Monday, June 28, 2010

Salt of the Earth

When my grandfather said someone was the "Salt of the Earth" it was a sincere compliment. I'm pretty sure saying something is the "Meat and Potatoes" of it, is also from that era.

Glynis Smy is one of my favorite bloggers. There are tons of blogs by aspiring writers. Many of them I find boring. But Glynis' blog is unpretentious thoughts and questions of an aspiring writer. I love reading her blog.

While there are many people near and dear to me, I have to say that Glynis is one who is always supportive of my antics - and loves me anyway.

I think it is wonderful that Glynis has opened the door to the experience of writing in first person. I often speak of first person writing as an actor getting into character, for it is just that, experiential. It is on a level that I find hard to describe to someone who hasn't written in first person. It is sensual. I think it is a risk [worth taken] to examine the character from such a personal level.

While readers take a bit to adjust to the style, I think the writer/reader connection is greater. There is less emotional distance, less safety in being so exposed. But I think the experience for the writer and the reader is well worth the risk. Why the industry clings so tight fisted to third person, I cannot understand. Go for it, Glynis. I believe in you!

The meat and potatoes award is posted on the side bar. Please visit (and follow) Glynis' blog.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Weekend Cometh...

It's finally Friday. In Arizona, it is too hot to be outdoors for long, which makes it a good time to read. Lots of people have electronic readers or apps for their phones to read ebooks.

The general consensus in the publishing industry is that money can be made from ebooks. Of course, the details of how to make money from ebooks varies from source to source.

Cactus Rain Publishing does not offer ebooks. The current ebook climate is too disorganized, in my opinion. In some cases the ebook isn't stored permanently on the eReader, so there is a second fee to "download" it again. Some systems store the ebooks in "your" library on the retailer's server, which reminds me of paying to borrow a library book.

The readers are totally cool. There are tons of options of handheld devices to chose from for those loving gadgets. I think there is something else coming once we cycle through the "more of the same" phase and someone comes up with a new idea.

I'm working on something that I think makes ebooks actually work better for the [human] reader. This project has been in the works for four years. There are all kinds of technical issues, non-disclosure agreements, patent processes, and of course, the big one - funding.

In a nutshell, [whoops, nope, I can't write that on the internet and have someone with more money than me - nearly anyone you can think of who has a hand in ebook delivery - take my project and keep it for their device only].

The main point is, Cactus Rain may eventually offer ebooks in a new design, but for now, we are stuck with good 'ol printed books.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Inside Scoop

We will be 'rolling out' the test pages of Cactus Rain Publishing's website soon. I need four or five people (don't have to be in the US) who check their email daily and want to give feedback on the test pages.

Email me if you're interested. Sorry, no pay, but you can have bragging rights!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Query Letters

The weekend was spent working on Cactus Rain projects. I kept thinking that I must stop and blog, but I didn't.

One of the things that I rarely discuss is the query letter. I have written some of the world's worst query letters, so I'm not the person to ask for help. Although I can say it is much different reading them as a publisher.

One thing I've noticed is that since query letters can be sent as email, not as much attention seems to go into them. It is still a business proposal. I've found that many of the ones I've received are much too lax and casual. Draft them and sit on the a few days. Clean up the grammar and spelling. I know I'm dyslexic, but even I notice that stuff. What do you think the big New York agents think when they see a query - that it reflects how the writer writes, that's what.

Another thing, don't pad the query with hollow credentials. It is not impressive to win some little known award, especially from a writer's group. I know books and articles about writing queries say to list all your writing 'credits' and activities. Frankly, I'm just fine with someone who doesn't go to critique groups. It is worth listing if you've gone to a workshop or conference and met the agent there or at least heard them speak.

You must work on your 'elevator pitch' so that you can tell the whole store in 4 or 5 sentences in the query letter. Trust me, no one cares what the middle name of your character is, leave it out unless it is vital to the story. Besides, that is simply boring to read and you want some excitement happening, if you're going to compete with the other query letters.

