Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rounding towards third

Well hello!

First of all, I have to give a massive shout out to Diana and her new book sale announcement:
Young Adult
Author of SECRET SOCIETY GIRL Diana Peterfreund's RAMPANT, about killer unicorns that can only be defeated by virgin descendants of Alexander the Great, and the teenage huntress whose birthright is seriously messing up her social life, to Kristin Daly at Harper Children's, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency (NA).
Film: Matt Snyder at CAA.
I was extremely lucky to be able to read the proposal and it is awesome - totally totally awesome! The characters are fun and complex, the set up is so unique and wow - what a world! I have been dying for this book to sell (a) so that I could talk about it and (b) so that she would hurry up and write it so I could read it. Congrats Diana!

Of course, it's also neat to see how she wrote the hook for her PW announcement. I can totally see that she's been practicing this one!

Thanks to such wonderful inspiration as seeing a friend sell a book* I've been diligently working on my WIP. For some reason this week I've been getting home from work at a reasonable hour and I bypassed fresh sheets and a comfy fluffed bed to write, write, write (no, I didn't give up sleep... just post work naps - terrible habit, those). Finally, I'd like to announce that I'm through rewriting the dread middle. Yes, with about 12k new words, some new scenes, characterization - just basically rewriting everything, I'm through the part that I felt sucked the most and needed the most work. I know, not quite the huge announcement I was hoping, but a big deal all the same. Seriously, I have only about 30k left to revise at this point and it should go quickly (furiously knocking on wood).

So naturally, my mind turns to what's next. So far, my plan is to send this bad boy out to a few beta readers and while that's going on I need to study the market. Make my agent query list. Write the query, draft the synopsis (just remembered about that bad boy a minute ago). I used to be the type of girl who never worried about a query letter. I never worried about getting past the gate-keeper.

Now I'm terrified. I'm worried that I won't be able to capture the tone of WIP correctly. That I won't be able to really express what it's about. That there are too many reasons for an agent to auto-reject because the premise is a little weird. Part of me hopes that my beta readers can help me boil down the essence of WIP and part of me laughs that I now join the ranks of all the other people out there who dread the query. Seriously, if I do it right, I think the query can rock. If I do it wrong, I'll get more dings than ....well... something that dings a lot, I guess...

Suddenly I find myself re-reading Miss Snark's crapometer. Evil Editor. The Fangs, Fur & Fey contest. I re-read posts like Diana's on writing a good PW announcement. I scour the internet for posts like this by Jennifer Lynn Barnes about what can grab or drag a hook. I've been jotting notes on post-its like "why does the reader care?!" and putting the post-its on my computer (at work, which must cause my co-workers to wonder...).

I think what it comes down to is that I'm not sure I really know the essence of my story. And it probably helps to know the core in order to write the hook. I don't know whether to emphasize the world, the protags relationships, the journey. And I'm afraid of getting it wrong, of not properly representing my book, and of losing the chance. Of not being judged on the writing, because I couldn't get the agent interested enough to get that far.

I used to pride myself on how well I could handle this part of the business. But then it's things like the debate on one agency's blog over whether thanking the agent for their time in a query letter is considered grovelling that start to worry me. I tend to think that the writing trumps: make the query professional, get the story out there, show the voice and you're good. Now I have to worry about which agents like to be thanked? Seriously, in the legal world I sign all my letters with "with best wishes, I remain, yours truly," when I really want to say "up yours!" It's just the way we write things. And we thank people for their time - even when it's their job. Sorry for the mini-rant there - you can tell what side of the debate I fall in :)

I know, I know - it's too early to worry. I'm psyching** myself out, I need to finish revisions, listen to my beta readers, let them help with query letters and synopsis,*** etc. Most of all, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. But not too far...

For the past few months, I've made a concerted effort to keep my head out of the sales arena. To not doodle hook ideas, research agents, etc. To only care about the writing and the book. I'm starting to surface from that world and it's scary. What helps is knowing I'm not the only one out there. That I have great friends who can help me, talk me through it and offer advice.

I just needed to express a little of my fear before pressing on. And now you'll understand why the next few weeks' posts might just be about hooks and writing query letters :)

So, how do y'all go about this stage in the writing? Do you make lists of agents, scour the blogs to find out how they like their hooks and tailor them (find out which agents like to be thanked ;). Do you write one hook and go with it? How do you work on crafting your hook? Boiling the story down. Got and good links to other good advice?
* she started rewriting Rampant at the same time I started writing WIP so (a) it's extra special to see it sold and (b) extra inspiring for me to get my rear in gear.

