Thursday, December 6, 2012

Let it Cool by Teresa Kennedy

With the passing of another National Novel Writing Month, congratulations are surely in order for those dogged souls who made the time, space and energy to churn out a new book in 30 days. There’s nothing better than that feeling of accomplishment and kudos to you all.

But finishing a book also carries with it a certain sense of loss. The ideas and characters that have occupied your brain for what seems like forever, the plot turns and twists that have kept you up nights; the voices in your head that intruded on your other activities in patches of dialogue and random inspiration are, for the most part, resolved. And that resolution leaves a curious sort of hole in the writer’s psyche.

If it’s true that it’s best to write while you’re hot and those creative juices are flowing, it’s also true that when you’ve finished a novel, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself and the book is to just let it cool for awhile. That sounds easier than it is, I know, but I’d recommend a minimum of two weeks before you so much as look at it again. Go out to lunch, do the laundry, spend time with your kids---take up knitting, whatever you wish, but DON’T leap right back in and think you’ll be able to edit or make revisions with any sort of objectivity at all. It’s always tempting to try and sustain the somewhat altered state of consciousness that goes with creating anything—it’s a sort of “high” that most of us are loathe to give up. When you’re writing you are indeed a Master of your Universe; when the book is done, you have to come back down to earth.

Despite the fact that today’s emphasis tends to be all about turning out as much product as fast as possible, and that ebooks and self-publishing provide for more or less instant gratification when it comes to getting your work before the public eye, it’s not always such a great idea.

Why? Because the creative process is more complex than we’d like to believe, that’s why. It’s not something we can control as readily as we want to. If you consider the enormous amount of energy that goes into writing a novel, then you have to appreciate that you need time to renew your own energy before you can dive back and tackle technical aspects like editing. Fresh from your creative high, you won’t have the distance to do that effectively; your mind will supply words that aren’t there, automatically correct typos you can’t see, and fix plot points that you know so well, you may assume they’re obvious to everyone when they’re not.

In short, that creative state sometimes makes us feel more brilliant that we actually are, and when you don’t take necessary some time and distance from your work, that realization can be awfully hard on the old Ego. It’s probably the same reason Margaret Mitchell burned her first novel to ashes and Hemingway drank like a fish.

Put more facetiously, I had an author friend once say that finishing a novel was a lot like flushing the toilet. “You can jiggle the handle all you want, but you won’t be able to flush it again if you don’t give it time to fill back up.”

A bad analogy, I know… Yet just as it makes sense to forge ahead and finish your book, it also makes sense to remove yourself a bit once the book is done, if only to give the well of your creativity time to renew itself. Don’t be too impatient; the slower rhythms of traditional publishing can offer a lesson here. In the bad old days, you had to wait for an editor and then for a copyeditor and then for a proofreader and then for galleys. It could take months. But at each stage of that process, an author could find something new—changes he wanted to make—a better word than one he’d used before; a detail that shouldn’t be left out. Each time, it was possible to see something you hadn’t seen before, and each time the book got better.

So my best advice to all of you with a brand-spanking new novel under your belt is, take your time. Give it to an editor, or run it by your Beta readers with strict instructions for them to not tell you a thing for a couple of weeks. Failing that, unplug your computer and run around the block; bake Christmas cookies, or call an old friend but DO take some distance.
Let it go.
Let it cool. Before you know it, you’ll be able to see your work with new eyes, those of a reader, not a writer.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ask the Editor by Teresa Kennedy

1) What is the most common reason you reject a manuscript for Village Green Press?
Because I don't like it. There are, however a lot of different reasons for not liking a manuscript from a  publisher's point of view, so let's talk about those reasons for a minute.
First off, if I don't have a clear sense of who the audience for this book is, I won't be able to sell it, and if I have no sense of who the audience is, the author probably doesn't either. Anybody's social network is only so big and only so loyal. No offense, but we go for a bigger audience than your FB friends. Strike one.

Because it isn't done yet. Imagine biting into a big beautiful yummy frosted cupcake, only to discover the middle isn't baked and is instead filled with a lot of runny, icky gook. While I will work with authors when the story is promising and I think it can be fixed, it's not a good idea to send your stuff out in a great looking package when your story's half-baked. Strike Two.

