Reblog: A Guide to Spotting and Growing Past Stereotypes

Hi! Welcome to another month of NaNoWriMo, and that means lovely reblogs by people who are smarter than me- yay! This week’s reblog was written by Ellen Oh of We Need Diverse Books and posted to the NaNoWriMo blog. Enjoy!

Nano

One of the most common mistakes I see when people try to write diversely is that they fall into the practice of writing a positive stereotype. After all, if it’s positive, it can’t be a stereotype, right?

Wrong.

A stereotype is a positive or negative set of beliefs about the characteristics of a group of people. Just because it is positive, doesn’t make it any less problematic.

Why?

Because a stereotype is a generalization, and a generalization can never come fully to life in your story, no matter how beautiful your words might be. Readers want to care for your characters. Talk to any fan of a well-loved book, and they can often rattle off the detailed physical characteristics, and tragic backstory of their favorite character.

As an author, this is what you want.

Ready to read more? Check out the full post here!

And if you’re looking for more info on writing diversity, check out the writers’ resources page of We Need Diverse Books, or the DiversifYA website. Happy writing!

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Getting Publication Ready with Jane Friedman

Jane-Friedman-1First off, this woman looks eerily like my sister-in-law. I had to get that off my chest. It’s like future Annie has come back to the past to tell me about books.

Second, Jane Friedman is a publishing beast. Co-founder of the Hot Sheet, former editor of Writer’s Digest, Ms. Friedman has a bio that makes me want to curl up under a blankie and weep at all the majesty. She managed to pack one metric tonne of information into the three hour class. There’s no way I’m going to be able to fit it all into a single blog post, so I’m only going to talk this week about just getting your book ready for publication. I will come back to address the other topics- the five categories of publishing and how to go about them- in more detail in later posts, so fear not. Start looking for those toward the beginning of next year, maaaybe a little sooner if I get an unexpected hole in my schedule.

But if that’s too long a wait, I came across this class, How to Publish Your Book, with Jane Friedman, while perusing a catalog for The Great Courses. It looks like it might cover some of the same information, and is massively on sale until 26 October. You know, if you’re the impatient type.

However! being the impatient type is not the best way to be when hoping to publish a book. Slow down, cowboy! Let’s talk about the steps you must go through to successfully get your book ready for publication, whether that’s traditional, indie, or somewhere in between.

The first step is to make sure that your book is its best possible self. This includes drafting, self-editing, beta editing, rewriting, maybe even professional editing, the works. This is a very long process, and it can be hard to tell when you’re really done here. The yardstick I’ve been using is that I am a) stupidly proud of the work, and b) feel like my eyeballs are going to fall out of my head every time I open the file again. It’s a strange balance. But after your manuscript is the absolute prettiest it can be, then you can turn your mind to preparing for publication, and that means market research.

The earliest parts of research can be done from within the comfortable confines of your very own story- you have to know what you’re selling. Know whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction, know what your intended age group is, and know your category.  For fiction, have you written mainstream, literary, or genre? For nonfiction, is the MS narrative, prescriptive, or inspirational? Each of these groupings will point toward a different target audience and, if you’re traditionally publishing, a different submission target.

Be aware of the different age categories and try not to straddle them. (I am so bad about straddling age categories, ugggggh.) Also, never claim that your project is “hard to categorize”. Nobody likes that and it doesn’t give potential readers any information. Instead, say that it’s “multi-genre” or has “crossover appeal” and mention just two specific categories.

Once you have your book all neatly categorized, do some market research. Your goal here is to understand the commercial viability of a project, which is important whether you plan to enlist the help of traditional publishers or to go it alone. But just for general reference, I’m going to list some of the positive and negative signs a publisher will look for when deciding whether a book is marketable or not.

