Category Archives: Archives 2013

To self-publish or not to self-publish, that is the question

At a recent book-selling event that was a topic of conversation among many of the local authors.  We had time to talk because a snow storm put a damper on sales.

Given the opportunity to self-publish thanks to companies like Create Space, Book Baby, Lulu and more, authors can put their books into print, at least print on demand. This route is the alternative to the more traditional one of seeking an agent who will negotiate a sale of your work to a larger publisher.

As a writer who has gone both ways, there are pros and cons to each.

Make no mistake; the largest obstacle to the more traditional route is getting an agent because most of the very big publishing houses won’t look at you without one. Your writing and/or subject matter (hopefully both) must be compelling to get their attention. Once you land an agent, they will do the work to present your book to a publisher. Publishers will provide editors to make sure your work is the best it can be, as well as cover designers. Once published, they roll out their formidable marketing machine.

With a publisher you will get a percentage of the profits from book sales, and don’t forget the cut to your agent. But hello, an established publisher had enough faith in you to publish your work. I felt very, very proud of that when a New York house picked up my children’s book, “Red Ridin’ in the Hood and Other Cuentos.”

More and more writers, even ones who have been published by traditional publishers, are looking at self-publishing. In this route you will have to take care of the things publishers do from editing to cover design to marketing to distinguish your book from the many, many more books there are out there because of self-publishing. That is a downside because the time you spend doing this takes away from your writing time.

If you take this route, my best advice is to spend money on an editor. Readers usually don’t care who publishes a book, but they will care if it’s poorly written and full of grammatical errors that bump them out of the story. Then they’ll ask, “Who the hell published this book?” On the plus side, there are lots of editing services and cover designers available and plenty of advice online about how to market. All the profits from the sales of your book go to you.

The end product is also a published book.

So when asking the question to publish or not to publish, remember both ways mean work. Ultimately, you will never get paid for the hours upon hours you put into writing and rewriting your book unless it makes the bestseller list and you sell the rights for a movie starring Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock.

In the end, no matter what route you pursue — love the writing.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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NaNoWriMo, Who’s winning?

It’s day 20. By now you’ve written 33,336 words of your great American novel. You’re on the home stretch. You’re ahead by 3 words. You’re still in the race. You’re winning, right?

If you’re like me, probably not, although I know some writers participating in *NaNoWriMo this year have reached their goal of 50,000, or are really really close. But not you, you’re still slugging away at that mountain of words wondering why you let so and so talk you into this messy frustrating confusion when you’d rather be thinking about turkeys and Christmas trees. But you can’t because you have to stay focused on characters who won’t behave and plot lines that wander off into the desert and disappear. You’re tired, frustrated, and hate the project you’re working on. Or you’re behind in your word count and looking for any reason to stop writing and return to the real world.

Before you do, give yourself credit for attempting such a daunting task in the first place. Writing takes discipline. Writing every day takes a great deal of discipline. In a perfect writer’s world every morning you would rise to an already prepared healthy breakfast and a pot of coffee. You would write all day without distractions. You would retire at night with a ream of polished words, a real page-turner ready to meet your publisher. But in the real writer’s world you have to prepare the healthy breakfast, feed the pets and get the family off to work and out the door, maybe vacuum the rugs, or even put in a day’s work at the office before you can settle down and write. Squeezing enough time to generate 1,666 words a day is a chore in itself so why bother?

Because you’re a writer. Stories buzz around your head dying to be told. Because when you’re not writing, everything seems in a constant state of chaos.

If you’re stumped and ready to throw in the towel, here are some suggestions that may help you reach your NaNo goal this year.

Write from a different point of view. Or write in a different tense. Mixing it up might lend new energy to your writing.
Kill your internal editor. Now is the time to write. You can edit later.
Do some free writing if you can’t think of anything to write. Just the action of moving your fingers releases something in the brain allowing you to move forward.
Don’t stop to do research. Add asterisks. When your draft is done, you can fill in the blanks. And, you might discover that a date or fact you thought was important no longer is.
If you’re feeling low or depressed talk to other writers or read the pep talks provided on the NaNoWriMo website. Visit their “procrastination station” for inspiration.
Don’t delete, don’t edit, just keep writing.

So it’s November 20. Ten days to go. You’re 2,000 words behind. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and it’s easier to focus on the green bean casserole than keep your fingers and brain moving. But look how far you’ve come. You’re in the middle of your book where things usually tend to get messy anyway. It would be so easy to quit.

But instead of giving up, dig deeper. Time travel back to October when NaNo sounded like a great way to whip out a draft of your story. Capture some of that creative energy then sit down and start writing.

Because you can do it. You’re so close. You’re almost there.

-Bonnie Dodge

*NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. On November 1, participants begin working towards writing a 50,000 novel by 11:59 on November 30. It’s free and a fun way to write a novel. For more information visit NaNoWriMo.org.