** random: I only know how to spell psyched because we spelled it out in a cheer in high school. Seriously, when I have to spell that word, I'm mentally cheering.

*** I hate that I find myself in that awful morass of wondering how long to make the synopsis. Whether to write it in first person or third. Whether to double or single. All that crap that isn't really about the writing itself.

Monday, May 28, 2007

My weekend: a statistical review

As y'all know from my last post, I was in the mountains this weekend. Ahhh... bliss! I think we're even going to head back next weekend! Without further ado, here is my weekend in numbers:
  • number of dogs lost: 1
  • number of dogs found (thank goodness it was the same one!): 1
  • number of frantic runs through the woods searching for lost dog: 1
  • number of crab rangoons consumed by yours truly: 20+
  • number of regular bottles of wine consumed: 4
  • number of magnums of wine consumed (not all of that wine was consumed by me!): 2
  • number of hours slept: 30
  • number of books read: 3
  • number of short stories read: 5
  • number of levels advanced in Guitar Hero II: 3
  • pieces of birthday cake eaten (with rocky road ice cream, of course!): 2
  • number of words written on WIP to shape up the pesky middle: 11,000+
  • number of times I checked my blackberry: 0
  • number of Jacuzzis taken: 2
  • number of times JP said we should actually leave cabin: too many to count
  • number of times we actually left cabin: 1 (foraging for food)
  • number of stories written by JP: 3
  • number of hours sitting on porch watching birds on bird feeder and enjoying view: 7
It was truly a perfect weekend! How was everyone else's?

Friday, May 25, 2007

I'm not at work today!

So it is becoming apparent that I blog about once a week - generally on Saturdays. Soas not to leave y'all in the lurch this weekend, I thought I'd post a little early this week. That's because I'm going on vacation. Yep. That's right - at this very moment, I am not working. And I will not be working for the next few days. I'm going to a glorious place with no blackberry service and no internet. Can't wait!!

As y'all know, it's been a hectic few months for me preparing for this trial. It's meant pressure, lots of long hours, and doing whatever is necessary to help out the trial team. Even if it that meant counting boxes full of documents.* At the end of each day I would drag myself home. Sometimes mentally exhausted, sometimes physically exhausted, sometimes emotionally exhausted, but usually all three.

I'm a big fan of the motto that writer's write. But when I got home at the end of these days, the best I could do was zap a lean cuisine and flop in front of the couch. Usually I would just go straight to bed and read. I felt bad for not working on WIP, but I just didn't have the energy. I realized that it isn't about having the time, or not being tired, it's about being emotionally able to write. These past few weeks, I couldn't place myself in my character's worlds. I couldn't dig deep enough into their emotions. I was too flat. It wasn't that words wouldn't come (those can be forced) but feelings wouldn't come. And those can't really be forced.

I realized that when I write, I become my characters - all of them. It's like a dream where supposedly you are everyone. I think that's why I have a hard time visualizing my characters, because I'm so deep inside them (even the ones that aren't the POV character) that I just don't know what they look like. I know how the feel, how their emotions manifest themselves physically, but not appearance.

So that's why I haven't been writing/revising. And that's why I'm so looking forward to this weekend - nothing but time to sleep, read, hang out, and write in a beautiful setting. More than enough time to recouperate, and plenty of time to get fidgety about writing so that I have no choice but to revise.

With that in mind, my goal for the long weekend is simply to revise the dread middle of the book. This might take wholesale rewriting of about 10-20k. I'd love to finish revising the whole thing. But I'll be happy just to make progress.

I'm looking forward to recovering from the past few months, of slowing life down a little bit. It's supposed to be beautiful weather, and my spring clothes order from Old Navy came in the mail and everything fits. I can't wait to sit in the sun, look at the mountains (that pic is the view from the porch of the cabin), and breathe.

I hope everyone else has a wonderful long weekend. Take time for yourself - enjoy the break of spring. And happy writing!
* no lie, I spent 13+ hours on Monday counting the number of pages in boxes. Turns out there were over 20,000 pages. Not all counted by hand... but most.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Do Blogs Sell Books?