Because your story, does not, in some significant way reach beyond the constraints of genre or your personal point of view to touch on a more universal experience. Writing is a very introverted sort of activity, but the stories we tell have to reach a broader audience. This is what makes it possible to relate to stuff like the struggle between good and evil, the star-crossed romance or the rite of passage. Because every single human being, alive or undead, has experienced those things at some point. If your book is all about you, it's a diary, not a novel. You may find the experience of writing therapeutic, but the rest of us probably won't. Strike Three.

2) Do you ever accept a less than perfect manuscript and work with the
author if the premise is strong?
Yes, see above.

3) What is a checklist for knowing when a manuscript is ready to submit? Everyone says "make it sparkle", but how does that operationalize to debut authors?

Okay, first I have to say "operationalize" is not a word, so knowing the words should be right up there on your checklist ;) Second, there is more to fiction craft than putting words on a page. As we all use a lot of the same words all the time, it's how you arrange them that counts. What makes "sparkle?" Very paradoxical thing, that. As a writer, you have to make sure those words are arranged in such a way that the story becomes far more important and engaging to the reader than the words themselves....Other than that, make sure you're satisfied with it before it goes anywhere. If you're not entirely pleased, chances are no one else will be.

“I hired a copy editor for my manuscript, and when I got it back, I was really surprised. He corrected all the grammar, spelling and punctuation, but when I read it over, he didn’t fix any of the problems with the story. What’s up with that?”
Okay, the first thing new writers need to understand is the perfecting of a manuscript is a process. First, you perfect your book to the best of your ability; then hopefully, you hire an editor. But there are different kinds of editors with entirely different areas of expertise. A developmental edit will point out the weak points in the storyline, the pacing, the characters, the dialogue and the overall structure, as well as offer some sense of just how the book stacks up against the competition. The editor involved should offer clear guidance and direction for any rewrites that need to be done. A line editor goes through your book word by word and line by line, deleting unnecessary sentences and paragraphs, redundancies, and phrases that may be cluttering up the flow of your prose and story. Most, but not all, line editors will also do a bit of rewriting here and there if they think something can be stated more efficiently without changing your style or voice. Last but not least, copy editors check for consistency and errors in grammar and punctuation, giving the manuscript a final polish before publication. A lot of independent authors, due to limited budgets or unfamiliarity with the process, look for a one-size/price fits all edit and usually find a copy editor to fill the bill. No harm there, just be aware that a proofreading does not a masterpiece make.

I’m an independent author looking to land an agent by publishing my titles as e-books. How many do I have to sell before I can get the attention of an agent to represent me?
There’s a lot to be said for the e-book revolution, but one of the things nobody is saying is that it’s a magic carpet ride to a hardcover deal with the Big Six. “Self-publishing” for better or worse, still does carry a certain stigma with the big boys, if only because it cuts into their market share. Bottom line? Last figure I heard from the NYC community was 20,000 copies (single title, no series) before an agent is going to take you seriously. Problem is, if you’re selling that many copies, why would you need an agent anyway?

My dialogue just isn’t working. What can I do?
Most novice novels suffer from one of two conditions: There’s either too much conversation or too little. The “talkies” tend to fall into two subcategories: a)Your characters either make long speeches to one another, filling each other on a lot of events that aren’t (or have already) taken place on the page, or b) they chat aimlessly back and forth for pages and pages without ever advancing the plot or telling the reader something they don’t already know.
In the second, more taciturn group, one or two word exchanges tend to be afflicted with tons of attributions—“No.” He tightened his jaw and hurriedly crossed the room to get a cup of coffee. He turned back to her. “Bitch,” he grunted accusingly. “John,” Miranda replied desperately, waving her hands in a helpless gesture, tears filling her wide blue eyes….
None of the above approaches work because the writer doesn’t really understand that the function of each and every scene, whether it contains dialogue or not is to move the story along, not to discuss what we already know or recap the action:”I heard that Randy went to Melissa’s late last night and her father threatened to shoot him. And Melissa’s mom got completely hysterical and I don’t know what it’s going to mean if we don’t have their help solving the mystery
Nor is it the writer's job to fill us in on actions and emotions when your characters can't say what they mean.
In dialogue, art does not imitate life. Your dialogue has to sound like real conversation, but it also has to serve a real purpose. How many Facebook chats or political discussions have you had lately that did that?

More questions? Just ask!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meet the Villagers: Joni Parker

After a bit of a hiatus, this week we’re talking with Joni Parker, author of the new fantasy series, The Saga of Seward Isle. Fans of traditional fantasy are sure to find a lot to like here, yet Parker manages to morph the genre in some unexpected and original ways.

