Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The End of the World

It's all in the details.

If you understand anything about world building, try to maintain that.

But it's a balance as well. Like anything with writing. A balance between what the reader Needs to Know and what is going to bore them to tears. Or at least make them Skim...which is worse.

You have to distill down to the essence, and build from there, fill in the extra bits as you go.

I find the whole process fascinating and frustrating. I get overwhelmed with the amount of research that a alternative history story takes. I mean really, I want to Make Up my world! But if I get any of the real history wrong it's going to be Bad. Badbadbad. BAD! I love learning about the history once I get into it... and really enjoy writing the little details that no one notices but me.

Ultimately how deep you go into the culture, how full you build your world is up to you. I truly believe that if you get lost in your world, your reader will as well.

Lost in a good way.

Not lost in a padded room and throw the key away, way. That's not so good...though it probably would make for some good writing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Finer Points

So we've covered our basic needs.

What else does a world need to function? How deep do you need to go?

Religion and Politics. The major headliners. The two generally go hand in hand. Maybe the political structure in your world is the same thing as your religion. Maybe you've suppressed the religions with a overzealous military regime. However you handle it, ultimately you need to understand how these major pieces work in your world. (Or don't work, as the case may be.)

Art. Is it inspired by religion? Or is it more free form? Again. These are just details. Not that you NEED to have art in your book...just that you might possibly need to know the origin of it. And if you have art, the difference between art inspired by religion and art inspired by nature is pretty big, from a society standpoint. (If you want to go THAT deep...)

Weapons. What type of society are you building? What type of weaponry do your people need? Do they buy? If so, from where? Do they make their own? Think of the details of that as well. How does one MAKE a bow? How long does it take to cure a willow branch to make a proper bow arm? How do you even string the thing properly? Or are you going to go the "gloss over route". "Hayden was a master bowman. No one knew quite how he created his masterpieces, but he made the most incredible bows in all of the seven kingdoms." (why are there always seven kingdoms....ever notice that?)

Technology. This one is somewhat tricksy. Personally, I'm in favor of a 'less is more' approach for this one. Unless it's hard Sci-fi. But even then, possibly stick with made up stuff? (IMO). I think the problem with using real technology comes in because things get outdated so blazing fast. You start writing your book on an iMac, and finish on a hologram a year later. But in that book you've put in a reference (or 7) to your trusty iPod. Which is now woefully outdated. None of the cool kids are using them anymore. I think it's best to keep it as general as possible. Get down to the essence of what it is you're doing. rather then using brand names (is that ok anyway?). Say 'Music Player'. 20 years from now when people are still reading your book they'll automatically fill in whatever the new 'music player' is right then.

So. Did I miss anything? What other topics for World Building have you struggled with? How have you kept track of your massive amounts of World Building Research!? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You Can Dress em Up

World Building is a slow, painstaking process. As modern writers we don't have the luxury afforded us that our predecessors had of the infamous "Info Dump". (God I hate that term) We have to be coy. We have to be sneaky. We have to take our ever loving, sweet ass time building our world. And hope to god that our readers don't lose interest and wander away to watch the latest installment of "Survivor: Mall of America" on Netflix.

So. What exactly does it mean to build a world? How Deep do you know the environment you have created for your characters?

Lets start simple. Food. Shelter. Clothing.

What do they wear? And maybe this isn't a simple question. Because in many cultures clothing is a status symbol. But for the sake of argument lets just say it's simply clothing. Do women wear skirts only, or are they 'allowed' pants? Leather? Cotton? Do people make their own clothing or do they buy it?

Ah. And here we get into a deeper question. Society Structure. (See how things start to have a domino effect?) So...If people make their own clothing, what kind of society is this? Hunter/Gatherer? Warring tribes? I understand quite a few of these implied questions can be answered by knowing what time period you are writing in...but if you read my previous post...one can never assume you know anything about a story. Go Deep into your Culture. If you know the simple details like where or how people get their clothing, writing descriptions of that clothing won't be so hard. Do you see?

Food. How do they get their food? This is another basic need that can lead down a rabbit warren. Do they grow their own? Do they truck it in, fly it in, replicate it, hunt it down? But, knowing how they get their food is just part of the puzzle. What do they eat? Are they vegetarians? Do they eat mainly meat, cheese and bread? I read an interesting blog post on Rothfuss's blog about how most Everyone who writes fantasy will inevitably have their characters sitting around a fire eating stew. No explanation about what's in the stew or how it was made. Just that it's stew, and they were eating it. It drove him nuts. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized he's right. And now...yup...drives me nuts too. So. Keep that in mind. No stew. Well. Unless it's fall. Then it's ok.

Shelter. Again. Not so simple a question when you get right down to it. Who builds it? Where and how do they get their materials? (A plot point RIFE with corruption potential!) Who takes care of the shelter? Is it a community thing? A family thing? Women? Men? 

Now again. Even though it's beginning to sound like maybe Tolkien and Dickens had the right idea...No. BAD. Step Away From The Long Exposition! Really it's just YOU that has to understand your world in this level of detail. That way when you are writing along, you don't get tripped up by simple details and your world starts to feel flat to the reader. Simple sentences like (a bad example) "She opened the door to her boudoir and surveyed her domain." Or, "He called his first meeting of the village elders hoping this time they would take his role as war leader seriously." These types of leading sentences go a long way to explain what it is you're trying to do.

