Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Hey you! I see you! Toiling away! Biting your nails with worry! Not sure you’ll ever make it/do it again/finish that book/be successful. I totally get it! This writing thing is tough! It’s only for the strongest, most awesome people! Which is why you deserve a gold medal no matter where you are on the journey.

 

Celebrate YourAccomplishments

Here. I made you some! So stop moping and start celebrating every little thing!  (These are words I’m saying to myself as much as you.)

Got a great book idea!

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Started writing a book!

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Completed a first draft!

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Sent your writing to CPs or beta readers!

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Conquered the impossible revision!

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Polished your MS to a shine!

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Revised even after you thought you were done!

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Sent a query!

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Got a rejection!

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Got a request!

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Got a new CP or writing buddy!

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Attended a conference!

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Entered a contest!

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Pitched to an agent/editor!

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Got an agent!

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Revised with an agent!

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Almost emailed your agent seventeen times in one day, but restrained yourself to only two times!

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Went on sub!

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Got an editor rejection!

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Made it to second reads!

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Made it to acquisitions!

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R&R!

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YOU SOLD A BOOK!

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Revised with an editor!

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Survived copy edits!

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ARCs!

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Your book has a cover!

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Your book is on Amazon!

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First review from someone you don’t know on GR!

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First trade review!

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A starred review!

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Book launch!

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Survived people emailing you with the errors they found in your book!

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Started writing the next book!

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. Her debut novel, THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC, will be published by Boyds Mills Press September 2018.

 

Bite-Sized Goals and Mousey Nibbles: Managing Lengthy Projects

Working your way through large, lengthy projects, like . . . oh, writing a novel, for instance, can be overwhelming, can’t it? First you have to write down the words, then you have to fix the words, then you have to fix them a second time, and possibly a third or fourth or fifth time. Then you have to figure out how to get those words out into the world, whether via traditional methods or indie. And while you’re trying to accomplish all of this, you have everyday life stuff to deal with too: jobs, family, chores—as well as non-everyday stuff, such as illnesses, vacations, bad mental health days, holidays . . . I could go on and on.

Of course, it helps to get organized by setting goals and deadlines—to mark on your calendar in bold when you want your first draft to be finished by, when you need to be done with the first round of edits, and so on. But when setting these longer deadlines, it’s easy to underestimate how long you’re really going to need.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I’ve tried to prevent it by calculating out how many words I need to write each day leading up to my deadline in order to reach it—making room for days when I know I’ll have less time to write. As long as I write the prescribed number of words each day, I’ll be perfectly fine, right? But then, life throws obstacles in my path, and soon I’m failing to meet my word counts and falling behind. The farther behind I fall, the more frustrated I get. I move my deadline out. I recalculate my word counts. Then I fall behind again. I get discouraged and overwhelmed over, and over, and I start to think I’ll never finish this darn thing.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you do well with large goals and a daily word count system. Maybe that’s all you need in order to get things done. If so, that’s fantastic! It’s common advice, so it must work for a lot of writers, right? But if it’s not working for you, just as it hasn’t been working for me, I’d like to suggest a few things that have been working for me lately, in the hopes that you, too, will find them helpful.

Make 2-3 Bite-Sized Goals At A Time

I still plan out the large goals (finish draft, revise draft, edit draft.) But I’ve lessened their importance in favor of smaller, bite-sized goals (that, I must stress, aren’t word counts,) and I only plan out a few of these goals at a time. For instance, my goal this weekend was to re-examine my outline, because I’ve discovered I need to throw out some scenes and replace them with brand new ones. I wasn’t writing the scenes this weekend—just taking a look and deciding what I need those scenes to do. My next bite-sized goal will be to outline those scenes. The bite-sized goal after that will be to finally draft those scenes. And . . . that’s it. That’s as far ahead as I’ve planned. Obviously, I have an idea of what I’ll need to do after that, because I know that my ultimate goal is to finish revising this entire draft. But for now, I’m not going to worry about anything further than getting through these next few scenes.

