Monday, 27 January 2014

Once again, I'm ahead of the game

When I was at school I was always about two years ahead of fashion. This of course made me unfashionable. I'd be searching for a long black skirt when everyone else was wearing short; I longed for a pair of grey cord trousers when everyone else was wearing skinny bleached jeans. And two years later, when everyone was wearing long skirts and cords, I'd moved on again. I am a pioneer (and a modest one, at that!)

I wrote novellas when everyone else was writing novels...

And now, novellas are back, says the Telegraph. The growing popularity of e-readers means people are happy to read something a little shorter. Indeed, reading War and Peace on a Kindle might give you RSI after a while!

I never chose to write novellas, I write the story I want to tell at the length it wants to be. I've experimented with forcing a story to be a specific length, and it never really works well. I covered this point in my last couple of posts - trying to fit my story within an allotted word count - so I won't repeat myself.

So, anyway, I'm cool now... Are you?
Are you put off a book if it appears too short?
Have you written a novella?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Story Sprouts blog tour - MATCHED! I Now Declare You Writer and Editor

Today it's my great pleasure over my blog to Alana Garrigues and Nutschell Windsor who are on a massive blog tour, with their book Story Sprouts. They are here to talk about how to train your editor... that's right isn't it, Alana?? 


Nutschell and I are so excited to be here for a stop on our Story Sprouts world tour. We'd like to thank Annalisa for hosting us today, and send a big virtual wave to all of you readers!

Today, I'd like to talk about a topic that can stir up a lot of feelings in a writer - the relationship between a writer and his/her editor. Done well, and editor can make an author's words to transcend every imagined possibility. But a bad relationship can send a writer into the depths of anger, despair and doubt - feeling either misunderstood or inadequate.

As a freelance journalist, I am fortunate to work with an editor I trust intrinsically, one who is both wise and supportive. This editor makes changes and cuts stories when necessary, but always stays true to what must be said. Every change enhances the story. Part of that is a relationship based in trust and respect for one another's contributions, and part of that is my responsibility, as a journalist, to morph my style into that of the newspaper or magazine I write for.

In the beginning of my writing career, I did not realize the impact an editor could have on a story, nor did I realize that the red pen mark-ups would not be sent back to me for final review. I did not know that my story could, and generally would (particularly in the beginning), be published with a brand new title - sometimes even a new lead paragraph. It surprised me in the beginning to see my name on a piece that was 80% mine, and 20% edited.
Three years in, the percentages have inched closer to purely my words (about a 98/2 split), but I am no longer surprised when paragraphs are altered slightly to clarify or add pizazz, and generally, I nod my head and agree that whatever change lies in my story was the right decision. 

The writer looks at craft; the editor looks at readability. Two vastly different skill sets, both important. I am fortunate to have experience as both, in large part thanks to my Publications Editor board position with the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles. 

As the co-editor of CBW-LA's Story Sprouts: Writing Day Workshop Exercises and Anthology, I recognized that for many of our contributing writers, this would be the first time submitting a piece for publication … and their first time having someone edit their words. Initially, I planned a pure copy edit of their pieces. 

However, as I read through the submissions, beyond misspelled words and improper grammar, I noted run-on thoughts, accidental changes in voice, confusing side story lines, and structural issues that could be fixed by simply moving paragraphs around. 

The stories were so strong, beyond these minor imperfections, so brilliant for one day workshop submissions, that I wanted to help the writers shine while remaining true to each of their voices. 

As Nutschell and I reflected on the acceptable amount of editing, she agreed that as our author's first publishing experience, it was of utmost importance to remain true to their voices, while exposing them to the real world of publishing, edits and all. As educators in the world of publications, we agreed that an authentic experience meant editing the pieces as any magazine or publishing house would.

I knew that if I edited the pieces and emailed them back to the writers, as suggestions, a banter would open up that could go on far beyond our three month publishing schedule - and it would give them a false sense of the publishing world. I also knew that for the writers to be exceptionally proud of their work, which was being presented to a wider audience, some editing beyond my planned copy edit was necessary. 

