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Burn Out is Real…and it’s Scary

I’m a burn out. Wait, wait! Let me rephrase that. I am burnt out.

I am in the process of writing my fourth book in a year and a half… During that time, four other books released. I know there are some amazing authors who can kick out a book every two months — or one month. I wish! But that’s not me, and I know that.

Let me be clear…I’m not complaining. NOT ONE BIT.

But I am admitting…
I’m burnt out.

As a debut author who had never signed a contract before, I didn’t realize how grueling a publishing schedule would be. I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to just put my head down and write as I did for years before I even tried to get a book deal.

Sure, I knew all about the other things that go into being an author—the editing and editing and editing, social media, marketing, conferences and continuing education workshops, author events and signings and more editing…and, of course, writing.

I signed my first contract in February 2015 and I haven’t been able to catch up yet. As soon as I signed that contract and put myself under a real deadline: Reality happened. Exhaustion and stress and life unraveling happened.

Real life doesn’t stop when you get a deal. And for me, it got a whole lot more complicated.

An entire re-write of my fifth book is staring me in the face. Minutes click quickly toward the date that it’s due (again). So how do I get my mojo back? How do I muster up the strength and energy to write the best damn book I possibly can?

I went back to my favorite place to write. A local French bakery in the “Noda” neighborhood of Charlotte called Amelie’s. It’s got such an eclectic vibe. There are always people there. Creative people. Business people. (Not that those two can’t be the same,) All ages from toddler to Betty White.

I settled into a seat and put my head down. No Internet. No writing companions. Just me, the music (because you guys know I need the music) and my laptop. And I wrote my ass off. I was there from 6pm to 2:30 in the morning. The next morning, I jumped out of bed and was back at a cozy table with black coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich (eggs, spinach and asiago on a croissant—in case you want to get the full picture) by 8am.

The words were flowing. The ideas kept popping. It’s almost as if I had to get out of that pocket of life that was stifling my creativity and go back to this vibrant, happy coffee shop where I’d written so many words previously—before the contract.

Life. Moving. Jobs. Deadlines. Marketing. Motherhood. Social Media. Events. Separation. Moving. Kids. Time. Love. Loss.

There’s always going to be something. Find your happy place and get back on track. If that doesn’t work—mix it up. Try something you’ve never tried before (I just started yoga again after 9 years). Go where creative people are. Find meet up. Be in the presence of individuals who like the same things you do. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Find yourself. <3

After a few more sessions at Amelie’s, I’ve almost finished re-plotting and restructuring my current work in progress. And I’m going back tonight.

 

P.S. Photo: A scrumptious berry tart and dark chocolate covered strawberries. Happy Valentine’s Day to me. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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The Down Low on Life with a Multi-Book Contract

Hi ho! Sophia Henry here and today I’m giving you the inside scoop on what happens after you sign a multi book contract. 🙂

1. Celebration! Seriously. Dance and shout and let it all out because you scored a multi book contract with a publisher! That is awesome!! Congratulations! Get the celebration out of your system, because it’s time to…

45840449 - writing with quill pen last will and testament or concept for law, legal issues or author

2. Write your butt off. Remember that first novel you wrote? I’m guessing it takes most of us more than a year to research, write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit that first book. It took me over three years w/ my first. You *probably* won’t have that kind of time again during your contract. Do you write slow? Save yourself some stress >> Be honest and realistic about how fast—or slow—you draft and build that time into your contract.

3. Editing. You will go through at least two—maybe more—rounds of edits on each book. The first will be developmental edits from your editor. Once you complete those your MS is sent to copy edits. (*Keep in mind you may go through more than one round of developmental edits to get the book where it needs to be). If you have a print book, you will probably have a page by page proof to go through after copy edits.

