Tag Archives: writing

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

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.

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

You Need Critique

By Lesley L. Smith

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

There's a stereotype of the writer hammering away on her typewriter late into the night in a cold lonely garret in Paris. Okay, nowadays, she's stereotypically hammering on her computer keyboard. Maybe she's wearing those gloves with the fingertips missing. Maybe she's drinking bourbon or scotch or rye. In pretty much every scenario, however, she's writing alone. That part of the stereotype is true. (Why can't it be the Paris part?) Generally, writers write alone. That's why we need feedback. We need someone else to put his or her eyes on the page and tell us if what we've written makes sense (and to warn us about wandering body parts). Another word for feedback is critique.

Like many of you, I've been writing a long time. It wasn't until I became a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) and joined a critique group that my writing really started to improve. It's hard to see our own work objectively. Getting input from your significant other, your BFF, or your mom is not the same thing as getting input from another writer. Your friends support you by saying nice things. Your fellow writers support you by critiquing your work.

There are many reasons to join a critique group:

  • Get feedback on your writing. Find out what works and what doesn't work in your own pieces. Learn about the mechanics of writing. Learn about the art of writing.
  • Get to know other writers. Be part of the writing community. Help other writers become better writers.
  • Experience those "Ah ha!" moments. When you have to stop and think and explain to another writer why something works or doesn't work it often leads to an increased understanding about writing.
  • Meet writing deadlines. If I'm being honest, usually the only reason I finish my pages for the week is because they're due at critique group.
  • Your reason here. There are almost as many reasons to go to critique group as there are writers. Please share in the comments.

Of course, it's not all wine and roses. Sometimes you go to a critique group and it's not a good fit. But, if this is the case, there's an easy fix: leave the group and find another group.

Another thing to keep is mind is you don't have to change your work because of critique, it's your work, after all. Listen, consider, and then, do what you want.

How can you find this wonderful thing called critique?

  • Many local libraries and bookstores have critique groups.
  • There are a lot of critique groups online these days (search for "online writers critique groups"). Also check out Meet-ups.
  • I've met critique partners at local writers workshops and conferences.
  • Many local Writers Groups have critique groups. For example, RMFW has an entire critique webpage, including critique guidelines and listings of critique groups in the Denver metro area and online.

Please ask your questions about critique and critique groups in the comments.

Finally, I couldn't write a post about critique without including a shout-out to my many critique partners over the years. There have been a lot--and, no, I'm not reading anything into that. :) Thank you for all your help! Thank you Rebecca, Grayson, Jamie, Adrianne, Donna, John, Jim, Mary, Emily, Deb, Mike, Susan, Joseph, Monica, Barb, Nancy, Judy, Zuzana, Jill, Jordan, Dave, Betsy, Renata, Georgia and all the rest. I sincerely appreciate your help, support and insight! Maybe we should have our next meeting in Paris?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lesley L. Smith has an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and her short
fiction has been published in various venues. She's an active member of
the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction
Writers. You can find her on the web at www.lesleylsmith.com.

Do You Need To Warm-Up Your Writing?

By Colleen Oakes

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The other day I was trying to explain to someone why I can't write for just two hours.  In two hours, I can do a lot of things. I can clean a house, take my toddler to the park, watch a movie. But I can't write.  Sure, I can put words on a page, but I know in my heart that they will be tired words, useless words.  At the very most, my hope would be to accomplish two pages of barren junk with a pretty good ending.

It took me a long time to realize how I write, and even longer to realize that I need to warm up. At first I regarded having to warm up as a weakness, but later came to the understanding that knowing intimately EXACTLY how I write was a strength. Denying what makes you great as a writer will hurt your career more than it will ever hurt your pride.

So - what exactly is warming up for a writer?

I could use a sports metaphor here, but I'm not going to.  To quote Mindy Kaling: "Athletics and sporting are the great non-loves of my life."  Instead, let's compare it to vocal music.  When a musician prepares to give the world her contribution to the wild beauty of art, she warms up.  A Met lead soprano wouldn't dare step on a stage without warming up her instrument.  If she did, her performance would be sub-par vocally, but also her nerves would overtake her senses more easily, seeing how she had not run the piece ahead of time.  More devastatingly, the joy of the performance would be lowered, for both the singer and the audience. The art would suffer in the end.

So - let's have a frank conversation - are you as a writer struggling because of your lack of warm up?

Do you spend a lot of time staring a blank screen, grasping at lose concepts? 

Do you struggle with finding the right word for complicated sentences? 

Are you spending massive time distracted by the internet or "research?"

Do you spend more time planning your plot than actually writing?

Does your writing tend to be rambling with short bursts of inspiration? 

If these apply to you, then I would think about how you warm up your instrument: your pen. Or keyboard. Or blackboard. Or whatever.

