Tag Archives: Writing

#Pit Maddening!

So you’ve written this incredibly wonderful novel and you’re desperate to get it before and agent or editor. You’ve tried to query, you’re tried to do the face-to-face thing at writers’ conferences, you’ve tried EVERYTHING! But alas, nothing’s worked so far. So howabout a new avenue of angst for you? It’s called #pitmad, and it’s a Twitter hashtag sponsored by the website Pitch Wars, a writer mentoring program that vows to “get into the publishing trenches with you.” But here’s a bit more on #pitmad, directly from their site:

About #PitMad

#PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch.

Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed.

#PitMad occurs quarterly. Upcoming dates are:

  • March 7, 2019 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • June 6, 2019 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • September 5, 2019 (8AM – 8PM EDT)
  • December 5, 2019 (8AM – 8PM EST)

Don’t favorite friends’ tweets. The agents will be requesting by favoriting tweets, and more favorites can make it hard for those with requests to see all of their faves/likes. RT or Quote-RT to show your support. Do NOT use the hashtag when quote RTing – Keep the hashtag clean so agents can navigate it easily.

Be respectful and courteous to each other, and especially to the industry professionals. If you do see abuse, please report it to Twitter or notify one of the hosts of the event.

For more info, go to #pitmad, and happy pitching!

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Nice, Nicer, Nicest!

One thing that you should know if you’re just starting out in this business is that no one will ever tell you how much they got for a publishing advance. This was one thing that startled me, because I thought I wouldn’t have to ask. That it would just be out there listed as an expected range, like looking up salaries on Glass Door. (Of course, you can’t really go by them either. I went to Glass Door and looked the average base pay for Adjunct Professor and got $42,451 and almost fell off my chair laughing.) Like Penguin/RH paid the best, followed by HarperCollins, etc., but that was ridiculous because no one ever advertised this stuff. The closest I got to real figures was a survey author Brenda Hiatt used to compile called “Show Me the Money,” but I don’t think she’s updated it in a long time. So where do you go to find if this writing life is even worth it?

Er…in case you haven’t found it out yet, it’s like that old saying: if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. In other words, if you’re looking to make a mint out of writing fiction, well here’s a piece of advice–don’t quit you’re day job. On the other hand, if you’re willing to occasionally starve, absorb a lot of criticism, and spend hour after hour behind a keyboard, you may have a future in the literary life. If you do that, you may eventually sell, and when  you do, you’re likely to get an advance with your book contract. (If you don’t, that means you’re may be getting on a higher percentage royalty-only contract, but that’s a whole other post.) And when you do sell, your agent will post the sale on Publisher’s Marketplace, using only these vague descriptors to outline compensation:

“Nice” – $1.00 – 49.00

“Very Nice” – $50.00 – 99k

“Good” – $100k – 250k

“Significant” – $251k – 499k

“Major” – $500k and up

So there you go, publishers’ advances decoded! Don’t you feel much better now?

Writers Gotta Write, Writers Gotta Read

Read a quick but great article in the New York Times by Tina Jordan yesterday, “Some Dos and Don’ts From Famous Writers.”  There were tips by Delia Owens and J. K. Rowling, from John Grisham and William Faulkner, the latter who spouted the line that really got to me: “You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.” This should come as no surprise to anyone that thinks of themselves as a writer, because truly, where would you get the inspiration to write without the very prose (or poetry or play or lyric) that drove you to it? I’ve always had a lust for reading, starting from that very day in first grade when the nun easeled an oversized, laminated book in front of the class. (Yes, I am the product of a Catholic elementary school education. Don’t start with me.) LOOK — was the only dialogue on the page, but when I sounded out the L-O-O-K with my rudimentary phonics knowledge and my agile young brain connected the synapses to form look–well, it was a discovery so profound, I jumped out of my desk to cry I CAN READ THAT! And I’ve been doing it ever since.

As I look around my office I see four tall bookcases, a basket of magazines containing academic and trade periodicals, a couple of New Yorkers on my desk with another journal underneath, and atop the table next to my favorite reading chair, Becoming, by Michelle Obama, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (this month’s Book Discussion pick), a book on back pain (from sitting on my ass at this desk too much), and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. At the top of my TBR pile is Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, and just below it, Something Wonderful, by Todd S. Purdum. If you know anything about these books, you can tell what an eclectic reader I am. Does that say anything about my writing? Maybe it does.

