Monday, August 31, 2015

Should We Leave Critiquing Up To The Professionals?

 A Post By Jonathan

As mentioned in my last post, Eeek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek! (now a reoccurring segment here at ATB so look for the next entry super soon!), I am currently in the editing phase of the novel writing process. Having never edited a book before, I've been seeking input from pretty much anyone I can find. Including you, dear reader.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to have an author who has published several books through Random House (or the "Big House" as she calls it) review my first 25 pages. She said she does it sometimes, as a way of giving back. I was extremely grateful, but talk about eeek! The critque (or is that criteek?) was amazing, by far the most thorough I've ever received. But it was something she said during the process that really struck me. Now this is kind of controversial, so don't shoot the messenger...  *he says while ducking*

She said that she wasn't a fan of most critique groups, that they are essentially full of amateurs trying to teach other amateurs how to write, and that they can often do more harm than good. She said that it took her until about her fourth book, only after working with some of the best editors in the world three times before, to even begin to feel comfortable passing that knowledge along. She said that too often new writers assume that every other writer out there knows better than they do, and they'll blindly listen to anything they say, right or wrong, even when most of these people have never been published themselves.

Now I am not saying I agree with her. I know you don't need to be traditionally published to know how to give a proper critique or edit, but it definitely opened my eyes to be more selective when seeking writing advice. She just about keeled over when I told her that I used to just randomly post my work in forums on tons of different websites, taking to heart pretty much anything anyone had to say about my writing. In contrast, she learned to write before the existence of the internet. To hone her craft, she would just go to the library and mimic the books she read. Regardless of her thoughts on critique groups, that's damn good advice.

So what do you think, fellow writers? Should we leave critiquing up to the professionals? Should we all write in a cocoon, far away from the internet, and hire professional editors when we're finally ready to come out of hiding? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interpreting Your Rejection Letters

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Have you ever received a rejection letter?  Perhaps for a job or a loan application?  Well, if you plan on getting into the publishing business, expect to start getting hundreds, if not thousands, of rejection notices.
Up until recently, it was impossible to glean anything from a form rejection letter.  Luckily, though, in early August Across the Board's very own intrepid archaeo-venturer Steve stumbled across a strange obelisk while digging in the deserts of eastern Morrocco - a sort of a Rejectta Stone, if you will*.
Now, for the first time ever, Across the Board is proud to present the key to interpreting your rejection letters!  Read on...if you think you can handle the truth.
17.)  "Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work."
"Revise and resubmit. But call it something different.  Never speak of this coded message again."
16.)  "Due to the overwhelming number of submissions we receive it is impossible for us to answer every query individually."
"We have decided not to hire enough staff."
15.)  "After careful consideration..." 
"No one read this. No one read this at all.  Not an agent.  Not an intern.  Not even Jim the doorman.  This languished, unread, until we decided to send you a form response, sight unseen."
14.)  "We have decided your work is not right for our list."
"There is no list. This is a complete smokescreen to cover my personal distaste for you.
13.)  "I am going to have to pass on the opportunity to represent this."
"Consider finding me in a bathroom later and re-pitching your idea over the stall."
12.)  "I am currently taking on new clients quite selectively."
"I'm not doing that at all.   Shit, I signed three debut authors yesterday.  Your work just sucks."
11.)  "I don't feel enthusiastic about your work."
"The truth is you haven't shown the proper enthusiasm for working with me. Did you call me? Show up at my office? What about at my house with a boombox playing Peter Gabriel? See, how I am I supposed to be enthusiastic if you're not at least that committed?"
10.)  "I don't feel I'm the right agent for your project."
"I am actually not the agent at all.  I am an unpaid intern who has to read 'Star Trek'/TWILIGHT mashup manuscripts in the slush all day.  Your work did not rise above that."
9.)  "Another agency may feel differently."
"And a giraffe might get elected president."
8.)  "Please remember this is only one opinion."
"You may cease querying now. I have already discussed your manuscript, laughing, over cappuccino with all of my agent friends. We are all of one mind about its lack of quality."
7.)  "I wish you the best of luck in finding the right agent."
"Please don't bother me again with your garbage."
6.)  "Thank you for your patience in awaiting my response."
"I forgot about your query and recently re-discovered it while shifting around some things."
5.)  "I wasn't as taken with your manuscript as I could have been."
"Submit again in three months with minor changes and include the line 'Are you taken now, motherfucker?' in your query letter. If that doesn't work, submit again three months later. And again and again and again until I accept it. This business is all about persistence."
4.)  "I didn't fall in love with your manuscript."
"Consider having the manuscript wine and dine me a little. Next time, include flowers and chocolates with the manuscript.  Maybe send a box of condoms with the manuscript.  I'm not promising anything, but it's better to be prepared, you know?"
3.)  "This business is very subjective."
"This letter was about a paragraph too short so I decided to start wasting your time with bland generalities."
2.)  "Your writing is strong."
"I actually read it and your writing is strong."
1.)  "I had trouble fully believing your world."
"Consider a wacky '60s sitcom style hijink wherein you kidnap me and bring me into 'your world' (read: your basement) and try to convince me how 'real' it is."
*The veracity of this story is severely in doubt.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dammit, Jim! I'm a writer, not a [marketer/webmaster/accountant...]