Q:  Seaward Isle is a fascinating world in fantasy fiction.  A ‘lost’ world where with some standard elements, such as wizards, witches and elves, but it’s combined in a unique way with elements such as time travelers and pirates.  It’s kind of the ultimate “melting pot.”  Can you tell us a bit about how the series all came about?
A:  It all started with the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.  I loved it and kept making up my own stories and characters.  One day, I decided to write it all down and set up my old computer (which I still use).  After two months, I was done and stared at it for a while.  It was really awful, but I decided to polish it up for publication.  At the very least, it would help my writing skills and could be something I could do in retirement.
 I knew I had to make a lot of changes and the most dramatic of which was the setting.  I had to create a whole new world and came up with Seaward Isle.  Not only did I have to determine its appearance, but its location, history and population.  I even bought an atlas to look at the shapes of islands to get an idea of what it looked like.  It was much more difficult than I imagined because the story also had to fit.  Fortunately, it did. 
    My main character is a product of this “melting pot” concept.  She’s part-mortal, Elf and Titan, disguised as a boy when she was orphaned to attend her brother’s school and subsequently, adopted by an Amazon warrior and her Dwarf companion.  Part of what drives her is her desire to find out where she fits in. 

Q:  As a self-published author, you published a first edition of The Black Elf of Seaward Isle, but then decided to go back and revise.  What led to your decision?
A:  I had two book reviews after it was published.  Both of them said I had a unique story, but suggested the need for professional editing.  My second book was ready to move forward at the time, so I went searching for a professional editor.  I found one, had her edit both books and thought I was ready to go.  I updated my ebook on Kindle and was in the process of updating the printed version.
    Then, I found a book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.  I stopped everything and started over again when I realized that the editor didn’t do a very thorough job.  I think she was too nice to me.   When I posted a blog about it, Renni Browne actually sent me a message leading me to her website, where I met my current editor, Teresa Kennedy.  Shortly thereafter, Teresa moved to Village Green Press, a new indie publisher and took my book with her.
She worked on my second book and once that was done, I decided it was only right to have her edit my first book.  I really want a good product for my readers and a solid foundation for my series.  

Q:  What’s the best advice you could give aspiring authors?
A:  I would suggest they read Renni Browne and Dave King’s book on editing to help them find a good editor.  Teresa Kennedy is outstanding. 
I would also suggest that they join some local groups to learn more about their craft and meet fellow authors.  Writing can be lonely.  I’m a member of the Writer’s Garrett and the Writers’ League of Texas. 

Q:  What other authors really inspire you?
A:  I loved the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.  She inspired a lot of people to read books, including me.  I just got interested in another author, James Rollins.  After I read his latest book, The Doomsday Key, I went looking for more.  He keeps me turning the page!

Q:  From your point of view, what’s the most difficult thing about the publishing business these days?
A:  Now that I have some experience, the most difficult thing is getting my book noticed.  I have no clue and I’ve notified all my friends and relatives.  Thankfully, I have some help from my publisher this time.

Q:  How many books are planned for the series?  Any other projects in the works?
A:  I don’t have any other projects in the works because I’m still absorbed with this one.  Seaward Isle didn’t give up its secrets easily.  I have ten more books in the pipeline.  I’m focusing my efforts on completing the first series and work on the next, The Chronicles of Eledon.  Thus far, I don’t have a grand finale—I guess I don’t want this to end.    

Watch the series trailer here:!

Buy the book!

Special Bonus Book!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Meet the Villagers: Sue Frederick

This week, we welcome author Sue Frederick. It’s been my privilege to work with her in an editorial capacity and to see the success of her latest release, The Unwilling Spy.

How did you come to write “The Unwilling Spy.”

Instead of counting sheep when I go to bed each night, I make up book titles.  One night I thought of the title “The Unwilling Spy.”  From the title alone, I created a story – 84,000 words later I published my first novel.    Perhaps it is unorthodox; but, for me, an intriguing title develops into a story, then a story into a published novel.   I’ve almost completed my second novel, “Madame Delafloté, Impeccable Spy.”  Again, the novel began with the title.

What was most difficult about it?