Keeping my goals small and few in number helps me feel like I’m actually making progress. If I look at it in respect to the larger goal of finishing my revisions, it won’t feel like I’ve done much at all. I’ll feel like I’m moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ll get frustrated. So I don’t do that.

Only Work Under Your Best Working Conditions

Pay close attention to when and where you do your best work. Do you get more done in the morning? Then work in the morning and don’t try to squeeze more work out of yourself past that time (unless you absolutely must.) Do you have specific days when you’re less likely to be able to focus? Keep your expectations low on those days. I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning that tends to throw off my concentration for the rest of the day. I’ve come to accept that if I do get any writing done on Tuesdays, it’s a bonus. I’m better off using Tuesdays to catch up on chores or other things that don’t require me to think too much. I’m having a harder time convincing myself that writing post-children’s bedtimes is also a lost cause. But it’s a fact that I’m usually too tired and brain-drained to do much of anything by then. My best times for focusing are late morning and early afternoon when the kids are at school, so that’s when I make myself sit down and work. I also pay attention to my energy level. If I try to work with my laptop on the couch, am I more likely to nap instead? If so, I’ll make myself a cup of coffee or tea, and work sitting up at my desk. Is my back bothering me to the point where sitting at my desk will make the pain worse and/or distract me? Then maybe the couch would be better after all.

Just Take a Mousey Nibble

Okay, this one probably needs some background. My oldest son is a very picky eater. Always has been. He has texture issues and we suspect he may also be a super taster, because he will often complain about things tasting “too strong.” There was a period when he was younger where he was so anxious about trying new foods, that he would burst into tears at the mere suggestion. That is until one day, he told us that maybe . . . maybe he could just try a mouse-sized bite. A little mousey nibble. A nearly microscopic taste that, like sticking a toe in the water, would help to alleviate some of his fear of the unknown. This still works with him. “Just take a mousey nibble, and if you don’t like it, that’s okay,” we tell him. And so he does. And then sometimes, all on his own, he will decide to take a larger taste afterward.

If, even with your bite-sized goals, you’re still feeling anxious about sitting down to work, or you’re not sure how to get started, or you’re just plain unmotivated, tell yourself that you only have to take a mousey nibble. Open your document and commit to five minutes. You don’t even have to type anything. You can use those five minutes to look over your last paragraph, or glance through your outline, or heck, just stare at the blank screen. Chances are though, once your timer goes off, you’ll be able to settle yourself into your task. And if you still can’t, that’s ok. Take a break and try another mousey nibble later. Maybe it’ll taste different next time.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve that help you get through large projects? Please share them with us in the comments.

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard, Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele, knitting, or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys and three mischievous cats. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Naming Things

I have a dog named Dog. All right, that’s a slight exaggeration. I have a dog named Puppy. His collar says his name’s Ptolemy, but no one in the family has ever called him that. Ever since he wandered into our lives, he’s been Puppy. And really, that’s probably a good thing, because who knows how to pronounce Ptolemy?

I get the embarrassing task of responding to each question of, “Oh, what a cute puppy! What’s his name?”

“Um…well…Puppy…”

And then I follow up with the story. Once upon a time on a December 26th, a puppy showed up in the culvert under our driveway like a belated, growling Christmas present. We called, we coaxed, we offered turkey scraps, but nothing would induce him to come out. We ended up calling Animal Control to evict him. Of course, by that point the kids had fallen in love with him.

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So we fostered our little squatter until the animal shelter people were sure no one was coming for him. During that whole week, he was The Puppy, and by the time we were finally sure he was ours, the name was firmly attached. (In case you were wondering, Puppy’s “real name,” Ptolemy, came about because we had another dog named Cleopatra.)

The point of this whole tale is to show you that I’m utter crap at naming things. Dogs, cats, kids, blog posts. But novels, especially. In fact, I’m positive that overall, I spent less time choosing names for my children than I’ve spent on manuscript titles.