 

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Taking those extra steps will make you crazy, but they’re worth it.

I have neared the mouth of madness. I have sat on the tongue of crazy.

And it’s all because I’m working on getting it right. Taking those extra steps to make sure my writing is the best it can be to quote the Army slogan.

This work entails printing out the manuscript, not once, but twice, sometimes three times because reading the print version helps me catch stuff I can’t always see staring into a computer.  This also helps me find when I have used a phrase or word over and over.

This means going through and getting rid of adverbs, and declaring war on passive and vague words like there, was, am, it, must, could, and try, among others.

Reading the story for content problems, such as closing gaping holes in plot and that your characters stay in character. Making sure the theme is consistent and your symbolism isn’t overt. Ramping up the conflict in each scene, be it emotional or action. Searching for clichés.  Being on the lookout for the times I have changed the name of my characters in midstream (Come on, haven’t you done that?)

Let your critique partners have a go at your work to suggest improvements and what you did right.

One other thing I do is beat back the impetuous urge to send out my first and second draft because I think the work is done.  It isn’t. Maybe geniuses will have the perfect novel after two passes. I can’t.

Despite the craziness of rewrites, the more you work on your piece the better it becomes.  That makes the madness worth it.

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Live life or write? You can do both

You must know the feeling. The urge to write is so powerful you want to shut everything and everybody out to work on your story.

At those times, life often seems to get in the way. Your husband wants you to see something cool on TV. An old friend wants to catch up. Your children need you. Your club is meeting and you’re the host. There is one family crisis after another after another.

When the writing is going great, I am tempted to shut my office door and state in my best Greta Garbo voice “I must write.” I feel frustrated by all the interruptions because they remove me from that cool writing zone.

But I learned how to live the life and write. I talk on the phone and visit with friends. See what my husband thinks is so cool. Help my kids. Do crafts. All the while, I have finished novels and screenplays.

I know you are saying “How can I get anything done if I do all that?”

You can.  Write when you are not going to be bothered. Early in the morning. Late at night. When the kids are sleeping or husband is out fishing. Take a notebook or laptop everywhere and write when you get a chance. That’s what I did. I made time for the writing. I made time for life and all it brings. If you are dedicated you can accomplish it. I can still be passionate about life and writing without one robbing the other.

Without making time to listen to the laughter and dry the tears, without the phone chats about love and life, without the crisis, without the hugs–what in the hell do we have to write about?

–Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Bonnie Dodge places 3rd in annual Kay Snow Writing Contest

Bonnie Dodge won 3rd place in the annual Kay Snow Fiction Writing Contest at the Willamette Writers Conference In Portland, Oregon, with her entry, The Bones of Pele.

The winners of the 2013 Kay Snow Writing Contest are:
Fiction
1st place – “God is Pleased to Hear the Children Pray” by Ruby Murray
2nd place – “Coyote Calls Down the Gods” by Bruce Campbell
3rd Place – “The Bones of Pele” by Bonnie Dodge

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Are writing conferences worth the money?

I just returned from a writing conference where an attendee asked, “Are writing contests worth the time and money?”

“It depends,” the presenter said. “Is it a well-known contest? Will you get any feedback?”

I could say the same thing about writers’ conferences.

Most of the writers I know have more than one job: they work to pay bills, and they also write. Digging up a couple hundred bucks to attend a conference, not to mention making time to go, can be daunting. It’s too expensive. It’s too far. The kids need braces.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve organized writers’ conferences so I know how expensive they are to host. I’ve also been the writer staring at a brochure, trying to justify squeezing money from an already tight budget. 

But I am a writer. How can I improve if I don’t mingle with my peers?

Other professionals—accountants, attorneys, bankers, and lawyers—attend conferences and workshops to stay current with their industry. Why shouldn’t I?

I’ve been writing a fair amount of time, and I’ve attended many writers’ conferences. Some were good, some not so good, but I always gleaned something, even if it’s something not to do—like answer a text message in the middle of a presentation. Besides the current information on craft and submissions, what I find even more valuable is a word most introverted writers hate, “networking.” As writers, we sit alone in our office creating great stories, and now we are expected to extend our hand, introduce ourselves and tell everyone what we write. It’s painful, but where else but writers’ conferences can you discuss the craft of writing with other serious writers? We know they’re serious because they’ve spent the kids’ lunch money (just like we did) to attend.

Maybe the biggest reward for attending writers’ conferences is the energy that percolates from the meeting rooms, filling the halls and building with palpable enthusiasm, propelling us home eager to finish our novel or book of poetry. As Mastercard says, “Priceless.”  

Only you can decide if entering contests or attending conferences is worth your time and money. Before you decide, I would encourage you to look at writers’ conferences as opportunities to grow your career and improve your craft. Take a risk; put yourself out there. Ask questions. After a session, thank the speaker. Shake his/her hand and ask for a business card. Network. Talk about what you love most, writing. And in the meantime, get busy saving those pennies.

