Take A Little Trip

By Mark Stevens

Two random tidbits last week got me fired up.

The first was from a story in The New Yorker about new research into the positive effects of psychedelic drugs—psilocybin in particular.

The second was a line uttered by Alexandra Fuller during a podcast of her Tattered Cover presentation for her new memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come.

Combined, the two comments got me stewing over inertia, anesthesia, deadness, stasis, status quo, acceptance, monotony, stability, order, constancy and all those other awful traits which are the bane of good fiction and the certainly mean the beginning of a long slow death for a good character.

Right?

Okay, let me back up a tad.

In the New Yorker story called “The Trip Treatment,” author Michael Pollan (author of many fine books about food, including The Omnivore’s Dilemma) dropped the following little bomb:

Most psychologists believe that your personality is “fixed” by age thirty “and thereafter is unlikely to substantially change.”

One of the cool side effects that scientists are studying is the ability of hallucinogens to alter thought patterns—and personality—not only during the “trip” but after as well. Addictions are being eliminated, for instance, and attitudes permanently altered through “psychedelic therapy.”

My mind was blown—these are researchers at top-flight institutions like N.Y.U. and John Hopkins looking into treating patients and improving the quality of life through a properly dosed trip. In the instruction manual for those taking psychedelic trips as part of the research, they are encouraged to face their monsters. Isn’t that the basis of most great fiction? (It’s a great article.)

Okay, hold that thought for a second but, if you’re over 30 years old, do you think your character is “fixed?” Do you think the personality of your characters, if they are over 30 years old, is locked in place? Are they really facing their monsters?

Next, Alexandra Fuller’s speech at The Tattered Cover attacked—and I do mean attacked—how men have generally screwed up the world and it’s time for the male of the species to step aside and give women a shot. Can’t be much worse, can it?

This was one of many themes in a powerful talk about identity and self and women finding true, unadorned freedom.

Fuller is a force. She’s feisty, forward and, from what I gather, fearless. (Must now read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.)

Anyway, Fuller talked a lot about society growing comfortable and complacent and encouraged everyone listening to get down to their “absolute bedrock of self” and understand what voices are running their lives. Her message was aimed particularly at women, almost kind of a “rise up out of your chairs” speech from the movie “Network.” She invoked Franz Kafka’s rejoinder that it’s a writer’s duty to take an axe to the “frozen sea” inside us.

Here’s one nugget from Fuller: “If someone else is in possession of your mind, then you’re not in possession of your voice.”

And, back to the magazine story about psychedelic study, another researcher noted how we all pay a “steep price” for the order and ego in the adult mind. Adults, he said, give up their “ability to be open to surprises, our ability to think flexibly, and our ability to value nature.”

Writes Pollan: “The sovereign ego can be a despot.”

I’m not here with answers.

I’m not here with “ta da.”

I’m just here to wonder about my characters and how to give them a good jolt.

If they aren’t challenging the voices in their heads, the voices running their lives, then they are slouching and slipping toward anesthesia.

And that’s not a recipe for powerful stories.

So I’ve got to figure out a way to have them face their monsters, grab the axe and whack the frozen sea.

Maybe I need to send them on a little trip.

kafka quote

Come on everybody, let’s tweet now!

By Patricia Stoltey aka @PStoltey

Geesh! I can already hear the groans.

You hate social media.

You can’t stand the thought of adding one more site to your daily list of “must” visits.

And you would prefer to bury your head in the sand and make this whole business of marketing, networking, and engaging go away, especially if it involves blogging, Facebook, Google+, Goodreads, PInterest…..and Twitter.

Last month I posted about the benefits of blogging for authors in “To Blog or Not to Blog? Good Question.”

This month I want to urge you to try out Twitter, if you haven’t already done so. This is my Twitter banner. Isn't it pretty?

Twitter_Banner 1smallIf it turns out Twitter is not your thing, so be it. But I like it best of all the social media sites so far. Here’s why:

Lots of authors and readers and agents and editors hang out on Twitter.

If you have a blog, Twitter is a great place to link to your blog posts, especially when you’re promoting your guest authors. It’s also the perfect place for you to spot the blog posts you’ll want to read (especially literary agents' blogs).

There are only 140 characters in a tweet, so long rants require more work.

Facebook and Google+ allow the user way too much space to post long, drawn-out updates you don’t have time to read.

