writerly advice

5 Big Reasons Literary Agents are Important Beyond the Book Deal

Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 in Blog, writerly advice | 0 comments

If you’re working on a book and aiming at the traditional publication route, acquiring a literary agent feels like the key to make all your dreams come true. An agent can submit the Big 5 Publishers, after all, and from there your book can be made available anywhere and everywhere around the world.

The thing is, real life isn’t like a book. After you sign the book deal and work to make your novel all shiny, your life is not emblazoned with a bold THE END. (At least, I sure hope not!) Life goes on. As you write more books and develop more of a relationship with your publisher–or publishers–it means a lot to have a staunch advocate working to better your career. Here’s what an agent might do beyond reading the fine print on your contract.

Call of Fire– Know the trends.
The publishing world is small. As readers and authors, we hear some news about deals and see the new releases, but agents follow the pulse of the industry and know about the books that will be out in a year, two, three years. That’s why an agent might love a manuscript that lands in their slush pile, but they might not pick it up–there might be a glut of similar books that are already signed and in the publication process.

– Edit.
Not all agents edit. Not all authors want an agent who edits. My agent edits and I love her for it, even though her feedback is brutal at times. Not only is she great at critiquing, but–to return to the first point–she knows the industry and what makes a book strong or weak in this particular market. That’s insight beyond what I can get from my fellow authors.

– Act as mediator.
When you establish a relationship with a publisher, agents become this wonderful buffer between author and editor. They get to nag on your behalf. They get to email/phone and pester about late manuscript edits or financial statements or book cover progress. That doesn’t mean agents handle ALL interactions with your editor. A lot of day-to-day interactions are directly between editor and author, but agents are there to call on when things get awkward.

– Career guidance.

Some agents work with authors on a book by book basis. Others make a pact for the full career of the author, and that’s the kind of relationship I have. Here’s the thing: the book industry is weird. Your book might not sell. Editors come and go. Imprints fail. Publishers are bought-out. A supportive agent looks beyond the book you’re working on now, and on to the next series, or a new series. Again, they see the trends. They see what is selling–or not. I rely on my agent’s business savvy to guide me along.

– Cheerleader/superhero.
Writing is my happiness, my joy. Sometimes, it is also a particular kind of hell. My agent is there to talk me off the ledge. She’s not just a cheerleader, she’s a superhero, cape and all. Agents are there for the good times (book deal, whoo hoo!) and also the bad times: when rough drafts stay particularly rough, when deadlines are zooming by, when the publisher is supporting about as well as a ten-year-old bra.

So sure, an agent will help you get a book deal and make sure the contract is fair, but they do so much more. They are there to help you along, book after book, and during those lulls in between books, too. A supportive agent is there to do whatever they possibly can to ensure that your writing career consists of more “TO BE CONTINUEDS” than “THE ENDS.”

Originally posted at Novelocity. #SFWAPro

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5 Ways the Great British Bake Off Teaches You To Be a Better Writer

Posted by on Jul 13, 2017 in Blog, call of fire, writerly advice | 0 comments

I am dedicating my next book (Call of Fire, out on August 15th!) to the Great British Bake Off. Why? Because the show is my bliss. It’s a cooking reality show that thrives on niceness and support, where baking is appreciated by technical skill as well as taste. It’s a show that makes me smile. After a long day of writing and revision, it offers me an escape to the verdant, green British countryside, where I can behold amazingly “scrummy” desserts and savory dishes.

Bake Off also has a lot to teach writers about dedication, perseverance, and community. Let’s break it down with the help of some illustrative gifs.

Luis-doubleblender

– The Power of a Deadline
More than once, I’ve had people tell me, “I wish I had time to write. Maybe I’ll do it once my kids are in school/I change jobs/I retire.” Guess what? Life will always get in the way. Plus, writing itself can be a slog due to sheer procrastination (hello, internet), plot snarls, endless research, and so on.

Deadlines are powerful. Deadlines make you grimace, plant your hind end in a chair, and churn out the words. Deadlines make you take risks in your writing.

