Tag Archives: advice

In It For The Long Haul

I’m a debut EMU (and so proud of it!) but this is not my first rodeo. I’m the author of four published books. The first, a little non-fiction book, I sold myself and it’s still ticking away. The second and third were novels sold by my previous agent, and the fourth was solicited by my publisher.

My hometown indie, Country Bookshelf

My hometown indie, Country Bookshelf

With each launch I’ve felt the same sense of trepidation – that feeling never goes away. After all, you want the world to greet every one of your babies with love. You want each to soar. You’ve suffered through multiple revisions with each (that never goes away, either) and there are times when you’ve felt you can’t make another book.

Not to dampen your enthusiasm but here are a few sobering statistics, courtesy of marketing guru Tim Grahl:

  • the number of books published in 2013 – 750,000
  • the number of copies most sell in their first year – fewer than 250
  • most sell fewer than 2000 copies in their lifetime
  • odds of being stocked in a bookstore – less than 1%

I’ve been on both sides of these statistics. I’ve sold upwards of 20,000 copies of two of my books, and fewer than 2000 of one (which has gone out of print.) Ironically, the out-of-print book garnered awards and high praise. There are no guarantees that any one book will rise above the huge crowd of competitors. And let’s not even talk about earning a living wage.

But that’s where it’s all about sticking with it. Because, first, this is what we do, isn’t it? We write. And when we finish one book we write the next. Because we can’t imagine living in a world in which we aren’t writing.

And second, here’s the good, if not great news. If you feel as passionate as I do about writing, and you keep writing, and honing your craft, and making each book the best you can in that moment, you will indeed find an audience. Most authors do not spring out of the box as best sellers like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. Most authors who gather an audience do so bit by bit, book by book. With each book, new readers come to the library. With each book, appreciative booksellers grow in number. With each book, reviewers and librarians sit up and take notice. This career has a very, very long tail, and readers can and will discover your earlier work when they fall in love with your newer work.

I tell beginning writers that, as soon as they finish (and polish and vet and polish again) that first manuscript, and hit the send button, they should begin working on their next book. That beauty of a debut may be a hit and, if so, fantastic! But more often than not, readers find authors they love because the authors they love keep writing, and with each book readers want the next.

Write every day. Write the next book. Build a body of work. Build an audience, book by book. I’m in it for the long haul because writing is what I love to do and I can’t imagine doing anything else.


IMG_8226bJanet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction middle grade book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006), and three YA historical romances: FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), FORGIVEN (2011), and SIRENS (2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is an historical fantasy set in 1940 Scotland (Viking, 2016). Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Bozeman, Montana. You can also find her at www.janetsfox.com

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When Your Idea Gets Published By Someone Else First

Writers, does this scenario strike fear in your heart? You’re working on a project, you’re invested in it, excited, feeling confident that finally, finally, FINALLY you’ve hit on an idea that’s really clicking for you. And then *screeeeeching brakes*: A book is published with a too-similar premise.

If you relate to this, or worry about it happening, then I have a story you might like to hear:

51ysrNDhV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I started writing Book Scavenger in 2003. The beginning seed of my idea was this image of kids finding a mysterious book in a BART station, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I thought maybe the book they found would be special because the characters could come out into the real world. Yes! I got really excited about this idea. It seemed cool and original–and then I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. If you’re not familiar with Inkheart, read it, it’s fantastic, but it has a similar premise to my initial idea and I lost all confidence in myself being able to do something similar.

But I was stch_book1till stuck on this image of kids finding a book in a BART station and having an adventure in San Francisco. I switched gears and latched onto a new puzzle mystery direction, and came up with the idea for this website/real world bookhunting game . . . In 2004, there was still a big divide between the internet and publishing. Terms like “multiplatform storytelling” and “transmedia” weren’t being thrown around for books back then. I was sure I had latched onto something original and fresh–and then I heard about a new series Scholastic would be launching the following year called 39 Clues with Rick Riordan heading the first book. There would be ELEVEN books, each written by a big name author, with the characters on a worldwide scavenger hunt for clues, and there was also a website/game tie in.

