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Posts tagged ‘editor’

First Monday Mentoring for September: when NOT to change your writing


Happy first day of Spring, and welcome to First Monday Mentoring for September.
Today I open the blog to your questions about writing and publishing, and answer them here. Post your questions and ideas, argue with mine, share your experiences. This is the day for it, heck, sometimes the whole week.

I regret having to moderate comments before they appear. But turning that off leads to spam and rudeness we don’t need. To have your comments appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right to subscribe. I don’t share your email address with others.

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To start us off, here’s a question from the Romance Writers of Australia’s Claytons online conference, raised again when I was judging RWA’s Valerie Parv Award. The 2013 award was announced at the national conference in Perth recently.

The question is: how do you know when to change your writing and when to stand your ground?
The answer comes down to Matter versus Manner.

Matter is what you want your story to say.
Matter includes your theme, your “message” if you have one. For example, “love conquers all” is the message of many romance novels. If your story carries this message, no critique partner, editor or well-meaning relative should ask you to change it. They may disagree, but you are entitled to have your writing express what you truly believe.

Manner is HOW you tell your story
This includes your word choices, settings, character behavior and any other means used to tell the story.
Manner is ALWAYS open to negotiation. As writers, we know what we mean to say. But if crucial details don’t make it into the manuscript, readers can be left scratching their heads. An editor’s job is to spot problems and inconsistencies for the writer to fix. There’s no point defending the work. If the editor misunderstood something, thousands of readers will, too.

So there it is. Matter – what the story is about – is up to the writer. Manner – how you tell the story – is the editor’s concern. Ideally, both of you want the same thing – a well-told story that readers understand in the way you intended.
Do you have questions or “war stories” about editing? Share them by leaving a comment below.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

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5 ways to keep readers out of your story world

As a writer I’ve done all five things until I learned better, and so can you. Keeping readers out of your fictional world can be as simple as not giving them the information they need to “be there” with your characters. This idea arose out of Facebook, when I compared notes with friends about what advertising we were seeing. Depending on what pages they “liked” or commented on, some saw anti-aging and diet products, others saw cars and travel. One day I was invited to have “famous hair.” Go figure.

The point is, we don’t all see the world the same way. Most of us know this intellectually, when we need to get it at the gut level. How readers see and react to what we write depends on it. If we don’t all see the world the same way, or only see certain bits of it, how can we be sure our writing isn’t keeping readers out, when we want to draw them in and make them forget they’re reading something we made up?

Here are five ways readers can be shut out of our stories. See if you recognise any of them.

1. Use lazy words
Words like short, tall, old, young are lazy words. They represent our view of the world. In my workshops, ages go from teens to eighties. Asking who considers themselves old gets few hands in the air, except for the odd joker, usually someone younger than me. Old and young depend on your OWN age and the goal posts shift with each birthday. We’ve all heard toddlers call someone in their twenties old, while headlines say, “60 is the new 40.” The solution is to “show, don’t tell.” Simply put, this means show the reader what’s there, rather than tell them what to think. Wrinkled skin, thinning hair, stooped build can all suggest a mature character. Describe what’s there and leave the rest to us. Ditto tall. Show the character ducking under a doorframe, or their feet overhanging the bed. Show us the character in enough detail for us to draw our own conclusions.

We don't all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

We don’t all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

2. Don’t be consistent
Science fiction and fantasy are fun to write. You can imagine the world any way you want. But having set the rules, you must obey them from then on. No good having gravity turn off every day at noon for an hour, then forget next day and have characters sit down to lunch. Or turn blue-eyed Sandy into brown-eyed Susan between chapters. Characters need to be consistent as well. If Susan is thrifty because of a poverty-stricken background, don’t give her designer clothes without a good reason, a splurge she may feel guilty about, or a conscious decision to fight her conditioning.