Unfortunately, a few less-than-savvy authors use their 140 characters on Twitter to say “Buy My Book” over and over and over. I promise you, this does not sell books. And....you can ditch them from your lists.

Photos can be attached to a tweet (think book covers and more).

This is where Twitter starts to get interesting. A member of my critique group just had a new horror novel released, and he explained his Twitter philosophy recently on my blog. One of the ways he helped promote his book was to create colorful and creepy flyers that he could post on social media accounts along with a link to a buy page. Because he has built a huge network of Twitter friends, he can post one flyer one time and watch the information get rapidly sent around the world. A lot of those folks in his network are horror writers with a fan following. You can read his full post here: Creating a Twitter Book Promotion Campaign.

Photos are a relatively new feature for Twitter and a successful one. If you establish a pattern of posting certain types of photos (haunted houses, Provence, cute kittens) related to your books, it helps reach an interested audience.

You can build lists that limit what you see to exactly the people you choose.

Although I need to do some fine tuning with my lists, I built one for Colorado authors, another for blogger friends, and one for literary agents.

I can follow someone else’s public list, and others can follow mine.

I can make a list that groups political and/or news accounts together so I can look them when something big is going on in the world, but I don’t need to follow the accounts and see them in my Twitter feed every day…that would be way too annoying.

There’s a way to build a series of tweets on the same topic.

The hashtag-plus-topic-title groups tweets together so a reader can select that particular heading and see all related tweets in one place. Writers often post messages under the hashtag #amwriting. I use #RMFWBlog when I post the links to our blog posts. #Bookgiveaway announces an opportunity to enter a contest.

Our own Susan Spann, author and attorney, uses the hashtag #PubLaw for her Wednesday series on legal issues for authors. Those of you who are on Twitter can type #PubLaw into the search box and you'll be able to see all those tips together in one place.

Finally, Twitter is another wonderful way to make new friends.

Take the time occasionally to engage others by responding to their comments or questions. Throw out the occasional silly tweet or fun question and see who responds.

Even though a lot of people like to make fun of those who post updates or tweet about food or the weather or what their crazy cat did today, you’ll find those are the little things that say, Here’s a real person and he/she wants to connect with other real people.

This tweet got me some attention recently: “I scroll Twitter and Facebook and see books I want to read, then look at the books all over my house, then buy another one anyway. #books”

So come on. Give me your best 140 characters (or less).

Beyond the Page: Your Writing Career

By Liesa Malik

As a marketing professional, I’m always looking for the next great thing to grab attention and make my clients’ products or services successful. I watch for ways to build awareness and markets of buyers, vendors, and supporters, and believe that these efforts lead to financial success. That success often doesn’t come in large numbers but in small efforts that stand out.

As a critique group leader, I send approximately 55 invitations each week to people involved in writing a commercial-length novel. My co-moderator sends notices through his Yahoo group for another large group. This may sound massive, but each Tuesday or Thursday evening finds us at Panera Bread with many fewer attendees than invitees. We generally host from five to fifteen people who take the invitation (and their writing commitment) to heart.

Picture of Colorado Gold Attendees

Getting involved with writing.

I’m not offering this to make lapsing Littleton Writers members feel guilty. After all, in marketing, a direct mail piece with 27% return is astronomical. Those who can’t or don’t take advantage of the invitations have many extenuating circumstances and reasons to delay one more week.

However, if you’re a writer who isn’t a member of any critique group available through RMFW, I suspect you might be making your journey to publication more challenging. This critique opportunity is one small differentiator between aspiring and published authors.

And all the above is not meant to guilt you into more active membership in your critique group, or sign up for Colorado Gold tomorrow, but to encourage you to think about your writing career beyond the page. You already know how to write; most of us write very well. But there’s more to being a writer than producing words on a page. Here’s what I mean:

Get Involved.

I know someone who just applied for his dream job. We both know he won’t get it. That kind of job requires connections and references he’s pretty much neglected for over thirty years. If you’re not involved in your community, you’ll never feel like a true member, and when opportunity comes knocking, yours is not likely the name that will surface.

The same holds true for your writing career and community. Yes, quality writing is of paramount importance, but being involved with other writers is a great way to keep your skills up-to-date, enrich your social life with like-interested acquaintances, and be in the know when a new opportunity comes your way.

