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Publishing Writing

NaNoWriMo Advice for All

NaNoWriMo Advice for All

NaNoWriMo advice? Yes; I’ve won it every year I’ve entered.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | NaNoWriMo Advice

This is (for real!) how to do NaNoWriMo. Learn from my mistakes!

Preliminaries

1) Plan if you can and if that helps you. I would suggest even pantsers should at least do research in advance. No sense in looking up how to say “I love you” in Latvian during November if you can do it beforehand. And no, that’s not cheating.

Dailies

2) Write every single day. It should be at least 1667 words, but even 1 word beats the hell out of none. I have found this is some of the best NaNoWriMo advice I have ever gotten. Writing every day gets you into a habit.

Move Ahead if You’re Stuck

3) Can’t write chapter 4? Then skip it and write chapter 5. You’ll go back, or maybe chapter 4 will turn out to be superfluous. You’ll stitch it together later.

Don’t Edit!

4) Don’t edit! Do that in January or February (in December, either finish or just leave it). In November, it’ll eat up time when you should be writing.

Manage Family Expectations

5) Tell your family or whoever you live with that you’re doing it. Ask someone else to take the kids for an hour, or say you’ll make dinner all December if someone else does it in November, etc. Just, set expectations and get some help from others to get all the other little things done around your home. E. g. my husband isn’t a writer but he’ll put on his headphones at his desk while I’m writing so his computer sounds won’t bother me. Little things like that help.

Getting Ahead

6) If and when you can get ahead, do so. Can you write 1800 or 2000 words or more instead of 1667? Then go for it. No law says you have to stop at 1667 and call it a day. If you’re feeling it, have at it!

November 30th Isn’t Some Magic Day When Suddenly You Have to be Done With Your Story

7) The story does not have to be finished at 11:59 PM on November 30th. You just need 50,000 words. For the last two years in a row, I finished NaNoWriMo in the middle of November but didn’t finish the books (they were both over 100,000 words) until January. No, this is not cheating.

Nixing Writer’s Block

8) Got writer’s block? Then step away from the keyboard and exercise for 15 – 30 minutes. Pump iron, take a walk, play frisbee, beat the rugs, shovel snow. I don’t care. Just burn calories and then go back to it. Because it really does help.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

9) Don’t compare your accomplishments to others. Because there will always be someone who writes 100,000 words in one day or something like that. And there will always be people complaining that they’re behind. Also, there will always be people typing up until the very last second, and there will always be people wasting time online. Don’t worry about them.

Just take care of your own work and leave them to theirs. Their issues, quirks, and complaints are none of your concern.

Back Up Your Work!

10) Back up your work! I back up in three rather different places – my hard drive, a flash drive, and OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage. So I highly recommend a similar setup for everyone. I had to replace a computer right before 2017 NaNo but I lost none of my prep work because it was on two places other than my old laptop’s hard drive.

There is always someone who loses their work during November. And I have seen it all, from soda on keyboards to toddlers stomping on flash drives and breaking them, to power outages. Don’t be that person.

Sabotage

Lots of people get this, and sometimes a friend or a loved one doesn’t even realize they are doing this. Remember what I said about managing family expectations? You may need to reiterate this. Or you may need to put it in writing so it’s not “forgotten”. Your solutions might be to get up early to write before others are up, or at lunch break, or during a commute, or late at night when everyone’s gone to bed.

Got headphones (or at least earbuds)? Then put those suckers on, even if you play no music at all. This is body language. You are busy and working; others will just have to wait. And tough on them.

You Take Care of You – And Guard Your Writing Time Jealously

Here is also where expectation management comes in handy. If your family was already told you would not be cooking in November, then they can’t say on the fourth that you didn’t warn them. You can also stave off some of this with family preparations before the first rolls around. Got a slow cooker? Then make a bunch of meals and freeze them for during the month. Get the kids’ haircuts and dentist appointments out of the way in October. You get the idea.

If it’s someone or something that really can’t wait (your toddler is screaming, your mother is in the emergency room, or your spouse is seriously threatening divorce), then by all means stop what you’re doing in order to deal with that.

And if you don’t make it to 50,000 words, it’s okay. Really, it is. NaNoWriMo exists so that writing, which is an often solitary endeavor, gets a social component. But that’s it. If you write in December or October, or you write less than 50,000 words, or you never validate, it’s equally okay.