I've been reading a lot of steampunk lately which has massive amounts of, well, interesting clothing in it.  Gail Carriger to be specific. She's great at little details like this. She just makes passing mention of going to the seamstress for the latest in Dirigible Wear. Skirts with weights in the hem. Suit coats with the same. That kind of detail adds a lot to the believability and depth of your world.  

Even if this is a world of your own creation I would do research. Research societies like the one you're building. It will give your world a bit more realism, not to mention it may give you ideas for things you hadn't thought of.

What other details of these 'simple' needs have you found to be not so simple to explain in your World Building? How did you remedy the problem? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oh, the Assumptions We Make!

I was going to start off talking about how we can work the culture of our worlds into our stories. But then I realized that I should probably start off with the WHY of it all.

I wasn’t really aware, as a reader, that there was such a thing as “culture”, or maybe another phrase could be “world building”. I knew some worlds worked better then others, were more believable...long before I understood what it was to Build a culture, literally from the ground up. Even certain writers have worlds they seem to understand, or maybe enjoy building, better then others.

For example. Anne McCaffery does an AMAZING job building Pern. Not so great with her Petabe world. It’s almost as though the writer herself doesn’t quite buy it. Or. Maybe it’s a different problem altogether. Maybe the writer just didn’t take the time to clue us in to the rules. She left us out in the cold. She assumed we understood what was going on, when in fact, we didn’t...and therefore, her world felt flat, one dimensional, and ultimately boring.

Jim Butcher is great at world building and revealing. He throws us in head first, tumbles us around for a bit, then just when we’re starting to wonder what the hell is going on here, brings us up for air and gives us a few rules and regulations. Then throws another monster at us. Good stuff.

This started because I read a very brief article months ago in Writer’s Digest (I believe) about the assumptions that a reader will bring to your story. It glanced briefly at how if, for example, you have a pregnant woman, the majority of your readers will assume that woman has a husband. Think about that. We are so ingrained to think that A) A woman MUST be married to get pregnant. B) A woman who is pregnant must have a Husband. (Which isn’t QUITE the same thing as A.) Interesting, don’t you think?

Another common assumption? All worlds are Male Dominated. Hmm. Really? Are they?  That’s what a reader assumes, unless otherwise informed. And not only that, if you want a female dominant world, good luck! For this one, you have to really drive the issue home. Apparently a female dominant world is a hard plot point for a reader to buy.

So to build a world you have to, as the writer, understand that the reader knows nothing about your world. Nothing. That’s a very intimidating word. They THINK they know stuff about your world. But do they? Are you ok letting the reader imagine, for themselves, what type of clothing your people wear? Is it important to the story? A savvy reader can glean information about clothing type by the type of story they’re reading, absolutely. But are you ok with this? If not, you have to work this into your story somehow.

A readers assumptions are nothing to take lightly. But don’t let them get in your head. It’s all about building your world from the ground up. It’s the details. Have you ever gone to visit another state, or country, and thought you were on another planet? That’s the feeling you want to hold on to. That’s how your readers SHOULD feel. You Don’t want them to know, for a little while anyway. You want to explain it to them. You want to control what they know and don’t know. You want them to wonder about every little detail and IS it important. Are the beads he just mentioned in that guy’s hair something that I have to keep track of? Or are they just a costume detail? It’s hard getting the balance right. Not doing the ‘info dump’ of old, yet keeping the reader from filling in the blanks on their own.

What are some assumptions that readers, cp’s, random people, have made about your writing/story? Did it change how you approached your craft? Your story? Were you surprised?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gettin' some Culture

Culture in our stories.

Hopefully it’s something that blends so perfectly that our readers don’t even notice the crazy worlds we've dropped them in. They just accept the rules we lay down as Law.  

But think about that. And the kinds of problems it presents.

Each reader, male, female, black, white, gay, straight...ect. is going to bring to your story their own set of assumptions. They don’t mean to. They just will. It’s our job as writers to set the culture firmly in our readers minds...without being too pedantic about it...so they understand the rules and can enjoy the story you’re trying to convey.

How. I mean, to you it’s obvious that the woman giving birth on the floor of the hut has three husbands and two wives and the birth of this child will determine which spouse controls the village until the next child. But have you explained this? Because your reader will (probably) assume the woman giving birth on the floor of the hut has one husband. And that husband is Ruler. For all time. Period. No matter what.

It’s the culture you’re trying to build. Just like everything else in the story, it’s a slow process, but you do have to clue your readers in on the rules so to speak.

Even those writing in Historical settings. Good gods. I can’t tell you the etiquette crap I’ve dug up on my research in the 1900’s. Honestly. How a woman ever got laid in that time I will never know. If she so much as showed her ankle, I think she was thrown in jail for wanton behavior!

So this week we will be getting all culture-fied at UB!  Art! Politics! Religion! Weapons! Clothing! Education! The meat and bones that readers don’t really ‘notice’ about your story. But if someone is carrying an iPod around in a Harry Potter novel? Yah. They’ll notice that.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Self-publishing: promotions

Like a lot of writers, I'm an introvert. Socially awkward. I tend toward the gloomy and the "oh-God-I-suck" side. I've been looking at how to promote Disciple, making some plans, and this is what I've worked out so far.