So I set to work, making notes on my print-outs of each submission, tweaking and massaging, until stories came out the way the writer would have intended if they had been granted another hour or two of revision time. I didn't change anything to look like they had months or years to write - each submission is still clearly raw and in the moment - but it looks just a little bit more polished and refined than the original. At the same time, each author's voice is authentic and true; each piece is uniquely individual. 

My hope is that each author looks at his/her piece, and sees that same improvement that I see in my own writing post-edit. I also hope that as each of our writers continues on their journey, they, like me, will find editors they trust and see the extent of editing shrink with experience.

Clearly, the relationship between a writer and editor varies between freelance writer, staff writer, and author. Expectations also vary greatly when looking at indie publishing versus traditional publishing. 

The closer you are to producing content for an audience determined by the traditional publisher - whether that is a news organization or a publishing imprint - the more you will turn over control of the final edits. Many books you see on the shelves have entirely new titles and some heavy internal edits. By the time they have been published, the author's idea has become a group project, for better or worse. 

Indie published authors who work with editors have more control over the relationship with the editor, with the author in a position of power to accept or reject suggested changes. Sometimes, this can be a detriment to an author, particularly a new author. Inflated with pride over having finished a first book, s/he may reject excellent feedback from a line or content editor whose advice is sage. However, the relationship also has the potential to be transformative when the author and editor respect one another and take each others' style and voice into account. Indie authors should look for an editor who is a chameleon, familiar with the genre in question to offer valuable market feedback, but able to adapt to the author's individual style. Set expectations. How long the edit will take, payment terms, how feedback and commentary will be relayed (comments built into Word are convenient to accept or reject), whether you prefer to speak and check in over email or over the phone, whether it will be a line, content or copy edit, or some combination of all three. (It makes more sense to save the copy edit for after any line or content edits, as those will affect the structure of your story and may result in major scene rewrites.) Ask for a first page edit to see how the editor works, and if you feel good about the relationship, make a contract. Then, trust them and take their advice.

The relationship between writer and editor must be rooted in trust, and once you find an editor you love, reward them with word of mouth and repeat projects.

Cheers, and best of luck finding just the right editor to help you pop! Be sure to share your favorites in the comments, if you found an editor you'd like other indie authors to check out. They'll appreciate your support!

·         Paperback: 240 pages
·         Publisher: CBW-LA Publications (October 18, 2013)
·         Edited by: Alana Garrigues, Nutschell Anne Windsor
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 0989878791
·         ISBN-13: 978-0989878791
·         Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
·         Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

·         19 Authors
·         38 Combined Anthology Entries – 2 per Contributing Author
·         6-hour Workshop
·         10 Writing Exercises (included in Story Sprouts)
·         Dozens of Photo, Character and Conflict Prompts (included in Story Sprouts)
·         240 pages

What happens when linguistic lovers and tale tellers workshop together? Inspiration. Wonder. Discovery. Growth. Magic.
Brave and talented, the writers featured in this anthology took on the challenge of dedicating one day to the raw and creative process of writing.
A rare view into the building blocks of composition, Story Sprouts is made up of nearly 40 works of poetry and prose from 19 published and aspiring children's book authors.
This compilation includes all of the anthology writing exercises and prompts, along with tips, techniques and free online writing resources to help writers improve their craft.


Find Nutschell at:                                                          Find Alana at:
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Saturday, 18 January 2014

An IWSG update

Thank you to everyone who commented on my IWSG post this month. If you didn't see it, I was trying to decide whether I should cut words to fit a specific market, or continue with the story as I wanted to tell it.

I decided to cut words! I realised I had no choice, I would kick myself if I didn't at least try - on account of my huge crush on this publisher! It was only 3300 words over the absolute maximum (and I checked, there's no leeway), I could cut that easily... In fact, my words in the IWSG post was easy peasy.

Oh dear... those dreaded last words.