4. Market/Promote. While you are doing all the edits on the book to polish it to perfection, you will also be marketing and promoting. On Facebook. On blogs. On Twitter. On Instagram. Wherever you chose to have an author presence. 🙂 My advice is: take those posts to heart and make them the best they can be. Whether it’s an author interview, a guest post or an excerpt–this is what you ware showing the world about you and your writing. Maybe the blog only has 25 followers. It doesn’t matter. Promotion is promotion. 25 is better than Zero. AND if someone googles your name, that blog might come up. So always best at your best. Your brand is your career.

46744572 - promote yourself concept

5. Write your butt off. While you are doing all of this you are also (or should be) writing the next book in your contract—because I bet your deadline to have that to your editor is coming up soon.

6. Release Day! CELEBRATION TIME! Stop what you’re doing and celebrate today. I don’t care if it’s your 1st book or your 71st. Take the time to celebrate each accomplishment. You published a book (or 71 books). You ROCK!!

7. Release Day Continued… Don’t plan on doing anything on Release Day other than: answering calls, texts, FB messages and posts, Twitter, Instagram, commenting on blog posts. THANKING everyone who bought, read, shared, helped in any way with your book.

8. Write Your Butt Off. At this point you should be very close to turning your next book in to your editor. Can I just say that TIME FLIES when you have all of this going on. It goes in warp speed, I swear.

9. Edit. See above. Just because you’re a super awesome published author with an amazing book out doesn’t mean your second won’t need (major) editing.

10. Market/Promote. See above, but you’ll be doing it for Book 2…AND Book 1. You can’t forget about that puppy! Because it’s probably going on sale a few weeks before book 2 comes out and you want to get people into your series so they preorder book 2 or snatch it up on release day!

11. ARE YOU WRITING BOOK 3 YET?? BECAUSE IT’S DUE TOMORROW!! Okay, maybe not tomorrow, but all of these things will sneak up on you. You *may* need to ask for an extension. I’m not promoting it, but it happens. Be honest and upfront with yourself and your editor. If you are honest, changes can be made. Don’t avoid contact with the world because you’re embarrassed or stressed. We are humans, not machines. An e-mail or phone call is a glorious thing. 🙂

12. #2 through #7 above OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER until you die. Death may be a *slight* exaggeration, but the cycle continues so you must be prepared for it. It’s overwhelming and amazing simultaneously. YOU’RE AN AUTHOR!!

This post is not meant to scare. It’s meant to PREPARE. Because on top of all this–you have REAL LIFE. Jobs, family, root canals…Life doesn’t stop when you are writing. Honest and realistic are my favorite words. If you are honest and realistic with yourself and your editor: You’ll be happy, your publisher will be happy, your readers will be happy. WIN WIN WIN!

Has anyone felt the heat yet? Please share your words of wisdom from your magical and crazy experience. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Just Come Back Here

Oh, man. A month blog topic dedicated to stuff we screw up. This is like a playground for writers. We, as a whole, are pretty good at picking apart what we suck at, I think. Things we fumble time and time again. There are countless things–not trusting myself to tell the story; not being able to write an elevator pitch to save my life; never being able to write a short and concise synopsis (which is actually pretty hilarious considering I’m a very concise writer in my drafts). While I definitely do all those things, what I do without fail is fall to crutch words. Those pesky words I can’t let go of. They’ve been with me since my first manuscript, and if manuscript #9 is any indication, they’ll be with me for a long time to come. My favorites? Just and back. (FYI: I deleted an instance of just that didn’t need to be in this paragraph…I can’t run, and I can’t escape.)

Wordle_-_CreateWhen I Wordle my novel pre-edits, those two are nearly as large as the characters’ names on my word cloud. But like with most crutch words, they generally aren’t needed. Or at least they aren’t needed nearly as often as I would lead you do believe in my first draft.

I’ve managed to train my brain to automatically delete any unnecessary thats–while reading and writing–but I can’t quite get there with these others. Maybe it’s because when I draft, I tend to do so pretty quickly, where I don’t really think about the words I’m writing. I just (<—see??? I’ll never give it up!) write them. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown comfortable with certain ways to say certain things, and that’s how they come out on the page–as my crutch. Whatever the reason, I’m just glad I have Wordle (as well as an editing checklist I work off of) and copy-editors to delete these pesky things pre-publication, because they can weigh down the sentences and keep your MS from being punchy.