Blog tours
Trawl (not troll) around the blogosphere and work up a list of blogs relevant to your genre. Email their owners to ask if they'd be interested in a guest post, interview, review, giveaway, whatever is most appropriate. Some are bound to say yes. Work out a schedule. Write what you need to. Blog about it yourself.

This can be very repetitive, and it's a good idea to write up not only your pitches and short synopsis (I use my query, for that) but also an author's biography and some stock paragraphs ahead of time. You do want to tailor your emails, your guest blog posts, etc., to each situation, but working from a template will save brainpower.

Things to have on hand: that pitch, the short synopsis, a biography, answers to common interview questions like "When did you start writing?" or "Where do you get your ideas?", a couple guest blog posts (see this list).

This has rapidly become the place to give away free copies of your story in exchange for reviews. It seems like a pretty wild and woolly place, and I'm still getting my feet wet over there.

Book blogs
There are indexes of book blogs out there (BookBlogger's list for SF/F) but you need to comb through them to see which are still active, which are accepting books, and which are trying to dig out from under their submissions. It goes without saying, but you also need to limit yourself to book bloggers who read your genre. Because book bloggers are usually swamped with stuff to read, this is a long-range promotional strategy. It's still quite viable because your ebook will be always be available, regardless of whether the review goes up in three months or eleven months. Make sure the links you send your book bloggers remain functional!

I used this
bookmark design
for Disciple's
Kickstarter campaign.
That's not the
final cover art.
Bookmarks and postcards
These are Cheap Things to Give Away. Online printers are happy to run off a pile of bookmarks or postcards for a reasonable price. You can leave them on freebie tables at conventions. You can tack them to community bulletin boards at local coffee shops. Have some on hand if someone asks, "What do you do?" "Oh, I'm a writer, this is my book..." (Hey, it could happen.) Make sure that they are:
  • Pretty. Use that book cover art you spent so much $$ on. 
  • Informative. Book title, author name, genre. Web page. Be sure the person can find you!
  • Throwing out a hook. Use your Twitter-sized pitch. Maybe your short synopsis will fit on the back?
And get feedback on your design before you send it off. The last thing you need is a typo to make you look like an idiot, or that lovely cover art turning into a  blob because you shrank it down so much.

What other promotions have you seen, or tried?

Question answered: 
Dezmond asked, but I can't reply to comments on this site, so -- the Big Six publishers are: Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. They each own many smaller imprints, as well as publishing under their own names. (Macmillan owns Tor, for example.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Self-publishing: am I ready?

This is the tough part. We all like to complain about how much crap is being published, and none of us want to be part of the crap. It's very difficult to be objective about one's own writing. It's very difficult to gauge its quality. Criticism hurts. Realizing you've failed to communicate the dream in your head hurts.

What clues do you use to decide whether your story is "good enough" to be released into the wilds of Amazon? The following is what I used to decide if Disciple was ready to self-publish. These are only my opinion, of course, but it's someplace to start.

What your beta readers tell you
When your manuscript has been fully read and critiqued by several experienced, articulate readers (who are probably writers themselves), take a look at how much consensus there is on your story's problems, and how deep they run. IMO, there are three levels of story problems (these are not exhaustive lists):
  • Deep problems: weak plot, holes in the plot, main characters are flat, world-building problems, lack of tension, serious grammar trouble.
  • Mid-level problems: dialogue is flat/unrealistic, bad info-dumps or missing information, pacing is off, confusion caused by the narration or grammar. 
  • Surface problems: voice is unclear, POVs need tightening, fact-checking to be done, minor additions and clarifications of facts and events. 
If you've got mid-level or deep problems, it's not ready yet. You need to get out the chainsaw and do some serious revision. When your story has worked its way up to only surface problems, start polishing it for publishing -- or submission to agents/editors.

When I committed to publishing Disciple, it was near the surface level and I put it through another round of beta readers to be sure of that. Their critiques supported my opinion. So I polished it.

What your freelance editor tells you
See above. A good editor is going to call you out on the things your betas missed. If deep or mid-level problems had come up in Disciple at this stage, I would have had to put off publishing it until I was confident everything had been fixed. But the revisions my editor recommended were surface-level.

What your gut tells you
Aside from being full of butterflies, that is. We all go through love/hate cycles with our writing, but which side is your gut taking, on the whole? Do you read critiques of your work and feel overwhelmed, don't know what to do? Or does your brain start burbling with ways to fix your story's problems? Some of this is confidence in your own abilities, but some of it also comes from knowing what a good story is and how to tell it. You get some of that by training your gut, by consuming lots of good stories (and bad stories, so long as you know why they're bad.) Some of that is... well, I do believe in talent, I'll admit. That's a thorny issue, though.

Circle back to your beta feedback, for a moment. If your betas were kind, they included some praise for the things you did right along with their critique. What sorts of things did they like? Did they get through complicated or difficult parts of your story without a hiccup? Did they sound eager to see more? Were they hooked, in other words?

Betas: do you see your power, now? Please be completely honest in your crits! :)

Some more thoughts:
  • There is no "perfect," though you should shoot for it. I think it's obvious that I'm on the "be as professional as possible" side of things. People won't take you any more seriously than you take yourself -- usually less than you do. So set your bar high. 
  • There will be other stories. However long it takes, you're probably going to write another one. You're probably already a repeat offender on that count, in fact. This one book is not the end of the world.
  • You're not going to strike it rich, and that's OK. Most people don't, even with a Big Six contract.
  • It's a lot of work, but so is being published by a Big Six company. I don't know where anybody got the idea that writing is easy, but it's not true. 
What do you think? 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Self-publishing: more nuts and bolts

Some more nuts and bolts of self-publishing: the book itself.

