Monthly Archives: January 2010

Prepped and Ready to Go

Today is a great day.  I get to fly off into the sunset…scratch that, I’ll actually be heading east and will have a better chance of watching the moon materialize in the night sky.  Regardless, it is still a great day.

DH and I are going on a much needed trip.  I have my Kindle, a few swimsuits and my DH.  What else does a good vacation need?

Right.  Peace of mind. 

Thankfully I have that as well.  My in-laws (two of the most amazing grandparents ever) are coming down to stay with the kids while we frolick on the beach.  The emergency phone numbers are written down.  Schedules are printed.  Dates and times of events are laid out in an orderly fashion.  Closets have been organized, the house cleaned and the cupboards full.  My check list is done.

Ever wonder why we put so much effort into vacation plans and barely any into our writing careers?  I used to write simply to appease my muse.  However, the writing community has encouraged me to take a much more proacrive approach.  My career path is no longer as distant as the Carribean is from Minnesota.

With our crunched economy and the down-sizing of the publishing industry, I have started considering my writing as a whole and the impact of everything I do on my futre career.  Due to technology, writers have to weigh their words today to keep them from nipping us in the butt like a swarm of sand fleas five years from now.

Gone are the days of simply prepping our manuscripts.  Now e have to prep ourselves.  We have to set out on a journey with clear destinations in mind (picture book, non-fiction, horror, romance, big house, little house), all the while hammering planks into our platforms to support our choices.  In short, we have to come to agents and editors prepped and ready to go.

One can no longer book a flight out of country on a whim.  Without the forethought of securing a passport, we will never board the plane.  Likewise, without some sort of plan in place, we will never succeed in seeing our work on book store shelves.

Prepare, oh writer friends, prepare.  Research your destination and lay the ground work for a smooth and worry free vacation.  Let your writing journey be a pleasure cruise…

Do you have clear cut goals beyond “getting published”?  Have you written a marketing plan or anything else concrete?  What have you done to build your platform and give yourself agent appeal? 

I will miss you all while I’m gone, but will return to catch up on my blog and yours on February 8th.  Until then, keep writing!

How far is your spread?

Yes, you read that right.  Spread, not reach.

Writers are in the enviable position of working in their jammies, snacking on gummy bears whenever the mood strikes them and having their erratic behavior excused as “genius”. 

Where we lose the edge is our seats.  Literally.  The longer we sit, the wider our bums tend to get.  I think there is a direct link to the gummy bears, but I could be wrong.  It might also have to do with the fact that writing uses amazing amounts of brain power, yet does nothing to tone below the neck. 

While it may be a while before I’m ready to compete for the Mrs. Universe Body Building Competition, I think I’ve slowed the spread enough to keep DH from putting me outside with tomorrow’s trash.  Here are a few tricks that have kept my writer’s rear from spreading to the next county. 

  • I walk to the farthest bathroom from where I’m at.  This inevitably means taking a flight of stairs on the way there and back.  It might not sound like much, but I think it helps–especially if I drink copius amounts of liquid.
  • If I snack, I take small portions.  Small means a faster refill.  If I’m still inclined to gobble more goodies, I have to make my way back to the kitchen for seconds.  Sometimes my sheer laziness means less calories consumed. 
  •  I try to change positions often.  A little wiggle burns more calories than a mere finger tap on the keyboards.  I’ve also been known to do a few lunges, jumping jacks or other such silly things just to get the blood flowing again.
  • I like to intersperse my Real Life duties with my writing duties.  This ensures I get up often and move around.  Laundry, bed making and sweeping can burn off gummy bear chub faster than chewing them can.
  • For an added bonus, I sometimes tighten my tummy or tushy.  One of the best exercises for a muscle is to be used.  I know, break-through info here.  But seriously, by contracting your muscles periodically throughout the day and either holding them until you feel the burn or rhythmically releasing and contracting them, you will do far more for your lower body than you can imagine.  And, it’s one of the few exercises you can do while still writing.  Or driving, or talking on the phone, or standing in line at the post office, or eating gummy bears…

What tips and tricks do you have to make your writing day a little more physical? 

*no gummy bears were harmed in the writing of this post*

How Great Thou Art

Nope, I’m not singing in the choir.  Mainly because I can’t sing well and I know it.  I’m under no illusions that I should go on national television and belt out any rendition of any song. 