One thing’s for certain. If I don’t read, it definitely affects my writing. It plods along, my characters lose their edge, the dialogue becomes stilted. There are certain schools of thought that say you shouldn’t read and write at the same time, because if you do, you’ll unconsciously steal the style of whomever you’re reading. I don’t happen to buy into that. For me, reading breaks loose my inner competitor, and I find myself wanting to outdo them. If anything, I get inspired–if they can do it, I can do it better, and the more I read, the more I want to write. I remember a time when I was deep into deadlines, that I didn’t even come near a screen outside my laptop for a month. But every day I found the time to read, over breakfast, over lunch, after a writing session, before bed. Now, I must admit I do a fair amount of reading from my laptop and my phone. But there’s still nothing like the visceral touch of the printed page, the pure joy of row upon row of embedded ink slowly unfolding a story. And no such thrill as when that story’s your own.

But enough about reading. Writers got to write, too. Best get back to work. Unless, of course, you’ll be reading.

 

Write a synopsis or stick pencils in my eyes? Hmm…

I gave a workshop this past weekend on pitching your work, and there was some interest in writing a synopsis. Here’s a post from a couple of years back on that very same thing I thought I’d rerun, because, you know, why have a new original thought…

It’s a sad, sad fact of the writing life that every book needs a synopsis if you want to sell it. I’m sorry, but synopses to me are like carbuncles on top of boils, about as compatible to my literary mojo as coconuts are to refrigerators. When I know I have to write one, it’s like I have creative mono I’m so not able to start. Fact is I hate hate hate the little bastards, as after all these years, my brain still fights writing one. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then welcome to Writer Hell, sweetheart. Your angsty little life is about to get so much worse.

A synopsis is your book boiled down almost to its skivvies. At the most it’s about five pages, but lately the going length seems to be around two. With such a tight page count, you might think it makes the writing easier, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Actually, it makes it so much harder. How hard? Let me search for a difficult enough analogy. Have you ever tried to gather a bunch of peeled grapes with one hand? That’s kind of what it’s like. (Actually, the literal version of that would be easier, but don’t let me disillusion you). You need to encapsulate all those slippery plot points from start to finish, naming your major characters, their conflicts and motivations, holding nothing back.  Don’t want to divulge everything? Then just include something like, Intrigued? Then request the full manuscript to find out what happens next! and you’ll win the race to the ‘delete’ button. (Please, just–no.) Do include a hook at the beginning and a satisfying ending, and no being cagey or overly creative, either. It’s just the facts, ma’am, and do remember to keep it in the present tense, and state your word count and genre under the title at the top. Also, it should go without saying to make sure it’s proofread, spell-checked, grammar-checked and formatted until it’s pink and screaming.

A synopsis, above all, is a selling tool. You need one to get an agent as after you do, she’ll need it to sell your fabulousness to an editor. A synopsis not only spells out your book, it tells an editor you’re capable of finishing one, as very rarely will she have your whole manuscript in front of her at the first pass. Because of their brevity, synopses, at least when they’re written well, can be succinct little works of art. With a well-written synopsis, you’re straddling the fence between novelist and journalist, as it’s a sign of polish and skill to write eye-catching florid-free prose when you’re concentrating strictly on the main points. When it’s done effectively and efficiently, it can make all the difference between rejection and acceptance.

Oh, and if you’re looking for some actual people to send that fabulous synopsis, to, try…

Now go get ’em, tiger. I hate suffering alone.

 

(To) Kill (or not to kill) Your Darlings

I’ve reached the point in writing my latest book where I have to make a decision: do I kill a character or not? He’s not a particularly nice person, really a kind of a dick, and there may be a point where people would probably cheer if he finally gets his due. But if I leave him in, he really won’t have much to do in the subsequent books I plan on writing after this, as he’s pretty much served his purpose. I could probably just write him out of the action instead of offing him, but that would leave open whether he’d return or not, but I really don’t like that. (See, I’m old enough to still be kind of jaded by Bobby walking out of the shower.) So I’ve been thinking about what to do for a couple days now, and I’d really like to move forward. So after a hard think I believe I’ve made my decision. I’m gonna whack the guy. Now I just have to figure out how to do it, which presents a whole other set of issues.