As a preliminary matter: my big trial was postponed a month which means another month of late hours and not a lot of time for writing. I was kind of hoping to get this trial over with so I could take some time off and play at being a full time writer. Ah well... I'll know more about my time this Weds when the court rules on a lot of really important motions. This weekend I hope to tackle the dread middle revisions of WIP. I haven't even looked at it for weeks! Maybe I'll also play with post-its to see the arc of the story. It's JP's* birthday this weekend, so that will take some time :)

Moving on... people have blogs for different reasons. One reason, I think, that writers have blogs is to form a community, share knowledge, be accessible to fans, and as publicity - to sell books. Natch, there are other reasons, but these are just some off the top of my head. But, many authors wonder, do blogs sell books?

I'm here to tell you, they do. After lounging around this morning reading, I began to think about my TBR pile and how I find the books I read. Right now I'm reading An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. I picked this book up a few months ago when I first heard about the Printz Prize, but it's languished on the TBR pile since then (to be honest, I'm generally not a road-trip-plot kinda girl, but now that I'm half way through this book, I realize that it's not really a road-trip book - go figure).

So, ok, a blog had nothing to do with that particular purchase. But I'm also listening to John Green's Looking for Alaska on tape right now. And yesterday I wanted nothing more than to sit in my car in my driveway all afternoon to find out what happens next (my computer speakers don't work). This particular purchase was purely motivated by John Green's blog - sparksflyup (and Brotherhood 2.0). Justine Larbalestier** talked about Brotherhood 2.0, wondering if video blogs worked and I commented that I had a problem with video blogs because I can't watch them at work and I can't watch them on my computer (again, the speaker issue). But then I purloined JP's computer, started watching Brotherhood 2.0 (and reading the archives of sparksflyup) and became a big fan. Big fan.

So I bought John Green's first book. I wanted to know about it. To see what this writer wrote. Perhaps, because it is a Printz Award winner, I would have purchased Looking for Alaska anyway. But really, I got it cause of the blog. It felt like buying a friend's book. Like I would be disloyal no to.

Same thing with Maureen Johnson and Bermudez Triangle. When all the stuff came up about that book being banned, I wanted to show my support by purchasing the book. I wouldn't have known about the banning if I hadn't been reading her blog (I think I got there from Justine's blog and also John Green's blog too). I got both Bermudez Triangle and Devilish - both because of reading her blog.

Speaking of Justine - I got her Magic or Magic trilogy partly because of Diana's blog (where I heard about her) and partly because I started to read Justine's blog.*** And speaking of Diana, I became a huge fan of hers after reading her blog (and then reading her books and becoming friends - but the blog came first).

Does this work on a massive scale? I mean, does having a blog get you lots and lots of sales rather than just a few fans? Is it worth the time that some authors put into it? Probably not if you're only blogging for the sales. But it does seem to work to build a community. And I tend to think of those communities as mini sales forces. I would think that every person who comes back to your blog day after day, comments, gets to be friends, then hits the streets when your book is out and goes to work. We turn books face out. We talk books up to our friends. We make sure our local bookstores are stocked.

Because sometimes, I think, that fans like that feel like the book kinda belongs to them too. I mean, when I read a blog for a looong time (or even just go back through the archives) and watch that book get written, submitted, sold, edited, etc., I feel like I'm invested in that book. I want to watch it do well.

And I think that sells books. It reminds me of talking to a politician who said that when he gets a letter from a constituent (not a form), he tends to take it seriously. Because if that constituent took the time to actually write a letter, then that constituent cares enough to go out and drum up support from another 100 constituents. That constituent isn't the voice of one person, but rather 100 people.

I think it's the same with loyal blog readers. Or rather, it's the same with me (I guess I shouldn't speak for others). If I read a blog, I buy the book. If I'm a fan, I buy the book for my family. I make sure it's turned out. I make sure it's stocked and I talk about it to others.

What about you other blog readers? Do you think a blog helps to sell books? Do you buy books of the blogs you read?****

Here's a list of other books I bought and read this year because of blogs:*****
  1. Allison Brennan's books
  2. Rumble on the Bayou
  3. The Rest Falls Away
  4. Angel's Choice (recommended on Diana's and someone else's blog)
  5. Foul Matter (recommended on Kristin Nelson's blog)

* formerly known as The Boy.