A few years ago, my DD asked me: Mommy do I sing well?

Now, I love my dearest daughter and weighed my choices carefully before answering.  “Honey, I love when you sing.  I’m glad you’re in choir and do well in it.  Now should you go on American Idol?  I don’t know about that, because I think God gave you other talents.”

We both laughed and jumped into a conversation about her acting abilities.  She’s amazing on stage. 

If other parents were so truthful, their kids would not go on national television and become the butt of America’s jokes.  Simon would not have to grimace so much and far fewer people would walk away hurt and angry because everything they had been told was a lie.

Before the inception of AI, I might have lied to my DD.  “Yes, honey.  You are amazing.”  I hope my honesty saved her from pain while still giving her hope.

I would kind of like that honesty with my writing.  I would love to find someone willing to tell me if I was on the right track or if my God-given talents were waiting for me somewhere besides the written word. 

My mom is good for the requisite back pat.  DH doesn’t read much beyond golf and health magazines and my kids are my kids.  My critique buddies are awesome, but I know I would never crush anyone’s dreams by saying “you stink” so assume they feel the same way.  To date, their kind words haven’t felt anything close to brutal and have not deterred me from dreaming the dream.

So far Simon limits himself to ripping apart singers and has not debuted in the writing arena.  The minute he does, I will join the ranks and put my hopes into his hands.  Unless someone can be honest with me and say from the bottom of their hearts, “How great thou art?  Not very.  Honey, God gave you other talents and now would be a good time to find them.”

Would you like an honest assessment of your writing ability to know if you should continue to pursue publication?  If you heard it, would you believe it and quit writing or would it strengthen you for those times you’re ready to throw in the towel?  Would you use an unfavorable assessment as a challenge to overcome?  Or, would you rather plug away at your dream and die trying even though the editors and agents laugh and cringe every time your ms comes across their desks?

I know this is a lot to chew on and I’m not really sure myself where I fit in.  However, I’d like to hear what you think and how you would react if you are ever (un)lucky enough to find out that your dreams and your talents don’t jive.  Or conversely, that you may be the next superstar…in ten years.

Enough Already

Snow has been a pain in my rear this winter.  In the past five days, we’ve had two missed school days and one late start.  We had to cancel DH’s Christmas party due to icy roads and the internet and cable hibernated on Saturday. 

Enough Already!

Which makes me wonder, do editors and agents feel this way about our deluge of manuscripts? 

Today I checked out the Kidlit blog this morning to refresh the rules for the first chapter contest.  I browsed the comments, trying to size up the competition and saw a few questions that made me wonder just how attentive we writers are to submission guidelines. 

My guess is not very. 

Every once in a while, an agent or editor might be delighted with an unexpected submission.  However, my guess is that more often than not, they get as crabby as a mom with four school age kids after the fifth week in a row of snow days. 

In short, it gets tiresome to field queries that don’t follow basic guidelines.  To review:

  1. Unless you are writing non-fiction or are a super-star, do not query an incomplete manuscript.  Period. 
  2. Do not submit the minute you complete your manuscript.  Manuscripts need rounds of edits and “just finished my first novel” is a sure sign not to sign.
  3. Send only what is asked for.  We are in love with our own writing and want everyone to see it in its entirety.  Quash the urge.  Go to agent or editor websites and find out what they want sent and how they want it to arrive on their desks.  A snail query to e-queries only is a waste of trees and agent patience.
  4. Don’t tout your first place win for the International Society of Poets in your bio.  Everyone owns the plaque and has been invited to spend their money on $60 anthologies of really bad poetry.  If you don’t have writing credits, it’s okay.  There are agents and editors hungry to find the newest best-selling author. 
  5. Likewise, don’t tell them your grandmother loves your manuscript more than her nightly martini.  She’s your grandma (insert at leisure: kids, mom, spouse, best friend, neighbor) and will lie to stay on the Christmas list. 
  6. For the love of all things holy, do not send a picture book to a YA contest or a romance novel to a horror agent.  To do so is to clutter up cyber space and eat up everyone’s time.  It’s like adding six inches of snow to a forty mile an hour wind.  Unless you’re God, don’t do it.
  7. Know the very basics of manuscript formatting should you include more than a query letter.  Most websites that cater to writers (including agency and publishing house sites) have sections devoted to double spacing, one inch margins, chapter breaks, cover pages and fancy fonts.  If you don’t know these things, check out Agent Query asap.