A few other crutch words to be on the lookout for are: really, very, totally, so, that, and then, just, well, good/great, quite, little…and probably a dozen others I’m not thinking of.

How about you? What are your crutch words? And do you have a special process or checklist you work from to eliminate them?

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Understanding Point of View

Last blogging cycle each of the Bad Girlz detailed something they’d wished they’d known at the outset of this crazy journey toward publication. My last post was on The Big Hook. Well, my ignorance couldn’t be contained in one post. In fact, I might be blogging on things I’ve learned for the foreseeable future.

Point of View has been on my mind lately because I’ve signed up to judge a few RWA chapter contests. I got so much out of contests—I don’t mean finaling or winning—I’m talking about the critiques I got from other authors—oftentimes published. The feedback made me a better writer, and I hope I can do the same for someone else.

In that vein, I want to share the biggest issue in the entries I’ve judged thus far. At least 80% have had problems with POV. And, to be clear, this was my biggest issue when I started entering contests, so I’m coming from a place of understanding and commiseration.

Those awesome historical romances of the 80’s and 90’s like Kathleen Woodiwiss’ A Rose in Winter or Julie Garwood’s The Bride? Yeah, people don’t write like that anymore. Not the content, which is awesome by the way, but the STYLE. It’s called Head Hopping. In other words, in more modern books, the author will spend an entire scene or half a scene in ONE character’s head and then switch. It’s called Deep POV. Had I heard of either when I started writing? Nope. I wrote THREE books (90k+ words each!) head hopping like a jackrabbit on crack.

duh

But staying in your chosen character’s head is only once aspect of mastering Deep POV. The other aspect is…becoming the character. That’s the only way I know how to put it. You should become your hero, heroine, or villain, and describe everything as it filters through your character’s senses.

  • This means most of the traditional ‘sense’ words are unnecessary.

For example: She heard the bell ring.

Better: The bell rang.

In the first, you are removing the reader from the immediacy of the moment. In the second, the reader is experiencing the bell ringing right along with the heroine.

  • Avoid using ‘saw’ (unless you’re writing about a lumberjack…ba-dum-cha!) Anything you describe while in your character’s POV should be things he/she can see.

For example: He saw the man creep out from behind the bush.

Better: The man crept out from behind the bush.

  • In fact, if you describe something behind your character’s back, you have committed authorial intrusion.

For example: Every man’s head in the room turned to watch the woman slink around the tables. Every man, but Jack, who stared at a jagged scar in the wood of the bar and savored his whiskey.

Jack is looking at the bar, not the approaching woman. This is a no-no, unless you’re going for an omniscient POV, which I’ve never attempted and is difficult to pull off convincingly.

  • Also, be careful with POV slips, like the heroine describing something about herself she can’t see/know.

An example from one of my WIPs. Fire burned in her gut. As if nature itself felt her fury, a salty breeze lifted from the sea and plucked her auburn hair like tendrils of flame around her face.

I love that passage, but I knew when I wrote it that it was a POV slip. I kept it anyway until my CP (ahem…Fran) told me I couldn’t use it. Wah! Do you see that in my heroine’s POV, she can’t describe her hair as ‘tendrils of flame’? Delete, delete, delete…

editing

  • Thought, knew, wondered, and realized are generally unnecessary. If your character is internalizing, then these words are redundant.

For example: He thought he might be falling in love.

Better: He might be falling love or He was falling in love.

  • The most frequent transgression I’ve come across in contest entries is overusing the word ‘felt’ as it pertains to feelings. The word ‘felt’ is often a cop-out.

For example: He felt angry.

Better: His hands curled into fists, and he shuffled into a fighter’s stance

Instead of stating the feeling, like the first example, push yourself to find a more interesting way to depict the emotion. Using ‘felt’ does work beautifully sometimes, but really examine every single time you choose to use it and determine if you can make a stronger statement.

