Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good News for Unagented, Unpublished and Self – Published Writers

I came across this on Lia's  blog on Scribblerati and decided to post it on my blog to spread the word. Amazon has teamed up with Penguin Group for the fourth annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, which is an international writing competition. The competition calls both general fiction and young adult writers to submit their English-language works for the chance to be published by Penguin in 2011. The contest is open to unpublished and self-published works and writers can enter between Jan. 24 and Feb. 6, 2011.

The contest will accept up to 5,000 works in each of the two categories. The initial round of judging will be done by Amazon, and they will choose 1,000 entries from fiction and 1,000 entries from young adult. In the second judging round, editors and reviewers will read excerpts of the 2,000 entries and narrow it down to 250 quarter-finalists in each category. Publishers Weekly reviewers will read, rate and review the full manuscripts, and 50  semi- finalists will then be chosen. Penguin editors will then judge these 50 manuscripts for each category  and choose three finalists for each award.

Panels of publishing professionals will judge the top three manuscripts. Panelists for the general fiction category include author Lev Grossman, literary agent  Jennifer Joel of ICM and  Marysue Rucci, Vice President, Editorial Director with G.P. Putnam’s Sons. The panelists for the young adult fiction contest include: author/journalist  Gayle Forman, literary agent  Julie Just of Janklow & Nesbit and Jennifer Besser, Vice President and Publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

Amazon customers will also be given the chance to vote on these finalists and the winner will be announced in New York on June 13, 2011. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin with a $15,000 advance.

         For more information, follow these links :
         Create Space

P.S - For some strange  reason, few of  the above links seem to be broken, the competition  title can be put through the search engine or googled.

I am taking a break till January.  Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you all on 4th January.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Editing Techniques for our Manuscripts

The worst part of writing is, when we start doing the edits, before we query or submit our books for publication. I received two pieces of  editing advice. I ignored the first one “Edit every second  word in your manuscript.” This advice would  actually work well for me, because my editor’s constant grouse against me is that my stories and books  are too long.

The second piece of advice I was given is “Edit like a step mother. Be cruel.” This advice was one I detested. I have a  soft  heart. I  prefer  not to kill my words. But, eventually I end up killing them. For the greater good.

 I feel like crying when I have to edit my stories and books. Many of the scenes I had lovingly created and painstakingly described in detail  in the initial drafts are  deleted by the final draft  because I realize  that they are weighing the story down. Editing is one place where we have to be cruel  towards our words to be kind to our  readers. It’s our cruelty that does justice to our stories.

        The technique  I follow  while going over every scene is:

  1. I mull over the fact  whether  a scene is crucial to the story or not. I have realized that I have a tendency to add scenes that do not add momentum to the story.

  1. Whether it pushes the story forward. Some scenes are what we call plain explanation. A reader really doesn’t care whether a character  is wearing  a black or a red tee shirt with lace or border. But if the tee shirt will end up doing something extraordinary; like saving the character, then by all means we can add the tiny details.

  1. Does a particular scene give some information about a character, or his/her motive? If a scene is a harbinger of what the character will undergo at a later stage, then its worth retaining.

  1. Does it   give  a little twist to the  story? Something that makes the reader sit up is worth holding on to.

  1. Does it explain something important? If the layout of the house is explained in detail, then it better be important; it can be the escape route the character takes.

  1. Does a scene I am describing now, come into  centre stage at a later point in the book. Is it tied up in some way to the crucial climax?

  1. Does a scene weigh the story down? This is very important as we tend to go overboard  on some scenes; describing in detail the bit of spinach/lettuce  stuck to the character’s teeth is a waste of time. Will the spinach/lettuce save the character’s life or  assist him in some way? If its going to make him a butt of jokes, then we can keep the scene. 

  1. Does the reader need to know this? Is this information something the reader can do without? If the reader can bypass this chunk of information, then its time to axe it. 

  1. As a reader would I like to read this paragraph? Will this paragraph/description bore or interest me? Depending on the answer I retain the scene or description. 
These are crucial questions to ask ourselves when we edit. Over time we instinctively know what to delete and what to retain. Editing skills develop slowly and only if we become objective towards our own work can we do justice to it.  We can develop and polish our editing skills by  going through books by our favourite authors and bestsellers. We can study the editing techniques in those books. 

Nowadays whenever I read a book, I not just look for plot twists, and sub-plots, character arcs and conflicts, I also see the way the book has been edited. Of how the scenes flow one into another.

What kind of attitude do you adopt when you start editing? Are you harsh and cruel?  Or are you soft and kind? What makes you decide whether to retain a particular scene or to chop it? Any editing  secrets that  you would like to share with us? 


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to Maintain an Author and Editor Relationship?