The first one being, how to do it? Which of the characters has a big enough beef with him that may want to accomplish the job for me. He is a bad guy, so will another bad guy do it? Will he get in a struggle and a gun goes off? Maybe someone runs him over with a car? With murder being so messy, my perhaps it’s better I let the guy off himself. Would that fit into the plot? Is there reason enough for him to do it? I think so. He really is at the end of his rope. So with that decision behind me, then how to accomplish it? There’s all kinds of ways to do it–gun, overdose, train tracks, drowning–you name it, the possibilities are endless. But again, you also have to consider the plot and characters. Is this a well-thought out action? An act of desperation? Would he be suicidal? Is he truly at the end of his rope? Would it be a spur of the moment action? Would he resist all attempts to save him? Would it be believable that he’d attempt it at all? And people as not as fragile as they appear sometimes, so would the attempt at offing himself actually work? That’s when the research come in.

When you’ve been writing for awhile, you tend to accumulate experts who you can tap for information, and they become invaluable. The internet is a handy go-to, but if you’re serious about your craft, to need to find primary sources, real live human beings that can give you first hand information. I’ve gotten to know a former homicide detective and a forensic chemists who’ve I’ve sourced now and then. And when I have, I’ve researched my questions, taken notes, and asked them for the best places to go if I need to know more. These people are invaluable, as they lend a realism to your writing that’s unmatched by a Google search. Only after I’m certain will I proceed, as trust me, there’s always someone out there who will challenge you on what you write, always someone who thinks they know more, and you want to be read for them.

As I think I am now. Welp, Mr. Man, it looks like your days are numbered. Enjoy all that sliminess while you can.

Once bitten, twice stupid

My own fault really, my NaNoWriMo fail. No one to blame but myself. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo in the past, but I didn’t get too far then either, as in keeping up with their schedule. What is nice is if you join the state or local chapter, and they have local writing events but I’ve never been very good at writing in public. Writing for me is a very private affair. I close my door, turn on an air cleaner I have, that makes more noise then an ascending 747. But that’s just me. For others, NaNoWriMo is a solid kick to your writing pants. If you also get on their email list, they’ll send you encouragements to keep you on course. If you keep up with their online site, you have your own page where you log in with your progress every day, putting in your word count. It’s definitely for people who want to keep motivated, plus get you in touch with other local writers. I did write a book in a month once, and you have to be pretty dedicated, but I had a deadline and didn’t have a choice. One takeaway from that month was I learned how to eat really good with one hand!

Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In light of the pipe bomb that was sent to CNN today, for all the attacks on journalists, for all the disparaging of Freedom of Speech, and for all the purveyors of creative thought and opinion, this lawsuit is especially timely to whoever uses the pen to fight the sword. This is for writers everywhere.

NEW YORK, October 16, 2018—PEN America, the leading national organization representing writers and literary professionals and defending free expression, filed a lawsuit today against President Donald J. Trump for using the powers of the federal government to retaliate against journalists and media outlets he finds objectionable, in violation of the First Amendment. PEN America is represented in the case by the nonpartisan nonprofit Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.

The filing asserts that, while President Trump is free to express his own views critical of journalists and media outlets, his use of the regulatory and enforcement powers of government to punish the press for criticism of him is unconstitutional. The complaint, filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, asks the court to enter a declaratory judgment that the President’s retaliatory actions violate the First Amendment and enjoin the President from directing any employee or agency of the federal government to take any action against the press in retaliation for coverage the President views as hostile.