Positive Signs (do this stuff) Negative Signs (avoid this stuff)
  • Uses standard lengths (wordcount)
  • Written in a commercial genre
  • Author has a solid platform (for nonfiction)
  • Wordcounts that are way outside of norms (<50k, >120k, etc)
  • Tough sell categories (cookbooks, picture books, travel books, short story complication, etc)
  • Memoirs without a high concept or publicity angle

If you find that your book has some of those negative signs, maybe give it a closer squint before moving past this point. (Huge books by unknown authors are a hard sell, no matter which publication route you choose. Most cookbooks are sold by celebrity chefs. Keep these things in mind when figuring out your own market viability.)

For traditional publishing, this is where you start getting your submission packet ready, which probably includes something like a query, sample pages, and a synopsis; know ahead of time whether you want to query agents or publishing houses directly, because you’re not supposed to do both at the same time, and follow submission guidelines exactly. Novels and memoirs must be finished, edited, and polished before beginning the submission process. For nonfiction, write the book proposal first, including a business plan; since publishers don’t have the finished materials, you have to convince them that this book will sell.

If you’re going the indie route, you don’t need a proposal or query, but you still need a lot of the bits and pieces that would go into them, including a business plan, sales copy, and a finely polished project. In addition, you’ll also need to work out your book design, including formatting, cover design, blurbs, etc. If you’re not a professional [editor/book designer/artist/etc], pay for one like any other book publisher would.

When putting together back cover blurbs/pitches, business plans, and author bios, feel free to pick the brains of your friends, family, and neighbors on the bus to work. This stuff is hard to write, but having extra eyes on it can help you pick out the pieces that aren’t clear, or that sound strange, or whatever the problem may be. Just as you wouldn’t try to publish a work that hadn’t been beta read and closely edited, don’t try to do that with this stuff either. These things make up the sales pitch of your book, whether you’re addressing it to agents, editors, or readers. Give it the same care that you have given the rest of your book.

After you have all these scores of little duckies in a row, it’s time to get your rhinoceros-thick skin on. You’re ready to step into the publishing ring! Good luck!

Reedsy Broadcast Recap: Revising and Querying

EditingSome months ago, I listened to a broadcast hosted by Reedsy called Revising Your Manuscript and Query Letter; it was moderated by Ricardo Fayat, the founder and CMO at Reedsy, and presented by five editors and literary agents from their network. I’ve since signed up for several of Reedsy’s free 10-email courses through Reedsy Learning, which you can learn more about here. Reedsy is a self-publishing service based out of London and, although I haven’t quite hopped on the self-publishing bandwagon just yet, I’m always down with further educating myself.

Anyway, I took a bunch of notes from the broadcast and quickly forgot about them. But recently, in preparation for an upcoming writer’s conference, blew off the dust and thumbed through it to help me get ready for a manuscript review. So here’s the quick version of the broadcast.

Revising Your Manuscript

For your opening, make sure that you start with action- something visual, intense, and unexpected. (‘Action’ doesn’t necessarily mean a gunfight or crossing swords. Action can be much quieter so long as it’s clear and powerful, drawing readers in.) Whatever your opening scene entails, be original and above all else, don’t be boring.

Some of the most common manuscript mistakes the broadcast’s presenters see are:

  • Telling instead of showing
  • Unbelievable conflict (forcing the plot, character out of character, etc)
  • Confusing viewpoint
  • Unnecessary Wordiness
  • Disruptive dialog tags (usually, just stick to ‘said’)
  • Misuse of tense

Once you’ve revised your manuscript as much as you can (read: several drafts), it’s time to get other eyes on it. (The broadcast didn’t specifically mention beta readers at this point, but in my opinion, they should have. Beta readers are great!) Professional editors are spendy, but they can also be transformative.

Because it can be such a costly investment, take care to make sure you have the right agent for your project. Start by searching reputable websites, such as Reedsy. 😉  Once you have a few potentials, take the time to do some background checking. Ask for testimonials or recommendations from previous patrons.

