Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Internet Research

Researching is an important skill for writers, whether you write fiction or non-fiction. While there are many resources and services available to the writer for research, today I'm just going to talk about doing research on the internet.

The internet is an amazing research tool, but one has to use it very carefully. Since it is unregulated, anyone can post anything, so research can require quite a bit of sifting through the noise.

A good place to start is Wikipedia. Seriously. Most of the time the articles are pretty good and will give you a basic overview of your subject. The thing is, you can't just use Wikipedia. Wiki articles should list references at the end, and those references are also a great place to start delving in deeper. See if any of them are available online or through your local library.

A browser search can net you some interesting results, especially if you are just looking up a word or phrase to find out if it fits your setting. Check several sites to see if they agree with each other, but beware of sites that have the exact same wording as other sites. There are a lot of sites out there that just go out and copy the text from other sites, and therefore do not really count as verification. Similarly, beware of sites that have the exact wording of another site, but with all the adjectives changed.

Don't be afraid to go several pages deep in your browser search. The sites with the best information may be written by folks who don't know very much about SEO (search engine optimization).

Google Book Search is an invaluable tool for the internet researcher, as it gives you access to many books that are no longer available. For example, I was able to find building maps and photographs of a particular site of London's Bedlam asylum in a small press book from the early 1900's through Google Book Search, where I would not have had access to this book through local booksellers or the library system.

Research your sources. Do a search to see if a particular source has reviews or comments from knowledgeable people. Do they think it's a good resource, or do they have criticisms? If a particular source is biased, it may still be worth reading in order to find information that would be worth looking up elsewhere.

Have fun with your research. You never know when you'll come across a great story idea.

Friday, September 25, 2009

100 Words About: Rain

It’s been a rainy week, which is a bit of a change since it's been a fairly dry summer. And of course I see people complain about how grey and depressing it is. Granted, I'm a little bummed that with all that rain we couldn't get one thunderstorm. But I like rain. I love the soft sound of it against the windows, the hiss of the cars on the wet pavement outside. I love looking out the window and watching the water run down the hill and the happy feeling I have that I'm snug indoors. So shush y'all, and let me enjoy my weather.

Photo courtesy of Christian Southworth and www.freedigitalphotos.net.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Tip: How to Write Every Day

Most aspiring writers have come across the sage advice "Write Every Day." It goes along with the almost-as-often given adage about "if you write one page a day, in a year you'll have a novel." One hears it often enough that one sort of wants to rebel. It sounds so simple. If writing were that easy, wouldn't everyone do it?

Simple, yes. Easy, no.

The problem with writing every day is that it requires a huge amount of discipline, which is something most people are sorely lacking. We all have busy lives, and squeezing in an extra hour or whatever in every day can seem almost impossible.

No one method works for everyone. Experimentation is required to find the method or methods that will work for you. But if writing is important enough to you, you can find ways of making time to write every day.

Why should you? Because the adages are true. If you write every day, and write to the purpose, you will get things done.

First, set a daily or weekly goal. (Make sure it's reasonable and achievable!) Some people do better with a time limit, others with a word count. If you know you can work for the entire time limit, great. If you know you are apt to spend a lot of time thinking and not actually writing, the word count may be the best choice.

Here are some methods for making time to achieve your goal:

  • Set a timer for 30 minutes. Do not allow anything to distract you during your 30 minutes if you can at all help it. Try to get in at least one 30 minute session a day, but you can do more than one session a day if your schedule allows.
  • Have a special time during the day that is purely for you to write. Make sure your family/friends know this and are supportive of it so they won't distract you. This could be early in the morning before you start your normal day, or during your lunch break, or after you get home from work, or late at night after the kids are in bed.
  • Reward yourself for writing. Some writers won't let themselves read for pleasure until they've gotten their writing done for the day. Others deny themselves TV or favorite foods. Find what motivates you and use it to your advantage.
  • Set a deadline. Some writers do much better if they have a deadline. Some can get away with self-imposed deadlines, and some can't. If you have trouble with self-imposed deadlines, try having a friend or family member act as your deadline coach. Make sure they know about your deadline and how important it is to you. You don't want to have to tell them you didn't make it, do you?
  • Have a place to write if at all possible. This will help you get in the zone. If your place to write is the kitchen table, try having a few "muses" that you put around you during your writing time. This could be specific music, or inspirational phrases on cards, or knick-knacks that help you focus.
  • Plan your time. If you tend to let yourself get distracted by chores, make a list such as "I will start the laundry, load the dishwasher, and then sit down to write for 30 minutes. Then I will check the laundry and make lunch, and then I will write for another 30 minutes."
  • Keep track of your writing time. Make a spreadsheet that shows what you accomplished each day in time and word count. Try to do better every week.