The complaint makes reference to incidents that it argues were intended to make clear to writers, reporters, and commentators that if they criticize the President, they or the media entities they represent could face reprisals by the government. These incidents include:

  • The Department of Justice’s antitrust enforcement action against the merger of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, with AT&T, coming in the wake of credible threats by the President to retaliate against CNN’s coverage of him and his Administration;
  • The President’s Executive Order to the U.S. Postal Service to examine raising postal rates on Amazon, founded and run by Jeff Bezos, following the President’s threats to retaliate against coverage that the President disapproved of by the Washington Post, which Jeff Bezos owns. A retaliatory action that led, on October 11, 2018, to the U.S. Postal Service announcing proposed rate increases, including a proposed 12-percent increase for the Parcel Select service used by Amazon;
  • The President’s threats to revoke White House press credentials, which were followed by directing the removal of a White House correspondent from a press event covering the President, in retaliation for editorial decisions that reporter had made; and
  • The President’s threats to revoke broadcast licenses of television stations whose coverage he disapproves of.

The complaint argues that these and other similar actions intentionally place a sword of Damocles over the heads of all journalists and writers covering the President, including PEN America members.

“While PEN America members, and many media outlets and journalists, have been unflinching in their coverage of the Administration, the First Amendment protects the press from having to brave government retaliation and threats in order to do their work,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “We have grown sadly accustomed to near daily attacks by President Trump on the media, but when his speech crosses the line into retaliatory actions or credible threats of reprisal against critics, the President’s actions are not only egregious, but also unconstitutional. At a time when hostility toward the press has fostered a climate of threats and even violence, it is essential for courts to step in and affirm the role of the First Amendment and free press in our democracy. There is a natural tension between leaders and the press corps charged with holding him accountable, but here in the U.S. we have constitutional safeguards that prevent the use of the power of government to punish and intimidate the media.”

“As an organization of working writers united in defense of free expression, we are alarmed at the climate of hostility and threat in which those who offer political reportage and commentary must now operate,” said PEN America President, journalist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan. “PEN America has long risen to the defense of writers around the world who face peril for expressing themselves. With journalism under unprecedented attack from the White House, we feel compelled to fight back.”

The complaint reaffirms that the First Amendment prohibits government actors from using their power in ways that punish the content of reporting or that are intended to stoke intimidation through threats of government action. It notes that individual writers, including freelancers and especially those who may be vulnerable for other reasons—by virtue of their immigration status, for example—may understandably think twice before publishing pieces or commentary that could put them in the White House’s crosshairs.

“The governing law is clear: President Trump has the right to express views about the press, loudly and often. He does not have the right to use the powers of his office to punish those who disagree with him and criticize him,” said David Schulz of the Yale Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.

President Trump has already faced a number of First Amendment challenges. In one case, a federal district judge, presiding in the same district in which this case has been filed, declared that President Trump’s practice of blocking critics on his Twitter account violated the First Amendment. The remedy sought in PEN America’s complaint is similar. In another case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an allegation from protesters who were roughed up during a campaign rally that then-candidate Trump’s calls from the podium incited a violent riot.

This suit comes at a worldwide moment of reckoning for the relationship between governments and the journalists who criticize them. As respect for the role of the press erodes, illustrated most egregiously in recent days with the crisis over the fate of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, it is vital to underscore and enforce the First Amendment protections that have always set the U.S. apart as a standard bearer for press freedom. That’s what this suit aims to do.

“President Trump’s anti-press actions are taking place at a time when autocrats around the world, including in Hungary, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been ramping up their attacks on a free press,” said Kristy Parker, Counsel to Protect Democracy. “The difference between the United States and those countries is that the United States has a long-standing constitutional tradition that prevents such behavior and an independent court system designed to step in when violations occur.”