Bake Off operates within deadlines, too. Two hours to make an elaborate cake that you’d normally spend a day on! Four hours to make this obscure European pastry you’ve never heard of or seen before in your life! And the bakers are in. Like a writer, they may only have a vague idea of the end result, but the clock is ticking. They need to have something to present to the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

Paul_notgoodenough

– Constructive Criticism
Baking Show presents the absolute ideal of constructive feedback: the negative balanced with the positive. This is something every writer needs to learn, and it is not easy. It requires tact, both in giving this feedback and responding to it in regards to your own work.

If you need a visual on how it is done, watch Paul and Mary. They might be presented with a cake that is an absolute disaster as far as presentation, but they still cut it open. They judge the texture and the taste. With a gracious smile, they say, “Yes, it looks terrible–you know that–but the taste is spot-on. You know your flavors.”

That’s the very thing writers need to hear, too. It’s how we improve–and how we learn to build on our strengths. “Yes, it’s a messy draft and there are some major info dumps, but your characters are amazing. The dialogue sparkles.”

cake

– Innovation
Writers are often told, “Write what you know.” Cooks intrinsically do this, too; we learn family recipes, our cultural and ethnic lore through food, and the recipes of where we live. Writers and bakers also know that we can’t be confined by what we have directly known and experienced. There are infinite realities we can experience through taste and imagination.

The bakers in the tent often look to their roots for inspiration and add those flavors to the traditional British or European fare they are challenged to create. They mix, match, and defy traditional pairings, and something magical happens (whether or not that magic fully works is up to Mary and Paul). This is what writers must do, too. We twist around tropes and develop fresh stories.

soggybottom

– Reinforce Knowledge of the Basics
A writer doesn’t have to know how to fully diagram a sentence to be a real writer, but it is necessary to grasp the basics, the flow, that makes a story work. Writers also need to read. We need to understand what is expected in certain genres, or how to submit to markets, or query agents. There is a huge learning curve involved.

Bakers need those same skills. This is highlighted in the technical round that takes place during each Baking Show episode. The bakers are surprised by a new recipe from Mary or Paul–a recipe that has incomplete directions. “Make fondant.” “Make 1-inch diameter macarons.” “Bake”–with no temperature or time listed. The ingredients are all there, but the bakers need to understand the roles of fats and acids and rise times to make this new recipe come to a delicious result.

These basics are not static, either. There are always new skills to learn, whether you’re making a new cake recipe or a story.

remindmetobreathe

– Supportive Community
Writing is hard. Editing is hard. A support network is vital. The encouragement of family and friends means a lot, but unless they are writers as well, they won’t completely get what we go through. You need other writers at your level who are willing to share updates on a new magazine, willing to critique, willing to listen on those days when the rejections flow and the words don’t.

That kind of community is what makes Great British Baking Show so extraordinary. American reality shows are petty and mean; they relish in someone’s downfall, and add sound effects for good measure. Baking Show eschews that manufactured drama. The contestants become friends. They bond as they work on stations near each other, weekend after weekend. They are competitors, yes, but they are willing to share ingredients at times, or help get a cake out of a pan. There are no sly camera angles to show sabotage–that’s not even a thought.

When a baker has a bad weekend and must leave the tent, it’s a moment of sadness. They gather for a group hug. Tears are shed. The survivors are saying farewell to a friend.

This is something writers must keep in mind, too. We each endure travails in our lives. We each want to make it as a writer. And yes, we are also vying for those few available slots in a magazine or anthology. It doesn’t need to be a cruel kind of competition, though. The publishing world is small, and we need companions for the long journey.

 

Originally posted at Novelocity. #SFWAPro

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TSA Pre-Check: Convenience at a Cost

Posted by on Jul 7, 2017 in Blog, writerly advice | 3 comments

In recent years as I have become more involved with SFF conventions, I have become a frequent flier. I had heard about TSA Pre-check but was rather appalled at the idea of providing the government with money so that they could treat me like a law-abiding citizen. However, recent events caused me to grit my teeth and pay out the funds.

Here is what I learned through the process.