Dead tree edition
If you put your mind to it, you can make Word generate a decent-looking document. You don't need to try to tackle a professional program like InDesign -- put that effort into mastering Word. (Does anyone want me to try to explain character styles and paragraph styles? And why they're different things?)

To be honest, you can get away with not even offering a print edition these days. It's hard to argue with the satisfaction of holding a book with your name on it, but it may not be worth your time. Especially if you're selling short stories and novellas.

Based on my past experience: go with print on demand. Do not buy a print run, however few hundred books the minimums are down to these days. If you doubt me, come by my house and I'll show you the  boxes.

Electronic edition
Do not skimp on your ebook. This will be your bread and butter. You want your ebook to be a simple, clean layout that's easy to read. If you're writing a fantasy (like me) and therefore need maps and appendix materials, you want those to be neat and clear as well.

Maps, in particular, can be difficult. You want an image that's large enough (in resolution) to easily read and maybe enlarge in the reader for a closer look. But not so large that it bogs things down. And one rule of thumb I've learned from working with greyscale images: avoid using grey screens. They muddy up the picture very quickly. Resist the urge to mark areas of your map with a screen.

Cover art on ebook readers is an issue as well. Yes, the Kindle Fire is popular, but most readers are still black-and-white and not noted for displaying art well. Most advice I've heard is to use your color cover in the ebook, don't worry about the conversion... but I'm a perfectionist. I worry. I will have to report back on this after trying some things out.

Creating your own EPUB and MOBI files is not as difficult as you might think (I blogged about mine) -- and if you really are not up for that, you can find someone to do it for a reasonable, flat fee.

Do you really need one? If you're making a paper edition and you want to sell it, yes. When it comes to electronic books, things get hazier. Some online retailers require them (Apple and Sony) -- but not Amazon or Smashwords. If you make both a paper edition and and electronic edition, each one gets their own ISBN.

Why? An ISBN is a unique identifier. How many books titled Burning Desire do you think are out there? How many editions (print, electronic, collections, special editions, etc.) might there be? ISBNs let books be easily organized (by libraries) and sold (by retailers.)

They're expensive. $125 for one, at the official sales site (www.myidentifiers.com) -- but for $250, you can get 10. Several online publishing sites will sell you one for less because they've gone and bought a ton of them and they are selling you one of theirs. Or in the case of Smashwords, they will give you one for free. Which means that as far as the U.S. ISBN Agency is concerned, Smashwords (or whoever you bought it from) published your book. For most people, that works just fine.

I will be putting an ISBN on my print edition and my electronic edition. My RPG-publishing company bought a pack of ISBNs over ten years ago, but we didn't use them all. They don't expire, so I can still register them and list my near-defunct company as the publisher.

It's worth saying again: ISBNs do not expire. If you're in this for the long haul (which self-publishing is) and you want to offer both print and electronic editions of your work (doubling your ISBNs) and you're setting your self-publishing up as a business (for tax purposes -- way out of my league to advise on, but it's a good idea) then think about buying a pack of ISBNs for yourself. If you buy ten, the price drops to $25 each. If you buy a hundred, it drops to under six bucks apiece. And if you're one of these folks who can churn out novellas by the dozen... there's a good chance you'll need them.

I'll come back and tell you once I've been through the process. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Self-publishing: nuts and bolts

Publishing is a field where you can do a surprising amount of the work yourself, or pay someone a fairly small amount to do it for you. (Compared to, say, how much a car mechanic or a plumber goes for. But that's a whole different rant.)

Of all the aspects of publishing, this is one thing you do not want to skimp on. Despite the old saying, people absolutely do judge a book by its cover. Make your cover artist a major item in your budget.

Where to find one? I went to DeviantArt.com and posted in the appropriate forum. The price you mention will determine the upper limit of the talent you attract -- good, professional artists know what they're worth.

How much? The sweet spot is, of course, those artists who are obviously going to go pro (judging by their portfolio) but haven't yet. When I was shopping around the portfolios, I gathered that the absolute minimum price for the quality I wanted was $250. But I budgeted for $500-$800, which got me some nibbles from professional-level artists. You can go higher than that, of course, which will put you into increasingly higher quality levels.

Cover design
Easier than you think. All you need is a program that can put type on top of your cover artwork. All the type you need is: the book's title, and the author's name.

Use a simple, clear font. You don't want people to have to squint and stare to figure out what your title is -- because they won't, they'll just keep moving. Don't cover the important parts of your artwork with type. Get feedback from someone who doesn't know what your book's title is, if you can.

Do you want me to go on? Just ask.

Photo by Jenny Rollo
Editors, line editors and proofreaders
There's a wee bit more leeway here than with your cover artist. I'm of the opinion that several excellent betas can do the work of an editor -- assuming that you're skilled enough to implement their suggestions well (that's a whole 'nother post, stay tuned.) If you can budget for a freelance editor, do it. This will be as big a line item as the cover artist, in your budget. Possibly bigger.