I have heard that some author – editor relationships are tumultuous to say the least. In that way I have been lucky: I have  collaborated with four editors and we had no problems whatsoever.

When my  first two children’s book were confirmed for publication, the first thing my editor who was also the publisher asked me on the phone “are you one of those difficult writers who refuse to let the editor delete a single word of their manuscript?” I assured her that I was pretty easy to get along with  where editorial feedback was concerned, as I had written for several years for many local newspapers and was used to editorial feedback and cuts.

Our editing went very well. And within eight months the books were out. Several months later, I heard that a writer whose book was selected for publication had  stalled the editing process because the writer was being difficult. I was appalled. This writer was someone I knew, her book had been rejected by several publishers on the basis of its length. I felt that the writer should have been thrilled that some publisher was willing to publish her book without compromising on its length.

The writer’s attitude led to a major rift between her and the editor; things became so bad that the editing was stopped for several months. After much bitterness and anger the editing process was restarted. The result was a half hearted attempt at reconciliation from both the parties involved. It showed in the manuscript.

Another writer after the entire editing had been completed  and sent to him for approval  asked for his manuscript back as he was not happy with the changes made by the editor. This was such a colossal waste of time, I felt sorry for the editor: her efforts had gone down the drain. As the contracts are signed just before the edited manuscript is sent for publication, writers can withdraw their manuscripts if they want to do so. Thankfully, now  one of the conditions of the contract  is, agreeing with the editing changes.

         I feel there are few points to remember when it comes to an editor - author relationship:

  1. The editor should not be treated like a word gobbling monster. His/her interest lies in making the manuscript  crisper, the story better, the protagonist more lovable and improving the writing style. The editor is not there to criticize or hurt us. They should be treated as friends who can  give valuable feedback on our work.

  1. Editors not only know the demands of the market well, they also know what  will work and what won’t work in a story. Remember, that they have years of experience before them.

  1. If few of  their suggestions don’t meet with our approval, then its time to initiate a dialogue. We can try to convince them  that we don’t think their  suggestions will benefit  our story. We should give them  a chance to convince us that their suggestions will  definitely improve the story.

  1. Editorial feedback is extremely crucial as we are seeing our story from just one point of view: the writer’s. The editor is getting an entire overview of the story; like an aerial view. I have almost always liked my editors’ suggestions. I feel it has really enhanced my stories.

  1. Editors suggest changes with a view on the market as well. Their changes give our books the best chances of survival in a tight and overcrowded market.

How has your experience been with your editor? Is it a hostile relationship where you hate the changes suggested by them? Or, do you welcome the changes suggested by them? What advice would you give us to maintain a calm and trouble free relationship with our editors?

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Handle Book Reviews?

As a child the first lesson my parents taught me was “ always say nice things about people.” I still remember asking mom with all childish  innocence “if there is nothing nice to say about someone, then what do I do?” “Then don’t say anything at all,” she warned.

I adopted this philosophy for life. Though in the company of very close friends I do away with it, as I am guaranteed their silence by their proximity to me.

When I started doing book reviews I tweaked mom’s teaching. I thought it would be cheating my readers if I highlighted only the good points in a book. I had a responsibility to my readers. Based on my review they  would decide either to read a book or not. Some reviewers derive a sadistic pleasure in trashing books, others praise it so much that one wonders about the authenticity of their viewpoint. Seldom does a book get similar  reviews from  many reviewers.

Several months back, I was shocked to read a  reputed blogger trashing a book by a young writer, saying she was glad  he was not planning to write any more books. Another person  who had me gasping with shock was a reviewer who wrote for an English daily “This is a book written by a moron with a plot that is by and large missing. Was the  editor of India’s leading publishing house sleeping  when this book was commissioned?”

Another critic refused to review a book   with the excuse that he didn’t consider it worthy of his time and effort. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. We all are guided by our tastes, and it’s not necessary that everyone will like each and every book that hits the stands.  

It was then that I  decided to adopt the middle path when I do book  reviews. I talk about both the good and the bad points of a story (not that I am an expert). But I restrict my comments to the book and the story, never venturing into author/writer territory.  I had reviewed a book ( for the newspaper I write for ) that frankly speaking I had not liked much. For starters, the author’s lack of interest  showed. The ending was  too abrupt, the character was a cardboard cut out. The scenes did not flow into each other. The plot had not been developed fully. The periphery characters just hovered on the fringes. What the book  badly needed was several rewrites ( I later came to know that the book was self- published, hence the lack of editorial feedback, which  is extremely crucial, was missing.) 

But rather than trashing the book I  highlighted its good points. If we look deep there is always something nice about everything. When I reviewed the book I stressed  on the things I had liked about the book: its theme, the way complicated topics were explained to a kid in a simple and effective way and  the crisp language, I winded  up the review  with  what I found missing. As I  had started the review highlighting the good points, the shortcomings did not sting the  writer. She appreciated  my review and thanked me.