Amazingly, writing is easy for me.  I was born with a little television screen inside my head where I watch visions of my characters and, interestingly, I become my characters – I commit murder, have conversations with Adolf Hitler, make love to a handsome spy, cuss and spit like a sailor.  All these visions become my novels. The difficult part is editing and publishing.  There is so much to know about both.  Experience, however, has lessened my frustration in both these areas.

What has been the most rewarding about it so far?

It’s marvelous to see a manuscript turn into a published novel – the fruit of your labor.   There is a true sense of accomplishment when it all comes together.  I must say it was quite exciting to see the finished book cover for “The Unwilling Spy.”   The picture of the cover had been in my mind from the very first moment I began writing the novel.

If somebody from say, Pluto, landed in front of you and asked you to tell them about your novel, how would you describe it?

I consider my novels “heart” novels.  Assuming someone from Pluto can read and understand our language, I would simply say this story is about a simple man who is faced with unimaginable difficulties as he battles tyranny and evil in times of war.   His journey is unforgettable.

In my writing, there is nothing I can teach you, but I am hoping to inspire you.  It is my desire that you are entertained by what I write, that you are moved to laughter, to love and to the pure and priceless appreciation of words.

Which of your fictional characters most resembles you?

I would like to think the integrity of Garcia Quinones, the protagonist, comes from me.  It is important to me to write about heroes, those who make the world better by their exemplary behavior and philosophies.

Give us a writing tip.

Write from the heart.

Your novel is about espionage – will you change genres in your future novels?

It is almost laughable that I write spy novels with such self-confidence and ease.  How could a sweet Southern belle who truly drinks mint juleps in her French country garden write about Nazis and the world of spying?  It’s that little television screen again – I see visions!

As far as future books, I have written two that are ready for editing at the moment – they are literary fiction, far removed from spyhood.  One is “Sanctuary of the Heart” which is about a depression-era family in north Georgia.  The other is “Baltimore Billy” – a novel about a man who, at age 55, believes he is a cowboy.  His youth was spent at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore where he read Tom Mix comic books and listened to the radio westerns of the Cisco Kid and the Texas Rangers.  Over time, he became a cowboy and through his life never really entered the real world.  In his adulthood, he returns to Baltimore where his cowboy persona began.  Poignant and moving, this novel is definitely a “heart” novel. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Meet the Villagers: YA Author Emily Ford

This week, we’re interviewing Emily Ford, author of the successful new YA sensation, 2:32 A.M. Having worked with her, Emily qualifies as a Villager-by-association and we’re really proud of her success. The first in the Djinn Master’s Legacy series, 2:32 A.M. is a YA paranormal where a young girl is forced to choose between ordinary life and love, and being inexorably drawn into a world of Genies.  

How did you come to write 2:32 a.m.? 
I've always enjoyed telling stories, and realized I had a knack for the creative while telling ghost stories to my bunkmates at summer camp. As my own children grew, bedtime stories became more intricate adventures, and continued long after it was probably cool for them to want one. 2:32 a.m., and the consequential Djinn Master’s Legacy series began as the "last" of our bedtime stories, sort of like my own legacy for them to enjoy, and perhaps share with their children. By the time the adventure ended, I had written enough for three very full books. I've been editing ever since.... From first word to this moment has been 5 years, and 4 months.  

What was most difficult about it? 
Definitely knowing when to stop!  

What has been the most rewarding about it so far? 
I’m amazed and proud that I actually finished. And no matter how it's received by others, it still remains first and foremost, a bedtime story for my kids. That's enormously gratifying.  

If somebody from say, Pluto, landed in front of you and asked you to tell them about your novel, how would you describe it? 
I would best describe my story as a teenage girl-morphing-into-adulthood-while-being-thrown-into-the-magical-world-of-Genies story.  

Which of your fictional characters most resembles you? 
One of the Genies named Roula. She’s feisty, but fiercely loyal. Strong, but nice to a fault. And she's an exceptionally powerful genie, though totally humble and discreet. She's the perfect figment of my imagination.  

Give us a writing tip. 
Hmmm, well I’m not sure I’m qualified to give advice, but what worked for me was the consistency of writing every single day. No matter how my schedule varied, I carved out work time. Also, for me it helped to write as if I was telling the story out loud. It brought the action to life, at least for me.  

Already fans are clamoring for the next installment, any hints as to what comes next? 
Much more of everything: Action, magic, love, despair, anger, danger, fear… and did I say love?  