Please follow these basic guidelines to keep the slush at a minimum.  In the long run, it should help staunch the blizzard of queries to agents and editors.  This should lighten their moods and make them more apt to read all of our queries more closely.  Henceforth giving writers a better chance of actually having their manuscript requested, read and repped. 

Willy nilly submission practices only garner rejections.

If we all do our part, we can stop the hands-in-the-air, enough-already expletives from those we wish to woo. 

Have you made rooky mistakes when querying?  What tips can you provide other writers to help the right manuscripts make it to the right desk?

Capitulate: look it up on Kindle

I love this word.  It must have something to do with my head and how hard my mom claims it is.  I stubbornly hold out followed by un-gracefully giving in.  Not that I don’t know how to compromise, because I do.  I’m actually a trained family mediator.  I’m also a middle child.

My MO is to either compromise immediately or capitulate after I’ve been worn down.  For the most part, I’m pretty easy going (I wouldn’t ask my mom or DH about that, because they’re liars).  I’m also laid back and flexible about most things.  But not with the idea of e-readers.

In the wake of the e-book hype, I have spent a lot of time researching the pros an cons and what that means to authors.  All the while I maintained my stubborn mindset that I would NEVER buy one.

NEVER was shorter than I thought.

Last Friday, after becoming increasingly more fond of the idea of a portable library, I capitulated and ordered a Kindle.  I blame it on my sister.  Because I can.  She’s 1,300 miles away from me and can’t duct tape me to my chair so I can’t type.

But really, it is her fault.  She bought one first–after more than a year of deliberating the pros and cons with me.  Finally, the temptation was too much for both of us. 

Author friends, please wait to cringe until after I share with you my reasons (as a writer and a reader) why I would contribute to the “demise” of the printed word.

  1. I love my husband.  I swear my main motivator was his back.  Last time we moved, 17 tubs of books made their way down the basement steps to the storage room.  I can move my Kindle all by myself.
  2. I love an uncluttered house.  My bookshelf (a beautiful, solid oak, expensive bookshelf) is currently housed in our storage room, as there is no other place to put it.  It holds less than fifty percent of my kids’ library and none of mine.  I can store my Kindle library on my nightstand.
  3. I love books.  I have an addiction.  As proven in #1, I have way too many of them.  I don’t borrow from the library, I buy (good for the author).  Some books make my perennial list.  My all-time faves are already (stupidly?) on my Kindle list.  I love them so much, I want them with me all the time.  This equals two author sales-hardcover and electronic.
  4. Other books are never read again, which makes me sad, but doesn’t inihibit my addictive splurges.  I can give never-to-read-twice books away (which doesn’t benefit the author) or sell them at a garage sale (again, at no author benefit) or stop buying them (right, no bennies).  But in case I didn’t mention it, I love books.  I will continue buying, which will exacerbate DH’s back pain and the home-clutter issue.  Enter my Kindle and I don’t have to feel remorse for packing unused novels into totes.  The Kindle doesn’t look half bad on my nightstand.
  5. Which brings me to another point.  I can be selective about my hardcover books.  I can buy beautifully bound  hardcover perennials rather than paperbacks.  And they will fit on the real bookshelf.  This method of hardcover after Kindle will ensure I love the books I’m buying.  So much so that I can display them on my desk shelves.  The author bonus is a multibook deal from me–and a hardcover instead of paperback to sweeten the pot.
  6. As a reader, I did worry about the feel and smell thing.  I will never replace reading a printed book soley with ebooks.  For one-time reads, the Kindle is great.  It is super easy to read, comfortable and a cinch to manuever.  Besides, I read one-time-wonders so fast I’d read them on a toilet paper roll and not care.  In the end, I think this will heighten my hands-on experience with my favorite hardcovers.  Reading them will be a treat in the literary and physical sense.
  7. I love writing–obviously.  I am excited about reading my “books” on my Kindle the same way I read other books.  I’ve heard from agents and editors who download manuscripts that the experience is different and it makes them feel the marketability of a piece a little better because the medium levels the playing field.  I can’t wait to find out if that’s true. 