Hang around any writer's forum long enough and you'll be sure to run into a few people griping about
A post by Mary Fan
how they miss the good old days, when writers were expected to, you know, write, and someone else took care of the rest. Personally, I think the "good old days" are basically a fairy tale... you know, a "once upon a time" that never actually happened. One thing's for sure, though. If you want to be an author in 2015, you've got to do way more than just write books.

It's a tiring and frustrating thing sometimes, and one day, when I was feeling especially frazzled, I decided to procrastinate on all the things I was supposed to be doing by making a graphic that sums up what it feels like... Behold, the fruits of my procrastination...

I had more but they wouldn't fit.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I miss you already, Jon Stewart

A couple of weeks ago, I was in mourning for a man who did not die, but whose absence I felt with profound grief. Damn you, Jon Stewart. Was it too much to ask for you to anchor The Daily Show until you dropped dead at your desk? You know -- like most workaholic Americans?

Ten years ago, I met a Canadian girl at a youth hostel in Scotland who learned about American politics via The Daily Show. I will never forget her words. She said, "My biggest sadness is that one day Jon Stewart will die and he won't be around to host the show anymore." I think at the time, I was like, "Damn, girl. That's some serious love." But she was right. Except, he didn't die. It just felt like he did.

I've always loved Jon Stewart. I remember when he hosted his own talk show on MTV and introduced the world to a ridiculous game called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Come on, you've all played it. That show didn't last, of course. Who could've guessed that Jon Stewart would become so influential as the host of a 30-minute Comedy Central program?

But that's the thing. Not only did Jon Stewart influence American politics, he influenced my interest in American politics. In my 20s, I didn't care much about what went on politically in this country. Sure, I voted in big elections -- governor, president -- that sort of thing. But I never paid attention to the politicians who were making the decisions that affected me. And those decisions do affect me.

My husband is a federal employee and the sole earner in our house (writing doesn't pay anything...yet). Sequestration cuts and the government shut down adversely affected my family. I called the office of my House representative Tom Marino and actually cried to the staff member who answered the phone. I was so upset and outraged that a government official, elected through bullshit gerrymandering, was screwing around with people's lives in order to make a point.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, I make it my business to pay attention to what goes on, both locally and nationally. I'm not intimidated to contact my state senator and let her know that our public library is failing. Or tweet my U.S. senators to let them know that I disagree with defunding Planned Parenthood. I once heard that if politicians receive six or seven emails or tweets or phone calls about an issue, they pay attention. Because if seven people have contacted them about an issue, they know there are many others out there who feel the same way, but who won't pick up the phone. So now, I make my business to be one of those seven.

Maybe without Jon Stewart, I would've naturally grown more political as I got older, or maybe not. I don't know. All I know is that I really miss him. I'm going to continue to DVR The Daily Show when it premiers with Trevor Noah, because I like Trevor a lot and the fact that he's eye candy is an added bonus.

But, I'm glad I lived in the age of Jon Stewart.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Room to Write

When I first started writing, I didn’t give much thought to writing spaces. During the first few months of writing my first novel, Kingston’s Project, I did most of my typing while seated on the couch. I would half watch/listen to whatever show was on the television while pretending to check emails, but secretly I was bringing Sarah and Elijah to life. After about four months, I finally found the courage to tell my husband that I was actually writing a novel (partly because I was afraid he was starting to suspect I was doing something naughty on the computer since I would close it up when he came to sit next to me).