Buy it Now!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Meet The Villagers

This week, we’re beginning a new blog series with authors talking about their books, the long road to publishing and the writing life.
To kick things off, this week we feature  S.G (Harriet) Rogers, whose new book, THE TAXI CHRONICLES is a lighthearted, freewheeling slice-of-life in which cab driver Honey Walker winds up at the intersection of small town life and some big city crime.
VG: How did you come to write The Taxi Chronicles
RogersI started driving a cab when my husband opened a cab company 5 years ago.  The characters that we picked up and the things they said and did were frequently so funny that it seemed to lend itself to a book.  I wrote the kind of book I enjoy reading.  Funny, fast and a little cocky.  Combined with the problems of a small town cab company, and, yes, we have been approached to transport illegal substances, and you have a natural for a novel.  I just had to learn how to move the plot forward and chill on the sleeping arrangements of the characters.

VG: What was most difficult about it? 
RogersEverything.  I had no idea writing a novel was so difficult.  I joined two writing groups.  Both of them have been incredibly valuable in teaching me the craft of writing.  I had no clue about voice, tense, or building plot when I started. 

VG:What has been the most rewarding about it so far?
Rogers: Even with a lightweight novel, the sense of accomplishment is huge.  I finished this project and saw it actually up on the web. 

VG: If somebody from say, Pluto, landed in front of you and asked you to tell them about your novel, how would you describe it?
Rogers:  I call it an airport novel.  It’s a fast read so you can finish it on an airplane between Boston and Chicago.  If you’re a slow reader, you might have to go to San Francisco.

VG: Which of your fictional characters most resembles you?
Rogers:  None of them.  Lucille might be a little like my mother but Mom is 93 yrs old.  I think Lucille is younger than that.  But the scene where Lucille is transporting her husband’s ashes actually took place when my mother and I took my dad out to Wisconsin to be scattered.  When the federal agent asked what was in the box, I said; “Dad”.  He told me that his mother wanted to be scattered at the casino.  She just loved it there.

VG: Give us a writing tip.
Rogers: Discipline.  Try to write every day.  And don’t give up your day job.  Remember even John Grisham couldn’t sell his first novel.

VG: Not to mention there’s plenty of inspiration in your day job if your novel is any indication! We hear the book is the first in a series, any hints as to what comes next?
Rogers: The next book gives Lucille center stage.  It involves the theft of prescription drugs from senior citizens.

The Taxi Chronicles by S.G. Rogers
Watch the Book Trailer here:
Buy it now at
or Barnes and Noble:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How Indie Publishing Has Changed My Thinking by Susan Kaye Quinn, author of Open Minds

Kathryn Rusch has a brilliant article where she uses a scarcity vs. abundance analogy to describe the publishing industry: most every writer, publisher, agent, editor, reviewer was raised in a scarcity model, where book shelf space was limited, publishing contracts few, and rarity was equated to quality. But in today's reality, (virtual) book shelf space is unlimited, anyone can publish, and we are operating in an abundance model where there is an unlimited supply of books. This infinite capacity combined with increasingly powerful search engine capabilities have trained consumers (readers) to adapt to this abundance model, but producers (writers, publishers, etc.) are (often) still stuck in the scarcity way of thinking:

"All those questions writers ask about how to get noticed in this new world? Those questions come from someone raised in scarcity. Being noticed was important because your moment on that shelf was - by definition - short-lived. Writers who understand the long tail know that the way to get more readers is to have more available product. Abundance works, even for the single entrepreneur."
Did I mention it's brilliant? (Go read the whole thing.)

This - literally - changes everything.

I thought I was forward thinking before self-publishing, but the act of going indie, of being up-close-and-personal in the indie trenches, has really changed my thinking about my writing and my author career.

There's a tension in the Indie world about needing to publish quickly, needing to get works out there, because that is what successful self-publishers in the recent past (1-2 years) have done. There's a drive to seek out the best way to promote books, to get on the Top 100 lists, to find the magic key to "discoverability" that will bring more book sales. The connection to book sales is visceral - you can track your rankings and sales by the hour, and those numbers mean something. They are the income that's going directly into your bank account, the funds that make it possible to keep publishing (by paying back your investment) or justify spending your time writing (by providing actual income). So there are huge, tidal-sized forces that drive indie publishers to put out books quickly and promote them heavily in order to connect their books to readers.