I end up with ridiculous working titles like Middle Story, which I then spend months trying to change. Because there are working titles, and then there are titles that have terrible work ethics. They slouch around the house, eating all the snacks and watching TV, and they just won’t leave.

As I suspect that I might not be the only one with this problem (and judging from everything out there on the topic, I’m not), I thought I might compile some of the material I found, with links to a few excellent articles.

So why bother coming up with a great title, you might say? Won’t a publisher change it anyway? Possibly. But it’s still important to stand out from the slush pile. So what follows is my list of the most informative and thought-provoking bits of advice I have found. It’s by no means inclusive. It’s simply a summary of all the ideas I found particularly helpful.

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First of all, the obvious (but always worth a reminder):

  1. A title should be memorable. I think The Hobbit is a great example. It’s an easy but unusual name. Short, simple, and evocative.
  2. A title should be attention-grabbing. Titles such as Fahrenheit 451, Neverwhere, or Strong Poison can be positively chill-inducing. As a kid, I bought (and enjoyed) The Undertaker’s Gone Bananas solely because of the title. Years later, on my bookshelf, it caught my teenage daughter’s eye, too.
  3. It should give an idea what the book is about. Pride and Prejudice. Harry Potter and the (magical artifact).
  4. Make sure the title fits with the story and also isn’t badly out of place with the genre. If you pick up The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, you probably know you’re about to read a fantasy. On the other hand, a title could fit in any number of genres and still be memorable, such as Winter Garden.
  5. Make sure it hasn’t already been used recently, or is the title of a well-known book or movie. Titles aren’t copyrighted, so you can reuse them. It just might not be in your best interests to do so. So do a Google or Amazon search to make sure that Twilight, your epic novel based on the Norse legend of Ragnarök, hasn’t been used anywhere before…

Some great advice I hadn’t considered:

  1. Make it easy to pronounce. Something like Phthamlxatl and the Pachyblepharon—maybe not so much.
  2. Offer a mystery. What is a hobbit (I imagine someone asking in 1937)? Or take, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl. (Wait, there was another one?)
  3. Make a promise to the reader. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enough said.
  4. Try not to make it too embarrassing to read in public—unless you’re going for something meant to be read in the privacy of one’s home. Imagine sitting on an airplane reading something called Sex Tips for People Who Are Really, Really Bad at It (I’m pretty sure I made that one up. Apologies if I did not).
  5. Be precise. Spend plenty of time choosing the perfect words. After all, Death on a Train isn’t nearly as evocative as Murder on the Orient Express.
  6. Think about multiple meanings—good or bad. A Separate Peace has one, obvious, meaning at the outset. At the end of the book, the reader realizes the title could refer to many different things. (Full disclosure: I bombed that symbolism essay in high school.) On the opposite side, the name Isis has a different meaning to most people today than it did even twenty years ago.
  7. Avoid overly trendy titles, like The (Something)’s (Relation). (Although having just thought up The Geneticist’s Cousin, I’m tempted to write a sci-fi story of forbidden love.)
  8. Don’t make it too short or too long. One-word titles don’t often stand out, unless you’re a Disney film (Frozen, anyone?). Conversely, leave Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships to Jonathan Swift.
  9. A title should be original but not distracting or obscure. Poor Phthamlxatl.

What to do:

  1. Study other titles in your genre.
  2. Brainstorm lists of 10-20 titles, then refine them down to the top two or three.
  3. Poll other people on what they think of your choices.
  4. Figure out what your book is really about. Write down some key words that you think describe it, then construct a title from one or more of those words.
  5. Find something from your text that speaks to you. Maybe it’s something one of the characters says that defines the theme of the book. Or maybe it’s an original twist that you think is unique—an unusual world (The Night Circus), event (The Hunger Games), or an intriguing protagonist (The Ghost Bride). Perhaps it’s your character’s unique perspective (Bridget Jones’s Diary). Add imagery and/or alliteration (Blood Rose Rebellion).
  6. Finally, if you’re really, really, really stuck, there are always the online title generators. A Google search will give you an obscene number of hits. Here are only a few:
    1. Completely random: http://booktitlegenerator.com/
    2. This title generator (http://www.fictionalley.org/primer/title.html) generates ideas that actually have something to do with your plot. It uses key words that you input.
    3. And finally a fun one: this title generator by Tara Sparling (https://tarasparlingwrites.com/book-title-generators/). You use your name, birth month, and so on to generate the title of your masterwork. Looks like I need to get started on my chick-lit book, Where Smiles Would Speak. Or perhaps my autobiography, My Breathtaking Pilgrimage.