No longer being held down by a secret meant I could write anywhere in the house. I’m lucky in that we have a dedicated home office, but at that time I was still working out the home as well. I didn’t want to waste the few hours I could spend with my family by isolating myself in the office. The result was that I did most of my writing on the couch or at the dining room table. Occasionally I’d make my way to the office, especially if I really needed quite time to concentrate.

Once I started staying home full time, I took over our home office completely. Now, I only write in the office. The reason is because spending time with my daughter is the main reason I now stay home. If my computer were out in the living or dining room, then I’d only be giving half of my attention to my daughter and the other half to my writing. My new schedule is designed to give me time to dedicate fully to both, so thats what I try to do by restricting my writing to when she’s in school, at her gymnastics practice, or playing with friends.

We moved into our home about 4 years ago. In that time we’ve slowly redecorated the entire house. There wasn’t much major work to be done, and we contracted out those few big projects we did have. We prioritized each room, and the office fell to the bottom of the list. We didn’t use it much when we both worked outside the home, and the way it was styled when we moved in was passable.

This summer I made the impromptu decision that it was time to make this office my own. I think it has something to do with the fact that my approved leave from my company is now over, which means I’m officially a stay-at-home mom and self-employed author. I’m hoping that having a new space that reflects my style will help me feel as though this is really my job and not just a hobby. I started searching for ‘writing spaces’ on Pinterest to get some inspiration and came across these amazing little cottage-style writing rooms. Many look like they were sheds that were then turned into a writing/reading space.

Unfortunately, our home owner’s association has some very strict rules that prevent us from adding any structures to our yard (unless we had a pool . . .  which we don’t). Don’t get me wrong—I do realize that I’m lucky to have a dedicated home office for my writing. But everyone is entitled to dream, right? Those little writing cotteges are so cozy and it reminds me of my unfulfilled childhood dream of having a life-sized playhouse. Maybe someday I’ll be able to make that dream come true, but until then I have to work with what I’ve got.

Below are a few before (top) and after (bottom) photos of my office. I’m sure some things might get moved around as I fall into a routine in this new space, and I might add a few more odds-and-ends as I discover them.

As you can see, I had to make sure I kept a space for both the kid and the cat. The kid got a new table and chair. The cat doesnt mind since she thinks all the changes are for her anyway. I didnt exactly get a new chair—I just swapped out the one that was in there for the newer one I had in my craft room. Before the makeover, my view from my writing desk was a large golf print. Again, it was okay—just not me. This is now my view. Yes, much better.

It was important to me to be surrounded by things that inspire me. Some of them are items of sentimental value, and others are pieces I fell in love with and purchased specifically for my new writing room.

I love my new space! I already have the urge to just sit in here all day and write. Watch out book 4, I now have some powerful inspiration!

What about you—where do you write? What would your ideal writing space look like? If you dont write, do you have a special reading space?

~ Carrie

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Book Debate

Tomorrow we are leaving to go camping for the weekend, which reminds me that I've seen a lot of posts about how camping without electronics for [insert debatable time frame here] will reset your biological clock. It's a pretty nifty concept and easily doable considering the Adirondacks limit cell reception. However, I heavily rely on my Kindle Paperwhite for my reading needs. That leads me to today's post topic- the old book debate of which is better: e-readers or physical books. 

Now, before I fully get into this, I should say that I love physical books. The smell, the feel, the taste. Come on, I'm not the only one who has licked a book, right? There is something extra special about holding a book between your hands while relaxing in the sun and sipping your choice beverage. 

But there's also something wonderful about not having to worry about where you're going to store said books (because you can't have just one shelf of them) or how to fit enough books into your suitcase while traveling. And how about reading at night? I'm a mother and the act of snuggling a child, holding a book, and balancing a flashlight puts a lot of stress on the arms, back, and neck. Trust me, I see a chiropractor. My e-reader solved these problems for me. 

The only problem I'm not sure it solves is how I can still manage to read (at night) while camping and reset my biological clock, which definitely needs to happen. The book I'm currently reading--I have a physical copy at my disposal, as well as the Kindle and audio versions--is massive and my body will already be under a fair amount of stress from sleeping on an air mattress...

So, while I'm here debating what I'll be bringing to camp with me, which do you prefer--physical copy or e-reader--and why? 

***WARNING: anyone who associates e-readers with free, illegal material use will receive the full wrath of this very passionate supporter of authors.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Facebook Groups - Not Just for Cat Pictures!