3. Don’t get specific
I can’t mention a tree in my books without knowing the species, whether it’s in flower (which dictates the book’s season) and other details. I may not use them all in the narrative, but I need to know them. Through the magic of Google. I can find exactly the Russian swear word, unusual computer bug, or character illness I need to make the book work. It’s said that the best way to hide information is on page two of a Google search, but I’ve gone through twenty or more pages to find exactly what I need. Get specific and you will draw readers into your story world.

4. Don’t stretch yourself creatively
Whole blogs are written about the language used in romance novels. None of your prose should be in there. Avoid purple prose (over-written descriptions); cliched character actions – looking in a mirror while you describe them; misunderstandings where the heroine thinks the hero is kissing another woman. Heroine then storms out without waiting to learn the woman is his sister. First decide what you want the scene to achieve. If it’s to separate the characters while they discover they love each other, what’s the most original way to show this? I make lists, challenging myself to come up with twenty or more ways this could be achieved. The first few will be the cliches, the repetition, the boring. The next few will be wild flights of fantasy, then slowly I’ll get to the nuggets of gold. Sometimes two or more points can be combined to achieve my goal. This method has never failed me.

5. Don’t finish what you start
This is guaranteed to keep readers out of your story world, because the point of entry is the finished book. Whether on a device or in print, your book must be where readers can access it. Erica Jong famously said for a long time she avoided finishing anything. As long as it was work in progress, it couldn’t be rejected. Your book will never be perfect. Using the points here can get you a lot closer, but the last step – putting your story in front of an agent or editor – is essential. As a writer friend put it, “books in my head will never get read unless I get up and write them.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Do you keep readers out of your story world? How have you overcome these problems? Please leave a comment here.

Valerie

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http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

First Monday Mentoring – don’t forget to enjoy writing

It’s the first Monday of the month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere). You’re invited to ask writing-related questions here for me to answer. Your thoughts and writing experiences may also help others.

Questions posted ahead of time will be answered during Monday November 5.

Sometimes the questions go past Monday into the week, and that’s okay too.

To kick things off, here’s a question I was  asked at the RWA conference in August: writers have so much to do with all the blogging, tweeting and other social networking,  getting work ready to pitch to editors and agents at conference, designing and promoting your books if you’re indie published (and even if you’re with an established publisher)…it never seems to stop. When do we get to enjoy the writing process itself?

This is a good question, and one we need to address if we’re not to burn out

First, accept that you can’t do everything. If you hate doing live blog tours, don’t commit to days or weeks of them. Can the blog owner send you some questions you can answer in your own time? If you love Twitter and hate Facebook, focus on building your Twitter following. You’ll need a Facebook presence, but you don’t have to be online every minute or even every day. Aim for most days.

Put a value on your time

This was one of the earliest lessons I learned as a freelance writer. Work out roughly what your time is worth per hour, easy enough if you have or had a day job. If you can hire someone to handle your website while you write, that may be a fair trade. Business people don’t think of doing all their own grunt work – why should writers? Farm out gardening, laundry, anything you can afford, freeing up more time to write. This also helps you to see yourself as professional, and less likely to fritter away precious writing time.

Most of all, remember why you want to write

The one thing every publisher, editor and agent asked for at conference was “a good story”. They want to read the adventures, romances and fantasies bubbling away inside you. A perfect lawn won’t make those stories happen. Only you can do that, and it must be important to you or you wouldn’t have chosen to write. Tell the stories only you can write, and let yourself enjoy the experience. As little as an hour a day can make your dreams happen. Everything else other than precious family time can wait or be delegated.

Agree? Have questions or other thoughts? First Monday Mentoring is the place to share what’s on your mind.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

 

 

Make the post-conference buzz work for your writing

The Romance Writers of Australia national conference is over for 2012. All who attended agree it was, like the Olympics, the “best games ever”. That is until Fremantle 2013 comes along and blows our minds. Judging by the trailer screened at this year’s close, exciting times lie ahead.

But what about the year in between?

How will the post-conference buzz benefit your writing?