I was crushed. While it wasn’t my exact idea, it shared enough similarities that I no longer felt confident mine would stand out.

9780316003957_p0_v1_s260x420My grand vision deflated like a balloon, and the only thing that kept me moving forward with this now floppy idea of a book was a one-on-one session I had with an editor at a SCBWI conference. She had read the first ten pages of my draft and her written feedback was a short paragraph that began “This is really cool,” and ended with, “Would you send me the whole manuscript? I’d love to read it!”

Wonderful, right? It was, absolutely, but the problem was that I had less than 40 pages written. Not only that, but the idea I had in mind for this book felt too ambitious for my writing skills at the time. I wasn’t sure I could execute it, and definitely didn’t think I could execute it quickly. What if I invested all this time writing this book only to find out I couldn’t pull it off? Or what if I invested all this time and did pull it off, only to have editors and agents point to 39 Clues and say, “Too late. Been done.”

What it bpuzzlingworldoiled down to was this: If I turned down the dial on all the noise–the industry gossip, what else is being published, what do editors want/not want–if I just thought about my characters and my story, I was still incredibly passionate about my idea. I still wanted to understand the mystery behind the book these kids had found in the BART station. I still wanted to see if I could create a Goonies-esque story set in San Francisco. The personal challenge was worth it to me, even if one of my worst-case scenarios came true.

So I kept going with my book. I’d be lying if I said from that moment on I was a fiery ball of confidence that could not be extinguished. But I kept going. I think I was on my third re-write 9780061214509when The Mysterious Benedict Society was published and became a bestseller. There was also The Gollywhopper Games series and the Winston Breen puzzle mysteries, and too many more similar-sounding middle grade mysteries to keep track of.

The summer I sold Book Scavenger in a three-book deal, ALL eleven of the 39 Clues books had been published as well as the first few books of a second 39 Clues series. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was published and has gone on to be a long-running NY Times bestseller.

Fast forward to today16054808, my publisher is including Book Scavenger on a read-alike poster for libraries which says “If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, try Book Scavenger.” (They were going to use Mr. Lemoncello, but that title was included on their poster the year before.) And Jody Feldman, who writes the Gollywhopper Games series, was kind enough to blurb my book. I’m friendly with Eric Berlin, who writes the Winston Breen series, and we share the same agent.

In short, I think a lot of the early success Book Scavenger is now finding could be partly attributed to the path paved by these similar books that came before. I didn’t have to fear the familiar. Every title I mentioned here would likely appeal to the same reader, but they are each unique stories. There is room on the bookshelf for us all.

It can be hard to find that balance between looking to what others are doing for inspiration, but then not letting what others are doing deter you from something. It’s important to remember that it is your spin that will set something apart. Don’t let news of a comparable book knock the wind out of your sails. Just look at it as a challenge to make sure you’re digging deep and tapping into the YOU essence of the story. And keep going.

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Handling Rejection

Last fall, I read an inspiring article on Tara Lazar’s PiBoMo blog by Karen Henry Clark describing her struggle to get published. Eventually, in 2010, her beautiful picture book, Sweet Baby Moon: An Adoption Tale, was picked up by Knopf. Since then, all her manuscripts have been rejected.

She concludes, “What I’ve come to understand is that success requires more than writing a great story. You have to understand your writing journey. . . . Sometimes you land in a canyon, but you can write down there, too. I am.”

On the same day, I read an article by Joelle Han in Yoga Journal titled, “How to Fail Up.” Han states, “Sometimes falling short of your goal, or even missing it entirely, is the first step toward success.” She offers several steps for dealing with failure, but I found the first two to be the most important.

But I thought I was supreme dictator.

WHY me? Why ME? Why NOT me?

First, “Sit with the misery.” Your disappointment is normal. This is the canyon Clark talks about.

Second, “Decouple your ego from your action.” As a writer, I interpret this to mean, “Don’t take it personally.” Having weathered dozens of rejections – some from editors who had accepted my previous work – I’ve become a pragmatist. Yes, you may write with all your heart and soul, but that’s not what you are selling.

Your manuscript is a product. If your agent takes it on, she believes a publisher out there may choose to invest the time and money to print and distribute it. Maybe this won’t happen. Maybe, if you persevere, it will.