During the blog party at First Draft last year, we did an exercise of writing log lines. This comes from when scripts were logged into a catalogue at the movie studio and there was only one line to write enough so that one script could be identified from another.

It is a good exercise to practice log lines and the paragraph size synopsis. You'll need to be able to do these not only for the query letter, but for when you're interviewed or someone asks, "What is your book about?"

If you dare, then practice them in the comments. I know Glyn and DJ have books coming out this year, and both of them will probably have something to say - yes, I'm putting you on the spot. How about some of the rest of you? Glynis, Peggy, Carol Anne? Or, I guess you could write something on one of my books, if you've read them and rather not expose your book blurb yet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Quality vs Quantity

"It would be nice if the quality of book mattered rather than just what you can afford, with respect to exposure on Amazon, one said."

I've taken the above quote out of context, because I want to discuss the topic of quality. This is why I'm so picky about what Cactus Rain will publish. This is a quote from an article I'll link at the bottom, for those interested in the whole article. The issue [to me] isn't about Amazon, it is about having the money to "buy your way" to success.

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone can think of a book they've read that they couldn't finish because it was simply bad writing, or at best needed a few more rewrites and edits.

It amazes me, and a know a few people who do this, that anyone would continue reading a book they didn't like - this is probably left over from childhood when we were told to clean our plate (finish what we've started).

Writers labor hours, months - or more likely - years to get their ms into marketable shape. I can think of only a few who crank out books like rabbits have babies.

There are some publishing companies that will publish anything for a fee. It is simple to understand how the established publishers feel about them when the pros spend time and money to make sure books with their logo are quality works. This is only what readers deserve, the best book possible.

I like the good old fashion way a book rises to popularity because it is good, not because of the money behind it. Maybe I simply don't think it is fair for a really good book to prematurely fall into obscurity because someone with a lesser book can afford more advertising bling.

Seems to me that buying-in is a hollow reward in the end. That's the way I see it. What do you think, would you rather your book is a bestseller, regardless how it got there?


Monday, June 14, 2010

Tempus Fugit

Yes, time flies. Mostly it files in manuscripts when the rewrites are done and things get moved around, like scenes and such. Or worst, when the novice insists on editing while in the midst of writing the first draft.

The best way to write a novel is straight through, beginning to end. Never, ever go back and read more than the last paragraph before starting to write each time. Please don't jump around in the ms making changes. It is a habit worst than nail biting to break, but to move from novice to professional writer, it must be broken.

I have a friend who is one of the most stubborn women I've ever met. Honestly, when I read her ms I can tell that she has jumped back and forth while writing the first draft. Not only are there gaps and time flying involved, the tone of the characters zig-zag until I'm certain they must be schizophrenic with the number of mood changes occurring.

It is a bear to fix the time changes and gaps. One way that works (and is a lot of work) is to go through and read the ms in a printed copy - away from the computer and temptation to change other things. Write it in the margin every time change, (Friday, Tuesday, two weeks later, morning or afternoon ...something very clear). It usually means an extra read-through because it is hard to focus on too many things to check at once. But if beta readers are making notes that say, "What day is it?" then it must be done. You can bet that an agent or their reader will catch it and it might be the final blow to getting a contract offered.

That is the easy part compared to sorting out an unintentional moodiness in characters that comes from jumping around while editing or writing the first draft. I've know some who write scenes; keeping them in their own documents then stringing the scenes together with bridges. That equates to the biggest mess I've ever seen. I won't read those mss, it is just not a good way to create a storyline for fiction.

Seriously, only work on your ms from beginning to end. Regardless of whether you are writing the first draft or in the rewrite process, never jump around in the middle. Your readers might not be able to put their finger on what it is that isn't quite right, but people in the industry will see it right off.