All examples, except the one from my WIP, were made up for this post (so don’t judge:) RWA University offers courses and bunches of books have been written on the subject of POV.

What have been some of your issues with POV?

 

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My WHAT Is Dangling?

The first time I got a round of really thorough, professional edits back on a manuscript, I just about had a heart attack. Had the track changes feature on Word gone rogue? Had my screen started bleeding red? Seriously, I’d had so many friends look over my work, and they’d said it was clean. Hell, the editor who had sent me this bloodbath of corrections said my manuscript was relatively clean.

How could there possibly be so many problems?

Perhaps I should back up a couple of steps. I am largely a self-taught writer. I got a good basic education in the literary arts in high school, and I even took a couple of gen-ed English classes in college. But I was never really, formally taught to write. I’m lucky to have a pretty good ear for the English language and a solid fundamental understanding of grammar and spelling, so I was able to muddle through. But I did not go into this first round of edits with the vocabulary to even begin to make sense of some of the things my editor was telling me.

Case in point: The Dangling Modifier. English majors and other people who survived even a rudimentary composition class may better know this as the Dangling Participle.

And wow. Did I ever have a lot of them in that first manuscript.

redskulldanglingparticipleTo save any of my fellow un-schooled writers some embarrassment, here’s the skinny on what they are and how to avoid them.

A participial phrase (look at me with the fancy words!) is one that is sort of an add-on to a sentence that helps describe what’s going on the main body of the sentence. I tend to think of them as ‘those –ing phrases’. You know, the ones you use to break up your pattern of having every damn sentence start with ‘noun verb blah blah blah’?

Examples:

Taking a sip of her wine, she tried to come up with a blog topic for the day.

Cringing in horror, she scrolled through the list of corrections her editor had left for her.

She pet her cat, imagining the comfort it would provide her when she inevitably ended up old and bitter and alone.

In each of these examples, the part in bold is the participial phrase.

The key to keeping said participial phrase firmly attached to your sentence (ie, not dangling) is to make sure that it describes the subject of the sentence. In each of the cases above, the participial phrase describes ‘she’. She takes the sip of wine, she cringes in horror, she imagines being a crazy old cat lady.

If the subject of the sentence and the acting person in the participial phrase don’t match, that’s when you end up with those unsightly dangly bits that will cause your editor to despair.

Here are some sentences that have gone horribly wrong:

Rippling with muscles, I drooled over his phenomenal physique.

Here, ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence; presumably, ‘he’ is rippling with muscles. I can fix it by changing it to ‘His body rippled with muscles, and I drooled over his phenomenal physique.’ Or ‘Rippling with muscles, his physique was positively drool-worthy.’ See? All you have to do is make sure both parts match, or that both parts have their own explicitly stated subject.

Staring at my unfinished manuscript, the cursor blinked at me with mocking disdain.

In this case, the cursor is the subject of the sentence, but I am the one staring in despair at my WIP. To correct the issue, switch up one or the other. ‘Staring at my unfinished manuscript, I imagined my cursor blinked at me with mocking disdain.’ Or insert a subject into the first part of the sentence. ‘As I stared at my unfinished manuscript, the cursor blinked at me with mocking disdain.’

Be warned, though, that once you spot this kind of error, it’s impossible to un-see it. You’ll notice yourself making the same mistake over and over, and you’ll pain-stakingly fix each one, hanging your head in shame every time you find one.

Until some far-off, distant day, you’ll try to write an article about the evils of the dangling modifier, and you’ll try to come up with some examples. And much to your bewilderment, you’ll be unable to remember how to write a modifier incorrectly.

And then you’ll know you’ve finally gotten the damn thing down.

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Rewriting, Revising, and…Ridiculous File System Naming Conventions?

Right now, I have open on my computer a document with the filename, ‘Walk_Away_v8-4.docx’. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the manuscript’s working title is ‘Walk Away’. But what about all that other gobbledygook?

