Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quantity and Quality by Teresa Kennedy

Yes I know, we all love our gadgets. Computers, smartphones blogs, texts, tweets and social networks have us connected in a way that we’ve never been before.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever would have finished a manuscript without the advent of the personal computer. Word processing takes a good deal of the drudgery out of writing, changing those names, correcting the typos, not to mention doing the research. Knowledge truly is power and the ability of our machines to put whole worlds of knowledge at our fingertips is really awe inspiring.

The problem being that all that information and social networking can keep writers and editors both awfully busy. We live in a world of more or less instant results and it’s that same point-and-click mentality that can really wreak havoc on the creative quality of our work.

As much as the world would like us to believe that creativity is somehow inextricably linked with productivity, quite the opposite is true. An author can write one book or fifty, yet we are continually urged to greater and greater amounts of output, to make more sales, gain more fans and build our networks.

But a good novel just isn’t about how many words it contains, or how fast the author wrote them. Some books take longer than others to write. Programs that insist you can write a novel in a month if you just produce X amount of words per day can be a valuable exercise in discipline, but they don’t necessarily result in quality books, any more than being able to draw that lady on the matchbook makes you a great artist.

I once had an author whose manuscript I had edited text me a corrected scene from her smartphone. She was so obsessed with keeping to her schedule, she wanted immediate feedback in order to proceed to the next “correction.”

Ambition is great of course, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to really take some time to track your own creative process. Where is your inspiration coming from? Chances are, your best ideas arise out of what I like to call “mental free time.” Day dreaming, night dreams, staring off into space, meditation, exercise—whatever it takes. Turn off the phone and (gasp!) even the computer--long enough to detach from the clamor of modern life and find that space of not-thinking, not-doing and not-worrying too much about how to make that scene come out.

As much as writing is a conscious process in the sense that it necessitates applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, typing away and getting that darned book finished, the creative process is largely unconscious, mysterious and full of wonder. The unconscious provides a rich, nearly inexhaustible resource, where ideas flourish and dreams are real. It’s a place where so-called writer’s block doesn’t exist and your characters take on a life of their own. Truly, I think every writer lives for that creative moment when the story begins to tell itself and the actual writing becomes almost secondary. It takes some work to get there, but it’s a magical moment, indeed.

So we have to make the effort to connect with that creativity. It’s in each of us, always. But for most of us, that means disconnecting from our technology, at least long enough to remember that productivity isn’t everything. It’s isn’t the quantity of the words on the page, it’s the quality of the ideas those words represent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Voice: What Is It?

    I had an author I’ve been working with query me as to just what it meant when we talk about the writer’s voice. She’d been doing a lot of internet reading on the subject, and not surprisingly, discovered lot of conflicting information.

    At its simplest, the term “voice” means that everyone's writing needs to be different from everyone else’s. And the process of developing a narrative voice all boils down to a question of choices. Every writer makes choices --about the story they choose to tell, their topics, their choice of words, the details of character and scene; and how they begin, or end, their book. All those different choices in turn determine the collective effect their story has on the reader.

    While it’s often referred to  “tone” or “mood" or even “style,” your narrative always tells the reader something about your personality and the entirely unique way you see the world. That means your writing choices need to be conscious ones. The problem arises when you discover choices aren’t always made consciously, but rather are the result of idioms and idiosyncracies that have a way of creeping where they don’t belong. Readers are extraordinarily perceptive creatures. They can feel a writer hesitate, or struggle through a passage that isn’t quite there yet.

    When it comes to strategies for developing a more authentic voice though, there are a few rules to follow. 

    First and foremost, care about what you’re writing.That may sound fatuous, but face it, if you don’t care, your audience won’t either. You may have the most brilliantly conceived dystopian horror fest ever to hit Microsoft Word, but if you’re not into that sort of thing, your readers will know. Writing is not manufacture; there’s a subtle interaction between author and reader that happens somewhere between the lines. If you’re faking it, you will be found out.

    Express yourself honestly. Be yourself on the page. If everyone felt the same way about everything, we’d all tend to do and say and think the same things. But our feelings about things are what make us unique. Beginning writers very often reach for a tone or style that they believe is more “literary” than how they would normally express themselves. Some try to imitate the style of authors they admire. While there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with different styles, the key is consistency. If chapter twelve sounds like it was written by an entirely different writer than chapter two, you might be in trouble. If you want to be true, you have to start by being true to yourself.

    The stronger your feelings, the better. Do your own attempts at comedy actually make you laugh? Do you actually come to tears when you kill off a character? If they do, chances are you’re in the zone required for a really authentic voice.

    Be original. One can argue that there’s nothing new under the sun, but to say that something is original is simply to say that we haven’t seen it done quite this way before. There’s a difference about it that is ultimately the result of the confidence and willingness of the author to convey a sense of personality on the page. When a reader finishes a book by a favorite author, they frequently feel as though they’ve gotten to know that person. While it isn’t entirely true, that quality of intimacy is an important ingredient in developing an original and unique voice.

    Match your tone to your audience. A white paper on global warming isn’t going to have the same tone as a young adult rite of passage. A romance is not a mystery. I can’t say it often enough, but the voice you choose for your writing must match not just your purpose, but your audience. They want to get to know you, so it only stands to reason you should get to know them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Double Standards by Teresa Kennedy

You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there.
- Yogi Berra

     Publishing puts you in touch with all kinds of interesting people, but never so much or so many as when you advertise that you are seeking novel-length submissions.

    Call it a sign of the times, but in the past few days, Village Green’s website has received a number of queries, almost none of which would be considered appropriate were we a more traditional venue. I get queries that demand references before I even see their book; I am asked whether we have ever infringed on an author’s copyright and I even had one note insist that no “reputable” publisher would charge for editorial or promotional services.

    Babes in the woods, poor dears.

    As a niche publisher and something of a hybrid in an ever-changing industry, we offer a full range of services both for those wishing to self-publish (whether electronically, or in print) and those wishing to pursue more traditional publishing outlets. Those services include development and editorial; design services, pre and post publication support, agent and submissions help, book reviews and publicity services.

In addition, we are also seeking to build a select list of titles for our own catalog. But just because a book isn’t right for our list doesn’t mean it can’t find success elsewhere.

    The interesting thing about many of the queries we get lately, is that they all seem to be informed by an overriding suspicion that as a relatively new company and an industry hybrid there is something inherently suspect about us. That we charge reasonable and entirely appropriate fees for our services seems to make us doubly so.

    We started this company with one mission—that was to see deserving authors published. As a 30 year veteran of this industry, both as an author and editor, when a former editorial client invited me in, I began the venture with eyes wide open. I’m not going to get rich at this; I’m not going to get famous, and it’s going to take time.

    Part of the illusion that pervades the unpublished author community these days is that those realities just don’t apply. Further, any and all publishers must now somehow justify their existence, as though we were all just one more evil corporation waiting to abuse the unsuspecting.

    And yet I ask you, if you were trying to get your book published with Doubleday or Random House, would you insist on seeing your editor’s resume before you made changes? If an agent recommended further editorial help before taking you on, would you consider them a rip-off? When you call a cab to get you to your destination, do you demand the cabbie produce his license to drive?

    Look, I know this isn’t an easy business, but that’s no reason to approach a prospective publisher with a chip on your shoulder. That’s one sure way to get nowhere.

    Whether writing is your passion, your art or your hobby, in the end publishing is a business. Businesses make money, and sometimes the best money is an investment in yourself.