In the past, I heard a lot about the “cliques” of RMFW. Personally, I have to say, HOGWASH! The reason you may hear the same names over and over when it comes to recognitions and awards is because you’re witnessing the outcome of people who stopped dreaming and started working at their writing careers beyond the page. They built reputations one raised hand and one volunteer moment at a time, and those efforts have come back with a “thank you” attached. That’s a strong platform.

Build Your Author Platform.

“Author Platform” seems to be the term of the moment. Writers without their first sale become obsessed with this platform and how to build it. They join every social media venue possible or follow all sorts of publishing gurus wherever those wizards can be found. It’s like watching the movie star fans who believe that if they only impress the right actor or producer, their own careers will be made. Hate to say this, but there are no recipe books for author platform success.

I remember when “platform” was called “personal branding,” or even being “as good as your word.” All this means is that you have a personal reputation for things like writing a good story, or you have a lot of people interested in buying your next book. You build that reputation by getting to know others, not by sending letters to every publisher listed in the latest Writer’s Market.

In marketing, we’re all about the story you present. But with writing, your story will sell when you reach out, volunteer, get to know others, and risk sharing both your story and yourself with others. The RMFW website has constant opportunities for becoming involved.

And if you want to build your platform using traditional corporate marketing efforts, please keep in mind that corporations spend triple figure budgets on getting a few new buyers. Can you afford that kind of spending? And what’s your Return on Investment (ROI) for such spending? It’s more time consuming, but a lot less expensive to build your brand with a handshake.

Making Friends helps Make Stories.

And speaking of handshakes, let’s focus for a moment on the richness that making friends in this wonderful community adds to your life. Yes, I remember that everyone is shooting for publication and large book sales, but let’s be honest here. Isn’t writing the story a whole lot more fun than trying to figure out where to place your next book, or how to get onto the "Oprah" show? Don’t we have a lot more fun “talking shop” with other writers than making “small talk” at some cocktail party full of strangers?

I have to admit, I haven’t done a whole lot of volunteering in the past. But in the months since I chose to embrace this wonderful community of writers, I’ve had email correspondences that get me excited to open my mail screen each morning, and shared hugs with people I both admire and respect. I’m sometimes lost in the volunteer work and don’t get enough writing done, but then I look up at the rich life I’m building, and smile.

How ‘bout you? Do you volunteer? Do you feel this helps your writing career? Where will you next be involved?

The Bloody, Gory, Awful Choices We Make To Write Books

By Aaron Ritchey

“Don't demand that your art supports your life. Instead, make a promise that your life will always support your art.
--Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, from her interview with Luc Berthelett

“Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around.”
--Stephen King from On Writing

Okay, so which is it. Come on, Elizabeth and Stephen, you both have gobs of money and success and you both can’t be right. You need to decide. I demand it.

I have to admit, I never really understood the Stephen King quote. What is a support system anyway? And for what? Huh? Come again? The expanded version of King’s quote talks about not going into your cave and forgetting about your family and friends and the outside world. That writing is fine, but don’t sacrifice everything to do it. Basically, what I get from good ol’ Mr. King is that write, write a lot, but don’t be an ass about it.

Easy for him to say. He’s Stephen frickin’ King.

In the end, though, I think the Elizabeth Gilbert interview is saying something similar. Basically it says “Don’t quit your day job. But find work that still allows you to write.”

The reality is, the writing life is one of crushing dedication and it takes time, mountains of time, oceans of minutes, a Mount Everest of seconds, years of slavery. Or maybe not. It sure seems like it does for most of us.

So do we write to live, or live to write, and what is the difference?

Again, I don’t understand the question. Do I choose to write? Or did writing choose me? How much freedom do I have?

I think it comes down to how I want to use my minutes. We’ll be dead soon. I mean, soonish, probably, but you never know. I could be eaten by rabid mutant Chihuahuas from outer space in the next ten minutes.

How do I want to use my minutes before I feel their teeth?

I love stories. I have always loved stories, and I like crafting them, and I like the pain of editing, the sorrow of marketing, and the whips of the reviewers. Call me sick and twisted, but I do. Or have I learned to love it?

The Muslim poetess Rabia wrote that she was born when she learned to love what she most feared.

At the end of the day, the dream I have of being the world-famous writer remains. But more and more, I’m seeing success is a big, huge open word and I have the power to choose if I’m successful or not. At every stage of the game. No matter what other people think.

So, to pursue this dream, how much should I sacrifice to write?