Your freelance editor may be able to be your line editor, too. What's the difference? Editing on the larger scale involves your story structure, plot, characterization, and such. Line editing is all about your grammar, sentence structure, the stuff in the actual lines of your text. There can be some overlap between line editing and proofreading, too. Technically, proofreaders only look for spelling, punctuation, correct layout styling, and make sure that all the edits on a marked-up manuscript have been done. The actual text is not an issue, for a proofreader. It could be in Greek and I could still proof it. Proofing is harder than it sounds, but it's one of those things people think anyone can do. (You know, like writing a novel.)

If you can afford a freelance line editor and/or proofreader, do it. If you have a sufficiently nit-picky beta reader, English teacher, or friend, you might be able to get away with that. The important part is that you want someone who can be objective and impartial about your grammar and punctuation. You don't want them getting sucked into the story.

Stay tuned for more nuts and bolts...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Taking the wheel: self-publishing

The School's In query contest was a huge success, I think it's safe to say. Since then, we've had two weeks of posts related to preparing your manuscript for submission and crafting those all-important pitches.

Taking the wheel of your writing career...
Which has left me a bit uncertain about what to do with my week at the helm. You see, I'm not submitting my manuscript to agents or editors. I'm self-publishing. 

That does not in any way let me off the hook with regards to polishing my manuscript, writing a good synopsis, or being able to pitch my story in two sentences or less. I still need to do those.  I also need to do a lot of other things, and they're intimidating at first glance.

They were not so intimidating to me. Here are my credentials: I've been making a living as a graphic designer for 15+ years now. That has included everything from concept to handing the plates to the pressman. I got into it by way of proofreading (trained to the Chicago Manual of Style) and I'm entirely self-taught. I was involved for far too long in the role-playing game industry as a small publisher. Srsly, I don't want to talk about it. But the experience has come in handy.

Whether self-publishing is the right choice for you -- I can't tell you that. But I'm going to share a few things about my adventure thus far (I'll be publishing Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet, on November 1st, 2012, in my current plan) and hopefully they will help you decide. 

On Friday, I will field any questions posted in the comments or emailed to unicornbellsubmissions (at) gmail.com. Ask away!

Friday, September 14, 2012

How to Process Critiques

Only the most courageous put their beloved work out into this medium for others to see.

Only the best of us accept what comes back.

So, how to use the whomp upside the head priceless crits?

It is like an exclusive elevator. You start at the bottom with a lot of other folks. The elevator starts up. Sometimes the ride stops and people step off. It stays on some levels for indeterminate periods.

Along the way, as the lights tick up on the elevator panel, the people experience the same reactions.

Levels of the Critique Elevator.

#1.Anger/Hurt Feelings. You’ve worked hard on this manuscript. It is wonderful, perfect, above superlative. Then someone doesn’t ‘get it’.

That elevator stops. Some can’t get past this stage and never move on. They leave. Others stay on, mumbling to themselves.

#2.Acceptance. After a day or two (or three or four, five or six), the critique makes seems. You edit and move to the next floor.

#3.Justification with explaining. Another stop. A crit seems befuddled with your MC’s behavior and, to enlighten them, you explain why she/he reacted as they did. Generally, no one gets off the elevator unless #1 is involved. 

Take note of this fact: The reader is telling you something very, very important. They don’t ‘see’ what you are seeing. Do not take this for granted. It is like pointing to an object below the horizon. You know it is there but your friend can’t see it.

Do not underestimate this type of crit. And do not give in to the temptation of ‘explaining’.

#4.Confusion. A critter makes an impossible suggestion that conflicts with your storyline. Absorb this, file it away for later reference, and move on. It might prove helpful at a later stage.

At this point, some crits may not be useful but accept them anyway. The tools, like a screwdriver, might not be what you require but pick it up, look at it, and decide whether it fits your need. Heaven knows a screwdriver handle works as a hammer sometimes.

#5.Acceptance. This level is the hardest to find. At this point, there are few people left in your elevator. Some are muttering quietly in the corner. Others nod their heads. But all of you are self-absorbed to the point of exclusion.


#6.Light Bulb – Gru, Despicable Me. It hits like a Niagara Falls. You look around the elevator and become aware that everyone is in the same place, following the same journey, with the same goals. Every crit become a precious bit of information given by people with little time or incentive to give it. You realize how priceless this is. Leading to:

#7.Appreciation. How can a simple thank you be enough? This expression of gratitude is too little but it is all we have.

#8.Pay It Forward. Critiques freely given generate a return of the same.

#9.Top floor. Published.

Step on the elevator for the ride of your life, folks. Then stay on.

We’ll get there together.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#5 Twitter Pitches and Loglines

Andren, prince of a small island, goes on a quest to find himself after a traumatic event and ends up waging war on an evil dragon emperor.

If you insert why he needs to ‘find himself’, you'll tie the reader to Andren.

‘Andren, prince of a small island, finds himself at odds with his father…’
‘After killing his best friend, Andren, prince of a small island, wanders in search of…’
‘When Andren, prince of a small island, breaks his vow of chastity…’

Anyway, if you add a character trait, you'll create a bond between the reader and Andren.

#4 Twitter Pitches and Loglines

In the winter of 1805, Arlen Devlin's life takes a decidedly witchy turn, beginning with the discovery of a grandmother she never knew to an heirloom book of spells worth killing over. But is it worth dying over?

Although this is a bit long for a 140-character twitter pitch, it certainly fits as a logline. An introduction, the genre, conflict and consequence make this stand out.