I’m so glad you asked.

Once upon a time, I kept one file for every manuscript I was working on. Simple, elegant. No problem, right?

And then I started editing. Worse, as I became more and more sophisticated (and less naïve about the perfection of my beautiful beautiful words!), I started re-writing. Taking out whole paragraphs, scenes, hell, chapters. Maybe even the better part of the first third of a book, and then doing it over again to better capture what I was trying to say or to pursue a new direction.

Only, deleting all those words gave me hives. What if my new direction ended up being the wrong direction? What if I realized only much later that the original version was a million times better? I’d spent so much time on those words! I couldn’t just get rid of them!

And so began my completely obsessive system of keeping a million different versions of every manuscript, and numbering them to try and keep track.

Basically, every manuscript has a working title, followed by an underscore, the letter ‘v’ for ‘version’, and then two numbers separated by a dash. The first number keeps track of major revisions, such as a total re-envisioning of my hero, a new approach to a significant turning point, or a line edit of the entire manuscript. Basically, things that affect the entire story. The second number is for small changes within that larger revision. Say, punching up a single scene or realizing my previous night’s wine-fueled ramblings were less coherent than I might have hoped and maybe I should give them another shot. Things like that.

Which brings me back to the fact that I’m currently working on ‘Walk_Away_v8-4.docx’. Parse those numbers with me one more time. They mean I’m now on my eighth major iteration of this bad boy, and the fourth minor one inside of that. My folder full of saved files for this manuscript alone contains thirty-three files.

Clearly, the path to completion has not been smooth on this one.

But that’s okay. When I first considered writing a blog post on the admittedly dry-as-dust topic of version numbers and file archiving, I questioned my motivation. And my sanity. But then I decided it was something worth sharing, because these obsessive, absurd, ridiculous version number are the very thing that has saved my sanity through this bear of a manuscript.

Quite simply, I have felt free to attempt deeper, more extensive, more radical rewrites on this book in no small part because I felt completely confident that I could change my mind at any time. If I stepped back at the end and decided it had all been a waste and my first or third or seventh draft was way better, I could find that version. I could find that version within a version. It was all still there, both on my hard drive and backed up to a secure server and on a flash drive. It was all still accessible. Nothing was lost. Not even my poor, fragile, not-quite-right mind.

How do you keep your sanity when you’re doing rewrites? Does a multiple-failsafe file organization system help you sleep better at night? And what’s the worst experience you’ve ever had trying to bring an unruly story concept to life?

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Tighten It Up Volume IV: Tricks for the Toolbox

So you’ve buttoned up the boring backstory, stiffened your story’s structure, and dumped the dragging dialogues and descriptions.  In this final installment of my Tighten It Up series, I thought I’d give a few extra tools to polish that manuscript extra shiny before you ship it off for that contest or to that agent!

Tool #1:  Find & Replace

Do you have that one word you use too much through pursed lips?  Are you a total qualifier fanatic?  What about those pesky words that really don’t need to be there?  Oh, and let’s not forgot those -ly words that quickly walk up your word count.  See what I did there?

Using your find tool is a great way to hunt these puppies down and determine whether or not they need to be there.  I once cut over 200 unnecessary that’s from one manuscript, I swear.  Here are some examples of words I look for:

                                                        so                   of                 exactly

                                                        quite               very             only

                                                        really               just              that

Also notice that a lot of those are -ly words, but that’s not the sort I’m referring to above.  Sometimes –ly words are okay, but many times it means you need a stronger verb.  Quietly said could be whisperedQuickly ran could be sprinted.

Tool #2:  Snip the Stragglers

In my Tighten It Up Volume II blog post, I talked about sticking to the structure of your story.  Know where you want to be by page 50, page 100, and so forth.  If I’m over a couple of pages, the first thing I do is start looking for stragglers.  You know what I’m talking about…those little two word lines at the end of a paragraph.  I would say that nine times out of ten I can find a way to get rid of those two words, whether it be by using a synonym somewhere or dropping something that really didn’t need to be there.