I think a better question is, what should I sacrifice to write? Friends? Family? My health? No. Mindless TV, video games, and pictures of kittens on the internet? Yes.

In the end, I need to choose what to sacrifice, and I have sacrificed to write the books I’ve written. I’ve had the same job for seventeen years. I’m still in the same house. Same wife and kids. I’ve chosen a stable life, dreary and dull, that gives me the time to write, because, again, it all comes down to minutes and how I want to use them.

Though I do love those internet kittens. Lord, I do.

That Fleeting Magic

By Colleen Oakes

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It happened last night, in the middle of a long day of writing, editing and brain-storming.  My writing buddy  and I had hunkered down for a five hour session of hammering out the problems in our respective novels. Seriously, it's such a perfect working relationship that it's a little scary.  This is how we do it: first, the good - then, the bad, which takes about five times longer than the good.  Peter's voice needs work. Damien needs feelings.  Comments range from "I LITERALLY hate your mountain range" to "I don't like or respect sexy aliens" Back and forth and back and forth it went.

At the end of our session, I was struggling with the ending of my current novel. It's a very complicated climax, with a lot of specific plot devices that have to happen just at the right time, in the right order and getting that order just right is terribly tripping me up at the moment.  I'm nowhere near the end, but I need to have my ducks in a row to proceed from this point on. I've arrived at a place in the story where I need to know origin stories - and the endgame.

So, we were at Udi's eating delicious pizza and humus when it happened.  At that point we had spent about 5 hours dissecting and editing and I was running over the plot for my novel out loud, in my head, and chasing down every thread that occurred.  To me sometimes, the best way to figure out where a story is going is just to push it down every possible dark alleyway and see what comes out. I was missing something from the climax.  I knew that something KEY was missing.  So we were running over scenarios, one by one and then I had it. A sliver of an idea.  A tiny sliver, a slip of a thing, a whisper of something big.

We discussed it.  Then, our voices rose, and started overlapping. We followed the string into the dark alley and kept following it. We started getting excited and then, we were yelling and high fiving and I'm pretty sure the table behind us thought we were totally drunk seeing how we were talking magic and pirates and musical instruments.

It was a moment, just a moment of pure creation.

Afterwards, even on the drive home as I recapped it minute by minute to my VERY lucky husband, I was still buzzing, my skin feeling like it was on fire, my brain alive and awake and flooded with adrenaline.  When you write with that kind of inspirational heat that is as rare as an eclipse, the story flows out of you like water, the best kind of drowning.

Sometimes people ask me why I write.  Most of the time, it's because I like sipping on a hot beverage and simultaneously trying not to bang my head against a keyboard. But when it's magic like this, it's a job that is so much more than a job. It's creating a living and breathing thing that can surprise, delight and frustrate you.  Honestly, it's a lot like parenting.

And when that inspirational lightning strikes, and your story falls into place like an elaborate puzzle, it's one of the best moments that a writer can have.

It might only happen once or twice a book, but when it does, it's pure, unfiltered ecstasy.

Magic.

The Road to Accomplishing Your Goals

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Even if you are firmly entrenched in one path to publication like traditional publishing, you won't find your journey is a straight line. Even those writers who sell their first book to the very first editor their agent approaches, often look back on the way they became an author and are surprised at how winding the road was.

Which makes this the best time in history to be a writer. The options to becoming a writer are immense, as are the ways to publication. My advice, never judge your own journey by that of another. Compare it, sure. Use it, definitely.  But avoid judging your progress by someone else's, especially since the roadblocks and detours you face are very different, as are your writing, your goals, and your needs.

So let's talk a little about those detours and ways in which you can become an author, other than or within traditional publishing or self-publishing, that you might not have thought about.

I'm going to begin with a story about my own path to becoming an author and how different it was from what I expected, which was...I had no clue. I just knew I wanted to see my book at Barnes & Noble. I was naive to the publishing game.

Boy have I learned a lot since my first conference in 2007.

Only 10 books ago (or for those who count in years, 8 of those suckers), which feels like a lifetime ago, I first started to consider a career as a writer.

And why not? I had one brand new spanking, shiny manuscript under my belt and was pretty sure it would be a book by Christmas that year. This was in June, mind you. I was deluded, so sure that publishing was a one step process. Lucky for me, this was also a time when indie or self-publishing was looked at like one does a fan of Dan Brown.