Figure out what you think you can reasonably do and set your goals accordingly. Nothing will derail you faster than never achieving your goals because you set them too high.

Here is an example of how this can work:
Last year I had an idea for a non-fiction book. I pitched it to the publisher. They liked it and asked me how long I needed to write it. Panic! Suddenly I had to commit! I had absolutely no idea how long I would need. I was working full time and our busiest season was just starting. Finally, I came to my senses. I sat down and figured I could commit to 500 words a day, roughly half a page. I needed 32,000 words. That's sixty-four days, but I already had a good start, so I gave myself two months for the actual writing, and another month for revision and holiday delays. By sticking to my word count goal (and exceeding it when I could), I was able to turn in my first draft two weeks early. For me, that concrete deadline was motivation enough--I would have been mortified if I had been late.

I used a similar motivator to finish revising my novel--I signed up for a pitch session at a writing conference a month away. I was determined that I would have a finished novel that I could pitch with confidence, and I succeeded. (Of course, I've made more revisions since then, but really, when do you ever stop tinkering with an unpublished piece?)

For me, word count goal plus external deadline equals productivity. Find out what your formula for success is, and get writing!

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Sale

Hi folks. Just a quick update.

I'm pleased to announce that my short story "The House that Pip Built" will be appearing in Torquere Press's upcoming Taste Test anthology "Scared Stiff" and should be available around Halloween. In this story, college freshman Caleb agrees to enter a haunted house in order to get into the frat of his long-time crush, Evan, but the entity in the house has plans of its own.

In other news, I'm still sick. Blah. I won't bore you with the details, but I will admit that it's making me a lot less inclined to write. I'm at least getting some good research time in, and I did do about a thousand words of summary writing on Friday. I'm hoping to finish the summary this week and start digging in to the novel prequel, as well as finish revising 1794 and get that sent out. I'm also poking at a few other ideas to figure out what word range they are likely to be, and I'll probably start fleshing out one of those too in the hopes of doing another mid-length piece in the 10k to 20k word range.

Friday, September 18, 2009

100 Words About: Being Sick

I suppose it might be cheating, but I feel so miserable I might as well get something good out of it. As I was doing the read-aloud of 1794 I noticed I was developing a sore throat. This has since turned into a head cold, I think. It's been awhile since I had one. I have since discovered that while Sudafed and Vicoden will take care of the sinus headache, they will not let me sleep. So back to generic NyQuil I will go. Very disappointing. I would much prefer to be energetic and productive, but at least it gives me an excuse to kick back and read my research books.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Finally! 1794 is Done.

Yeay! As of last night I finally finished the first draft of the story I've been referring to as 1794. (That's the year the story takes place in.)

This is by far the longest "short" story I've ever done, finishing up at 14,800 words (rounded up). Before that, "Cry Wolf" at 5700 was my longest short piece.

I just completed the first read-throughs, one silent and one aloud, and now it's off to a few beta-readers.

Normally I don't do a dance of joy when I finish a short story, but this one was a bit of a bear. I started it back in July with the hope that I would have it done by the end of that month. Then my cousin died, and my writing sort of went to hell. I missed the deadline of the anthology I wanted to send the story to originally, so instead I wrote a story for a different anthology. Once I got the new story out of the way, it was back to slogging through 1794. I got majorly stuck. I was lucky to get two paragraphs done in a whole day. But, word by word the stupid thing got written out, and finally a couple of days ago the dam burst and the rest came fairly easily.