First, remember that you are starting on the ground level. You are ramping up to greatness.  Let your words RISE, like yeasty bread in the morning.  Warm-up writing should be simple, clean and easy.  You won't get stuck on a warm-up because it's impossible. Think of it as laying the road that you will later travel on.  Write a blog, an entry in a personal journal or a letter, heck, even an email to a friend.  What matters is that you are turning on the part of your brain that says "it's time to write."  By doing this, you push open your creative doors and prepare to stroll through them.  And don't worry about quality  -you'll face the hurdles later when you are working on your real writing.  Right now is all about enjoyable, brainless writing.   Fire up the engines, stoke those inspirational flames and go.

How long should you warm up?  I would say that depends on what kind of writer you are. I warm up for about an hour before I begin working on my novels.  I have found that my best writing occurs when I have about a five hour writing stretch. Anything less than that is not within my peak writing abilities, and anything more than that starts to get messy and tired - I see it when I edit, every time. "Oh yes, here is where I timed out."  Everyone writes different, and so you should be able to tell when you are sufficiently warmed up.  Maybe five minutes works for you, maybe two hours of warming up is what you need to have two brilliant hours of word craft.  Are the sentences flying fast and furious? Is your brain tingling with great ideas, story concepts? Are your fingers dashing out words like they are moving on their own.

Good. Now you are in the good writing zone. You've warmed up your writing voice and you are ready to share your gift.  Step out on the stage and wow us.

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Colleen Oakes is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Bestselling Elly in Bloom Series, The Queen of Hearts Saga (Harper Collins 2016) and The Wendy Darling Saga. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son and surrounds herself with the most lovely family and friends imaginable. When not writing or plotting new books, Colleen can be found swimming, traveling, blogging, decluttering or totally immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She currently at work on the final Elly novel and her next YA fantasy series.


Enough with the resolutions. It’s time for a revolution.

By Terri Benson

Unsinkable-finalI’ve been reading blogs and articles, seeing TV advertisements, and generally being inundated by the need for New Year’s resolutions. Lose weight. Go back to school. Start a new job. Everyone must strive to be better. Because clearly, I’m not as good as I should be, according to “them.”

Well, I’ve had it with “them.” I’m not going to resolve to do anything. What I am going to do, is start my own little revolution.

Instead of doing what others tell me to do, I’m going to fight against the tide. I don’t need a new and better me. I’m OK as I am. I’m happy. I’m healthy. At my age, I’m pretty much done with going to school. I will never be Cindy Crawford no matter how much weight I lose—and my husband loves me anyway. As far as a new job—the one I have will do just fine, unless or until I find one that makes me happier. I don’t need to have a new career.

I don’t need to learn all the new technology; to Tweet, Blog, FaceBook and Pinterest on a daily basis. I don’t have to read every blog, Tweet or post that shows up on my social media. I don’t have to accept every LinkedIn request.

My revolution also encompasses my writing. Because while I’m not going to go back to school, I want to learn to write better. But I don’t need to resolve to do that, because writing is as much a part of me as breathing and I’ll never get enough of reading good words, and working to put good words on paper. I don’t need someone to tell me to write “X” number of words a day. I just need to write when, and what, makes me happy. Writers, like alcoholics trying to quit, can’t be made to write by anyone but ourselves.

So the revolution I propose, and you’re welcome to join me, is a “Let’s just be happy and healthy, and remember that we’re writers because we want to be, not let anyone tell us there’s only one way to do it” revolution.

My banner will be a ripped-off cover of Strunk and White, because rules are made to be broken. And I will decide if and when I’ll submit my work, if I’m ready to market it up one side and down the other, and most of all, I’ll decide if I need to envy great writers or be devastated if I don’t get “the call.” Because being happy is really all that’s important.

Are you with me?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Terri Benson2As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer; she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

Writing as a J.O.B.

By Robin D. Owens

Some quick bits of advice for the new writer (or reminders for the experienced, though I expect them to just nod, because they know this and don't need to be reminded).

1) Writing is work and it can be hard. Even if your original words spring from a wonderful inspired rush, there is still dealing with agents, editors, reviewers. If you're e-published, there is a mountain of decisions to be made about covers and editing and promo, promo, promo.

I remember when I realized writing was work. I was revising my first book (which I'd written one summer without benefit of critique). I was so new I had a writing buddy (who has since quit) so we could check out our writing BEFORE taking it to our critique group so we didn't embarrass ourselves.

It was Saturday morning and I was not a morning person. I met my friend at a place across town at 7 a.m. and we read each other's scenes. Hers was fine. Mine, that I'd spent hours writing and revising was: "This is great but it doesn't belong in the book." Hours. Mental anguish finding just the right word. Gone forever. Writing, and making a career of writing is not JUST fun.