If self-publishing would've been an option like it is today, I would've jumped on it after my 300th rejection email appeared in my inbox. Sadly I had to wait another 700 rejection letters (or 3 years in regular people counting) for my first book to be sold, by me at a RMFW conference.

The thing was, I had an agent. And this wasn't the first book I'd tried to sell. This was the 5th book I'd written. I'd paid my dues (at least I thought I had). I'd done everything I was supposed to do on the traditional publishing linear path. Which went something like, write great book, get agent, sell book to big six publishing house. I'd gotten an agent. I'd suffered through editorial boards. And yet, I hadn't sold a book.

And now I had. By myself.

Of course the agent was very helpful come contract time but that's another horror story and we don't have time for me to break down in tears.

But you see my point, there are more ways than that one straight line for traditional publishing. Think about the authors you know. How many of them fit into the linear path? Maybe one or two. So on the traditional publishing path, we have agent/editor/book, and we can add editor/book. Many houses, with the exception of most of the Big 5 publishers, do accept unagented queries.

You could also smack talk your way to a book deal as social media explodes around us. I know plenty of bloggers who now have book deals because of the platform they built on their blogs. I bet you know of one too. Anyone every heard of Orange is the New Black? Well, the writer, Piper Chapmen, was a blogger who sold her story as a book and then later as the award winning Netflix show.

Which brings me to yet another path, do a sex tape... Pam Anderson of the famed Tommy Lee sex tape published a book in 2004.

Now I'm not saying that's your best bet, mind you...

But celebrity does help.

Okay, let's move on to networking your way to the top. Making friends can get you a book deal. I've seen it happen. Writers become friends with agents or editors, the writer writes a damn good book, and gets it in front of her friends. They love it and already know they love him or her, and the writer is now an author.

Don't discount networking with other writers. That can be just as fruitful. Writers will give their agents and editors referrals and often that referral holds enough weight to get a contract.

Other traditional publishing paths you might not have considered are mid-sized or smaller presses. You probably won't get a huge advance, but they, in my experience, can be better to work with. You are allowed more control over what your book will look like once it's published. Article, serials, and magazine writing can open doors for you. Non-fiction and creative non-fiction are also ways to get published.

All these things, no matter what path, assume you already have a great, polished book. Without that, the path to publication will be very bumpy.

Let's talk about self-publishing options for a moment. I am a hybrid author, meaning I write for traditional publishers as well as have my own self-publishing empire (though it's a very small empire at that). I am a firm believer in self-publishing. I know how hard it is to get a book published the traditional way, especially when it's a book not quite in the mainstream. Short story collects for example. Very few publishers want them.

Self-publishing is as viable an option as traditional publishing if you are looking to get your book into the world. I'm not going to go over the pros and cons of each, just know that there are many for both, and to explore your best option when deciding which path you want to take.

So some of the self-publishing oaths you can take are 'self' self publishing, by which I mean, doing everything on your own. You edit or hire an editor (which is my suggestion), you do the book cover or again hire someone, you do the formatting or hire someone. This DYI approach is a great option if you have the time and abilities.

For those that don't. You can go through a vanity or boutique press, but be very careful. They tend to be expensive and the contracts can be very tricky. When you self-publish, no matter how you do, make sure you retain the rights.

If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about your publishing journey. How did you get a book deal, or self-publish your book? If you haven't done either yet, what road do you think you'll follow?

 

You can learn more about me and get a free ebook at www.jakazimer.com or friend me on facebook.

 

Why was this scene cut?

By Janet Lane

I saw a terrific movie yesterday, An American Sniper. The director, Clint Eastwood, made a surprising decision that triggered thoughts about, “Show, don’t tell.” It’s the mantra for story telling, and for good reason. Because we all write and read different genres, I’ll mention major movies. Imagine if the slaughtered horse head-in-a-bed scene had not been included in The Godfather. Or the nude sketch scene in Titanic. The shower scene in Psycho. Or when Dr. Zhivago sees Laura through the streetcar window and suffers a fatal heart attack before he can reach her?

All levels of writers know this principle, yet it can be difficult to master.

In Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham explains the purpose of scenes. His first three points:
1. The goal of each scene must relate to the story question.
2. The conflict must be about the goal.
3. The conflict must be with another person, not internally, within oneself.

This is helpful when determining when to write a scene, and when narrative summary will be the best option.

Telling gives the reader essential knowledge that keeps the reader informed, and able to grasp the significance of the scene/s that immediately follow.