It will be interesting to see what the final word count is, after I get feedback. Also, I'm not in love with the title I picked, so for now it's still getting referred to as 1794.

I'm going to treat myself to a nice hot bath, a (small) bag of potato chips, and the research books for my next project that I've been holding in reserve as incentive to finish.

I've got at least two new projects in the pipeline, both longer pieces, and will probably try to alternate with a few shorter works as well. Basically, it's time to start on the novel prequel, and work on research for the new project also as that's going to require quite a bit of it. But I'll keep an eye out for interesting anthology projects too.

Photo courtesy of Chris Sharp and www.freedigitalphotos.net.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Working With Your Editor

So you've sold a story or article, hooray! It's all roses from here, right?


Before your piece is published, it's going to go through editing. Depending on your editor, this can be a great experience, or a nightmare.

Now, sometimes the editing happens and you never see the result until print. This can be kind of nerve-wracking, because you have no idea what, if anything, the editor is doing to your manuscript. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to edit your manuscript before submitting it. The less they have to fix, the fewer chances the editor will make a mistake.

Of course, sometimes weird changes just happen anyway. My very first sale (many years ago) was a board game review for a magazine that's not around anymore, and in it one line got changed from "If you allow too many gates to open, the Ancient One wakes up and comes after you" to "If you allow too many gates to open, the Ancient One awakens, the world is fraught with peril." Huh-wha? I never did understand that change. I can only assume it had something to do with the layout...

Thing is, once it's printed there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. If you're like me, this will make you briefly insane. Take a deep breath and set it aside, folks. Giving yourself an aneurysm won't help anyone. And do not immediately run to Twitter/Facebook/MySpace/your blog to complain about it, either. That's totally unprofessional and may make future editors think twice about working with you.

On the other hand, you may end up with an editor that loves your story...if you just make these changes...

This can be harder. Most of the time, your contract (which will probably be signed long before the editing happens) will stipulate that the publisher/editor has the right to make changes to the manuscript as they require. Some contracts will be more detailed in this department than others, so always make sure to read your contracts carefully! But basically, once you agree to let someone edit and publish your work, it can become very dicey indeed as to how much they are free to muck with your manuscript.

In my experience, most editors that actually send you changes and suggestions are open to discussion. Remember, these folks are trying to make your manuscript be the best it can be!

Even if you are not inclined to be protective of your work, make sure to read the proposed changes thoroughly! I had one editor get confused as to who was saying what in one place, and the editor changed a sentence to make it more clear who was speaking - but changed it to the wrong speaker! Not only did I need to make who was speaking more clear, I needed to fix the fix that the editor made.

Now, if you're like me, you are very protective of your work. Over-protective, maybe. Neurotic, perhaps. Anal, you betcha. My first response, usually, is to get quite defensive. When this happens in person I just get very quiet, nod, and take notes. When I'm reading it, I rant and yell at the monitor. (Just ask my husband.)

The thing is, I love feedback. I need it. I want it. But no matter how hard I try, my first response is to get defensive. (Unless it's a problem I already knew about and hoped I could ignore, in which case I hang my head and pout.)

So, what I do is I read all the proposed changes. Then I set the manuscript aside until the next day. This allows me to stop being so emotional, and lets all that feedback simmer in the back of my brain. Usually by the next day I can say, "You know, she's right, that part could be better." And by then I usually have an idea of how I want to go about fixing the problem, and I'm excited about it.

Do you have to take every piece of advice from your editor? No. But think about them all very, very carefully. My husband, who for many years was a consultant, reminds me that the editor is my client. They have bought a service from me, and part of that service is me making reasonable changes to the manuscript.

It's that word "reasonable" that can be difficult.

(He also likes to remind me of our favorite line from the movie The Ninth Gate: "I don't have to like you. You're a client and you pay well.")