No, writing is not police work or firefighting, or other physically or emotionally taxing professions, but, yes, it can be hard. As the late, wonderful Rick Hanson said, "Writing is the hardest thing I've ever done, and I was in VietNam." Or, as Steven Moores says: "If writing was easy Ernest Hemingway wouldn't have shot himself in the head with a shotgun."

Note: only three of the ten-twelve of us in that original group are still writing.

2) Ten thousand hours, a million words before your craft is honed. Yes, really. Everyone thinks they can write a book, and write one easily, and (if you are lucky), easy books will come. But this is a craft, a profession, a job like anything else. Whatever hours you put into training for your day job or regular career will have to be worked in writing, too.

Sometimes when I have problems I haul myself and computer to a local coffee shop. One day I was there, and when I powered up and the word processing program came online, it showed my formatted work. I think I had printed pages of revisions beside me, maybe some promo for my last books.

A woman sitting at the next table with three other women (a book club, I think) slanted me a glance and said to her friends, "You remember when we all decided to write a book last year?" Yes, they did, and they talked about the experience. They'd thought it would be easy. No one had gotten to Chapter 3.

3) Don't depend on inspiration to show up before you write. Some days pages will plink out word by word like drops of blood wrung from your brain and heart, slit from your wrist to hit the keyboard with your fingers. If you are good enough, your readers won't be able to tell which words originated from your flushed inspiration and those that dribbled out.

I attend a writing retreat in South Carolina every year, and one year a woman showed up who'd written an award-winning children's book. She'd done that on a fabulous wave of inspiration. She was taking this time to free her mind so she could repeat the process. She spent all that week waiting for the inspiration and it didn't come. I don't think she's ever written anything since.

Stephen King writes about his muses, the boys in the basement. Show up every day at the same time, and the guys will be more likely to show up, too. For me, that means that if you sit down, and your brain and body know you're going to work, it can be easier to do.

Discipline is important. Put your butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard and write. If fabulous literary words don't come, write workman-like sentences. If workman-like sentences don't come, write whatever does. Give yourself permission to write crap. You can always revise.

You CAN do it!

Go forth and WRITE GOOD STUFF!

For Your “Consideration” – Royalties in Anthology Contracts

This month's RMFW #PubLaw post continues our ongoing series on writing for anthologies. Specifically, it's time to show me the money - and look at royalties in the anthology world.

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When it Comes to Royalties, Anthologies Vary. Know the Terms Before You Commit.

Some anthologies pay contributing authors a royalty on copies sold. Some anthologies do not. Always ask--and get a clear answer--about the royalty structure before you agree to contribute your work to an anthology. Also, make certain your contract states, with clarity, how sales proceeds will be handled and whether or not you receive a royalty share. If the anthology doesn't pay royalties to authors, the contract should state who receives the money earned on anthology sales.

What Does it Mean if the Contract Says I Receive "Consideration"?

"Consideration" is the legal term for value a person receives in return for entering into a contract. By law, consideration can be money, rights, an exchange of promises, or a unicorn--essentially, any (legally permitted) object or value the person signing the contract agrees to accept. One court famously stated that "even a peppercorn will do" if that's what the signatories to the deal agree on.

In many publishing contracts, the "consideration" is money, but where the author is not receiving royalties on sales of the work, the anthology language may look something like this:

CONSIDERATION, AUTHOR COPIES. Consideration of the Work for possible publication in the Anthology and, if appropriate, inclusion of the Work in the Anthology constitutes the full and complete compensation due to Author by [Publisher], under this Agreement or otherwise. No additional compensation is due Author whether or not [Publisher] ever Publishes, distributes, markets, or sells any copies of the Anthology. If the Work appears in the Anthology, [Publisher] will also provide Author with [some real number of] complimentary copies of the first edition of the Anthology, in printed format, after publication. Author acknowledges that no royalties are due, payable, or owed to Author on sales of the Anthology, regardless of the number of copies of the Anthology produced, printed, and/or sold. All receipts, revenues and profits from the Anthology will belong to [Publisher] exclusively.

Note that the language includes the important elements mentioned above:

1. What the author receives: "inclusion in the Anthology (if appropriate) and author copies." This is the author's consideration.

2. Whether or not the author receives royalties (here, no): "no royalties are due, payable or owed to Author..."

3. Who does receive the money earned on sales of the anthology: "All receipts, revenues and profits...belong to [Publisher] exclusively."

The contract may also allow the author to purchase copies of the anthology at a reduced price, and may specify whether or not the author can re-sell those copies at a profit.

Whether or Not to Participate in Non-Royalty-Bearing Anthologies is a Business Decision for the Author Alone.