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Lance Thompson at the 2013 Idaho Writers and Readers Rendezvous talking about log lines.

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Alan Heathcock talking about originality.

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Alvin Greenberg and Doug Copsey

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Prompt your writing

It never does get any easier. Writing, that is.

Sometimes, your writer’s brain feels like last week’s laundry. Sometimes, your fingers just refuse to move. Sometimes, you wonder what the heck you’re doing trying to tell a story.

What to do?

Try a writing prompt.  I’ve been writing longer than I like to admit and these are valuable to stir me up. I like to call prompts another word—exercises. You exercise your body, so why not your craft?

My critique group and I have yearly retreats and use writing prompts for fun, for challenge, and for practice. Each year, I flesh out at least two short stories from the prompts, which basically give you something to write about. Sometimes you might have to write a scene with no dialogue, or all dialogue. To put yourself in someone’s shoes, or emphasize a specific emotion.  They’re good when you need a kick in the pants.

Where do you find such prompts? They’re all over the place. Writer’s Digest.Com usually posts several for you to use.  Recently they posted a column that you’ll find at http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/7-creative-writing-prompts-to-spark-your-writing?et_mid=612162&rid=22058720

Here is an example of one of the prompts. “You and your three closest friends decide to go camping. You arrive and set up camp nearly three miles away from where you left your car. Late that evening, as you sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows, one of your friends reveals a deep dark secret that turns what was to be a fun weekend into one of the scariest weekends of your life.” This one already has me intrigued.

Any good writing book will also contain prompts. One of the best I’ve found is “The Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop” by Danell Jones. I love this book because it offers writing “sparks” on everything from character development to the senses. Glimmer Train also has several books to prompt your pen or computer, as the case may be.

So flex those gray cells and stretch that imagination with a prompt.

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Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Check out Gaye Bunderson’s review of Hauntings from the Snake River Plain in the November 12, 2012 issue of Idaho Magazine.

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Thanks Kitty Delorey Fleischman, publisher and editor of Idaho Magazine, and writer Gaye Bunderson.

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How to write a compelling story.

Shortly after seeing the musical, Les Misérables, I ran across this post by Joe Bunting: How to Write a Story Like Les Miserables
http://thewritepractice.com/les-miserables/

It started me thinking. Why do some stories like Les Misérables, Jane Eyre, and Moby Dick have such staying power? They were written over a hundred years ago. What makes them so compelling artists find new ways to retell them, over and over again?

Bunting believes five elements make a story compelling.

1. Your character has to change. He calls this test transformation. We want to see how characters change, how they struggle to become a better people.
2. Write about something with historic significance like the revolutionary war, or some other life-changing event for a country, not just one person.
3. Have a big cast, many characters people can relate to. Instead of a story about one man’s journey, create a story about many character’s journeys.
4. Show what your characters want. Give every character an arc. This gives us more characters to root for. To use Bunting’s example: Jean Val Jean wants to be righteous. (man against self) Inspector Javert wants to catch Jean Val Jean. (man against man) Cosette wants to be loved by a family. Marius wants both Cosette and the revolution. (man against society) Éponine wants Marius, and The Thénardiers want money.
5. Sacrifice Everything. In his book The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler calls this rebirth. A character who risks everything for a virtuous goal, including his life, returns a hero and someone worthy of our respect.

In school we’re taught there are three story types: man against man, man against society, and man against self. If a writer can incorporate all three, his story has a better chance of being compelling, one others will want to relate over and over again.

The next time you sit down to write, ask yourself, why is this story important? What can I add to make it more compelling? Then pick up your pen and begin to write.
-Bonnie Dodge

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New Year’s resolutions be damned. Get to writing

It is 2013.

A New Year for most of us who aren’t time travelers.  So this is the time that we’re all making plans and dreams, resolutions and promises to ourselves on what we hope to accomplish in the new year.

Lose weight. Quit smoking. Drink less. Laugh more. Beat that addiction to reality shows.

I make no resolutions. I only decide what I need to do in the coming months.

I plan to finish rewriting one manuscript in one month, then finish my YA mystery by this summer and simultaneously start research on my new adult mystery.

Whoa.

 Am I insane? Making all these promises to myself to accomplish all that.

You see, even if it wasn’t the new year, I’d be doing the same thing. Set writing goals.

With or without the partying (which I did). With or without tuning in to Dick Clark’s New Year’s party (which I did and which is still on TV despite Dick’s passing to my surprise), I have made my plans for what I need to do as a writer.

I am one of those people who must set goals and timelines for myself or nothing will get done. So after putting away all my Christmas décor, which is quite a job, I will tackle the first of my goals and start rewriting my YA manuscript.

I have nothing against New Year’s Resolutions. But they only come once a year.

Setting goals is year round.

— Patricia Santos Marcantonio

 

 

 

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