What I take away from all this is that I am not going to quit reading.  Nor will I quit buying books.  I love the instant gratification that Kindle offers me.  I no longer have to drive fortyfive minutes to the nearest bookstore to make my purchases.  Likely, the ease will increase my splurges and broaden my reading tastes.

To me, the Kindle is a bookshelf, not a book.  It’s a mega shelf that lets me carry 1,500 books with me at all times.  It was far cheaper than my oak jobby and a heck of a lot lighter.  It also takes up less room. 

I capitulated, but after much deliberation.  And I’m glad I did.  So far, I love my Kindle.

How about you?  Are you contemplating an e-reader or are you still dead-set against them?  Do you own one and love it or wish you hadn’t spent the money?

Short Fiction Sunday

Two things have shaped the post today.  One–the continued state of destruction and devestation in Haiti.  Two–my DH’s best friend since diaperhood.  BF’s mother is in her last weeks after battling cancer.  My heart goes out to all those who are suffering at this time and I hope this poem can bring a little peace to those who are left behind.

DON’T CRY FOR ME

Ashes to ashes

dust to dust

My soul soars to the waiting heavens

   Mother Earth embraces my body

     In the everlasting circle of life

 

Show no sorrow for me when I’m gone

  Rather, lift thine eyes to the rose-tinted dawn

And know that I am there

Watching

Waiting

Patiently, lovingly

For you

 

Breathe the succulent scent

Of every spring bloom

And know that I am there

            Each blossom a reminder of my serenity and peace

          Hear my voice in the songbird’s melodies

       Quench your thirst on the falling rain

      And know that I am there

 

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust

Life to life

And love everlasting

I’ll take one agent with a side of fries…

Shopping for agents and editors is a bit like going out to eat.

There’s the fast food method where purchases are made at the drive-thru based on a picture menu and a price.  I would equate this to a random search on the internet or a bound writer’s market of some kind. 

These are impulse buys at a time when we are rushed and excited and don’t really consider the fine points of an agency or publishing house.  We see something appealing (instant gratification) and subsequently spend our money on heart, not nutrition. 

Sadly, there are too many unreputable individuals in the publishing industry for us to make informed choices at the window.  Often, we choose poorly and end up paying for it in loss of rights, poor representation, or worse yet, being swindled out of our hard-earned money on services that reputable agents and editors do not charge for.

Next we have the smorgasboard buffet purchase where we can physically see and smell the goods rather than relying on a facsimile at the window.  Is the lettuce as crisp as it looks?  Is the pizza topped with one pepperoni in real life or the twenty-seven it shows on the menu?  Does it smell appetizing or greasy? 

Another advantage of walking through the buffet is the ability to see who else is eating there.  If everyone in the room weighs 700 pounds and is dressed in thread-bare clothes, we may consider that the food isn’t healthy or cheap.

If, on the other hand, the customers range from the beautifully dressed and svelt to the Average Joe in a pair of working blue jeans, it may indicate a balance between health and the price tag.

The problem with buffet submissions is that we often waste oddles of time.  Ours and agents.  Not everyone on the buffet will be into our type of story.  However, the temptation to sample everyone is strong and we end up querying our picture books to hard-core sci-fi agencies.  This benefits no one and frustrates everyone. 

Buffet queries often get returned as form rejections.  Submitting in this fashion is a matter of quantity and the return is iffy.  Some writers mass mail up to fifty agents or editors at a time.  If it’s a number’s game, they figure, eventually it will pay off. 

I don’t roll that way.  Instead, I prefer quality over quantity.  This would be the equivalent of finding the right restaraunt to take your beloved to on your first wedding anniversary.  Classy, good reviews, excellent food, specialized. 

This is the kind of agent I want. 

I want to know who I’m submitting to and why.  I want a track record, stellar word-of-mouth, good connections and experience in my genre.  If an offer for representation comes in, I want to say yes without scrambling to see if there is a “better” agent available. 

 So how do we find the five star agents?  The same way we find the five star food joints.  We research.  We speak with others who have worked with them.  We check out books they have repped or published to determine how our manuscript fits their tastes or needs.  We become selective in our search and submission process.