Great references:

Appel, Jacob M. 7 Tips to Land the Perfect Title for Your Novel. http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/write-first-chapter-get-started/7-tips-to-nail-the-perfect-title

Bottcher, Saul. How to Pick a Title for Your Book. http://www.indiebooklauncher.com/resources-diy/how-to-pick-a-title-for-your-book.php

Buttars, Marla. Choosing Your Fiction Title. http://www.eschlerediting.com/choosing-fiction-title/

Farndale, Nigel. Naming a Novel: Nine Months of Angst. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/books-life/7075095/Naming-a-novel-nine-months-of-angst.html

Max, Tucker. Picking the Perfect Book Title. https://bookinabox.com/blog/how-to-title-book/

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Kris Bio Pic.jpg
Kristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah and writes renaissance-era historical fantasy. She read—i.e. memorized—her first book, The Owl and the Pussycat, when she was two. She likes to think this is where she got her first taste for thrilling adventures in magical lands, spiced with a touch of romance. When she’s not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she enjoys spending time with her four independent children, an adventure-loving husband, and more dogs and cats than she likes to admit. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden.

Life After Querying: Publication Insights from Authors

For writers who are interested in pursuing traditional publication, there are all kinds of tools and resources for drafting writers and revising writers and querying writers. There is hardly anything that then allows a writer on submission with publishing houses know what to expect. And if a writer publishes with one house — even a few times — and then doesn’t resign? It’s like trying to walk a maze in the dark with a blindfold on.

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With this in mind, I put together a survey to see what the “typical” experience tended to be, how writers negotiated time expectations when writing and marketing, and asked for some advice. Over 50 authors jumped in to share their experiences. I’m going to get out of the way and let you peruse the results.

How many times have you been published?

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.33.01 PMWhen was your first book released?

1990s – 4
2006 – 2
2009 – 2
2011 – 5
2012 – 4
2013 – 6
2014 – 6
2015 – 8
2016 – 6
2017 – 4
2018 – 1

Did you publish the same book that you were querying when you signed with your agent?

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How many publishing house read your book before you signed? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 2.57.44 PM

How many books were included in your first contract?

42 authors signed a single book deal.
6 authors signed a two book deal.
5 authors signed a three book deal.
One author signed four books, and one author signed six (this one was direct author to publisher)

Has the entirety of your publishing career been with the same publishing house? Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 3.03.02 PM

If you have changed publishing houses, which book was it with? screen-shot-2018-01-19-at-3-03-33-pm.png

Considering the amount of time you have available to write, what % is spent crafting and what % is for marketing?

(for reference, the 1st number is crafting/the 2nd is marketing)

7 – 90/10
1 – 85-15
10 – 80/20
3 – 75/25
6 – 70/30
1 – 65/35
5 – 60/40
14 – 50/50
4 – 40/60
3 – 30/70

What advice do you have for authors who just signed their first contract?