What not to change. Odds are you are submitting a Word document via email, and your editor is using the "track changes" feature during editing. I suggest you hide the changes, print out the edited version of the document, and read through it. Mark any changes you want to make to the manuscript. Anything that you didn't mark, leave it as it is. If your editor has made some small changes in vocabulary that seem incredibly inconsequential, just leave them. They're inconsequential. You just said so. Yes, it can be aggravating to see "yelled" changed to "shouted," because it shouldn't matter! And you know what? It doesn't matter. Save your ire for the bigger stuff.

What to stet. Sometimes your editor will make a change that just reads completely wrong to you. Maybe they've misunderstood something, or they have a pet peeve about speech tags or adverbs or commas or long sentences that you don't share. There are times when you look at a change and you just say "No." If you still feel that way even after sleeping on it and reading the edited manuscript, go ahead and change it back. On a paper manuscript, you'd write "STET" next to the change. Be aware that the editor, depending on your contract, may very well make the change anyway. You can but try.

What to change. The vast majority of the time, an editor's changes or comments denote some weakness in the manuscript. Even if you don't like the change that they proposed, try to see what it is that the editor is looking for. Find a way to fix the weak point that makes sense to you, and flows with your style. If your original manuscript was option A, and the editor's change is option B, sometimes coming up with an option C is the best strategy. Be careful that you are not just doing this because you want the whole manuscript to be "yours," or because you can't stand to see someone else have the final say in your work. You know who you are.

Remember - your editor wants your manuscript to be the very best it can possibly be. Your editor is your ally, not your adversary!

Don't be afraid to contact your editor over a particular proposed change. Be polite, be open to the discussion, and be as brief as possible. Remember, while this manuscript is your baby, your editor has a lot of people's babies to work on. Your time is valuable, and so is theirs.

Burn no bridges, waste no one's time (including your own), and do your best to leave a good impression with every industry professional you work with. You want these people not only to want to work with you again, but to be excited about doing so.

Friday, September 11, 2009

100 Words About: 100 Words

Introducing a new regular blog segment: 100 Words About… This will be a sort of writing exercise, open to everyone who wants a little room to ramble on about the day's topic. Every Friday I'll post a new 100 Words About topic and my own 100 Words. I'd love to see you all post as the muse strikes you with your own 100 Words! (Of course, it's roughly 100 Words, I'm not going to bother counting!) I consider this segment to be a little glimpse into my head and my writing style, but also a chance to get to learn a little bit more about all of you!

And that's 100 Words About 100 Words. :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday Tip: First Drafts

You have a fabulous idea for a story, be it short or long, fiction or non. You start working on it. You feel pretty good.

Then, inevitably, you go back and read it. And you start wondering whether this was such a good idea after all.

Now, there are two schools of thought when it comes to first draft revisions. Some people revise as they go, and some don't.

For those who revise as they go, they generally want what they're working from (ie, the stuff already written) to be on par with the part they are currently working on. Especially if things have started to go in a different direction from what was originally planned, or if they've had a great idea that requires the already-written-part to change.

I used to do that. I'm not going to tell you how long it took me to finish the first draft of my first novel. Years. Many years.

I'm now in the other camp - get the first draft down first, and revise it later.

The biggest reason for this is because it is so easy to get caught up in the prose and lose the story. Over the years that I worked on that first draft, my writing improved and improved, because I was practicing it. And I'd go back and read the earlier work and think it was terrible (because it was). And then I'd go back and try to fix it, without getting any farther into the story.

If you are tempted to go back and fix bad prose in the middle of your first draft, stop and tell yourself this very important truth:

"First drafts are allowed to suck."

You might want to print it out and tape it to your monitor.

Everyone's first draft sucks. Go to your local bookstore, and look at all the pretty books on the shelves. They all sucked in the first draft too. It's okay.

So many first-time writers get bogged down in the first draft. They look at it and only see all the flaws, and they look at their favorite writers and see how great their books are, and they get discouraged.

But remember that you can't compare your first draft to someone else's finished product. That's a completely unfair comparison! Don't do that to yourself.