** Who just won a Norton for Magic or Madness which is just so cool!

*** There are lots of reasons that people buy books and I'm not going into all of them here. For example, I also bought Justine's books because, frankly, they looked good. But for this blog entry, I'm only finding connections between blogs and purchases...

**** I'm a lazy linker. There were lots more places to put links in this blog and I didn't put them there. For that I apologize. Kinda :)

***** I'm also too lazy to list the books I read last year because of blogs - but there were a lot.

Monday, May 14, 2007


Writing pal Erica posted about the TARA meeting on Saturday that Diana attended but which I, sigh, could not attend. I even had it all planned out with work that I'd fly down for it... but alas... I could not go. I'm sad to have missed all the fun!

But Erica kindly posted on her blog the ah-ha! moments she had during Diana's talks and her ah-ha moments became my ah-ha moments. Two things she wrote about really stuck with me. The first is that in a love triangle, both choices should be viable.* I'm always reminded of Sweet Home Alabama for this. In that movie, Reece Witherspoon has two men to choose between. And both of them are great. Neither one of them pull that dick move to make you hate them and make the choice an easy one. I always loved that - because it was a really hard choice. An honest choice. Because, really, if one of the potential love interests is a dick, is there really any choice at all? That makes it too easy and we all know that writing is about torturing your characters.

This came up in my WIP. See, I have my protag choosing between two men. And I wrote some pretty angsty falling in love stuff between her and one of the guys. My instinct was to then make the other guy no good. Or even just make him "eh." But that wouldn't cause tension. And so I made him a good person. Someone who clearly tries to do right by the protag. And that makes the protag have to choose. It makes her look within herself to really figure out who she is, and what she wants. It's harder to write that way, but I think the payoff is much greater.

Another thing Erica wrote about is "save the cat" meaning (and I quote from Erica here) "an act that an otherwise-unlikable character performs in order to engender reader empathy/support." Boy did I need to hear/read this right now! I'm entering the revisions of the dread middle and I was going back over what one of my crit partners wrote *cough*Diana*cough* and realized just how much she detested one of my characters. And I mean, really really really really didn't like the character at all. Similarly, The Boy** finished reading that same portion of the book and said "you know, no one is really likable there."

Bummer. But this whole "save the cat" idea is great. Because really, our villains are people too. They're the main characters of their own story. And this character that Diana hates so much has her own arc, is going through her own crisis and it's easy to show her slide down into that poisoness place. But it would be much easier to show her struggle. To show that she can be good. Because she used to be so good. So I need to find a cat to save :) And then I need to write her back into the last chunk of the book because I didn't really know what to do with her and so I just pushed her aside. Not really the best course of action.

So thanks Erica for posting your thoughts. It's hearing things like this that seem so straightforward, and yet are somehow so forgettable, that excite me. That get me pumped up to write and give me that clarity I need. That's why I read blogs and listen to industry tapes again and again. You never know when you're going to get that gentle reminder that nudges you back into place. That ah-ha moment that you may have had before, but that you needed again. And thanks Diana for giving that workshop even though I missed it. I promise to have your detested character save a cat. If I can find one...

Anyone else have ah-ha moments or advice or thoughts on craft they want to share? I firmly believe that you can never hear craft advice too many times!

* This is one of those pieces of advice that makes so much sense but then is SO easily forgotten like so many other good pieces of advice.

** Still looking for a good name. Not that I can't use his real name since that's pretty easy to track down. But I'm looking for something that will have instant recognition with readers... you know... so they'll know he's my sig other rather than a son or cat or iguana.

Monday, May 07, 2007

An update so soon?! Plus, the long awaited Series on Series continues!

I decided that I should follow through on that whole "posting weekend goals and then telling y'all how it went so I was accountable" stuff. Somehow I jump out of bed early on Saturdays (even earlier than I get up for work during the week) raring to go. I sit down and decide to warm up with a little blogging. Then comes the trek to the bagel place. Then.... stuff. This weekend "stuff" was an email I received at 11am basically tripling my workload for the weekend. So I didn't get ANY work done on the WIP. Instead I billed, billed, billed. But I look at it this way: every hour billed now is one that I don't have to bill later.