Some Final Words of NaNoWriMo Advice

The best NaNoWriMo advice I can give anyone is to have fun with it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Categories
Publishing Writing

NaNoWriMo—Word Count, Love, and Please Don’t Panic

NaNoWrimo is Fun! But it’s  Misunderstood, Too

You may have heard, somewhere in your travels, about a little thing called NaNoWriMo. And while I don’t get paid by them or anything, I am still here to help you along in your quest.

Your quest, should you choose to accept it, should be to:

  • Learn what NaNoWrimo is
  • Figure out if you want to do it
  • And to succeed at NaNoWriMo

Sounds simple, right?

Not so fast, my writing pals.

What is This Stuff, Anyway?

So, the first thing you need to know is that NaNoWriMo is not a competition. Rather, it’s a personal challenge.

What do I mean by this?

The 1999 original idea behind it was to see if an amateur writer could crank out 50,000 words toward a new novel during a set amount of time. November was chosen, and I suspect that was because it starts with the letter ‘N’. It’s also because it’s 30 days long.

And while neither 31 nor 30 (nor 28 or 29, for that matter) divides evenly into 50,000, that’s not really an issue.

The Rules of NaNoWriMo

Write at least 50,000 words. During the calendar month of November.

And… that’s it.

Want to write a memoir rather than a novel? Have fun. Want to write more than 50,000 words? Go for it. Want to add 50,000 words to a preexisting project? Enjoy. Want to set a NaNoWriMo word count goal that’s less than 50,000? No one’s stopping you, although you won’t get a ‘traditional’ NaNo accomplishment.

There are no other rules to remember.

 

There are no NaNo police.

Math

If you divide 50,000 words by 30 days, you get 1,666.67, or 5,000 words every three days. Of course this is the minimum you need to succeed. Write 5,000 words every three days and, at 11:59 PM on November 30th, you can meet goal.

But life rarely works out that way. And God knows art does not.

There is nothing wrong with this.

Art

What happens if you write only 4,000 words in three days?

Then you’d better write 6,000 in some three-day period, not necessarily the one right after the period where, oops, you missed goal. Just do so before December 1st.

What happens if you write 6,000 words in three days, without having been behind? That is, what happens if you get ahead?

Give yourself a cookie or buy a flower or whatever you do for yourself to celebrate your small victories in life. Because, shhh—come closer now, for this is apparently a secret—getting ahead is the secret to winning NaNoWriMo.

Winning NaNoWriMo—Yes, You Can Do It!

Let’s get back to life.

Look Ma, No Plot!

So let’s say that you’re up early on November 12th, all set to write. You’ve got your lucky mouse pad. You’ve got your coffee (or tea, or juice, or cola, or whatever). And you’ve got time.

And…

… nothing.

No thoughts. No plot. And no words. The blank page or screen mocks you. You stare at it, then chug your beverage and surf the internet. All the while telling yourself that you’ll never succeed at this NaNo business.

Don’t fret, friends. Not every day will be perfect for creating. Our minds don’t really work that way. This isn’t a factory.

What Do You Do?

Give yourself a break. One big part of writer’s block is stress. So get up and stretch! Or take a walk around the block. Another thing you can do is brainstorm what should happen next. That’s even if the only thing you think of to happen next is someone gets a pedicure.

You need to write almost 1,700 words, right? Then that pedicure had better be spectacular. Describe the salon to every last detail. Have your heroine (or hero; not judging here) hem and haw over the color(s). Or even have them unable to pay. Another idea could be them skipping out on paying.

Imagine your character running down the road, Coral Sunset polish still drying on their bare toes, as they try to avoid paying the manicurist.

Silly? You betcha.

But it’s words. And words always beget more words. Your silly idea, by the way, just might lead to a better idea. But even if you scratch out the entire day when you start editing the piece, that’s fine. Right now, your goal is to write. Turn the key in the engine so you can drive to wherever you want to go—and don’t dwell on the fact that you had to drive through a rundown neighborhood in order to get there.

NaNoWriMo S-S-S-Sabotage!

The Facebook NaNo groups, when November (or December) rolls around, are filled with people who’ve got unsupportive families (by families, I am also referring to friends). What if someone you live with turns on the stereo or the TV—LOUD—when you’re trying to write? Headphones to the rescue. Either yours or theirs.