Writing and revising a manuscript is like designing and sewing a unique garment, hoping to find an editor who declares it a “perfect fit.” This may take years. In 2006, I began submitting my manuscript Seeds, Bees, Butterflies and More! Poems for Two Voices, to publishers who, at that time, accepted unagented submissions. It got dozens of slow rejections. Three years later, Sally Doherty at Holt “plucked it from the slush pile. ” She loved some of the poems, but wanted some new ones on specific topics to unify the theme. Would I be willing to write them? Of course!

SeedsBeesButterflies high res cvr Five years later (in this industry, everything is slow!), Seeds, Bees was published. It received excellent reviews. Kids loved it.  Teachers blogged about it.  A five-star review on Goodreads called it “Brilliant.”  In 2014 it was named a “notable” poetry book by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Yay for me right? Holt would surely want to publish another book of poems for two voices. But no. Though the editor loved my first book, the finance people said sales – though acceptable – were not stellar. Translation: they needed a bigger return on their investment.

Wah for me! I put the second “Poems for Two Voices” manuscript aside and worked on other projects. Recently, I reread the first few poems and decided to write more. Meantime, Ammi-Joan Paquette has sold Ten Busy Brooms to Doubleday and “nearly” sold another manuscript to Sterling. (Another case of the editor loving it but the sales team rejecting it.) Joan is also circulating two other PB manuscripts that haven’t yet found the right “fit” with an editor. We’re both optimistic.

Meantime, like Karen Henry Clark, I’ll write from my canyon. I’ll sit briefly with my misery.  But I’ll keep on writing. I hope you will, too.

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Filed under Advice, rejection and success

BE A CHANGEMAKER: A Tool for Change

changemaker_jacket_r3.inddI borrowed this synopsis of Laurie Ann Thompson’s book, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, from Beyond Words/Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

“Do you wish you could make a difference in your community or even the world? Are you one of the millions of high school teens with a service-learning requirement? Either way, Be a Changemaker will empower you with the confidence and knowledge you need to affect real change. You’ll find all the tools you need right here—through engaging youth profiles, step-by-step exercises, and practical tips, you can start making a difference today.

This inspiring guide will teach you how to research ideas, build a team, recruit supportive adults, fundraise, host events, work the media, and, most importantly, create lasting positive change. Apply lessons from the business world to problems that need solving and become a savvy activist with valuable skills that will benefit you for a lifetime!”

The book sounds incredible, doesn’t it? You may be wondering how one book can offer all of this. Well, Laurie’s book does. I’ve read it and was amazed, not only with the information, but with the way in which Laurie presented it.

When the publisher says, “You’ll find the tools you need right here—”, they mean it.  And the information is presented with a simplicity that isn’t overwhelming.

Want a peek? Click HERE for a short excerpt from the Event Planning Boot Camp chapter. You will see how Laurie’s easy-to-follow tips will walk you through planning an event by considering your goals, taking a look at your financials, and evaluating staff for your event team.

HERE you can view the first 25 pages of BE A CHANGEMAKER. This glimpse will be inspiring and empowering. You will see how this book’s straight-forward approach is a tool for change.

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BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO S TART SOMETHING THAT MATTERS debuts next Tuesday, September 16th, 2014.

You can get your own copy of BE A CHANGEMAKER from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Simon & SchusterPowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

And please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

 

 

 

 

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BE A CHANGEMAKER: Celebrating with Quotes!

Be A Changemaker by Laurie Ann ThompsonWe are continuing the celebration for Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut Be A Changemaker, which will be published on September 16. Inspirational quotes are peppered throughout the book, and so we Emu’s decided to share quotes that have been meaningful and motivating to us. We’d love to hear your favorite quotes too!

And remember, comment on any post this week and be entered to win a signed copy of Be A Changemaker!

 

 

From Donna Bowman Bratton:

This quote by Ben Franklin has been posted above my computer for years. It obviously speaks to the writer in me, but it hints, too, at taking conscious actions for change.

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 I love this quote by Charles Lamb because it so simply speaks to the heart of any good deed, large or small.