NebSloth6Why I Decided to Do It
May 16th, 2016. That was the day that caused Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to feature prominently in international news for the rest of the week. It was one of those “I was there, man” kind of moments for me. I was flying home from Nebula Weekend and had to stand in a security line of epic proportions. It took me a full hour and twenty minutes to makes it through that morning, but news reports stated that later in the day, the waits extended for three and four hours, causing hundreds of people to miss their flights.

What Pre-Check is
It’s the fast lane through security. You pay $85 (or $100 for the global version) and undergo a complete security screening. As a writer using this to attend conferences, that expense is a tax write-off; also note that if you have a fancy business-level credit card from places like American Express, they might refund the cost entirely. Check with your credit card for details.

If you meet with FBI approval, you are provided with a KTN code that you input into travel reservations. That causes Pre-Check to be printed on your boarding pass (most of the time). The Pre-Check line means that you:
– do not need to remove your shoes
– do not need to pull out your liquid toiletries
– can leave laptops stowed in luggage
– have a much shorter wait in line
– have a kid 12 or under with you, they can also use Pre-check

This benefit is good for five years. The general consensus is that you fly more than a couple times a year, the service is worthwhile because of the amount of time it will save you.

Read the official FAQ on the program.

The Online Application Process
If you go to the link above, you will find the online form to sign-up. It is surprisingly short and straightforward. However, this is the first stage. Once that is submitted, you must also attend an in-person interview.

The In-Person Interview
I live on the far western edge of Phoenix, Arizona. The interview locations were quite far from me: Sky Harbor Airport, and downtown Glendale. In mid-May as I looked at appointment times, Sky Harbor was booked out about two weeks, while Glendale was booked for a solid month. That latter location was much more convenient with me, so I decided to endure the wait. Locations also accept walk-in appointments, but I heard from friends that those involved extensive wait times in the office. I didn’t want to mess with that.

The TSA site had detailed instructions on my interview location and its address, but as I researched, I found it also omitted some important details. The business is listed as Identogo. People were missing their appointments because they couldn’t find it. That’s because Identogo is inside of an H&R Block, and the H&R Block is what has prominent signs along the street and on the building. I don’t know if Identogo is partnered with other businesses, but keep this issue in mind if you are not going to an airport for your interview.

I ended up spending a full hour and a half of driving to attend my 8-minute interview session. I was among the first appointments of the day, and found a sterile lobby area with many chairs and a coffee pot. More and more people arrived during my 15-minute wait; it seemed 95% of the business there was for TSA Pre-check, not for H&R Block’s tax services.

NebSloth1I was called back at my exact appointment time. A monitor screen was set up so that I could review the details I submitted via the online form, and I added in some facts along the way, like my maiden name. I presented my passport, which he scanned. My fingerprints were preserved digitally (punny yet true). The gentleman told me that it could be a few weeks until I was approved, and if I hadn’t heard anything for 30 days, I could query TSA about my status. I had a receipt printed as well as emailed to me that included the link where I could log-in and check my status at any time.

The Non-Wait for Approval
I knew from research online that some people had results very fast. Even so, I was stunned when I checked online the next day and found I was already approved! I then logged into an existing airline reservation to add the KTN.

Using Pre-Check, and a Nice Surprise
One annoying thing is that even though you pay for Pre-check, the benefit might not show up 100% of the time. Therefore, I was pretty nervous about if I would get to use it on my flight the next week. It turned out that not only did I have Pre-check, but so did my husband and 11-year-old son! My entire party seemed to be included within my security umbrella.

Is It Worth It?
Having used it for over a year, I’m very happy with the benefits. I have found the security theatre to be very stressful in the past as I try to track all my belongings, and it’s wonderful to keep everything stowed away, my shoes on my feet, and just endure a check by the guards. To have this benefit extend to my other family members was especially nice.

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5 Tips for Writers Writing Book Reviews

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 in Blog, others books, writerly advice | 0 comments

Book reviews are vital to authors, but when you’re an author yourself, writing reviews of other books can be tricky. If you’re snarky and cruel, wielding one-star reviews like shurikens, you run a real risk of isolating yourself within the author community and with publishers.