The potential to make money in Indie publishing is very real. The days when even "successful" authors had a tough time living off their writing wages is starting to change. As Rachelle Gardner noted in a recent blog post, the typical advance for a first-time traditionally published author is $5,000-$15,000 per book, and most of those first-time authors do not sell through their advance, so that is all the money they will ever get from that book (and if you don't sell through in the first 12 mos, the publisher may not be so excited about buying another book from you). Comparing this to Indie publishing, I know several authors (many, many authors, including myself) who have already earned more than $5k per book, often well before the first 12 months after publication. Of course, many indie authors also struggle to earn back what they've invested in their books, and everyone's experience is going to be unique with this.

But here's the thing: concentrating on what a book earns in the first 12 months is scarcity thinking, a left-over from limited-time-on-shelf. Because if a book didn't hit in the first 3 or 6 or 12 months, it wasn't going to pay back its investment ... because it would become literally unavailable on the shelf.   Books used to go out of print. Now, there is no reason for that to happen.

Abundance thinking says: this book is going to be on the shelves forever. FOREVER. That is a very long time, my friends.

Cue the visuals:

I picked random numbers for this, so you can scale it up or down - thousands of sales instead of hundreds, or whatever. And this stops the race after 5 years, not FOREVER, as noted above. The point being, of course, that slow-n-steady wins the race (the tortoise out-earns the rabbit at about 3.5 years). This isn't just a trad-pub vs. indie-pub comparison; the same lesson applies to two indie books, where one is focused on scarcity thinking (I must have a hit right away; if not, I've failed) and one is focused on abundance thinking (I need to write more, because more books=success). 

The abundance thinker is going to focus on getting another tortoise out; the scarcity thinker is focused on promoting the rabbit. 

When you start figuring out how to build a herd of tortoises, rather than promoting your rabbit, you're starting to think in the abundance reality of today's publishing. Again, this changes everything.

My take(s):
  • Writing. Writing is the most important thing. Must spend more time writing. I already knew this, but this framework gives even more heft to that idea. 
  • My work is FOREVER. (If this doesn't evoke an existential paralysis, I'm not sure what will.) While the temptation is great to pump out a warren of rabbits (or the herd of tortoises), since my work is going to be out there FOREVER, I want it to be the best that I can produce at the time. In other words, I'm not rushing to write a bunch of books quickly because I know they'll be around to taunt me for a long time. (Also: I love this take that the highest earning self-publishers take 24% more time per word, and write 31% more words per day)  
  • Rankings aren't everything. I also already knew this, but having lived through surges in rankings and sales, I can tell you that emotionally it is awesome, fun, and sort of like the sugar rush after eating cotton candy at the carnival. Which almost always makes me want to throw up. Slow and steady sales not only win the race, they're good for my psyche.
  • I need to focus on the herd of tortoises. Promotion is still important, and I'm not going to go completely into my writer's cave, just because it's damp there and my friends are here. I enjoy social media too much. But the writing is definitely taking precedence. And I'm thinking not just about this trilogy, but the next, and the one after that. I want my turtles to all play nice in the sandbox together. 
  • I still think in scarcity ways sometimes. And that's okay. It takes time for the world to change, and for individual ways of thinking to change. And hearts. Those take the longest time of all. I still believe in creating pre-release buzz - I think it does sell books, even if it's a scarcity way of thinking. I think consumers have been trained by abundance thinking to believe they should be able to find any book they want, but they still look to bestseller lists and other scarcity markers to guide some of their purchasing. That's okay. Our world is in transition. Things will continue to change. But I still strongly believe that the most forward-thinking will be the winners in this new era.
This post is EPIC in length, so I'll stop here. But tell me: are you an abundance thinker or a scarcity thinker? And - whether you're traditional or indie bound - have the changes in the industry affected the way that you think?

Susan Kaye Quinn is a former rocket scientist, but she writes young adult novels because she loves writing even more than shiny tech gadgets. While her most recent novel Open Minds has been gathering up fans of paranormal science fiction, she’s been busy working on the sequel, Closed Hearts. You can find her on her blog, Twitter or Facebook.
Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) is available in e-book and print (Amazon, Barnes & Noble).
OpenMinds_cover_100.jpgWhen everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Friday, March 9, 2012

How to Lose a Reader in Ten Pages or Less by Teresa Kennedy

    Few writers really understand just how important the beginning of a novel can be. Sure, they’ll read all that stuff about a grabber opening line, the pros and cons of prologues, how NOT to begin chapter one with dialogue, or background, or from somewhere inside your protagonist’s head, but almost inevitably, every unpublished writer commits any or all of those mistakes in the first ten pages of their book.