#3 Twitter Pitches and Loglines

All Koral ever wanted was a chance to fall in love and have a family, but the gods have other plans and they don’t mind destroying him in the process.

IMO, you need something other than ‘…a chance to fall in love and have a family…’ as our introduction to Koral. Like a definitive character trait or a unique aspect of his life. A bigger consequence of loss.
The last half of the logline is great, btw J

#2 Twitter Pitches and Loglines

David and Cat: top graduates and best friends, until he discovers she is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not exist on their planet.

I keep stumbling over ‘…that should not exist…’ and I don’t know why. 
Otherwise I'd definitely read on.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

#1 Twitter Pitches and Loglines

Candance Crystelle's perfect life vanishes into nothing when her wing is broken, her mother dissolves her betrothed marriage and her sister, the future queen, banishes her from the kingdom.

Her wing?! Oh, cool. And the bit about the sister creates a bunch of questions in my mind. The good kind that piques my interest.

It is the phrase ‘…her mother dissolves her betrothed marriage…’ that slowed me down. Conflict is right on the mark. My problem is with the wording.

Maybe it reads better, ‘…her mother breaks her engagement…’ Or something with more Voice. ‘…her mother destroys her wedding plans,’ ‘…mother ruins her betrothal,’ ‘…kills her wedding plans’.

The part about the broken wing *really* made me sit up J

Readers? Comments?

30 Words, Twitter Pitches, Agents, and Genres

 A big Howdy and smile to our followers who entered OperationAwesome’s Twitter Pitch contest. It was like stopping at the corner coffee shop and meeting up with great friends and comrades. As I write this, no announcement yet on the winner. But a big Woot if it is one of our Unicorn Bell followers.

I entered the contest with my genre/drug of choice, urban fantasy. But I am conflicted. From what I read, agents don’t want adult urban fantasy/magical realism/paranormal/contemporary fantasy. The genre is slipping out of favor.

*shocked face*

The only genre I read consistently - epic fantasy is a close second - becoming like so much doggie doo doo? This is a bit hard to believe.

*gritting my teeth and snarling*

And my logline:
No one tells Shamira how to live her life. Not her friends and family after they deserted her. Or the ancient relic that would make her its newest acolyte. 
I’d love any comments or crits.

Send me your loglines to post this week to beccoff(at)nwmo(dot)net
And best of luck for our followers in the logline contest at OperationAwesome.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

Only a person who enjoys self-flagellation would dwell on the past. As humans, we prefer to remember happy times. The laugh of a child, a soothing word from a parent, or the first declaration of love from our mate.

We hold these memories close and cherish them daily.

But to paraphrase Mr. Santayana, to ignore the past puts those children, our spouse, our mothers and fathers in danger.

Our enemy once said, ‘You have the watches. We have the time’.

Never forget. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Twitter Pitches: Hell or Helpful?

Image Credit: NASA/SDO, AIA
Describe your 400-page manuscript in less than 140 characters.

I’ll give you a hint. It’s the same answer to ‘What is your novel about?’

Twitter pitches - or loglines - are both approximately the same length, under 30 words. To summarize your novel in so few words and make it interesting is the mark of a good writer. How to keep them legible, informative, and grammatically correct is the bug in the pudding.

Every logline needs the following:
  • Genre
  • Main Character
  • Conflict
  • Consequence.

Piece of cake, right? Eh, not so much.
This week is part Fun and part Submission.
  1. In the Comments section, write a logline/twitter pitch for a famous book or movie without revealing the name. 
  2. Submit your WIP’s logline to beccoff(at)nwmo(dot)com and I’ll post them for review.

To start the creative juices flowing, here is a twitter pitch for a famous book:

In the 1950’s, summer ends with six-year-old Jean’s introduction to racism when her lawyer father defends a black man in the Deep South.
What is the name of the book?

Remember; send the logline for YOUR wip to the above address for posting.
Use comment section on this post for a famous book or movie.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Legacy of the Eye - revised

Thank you Patricia for taking the time to revise your first page. Here are my comments

     "Cat, we are stepping into our future and you’re not even paying attention."
     Catrine almost lost her balance when David grabbed onto her arm. She had been so engrossed with their conversation that she had not noticed they reached the gates of the Academy. The wooden bars stood wide open and seemed (seemed or were? Be specific) more decorative than a true barrier to their exit.
     "Our future doesn’t start for another couple of weeks," she said.
     Graduation was still two weeks away and they were only allowed to leave the Academy that day because the Academic Council had granted them an audience.
     "You’re wrong. This is it. Today we make history."
     She laughed. "We should wait until the council approves the Tutor Program before we celebrate."
     "Why would they reject it? You wrote a great proposal. The argumentation is flawless."
     "Just because you couldn’t find any faults, doesn’t mean the council won’t."
     Catrine had hardly eaten anything all day. Her insides were twisted in knots. But she would not to let her nervousness show -- not even to her best friend.
     "You are fretting needlessly," David said. (That seems like a very formal thing to say when the rest of their conversation hasn’t been. Why not have David say, “You’re worrying over nothing.”?) "We discussed the proposal with all the instructors in the department and we addressed their concerns. Everyone loved the idea to teach the rest of the galaxy and the council will too." Teach the rest of the galaxy what? This is very intriguing and a great addition imo.
     Deep down, Catrine knew they were as ready as they could ever be. She had spent weeks writing the proposal and had prepared David’s speech with great care. (Did David help at all with the speech? Isn’t this a we project? If so, maybe say “They had spent weeks… and instead of prepared, which seems a little dull, how about practiced and revised …just a thought) But it was such an ambitious project...
     "I'm just glad you will be the one doing all the talking," she said.