Protect Democracy has highlighted the myriad ways in which President Trump appears to be following a playbook used by other autocratic rulers around the world. While democracy was ascendant around the globe in the latter half of the twentieth century, that trend has come to an alarming halt. According to data from Freedom House, an independent watchdog that tracks free expression globally, the spread of democratic regimes peaked around 2005 and has been in retreat ever since. The new breed of autocratic-style leaders does not vanquish democracy overnight. Rather, modern autocrats pull at the threads of democracy incrementally, finding vulnerabilities in democratic systems that can be exploited. Using the power of the government to deliberately intimidate dissenting voices, including those of writers and journalists, is one such strategy. In some of the aforementioned countries, their leadership has succeeded in eroding democracy as the direct result of a lack of a truly independent judicial check. It is against this backdrop that today’s lawsuit has been filed.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, PEN America has decried efforts to foment hostility and distrust toward the media. Through research reports, petitions, and campaigns, PEN America has mobilized to defend the role of the press as a cornerstone of our democracy. In 2018, PEN America initiated a national outreach effort to activate its members through public forums on media freedom, advocacy for local news outlets, and media literacy workshops. A cornerstone of this effort is the Press Freedom Incentive Fund, which supports initiatives that build new local constituencies ready to defend press freedom. PEN America has fought against encroachments on free speech by United States presidential administrations for decades, including through advocacy for whistleblowers and journalists targeted for their reporting. The organization also has a long history of litigation challenging government encroachments on freedom of expression, including the blocking of prominent writers and scholars from visiting the United States due to their critical speech pursuant to the USA PATRIOT Act, and the mass warrantless wiretapping of international electronic communications.

Read quotes on today’s filing from experts here.

The full complaint can be read here.

More information about this case can be found at pen.org/pen-america-v-trump

Tips From the MFA Pit, Part 5 – Reading like a Writer

This week it’s another installment from the MFA Pit, where we’re looking at the things we read to write. Sometimes our reading material can take the form of books on craft, the other times on our genre of choice. Sometimes that’s not even the genre we write, but what we simply enjoy reading. But when what-we-write converges with what-we’re-reading, we seem to take on a more critical eye…
You certainly don’t have to like everything you read, and sometimes that’s good. You find out what NOT to do, what works and what doesn’t. And you learn to read like a writer, not so much for the story, which definitely runs in the background, but for craft—what tools and techniques the writer uses to write a compelling story. In my Comp One classes, we do what’s called a Rhetorical Analysis of an essay to accomplish much the same thing. We look at four things: the situation, or what prompted the writer to write, the purpose, what the writer wanted the reader to think or do, the thesis, the main claim, and the audience, who the writing is directed toward. Of course, this analysis is wasted on 90% of most of the students (sadly), as once they get out of my class and/or Comp Two, they’ll more than likely never write anything beyond a text or instant message, or maybe an email when they get into the work world. But we can also apply some if not all of these principles to creative writing too, when we’re directing our story to a particular genre. In the fantasy or romance realm, audience is all important. When you combine the two, even more.
In fantasy, we concentrate on the world the writer’s building. It has to be different and compelling to draw your audience in. They need to leave the ordinary world and venture into something where the rules of of the ordinary world can flex. But that flex has to have its own logic, and after it’s established, you need to stick with it or your readers will call you on it. For example, the perennially logical Dr. Spock of Star Trek could never suddenly turn sentimental. Fans would call foul. Then again, if he did it for a single episode it could be fun, because he’s stepping out of his ordinary world. But his fans would definitely want such a sojourn to be temporary, as what’s the fun in a weepy Spock?

With romance, the “rules” are definitely a bit stricter. There ALWAYS has to be a HEA – a “happily ever after,” or at least a HFN – a “happy for now” if you plan on sending them on some hijinks in the next book. And there are definite stages to their romance—when they first meet, when they first kiss, when they first make love, when they fall in love, when the fall OUT of love, when they face the Dark Moment, when they fall back in love, then when the commit to each other, then lastly, the HEA or HFN.  All romances mostly follow the same progression, and romance fans look for and expect each stage. What keeps them interesting, and keeps the pages turning, is how the couple reaches each stage and goes beyond it. You see, the trick to writing a good romance is the couple is not supposed to fall in love—yet against all odds, they do. It’s this struggle romance fans look for. And as a Romance Writer, it’s up to your to deliver. When it’s too easy, it’s not a romance. When they meet, it’s fate. When they kiss for the first time, it’s mind-blowing. When they finally make love—it’s a nuclear meltdown. It’s that easy!

As we venture more and more into our own writing, we almost subconsciously view other writers’ works through the filter of our own. Sometimes we view it with intimidation, sometimes with awe, sometimes with jealously, sometimes with a smugness when we’re convinced ours is so much better. What we should always do is keep reading though. Just like a chef never stops tasting, a writer can’t ever stop gazing at the worlds around them, in a continual effort to improve their own.