What happens if your kids get into the argument to end all arguments just when you’re trying to write the most amazing sex scene in the history of literature? Separate them, like you always do, and find something for them to do. It could be homework or chores, or contacting the parents of their friends and asking if they could have your little angels over for the afternoon. And volunteer to do the same after November 30th.

There are more ways you can be sabotaged; I’ll get to one of them when I get to the part about saving your work.

The Thrill is Gone

This isn’t writer’s block, per se. Rather, something is just plain keeping you from being creative. Major life events, even happy ones, can do that.

And that’s okay.

If you need to mourn the end of a life or a relationship, or you need to plan your wedding, then put NaNo on pause in your life. There’s Camp NaNo in April and June. Or you can write on your own. On the site, you can use their resources pretty much any time. It doesn’t have to be November.

Preventing Common Problems with NaNoWriMo

I’ve often heard that, to succeed, you need to visualize success. But I don’t do that. Rather, I visualize failure. And then I do everything in my power to avert and avoid catastrophe.

So hear (er, read) me out, okay?

No Brain, No Words, No Ideas

Let’s look back at the three things I said could happen when you try to write (there are more, but these are big ones).

The first is not having ideas.

So get ideas!

But how, I hear you ask.

As Sonny Curtis (and Joan Jett!) sang, love is all around. And so are ideas.

Ideas don’t just exist from November 1–30. They’re everywhere. And they don’t follow a calendar or set schedule. At the time of this posting, NaNo is still over a week away.

So get out and cultivate ideas. Write down whatever strikes your fancy. Whatever will work—or at least gets you words.

If you love to outline, then do so. If you just want a bunch of sticky notes with random phrases on them, go for it. And if you’re like me, and you’re in the middle, write a bare bones outline with some listed ideas and a ton of wiggle room.

You do you.

And no, dear friends, this is NOT cheating.

Because—as I said above—it’s not a competition.

NaNoWriMo Counterspy vs Sabotage

Okay, so maybe you’re not a spy, per se. But if you have the strong feeling that the fam is going to give you grief, prepare for that NOW.

How do you do this?

Have a special day in October. Eat out, go to a film, go leaf peeping, shop, whatever works. That one should be somewhat spur of the moment. And then schedule one, with a bit of planning, for December. With the exception of very small children (think preschool and younger), most people will be happy if they don’t feel you’re neglecting them. And most have enough patience to be able to wait 30 days.

For those who are older and should know better—and just can’t wait? Promise them something special, and of course you’ll need to deliver. A weekend away. Surprise bouquet. Cleaning the gutters without complaining or being nagged into doing it. Whatever works.

Will this perfectly eliminate every bit of sabotage? Perhaps not. But you have counterexamples to show off which can effectively combat any complaints that you’re not being attentive.

Get the Thrill Back

As I said above, you might have to put things off if life is dire or just plain too busy and hectic. Your best friend got Covid. Or your Mom is in hospice. Or the roof collapsed. You’ve got to make 200 favors for your best friend’s wedding in a month. You get the picture.

Your best bet is to keep plucking those ideas out of thin air, and writing them down. And then, when you’re ready, you’ll have a bank you can withdraw from.

And no, it’s not cheating!

Say it with me, people: NaNoWriMo is not a competition.

Practical Planning for NaNoWriMo

By the time this post goes live, you’ll have a little over a week before NaNo starts.

Clear the Decks

So—when does your family next go to the dentist? Make it for October or December. Same with haircuts and nights out. November doesn’t have to be 100% cleared of obligations. After all, Thanksgiving is right in there. But if you can change a few things here or there, do so. Oh, and if you can get ahead at work, at least make the effort. Less external pressure is a good thing.

Plan in Advance

Do you ever cook in advance? No? Then it’s high time you started. Make a few simple things which only need to be heated up. Pasta is your friend! Freeze whatever you can and you’re basically ready to rock. Take it out the night before to let it defrost (inside the fridge is better for food safety than your countertop) and then nuke it or toss in the oven to warm it and finish it off.

Boom, dinner is served.

You don’t have to do this every time, and you most likely won’t want to. But if you can get, say, four or five meals teed up this way, you’ll be a lot happier once you hit crunch time. And no one will have to wait for you to finish writing your epic battle scene so they can be fed.