I think this is much improved. What do you guys think?

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Lost Figurehead

 A big thank you to Samantha for submitting the first page of her Middle Grade Fantasy, The Lost Figurehead. My comments will be in purple. I invite you to add yours and help Samantha make her first page the best it can be.

"That boy belongs in jail -- not an orphanage!"

Jeez, Mr. Leland was real stupid to bring that up again.  Just because he weighed as much as a whale didn't mean Finn was afraid to jump him.  He could probably claw out both his piggy eyes, even with a bloody nose.  He cracked his knuckles in preparation, but Sister Christine shot him a warning glare that made him shrink back into the shadows. I'm a little confused by this first paragraph. I assume Mr. Leland is the one speaking and that he's referring to Finn. But who isn't Finn afraid to jump? And what does weighing as much as a whale have to do with whatever happened in the past or the fact that Finn is or isn't afraid to jump whoever?

"A jail, do you hear?"

Sister Christine tore her gaze from Finn.  "Yes, sir, and I can assure you that he will be strictly disciplined."

Finn's stomach dropped.  The last time the sisters had "disciplined" him they had made him polish brass bedsteads.  Didn't Sister Christine see his two black eyes?  He was a victim here!

"Disciplined?" growled Mr. Leland, his pudgy face growing redder and redder.  "The only discipline for a...a...a terror is a concrete bed and barred windows!  He's dangerous!"

"I'm very sorry, sir.  Finn just has a...temper."

"Oh, really?  Well a temper doesn't put a ten year-old kid in the Emergency Room with a broken nose!"

Finn chuckled quietly to himself.  He might have gained a few cuts and bruises, but Bobby Leland had gotten the worst of the scuffle.

"That boy doesn't have a temper!  He has a problem!"

Oh, I'll show you a problem!  Finn flexed his fists, but again Sister Christine stopped him with a look that made him quiver.  She was like Medusa with those eyes.

"I swear, I won't rest until this place is torn to the ground!  You'll be hearing from my lawyer, that's for sure!"

St. Magnus's closed down?  The thought of a giant wrecking ball knocking into the little brick building forced a grin.  Who knew he and Mr. Leland could actually agree on something?

But for Sister Christine, the threat turned her face as white as the coif that peeked out from beneath her veil. Nice analogy.

Aside for the first paragraph, which confused me a bit, I have no other complaints. There's a really great voice here in the narrator, Finn, and his thinking seems exactly like a young trouble-maker to me. I’m also left curious about the fight. What started it? Who is Bobby? Will Mr. Leland make good on his threat and if he does how will Finn react then? I’m also curious as to what power Sister Christine has over Finn since he obviously listens to her. An interesting beginning to be sure!

Thursday, September 6, 2012


 A big thank you to Alrea for submitting the first page of her, Dragon. My comments will be in purple. I invite you to add yours and help Aldrea make her first page the best it can be.

Chapter One

Maay hummed as she worked the old loom, the dull clack of wood a lullaby to her ears. Sunlight blazed into the solarium, its normally stifling heat cooled every so often by a gust coming through the open windows.  She cocked her head to the sound of footsteps echoing from down the hall. Men. It had to be, for their boots hit the stone with such a racket and the occasional, punctuating clink of metal. I get a good visual here of a woman at a loom but no idea of age. And is Maay correct? Not May? Just asking.
Frowning at the woven threads before her, she idly looped another through the strands. It sounded like guards. What would they be doing here? Not many men came into this quarter of the castle, mostly servants with their soft shoes and irritating tendencies (vague. I'm not sure what this means since I'm not sure 'where' we are yet) to blend into the background.
She glanced over her shoulder. Her gaze (eyes instead of gaze since a gaze can't act of it's own accord.) perused the room, settling on the plants that separated the solarium from the other rooms and screened the bulk of the sunlight from those entering. The green leaves bobbed in the breeze. Bright, inviting and absent of extra shadows.
Yes, she was still alone. Figures. The first time she wanted a servant nearby and there were none around.
Perhaps she was imagining things. Why earlier, Maay could have sworn she'd heard the flap of massive wings. Though she’d risked falling out the window to see, nothing untoward had caught her eye and there weren't many people in this section of the castle to ask. She couldn't leave her weaving incomplete either lest she returned to discover someone, like one of her sweet younger sisters, had lovingly unravelled it.
The shuttle skipped a thread, forcing her to redo the line. She had to finish it in time for the autumn banquet next week. This would be the year she finally did it. (Hmm, do what, I wonder?) Allowing herself to be treated like a child until the next year was unthinkable. Not when this autumn marked her eighteenth year.

Not a lot to crit here but also not much happening. As long as this is aimed at adults I think it's fine but if it's YA you're going to need to more to hold the reader's interest imo, especially with the loom, which is an old fashioned piece of equipment younger readers might be quite unfamiliar with. However, if you could imbue Maay's actions with more urgency, make that skipped thread a bigger deal, then you'll up the tension in this first page. But what do you guys think? How can Aldrea make this even better? 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bourbon-spiked punch

A big thank you to Jadzia for her submission! Here is the first page of her manuscript. My comments will be in purple and I invite you to add your to help Jadzia make her first page shine. 