How many of you who are writers belong to Facebook groups? Show of hands?

Hmm, ok. A little difficult to do virtually, but my unscientific results show Facebook groups are an under-utilized resource for writers and if you're NOT using groups, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you should.

There are 2 ways to use Facebook groups as a writer. Today I'll talk about using Facebook groups as a member of a peer group (vs using them as an author to share exclusive content, excerpts, giveaways, etc with your readers. Which is also cool and a great subject for another post. Note to self.). I'll also illustrate with screen shots b/c I used to work in training and development and how-to habits are hard to break.

There are groups for everything! Are you a middle-grade writer? Type middle grade writers in the handy dandy search box at the top of the screen and press Enter.

Your results will default to Top, but if you look over at More (all the way over on the right) and click on the drop down, you'll see Groups as one of your options to filter.

Lo and behold! Results!

Admittedly, a search for middle grade writers yields about five results. But, search for MG authors, middle grade fiction and your list expands. Search just for writers and the results are seemingly endless. You can scroll for ages!

Advantages to belonging to a genre-specific group vs a larger group? In my opinion, it depends on what you're looking for. If you're looking for input specific to your genre, whether it be craft-specific or publishing-specific, a genre group is probably what you're looking for. If you're looking for exposure to a wide variety of authors at various stages in their publishing careers, a larger group works well. You can get both in one group and it doesn't hurt to speed date a few groups before deciding which ones work for you. (And by speed date I mean, get notifications for all groups before you decide which ones you don't want to receive notifications for EVERY single time.)

One note -- size matters. I belong to 37 Facebook groups (yikes!), but I'm only really active in 4 of them. The others I sift through when I'm procrastinating, uh, I mean, catching up on social media, but the 4 I belong to are, in a word, ace. Of those, 3 of them are small groups (less than 20 members) and one is 770 and climbing. For me, the small groups work better, but I love scrolling through the feed of the large group because the amount of knowledge shared there is unbeatable and, well, the more you know...

Lots of groups are public, meaning you can join on your own. But don't be put off by the Closed Group status! See that handy dandy Join button there? You can click it and request membership. I'd recommend clicking first on the name of the group b/c it will likely tell you what the joining criteria actually is, but most groups aren't closed to be exclusive, but they're closed b/c they want you to read that criteria and make sure it's the right place for you. Also, be warned, a lot of groups state they're NOT promo groups (with exceptions like release days, price drops, etc) and admins don't hesitate to kick people out who violate the rules.

Once you decide to become a joiner, the best way to acclimate is to scroll through the posts and then dive in. Introduce yourself. Ask a question. Share a link. Check the files section to see if there are any docs where you can add your info to the group. The huge group I belong to has a doc listing everyone's Twitter ID, website and FB author page, which is a great place to promote without being all promo-spammy. 

And, the more you reap, the more you sow. Cheesy but true. A few weeks ago I attended the RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference in NYC and met lots of the virtual friends I'd made from a couple of the small Facebook groups I belong to. I actually shared a room with 2 girls I'd never met IRL, only via FB groups. It sounds like the premise of a bad horror movie, but it was great. Really. I also met a bunch of people from the big huge group I belong to and every time I read their badge we'd both be like, "Hey! I know you!" It felt like one big happy reunion -- but with people I'd never actually met before.

I'll close by saying I know FB, itself, isn't for everyone and Groups can absolutely be yet another time suck in the never-ending vortex of social media. But, for me, it allows a level of interaction not possible on Twitter and I value the connections and the knowledge I gain there so much, it's worth it. I'm really curious what other people's experiences are with FB Groups for professional reasons -- writing or otherwise? Do you think they're worth it or more trouble than they're worth? Looking forward to your comments!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Back Jacket Hack-Job #4: Day Four

So here’s my attempt at the Back Jacket Hack Job! For the last three days I’ve agonized over which book I would do my hack job for. I didn’t want to do something obviously easy to tear apart *cough*Fifty Shades*cough* (I kid. I read them all and I can see the appeal. Please no comment flames) and I didn’t want to do something that might be considered sacrilegious like To Kill A Mockingbird or something and... clearly I was really overthinking this. So I decided just moments ago to do the last book I finished: Day Four by Sarah Lotz. Full disclosure: I really enjoyed this book. Not as much as I loved her first in this kind-of-series (The Three) but Ms. Lotz is a fantastic writer and really knows how to write a page-turner! So since I liked it so much I figured it would be ok to poke a little fun. OK here goes!!...