Need to buy birthday presents, or go holiday shopping? Carve out time in October and December to git ‘er done.

Gather Your Tools

If you’re going to print anything, make sure you’ve got paper and ink, and your printer works. If you’re going to handwrite anything, make sure you’ve got pens/pencils and paper.

And make sure your computer has all the latest updates and patches. 

Practical Tidbits

Go to the NaNoWriMo site and, if you don’t already have an account, create one. Make sure you can get into your account! And check on how to save your NaNoWriMo word count.

Why am I not specifying how to do that here? Because it’s changed over the years. So go to the NaNo site.

Make sure you know how to save your word count.

Save, Save, and then Save Again

While saving your work is technically a part of planning ahead and being practical, it’s so vital that it gets its own section.

But keep in mind: you do NOT save your work on the NaNoWriMo website. Don’t even try; there’s no place for it, anyway.

That’s not the purpose of the site. So, you will need to save some other way(s).

The gold standard (it’s the standard because it’s what I do, ha!) is to save in three different types of places.

Here’s how.

#1 Save to Your Hard Drive

Saving your work to your hard drive usually means you can open it more quickly. You can probably find it faster. And it may save more quickly. All are good.

But if you’re using a public computer, or traveling and using someone else’s machine, then that’s out.

Also, this is the fourth laptop I have owned, and I’m on my second tablet. Before that, I went through I think three or four desktop units. And I’m on my third phone. In short, stuff breaks.

So don’t stop with your hard drive.

#2 Save to Portable Media Storage

Er, what’s that?

It’s flash drives, thumb drives, separate hard drives, and the like. Back in the day, it was floppy discs. It can be CDs or DVDs, too.

Whatever it is, it’s something you can hold in your hand.

But beware. Flash drives, CDs, etc. can break or die. And I will never forget when a young parent came into a NaNo Facebook group and said their toddler had stamped on their flash drive and destroyed it.

Plus, if you need to work with a public computer, then this may or may not be allowed. You may find that the library doesn’t allow anyone to use a flash drive. That’s okay. There’s another way to save your work.

#3 Save to the Cloud

There are a number of services by which you can store work in what is essentially a virtual form. You’ve probably heard of OneDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drives. Amazon also offers storage, and so does Apple (iCloud). You can use every single one of these for free, and they will most likely offer enough space for your needs without having to upgrade to a paid plan.

If you’re on a shared or public computer, this may also not be in the cards. But there’s one more way you can, in essence, save to a cloud.

Email your story to yourself.

While it’s a somewhat less elegant solution, it will still get the job done.

Let’s Get Psyched for NaNoWriMo!

You can write at any time. And you can write more, or less. You never have to sign up for NaNo, if you decide it’s not for you.

No biggie.

The main thing about NaNoWriMo is that it takes writing, an exceptionally solitary pursuit, and it turns it social. It’s also a convenient way to drum up interest in your work. On Facebook and Twitter, I use the hashtags #CountDownToNaNoWriMo and #CountDownToNaNoWriMo2021 (or whatever the year is).

I post little bits, and I write the blurb. Over time, I’ve found that writing the blurb early can help to crystallize my thoughts. And getting out a blurb and some basic info creates accountability for me. People cheer me on, and I don’t want to disappoint them.

It must be working, because I’ve made it to 50,000 words every time. 

Some Final Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

It took me about 3 hours to write this blog post. Its word count is almost 900 words above the minimum you need to write in one day to hit 50,000 words by the end of NaNoWriMo. Some days, it takes me more time than this. Other times, it takes less.

But in the end, it’s fun and rewarding. And no matter what, even if all you write is one word, that counts. If it’s a word you wouldn’t have written before, then NaNoWriMo has done its job, and you have succeeded.

Want to friend me on the NaNo site? Then go here. Go get ’em, tiger.

Do you like this page? Tweet it!


Categories
Career changing Publishing

Blurbs, queries, teasers, and elevator pitches

Blurbs, Queries, Teasers, and Elevator pitches

Among blurbs, queries, teasers, and elevator pitches – which is which?

Teasers and Teasing
Teasers and Teasing

Blurbs

Blurbs are short promotional pieces. They used to just stay on the backs of books, but now they can serve as the copy you read on an Amazon author or book page. They can even be the snippet pulled by search engines for a page.