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Of course, the ultimate quote for any changemaker comes from Mahatma Gandhi:
 
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From Jennifer Chambliss Bertman:

This quote reinforces my belief that even our smallest actions can make a difference, even though we may never witness the impact, and reminds me that I want to be someone who brightens the day for others, rather than tarnishes it.

 

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From Christine Hayes:

You can probably see why, as a writer, I find this quote inspiring. 🙂 I usually substitute “people” for “men” in my own mind, and I’ve seen that done all over the web as well, but I’m guessing the version below is the correct one. On the days when I feel especially short on talent, this quote keeps me going.

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From Amy Finnigan:

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From Penny Parker Klostermann:

Dr. Seuss is kind of my go-to guy for a laugh or for a quick reminder that I’m in charge of doing the work it takes to reach my dreams.

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From Lindsey Lane:

What I love about this quote is that Goethe was born in 1749 and I’ve experienced the ‘truth’ of his observation time and again. If I don’t begin, nothing happens.

 

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From Mylisa Larsen:

Usually when you see someone making something look effortless, it’s because they spent thousands of hours mastering whatever they’re making seem simple and inevitable. This is a quote that gets me back to my desk to put in some more hours.

 

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From Joshua McCune:

This quote adapted from Emerson’s poem “Merlin’s Song” reminds me to not just live life to the fullest, but to live it as myself, to open myself to new experiences, and to do it with joy. It’s that last part that’s hardest for me. Scowl, and the world scowls at you. Smile, and the world smiles with you. The world could use more smiles.

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From Megan Morrison:

This idea is at the marrow of my personal belief system. Success requires two things: a clear vision and the will to carry it out, and this is true whether you want to change your wallpaper or change the world.  The first part is tricky, because it requires that we are honest with ourselves about what we want and what we are willing to do. The second part is grueling, because it requires consistent action over a long period of time, and that action must be sustained even during times of doubt and lack of inspiration. But commitment is its own reward. Nothing is more satisfying than to look back after many months and years of climbing a personal mountain to see how far you’ve really come.
 
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From Rebecca Van Slyke:
I like this quote because I was so, SO close to that ‘give up’ point, but a friend sat me down and pointedly told me that I needed to keep going, fire my current agent, pursue a different agent, and keep writing. A few months later I had 4 books in contract.
 
 
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From Dana Walrath:
 
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You can get your own copy of BE A CHANGEMAKER from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Simon & SchusterPowell’sB&N, or Amazon.

And please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Creativity, Discipline, Faith, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Launch, Patience, rejection and success

BE A CHANGEMAKER: Words of Wisdom

changemaker_jacket_r3.inddThis week, we’re celebrating a powerful new arrival on the youth nonfiction scene: Laurie Ann Thompson‘s BE A CHANGEMAKER, a guide for young people who want to make positive changes in the world. Laurie’s book grants its readers two great gifts: first, the courage to believe they can be agents for change, in spite of all apparent obstacles, and second, a practical roadmap to making that belief a reality. That’s inspiring stuff in a world that so often tells us we’re crazy for trying.

Inspiration is a funny thing; it has to be genuine in order to move our hearts and make us strive, and yet we know we won’t reach our goals if we sit around waiting around for it to strike. Instead, we have to learn how to tap in to inspiration every day. Since that’s not easy, it helps to have a few pearls of wisdom stored away for the days when we need a little extra fuel to keep our fires burning.

And so, to honor BE A CHANGEMAKER, the EMU mob has decided to share the things that help us to get inspired, stay inspired, and keep striving no matter what.

Great Advice

First, here’s some of the advice we’ve come to rely on:

 

Motivational Quotes

Next, some of the quotes that empower us:

 

The Advice I Wish I’d Gotten 

Finally, Christine Hayes gets real about the things she wishes someone had told her, at the beginning of the journey:

 

I loved putting this post together, not only because I am passionate about telling everyone how great BE A CHANGEMAKER is, but because watching and editing these videos has given me an inner glow that’s going to last for weeks. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, EMUs – and thank you for sending your tremendous book out into the world, Laurie Ann Thompson. Congratulations on your launch. You are an inspiration.