Bourbon-spiked punch doesn’t relieve the pain that gnaws at my gut. Grandma’s kisses can’t still the shaking of my fingers as I raise another plastic cup to my lips. A sun the size of my pain, shining through the living room windows, fails to warm the numbness inside of me. The whispers creep in—family members talking behind their hands, eyes on me. Nice set up. I immediately want to know why they're talking behind their hands. Also like the active verbs :)
            I slide trembling fingers over my tulip-pink skirt and tuck my hands into the pockets. My father’s timepiece is there, and I curl my fingers around it.
            Someone named Marcus, or Malcolm, tells me how sorry he is for my loss. He says he’s my father’s cousin, but I’ve never seen him before.
            Marcus-Malcolm shakes my hand. His wife gives me a soft hug, but her arms are weak. (I don't think you need this because you've already said her hug is soft)When she pulls away, I notice the chain around her neck, the Clock ticking there. Interesting. Clock with a capital C. What does it mean?
“Eight days,” I say, reading the numbers counting down.
 She looks startled—whether because I’ve finally spoken, or because I’ve mentioned her Clock, I’m not sure.
“I’m sorry?” She asks.
Her fingers rise and press the timepiece against her chest. Her eyes are shining with tears.
“Eight days,” I say again. Marcus-Malcolm pulls his wife away by the arm while she strains her neck to look at me.
People don’t usually mention other peoples’ Clocks. Death is a touchy subject, especially now that it can be predicted. (Creepy! I'm not sure I'd want to know, but I love the idea of it!) I shouldn’t have mentioned it—it’s rude. Regular Keller wouldn’t blurt stuff out like that. But it’s like I’m different now that my father is dead. Like I’m not me. 

Wow. Not much to crit here. I'm intrigued. Very intrigued.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Legacy of the Eye

 A big thank you to Patricia for submitting the first page of her scifi manuscript, The Legacy of the Eye. My comments will be in purple. I invite you to add yours and help Patricia make her first page the best it can be. 

"Cat, we are stepping into our future and you’re not even paying attention."
Catrine almost lost her balance when David grabbed onto her arm all of a sudden. She had been so engrossed with their conversation that she had not (do you want had not rather than hadn't? I'm only asking because 'had not' is more formal, 'hadn't' less so. What tone do you want to set?) noticed they reached the gates of the Academy. The wooden bars were wide open and seemed more decorative than a true barrier to their exit.
"Our future doesn’t start for another couple of weeks," she said.
Graduation was still two weeks away and they were only allowed to leave the Academy that day because the Academic Council had granted them an audience.
"You’re wrong. This is it. Today we make history."
She laughed. "We should wait until the council approves the Tutor Program before we celebrate."
"Why would they reject it? You wrote a great proposal. The argumentation is flawless."
"Just because you couldn’t find any faults, doesn’t mean the council won’t." 
Catrine had hardly eaten anything all day. Her insides were twisted in knots. But she was determined not to let her nervousness show -- not even to her best friend. Deep down, she knew they were as prepared as they could ever be. She had spent weeks writing the proposal and she had also prepared David’s speech with great care. They had discussed the potential program with many people, including instructors and students, and they had waited until all concerns had been addressed before submitting a proposal to the council. But it was such an ambitious project that she was not convinced they would succeed. Catrine was very glad David would be the one doing all the talking.

The first part with David and Cat talking is better because it's more active, them talking but this last paragraph is riddled with passivity as you can see from highlighting. I wonder if there's a way the conversation could continue to illustrate Cat's worries and explain about the program. Dialogue would be a much more interesting way of showing Cat's doubts. I also wondered why they were leaving the grounds to see the Academic Council, which I would guess would be located on Academy grounds. But there may be a reason for that which I would discover upon reading further...

Now it's your turn to tell Patricia what you thought of her first page.

Monday, September 3, 2012

First page critique

The submission window is now closed. I have decided that on Saturday I will re-post revised submissions, should anyone wish to take heed of the comments and suggestions offered. Thank you to those who submitted and the first first page will go up bright and early tomorrow morning.

Hope everyone who got it enjoyed the holiday and long weekend. I know I did!

Hooking your reader from page one

I am currently reading the book HOOKED by Les Edgerton. Some of you may have read this. Some of you might not have. But I am going to quote from it anyway because even if you know this, it's worth repeating.

"Summary doesn't convince anyone of anything."

Now, go look at you current manuscript and read your first page again - not that you haven't already done so a hundred times before - and determine whether you are telling the read what's going on, or showing. This doesn't mean that you can't have any telling, imo, but I believe that in order for our writing to be effective, there needs to be more showing because "you goal is to evoke an emotional response that hooks the reader, and telling absolutely won't get it. The reader must live through that opening scene with the protagonist."

For example, if you start off your story telling the reader this is your character's first day at a new school and he's lonely and worried about fitting in, it won't mean half as much as if you show your mc walking into that new school. What does it smell like? Look like? Feel like? Is anyone staring? And where the heck is his homeroom? Showing draws the reader into the story, makes him feel like he's right there with your mc and experiencing that day, too. Because that's what keeps us reading, when we feel like we're in the story.

How does your first page stand up to this test? Need some help? Want an opinion or two? If so, send your first page to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com and I'll post the first five I receive and offer my ever so subjective opinion.