The best blurbs are:

  • short
  • specific as to genre (don’t be coy; if it’s erotica, then say so!)
  • open about who the protagonist is
  • spoiler-free
  • not a rehash of the first chapter or the entire plot
  • neutral about the quality of your work (don’t say: this is an amazing book. ‘Cause then it probably isn’t. Sorry.)

In this fantasy tale, Alice is intrigued by a strange white rabbit. Even stranger, he’s wearing a waistcoat, checking a pocket watch, and complaining that he’s going to be late!

Queries

Furthermore, queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They vary in length, but Job One is always to do what the recipient wants. That is, if the recipient wants it as an attachment, send an attachment. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!

Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, showcased like that. Change the genre if necessary, the character names, etc., and you’ve got the bare bones of a query letter.

Suggestion: check several successful query letters, particularly those which are fairly recent and are in your genre. If they are the queries beloved by your actual target, then so much the better.

Teasers

In addition, teasers usually go a bit longer. You use them to generate excitement. Teasers often end with a question, but they don’t have to.

Alice is bored and sleepy on a lazy, sunny afternoon spent with her sister. But then she spots a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and checking a pocket watch. The rabbit says he’s going to be late! Should Alice follow him? What’s down that rabbit hole, anyway?

Elevator pitches

Finally, elevator pitches are, just like when you are looking for a job, the kinds of quick sales pitches done on the fly when someone turns to you and says, “You’re a writer. So, what’s your book about?”

Don’t just stand there! You’ve got to be ready.

Imagine if animals started talking, and they told you what to do in a topsy-turvy world.

 

My book is about Alice; she’s a young girl, a little bored on a sunny afternoon, when she spots a white rabbit. The odd thing about this rabbit is, he’s wearing clothes and talking. She follows him down a rabbit hole, but then she can’t get out.

That’s less than 70 words, and the person asking has the basic plot, the name of the heroine, and a reason to want to know more.

Back to you.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Beta Reading, Part 2

Beta Reading, Part 2

For beta reading, part 2, let’s take a look at the actual feedback process. But first, let’s get the mechanics out of the way.

Practical Mechanics

When beta reading, you are generally only using a few possible programs. Here’s how to best use them:

  • When using Microsoft Word, go to Review and then select Track Changes. Use this feature to add Comments as well. If using Word, it helps a lot if the writer is using styles and headings. If they don’t know what those are, Google is their friend. Styles make it easy to change a font size on the fly if a publisher demands a different one for querying. And headings make it easier to find where chapters break.
  • When using Google Docs, turn on Editing Mode.
  • For any other programs, you may do best to just ask the writer to save the piece into Google Docs. Why? Because it will be easier for you. After all, you are doing them a favor. You aren’t being demanding if you ask for some consideration in this area.

What Sort of Feedback do they want?

This might feel like it should be obvious, but it’s not. Abusing the author is, of course, out of the question. You certainly should be honest in your assessments. At the same time, though, consider the following two sentences.

The main character is boring.

or

The main character is not very interesting.

These two sentences mean nearly the same thing, but the second one is a bit gentler. Consider this: even the worst of stories is somebody’s baby. Don’t be a jerk to the writer. This holds true even if you really want to burn their computer to assure that they never, ever write anything again.

And I have read stories like that.

Fixing Problems

Every reading is different, but there are a few basic issues which a manuscript might have.

Technical Issues

Your writer doesn’t know how to use dialogue tags. They argue with you over how to write out numbers. Punctuation and capitalization feel wrong, but you just can’t explain why. This one is easy. Call in the authorities. Grammar Girl is an easy, breezy read. Just cite it, with a link. Or try Strunk & White for something more formal. Get really fancy with The Chicago Manual of Style. Don’t forget, American English differs from British English, and there can be some nuances with Canadian or Australian English as well. Normally, it’s a logical fallacy to appeal to an authority. But in this instance, it will save everybody’s time.

Inconsistencies

Is the character dark-skinned on page 3, and fair on page 78? Point these out immediately. For some inconsistencies, the writer may be able to split the difference. Maybe a short character got tall because they grew.