  • Don’t be shy about communicating with your editor and publicist when you have questions or ideas.
  • It’s never too soon to start working on your next book
  • Always be writing.
  • Enjoy the honeymoon
  • Don’t stop learning. Book 1 is part of the journey, but keep writing, keep honing your craft so future books can be even better.
  • Market a lot at first, keep writing too
  • Read and understand what you’ve really agreed to.
  • Don’t compare to other authors!!
  • Get an agent.
  • You’re not done waiting.
  • Enjoy the giddy, crispy delight of having done this amazing thing. Then take a deep breath, because there’s way more work than glory ahead. ??
  • Keep writing. Book one is just one piece of your career.
  • Make sure to read the contract before you signing you don’t understand it ask for help
  • Build a mailing list!
  • Keep your day job
  • Be clear on the expectations
  • Be careful and read the final print of the contract. Make sure you have an agent who has your back.
  • Start writing the next book! One book does not a career make.
  • Try not to fret social media
  • Connect with other authors who are in a similar situation. It really helps when questions come up.
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Build relationships based on commonalities and a desire to support others–not on hoping people buy your book. Have your agent be ultra-involved in marketing plans with an aim toward getting you as much support as possible. Remember this is a long game, a marathon not a sprint, and focus on your next book, and your next, and…
  • You make your living writing, not waiting. At first, I was nearly frozen with fear as I waited for edits or notes from my editor (agent) but I’ve quickly learned that that time is golden. It is time to try new ideas, work on my craft, build the next book. Oh, and become friends with your cover artist! Getting to know her/him will be a HUGE help if you need additional art for swag etc. They will also LOVE to help spread the word for you on their social media channel because it is their work too.
  • Be patient and keep writing
  • Focus on the good parts and celebrate them
  • All your marketing efforts are a drop in the bucket. If I were going back, I’d focus on a few select things I like or really want to try and would just spend the rest of my time on the next book.
  • Don’t rush to sign a contract. Don’t rush to fire your agent.
  • Get marketing savvy. You still have to do a lot yourself.
  • Remember you have little control about what happens next. Focus on editing your book to the best it can be and let go of the rest.
  • Before you sign, don’t rush. Don’t settle. Read it twice. If you sign, be cautious. Be clear. They’re not doing you a favor. This is your career.
  • Begin your next manuscript as soon as possible. Do not stop writing.
  • Write your next book and consider going indie. 😉
  • Breathe. Ask questions. Advocate for your book and your career. Meet your deadlines.
  • Nothing is as big a deal as it seems. Things will happen that you’ll be sure are going to ruin the book, the events, your career. It won’t. Don’t sweat it. Just keep working.
  • Everything is going to be fine.
  • Lay strong marketing groundwork now. Build relationships with people.
  • The first contract is just the beginning, not the final milestone. Enjoy all the little successes, because there will be lots of things that don’t pan out the way you expect them to. Cultivate gratitude and try to keep your eyes on your own paper–envy is hard to avoid, but poisonous to creativity.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Treat the time between signing and actual release day as a learning experience.
    It depends on whether they signed via an agent or not. If it’s an experienced agent, let them handle it. Ask for twice the number of finished copies they offer. Ask for print ARCs. Remember that while your sights are on a single book your editor is juggling multiple titles. All are important to him or her; keep that in mind when emailing, etc.
  • Keep writing, keep making connections like you’re still trying to get published
  • Start networking!
  • Just keep swimming
  • Keep your head down and work on your craft. There is so much out of your control.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other writers. Everyone’s journey is different, but all are valid.
  • Expand your platform as much as you can now. Be gracious. Watch out for people who just want to take your money. Ask around before signing up for marketing/promo services.
  • Be prepared to do a LOT of marketing on your own, no matter how you are published.
  • Ask questions!
  • Be informed. Stand up for yourself. If you’re panicking, you’re in the majority.
  • Be willing to make your own magic happen– your publisher likely won’t do it for you.
  • Make sure you have a lawyer look over the contract. Watch out for contracts that want to claim all future works or who will force you to purchase your rights back.
  • Editorial feedback is not always direct, so trust your gut. “We need a bigger plot point here” may mean “you need to make us care more here.”
  • Have an attorney review it. Don’t get sucked into the hype of the moment.

What advice do you have for authors who have to go on submission after having worked with a publishing house?