First, accept that a writers’ conference is not a social event. Sure, we had fun, we met friends, we talked, laughed, ate, drank and loved the party atmosphere. But you don’t go there TO party. You go to learn from the best, meet publishers, editors, agents and expand professional horizons. Apart from the typo in the caption, the LOLcat here has the right idea.

I came home with at least one publisher keen to read a book I haven’t written yet.  Two others want to talk to my agent. How about you? If you pitched a book (met an agent or editor to discuss what you want to send them), how soon will that work be on their desk? Marked “requested material” so you bypass the slush pile. One editor says that of ten writers she invites to submit to her, perhaps three follow through.

Make sure you’re one of those three.

Second, apply what you learned. Another statistic says that only one in ten conference attendees ever look at their handout notes again.

Be the one in ten.

As soon as you can, go through the mountain of paper. Put the useful stuff into a folder for quick reference. Type up hand-written notes and add them. Sort business cards. If you want to keep in touch, email within a couple of days about how you enjoyed their workshop/meeting them/your coffee chat and you’d like to be on their mailing list. Be brief, friendly and businesslike. If necessary, remind them of what you discussed. “Thank you for asking to see my paranormal romance about the blue aliens  who turn orange after sex. I will send you the requested material by X date.”

Then deliver on your self-imposed deadline.

Keynote speaker, Eloisa James, said that editors and agents are business associates even if they become friends over time. She also said that men don’t talk about being “lucky” to get a job, any more than we’re lucky when a publisher buys our work. They do it for their business, as should we. “Books of the heart” are luxuries, according to Eloisa. We need to write books of the heart for our READERS to fill their keeper shelves and have them talking up our books into best-sellers. Even in the digital age, word-of-mouth is still your best sales tool.

Enjoy your post-conference buzz. I am. Then use it as designed, to progress your writing career. What’s your next move?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

New! Writing fiction for Living magazine www.livingmagazine.com.au

First Monday Mentoring August, are we writing too much?

August already, where did the time go? 

The first Monday of each month is when you can ask your writing-related questions and I’ll do my best to answer. Questions can be posted ahead of time and I’ll answer during Monday August 6.  I monitor the blog and post answers throughout the day.  Sometimes discussions go past Monday into the week, and that’s OK too.

First I’d like to ASK a question – are we writing too much?

With all the blogs, interviews, articles and courses about writing out there, plus the vast number of “indie” published books for sale, there has never been more choice of writing or information about the craft.

Some information is amazing. You can access practically every editor and agent in the business. You can ask questions, make comments, take part in discussions. You can also chat with your favourite authors, review books and read reviews by others.  So how do you sort out what’s useful?

Here are my three tips:

1. Look at who’s giving the advice.

Are they published? In what markets? Are their books successful? If the answers are mostly yes, you know they speak from experience. You don’t have to agree with everything, but it’s worth your time to consider.

2. Is the advice written on tablets of stone?

If it is, approach with caution. The best teachers of writing recommend using what you find useful and leaving the rest. I’m  wary

of anyone who suggests there’s only one way to write. There are as many ways as their are writers.

3. Is the information current?

In a landscape where changes are occurring daily, you need to know the advice you’re relying on is up to date.. Even better if it’s forward looking and willing to explore where we might go from here.

What do you look for in workshops, how-to books and writing advice? What are you not getting but would like to?

Let First Monday Mentoring begin. Feel free to post about these or any other aspects of writing, I’ll do my best to answer.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Valerie’s Coffee Break Reads now in Living magazine http://www.livingmagazine.com.au

5 reasons why we are all vampire writers

Whether you support Team Edward or Team Jacob or any other combination, the Twilight saga is the latest product from a long line of  creatures – the vampire writers. By that, I don’t mean writers who write about vampires, but writers who are ourselves vampires.

I am. We all are. It’s part of the writing deal.