When you have an editor you trust, send the following information: kind of editing wanted; genre, synopsis, and target market; and a sample of the book. When deciding what kind of editing you want done, keep in mind that different types of editing usually cannot happen in the same sweep. (If you’re specifically getting ready for submissions, the broadcast folks recommend focusing on developmental editing.) Also keep in mind that good editors are often booked out months in advance. Don’t expect a rush job.

When your manuscript is all edited up and ready to go, shift your focus over to preparing your submission materials.

Sending Out Your Query

Well known agencies receive between one to two hundred queries every day, so it’s hard to stand out from all that.

The first hurdle to jump is avoiding these common querying mistakes:

  • Rudeness, arrogance, and a lack of professionalism
  • Not following guidelines
  • Too much plot and not enough hook
  • Submitting work that isn’t fully edited
  • Lack of research (both within genre and in querying specific agents)

As far as researching agents and publishers goes, there are a lot of resources out there, such as Writers Digest, Poets & Writers, Authors Publish, Submittable, and Publishers Weekly. You can search through genre specific blogs for agent interviews with more specific information. Most agents these days also have a public blog you can comb through. If you’re on Twitter, you can run a search for publishing pundits’ manuscript wish lists.

This kind of specific information is perfect for a query letter’s personalization; personalization isn’t necessary, but does make you stand out a bit more, flatters the editor/agent, and at the very least shows that you did your homework. If nothing else, a more personal query encourages a more personal rejection, feedback which can then be used for later revisions.

While querying, it’s important to keep yourself organized, especially if you’re doing multiple submissions (which you absolutely should). Nothing screams amateur quite like accidentally querying the same place with the same piece twice. (Intentionality is different. If it’s been six months and you’ve completed heavy revision, it’s usually okay to resubmit- just be sure to mention it in the query.) Keep all your information in one place with a spreadsheet, keeping track of names, dates, etc. Prioritize your top agents and send out batches of queries (they suggest about six at a time), giving each batch about six weeks before moving on to the next group. As you learn from the process and (hopefully) feedback, make tweaks as needful. If you get feedback but feel strongly that it’s not appropriate for you or your project, don’t feel like you have to implement it. The agents and editors of this broadcast also suggest that, if you don’t get feedback, it’s okay to politely ask for it; you might still be ignored, but you also might get some insights otherwise left unsaid.

The thing that was stressed over and over throughout is to not give up. The submissions process is grueling. If you’ve been at it a while and still aren’t making much headway, don’t give up. Keep polishing, keep researching, and keep querying.

Happy writing!

Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate

Curve Okay, real quick, think of a classic superstition commonly held by sailors. Got one?

It’s about ladyfolk on boats, isn’t it?

(Disclaimer time! I’ll be talking about menstruation. If you’re mega squeamish about things like that, maybe you should go read about helicopters or unicorns or something. See you next week!)

A few weeks ago, I was myself a ladyfolk on a boat. Furthermore, I was doing the ladyest of lady things- menstruating. Now, those of you who are regular readers, or who better yet know me personally, have probably already figured out where this was going. (Because research!)

If I was a girl on a boat pretending to be a ship’s boy or somesuch, could I pull it off? Since everybody on said boat knew that I was a girl, could I at least go without anyone realizing I was on my period? Could I do it without modern tampons? (Tampon history, go!)

I figured this was experiment enough for me. Setting aside all the other advantages I would already have over those swashbuckling heroines, I at least already knew I could make myself look like a boy. Just cutting my hair off was enough to get myself repeatedly called ‘sir’ in the grocery story. With the added benefits of breast binding and manly clothing, I’m confident I could blend in.

But then comes the ladytimes, and that’s where things would get tricky for me. I imagine this is true for most women, but despite the commonness of the girl-pretends-to-be-sailor-boy trope, menstruation almost never comes up. And I don’t know why! It seems darned important! (For just a few nautical cross-dressing examples, let alone the bazillions of books about girls whose stories cover months if not years of their lives without periods ever coming up, see Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb, The Pirates! series by Gideon Defoe, Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey, Bloody Jack: Being An Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer, etc.  [My husband argued that some of these stories have the lady in question being taught how to change her rags, but I don’t think that cuts it.  Just because you know how to murder someone doesn’t mean you know how hide the body and evade prosecution.])