You'll be happy to know, though, that I've been a good little girl and came straight home from work and straight to my computer and revised the big "ack - this needs to be totally rewritten!!" scene. It feels good to have that first rewrite under my belt. *

A while ago I posted about series, sequels, etc. There were a ton of great comments about that and I wanted to add my much-promised take on the matter. For some reason I feel like I'm seeing a ton more series (and I use that as an over-arching term to encompass any book that is not a total stand alone). Perhaps it is that I wasn't paying too much attention to the market before, perhaps it is because for the past few years I was really into reading chick-lit which I don't think lends itself to series very well and now I'm more focused on YA. It just seems like I'm always reading Book 1 of something.

It makes me wonder if authors are consciously trying to write more series these days. If they're trying to make the ideas bigger, the arches longer. And if so, then why? A part of me thinks that it's easier to build an author brand from a series and to build reader loyalty. Would I be as big of a Scott Westerfeld fan if there'd only been an Uglies and no Pretties or Specials (or Extras!)?

I think this can work both ways. On the one hand, I do think the fact that Westerfeld's Uglies was a trilogy is a reason that I became such a fan of his. I was hooked and I gobbled them all up over a family vacation (I was a rude reading hermit!). Because I was hooked I needed more and so I shifted to his backlist and I'll probably read just about everything he publishes. Yep, he's found a very loyal fan in me!

But what happens when the reader just doesn't dig the trilogy? I had this happen recently. I love the author, I WANT to love his books. But... eh. I mean, they're ok, but... eh. I have other TBR books haggling to take that place. And so I petered out on the first book. Which means I won't pick up the second book even though I really WANT to love this author's work. Or the third... yup, he's just lost a fan in me. I'll probably try him if he writes something outside that series, but that's a way off and who knows where I'll be.

So on the one hand, with a series you can really solidify the people who like your writing, but on the other hand, you can lose fans. How do you find that balance? Do you think that more authors out there are writing series? If so, do you think it is a way of branding? Of job security? A crutch?

* and now, having gone back and reviewed what I worked on tonight, I realized that I write 2.2k. Wow. I felt like I barely wrote anything at all. I love when the writing is like that: time flies, the world comes alive and everything else slips around you.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ahem... the updates you all have been craving

Yes, yes, thanks all for pointing out in the comments of my last post what a slacker I am since I didn't update after last weekend's post on goals. That would be because I... er... didn't really accomplish what I wanted.

Here's the deal: on Saturday I jumped out of bed bright and early and updated my blog and prepared to tackle revisions. Then The Boy* got up and we went to get bagels and then we started in on the garden/yard and then we sat on the freshly scrubbed porch and admired the yard and then it was nap time/writing time. As I was dragging my butt to delve into revisions, The Boy said, "you know, I've decided to pretend for this weekend that I only have one full time job and not two and so I'm not going to stress about writing."

And I thought about how nice that would be, just to have time to relax and breath. And I thought about how everyone's been advising me to step back from WIP and take a break. So that's what I did. We napped. We ordered in and sat on the back porch with a bottle of our favorite wine. On Sunday we cleaned the house, called in Roto Rooter for the 4th time in 6 weeks. And I didn't stress about WIP.

In a word, it was glorious.

Then this week at work kicked my behind. Our big multi-million dollar trial starts in two weeks. Lets just say that things aren't going well for our side right now. On the home front, we had to replace the roof this week and we're replacing the outside plumbing this weekend - ain't being a homeowner great?!

So, that's where we are. The house looks great, the yard looks great - we even have a cool new trench:

No tomato plants, but we did grocery shop and walk the dog - she's a special needs dog,** and she has a pack:

But enough about what's past. On to this weekend! Of course remembering that I had to cancel a trip to see my sisters and nephews because I have to work for my day job this weekend, I'd also like to get some revisions done. It's time to jump back in folks.

And I'm starting with getting back to my roots. This blog was meant as a procrastination tool and that's what I'll use it for. Hence, forthwith, I will update the list of books I've read this year. And I promise to post updates on my goals as the weekend progresses...

* The Boy needs a new blog name. I came up with The Boy in a rush. It's boring. People think I mean my son and not my boyfriend (ew). So I'm taking suggestions...

** Yes, the people who say that no dog is untrainable and guarantees results just offered us our money back. It's only the third time they've had to do that (the first was when the dog died, the second dog was too old for training). Fortunately, we love our trainer, he's a cool guy, and so we told him to keep the money and keep coming out to the house every week to work with us.