Padding

This is a big problem with NaNoWriMo novels. And for good reason! You are rewarded for being verbose. Hence ask the writer – is this scene necessary? Is this level of description vital to the plot? Characters are analogous to actors in a film. The main ones are leads, then comes the supporting cast. And then come the extras. The leads need a lot of description, assuming that’s not some sort of spoiler. The supporting cast gets some description, but not as much as the leads. The extras are sketched. And the same is true for scenes. Scenes which drive the plot are leads.

Transitions and other necessary scenes that aren’t plot drivers are relegated to supporting status. These can be red herrings and blind alleys in a mystery. Or the more minor obstacles thrown in the way of true love in a romance. Or they can be the scenes depicting local color, and expository paragraphs.

Truly minor scenes are extras, and they can also be extras if they are a part of a more important scene. For example, if your two police officer characters go to a coffee shop to discuss the case, then their discussion is probably a lead. But the color of the walls of the coffee shop, or the barista’s snappy comeback? Those are extras.

If a story feels overly long, then it’s probably been padded. Work with your writer on how to streamline those parts of the narration.

Sketches

I am guilty of this one, mainly because I am often working to get the idea down on paper. This is another thing which can happen in a NaNo novel. The time limit can push a writer to elide over certain transitions. Same rules apply. If it’s a lead, then you need some meat on those bones. For supporting, it depends. Further, if every scene feels like an extra, then it’s hard to figure out what the work’s focus and plot really are.

By working with a three-tiered scene and character system, both you and the writer can focus better. If Betty the Barista is important, then the story really needs to focus on her dark eyes, her jaunty beret, and the rose tattoo on her left shoulder. If she’s just seen in passing, then she probably doesn’t even need to have a name.

Above All (When it Comes to Beta Reading)

Be kind and patient, as well as you can. These problems may take the writer some time to fix. Be encouraging! But if it is just not working, then don’t hesitate to cut the cord.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Beta Reading for Indie Writers

Beta Reading

Beta reading is both an art and a science, I feel. There are good ways to do it. And there are not so good ways.

But as an independent writer, the best way to get beta readers to help you is to become a beta reader yourself. Here I’ll address common issues and ways to make it a more productive experience for both of you.

Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading

A beta reader is analogous to a beta tester. You are supposed to be checking a piece before querying or self-publication or posting on a free content site such as Wattpad. Beta testers generally do not test software’s very first iteration. They might be asked to test a function or even the whole shebang once it’s done. But they don’t test the lines of code to see if they are correct. That is a developer’s job.

And beta reading is similar. You are not responsible for checking basic stuff like spelling. The author should have run their work through a spellchecker, prior to sending it to you. If they do not have a spellchecker for some odd reason, then you as the beta reader are in for quite the ride. And this is not a happy ride, I assure you.

How to handle it

What should you do If someone sends a document utterly riddled with spelling errors? Here are a few options:

  • Kick it back (nicely) and tell them to run a spellcheck before they send it back to you. If they don’t know how to do this, then you can suggest they Google free spellcheckers or save it as a Google doc (under Tools, there is a spellchecker).
  • Correct their spelling, but make it clear this will increase the time frame considerably. For most people, even if they are not in much of a rush, this a good incentive to take care of business.
  • Tell them the relationship isn’t working out.

A lack of spellchecking does not necessarily mean someone doesn’t care about your time. The writer might not be a native speaker. They might be very new to the scene. Or they could have certain forms of dyslexia which make a spellchecker kind of throw up its metaphoric hands and run in the opposite direction. If any of these are the case, then see if you can get compensated for your time. Because at that point, you’ve gone beyond beta reading.

Length and Time and Expectations

The best-laid plans, yadda yadda, you know the rest. We plan one thing, but life has a tendency to inconveniently intervene. Consider your time, how fast you read, and any monkey wrenches life might throw. A good rule of thumb for planning is to multiply by one and a half. Therefore if you think 1,000 words will take you an hour, then consider it will take 90 minutes and plan accordingly.

Ask about their schedule. Maybe they want to publish in two months, or twelve. If you can’t meet their deadline, all is not lost! Instead, you could just beta read the first few chapters. Figure out what works best. Or agree to work together at a later date.

Next, I’ll look at what you need to do, to be a good beta reader.

Categories
Career changing Promotions Publishing

MSWL (Manuscript Wish List)

MSWL (Manuscript Wish List)

Have you ever seen the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter? It stands for Manuscript Wish List.

So, what the heck is a Manuscript Wish List?