    As valid as those rules of thumb might be, each is only partially true. A good prologue can work just fine if it draws the reader into the world of the story. So can dialogue, if it’s bright and engaging, and while excess background doesn’t belong in that first paragraph, it’s equally important to set the scene and include what’s relevant as the story opens. By the same token, many great novels begin inside the protagonist’s mind, but it only works when it’s a truly compelling character.

    So why are so many novels doomed to the slush heap because prospective readers, editors or agents don’t read past your sample? Because most writers fail to understand one simple truth: You don’t understand anything about how to begin your novel until you’ve written the end of it. Instead, writers tend to begin a story with a head full of questions and keep on writing until they discover how to answer them. As a result, I’ve seen literally hundreds of manuscripts where it’s all too obvious just how many pages in they were before the story really began.

    Only but the most dedicated and savvy authors among us actually go back and gut renovate their opening pages from the perspective of one who knows how the book ends. Fact is, though, there’s no one better equipped to create a truly compelling opening. And once you know the end of the tale, your task is to go back to that beginning and use it to plant some relevant questions in the reader’s mind—“Why does every woman in the world fall for this guy except her?” “What does he mean—nobody wants to be born in Pennsylvania?” Or even,  “Why do vampires have to go to high school, anyway?”

    Whether your opening evokes obvious or subtle questions in your reader’s mind, they serve as the principle means of getting us engaged in the story you have to tell. Questions keep us reading, and when we stop reading, chances are it’s because you’re telling us too much about all sorts of things that are essentially irrelevant. Nobody needs to know how old your character is, or talk about the weather or suddenly learn that Biff has hated Brussels sprouts since that time at Grandma’s and drives a Lexus if those things don’t have any bearing on what’s going on in the moment. Great novel openings keep to the essentials; they establish your authority to tell the story and do it in such a way that they raise questions and spark a reader’s curiosity. If your opening doesn’t do those things, it’s time to give it another look.

    It is true that opening lines in novels are just as important as they are anywhere else, but even the best opening line isn’t going to mean much if the paragraphs that follow don’t flow naturally from it, or worse, revert to the dull or non-essential. So let’s consider some of the approaches to a great opening by category.

   The importance of IT. Usually presented as “It is” or It was…”, the all important It gives a writer a certain amount of authority combined with some flexibility. You can follow through with a scene or setting, a summary or even more abstract imagery that allows you to establish some questions in the reader’s mind. “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Orwell’s "1984" does both handily. The danger of It lies only in the temptation to cliché—“ It was a dark and stormy whatever…”

    The Omniscient View. The omniscient approach is wonderfully useful because it provides the reader with an instant frame of reference.Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Novels that begin with blanket statements like we find in Tolstoy’s "Anna Karenina," also establish the narrator’s authority, and pique the reader’s curiosity with a subtler series of questions—what does he mean by that? Who is unhappy? How? End result? We keep reading.

    Beginning in the Middle. With this approach, you begin in the middle—of the action anyhow, and if well done, it serves to draw the reader in quite directly. Frequently, this approach challenges the reader, sometimes through the use of direct address, as in "The Color Purple": “You better not never tell nobody but God.”

    Dialogue. Is very similar to beginning in the middle, because it also draws the reader immediately into the action, only this time, the action is in the form of dialogue. The key to its effectiveness as an opening however, is whether or not your dialogue ( and any attributions thereto) is actually interesting enough to keep us reading in addition to raising those questions. “Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” Rose McCauley, "The Towers of Trebizon."

    Meet and Greet. Character introductions can serve a novel’s opening both in a third or in a first person narration, but they’re not going to really be compelling enough to keep us reading unless you’re somehow deft enough to be able to fully establish a character and raise questions about that character at the same time. Consider C.S. Lewis’ "The Dawn Treader": “ There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Or, from a first person perspective, John Barth’s:In a sense, I am Jacob Horner.”
Whatever your approach to what you thought was a great opening when you first sat down to write, chances are it’s not going to look as good by the time the novel is finished, so take a good long look, get another pair of eyes if need be and don’t be afraid to begin again—at the beginning, of course.

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