This little trick comes in handy on contest entries, when you only have 10 pages to get where you want to be.  It also helps when you’re submitting the first 50 pages to an agent – just make sure you don’t snip the important stuff!

Tool #3:  Formatting

I set up my manuscripts for exactly 25 lines per page, which is pretty close to double spaced, and turn my orphan control off.  This may seem like small potatoes, but an extra line per page will get you 2 extra pages every 50.  Of course, if there are guidelines stated on a contest or submission website, be sure to follow those.

I’m sure there are a ton of other tricks.  Do you have any to share?

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Slay Those Scenes: An Arsenal of Ideas to Get Unstuck

Everybody has that one scene that plagues them.  Maybe you’re like E. Michels and have trouble getting that first scene off the ground.  Maybe love scenes make you uncomfortable or maybe you’re unable to bring your characters to their lowest in the black moment.  Or maybe, and I hope for your sake this isn’t the case, it’s all the scenes between the big ones that stop you in your tracks.  My nemesis is always the climax, and this weekend we faced off once again.

It’s a little sadistic when I think about it.  I have absolutely no trouble torturing my characters, but struggle when it comes time to raise them above it all.  I’d like to believe it’s my way of postponing the impending doom of saying goodbye to these characters I’ve come to so dearly love, and perhaps that’s part of it.  Truth be told, I’m just better at writing the darker stuff, so when it’s time for redemption I’m walking on unfamiliar territory.

But I digress.  This blog isn’t meant to be a Jenna Patrick therapy session, I promise.  Instead I was hoping to gather some ideas and maybe share a few ways you can slay those scenes and keep your sanity in the process.  So if you’re stuck for whatever reason, here are a few things to try.

1.  Go back to basics:  GMC 

You’ve heard me say many times that I believe every scene in your manuscript should touch on at least one of these.  Maybe the problem is you’ve lost sight of what your character wants or what motivation the scene is supposed to unravel.  Sometimes reminding yourself of the objective will help you find your way to it.

2.  Check your Arcs

It’s easy to lose sight of your characters when you’re focusing on plot, and vice versa.  But remember, your plot and character arcs feed off each other the entire length of your book.  If you’re having trouble it could be because you’re only looking at the scene one-dimensionally.  Ask yourself where your plot should be at this point, and who your characters are supposed to be.  Then look for ways to illustrate both of these.

3.  Try the scene from a different POV

This is one of my favorites, and usually my first go-to tactic for the in-between scenes I’m struggling with.  When deciding what character’s POV I should write a scene from, I initially pick the one who knows less about what’s going on.  This is a good rule of thumb to start with, but occasionally the scene feels stilted and I have to re-evaluate.  The quickest way to test this theory is to switch eyes and see what happens.

4.  Get in the mood

It’s difficult to write a beautiful love scene when you’ve just had a knock-down, drag-out argument with your beau.  Maybe the words aren’t flowing because the only words you can think of are four letters and you wish all members of the opposite sex would evaporate like in Night of the Comet.  So what do you do?  Pull out your favorite romance novel and flip to that steamy love scene that makes you sweat.  Or turn on Lifetime or Cinemax or the Hallmark channel – whatever will best fit the scene you need to write — and see if it stirs the pot a bit.

I find this tactic works on all sorts of scenes.  I once watched an entire marathon of Law and Order to help with a series of courtroom scenes I had to write.  Not to steal ideas, but to get in the frame of mind and research the dialogue.  Try it!

5.  Change it up

If all else fails, move on and come back to it later.  Writing out of order might not be what you’re accustomed to, but if it keeps you writing it can’t be that bad, right?

After my struggles this weekend with my climax scene, I decided to try something a little different on my next manuscript.  Rather than saving the hardest scene for last, when I’m tired and frustrated and want to kill off every one of my characters, I’m going to try to write it first when the point of the story is fresh on my mind.  I’m not quite there yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes.