That doesn’t mean that you lie and say you like a book that you loathe. It does, however, mean you act with tact and regard the author and their work with respect. This is not easy if you feel rather vehemently about a certain book.

My own background here: I review everything I read, and I’m in the top 1% of reviewers on Goodreads with over 1100 titles listed.


Clockwork Dagger
– Don’t be afraid to remove or hide old reviews. Let’s say that your publishing career has evolved and you’re now publishing books in a genre that you have reviewed rather harshly in the past. Consider this: you will meet these authors at conventions or be on panels together or they might even be asked to blurb your book. Set those old reviews to be private or remove them, and you’ll be removing some potential awkwardness, too.

– Another approach: some authors keep a separate account for book reviews so they can do so anonymously and honestly.

– Be careful about marking a friend’s book as being “currently read.” If you end up not liking it, and they know you are reading it… yeah. I like to wait until I am deeply into a book before I list the status online.

– Don’t be afraid to mark a book as Did Not Finish (DNF). If you’re like me, you have gobs of books waiting in the to-read pile. Life is short; don’t waste it on an unpleasant book! This is also a tactful way to avoid the dilemma of writing a review for a book that just plain didn’t work for you.

Along those same lines, you should not feel like you must finish a book sent from the publisher on places like NetGalley. Mind you, it took me a few years to get the nerve to do this because I felt obligated to finish the provided books. No more. I will go through NetGalley, mark the book as done, and send a note saying something like, “This isn’t a review. I found the book was not to my taste, but I’m very grateful you gave me the opportunity to read it.”

– The most important advice of all: Write every review as if the author will read it. They very well might. I think of it as like writing a story critique: I note the positive, and gently and constructively make observations about the negative.

If you finish a book but have mostly unkind things to say (especially if it’s in your genre), act with care. In such situations, I will type up the review on Goodreads/LibraryThing but keep it set as “private” so I can access it later for my own records. I may or may not leave a star rating.

Always keep in mind the Golden Rule: Treat other authors as you would like to be treated. Most books are not inherently awful. We each possess different tastes; respect that.

Reposted from Novelocity.

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5 Tips to be a Prepared Panelist at an SFF Convention

Posted by on Jun 12, 2017 in Blog, writerly advice | 0 comments

So you’re going to attend a genre convention as a panelist. Whoo hoo! If this is your first time, it’s normal to be nervous. If this is your thirtieth time, it’s normal to be nervous.

Here are some tips to get you geared up, regardless of the content of your panel(s).

5) Know your schedule before you get there.
Carry a notebook or Post-It pad. Make sure your entire schedule is in there–panels you’re on, panels you want to attend, or any other important events during the con. Why? The paper-bound con guide can be very unwieldy to carry or poorly organized. Sure, the con may have an app or allow you to save your schedule online, but the internet can and will go down. Some convention centers get absolutely horrid reception.

PostItschedule_smI like to use Post-It notes. If my badge is in a plastic sleeve, I will slip the sticky notes right inside the back so I can reference my schedule at a glance without having to dig into my purse in a big crowd.

4) EAT. Seriously.
Food is kinda important, but the very nature of conventions can make it hard to eat. Your schedule might have you booked solid, or the venue might not have restaurants close by, or you’re on a restricted diet. You need to take care of yourself. The last thing you want is to have low blood sugar in the middle of your panel and be listless or feel faint… or for your stomach to be growling like a caged werewolf.

Bring a stash of snacks–granola or energy bars, nuts, jerky, something safely portable. Use Google Maps or Yelp to map out nearby eateries ahead of time; you can focus the online map and search for places right nearby!

If you’re feeling weak and hungry, don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. I bet someone will have some food on their person or be willing to dash for the nearest snack bar for you.

3) Know the layout of the convention.
Large convention centers were surely designed the same folks who create video games dungeons. There are dead ends, winding corridors, nonsensical room numbers, boss monsters. Sometimes the maps shown online or in the con booklet aren’t that useful, either, because they don’t clearly show where floors connect to different levels or across streets.