What do publishers and agents want?

MSWL | Manuscript Wish List
Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL) can go on all year on Twitter.

Agents and publishers have seen it all, or at least they think they have. They are on the lookout for something new but not so new, if that makes any sense.

Huh? you ask. Originality is important, yes, but the main objective for both agents and publishers is to acquire works which will sell. Does your work have a coherent buyer persona, or ideal reader? Does it fit neatly into one or two genres? And what about works which are harder to define? What do you do?

If Manuscript Wishes were horses …

For #MSWL, at any time during the year, agents and publishers tweet about what they are looking for. Pay attention to their verbiage! Usually it’s something like Looking for cowboy version of The Hunger Games. If your manuscript fits the bill, answer them. If not, don’t waste their and your time.

This second MSWL site seems less ‘official’ but still has good information.

A tip: if you’re answering an #MSWL, add something about your genre, e. g. #SF for science fiction, or #Romance, etc.

Above all, be sure to have fun with it. Who knows? It just might work out for you. However, there is a chance that it might not. In the meantime, you’ll keep getting better at presenting your work and, by extension, yourself.

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Career changing Publishing Writing

Beta Readers and Editors

Beta Readers and editors

Consider beta readers and editors – what’s the difference? Does it matter which one you use to help with your manuscript?

Beta Readers

Beta readers are people who read over your work. They evaluate it before it gets anywhere near a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them.

Beta Readers and Continuity Checks

Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:

  • They are transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
  • The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and became shorter. Or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
  • She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.

The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.

Demographics

Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.

Some Questions to Ask Them

Ask them:

  • Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
  • Do you think the situations are plausible?
  • Are there good descriptions for the scenes? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
  • Do the transitions work?
  • Are the conflicts plausible?
  • Is the conclusion a satisfying one?

Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.

The best way to get a beta reader is to be one! Offer a trade with another indie. Usually this work is done for free. So be kind, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities.

Editors

Editors are more professional than beta readers and are generally people you hire. They will do copy editing, where they check for typos, etc., although there should be a last pass by a proofreader before publishing, no matter what.

Editors can also check for continuity, but they will mainly read with the audience in mind. They are a good enhancement to the work of a beta reader, and are a good idea before you send your work out for querying.

Researching Editors

The best way to get an editor is to do some research. Ask people you know are published. After all, an editor no longer has to live in the same city or country as you (but you will do best with someone who is a native speaker of the language your book is in). Work with the editor on a sample chapter. Do you get along? Are his or her suggestions reasonable? Are they slow?

And if you are absolutely, utterly stuck for funds, try a local college or university. You might be able to get an English major to help you, but be aware they probably won’t have experience and they may not be the best fit. But they may be all you’ve got.

And make sure to have a written agreement with them! This is a sample copyediting contract, and it’s pretty good. Be sure to change the contract to indicate the laws of your state apply!

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Career changing Publishing

Writing a Query Letter

Writing a Query Letter

Now that you want to get your work published, it’s time to write a query letter!

It’s understandable to be a bit anxious about this. Practice will help a lot, not just with writing better queries, but also with your nervousness. Understand that many famous authors were rejected several times before they were published. So keep on plugging and try not to get discouraged.

Query Letter Basics

What is a query letter | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
What is a query letter?

First things first: always do what the publisher says you should do. Seriously. Queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They can vary in length, but Job One is always to do what the recipient wants. That is, if the recipient wants it as an attachment, send an attachment. If they want it in the body of the email or sent via snail mail or faxed, then do that. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!

The last thing you want to do is annoy the recipient of your letter. So follow directions to the letter. Unsure of an instruction? How about asking on Twitter? Do not let your manuscript get a rejection under a technicality.

Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, with a showcase like that. Change the genre if necessary, the character names, etc., and you’ve got the bare bones of a query letter.

Suggestion: check several successful query letters, particularly those which are fairly recent and are in your genre. If they are the queries which your actual target admires, then so much the better.

Keep plugging. Queries are a rite of passage for every author. They will get easier as you keep on doing them.

You can do it!

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Career changing Publishing

Writing a Blurb

Are You in the Middle of Writing a Blurb?

Have you ever written a blurb for a book? Here’s how.

