Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A New Distraction

The book that I am working on right now, was actually started to distract me from fretting about the query business and also because the plotting for my MG  Paranormal Trilogy was not going too well; a result of excess adherence to all the Writing Craft books I am reading and trying to follow. I got so fed up with stressing over the Inciting Incident and raising the Key Question in the reader’s mind, that I temporarily put that book on the back burner. I will return to it next year.

This new book  I am writing, I feel it is like a cuddly teddy bear (the reason I called the story cuddly is because it has come to my mind at a time I badly needed a story to distract me by embracing me in its warmth and letting me forget everything). 

I cannot deny the immense help that writing craft books have to offer, after all they have been written by experts who know what they are talking about, but too strict an adherence to these tips can be detrimental to one’s inherent writing skills. As a writer, I have both my share of strengths and weaknesses and no amount of reading craft books can help me, if I don’t actually sit down to write that first draft. For me the world- building happens as I write; then the characters start whispering their secrets and revealing their stories to me.

My current literary playmate is a new book, something I am pretty excited about. I am writing in the First Person Narrative for the first time. For this book, I have just the beginning and the end in my mind. The rest of the story is unfurling every time I put pen to paper. Every time there are new words on the paper, I am surprised to see my story grow and characters too grow.

For me the two characters appeared in my mind and now its time for me to tell their story. I have realized that with this book I will follow my instinct and go with the flow; without any pre-conceived notion of technique. The book may not find a publisher, but I will know with a certainity that I wrote something I was passionate about.

What about you all? Do you follow writing craft books strictly or do you follow your own story telling abilities. What do you think is the correct method of story-telling? Is it writing what one is passionate about or following what craft books endorse?

P.S. I am taking a blogging break  for few days. My next post will be on 3rd Jaunary 2012. Here is wishing all my writing friends and blog buddies a Merry Christmas and a Wonderful and Joyous 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Guest Post with Writer Shelley Souza

Today's guest post is by a writing friend of mine, who I met online. Shelley  Souza and I met on Face Book’s closed Group for writers called Warrior Chat. Shelley is ever ready to help other writers hone their craft and write the best story they can write, with her insightful advice and tips. 

BIO- Shelley Souza received a Master of Fine Arts in directing from U.C. Irvine and spent over two decades developing and staging new plays by established and emerging playwrights. She authored hundreds of articles on new technology (which she loves) and ghostwrote four non-fiction books for clients of an independent publisher. She is a member of the Authors Guild and SCBWI

Shelley’s Guest Post

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I decided to be a writer when I was around seven and for a while believed I wanted to write plays. As it turned out, I did go into theatre but as a director. One thing I learned in theatre is that act breaks are artificial. They allow for scenery changes and for the audience to go to the bathroom. The present trend of applying this artificial construct to novel writing seriously messed with my head as a writer! For a long time I could not visualize constructing a plot to fit the three-act structure, no matter how many books on the method I read. Eventually, I managed to get something to click but it didn’t help me to figure out the story. Because the three-act structure is concerned with more artificial constructs that also belong to plays: an inciting incident, a first plot twist, a second plot twist, a climax, a reversal, and so on. I was about to throw in the towel on novel writing when I became unwell.

During my illness I didn’t have the energy to read or to write. What little strength I had was spent on watching clips of J.K. Rowling. Two things stood out: her belief in her ability to tell a story and her belief in the story she was telling (Harry Potter). I began to question my reason for writing the story I was working on and discovered I didn’t really believe in it, the way J.K. Rowling was speaking of belief. I started asking myself why, when I was a child, I never tired of opening a new book. What I discovered was surprising beyond belief.

I put aside the story I had been working on—even though many writer friends and my writing coach at the time loved the main character—and began working on a story I would have loved when I was young and that I would love to read today. It meant abandoning everything I had been told a story should contain (and not contain). It meant trusting myself in a way I never had. Trusting what I already knew about myself: I was a reader and a writer. Therefore, everything I needed to know about story was already inside me. I didn’t need anyone else’s rules to tell me how to write my story.

For the first time in my life as a writer, every day, I wake up and I am excited to write. Not my story, I’m not yet close to writing the narrative, but the internal logical of the characters and their reason for being in this story and not another.