So tell us, what do you do when you’re stuck?

Hugs!

Jenna P.

 

 

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Stand Up Or Suck It Up: Being An Advocate For Your Book

I know most of our focus on this blog is about writing and querying, but I’m fast-forwarding just a smidge to talk about a little of what happens after that magical ‘yes’. Because the simple fact is that the work isn’t done just because you have an agent or a contract.

Your book is your child. You conceived of it. You brought it into this world, raised it, disciplined it when it tried to get out of hand. And now, even though it’s ready to sail on its own, it’s still your job to stick up for it and to advocate for it.

When a content-editor wants you to change the very heart of the book and destroys your entire vision for it. When a line-editor adds mistakes to your manuscript. When a blurb writer completely misinterprets your query letter and implies the book is about something vastly different from what it’s actually about. When the cover comes back and it’s awful.

In all of these cases, it might be time for you to step in. To put on your bravest, most fierce momma-bear face and say ‘no’.

Let me tell you from experience, it’s nerve-wracking as hell. You’ve waited years for the chance to publish a book – surely these professionals know better than you. Surely you should follow all of their suggestions. Surely you don’t want to jeopardize this amazing, fragile chance you’ve been given.

But it’s still your book. It reflects on you. When people do wrong by it, it’s time to take a deep, objective look at their suggestions and decide if it’s in the best interests of the book. And if it is, no matter the consequences…it’s time to stand up.

I’ve only worked with small presses at this point in my career, but I’ve found editors and cover designers and blurb writers to all be surprisingly easy to work with. The few times I’ve put my foot down and calmly explained the reasons I disagreed with what they wanted to do with my book, in general it’s gone very well. They’ve listened. They’ve discussed. And more than once, after consideration, they’ve said, “You’re right.”

Shocker of shockers, though, it’s not always time to stand up. Part of parenting a book is realizing when your book is being a stubborn brat and it’s time to take it over your knee. The people helping you shape it and package it are trying to do just that—help.

When a content-editor wants to change the very heart of your book and it makes the character arcs stronger and the theme more profound. When a line-editor calls you on your pretentious bullshit and wheedles that gorgeous thirty-seven-word sentence down to thirteen. When the blurb comes back and is a total one-eighty from what you envisioned but still encapsulates your story while making it accessible. When the cover isn’t quite what you had in mind but it’s eye-catching, damn it.

Sometimes, it’s time to stand up. And sometimes, it’s time to suck it up. Get off your high horse, swallow your pride, and realize that this collaborative effort is designed to make your book better, and that letting someone else’s work help shape your story is all part of the process of improving.

It’s a hard distinction to make sometimes, trying to decide which pieces of feedback you should take and which you shouldn’t. It requires a lot of introspection and a lot of thinking about what you want your book to be.

The moral of the story is that you are the advocate for your book, and no matter who tells you what to change about it, it’s still your job to take every single suggestion, give it a long hard look, and decide: Is this in the best interests of this book?

And then, depending on the answer, either stand up…or suck it up.

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You can’t be “chicken” in this business! Sorry about the pun–had to do it.

Pee Wee, you will be missed.

 

When I first moved from the beach to the country, supporting my husband’s dearest wish to become a landed gentleman (or at least have a place where he could pee outside and collect “classic” cars free from downers like homeowners’ associations and city ordinances), let’s just say I had an enthusiastic—if somewhat idealized—vision of how things would be. I’d have a garden of heirloom vegetables so bounteous and beautiful I’d need to start a farm stand! I could have sweet pygmy goats, wooly lambs, and fancy breed chickens! That was about as realistic a version of country life as Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon—and we all know how that turned out.

