages …

I don’t mind. It’s what I do. The question is: Why don’t I do the same for my books?

Good question.

I know once a book is published, the author cannot write “The End” and relax, waiting for royalties to roll in. No one will buy a book if they don’t know about it.

I guess it comes from not wanting to be “pushy.” You know, that writer that posts “Buy my book” a zillion times a day on every outlet known to the Internet. Mom always cautioned me not to be a showoff or smart a$$. Well, she didn’t say a$$ but she meant it. We were told to be modest and unassuming. In other words, hide your light under a basket. Don’t bring attention to yourself.

Good advice then when I was a mouthy, attention-seeking preteen. Bad advice now when I really want to gather new readers.

I know I need to toot my own horn and at the same time, not be so annoying people hit “block” on my posts. It’s a fine line and I haven’t found a way to walk it yet.

I really need to sit down and plan a campaign just like I do for our writers club events. It isn’t that difficult.

I just need to  convince myself it’s okay.

 

If not now, when?

Do you read about authors who write for eight to twelve hours straight or until they produce  certain number of pages or word count, and decide that if that is what it takes, you will never accomplish your goal of writing a book because you can’t carve out that block of time in your day?

Just remember that these people are the ones who made it to the goal of being a full-time writer. It is their profession, so spending eight hours or more working on their next book is not so unreasonable.

Jack is wondering why you haven’t worked on your manuscript lately.

But for each member of this elite group, there are hundreds more who haven’t yet attained that elusive goal. They don’t have the luxury of an eight-hour block of time with no interruptions. They are raising children, holding down full-time jobs, enjoying hobbies such as painting landscapes, sky diving, or Tai Chi. They are active in their church, synagogue, or mosque. They take time to participate in community events. Yet they still manage to publish their books.

I’m not saying full-time authors don’t also do all of these things ( except the full-time job, because writing is their full-time job) that give them inspiration and satisfaction. After hours of doing research that may yield one paragraph in their story, they also need to take a break and … bake cookies. Time out refreshes the brain, body, and soul.

My point is, most of these full-time writers started out like the hundreds of aspiring writers who look up to them and envy their position. They, too, just managed to fit writing into all their daily tasks and obligations. Maybe it was after the kids were asleep. They bypassed Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and went directly to their writing spot, be it a well-equipped office or a corner of the kitchen. Maybe they got up an hour early in the morning, before they went to work. They didn’t whine that they couldn’t find the time. They found the time. And it paid off.

And, perhaps surprisingly, many big-name writers also hold down jobs in universities, or hospitals, or other professions along with their writing career. Have you ever noticed how many doctors have written books? Where on Earth do they find the time?

And if they can, why can’t you?

So don’t tell me  you haven’t time to write that masterpiece you’ve been daydreaming about for years.  I know I’ve written on this theme before, but it’s worth saying again. To borrow a phrase, Just Do It!

And if you still can’t get started, join a writing group near you or join one on line. Being around other writers can give you the push you need to begin.

After all, if the assignment is to bring in three pages of your manuscript, what better incentive is there to write them? No one wants to be the only kid in class who didn’t do their homework. Especially if that kid is you.

Those three pages can lead to 300 pages, and then to publication if you are determined enough to follow through with the query letters, revisions, and all the rest.

Not everyone who writes a book will be discovered and land on the NY Times best-seller list. You may never achieve that enviable position of being a full-time writer because publishers are demanding more books from you. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing you achieved your dream of being an author.

 

 

Why I don’t use my desk and other excuses

Writers often share photos of their work space:  organized desks with computer, printer, and file folders neatly aligned.

Mine is not like that. I am not even going to take a photo of my messy, disorganized and paper-strewn table (yes, a gate-leg table that may or may not be an antique because I  can’t remember where or when I acquired it). It gets progressively worse when I am working on a book because I don’t have the patience to put things back where they belong.  At any given moment, it holds the printer and computer, a stack of CDs I seldom play, a

calendar, phone, several 5 x 8 yellow tablets for notes, a coffee cup filled with pens, my camera, and and a glass of iced tea, a church bulletin, a flashlight, and my external hard drive because I learned the Lesson of the Lost Files the hard way.

 

I do have a desk. It is bare. I add this picture to show the reason why it is bare. I have three cats and during the day one or two of them are draped across its surface. I don’t put anything on the desk because within minutes of said cat(s) jumping on top, objects are swiped off and onto the floor.

They don’t jump on my table either because there is no room for them or because (my favorite reason) they see all the stuff on it and realize they are too inherently lazy to push it all off.  Also, the desk faces the windows and gets the afternoon sun.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy formatting my book. That has been accomplished, and now I am trying to come up with an alternate ending for the one that was rejected. So I am not so much writing as thinking. I don’t believe non-writers realize that when writers are sitting gazing off into space that they are actually working.  My hope is if I turn the story over in my mind often enough I will come to an Aha! moment and visualize the perfect ending.

And, I have been sending out my completed ms. to agents. I am by turns either hopelessly optimistic or bleakly despairing of ever again publishing another book. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and if I don’t at least try, the result will be a big, fat nothing. It’s hard to have faith in yourself and your story-telling ability, which is why I occasionally re-read my reviews so I can tell myself that somebody out there likes my books.

I don’t know if all authors are this neurotic. I suspect most are. What other professions depends so much on someone else’s opinion, which may or may not be objective?

Meanwhile, there are days I just wish I were a cat. Basking in the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing.

 

 

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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