The best distinction I read recently (by an amazon reviewer of a Harry Potter film) was this: “plot is what happens to the characters; story is what happens AS A RESULT OF the characters.” I’m a story, not a plot, writer. What kind of writer are you?

Shelley's Tumblr Blog- http://shelleysouza.tumblr.com/ 

Thank you, Shelley, for generously sharing with us what you have learned in your writing journey.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Greatest Gift for a Writer

The greatest gift that anyone can give a writer is to read her/his work. Readers are absolutely important for writers and by readers I don’t just mean the Beta Readers, but also the other readers who go out and buy our books or perhaps borrow them from the library.

 My first contact with my readers came about when I started writing for the newspapers. These initial readers went a long way in encouraging me and egging me on to continue writing. In those days, every where I went people who would have read my articles, features and stories in the supplements of the newspapers would come up to me and mention how much they liked my writing or how it appealed to them. During those days I wrote a lot of features and articles in the weekly supplements. For several minutes I would bask in the warmth of their praise.

This hasn’t changed even a little bit. I still crave feedback from my readers. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s these words of praise that fuels a writer’s writing.

One of my all time favourite reader: an old gentleman, would make it a point to walk up to me in the club I visit, and tell me how much he loved my story/feature/article. He had never missed any article I had written for the newspapers. Infact, he even told me that the moment he received the morning’s paper, he would look for my byline and if he saw an article by me, he would read that first and then move on to the other news.

When I started writing children’s stories, he followed me into that territory faithfully. Its readers like him (he is no more) that I cherish and it’s their comments that motivate me to keep writing.

Do you all have any favourite memories where readers are concerned? Any reader or any particular reader comment that has stayed in your mind forever? No, we all won’t think you are gloating or indulging in self-praise. I am sure we all are interested in reading about what your readers think of your writing. It’s practically the end of the year and we all badly want a little cheer and smiles to light up our faces. Please feel free to write about your readers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trust Your Story

Listening to me rave and rant  about the long wait to hear back from agents, that is really stretching my patience to its limits, one writing friend advised me, “ Trust your story.” Faith, trust and belief are words I would associate with spiritual life, I would even use them when I mention friendships and relationships, but not where writing was concerned.

 Later, when I revisited her advice, I realized that she was not wrong. We writers do have to trust our stories, trust it implicitly, that’s why we are able to spend endless amount of time writing and rewriting it and polishing it as close to perfection as possible. It’s this trust that sees us willingly adopt the hardships that come with a writer’s life. Writing is definitely not for the faint- hearted. And querying certainly is not.

The trust does take a beating, when our manuscripts are sent out on several journeys starting with Crit partners and ending with editors. Everyone has a different view about it; starting with how we started the story, whether our characters resonated with the readers, whether our plot gripped the reader and winding down to the resolution. It’s at times like these that the trust takes a huge beating.

Ofcourse I trust my story. I love it to bits. But, there are several people involved who need to trust my story and story-telling ability as much as I trusted it. These are the people who rule the publishing world and make important decisions that a writer’s career hinges on.

It’s this trust that sees me start my next manuscript and again it’s this trust that sees me invest lots of my time in a world that to start with only I believe in.

Has your trust ever wavered in your story? Has your trust in whatever you are doing in life ever meandered away from you? Have you doubted the literary world you have created? How have you regained the trust and faith that has moved away? We all would love to know all about your tryst with trust.

P.S. Here is a  wonderful post by my friend Patrick on How to Create  an E- Book. Click here for Patrick's tutorial.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Agents Versus Independent Publishing

From the past few days, I have noticed that several writing friends, my crit partner and many blog buddies have opted for the Independent Publishing route instead of waiting for an agent’s nod. The few writers I managed to chat with online had just one thing to say, that they were bogged down by the entire query business: writing that perfect query, waiting ages for an agent to request a partial or a full, then spending several months for the said agent to reply. Most never got a reply even after being asked for a full manuscript.

 The Independent Publishing route is pretty fast, from the day of the contract signing to publishing, there is a gap of less than a year. And most of the writers are thrilled that they have bypassed an agent’s hefty commission.