  • Be patient and prepared for change
  • None. I’m about to do the same thing.
  • Understand this happens to everyone. Publishing houses make mistakes and editors get fired or hired away, all of which are to of your control. Switching publishing houses is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Sometimes the journey is hard and ugly. But it’ll get good again eventually.
  • Be patient and start working on something else
  • Keep writing.Keep submitting.
  • You’ve got this.
  • Keep moving forward
  • Evaluate how your agent or publisher has performed for your book and don’t be afraid to jump ship.
  • If you have to start over trying to find a new agent or new publisher, I would say gird your loins! And never give up, and stay busy on a new project.
  • Keep your chin.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Many authors end up publishing different works with different publishers. You’ve got a leg up in the process since you have books out there in the world and a web presence already.
  • If you want to publish traditionally, don’t give up.
  • Don’t think about it. Write the next book instead.
  • Hang in there. You did it once, and it will happen again. Maybe even at a better house than your first turned out to be.
  • It takes time. Oh my goodness, so MUCH TIME! Before finding a publisher that was a fit for me, we went out on submission to at lease 20 different editors/houses. I piled up comments, collected them, then finally started writing something new.
  • Before we had even collected all of our responses I had a new book ready and THAT is the book that finally found a home. Did I mention it takes a long time?
  • Solidarity, friends.
  • Don’t take any contract if it means changing your manuscript in a way you don’t want to.
  • Good luck and keep writing.
  • Being on sub is the worst anticipation. Fill your time with non-related writing activities as much as possible.
  • All the eggs in one basket is not the norm. It’s okay to be at more than one house, and self-published at the same time.
  • Most of us do have to chAnge publishers from time to time. Don’t be discouraged
  • Consider going the indie route. 😉 My indie book makes more than my book with a publisher…and I get paid every month and can see all the numbers.
  • Take courage. Believe in yourself and your writing. Absolutely write the next book, and focus on the things you can control!
  • Keep your tribe close. There are no guarantees in this business. You’ll need them more than ever.
  • Submission sucks. Be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth is not tied up in your writing–and even your worth as an author isn’t solely dependent upon whether or not a publisher buys your books.
  • It’s brutal out there. Believe in yourself and enjoy the act of writing.
  • Keep trying. There’s a home out there for it somewhere.
  • Best advice: never get angry in publishing (agent, editor, copyeditor, PR folks). It’s not personal–though it certainly will feel like it is.
  • Patience, grasshopper, it only takes one YES
  • As much as possible, try and write the next book and forget about the one on sub. It can take a LONG time, but that is no reflection on the quality of your work.
  • My bias is toward finding an agent you trust and who believes in your work 100%. That might include telling you a particular book of yours doesn’t have a market right now. This is certainly harsh to hear but I really do believe agents know and understand the market better than most writers do.
  • It’s OK to feel bad. Submission isn’t fun. Stock up on junk food and binge watch your favorite shows when you need to.
  • Develop a nice, thick, shell. I’ll be “out there” again after book #2, and at least I know now not to take rejection personally!
  • Get writing on something new
  • Turn the MS over to your agent and forget about it. Do something else, write something else. That book, for the time being, is not in your hands.
  • Find other things that bring you joy, and focus on them.
  • Each house has its own business plan. Whether or not your project is a fit may have nothing to do with the quality of your manuscript. Reality is, if they don’t know how to sell it, they aren’t the publisher for you.
  • Persistence outweighs skill 10 times out of 10

How do these experiences align with what you’ve experienced or heard? Have any advice you’d like to add? 

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Tasha Headshot Color

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Writing Shortcuts: Dos and Don’ts

In writing, as in life, there are helpful shortcuts and harmful ones.

Life is busy. We all want to save time, get done faster, be as efficient as possible. But sometimes taking shortcuts can backfire. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to carry more than I know is reasonable, just to save a trip (and how’s that for an appropriate metaphor?), only to drop and/or break something along the way.