Please comment here–or on any post this week–to be entered to win a signed ARC of BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson!

 

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The Practical Side of Longing

I threw a party when I sold my book, and my husband, Derek, surprised me at it by gathering everyone and giving an impromptu speech. It was sweet and teary, and he thanked my friends for all of their constant support and encouragement. But he also asked them, with a devilish look in his eye, did they know that we had been living with an extra member of the family for the last few years? Derek, me, our three kids (five chickens, two dogs, three cats) and…my longing. As though it was a living, breathing thing!

Ummmm….yeah. He was right. Not only had I been wrestling with my longing, but the rest of the family had too. Derek laughed and said he had to admit that, as much as he respected it, he was kind of ready to show it to the door and give it a shove. (We only have a queen bed, after all, and it’s kind of small…)

Illustration from A Monster Calls

See that longing trying to get back in the house? (Illustration from Patrick Ness‘ A Monster Calls.)

Yeah, I got that. I felt the same way too. See ya later, longing. Ciao. Don’t let the door hit your big ole full-of-desire derrière on the way out.

Except, maybe not.

Because longing is a useful thing. And not just in those emotional and psychological realms that I explored in my last post – how longing lets you know what matters in your life, how it confirms your human status, and how it offers a point of connection with other people – but also in a very practical realm too. And so I thought it might be helpful to pull together 5 ways longing is a functional and sensible tool. Actually, after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that what I had come up with was more of a progression; steps that deepen both a sense of self and the work. So here is what I stumbled into, and I humbly offer it here:

1.  Let longing be. Longing is one of those emotions that is so easy to transform into some other emotion, something more manageable, like self-pity or jealousy. Seriously, it is so much easier to spiral down the rabbit hole of I’m not good at anything, I’ll never succeed ever or lob an I want what she has so bad I can taste it in HER direction. But don’t. Sit with the feeling. Let it teach you to be still and present. It is stubborn, but you can be more stubborn. Let it teach you just how much courage and resilience you have.

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Cartoon by Maria Scrivan.

2. Let sitting with longing become a practice. Then take it a step further. Like yoga, or running, or meditation, or whatever else you do on a regular basis, let being aware of your longing become something you connect with regularly. Watch it, touch it, be curious about it. Get to know it. You know that super cool thing that happens with rituals? The simultaneous subconscious quality it takes on, where you don’t have to even think about it anymore AND the insane eagle-eyed focus on details it allows? Let that happen with your longing.

3. Sit with other emotions too. Once you can sit with your longing, practice sitting with your other emotions too. Let that become a ritual too. The same cool thing will happen. Plus, a side benefit? You will reduce those times when you really wish you had thought for another minute before opening your mouth. (At least I have….ummm…anger management, anyone?!)

4. Sit with characters’ emotions. So this is where you segue your focus from self to work. The most amazing thing is that this progressive practice translates onto the page. Once you can sit with your own emotions, you can sit with your characters’ emotions too. This is big. At least for me, it was. I was finally able to – not just see, but – truly feel my characters’ emotions. Part of that was due to my developing skills at being still and present, and part of that was because I was becoming an emotion expert.

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An added benefit of this practice? Much less Writer’s Block! Image from toonpool.com

5. Write deeper, more authentic characters. For me anyway, as I learn to stay present with what I am feeling, when I get to know, in my bones, the nuances and underbellies and depth and details (especially the details) of my own emotions, I can find the same landscape within my characters. And I can translate all of that into the tiny gestures and words and moments that make emotion come colorfully, wildly, passionately alive on the page. I can deeply know the arc that an emotion travels, and I can match my characters’ journey along that arc to specific plot moments in my story. For me, this was the difference between a very good story and one that felt…different.

Take this, or leave it. I am sure – absolutely sure – that for many of you this is old news. Or maybe something you do intuitively. But for me, it was an epiphany. (Or a series of epiphanies, really.) I was one of those kids (and then one of those teens, and then one of those young adults) that got things the first time around, academically, socially, emotionally. Everything was a quick learn; an instant success…except for those things that weren’t. But those things got put into an if I can’t succeed at this right this minute then it must be something I’m not supposed to do category. The process of facing that, and my fears around being my authentic self, is a subject for another post. But once I did, I had to learn how to make mistakes, try again, try a 100 more agains, and…face my longing.