What would you have done in my place? Would you have trashed the book? Would you have harped about its shortcomings  or trekked the middle path?  Did I do the right thing? What should I have done? Please help me out.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How much of Us is there in our Characters?

Few months back,  someone I met at a party  had   read a book where the protagonist was a ruthless woman who used  her relationships ( read men) as  stepping stones to success. The heroine  had no qualms about her lack of scruples or the way she manipulated  the people she encountered. The writer had done a wonderful job of creating a complete  go getter who used people to get ahead in life.

That lady  told me “the writer must have  had so many affairs.” I asked her why she thought that. “The book  is so realistic, I am sure it must be based on her own life. How can she write such a book without undergoing those events?” I was shocked by her thinking that as writers we live the lives of  our characters: meaning our character’s actions mirrors our own. I hastily corrected her limited vision of a writer’s life.  "It’s the power of our  imagination that sees us creating characters who seem  so realistic. That particular writer has just been blessed with an extra vivid imagination. The story  idea could have been triggered by a news report,  or someone she met somewhere, or by a movie. It’s not necessarily based on her real life.” I am sure  my argument did not convince the lady.

 Yes, we do breathe our characters, live them for the duration of  the time it takes us to complete our  books. Our characters  are born out of  our over active imagination. We spend weeks/months   making them believable, and as real as possible,  but they do not mirror  our  lives or are  our  literary  reflections.

 I  write middle grade fiction where my characters are super brats. But I am not one in real life.  The book I am currently writing is about a notorious prankster.  I can say with  complete honesty that I have only played two pranks in my life, both harmless ones.

Just because my protagonist is a mischievous brat, that does not mean I am one too. We writers do give  few of our traits to our characters: strengths and weaknesses, but that’s just about it. The rest is fuelled by our imagination and the power of our words. Every situation and scene is not an exact replay or reflection of our personal life or interactions.  Every scene: good or bad need not be a scene we have  experienced in our lives.

 We writers are great observers of life and we can be called people watchers. Whatever we see is jotted down in our memories and brought to life when we start writing. When we read our completed products we do find few similarities between our characters and ourselves:  maybe few struggles echo our own, few situations mirror our own, and few traits of our characters match ours, but that’s it. The rest is all make believe.

 What about you all? How much of yourselves do you add  into your characters? Are your characters your literary replicas? Is your  story a written  account of your life? Is your life your literary inspiration? Is it like looking in the mirror when you read your books?  

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dealing with Death/s in our Manuscripts

 So far I have been extremely lucky that I have not had to kill a  character in my books or stories. Death scenes have me sobbing uncontrollably. I cried buckets when Dumbledore died. I soaked my handkerchief when Dobby died.  Cedric Diggory’s death had my cheeks wet. An honest confession, though I loathed Snape, I cried at his death too. Because, by then Rowling had painted  him as the good guy pretending to be bad. Hence by then  Snape had amassed my sympathy.

 For a series,  killing a character requires a really strong motive. The readers know that the next lot of books will be minus that particular character.  The character’s death should literally turn the story upside down. There has to be a really solid reason for a character dying. As the readers can be really unforgiving if a favourite character dies without a strong reason. Not only will they feel  cheated, they will feel you have done a personal injustice to them. They may even  lose interest in the next lot of books of the series.

 For those Harry Potter lovers, remember that   there was  a strong plot twist when  Cedric Diggory died. Voldemort was gaining his body back.  Sirius Black’s death was crucial to the story as  Harry had to be deprived of the one man he could count as a parent. Sirius was the over indulgent parent/guardian  trying to make up for lost time by  turning a blind eye to Harry’s acts of fool hardiness. He  could be accused of overlooking Harry’s flaws. It was important to isolate Harry and intensify his inner conflict. Dumbledore’s death was a cruel blow. Harry was left without a mentor and guide. But it was  crucial  to make him  self dependant and summon his inner strength to wage that final battle against Voldemort.

 Killing a character and starting the story in flashback is taking the easy way out. I do plan to  kill  few characters who are a part of  my collection of stories which I hope to convert  into  a book. I need to work on a  strong motive to explain their deaths. There  has to be a crucial plot twist when these characters  die. The death of a character has to intensify the inner conflict, it has to be the darkest moment of the book. It has to literally crumble the protagonist’s world, until he or she summons the strength to set it right. It  should propel the protagonist into the next series of actions which will culminate in the climax  and make him win the battle to effectively  justify the death of the character.

 Have any of you created a death scene in your stories and books? Do you plan to kill a favourite character in your  WIP? How will you go about it? Any killing advice you can give us?

P.S. I  did not cry when Voldemort died. Or when Bellatrix died.