But the chicken part of the fantasy was doable. With the outlay of a small amount of scratch (both the cash and the corn kind) I had a good-sized pen, a coop, and an assortment of day old chicks, downier and more adorable than anyone has a right to be. I raised them by hand. I spent time with them. I named them. They got scraps from the table and our neither bounteous nor beautiful vegetable garden. They grew into gorgeous birds, and were a joy to behold scratching around the pen, or ranging through the fields. The roosters cheered me with their glossy plumage and hearty crows, the hens gave the best eggs I ever tasted. It was straight out of my idyllic vision of country life.

But you know something about living in the country? The very things that allow you to keep chickens are the things that will ultimately cause their demise. The open spaces, fields, and woods are wildlife habitat. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, possums, and snakes abound. And that’s a good thing—but not if you’re a chicken. The freedom which allows us to keep chickens, to pee in the yard, or collect “classic” cars in varying states of decay also allows our neighbors the freedom to, say, keep dozens of dogs, in (to put it kindly) a somewhat casual manner. Chicken casualties mounted. No more roaming the fields for them, then. Okay, looks like we need to put a cover over the pen. And extra wire into the ground for stray-ish dogs determined to dig their way in. A raccoon climbed the fence and tore the cover netting off. A black snake strangled my favorite setting hen while she sat protecting her clutch.

I pause to pour a little of my mimosa on the ground. This is for you, Angie Bird. May you rest in peace.

What can one do about all that? Not much, is what. Screw it. It’s the rural version of “you can’t fight City Hall.”

I didn’t give up; not entirely. But I had to revise my expectations a bit. I realized that the domestic chicken was not born for longevity. I still raise chicks from time to time. I stopped naming them. I don’t really hang out with them like I did with that first flock. They’re still pretty, I still get fresh eggs (sometimes), but I’m no longer attached. In the back of my mind, there’s still the desire to have a prize flock of show-worthy, hand-tamed birds, but I now know the extent of effort it would take to make that happen—and it’s not a priority. Maybe someday it will be—but just as likely, my sojourn in the country will end and I’ll find myself in someplace civilized, where I’ll have no chickens at all. If I want free-range eggs, I’ll just get them at a farmer’s market. And I’ll be perfectly okay with that.

So what the hell does this have to do with writing? It’s a lesson in learning when it’s time to make changes to a project that isn’t working—or scrap it altogether and move on to the next thing. One of my first story ideas was like this. I had grand plans for it, and I was so excited! But once finished, it didn’t quite work. Originally in first person, I re-wrote it in deep third, and added an additional POV. Better, but it still lacked a certain je ne sais quoi—I don’t know what, maybe a coherent plot or something. But whatever. Coherent plots are so overrated. Except they’re not.

What to do, then? That depends on you, and how passionately you feel about your project. I believe that every not-quite-there project has at least a kernel of a great story inside. It might be a compelling character or two, setting or description, scraps of dialogue that make you proud—or maybe everything sucks but the premise.

In my manuscript, I (and Jenna P., who cuts the crap and speaks the truth), felt like the beginning wasn’t working. It started in the wrong place, physically and timeline-wise. Probably with the wrong set of characters, too. And maybe something completely different needed to happen between them—but I digress. You get the idea. The new beginning was—you guessed it—only the beginning. I was on my way to a complete re-imagining of the story. I’m still putting the finishing touches on what feels like Version 10.1, but the work is better for it. It’s my manuscript version of an impenetrable chicken fortress.

But you know what? Even after all of that, my manuscript still may not be that million dollar deal that we naively envision when we first say to ourselves “I want to be a famous writer like (insert name of improbably successful author here)!” Hell, forget the millions. It might not even sell at all. If not, I’ll look at it again. If it’s a story I still really want to tell, I’ll have another go at it—maybe even self-pub if that’s what feels right. If not, I’ll move on.

Wow, what a waste of time, right? Not at all. Every word we right is a miniscule step toward our goal. We’re learning, not just about craft and basics, but about the stories that truly excite us as writers. The ones that make us want to go out and build the best damn chicken pen this world has ever seen if that’s what it takes for the vision to come to fruition.

So what are your “prize chickens?” Are you pursuing them, or not? And why? I’d love to hear about them!

 

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