For my vintage business I often have to drive to unfamiliar places around Salt Lake County. To save time I’ve been known to try finding the address without GPS, because the city was built on a grid system and surely I’m smart enough to find my own way—until I become hopelessly lost and have to pull over to consult Google Maps anyway, after I’ve wasted 15 or 20 minutes to save my own stubborn pride.

In writing, sometimes it’s tempting to cut corners to get the dang thing done. Be there are certain essential steps that cannot be neglected.

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Bad Shortcut #1: Not Polishing Grammar and Punctuation

This is nonnegotiable. Do not submit a manuscript to an agent or editor unless you have done your absolute best to perfect the grammar. Don’t assume they will give you a pass because your writing is so awesome. It’s an instant turnoff and highly unprofessional. If grammar is not one of your strengths, enlist the help of a critique partner, spouse, or friend with mad grammar skills to do a thorough copy edit.

Bad Shortcut #2: Not Using a Beta Reader/Critique Partner

Even after your manuscript has been stripped of grammatical errors, you will need a few people to read your story to analyze plot, character development—all the mechanics of good writing. You, the author, are too close to the story to be objective. A good critique partner is invaluable, especially one who is both honest and kind. She’ll take note of places where the action drags, or the main character’s motivation is not believable, or the villain suddenly becomes left-handed when he was right-handed for most of the book. This is the big stuff AND small stuff we don’t always catch, and there is just no substitute for having a trusted, fresh pair of eyes (or two or ten) read your story.

Bad Shortcut #3: Not Researching Submission Policies

A form query letter mass emailed to agents and editors is not in your best interest, and will simply waste everybody’s time. Send your queries in small batches, and customize them to agents or editors who 1) represent your genre; 2) are accepting queries; and 3) work for reputable organizations.

Now, I do believe there are certain shortcuts that WILL make writing easier and more productive.

Good Shortcut #1: Place Markers

Sometimes my writing stalls because I need to research a topic or I don’t know to proceed with a particular scene. If you’re drafting and don’t want to slow your momentum, simply type “Insert something brilliant or historically accurate here” and keep going. Just don’t forget to go back and fix it later!

Good Shortcut #2: Using Small Moments

So many days I’ve chosen not to write because I didn’t think I had enough time to do it properly. But lately I’ve been trying to take advantage of free moments here and there, just to fill in scenes that are rattling around in my head. This past week I wrote out short scenes while waiting for food at a restaurant and during half time at a Utah Jazz basketball game. It helps to always have your story playing in the back of your mind. When inspiration strikes, you can pull out your notebook and capture those moments of genius.

Good Shortcut #3: ???

Honestly, I’m having a tough time thinking of a #3! There really aren’t many shortcuts to solid, impactful writing. Work hard. Keep at it. Be willing to learn. Polish, polish, polish. And don’t lose sight of your goals. When you put in the time your results, though never predictable, will no doubt be more rewarding.

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Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at www.christinehayesbooks.com.

 

Is it a Comedy or a Tragedy?

“It’s been an awful year,” I said to my brother Andrew. It was 11:30 on New Year’s Eve 2016, just outside of Seattle, and we were the only ones in the house still up. The music was low, the kitchen was a warm glow in the darkness, and the mood was much more suited to introspection than celebration. My baby nephew was cranky with a cold. Andrew and his wife had just come back from visiting her dying aunt in the hospital. A planned fun evening with my husband’s sister had been cancelled after she badly sprained her ankle.

And that was just December 31. Our father had died in September, after fighting pancreatic cancer for three years. It had been a difficult few months, especially for Andrew, who was still coming to terms with the fact that his son would never know his Grandpa Steve. The country had just gone through an ugly election, and one of my first thoughts at the time was that I was glad my dad hadn’t lived to see it.

Andrew leaned back in his chair and said, “F*** 2016.”

And I had to agree. But I was hopeful for 2017. Grief doesn’t last forever, after all, even though it sometimes feels that way.

What do you do when sadness pulls you down? With so many serious things happening in the world, it sometimes seems hard to justify spending time on a trivial activity like writing fiction. You may think, “What good will it do? How is this going to change humanity for the better?”