Here are my 5 reasons why:

1. Writers are blood suckers.

We suck the life blood out of our fellow creatures; human, animal and fantasy. If not for the quirky thing my neighbour’s kids said – which I have mercilessly siphoned off for a story – what would I write about? The police caution that anything you may say can and will be used is 100% accurate. We admit to sitting in coffee shops, people watching. What we really mean is people stealing. We run away with fragments of your identity, your description, your intriguing words, sometimes even your soul depending on the books we write.

2. We can be killed by a stake through the heart

Thinking about it, so can most people. In this case I mean the cruel stake plunged in by an editor or a critique partner. They don’t mean to be cruel. They think they’re helping. And they are, when the red mist clears enough for us to see that. First we have to go through the agony of seeing our beautiful child called ugly and not good enough. Or worse, rejected altogether. Oh, the pain!

3. We are always looking for fresh blood

We can’t survive as writers without a constant diet of new input, or we resort to the desperate act of writing about writers. We need to read different books, explore strange new worlds, get as far outside our comfort zones as we can. Then we have something to write about. You already know I’m the Established Writer in Residence at Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in the hills behind Perth, Western Australia. I’ve made it a point to visit as many of the writing groups that meet here as I can, especially outside my usual writing. One of the most rewarding has been the poetry group. Thanks Mardi May for the fresh blood you’ve unwittingly provided.

4. We love to “turn” others

Vampires love to turn humans into vampires. We may need more than one bite to turn a non-writer into a writer, but we persist, and we succeed surprisingly often. Go to a writer’s conference – the Romance Writers’ of Australia have theirs on the Gold Coast in August. If you’re fascinated by how words morph into stories, you’re ripe for turning.

5. We hide among the normal people

As a writer, I get to “pass” as normal. I even get to go out in daylight, although I’m mostly holed up in gloom, pounding out words, during the day. I’ve sold 30 million books, yet I walk among you unrecognised, the way I like it, as I hunt for fresh blood…er…inspiration.

Are you a vampire writer? How do you know? Do tell.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Established Writer in Residence, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, Perth

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

First Monday Mentoring, ask your burning question here

Half-way through the year already, where did the time go? The first Monday of every month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere) is when I invite you to post your writing-related questions and I’ll  answer them here. Lots of talented writers read and comment on this blog and you’re also welcome to contribute your thoughts on an answer, or share a writing experience that might help others.

 Questions can be posted ahead of time if you like and I will answer during Monday July 2.  I monitor the blog and post answers throughout the day. To kick things off, here’s a question I was asked at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writing Centre during the last week:

Which is better, staying in one characters point of view or having a variety? I was told not to “head hop”

The viewpoint character is the person through which the reader “enters” the story. Like putting on a garment, we “put on” the character’s view of the story (POV) and see everything as it happens through that person’s eyes. If there’s more than one viewpoint character, we get to see the story as it’s experienced by two or more people.

In romance novels we used to see the story only through the heroine’s eyes. She would guess or imagine why the hero did things, or what he was thinking. These days, readers want to see both sides of the romance. so it’s common to switch between the heroine’s POV and the hero’s. To avoid confusing your reader, it’s a good idea to switch viewpoints only when we have something new to learn from the other character. She might think he’s not attracted to her, for example. In his POV, we find out that there’s danger and he’s pretending not to care to get her out of the way.

There are no rules, only what works in your story.

It all depends on your point of view!

If a critique partner or editor says you’re “head hopping”, this means you’re not staying in one character’s viewpoint for very long before switching to another, and this can get confusing. Some writers – Nora Roberts is a good example – switch so effortlessly we don’t notice it happening. A lot depends on your skill as a writer.  You need to be aware of whose POV you’re writing in and when you make a switch, so the reader isn’t lost.  Also beware of accidentally slipping into the head of a minor character by having them “think” about the hero or heroine as they take their coats, for instance. Rather, have the POV character assume that the minor character doesn’t like them by their snooty expression, so we stay in the right head.