If the protagonist is to insult someone, the reader needs to know the stakes and penalties, so s/he can worry. Not an,“It was the best of times and the worst of times” sweeping global overview, but concise details specific to your story.

If the scene is affected by current conditions, it could be a capsule historical overview at the beginning of the story. Here’s an overview from my latest release, Traitor’s Moon: "Poor England was sliding into civil war as the Duke of York prepared to fight King Henry VI for the throne. Roads weren’t safe to travel, and this moonless night made them the more dangerous."

It could be situational, unique to the protagonist.
"Stephen’s family already had their feet to the fire with alliances unsavory to the crown."

Attempting to “show” either of these developments would take chapters, but it’s backstory. Sometimes an isolated piece of backstory is dramatized in a Prologue, but the key here is to avoid “isolated.” If backstory is introduced as a prologue, it must be brief and connected and vital to the protagonist, or the writer risks losing the reader in the first or second page.

Examples of prologues that worked: Beauty and the Beast, a compact narrative voice-over (telling) that explained details of the Beast’s past cruelty and how he deserved the subsequent curse. Contrast that with the decision James Cameron made in Titanic, when he chose to “show” and created “book ends” to frame the story. Book End number one launched the story, dramatizing the moment when an elderly Rose sees the nude portrait of herself as a young woman on a newscast. Rose’s backstory is then presented in a flashback—on a fascinating stage--when she arrives on the boat and we learn basic facts about her engagement and her family’s financial troubles.

Showing vs. telling engages the mind of the reader. Our job is to draw the reader into the story world. Second, it leaves an indelible stamp on the reader’s memory. When shown well, it’s as if we personally experienced the event. It creates a memorable story, always our goal.

It takes extra effort. Again from Traitor’s Moon, it’s easy to say,
"Nicole thought she was ugly."

That’s acceptable for a first draft, but to engage the reader, show, don’t tell.
"Katherine was flawless, a testament to all that women
strive to be, something Nicole could never be with all her
six feet of bones and angles, and lack of all things feminine."

There are mundane, uninteresting moments of life that should not be shown or told.
*When your protagonist is driving to the store during normal weather and traffic (detailed, distracting travelogue)
* When your protag is dressing normally (not strapping a bomb on his chest, of course).

These slice-of-life events have been coined “cigarette actions” because they bring to mind the predictable order of the process: taking a deep drag, exhaling it into rings, and tapping the ashes in to the ashtray.

Returning to the movie, An American Sniper, Eastwood avoided starting his movie with a “prologue.” He started it in real time, a life-and-death moment in which the protagonist has to make a horrifying decision. Only after he totally hooked the audience with this tense scene did he begin a prologue-type sequence of three quick scenes that economically established the origins of the protagonist’s deeply held beliefs. As discussed in Vogler’s The Writing Journey in the chapter on Ordinary World, Eastwood’s prologue didn’t take on an “ordinary” Ordinary World such as, “Born in Chicago, youngest of twelve, average student, had measles at nine, etc.” Eastwood only provided essential details unique to the protagonist--and directly related to his inner story—which showed what made him the man he was.

There was also a point in the movie where I was surprised that Eastwood omitted a very dramatic moment. This is not a spoiler! I’ll just say that a major scene was not dramatized.

Why?

Eastwood demonstrated his firm grasp of story by showing (foreshadowing) in the previous scene, the off-camera action that followed. Would the omitted scene have elicited deeper emotions than the penultimate scene? I welcome your comments, but please avoid including any spoiler information so others can view the film and see for themselves this unusual treatment of “show vs. tell."

Nailing Voice

By Robin D. Owens

I watched that reality show, The Voice. I especially like the blind auditions and observing how the coaches work with people – because I like seeing professionals practice their craft in other disciplines, and I wonder if I can use this or that technique in mine.

To be honest, though I LOVE music, and writing to music, I prefer no vocals to distract me. And though I've watched the show since it began and am learning the terminology for singing and the music business, I don't consider that I have a good ear. For singing.

But for writing? Yes, I can usually spot when someone has nailed their voice.

THE main thing in writing is also VOICE. It's that uniqueness that only you can bring to the page. The way you structure your words, the way you put together your sentences, the characters you swagger across the page . . . simply, the way your mind works.

And when it works, the reader knows it.