As I started to cut a few words here and there, tightening sentences that admittedly were already pretty tight because I can't write any other way, I also started to add words: I needed to clarify a certain point I was trying to make, I'd cut off a train of thought halfway through. And I'd forgotten Christmas. When you're trying to denote the passing of years in a small number of words, Christmas is always a great bullet point.

My word count now stands at 4000 words over the maximum. Looking at the numbers alone, I can see where I can slice it - the story is top heavy, the first chapter is over three times the length of the final one. But I've read and re-read, and I just can't slash any more words without losing the impact of the story.

It looks like I won't be able to submit to this imprint after all...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Research (or... a great reason to treat myself to a hot chocolate)

Last week I went to one of my favourite places in the whole world (I'm so lucky it's right on my doorstep) to do some research, and I took a few photos...

This is where I imagine my poor homeless girl sleeping. I think it's an amazing setting, albeit a little blustery for her to want to hang around too long. The benefits of research mean I might have to have the character changing her mind about where she sleeps.

Smeaton's Tower, looking east

 Just after I took this photo of Smeaton's Tower - while thinking 'Ooh, it's getting dark' - it hailed and I had to run for cover. One of the great things about the Hoe is you can see the weather rolling in - rain (and hail) usually comes in from the west, and it's fascinating to watch the shower coming closer and closer. This is when I ran to a great cafe to  drink hot chocolate while I listened to the hail and watched the sea going wild!

So, that was my research - now all I have to do is make this slightly run-down, rather strange looking coastline sound beautiful and comforting in my prose.

This is a departure for me - I don't usually put my stories in a specific location. It could all go badly wrong, especially as I'm focusing on the less salubrious side of life in Plymouth. I'll try hard to make it beautiful and exotic at the same time!

Do you write about places you know?
Do you spend time soaking up the feeling of the place?
Does location form a large part of your writing?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

IWSG: A question

It's the time of the month that writers across the world come together to help sort me out... ahem! I mean, offer support to the writing community. To sign up, follow this link... link!

This month I have a question, pure and simple - but first, you'll need some background...

I've been working on my current story for a couple of months - it's actually a novel I started in 2006 which I rediscovered late last year and utterly slashed it down to it's bare bones to rewrite.

I have a crush on a publisher (does that sound weird?) I would love to be published by these guys more than anyone else in the world. They sent out notification of a new ebook series for urban stories for 18-24 year olds.... and guess what? My book fits the bill.

The word count requirement is 30k, which would mean cutting 3500 words (easy-peasy, to be honest).

Okay, that's the background; here's the problem:

  • I haven't yet put in a few of the details I need to, which I think are important, and will probably mean increasing the word count
  • Although this story fits the brief perfectly, the next book may not be contemporary urban fiction - the characters and story come first, the genre can be absolutely anything! I imagine they would want another novella for the same series, rather than just having authors they work with once.

The question: What would you do?
  • Ignore the additional material and cut to fit, with no guarantee - of course - that after all that work the novella might not be accepted?
  • Or would you write the novella/novel you wanted to and look for another publisher, or even submit to that same publisher for their main list?

Friday, 3 January 2014

My filing cabinet

The other day, while reading through my WIP, I remembered a scene I wrote a long time ago (a scrappy half-scene scribbled down in the early hours of a random morning) that would fit perfectly.

So I headed to my filing cabinet to search for it.

I didn't find it, but what I did happen upon was everything else I've ever written... or so it seemed. Endless copies of stories that never got submitted, let alone published. Reams of handwritten sheets that I deemed not good even to even be typed up. Half page, half-imagined scenes. Lists of names, page 6 of a manuscript without evidence of 1 to 5 or beyond, the first line of a story written several different ways, and a lot more.

My cabinet is a fascinating exploration into my head. In short, it's a mess. It needs sorting - the cabinet, I mean, not my head... which is probably beyond help at this point. I need boxes, and I need a black marker pen, and I need a day or two - and I need them NOW!

And the worst part is, I still haven't found that scene, and I know it's perfect.

How do you organise your writing? Have you got a proper archive?
Do you still have paper versions, or are you completely electronic?
I need advice!