What one writer said to me was, “ there is no guarantee that even after I sign with an agent, that he or she will be able to sell my book. I may have to wait for months and months and  then start searching for another agent.”

Another writer said that even after requesting a full manuscript submission at a conference where the writer made her pitch, the said agent took ages to get back with any kind of feedback. By then the writer was so exhausted with the submission process that she just went ahead with the Independent Publishing house which was ready with a contract.

I would love to have an agent represent me and champion my Manuscript to editors, but to be honest the entire query business is wearing me down mentally. I find the long wait is killing me and the silences from most agents more deadly that cyanide. To divert my attention from agents I am working on several projects. Though I stepped on the Query bus just 3 months back, I am getting weary.  Maybe deep down I am succumbing to the lure of going the Indie way. The only thing preventing me is that the book I am querying is a standalone book. Most Indie publishers prefer signing a  2 to3 book deal. Standalones are a hardsell at any time.

Another trend I have noticed is that most of my writing friends are going the YA (Young Adult) way. There is a huge market for them. MG (Middle Grade) fiction, which I write is being forced to take the second place.

What do you all feel about the Agent versus the Independent Publishing Route? What would you all personally opt for? How much time is right before one gives up on the query process and starts looking for other alternatives? Please share your views with us?

Friday, December 2, 2011

How not to Let Rejection Hurt and Affect Us

A writer’s most unfavourite word is Rejection. In its nine alphabets the word encapsulates the crashing of a writer’s dream and hard work. It’s a word I fear quite a bit like a cactus. It also a word I personally avoid. I dislike saying that a publisher or an editor rejected my book. I would rather say that my book was turned down or declined. These words are less harsh and hurt less.

Actually even if we use the word rejection, the sting can be removed from it because there are several reasons a manuscript has been rejected or turned down.

An editor friend of mine from one of India’s biggest publishing houses explained to me that when they refuse a book there are several reasons.

  1. Sometimes a book is turned down because the editor is not in love with the story. “I like the story but I am not in love with it.” I have heard of this reason.
  1. Sometimes even good books are refused, books which the editorial committee may have approved in stage one of the selection process, may be disapproved in stage two because of  financial constraints. The publishing house just does not have the money to pump into this book at the current time.
  1. Several times books are turned down because publishers are unable to think of a marketing strategy for that particular book. Books that cannot be marketed do not sell well. ( A publisher called me and personally told me that they were refusing one of my chapter book because they feared that they would be unable to market it, even though they liked the book a lot). 
  1. Very often the publishers have brought out a book similar to the one submitted  some time back and do not want to repeat themes. They prefer to tackle different books. One of my  Short Story Collection  met with this fate. The publisher asked me to wait for 3 years. I thought that was too much.
  1. Books that do not follow certain trends: read as books on unusual, bold themes, or archaic themes are refused for fear of them not selling well.
  1. Books that need a lot of editing, both structural as well as grammatical translates into a refusal. Editors just do not have the time or energy to devote to such manuscripts. Everyone prefers a polished piece that requires minimum editing. Editors don’t mind corroborating with writers when a manuscript  is outstanding and editorial changes can further enhance it, turning it into literary  magic.
  1. Many times even good books are turned down as there is a lacunae, in the style of writing and the theme. The theme may be for older children while the writing style for younger ones, or vice versa.
  1. Good books are turned down as  the publishing house’s  publishing programme is full for the next couple of years and there is no room for new manuscripts, unless it’s a part of a series.
  1. Several times good books by first time authors are turned down in favour of  not so good books by authors who publishers consider well known or brand names. Brand names according to my editor friend ensures that the First Print Run sells.
There are several reasons for the rejection of a manuscript. There is no need for us (writers ) to  feel insulted or hurt.  A rejection does not mean that a writer is bad, it just means that the story has not resonated with the editor or that they have different visions for it. It’s nothing personal. Do you feel there are any other reasons for rejecting a manuscript?  What does rejection mean to you?Please share with us.

P.S. To spruce up your Book Promotion and Marketing Skills, read this amazing post by Carolyn Howard Johnson on my dear friend, Stephen Tremp's blog.