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From Go Dog Go by PD Eastman.

And it’s not going away. Yes, I’ve sold my first book, so that particular longing has left me, and left the house. But, boy oh boy, there is more. So much more.

Sorry, Derek. Maybe we need to get a bigger bed.

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Gone Revisin’

Wasn’t Tara Dairman’s launch party week fun? And lucky me, she and I are neighbors, so I was able to join in the festivities in person at her launch party in Boulder. I sampled Tree-nut tarts, homemade hummus, and gajar ka walwa, three recipes inspired by All Four Stars. Tara (and Gladys!) charmed the crowd, and the party ended with a long line of readers eager to have their book signed.

 

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And a lucky one of YOU is the winner of a signed copy of All Four Stars! And that winner is:

leandrajwallace!!!

Congratulations, Leandra!

*     *     *     *

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I wanted to write a funny post for today about receiving my first-ever, under-contract, editorial letter from my editor, and the excitement of that moment. (I may have kissed my letter).

 

 

I wanted to write a post about how receiving that letter makes everything feel real, and how you have all these fluttery feelings about your dream being realized, and you read the letter in a state of almost disbelief and wonder . . .

 

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Approximately what I looked like upon receiving my editorial letter.

 

. . . and then the panic sets in when you realize this is for real-for real, and strangers are going to be reading your book, and these revisions are one of your last shots to make your book as good as can be, and–AAAAAGH!

(Just a minor panic attack. Excuse me for a minute while I hyperventilate into a paper bag.)

Okay, I’m back.

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My desk pre-revisions.

 

My plan had been to write this post in diary format, like I’d gone missing while doing revisions and the diary entries would show me progressing from enthusiasm to panic to determined resolve to the voices taking over and me going crazy . . . I don’t know, it was hilarious in my mind. But that’s the thing about writing, right? It’s all brilliant in our minds. Who would ever sit down and dedicate priceless hours, weeks, months, years to craft a story with the intention of having flat characters and a derivative plot and clichéd dialogue? We are all trying to tell good stories to the best of our abilities.

 

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My desk during revisions. . .

 

But I couldn’t pull off the super-duper funny (no-really-it would-have-been) (probably) diary format post idea because my brain is totally fried, you guys. More fried than eggs at a roadside diner. More fried than a bucket of KFC.  More fried than all the food combined at a state fair.

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Mentally speaking, this is about the phase I’m at right now with my revisions. So things are going well . . .

 

But what I do have for you today are links to some great posts on revision that have helped me along the way in my own process. I’m including snippets that give you a taste, but if you are revising or will soon be revising, I highly recommend reading all of these in full. Without further ado:

From Anna Staniszewski‘s blog post “Lessons from the Revision Cave”:

“. . . since I didn’t have time to let the manuscript sit in order to gain some perspective on it, I read the entire manuscript aloud. This got me to really focus on it again, instead of just skimming over what I’d read a hundred times before, and notice things that still needed work.”

From middle-grade author and former literary agent Nathan Bransford‘s post “How to Respond to a Manuscript Critique/Editorial Letter”:

“Confronting a revision can be extremely daunting because of the Cascade Effect: when you change one plot point it necessitates two more changes so that the plot still makes sense after the change, which prompts still more changes and more and more. Ten or more changes can cascade from a single change, even a minor one.”

From author Lisa Schroeder‘s post, “Monday Motivation on Revision”:

“For me, when I’m deleting old scenes and writing new ones, I’m often scared I’m making the book worse instead of better. And it’s so messy – all that deleting and moving things around.”

From author Jeannine Atkins‘s post “Building and Wrecking Walls of Words”:

“Revision means going back to dredge through what we first came up with. Kicking holes while asking new questions, which lead to still more questions, which stage greater messes, demanding we again haul out the trash and finally tidy.”

From Maggie Stiefvater‘s “On Characters, Knowing Them”:

“I need to know what they want out of life so I can deprive them of it. I need to know what their mortal flaw is so they can struggle to overcome it. I need to know who they love so I can turn that person into a wolf and laugh meanly.”