Reserve some time right at the start of the convention to walk the grounds. Find where your panel(s) will be, and also where you might find the nearest water fountains or bathrooms.

2) Read up on your fellow panelists.
If you have time, read a book or two by your fellow panelists, or at the very least, read their biography, know where they are from, and where they have been published. Maybe there is someone you want to get to know more, so you want to sit beside them to chat; or maybe there is someone you know you want to sit far, far away from.

(Note: A lot of conventions will have a space in their initial questionnaires about “who I do not want to be on a panel with.” You should also feel free to turn down a panel if you think it’s a poor fit or that you’ll clash with another panelist.)

1) Jot down notes during the panel.
I like to use a pen and paper. Some folks use their phone instead. Whatever the medium, it’s nice to have a way to jot down quick notes during a panel. Why? Sometimes questions are long and convoluted, or maybe a fellow panelist will babble on so long that you forget the original question. Maybe someone will mention a book or author that sounds really good. Maybe you need to keep score of something, or need to preserve a neat tip or research morsel. Don’t trust yourself to remember anything during the low-sleep high-craziness action of a convention.

All of these tips revolve around a central concern: YOU. Take care of yourself. A little work to prepare will make for a less-stressful, happier time during your convention!

Reposted from Novelocity.
#SFWAPro

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“Etymology Is Important,” She Ejaculated

Posted by on Jun 2, 2017 in Blog, writerly advice | 0 comments

I’m going to start off by telling a story from when I was 13 or 14 years old. I was with my mom and grandma in the car as we drove through the Central California countryside after a Sunday visit to my uncle’s church. As is often the case, then and now, I was reading a new book.

“Mom,” I asked, “What does ‘ejaculate’ mean?”

My Mom and Grandma shared a look in the front seat. “Beth, what are you reading?” There was a strange strain to her voice.

“This book called The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.” I held up the cover so she could see it in the mirror.

Mom and Grandma glanced at each other again. “Read the line to me,” Mom asked.

Etymology-LittleWhiteHorse“‘The coachman is getting down,’ ejaculated Maria.'”

Mom and Grandma both belted out nervous laughs. “Oh. Is it an old book?” she asked. I confirmed that it was a reprint of an old book, and I was informed I’d be told about other definitions for the word once we arrived home.

Yeah, that was a fun conversation. I was both mortified and amused. I had given them quite a fright with my choice of reading material on the way home from church! (I do recommend The Little White Horse–it’s a lovely gothic middle grade book, and apparently has gained new attention in recent years as it’s one of J.K. Rowling’s childhood favorites.)

Etymology is the history of a word, the how, when, and where of its use. I write historical fiction novels, and I find myself very aware of the words I choose. I cannot be 100% accurate to period, nor do I want to be. I will not have my characters ejaculate their speech, no matter how appropriate that word usage may have been in their time!

It’s all about balance. I want my books to be as easy to read as other current books–with contemporary concepts of paragraph size, dialogue tags, etcetera–while still keeping readers in a distant world.

I frequently check word etymologies as I write and revise. My usual go-to is the Online Etymology Dictionary; if that site doesn’t list the word, I usually resort to a Google search of “etymology [word].

There is also the dilemma of a word seeming contemporary, even though it’s not. This is referred to as “The Tiffany Problem”, named so because Tiffany is a legitimate medieval name but it looks too modern to readers of historical fiction and fantasy. For matters like that, it’s great to get feedback from other readers during early revision stages.

Sometimes, I consciously stay with an anachronistic word. For example, the word “kid” for “child” is a very recent development in the English language.

I also use the word “Reiki” to describe a form of magical healing, though Reiki as a modern practice didn’t start in Japan until the 1920s. On an additional note, my copyeditor for Breath of Earth suggested capitalizing Reiki–that’s what it said in their style guide–so I went with that in the final book. It gives it more gravitas in my 1906 setting.

Word choice does determine the tone. Within a sentence, a writer can establish the setting, time, and point of view. Be choosy. Be cautious. And be aware of what “ejaculate” means in various contexts.

Reposted from Novelocity.

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