Buy me!

Are you afraid of ships? Stranded ships out at sea? Do you “hate people” and maybe find it difficult to be in a secluded area with them for any length of time? DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

Just imagine being STRANDED on a cruise ship full of NEEDY people who completely LOSE their MINDS and revert to the most depraved versions of themselves when they no longer have access to electricity or fresh running water. There’s also a (psychotic?) psychic, a murderer, and *gasp* possibly children on this 21-and-over only cruise. Is there no end to the madness?!

Told from multiple points of view and over the course of a few days, Day Four is a mystery, I guess? A paranormal mystery? What would you categorize this as? There’s some weird dialogue and slang. I think the author is from somewhere other than the US and maybe wrote another book before this that might possibly tie into this one. Oh… that would explain a lot…

So there you have it! Can I give you my real review now? It’s really good. If you like mysteries that have a weird “Twilight Zone” twist to them then this, and the previous book “The Three”, are ones you should check out. Read The Three first. You don’t HAVE to, but there are events that happen in this book that allude to events from the first. The writing is really well done. As (poorly) stated above, there are multiple points of view and each is unique and distinct. Both are great books for when you are on the beach, or just want to pick up something that is compelling and won’t take you forever to get through. You’ll fly through them. Enjoy!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Eek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek!

A Post By Jonathan

 In a recent post about his harrowing run-in with a rogue tornado, fellow Boarder Steve Kozeniewski mentioned that we here at Across the Board are more than just a bunch of bloggers: We are a community. I found this out big time when, in a recent fit of desperation to achieve my dream of becoming a published author, I reached out to all the accomplished writers here at ATB, asking for editing help, general guidance, and any other advice they had about the writing life. I received a flood of support-filled responses in return and couldn't be more grateful... Thanks again, everyone!
One of their responses included a suggestion to put some of my writing up on the blog so that other writers could see what they thought... Being the brave soul that I am, I said okay. What do I have to lose, right?
So, without further ado, I present what we hope will be a regular segment here at Across the Board: "Eeek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek!" You hereby have my permission to shred/praise/toss/tout/completely rewrite the first two pages of my MG WIP, currently titled Mac Magellan and the Gathering of Galaxies.Happy reading. And be gentle!

Chapter 1  
     Okay. I’ll just come right out and say it. My name is Mac Magellan and I hate outer space.
     Why, you ask? How could anyone possibly hate the moon, the stars, the entire Milky Way? Well, I bet you’d hate them too if you had astronauts for parents and they had crammed all-things-outer-space down your throat 24/7/365 since the day you were born. And you definitely wouldn’t like it if you got shipped off to nerd camp —AKA, Space Camp— every time they had to go on some useless space mission, like the great ISS zero-gravity toilet install of 2015.
     I know my mom and dad keep sending me to Space Camp because they hope all that junior astronaut training will eventually rub off on me, that one day I’ll want to explore the universe just like them. Well, Mars and Venus (they hate it when I call them by their NASA code names), it just ain’t happenin’ (they hate it when I talk like a Texan too, even though, as I always like to remind them, we live in Houston, Texas and are, therefore, Texans. I mostly do it to annoy them these days).
     Even if I had any interest in outer space (which I don’t), I like baseball way too much to give it up to float around in a tin can for the rest of my life. Plus, I’ve been known to lose my cookies on more than one Space Camp training simulator… and on more than one Space Camp counselor. Who knows what would happen if I actually left the atmosphere? No thank ya ma'am. I’ll take green grass, fresh air, and a bat and a ball in my hands any day.
     Of course, Mars and Venus wouldn’t know a baseball if it hit them upside the head— a theory I’ve been tempted to test out on more than one occasion. Needless to say, they weren’t happy at all when I told them I wanted to be a professional baseball player when I grow up. Sure, I’m only twelve now, but I figure if I get enough practice in I could easily be the starting pitcher for the Astros by the time I’m twenty-four.
     If my parents knew that all I pretty much did at Space Camp these days was sneak away to play baseball, they’d probably take the first space capsule off the International Space Station and remove me from the premises themselves. Then again, probably not. They hadn’t made it to any of my Space Camp graduations, and I wasn’t going to start holding my breath now.
     But what I was going to do was start working on my curve ball, and thankfully I had some friends to help me out in that department.

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