From Jennifer Hubbard‘s “Avoiding Info Dumps”:

“People around us don’t stop to explain every little thing, every piece of their history, every allusion they make. We are used to gathering information and piecing it together ourselves.”

From Nathan Bransford again, this time on revision fatigue:

“The best way to deal with revision fatigue is to trust in your heart that it’s a very useful and necessary feeling: what better time to turn a critical eye on your book than when you think it is an affront to humanity?”

And from the Emu’s Debuts archives, a post by Lisa Schulman “Real Life: The Nemesis of Revision”:

 “No one ever warned me that the pre-publication revision stage would result in Foggy Brain Syndrome, which gives another disorder I suffered from, Pregnancy Brain, a run for its money. Life has somehow become the dream, and the world of my book-in-progress, reality. I am not fully functional in the noggin’, and I can’t quite explain why.”

 

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jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, Deadlines, Editing and Revising

Making Time

I’m here to share a secret with you all.  Gather near.  Lean in.  Shh.

I have a superpower.

No, I can’t fly, become invisible, or see through walls.  My power is far more useful and pragmatic, and it’s also transferrable; after reading this post, you can assume it for yourself.  Are you ready?  Here it is:

I can make 25 hours out of 24. 

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This photo might not fully illustrate my point, but I saved a little time by not caring.

Think of me as an extremely low-level Time Lord.  If I weren’t one, I’d be in big trouble.  I’m a debut author, which means that I don’t have a steady stream of authorial income; instead, I’m a full-time middle-school teacher with three preps, I have a three-year-old son, I just turned in the revision of my first novel, and in five months I have a second manuscript to deliver. Somewhere in there, there’s also a husband who is fighting the good fight with me. I think I glimpsed him at one point yesterday.

I want these demands to be made upon my time.  These are good things.  But to juggle them requires superhuman effort. So for all you new and aspiring authors out there who are trying to make your writing a priority right alongside your job, your family life, and whatever else is competing for your time and attention, I’m here to help you. Just follow these steps, and you too can squeeze an extra hour out of the clock each day.

10 SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT STEPS THAT WILL TURN YOU INTO A SUPER

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Why bother with a chair? Save an extra minute by writing on the floor.
(Photo by Kristin Brown)

1. Don’t do your hair. Scrape it into a knot on your head and put a headband on to make it look like you tried. There. That’s nice. Gentlemen, you look especially fetching.

2. Don’t turn your clothes right side out until you put them on.  You are too busy for that.  Hanging and folding your laundry is now officially optional. May I suggest draping everything artistically over your bedroom furniture?  Dumping armloads of fresh, warm laundry into a graceful rocking chair and then throwing a blanket over the heap is another option (you’re welcome).

3. Cereal is a dinner food. Toast is also acceptable. Gluten-free options available at your local location that offers gluten-free options.

4.  Let shaving slide. It’s winter, okay?  Also, maybe your husband owes you for the various beard “styles” (lumberjack, Lincoln, Manson) you have loved without judgment (okay, so calling it a Manson beard is kind of a judgment) over the years.

5. Red lights afford the perfect amount of time in which to file your fingernails.

6. Your car is filthy because you are environmentally conscious.  Not for any other reason.

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Coffee’s nutritional value is tremendous. I know, because this beverage is almost singlehandedly keeping me alive.

7. Coffee is a breakfast food. It also makes a lovely snack.

8. It’s totally okay to go on for five months digging at the same obviously finished lipstick tube with the bottom of a pen in order to apply your makeup. This is normal. Also, nobody can see you.

9. Lunch is optional. Keep a supply of stale Halloween candy in a drawer in your office, and shove it in your mouth between completing tasks. You’ll be fine.

10. This is the only serious one: Make a date with your writing, and keep it.  Even if you can only do this once a week, it will add up big time.  I have a standing date with a highly responsible teaching colleague who never cancels, and we keep each other accountable.  We meet every Sunday night at 5pm at a Starbucks that closes at 8.  It has comfy chairs, and I write for three solid hours.  I am rested from the weekend, I can be focused and productive, and I don’t feel guilty about being away from my son, who is at home having some serious Dad time. Without this standing date, I would not have finished my revision on time.  No way.