Menstruation is pretty taboo, I get it. I just don’t get why. I mean, half the population of the planet will in all likelihood have to deal with a leaking uterus for half of their lives. So why can’t we talk about this, even now that it’s been so thoroughly sanitized? I think that a story about a female pretending to be male would be much more realistic, not to mention more interesting, if we get the full spectrum of what that would mean for her and how difficult it would be.

Despite the hands on research, I think this experiment raised more questions than it really answered. For example, I took to sneaking used pads off the boat whenever we were in port, but what if I was at sea for months? Would I need a giant stockpile of wool rags? Where would I put all that? In a boat full of guys and devoid of privacy, how would I change them? How would I clean them? And if I couldn’t clean them, could I sneak them into the surgeon’s galley and stow it with dirty bandages or something like some kind of saltwater ninja?

One thing was thoroughly proved, though. I am not cut out for gender-bending cabin boyhood. Even after crumbling and using tampons four days in- between the crabbiness, the sleepiness, the vague but insistent refusal to jump in the water, and the half dozen daily chocolate raids in the galley, I was busted before the week was out.  Had I been busted by an eighteenth century sea captain instead of my mother-in-law, I probably would have been tossed overboard during the first storm. *sad trombone*

Alas, a pirate’s life is not the life for me, which just brought up even more questions. How does this work?? How are these characters not half-stupid with worry for at least a quarter of their time? And how are they so clever at evading detection, but that’s not even worth a mention throughout the story?

I already know I’m a failure, but how would you readers (or at least your characters) succeed at hiding? What clever menstrual hacks would you employ?  I’m itching to write a historical fiction now, so give me some ideas!

(Can’t get enough of menses? Go read Madison Dusome’s Menstruation and Magic! It’s great!)

Writing Events!

I wanted to recap on a couple writing events I participated in earlier this year, but they were both small enough that they didn’t quite merit a full length post.  So rather than taking the time to expound meaningfully on each one and really dig into it, I’ve decided to be lazy and crowbar them together!  (Plus this is my last full week before we take off for our three-month-long roadtrip through the Lower 48.  Oy, so much to dooooo.)

Panel Poster

 

SCBWI Panel

Earlier this year, I helped to organize an author panel and workshop in Fairbanks Alaska, riding on the coattails of the statewide librarian’s conference taking place that same week.  The panel featured Carole Estby Dagg, author of The Year We Were Famous and Sweet Home Alaska, and local authors Cindy Aillaud, Lynn Lovegreen, Jen Funk Weber, and Marie Osburn Reid.

The turnout was pretty small, so we all managed to wedge in around a few large conference tables, and it was all very snug and casual.  The panel was more of a round robin, with the authors- or anyone else present with writing or publishing experience- sharing tips and advice.

Here I’ve picked out the best advice for you!  (Ain’t I sweet?)  Common core, at least in Alaskan school districts, has upped the need for informational stories for children, so there is a high demand for fic-informational (also known as faction).  National SCBWI conferences are awesome, and check out savvyauthors.com for even more networking opportunities.  SCBWI itself is very helpful for non-agented writers, but agents can get a much better deal than an unrepped writer can.  Take your time, and write what you love.

Following the panel, I ate too much candy and then Carole Estby Dagg presented about the stages of writing, from selecting an audience through writing and editing, and on to publication and marketing.  She approached the topic through the lens of her own work as a writer of historical fiction.

While I love a gal who plugs research so heavily (because research! I love it!), I think the most relevant thing that I pulled out of her presentation was the Shrunken Manuscript technique.

Shrink your manuscript to the tiniest print you can read.  Cut out all the open spaces: paragraphs, section breaks, everything, until it’s crammed onto as few pages as possible.  Then get three highlighters.  Everything with high emotion, highlight in red (or whatever).  Everything with high conflict, highlight in blue.  Every major plot point, highlight in green.  Then lay your whole manuscript out.  No matter how much you love them, any spots without color need to be either cut out or amped up.