Got a question? Advanced or basic,

I’ll do my best to answer.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Proud friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence 2012, Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth WA

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Six things I wish I’d known about being published, when I was starting out

Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s easier to look back and see your writing career more clearly than when you’re starting out. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first romance novel being published. I had books out before then but they were nonfiction, and nothing beats the thrill of holding your first novel. Or your 50th for that matter. For me, the excitement never wears off. Last week I received the French translation of With a Little Help, and couldn’t wait to share the news with my agent and social networks.

I still get a kick out of my translations.The guy on the cover doesn't hurt either.

While I hope the thrill never stops, I’m glad some things have changed. Today I share six things I wish someone had told me when my journey began. They may save you some needless angst.

  1. Publishing is only the beginning. I thought of having my novel published as reaching a summit. I’d plant my “successful” flag, readers would cheer and I’d never worry again. Until my editor asked, “What are you writing next? And after that?” Readers might cheer, but they also want more. There are revisions to do, proofs to read, promotion, even before social networking became everyday. Plus writers’ conferences to attend, speeches, workshops and media. Rinse and repeat with every book.
  2. You can be ‘real’, your family won’t even notice. Using aspects of my family history in stories once kept me awake nights. What if family members were offended, hurt, angry? When one book I considered especially revealing came out, they read the characters, setting and situation as fiction. In other words, they didn’t connect real life with my story. Change the names and details to protect the guilty, and sleep well.
  3. No matter how many books you sell, someone will ask what name you write under. Nearly 30 million sales on, I still get asked what name I write under. Right before how long it takes me to write a book, and where do I get my ideas. Knowing I’m often the first writer some people have met,  I answer the questions as if they’re new to me, too.
  4. The fun stuff you get to do really IS research. If you read my previous blog about this, you’ll know that everything a writer does is research, good and bad. I know writers who’ve had major surgery and taken notes because it will come in handy sometime. Everything from lazing on a tropical island to cuddling a Tasmanian devil has found its way into my books.
  5. Your family IS proud of you but won’t necessarily let you know. One sister wishes I’d write like Stephen King. Not in me to do. I can only write as me. The other used to read my magazine short stories in the supermarket queue. She changed after learning that I’d spread this around.  No one I know has asked when I’m going to write a “real” book, mainly because I’d written so many books before turning to romance. But you might get asked. Rehearse the reasons why romance is the world’s biggest-selling genre in ebooks and print. Romance Writers of Australia has all the amunition you need here: http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/2012/02/australian-romance-writing-whats-there.html
  6. Changes in publishing are NOT the end of the world. Change has been part of the industry as long as I’ve been writing. The first time my adored editor was reassigned, I was a nervous wreck.  These days I roll with the punches. Editors move on. Lines and even publishing houses merge with others, disappear or reinvent themselves online. Print books become ebooks, audio and graphic novels. The one constant is they still need writers providing exciting content. Don’t panic. To paraphrase a popular saying: Keep Calm and Keep Writing.

What have you learned on your writing journey? Please comment below, and share on Twitter, Facebook and any other medium invented while I was blogging. Change is the one constant in life, not only for writers.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Resolutions to improve your writing in 2012

Some of the most common resolutions we make this time of year are to lose weight, get fitter, eat healthier and so on. Many of them can be applied to writing. Here’s how.

Lose weight

An easy writing resolution to start with. Aim to shed some weight from your writing by saying what you want to say in fewer and simpler words. Clear communication is key. You want the words to carry your story rather than attracting attention to themselves. In literary fiction, the words can be a reason for reading, but in most other forms of storytelling, the reader should get caught up in what’s happening so they feel as if they’re living the events instead of being told about them by the author. Make every word work for its place in the manuscript.