Despite my hopes for 2017, the year hasn’t been all kittens and birthday cake. The massacre in Las Vegas two weeks ago hit close to home—literally. I live only a couple of hours away from that glittering, self-absorbed, resilient city. A couple of good friends were at the Route 91 Harvest concert at which 58 people were senselessly murdered and hundreds of others injured. Though my friends are physically fine, the pieces of their story that they have so far shared are absolutely heart-rending.

And once again, it’s hard not to wonder, “Why bother? Why am I wasting my time on this when there are important and real things to do in the world—things that may actually make a difference?”

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The plays of William Shakespeare tend to be divided into histories, tragedies, and comedies. (For purposes of this post, I’m going to ignore further divisions such as romances and tragicomedies.) In the simplest possible terms, if the play ends with everyone getting married, it’s a comedy. If it ends with everyone dead, it’s a tragedy. As for the histories—well, I’m going to ignore them, too.

There always have been, and always will be, happy stories and sad stories. My husband can always tell when my book club is reading something sad, because I’ll be down for days. (My book club went through a phase where it seemed that the only books we read were about Nazis or slavery. Whoa. Just—whoa.)

Humans need sad stories. The tragedies—the deep tales that dredge up all the emotions we usually prefer to keep buried—can serve a cathartic purpose. A catharsis, according to Brittanica.com is, “…the purification or purgation of the emotions (especially pity and fear) primarily through art.” It goes on to add, “… through experiencing fear vicariously in a controlled situation, the spectator’s own anxieties are directed outward, and, through sympathetic identification with the tragic protagonist, his insight and outlook are enlarged. Tragedy then has a healthful and humanizing effect on the spectator or reader.”

In practical terms, tragic stories can give us the impetus and courage to change things—whether within ourselves or in the world at large. Who could read The Nightingale, The Book Thief, or The Invention of Wings and not want to fight evil and ignorance with every last breath?

But maybe you prefer stories that make you happy. I know I do. The ones you choose to tell probably depend in some measure on the ones you like to be told. Because I prefer comedies (in the Shakespearean sense of the word), that’s what I try to write. I love stories in which unhappy things may happen, but in which everything comes out all right in the end. Light-hearted tales may not garner the respect that serious ones do, but they can release us, at least temporarily, from a life or a world that may be less than perfect.

We humans need the happy stories as much as we need the sad ones. Studies have shown that reading fiction makes people more empathetic. Check out this article: “Why Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Person”. We could all use more empathy, right?

Here’s another article, this one from the TTOF family. Rosalyn Eves has written an encouraging post that touches on the importance of fiction as an escape.

And in case you simply have a hard time opening up that document file and getting to work, Megan Paasch has some good tips for writing when external things get to be too much.

Because I want to write a comedy—because I prefer them—I’m going to finish with a couple of happy things. Thousands of people survived the worst shooting in modern U.S. history. Stories have emerged from that terrible night—stories of heroes, human connections, lives well lived, and legacies handed down.

Finally, on a more personal note, my brother and I had never been close. We have different mothers, he’s fourteen years younger than me, we live 1,100 miles apart, and we haven’t shared a home since I was seventeen and he was three. But my dad’s cancer sparked a friendship between us that might not have happened otherwise. Because of something tragic, I’ve gained new relationships with a brother, a sister-in-law, a nephew, and even a handful of step-cousins.

And that’s worth writing about.

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Kris Bio Pic.jpgKristina Starmer lives in Southern Utah and writes renaissance-era historical fantasy. She read—i.e. memorized—her first book, The Owl and the Pussycat, when she was two. She likes to think this is where she got her first taste for thrilling adventures in magical lands, spiced with a touch of romance. When she’s not working as a university chemistry lab manager, she enjoys spending time with her four independent children, an adventure-loving husband, and more dogs and cats than she likes to admit. She is passionate about traveling to new places, ice cream with lots of mix-ins, and the peaches from her garden.

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