 

AWG Reading

Just a few days after the SCBWI stuff, I attended an AWG meeting.  It was actually one of the meetings I usually skip- a chance to read some of your own work and get feedback.  But I had a short story competition coming up and I wanted a test audience for the piece I was planning to submit.  So why not?

I’d never done a critique group thing like this before, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect.  I managed to position myself in the seating circle so that I went dead last, which afforded me the perfect opportunity to chicken out, or for the meeting to run out of time, or all kinds of exciting possibilities.

None of which materialized.

I took my turn in the hotseat and read a short story I’d been prepping for a writing competition.  Historically, I have always been a terrible reader when it comes to my own works.  I stumble on words, read too fast, too quiet.  I get nervous.  But I knew this going in, so I had read it through several times out loud.  I find it’s harder to suck at reading when you memorize the piece instead. 😛  So the reading didn’t go as terribly as I’d been anticipating.

After I finished my reading, I whipped out my notebook.  The others in the group had lots of excellent questions and suggestions that really helped me zero in on what was working in the story, and what could use a bit more tweaking.  It was great to get some alternative perspectives on the piece, since I’d so thoroughly exhausted my own.  But on top of that, they were all very encouraging, and meaningful encouragement is sometimes had to come by in this line of work.

In the end, though, the critique must have done something right, because the piece took first place in the competition, leading to many a happy squeal.  So maybe consider trying a live critique some time, even if you never have before.

Until next time, happy packing writing!

Reblog: 7 Tips for Using Hands-On Research

internet

I think I’m losing my touch.  I can’t seem to shock my husband quite like I used to, at least when it comes to internet searches.  I had the above Firefox page up when he walked up behind me.  His eyes flared in brief surprise, and then he said, “Oh.  It’s NaNo.”  It wasn’t even a question.  (And I kind of love how I’m searching all this scary stuff and the ad gods decided, “Yeah, you need to read the Bible, lady.  Like now.”)

I’m a big proponent of research.  Love me some research!  Knowing the right smells and feels and words can make the difference between a believable, immersive world, and a flat, boring one.  And while internet research is amazingly easy these days (as well as being super distracting), nothing beats hands-on, boots-on-the-ground research- and it’s mega-fun too!

That said, here’s this week’s reblog, from Delilah S. Dalton via Writer’s Digest: 7 Tips for Using Hands-On Research to Enrich Your Writing.  Enjoy!

 

7 Tips for Using Hands-On Research to Enrich Your Writing

They say, “Write what you know,” which is why my next book is about killing monsters in 1800s Texas. Not that I’ve ever killed anything bigger than a wolf spider, but I know what it’s like to spend a long, painful day in the saddle. When you’re writing about a new world, your readers will have an easier time making the jump from reality to fantasy if you can use telling details to win their trust. And that means that you should travel to new places and seek experiences and local culture that will enrich your writing. The key? Using all your senses.


1. See the place.

Traveling allows you to soak up the visual backdrop of a new place. If you grew up in the country, it’ll be hard to write a big city since you’ve never looked up at a looming skyscraper. Visiting the place you’re writing about will inform you of what the people wear, what they hang on the walls, what sidewalk vendors sell, what colors the mountains are in the distance. I’m from Georgia, and I’ll never forget what it felt like to see the Alps for the first time, to climb the stairs of the Duomo in Milan, or to take a ferry to Santorini. Mountains are so much bigger than I’d imagined, and the Mediterranean is such a specific crystal blue. The mental photographs you’ll take while traveling will make your descriptions richer and more specific.

2. Taste the food.

Even if you’re not writing Game of Thrones-style banquet orgies, place-specific food still plays a big part in any story…

Ready to read some more? Pop over to Writer’s Digest for the full article!  Happy writing!