All our backgrounds are different, depending where and when we grew up, our social strata and how our parents and peers talked (for instance, I never heard my parents use the f-word – ever, and my father grew up lower class in Denver with three brothers). So the words you use will be different than even your best friend's. Your world view is your own, and with that view, you will craft the worlds, whether it is contemporary Denver, historical Mississippi, or Space Station Zebra, that you want to explore, and that you want others to explore.

Usually it takes a while to find your voice, to refine it, then to keep true to it. I know that mumbledy-mumble years ago, when I began seriously writing, the leader of my first critique group had me check out a packet from the RMFW library on Voice (yes, it was that long ago). This packet had a couple of books and conference lecture tapes (WAY long ago). At the time I was a little miffed, because I thought I'd found my voice. But after going home and writing a scene in my favorite author's style, I realized I wasn't quite there. So I read the books and listened to the tapes.

I also remember being scolded for using cliches. I once wrote "we were ships passing in the night." So, the next time critique group met, it was: "We were ships, passing in the night. But he was a nuclear sub and I was a clipper..."

Yes, you may start out writing robotic characters that fizzle, cliches that sound new but are so old that a reader never wants to see them again (like "strappy sandals"). Paragraphs strung together that might be found in any new writer's books, published or unpublished (my first manuscript is staying firmly in the drawer). But as you write and as you grow as a writer and as you READ, you will find that voice.

Even if your everyday voice isn't the one you use when you write, if you craft lyrical sentences, or you polish or pare down until the words on the page are closest to the images in your head (or the voices in your ears), you will find your original voice and use it, and that's what will keep the readers coming back.

And that's what I want to remind you of this month, that you have a voice that is only yours. Characters that only you can imagine, your plot that will twist this or that way.

Find your voice, let it grow and change as it needs to, and stay true to it, because that's why people will want to read YOUR stories.

May all your writing dreams come true.
Robin

Don’t “Gag” on your Publishing Contract

Today's guest post relates to a topic I'm seeing more than I'd like to in the publishing lawyer side of my day: contracts containing a "nondisclosure" clause which prohibits the author from discussing the publisher--or the author's relationship with the publisher--in public.

Too many authors sign these contracts without an understanding of industry standards -- or the fact that this kind of nondisclosure clause gives the publisher far more power than it deserves. As a result, I want to shed some light on these clauses, and why they're bad news for the author.

Nondisclosure is not the same as "confidentiality."

Some contracts contain a "confidentiality" clause which states that the parties (if mutual) or one party (negotiate for mutuality whenever possible) cannot disclose the other party's "confidential information" in public without permission from the party which owns the information. This is more common in business and employment contracts, which often involve the disclosure of business methods and proprietary information (like software), than in publishing.

If you work for a company which owns proprietary information or uses trade secrets, you've probably seen this kind of clause before. It appears in employment contracts, contractor agreements, and "nondisclosure agreements" (also known as NDA's).

Confidentiality provisions don't make sense in the publishing context the way they do in business. In publishing, the author's information (the manuscript) is supposed to become public (that's what publishing means, yo) and the publisher generally doesn't share trade secrets or other confidential information with authors. Therefore, there's really no reason for confidentiality provisions.

However, sometimes publishers do include a confidentiality clause in publishing agreements. A "standard" confidentiality clause should always be mutual and should state that neither party to the contract can disclose the other party's legally protectable trade secrets and proprietary information without the permission of the party that owns that information. Although obnoxious, this kind of clause isn't necessarily a deal breaker -- as long as it's not overly broad and relates only to certain kinds of "legally protectable" confidential information.

Even so, I'd suggest you ask the publisher to remove it.

If you see a confidentiality clause in your contract, don't sign without an attorney or an agent reviewing the contract and either negotiating it out or letting you know that the wording and content isn't a trap.

By contrast, "Nondisclosure" provisions are contract clauses which prohibit one or both parties from any public discussion of either: (a) the terms of the contract, or (b) their relationship.

General "nondisclosure" provisions do not belong in a publishing contract.

Good publishers don't want to stifle the author's ability to talk about the publisher or the publishing process. Publishers would prefer that authors spoke about them in a positive way, of course--and authors should behave professionally in public whether or not a contract requires it. However, it's dangerous for the author, and for publishing generally, for publishers to try to stifle the author's freedom of speech.