The only way I know to fix a mixed up moody character, when that wasn't the plan and really doesn't work even if it was, is to get help. You're either going to have to hire a professional content editor or owe your best friend something very special.

Print two copies of your ms. Get your friend and some snacks and settle in for a long weekend of serious work. Don't think you can pawn it off on your friend, you have to be involved or shell out the big bucks for a pro. Read the ms aloud, but not so fast that it isn't being heard by either of you. The friend's job is to notice, if you don't, when characters are out of character. Then you have to decide if it adds to the story or is simply sloppy writing. Be honest. If a character is talking in a way that they should develop into later (you jumped around), then it has to be fixed. If a character knows something they shouldn't know yet (you jumped around), then it has to be fixed.

I know some people think it is okay to bank scenes for later and write to them. Fine, but know this: very few writers can pull that off and the tone (your voice as the writer) will show as it change from one scene to another with the "bridges" between, especially if the scenes were written out of sequence.

I bet after this, no one will write out of sequence again. That is my hope anyway.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Something useful

Whether it is researching the business end of things from trends to licenses and legal issues or being on the creative side of the mind, patience is the key. One of the things I find the least exciting is building a business plan. There is very little motivation behind it because with this [USA] economy and the state of the industry, no bank is going to loan me money for a start up publishing company.

Patience to plan and save the funding for each step of the process to build a business, any business, is a slow process. When I think of creating the web content or the more creative aspects of the company, it makes the mundane more manageable.

The same is true when writing fiction. The first draft is the worst draft. It takes nerves of steel not to jump the gun and push an ms through the process before it is ready for the light of day. Almost everyone I know dreads the third or fourth or twentith rewrite, never mind editing. But once into the process, it isn't so bad and usually takes on a momentum of its own as the ms becomes refined.

Same is true for the query process. The pre-query research is mind boggling. Where to start? How to know if the agent is a good one or a dud? Do they shop the type of ms you have? Do they already have one like it under contract?

It gets tempting to ship it to the quickest, easiest online printer that can be found. I have several books in my collection that look amateurish. I have one that is out right horrid and I ache for the author. But on the other hand, they 'knew it all' and it shows in the finished product.

My Godmother once told me patience was only a virtue if it was difficult to wait. Maybe. But in this industry it isn't about waiting, it is about methodically going through the process and not stopping when discouraged, because everyone gets discouraged at some point from first word to first royalty check.

Keep the faith - keep writing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Publishing Industry of the Future!

I chuckle at the industry news that says the publishing industry is changing, needs to change, or the really funny ones about the look of publishing in the future - as if they know the future.

First off, the industry - as any other - is changing daily. Glyn Pope mentioned in the comments the other day about a book he was reading from the 1930's and how the writing style was different from now.

Besides writing styles, the technology is ever evolving. From a better ink for the monks to use to today's digital presence, we are always looking for a better way to publish books.

When I get an ms to read the first thing I notice is the formatting. I don't know how searchable it is on this blog, but learn about formatting - it is paramount. (There are posts that cover this on somewhere in First Draft.)

Over the years, I've received some real ms messes and spent months working with the writer to get their ms in shape to query a literary agent. With Cactus Rain, I won't do that - there isn't the time. The mss have to arrive in good shape -- in writing and formatting, and the correct file type.

It is extremely important to understand how to use your software (MS Word is practically the industry standard - because it used to come installed on new computers so everyone had it for free).

With a typewriter, which some of us began with, what you saw was what you got. While the results and some of the procedure are (or can be) the same with a computer, the difference is the dynamic language of the CPU.

Because computers 'think' in a binomially language from the DOS-prompt years, (I'm sure you know, but it is a two 'letter' language for the computer that is two numbers, one and zero, often grouped in multiples of eight digits), it does not 'think' like a typewriter. Right, a typewriter does not think. "BINGO!"