If you ask three different people whether or not you should publish your work in a non-royalty bearing anthology, you'll get at least three different answers (more, if one of them is a lawyer).

Sometimes, it makes business sense to participate in a non-royalty bearing anthology.

People do die of "exposure," but for authors seeking a jumpstart publishing credit, anthologies may offer a chance for the kind of exposure that earns revenue by another means. Publication alongside more established authors exposes the newer author to readers who may then purchase the newer author's works as well.

Sometimes, non-royalty bearing anthologies provide a financial benefit to important nonprofit organizations. Contributing to these anthologies helps authors "give back" to groups that provide education and other helpful services to the larger community--and contributing work on a non-royalty bearing basis allows the author to contribute to the nonprofit's activities.

Finally, non-royalty bearing anthologies may offer an author a chance to participate in a project with other like-minded authors in circumstances which were never designed to generate a profit. Some groups publish anthologies at cost, or free of charge, as a service to certain communities or to readers. In this case, the author knows from the start (and the contract should state) that the anthology will be sold "At cost" and that its existence is not intended to generate significant profits. (Note: even here, the contract should state what happens to any profits or proceeds the anthology does generate.)

Some authors never contribute to anything which doesn't pay royalties. Others may choose to publish in non-royalty bearing projects now and then. As long as you know up front what kind of situation you're entering into, the choice is yours--and yours alone--and you should treat it as a business decision, taking all of the relevant facts and circumstances into account.

Has your work been published in an anthology? How do you feel about royalties in anthology situations?

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.

Luck and Timing

By Mary Gillgannon

“How lucky do you feel you are?” My first editor asked me that question as we were discussing promotion for my second book. She went on to say that for most of the successful authors she knew, luck had played an important part in their careers. Her advice was to do “as much promotion as you need to do to feel in control”. Her words were a huge relief to me, as I had little time or money to spend on promotion back then.

My sense of luck being the deciding factor has not decreased over the years. The people I know who have been most successful are talented and hard-working, yes. But no more talented than other authors who saw their careers stall and sometimes fizzle away altogether. The key has always been writing the right kind of book at the right time. In other words, luck.

Now with the changes in the publishing world, there are other “factors of chance”, as I was reminded by a recent article in The New York Times. The article discussed the impact of the Kindle Unlimited program on indie authors and profiled an author named Kathryn Le Veque. Le Veque has published 44 ebooks and until recently was selling 6,000 ebooks a month. Although the main point of the article was that with Kindle Unlimited, Le Veque has had to lower prices to maintain her income and sell more books for fewer dollars, there were other intriguing details revealed in the profile: Le Veque has been writing fiction for over 35 years and had created a huge stockpile of books. For 28 years, she submitted her books to traditional publishers and had them rejected. But then she started self-publishing and was so successful she was able to quit her day job after three months and write full-time. Despite her enormous body of work, to maintain her sales, she has to keep churning them out, and to help her, she has hired a part-time editor and two part-time assistants.

Like most success stories, this is a case of luck, or good fortune, or whatever you want to call it. This particular author’s ability to publish a large number of books at one time, and rapidly write more, is a large part of her success. But that strategy of writing one book after another failed her for 28 years. Then Amazon came along and it was a perfect storm: a market that was hungry for books and that allowed her to directly reach the sub-group of readers who read her genre, plus her huge stockpile of product and ability to keep producing it quickly.

Most of the successful indie authors I know, and a fair number of the traditionally published ones as well, have a similar strategy: write fast and write series, multiple linked books that appeal to a specific group of readers. But being able to do that is a matter of luck. Even if I quit my day job and did nothing else, I could not write six, eight, ten books a year. Ms. Le Veque says that on a good day, she writes 12,000 words. I doubt that in the last few years I’ve written that many in one week!

Another interesting thing I noted is that nowhere in the article does Le Veque mention promotion, social media or on-line presence. While she probably has her assistants do some of that now, I doubt she was able to do much in the beginning. Which confirms my suspicion that even though on-line promotion has made the difference in a lot of authors’ careers, it is not necessarily the “magic bullet”. Because what worked two years ago, or even two months ago, may not work now. Again, it’s a matter of timing, just like it always was. And timing is a matter of chance, i.e. luck.

For some people, the idea that luck is so important may be incredibly frustrating. For me, it’s a relief, just like it was years ago when my editor told me not to bother spending my advance on promotion. It gives me a way out and makes me feel less like a failure. I’m a dutiful person, who wants to do a good job and be responsible and dedicated, and that extends to my writing career. But lately I’m overwhelmed with everything I supposed to do for my career, and I’m getting pretty frustrated and unhappy. And even though it’s discouraging to know I’ll never write fast enough to flood the market and develop an audience like this writer did, it is heartening to hear the story of someone who was successful because they kept writing, rather than they made their name by promoting their work.