Publishers can attempt to enforce a general nondisclosure provision in ways which prevent the author from speaking out if the publisher fails to comply with its contractual obligations. Sometimes, these clauses can be invoked to stop the author from mentioning when the publisher behaves inappropriately, or to prohibit authors from warning others away from the publishing house.

Overreaching nondisclosure provisions can be used to prohibit the author from speaking either in public (e.g., on blogs or social media) or in private - meaning that the author is completely barred from discussing the publishing house in any way without the publisher's permission (which publishers like this usually grant only for purposes of advertising the author's book and experience in positive ways).

If you're offered a contract which contains a nondisclosure provision, ask the publisher to remove it. If the publisher refuses, be willing to walk away--or to hire an attorney or agent to negotiate on your behalf.

Don't let yourself get stuck in a situation where you have no power to speak about your experiences. Insist on industry-standard contract terms which don't prohibit you from discussing your publishing experience. If you're not sure what that entails, or how to ensure you've obtained it, don't sign anything without an agent or lawyer reviewing the contract on your behalf.

Finally, remember: HAVING NO DEAL AT ALL IS BETTER THAN HAVING AN UNFAIR DEAL OR A DEAL YOU REGRET. 

This can be difficult to remember in the heat of the moment, or when your dream appears to be on the verge of coming true, but remember: Bad contract language can turn that dream-come-true into a waking nightmare. Keep your business wits about you and insist on a contract that respects your legal rights as well as the publisher's interests.

What do you think about confidentiality in publishing?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

When You Can’t Do All The Things

By Kerry Schafer

I don't have an award wall or a bunch of trophies. I've never been first in my class and wasn't in the running for valedictorian in either college or high school. I've never even been employee of the month.

Since I am an overachiever at heart I always see myself as a bit of a failure.

I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I am a functioning adult with a steady job, good credit scores, well adjusted kids, and a relationship in good standing. And then I go on to reassure myself that yes, this is enough. I don't have to be the mother of the year or the star employee or anything other than myself.

When it comes to writing and publishing, I'm particularly hard on myself. It's not enough to just be published - I want to be successful. And most days successful seems like a moving target I'm never going to hit. I'm not even sure what it means to be successful in publishing. How many books do I have to sell before I can call myself a success? What kind of advance do I need to get, how many loyal fans would need to line up at book signings for an autograph?

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is no number that would satisfy my thirst for perfection. But I have to try, right? And this means not just writing a perfect book, it means writing it in the perfect genre at the perfect time and submitting it to the perfect editor on the perfect day.

It also means I need to become a marketing expert.

Have you paid any attention to marketing lately? There is a staggering amount of advice out there. Different writers and marketing experts advocate for different approaches. Most insist that it is essential to do All The Things they recommend. If there was only one marketing guru out there this might work out okay, but there are hundreds, and they all have their very own You Must Do list.

If I live to be a hundred and spend all day every day pursuing All The Things recommended for novel marketing, I would still fail. This is a sobering thought, equivalent to the first of the twelve steps.

I, Kerry Schafer, acknowledge that I am powerless to do All The Things.

Last week this realization, combined with the challenge of simultaneously working on two projects with tight timelines while still putting in full time hours at the day job, knocked me on my butt. I felt very close to despair, in fact. Since I couldn't possibly do All The Things, I actively chose to do None of the Things.

This did not serve to make me feel better.

And then I had a small epiphany. I've been working with a lovely deck of Self-Care cards designed by Cheryl Richardson. The other morning I drew this card:

independence

I very nearly drew another card for the day. Independence is not something I struggle with. I do a lot of things on my own and tend to be outside of popular opinion a lot. But I turned it over to read the thought that goes with the picture:

decide

I don't like making decisions. What if I make the WRONG one? Because God knows that there is always a perfect decision and the whole world will probably fall apart if I fail to make the right choice. So the more I thought about this card, the more I felt like I'd been handed a gift.

What if making a choice were not a difficult and unwelcome task, but a right. A privilege. What if the right to choose applies to that impossible list of things to do for marketing?

Since then I've been looking at the lists of All The Things with a lot less anxiety and making selections based on personal comfort level, finances, and time. My choice might not be the one you would make, or that the marketing expert would make. It might not be the choice that will launch me into the circle of success, wherever that is.

But it makes a lot of sense and fits a certain trajectory: My life. My writing. My books. My career. My choices.

Maybe success or failure isn't the point at all, in the end, in which case doing Some of The Things is more than enough.