A computer computes in its one's-and-zero's-mind with a 'language' called codes - you've heard of coding for websites - yes? What you see may not be what you get. Remember the time something looked fine on the screen and printed out differently - e.g., badly?

Tabbing to center something isn't the same thing (to the computer) as using the center code command to position the text. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to use the 'enter' key like the typewriter's return to get to the start of a new page.

The problem with that during editing is, if enough words are added or deleted to change the number of lines in the chapter, it will move up or down the following lines (in the next chapter). That is why it is REQUIRED to use the 'page break' command at the end of each chapter. Note that I wrote REQUIRED. Please don't forget to number the pages.

After putting the ms in basic format, such as chapters starting on a new page and double spaced line, then I am ready to read. I add paragraph and scene breaks as I read as well as turning on track changes for the comments and suggestions I make - which is basic content editing.

In the years I've been doing this for people (for free), I've seen some of them grow as writers and a few who won't take any direction from anyone, who then self-publish a book they aren't happy with in the end.

A couple of months ago someone suggested that I download a free software that is almost like Word. (Are you kidding me?) Why would I want to put extra software on my computer? I bought MS Word and Corell WordPerfect - the wantabe writer needs to provide their ms in the correct software file. Don't go all diva before it is time. Buy the correct software to be a real writer - your competition will, every year thousands of writers do this stuff correctly and get published.

Please don't send mss to me to content edit. I don't have the time. Once I announce that I'm accepting unsolicited mss, feel free to send a query in the usual, industry standard manner.

While I don't do formula writing, there is a 'formula' or industry standard to getting a book from the first draft to the published book. Research my blog and other sources of information and learn how to do it right, so you succeed in your dream to be a published author.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June Newsletter

The June newsletter is posted on my website now. Some of the notices with hotmail addresses bounced back, if you're wondering why you didn't get the notice, that might be why.

Friday, June 4, 2010

'Tis true!

Today is my birthday. To celebrate, I'm putting my books on sale on my website for the whole month. Click the link in the side bar to get there from here.

(I took a road trip last weekend - bet you get that song stuck in your head)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Where's the purse?

There is a saying in fiction: "Dropping alligators over the transom." I've been told it doesn't make sense except to American's. (I'm not sure young Americans have any idea what a transom is either.)

My explanation is this: Prior to air conditioning, buildings had a small window above the door that could be opened. With the exterior window open, perhaps a fan or two, and the transom open the room could be tolerable with the cross ventilation and the door could be locked.

Obviously, alligators are not going to get into the locked room unless someone heaves them through the transom. The point is, writers shouldn't drop solutions to problems in their ms out of the blue.

On that note, my friend from England was here and read to me several scenes from the book she was reading. It was an English book, so it was grand to hear it read in English, complete with the appropriate dialect for the characters. Through several scenes in a cursed camping trip, the grandmother clutched her purse - no mater what the disaster was. She even fell in the wet ground and slipped toward the cliff - clutching her purse. When the worst yet (in the story) disaster struck and everyone barely escaped with their life, there was no mention of the purse. Had it gone over the cliff in the caravan (camper) or did the old woman manage to take it with her as she jumped and fell to the ground?

That still bothers me. What happened to the purse? I know it is insignificant in the big picture of the storyline. But the author had made such a point of mentioning it with every mention of grandmother, that I can't believe the editors at the publishing house (traditionally published, so there were editors) didn't catch that.

It would be easy to fix. After safeguarding the purse with such determination, one of the family could have a peek and fine there was nothing in it, or her false teeth (not sure she had false teeth, I'm just making this up) or it could have been lost when the caravan went crashing into the sea and some mention of what was in it.

This is the type of thing that I'm very particular about with the Cactus Rain writers - just ask them. This is why having good beta readers is so important. Perhaps it wouldn't matter to an agent or an acquisition editor at some big publishing house - it seems not to have mattered in getting this book published. But why take the chance? I think it was sloppy writing. What do you think?