That’s it.  POW.  You’ve been granted a superpower (and a glimpse into my grimy, nutritionally challenged private life).

How do you scratch out time for your writing?

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Time Management, Writing and Life

They Just Don’t Get It–The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Note: Keen readers of our blog will have noticed that Wednesday posts are often written as a response to the previous (Monday) post. I wish to make it perfectly clear that this time that is not the case. The reader is advised that the following article is in no way connected to Kevan Atteberry or to his charming introductory post and any effort to corellate the two should be regarded as an exercise in futility. Thank you. ~~CB 😛

OK, so this writer (whom I just made up) writes a story that is, he is convinced, quite good. Breakout novel, in fact. Bestseller, that sort of thing.

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“I’m talented, ain’t I, Dad?” “Almost as talented as me, son, and that’s danged talented.”

At some point, he joins a critique group. He sizes up the other writers when he arrives. Hacks, he thinks, every last one of them. They’ll probably be gobsmacked when they hear my piece read aloud. They’ll probably applaud.

His turn comes. He reads. When he finishes, silence. Frowns.

Where’s my applause? Where are the gasps of amazement, the eager handshakes and pats on the back? What the heck is wrong with these people?

Then the questions come from the group. What is the reason for the loquat argument on page 3 …? Why does the main character shave her …? How will the disconsolate yeti help her to win the …?

The new writer gets defensive. After every remark, he impatiently explains why he wrote it the way he did. He’s like a goalie on a one-man team, blocking each shot. And inside, he’s thinking, These people are morons. Dilettantes! They don’t grasp my artistic vision!

Chances are, if you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve run across someone like this. I have, more than once. It’s the reason so many groups adopt the Author Is Silent Rule. These writers come to critique group ostensibly asking for feedback, but they never agree with any comments anyone makes and they never even seem willing to try the suggestions given. Well, almost never. They waste your time asking for feedback they will not even consider. And often, they rip your piece to shreds when it’s your turn.

So, what is with these types?

Most of them are relatively normal, just suffering from a little beginner’s arrogance. Be patient. They’ll come around after they go home and think over what’s been said. If not then, well, a few rejections should squeeze that arrogance out of them. (Or they’ll self-publish and forever sneer at you and the world of “traditional” publishing, but that’s another topic.)

But some of these writers, an unfortunate few out there, are under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and these poor people will probably have a much harder time ever producing a publishable manuscript.

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence. — Psychology Today (link below)

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Funny thing, this Dunning-Kruger concept, how well it seems to fit so many incompetent people working in so many different occupations. It’s the computer programmer who believes that her code is superior to others’ but everyone else can see that her code is convoluted and full of bugs. It’s the restaurant chef who cooks up unpalatable dishes and blames the patron who rejects them, saying they just must not know how to eat. And it’s the writer who refuses to really stop and think about why the readers of her draft have questions about it. She simply cannot believe that others don’t recognize her genius. And others, quite likely, view her as an untalented writer.

How do I know I don’t have this? Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? I don’t know. If you have it, you’re unable to recognize it. But I figure I’m safe because, believe me, I question my ability often. I spend a lot of time feeling pretty sure I don’t really know what I’m doing and hoping no one finds out (the impostor syndrome).

How do you know if you’re Dunning-Kruger free? You’re D-K free if you’re always trying to improve, and you not only listen to advice from other writers, agents, and editors but you really consider what they’re saying. If you’re willing to try out their suggestions even when you’re pretty confident that it’s really not going to make your story any better, just because you know you’ll learn something by trying it, you’re probably Dunning-Kruger free.

Awesome!

Awesome!

Bottom line: Because we recognize our weaknesses and faults, we’re probably way more competent than that writer with the attitude at crit group who defends his manuscript on every point.

It’s comforting, isn’t it, to know that our insecurities about our writing ability may mean that we’re actually pretty good–or that we’re on our way there?

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Filed under Advice, Colleagues, Controversy, Editing and Revising, jealousy