Get the story down, so you can see the whole picture. Many books shift theme or plot during the writing process. It happens all the time. Allow your book to grow as you write it, and remember that you can always fix it later. That's the point of revising, after all--finding all the places that suck and making them better, including inconsistencies and changes in the plot.

Now, if you have a really major plot point change that could totally alter the rest of the book, then it might be worth going back to the point where things need to change, scrapping everything after that, and start writing new first draft from there. But if it's not a big enough change to justify re-writing everything else after it, you might want to consider whether it's worth going back now as opposed to doing it after the first draft is done. You can always insert a comment or a footnote in your first draft with ideas for changes you want to make in the later drafts.

The important thing is to get the story down. Once you have the whole story, you can really see the shape of things, the theme you didn't even know you had, information that needs to be included and things you thought would be important but really aren't, places where information is needlessly repeated, timeline issues, action points that need more show and less tell, and all the other things that crop up the first time through.

Turn your inner editor off and just go. The first draft is allowed to suck. Make use of that freedom and try new techniques, experiment with ideas, and above all, enjoy yourself. Because the gods know that there is enough of "I've read this thing so many times, I'd really rather never see it again outside of galleys" during the revision process. Why start sooner?

Threesomes Anthology Release

The Threesomes anthology releases today from Ravenous Romance. It features my short story "When In Rome," wherein lovers Suzi and Myriah have had enough of their roommate Kimbra’s irksome behavior and decide to teach her a lesson – which is exactly what Kimbra has secretly been hoping for.

This story was a lot of fun, totally non-paranormal which is a bit unusual for me, although I do have a few others out for submission. Though now that I think about it, they're all BDSM-related, which is a sub-genre of erotica that I particularly enjoy. But "When In Rome" is a really sweet story, I think, and I hope you all enjoy it!

I'm currently in the middle of digging post holes for our new fence, so today's Tuesday Tip will be somewhat delayed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nice Review for "The Princess and Peony"

My story "The Princess and Peony" got a very nice review over at Night Owl Romance. Here's what they had to say:

"The Princess and Peony by Mercy Loomis--A variation on 'The Princess and the Pea', I enjoyed this story the most. The Princess, Cara, arrives at the Prince's castle after chasing down her former lady-in-waiting Peony. Apparently Cara's parents didn't like Cara and Peony's relationship, so they sent her away. It’s a sweet and a treat to read."

Thanks for the compliments, Lexile!

Reviewers, please drop me an email or leave a comment so I can link back to your review. I love feedback, even if you hate my story (as long as you tell me why, of course)!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Rejections

This week we're talking about rejections. You experienced writers, stay tuned too, I've got a view from the other side of the desk at the end of the post.

Rejections come part and parcel with being a writer. Your work will get rejected over and over again. It will happen, trust me. Be prepared for it.

Especially early in your career, when you send something out you have such high hopes. You eagerly await the agent/editor/publisher's response. You check your mail, or your email, far more often than could possibly make sense. And then, joy! You see the letter, or the email...and you realize the worst.


And it happens again. And again. And again.

You start to wonder if you're really cut out for this. Maybe you really are a hack. Maybe you really don't have what it takes.

Screw that noise.

A very dear friend once said of dating, "I take rejection like showers." And that's precisely what every writer has to learn to do.

Oh, it's not easy at first, I'll grant you that. I'd say "send it and forget it," but honestly I don't think that's actually possible. Just do your best not to worry or think about it. Work on something else. (You should always be working on a new project anyway, right?)

The tricky part is not getting emotionally invested in any one query. So-and-so passed on your story? Oh well. Next! Have a plan, make a list, know who your next market is.

The number of rejections doesn't matter. All you need is one "yes."