Grab the Reader’s Attention

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Blurbs
        Blurbs are a great way to sell your work

The most effective blurbs are:

  • short
  • specific as to genre (don’t be coy; if it’s horror, then say so!)
  • open about who the protagonist is
  • spoiler-free
  • not a rehash of the first chapter or the entire plot
  • neutral about the quality of your work (don’t say: this is an incredible book. Your saying that does not make it so. Sorry.)

So keep in mind – these are not the same as the summary you write for a query.

Blurb Samples

In this fantasy tale, Dorothy is whisked away by a twister to an unknown magical land. But first she has to deal with the quite literal fallout of her house falling on, and killing, a wicked witch.

Blurbs give us an idea about the story, and they make us want to read more. Also, a blurb for The Wizard of Oz would likely be longer than the above, better reflecting the work’s complexity and length. While a long book does not need to have a long blurb, it at least could conceivably support one. However, a short novel probably would not. Unless, of course, you’ve written The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby leads the good life in 1920s New York. As his friend Nick Carraway watches, Gatsby’s life takes a turn with the all-too appealing but also all-too married Daisy Buchanan.

Or –

Scout and Jem Finch live in Alabama with their widowed father, Atticus, the town’s leading lawyer. It’s the 1930s, and Maycomb seems far from sophistication or enlightenment. And so the trouble starts when a black man is accused of raping a white woman – and Scout’s father agrees to defend the accused.

Back to you.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Working With a Beta Reader

What’s It Like, Working With a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is somewhat different from an editor.

For one thing, beta reading is generally something that people do for free.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are people who read over your work and evaluate it before it goes to a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them. Work with an editor for that.

Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:

  • She is transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
  • The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and shrunk, or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
  • She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.

The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.

How Can You Start This Relationship?

The best way to get a beta reader is to be one. So offer a trade with another indie. Be kind when you’re done, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities. If the work is absolutely abhorrent, at least you can say you did that.

What Should You Expect?

You’re working with a volunteer. Things might be slow. You cannot be overly pushy. However, setting an expectation as to the overall deadline (be generous with the time frame!) is helpful. E. g. if you want the beta reading to be done in ten months for a 100,000 word document (very possible, even for a busy beta reader), say you need it done in nine months and try not to be overly anxious about it.

What Are Some Practical Tips?

Use Google docs in order to avoid version control nightmares. Create a schedule and a set of expectations. Hence for our hypothetical 100,000 word work, a nine month time period gives the beta reader about 39 weeks to get it all done. If each chapter averages about 1,100 words long, then you want a beta reading turnaround of about 2 – 3 chapters per week to make it in nine months. See why I’m talking about giving yourself a one-month cushion? You’ve also got to account for vacations, illness, the other person being busy with other stuff, and even a lack of motivation on their part.

How Many Beta Readers Do You Need?

For our 100,000 word work, you’re probably going to want more than one beta reader. In fact, I would recommend that for any work longer than what most people would call a short story. You need some give and take and a consensus. If three beta readers tell you a chapter is dull, then it’s dull. If two say you need to use the word ‘whom’, and one says to use the word ‘who’, look it up on a trusted authority, such as Grammar Girl. Majority does not rule here.

Demographics

Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.

Some Standard Questions

Ask them:

  • Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
  • Do you think the situations are plausible?
  • Are the settings well described? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
  • Do the transitions work?
  • Are the conflicts plausible?
  • Is the conclusion a satisfying one?

Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.

Practical Tech

Google docs is particularly useful for multiple beta readers, as they can see each others’ suggestions. Just set everyone to ‘suggesting‘ and not ‘editing‘. Google docs will also inform them when changes have been made, so they are reminded that you’re still out there, and you still need their help. Be sure to make corrections on the page so the beta readers can comment on them if they want to.

Don’t like Google docs? Then use Word and turn on its editing features. Use Dropbox or the like if your documents are too big to practically email back and forth.

Manners Count With Your Beta Reader!

Be gracious about the corrections; these people are trying to help you! But if it’s important for your character to be Lithuanian or eating pretzels or whatever, then stick to your guns and explain why. Do so without rancor, of course. Be kind and your beta readers will be so in return to you.

Establish a really good relationship, and you could be reading for each other for years.

PS… Beta Reader Rewards

Not 100% necessary, but nice to do all the same. I’ve gotten and given gift certificates. And if your work makes it to publication, send them a signed copy. For free.