Get fitter

Workouts for authors are a good thing. Spending most of our working days seated at a keyboard doesn’t make our muscles happy. There are standing keyboards, desks you can fit to treadmills, and many other devices to overcome this problem. Or you can set a kitchen timer to remind you to get up and move around at regular intervals. Computer apps do this as well. But what about a fitness regime for your writing? When you begin, are you writing ready? Is your mind elsewhere, worrying about family or job worries? Or on what to cook for dinner tonight?  It’s amazing what jumps into our thoughts when we should be focussing on the story at hand.

I recommend having “rituals”, routines you set up that get your mind into the same place as your body. Rituals can range from checking emails to reading over your previous output. Set a time for the rituals to end and work to begin but don’t nag yourself if you need rituals to ease into your writing.  Walking through the door of the gym gets you into fitness mode; so having a set time and place to write tells your mind that it’s time to write.

Your writing also needs to be toned up – with the basic research, outlining and character development in hand. You don’t need to know every detail of your research. It’s OK to put “to come” in brackets and hunt out specifics later. But constantly flitting from draft to research can be another form of procrastination.

Set up a budget

This is a favourite personal resolution you can apply to your writing. Choose a measurable goal you want to achieve and the time frame for getting there, then work backwords to how many words you need to write on a regular basis to achieve the goal. Do you want to enter a contest? Submit to an editor? What requirements do you need to meet? Just as a budget needs room for unexpected costs, your writing budget also needs leeway for life to intervene. Every writer’s word budget will differ depending on the time you have available. If it’s only a few hours on evenings or weekends, be realistic in setting your word budget and keep a diary or wall chart of your progress so you don’t short-change yourself.

What other resolutions would get your writing into peak form for 2012? Share your hints by adding a comment below.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and on Facebook

 

 

 

As a writer you have less competition than you think

Attending two writing conferences this year,  I was surrounded by nearly 3,000 writers altogether. At such events, it’s easy to think that everybody in the world is writing or wants to be. To a new writer, this can be discouraging, making you feel as if the odds are well and truly stacked against your success.

What will be the secret of your success?

The reality can be very different. Many times I’ve been told  that I’m the first writer someone has met.  With so many of my friends involved in the publishing world, that can seem unlikely. Yet the truth is, like any creative artist, we writers are relatively rare. I was given evidence of this while working with a charismatic editor at Mills & Boon, Luigi Bonomi, one of the few male editors in the romance field. He went on to found http://www.bonomiassociates.co.uk/ a successful literary agency. I urge you to check his website if you’re interested in submitting material to the UK. Click on submission guide and authors to see the kind of writers and material the agency handles. While Luigi was visiting Australia, I asked him about a statistic I’d heard many times – that Harlequin Mills & Boon in London received something like 4,000 manuscript submissions a year, and were doing well to accept 10. Luigi soon put these daunting odds into perspective by pointing out that the total included poetry, war memoirs and a great deal of other material the company did not handle. Removing them from the statistic left a much smaller “slush pile” of books and the odds suddenly became much more attractive.

But publishers don’t deal in odds. They deal in individual books and authors and they say over and over that they don’t want clones of the authors they already publish. They want fresh new voices with something new to say, even in a tried and true field like romance. This means you’re only competing with one person – you. By submitting a story that you’re passionate about, written with skill and care, and submitted to the publisher most interested in what you write ie no war memoirs to HM&B, you greatly improve your chances of success.

The other statistic leaving me gobsmacked was quoted by Bob Mayer at the Romance Writers of Australia conference. Bob said that 90% of pitch requests are not followed up. In other words, if you make an appointment with an editor or agent to “pitch” (sell in a few words) your writing project, and the agent or editor asks you to send them a full or partial manuscript, if you follow through you’ll be in the tiny 10 per cent of writers who do.  These days, with more small presses and online publishing opportunities, there’s no need to fear the odds. It’s far more important to write and keep writing so that when you do sell, you have more to offer your eager readers.

You need to be like Judy Garland. When asked the secret of her success, she replied, “I practiced when the others had all gone.” What can you do or are you doing to improve your own chance of success?

Valerie

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