I'm a pack rat, so I tend to keep all my rejection emails. (I have grand plans of making files for all my stuff some day so the story, the rejections, and the contracts are all together. "See, this story got rejected X times, but I sold it. Look at this great rejection letter!") What's more important and useful is my Submissions spreadsheet, which keeps track of what story is out for what project, what that project's deadline was (when applicable), what date I submitted it, how long I have to wait before inquiring, and any notes. Every time something gets rejected I move that spreadsheet line over to the "rejected" tab so I don't end up accidentally sending the same story to the same market again.

Read your rejection letters, but don't obsess. Form letters can just get filed or tossed. If your correspondent was kind enough to make some personal comments or give you advice, take those to heart. You don't necessarily have to follow their advice, but sleep on it and consider how you might make your work better. I had one story get rejected with a huge long paragraph of advice on what would have made them like it more. I got a little down, figuring I'd have to do a major overhaul and I didn't want to. After a month of putting off working on that story (I had others I was much more interested in) I eventually shot it off to another market without doing much to it, figuring I sure as heck was not going to sell it if it just sat in my Work In Progress folder. Got an enthusiastic acceptance the same day. Sometimes all it takes is finding the right market.

The waiting can be brutal. Sometimes I think the rejection is actually easier than the waiting. Once you're rejected you can act. You can work on making the piece better, or you can send it out again. Taking rejections like showers does not help you with the waiting game. Problem is, as Jennifer R Hubbard says in this great post, a writer is always waiting for something. Find a method that works for you that lets you deal with the waiting. For me, I keep busy. Housework, new writing project, new book to read, whatever. Anything but checking my email every five minutes.

Do not bug your agent/editor/publisher.

Really. Don't do it.

Find out what their response time usually is. Most markets will have it listed somewhere, and it's usually 6-8 weeks. That means you cannot ask for an update or a status for two months. If you haven't heard anything in two months, send a very brief, very polite request for an update. This is what I send regarding my novel:

"I am writing to inquire about the status of my novel TITLE, the [first fifty pages/first three chapters/synopsis/etc] of which you requested on DATE. I know you are very busy, but a brief update would be greatly appreciated.

If you need the sample resent, please let me know."

For short stories it would be basically the same thing, only shorter:

"I am writing to inquire about the status of my short story TITLE, which was submitted to you on DATE. I know you are very busy, but a brief update would be greatly appreciated. Please let me know if there is any further assistance I can provide."

Then you wait some more. I'd probably give it at least a week, probably two, if I didn't hear anything back after that.

Now, I've been on the other side of the desk. I wasn't in the publishing business, but I was the purchasing manager for a large distributor, and everyone who wanted us to carry their product sent their pitches to me. I saw an appalling range of professionalism, from people who sent samples with no contact information to people who thought it was ok to call me every other day.

I'll say it again, do not harass your agent/editor/publisher. Nothing made me want to say "no" more than someone who wasted my time.

The other thing that drove me insane were the people who couldn't manage to fill out our simple Information form, even with the FAQ I wrote on how to fill it out. How that translates to the publishing industry is, make sure you read the submission guidelines and follow them! Send everything they ask for. Don't send things they didn't ask for.

But that's really more on the query side of things. On the rejection side, if someone rejects your work with a form letter, don't write to ask them why. (Sometimes it's really just not a good fit, and that's the best answer you're going to get.) Don't ask what you could do differently, or how you can convince them to change their minds. Don't ask if you can resubmit the same work to them. And for goodness sake, don't write them a scathing response about how they are making a huge mistake or they have terrible taste or they must be really bad at their job to turn down your work. Truly, I got those emails. Guess what? I'm now fifty times less likely to consider your next project. Thank you for playing, do not darken my virtual doorstep again.

Harsh? Maybe. But having been an insanely busy person having to field similar requests, I know how it made me feel. Even being a writer and knowing what the people submitting to me were going through didn't help much when I had five voice messages, a hundred emails, and twenty purchase orders to do yet before lunch. The people who left me alone and tried to make things as easy for me as possible did get noticed, gratefully, and if I had to reject them I was much more likely to give them feedback or advice. People who were polite, professional, and recognized that my time was valuable were, in my mind, worth spending a little extra time on. I imagine it's the same in the publishing industry. Work it, people.