Resources to aid your seach:

  1. A market guide such as Writer’s Market.  There are choices besides the Writer’s Digest based books and can be found in print and online.  These are great starting points in my search. 
  2. Preditors and Editors: a low down on who’s got the goods and who doesn’t in the publishing arena.  If your initial targets score poorly here, it may be time to cross them off your list.  Another resource is Writer Beware. 
  3. Websites geared toward helping authors and agents connect.  Agent Query is incredible.  Query Tracker is spoken highly of in my writing communities in regards to helping writers pinpoint potential markets for their manuscripts. 
  4. Writing organizations that provide a sense of community.  On or offline organizations can be found.  I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  They provide timely and accurate information as well as many opportunities for writers of juvenile literature.
  5. Other blogs or websites that cater to the emerging writer and provide well-rounded advice and recommendations.  They can be found everywhere.  Howevever, pay attention to the author of such blogs and sites.  What do they have to gain by providing their POV?  Writer Beware has a section on blogs.
  6. Agent or Publishing House websites.  Be specific in your research.  What do they want and how do they want it?  Their home site should always trump printed info.
  7. Conferences: track down your top choices and see if they’re speaking.  Meeting agents or editors personally can go a long way in understanding their visions and whether you’ll click with them or not.  Editors and agents also give far more specific insight into their tastes and wants than you can find elsewhere.

Consider all the time you spent writing and revising your manuscript.  Do you really want to order a side of fries and a milk shake?  Or do you want to wow your beloved with a prime-rib dinner in a quaint atmosphere?   My advice: 

Seek quality agents and editors to handle your baby.  Don’t just pass it off to the assistant at the drive-thru window.

What’s your advice on finding an agent or editor?  Have you shopped in the wrong place before?  If so, what tips can you provide to help others from making your mistakes?

Query Letter Considerations

Call me particular, but when I open a banana, I like to eat a banana.  Not an orange.  There’s something about truth in advertising that strikes me as the best way to go.

Likewise, when I buy a book, I want to open the pages and read the promise from the back cover.  It’s not to say I don’t like surprises of the good variety: she fell in love with the unexpected, the murderer wasn’t who I thought it would be or the ghost was really the groundskeeper’s aunt’s nephew and not a zombie.

I imagine agents and editors feel the same way.  Our query letters are back cover promises to the pages within.  I wonder how often we fail to deliver.

Granted it is difficult to condense an entire manuscript to two paragraphs.  However, it is essential that we do so while providing the most pertinent information to the project.  So what does a good query need?

  1. Main Character.  It might be hard to do at times, but it is best if we can focus on ONE for the query.  Two paragraphs is a tiny space to introduce everyone in a manuscript.
  2. Main Conflict.  Yes, our books are often complex with several subplots shooting through the main story arc.  However, space is limited and the agent/editor needs to know the gist of our novels. 
  3. What stands in the way, or what can our MC lose/gain by resolving/not resolving the conflict?  The girl of his dreams, his family, the end of the world, a promotion?  We must write some sort of tension into our queries or there is no need to read.

And all these components need to fit neatly into your banana peel.  That way we don’t receive an automatic rejection based on our inability to deliver.

Truth in advertising is essential when presenting ourselves to agents and editors.  Otherwise we look like that bad knock knock joke.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Orange.

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?

Wish for Hope

This morning I would like to send my heartfelt prayers to the victims of violence. 

The news this morning highlighted another earthquake in Haiti when they can ill afford any more tragedy.  It also described the gunman on the run in Virginia.  His death spree yesterday has caused schools to be closed today as he is still at large.  Floods ravish California and a standoff took place in Sioux Falls with a gunman and the police.  And that was in the five minutes I watched while trying to figure out if school would again be late.

So much hurt in such a small amount of time.  It seems as if our world is a Shakespearean play and too many people are the unwilling actors. 

I would like a new script.  One with less pain and more hope.

Please leave a comment adding your wish or prayer for the day.  Spread the word to those who could use some inspiration. 

hugs and warm fuzzies to all my cyber friends and beyond.  May your day be filled with some small ray of hope and happiness.

~cat

Word War Winners

First I have to thank everyone for their highly amusing and creative definitions.  I had tons of fun with this contest and sorting through the comments to pick the winners was nothing short of a riot.

LESBERRI

  1. The technique of burying the body before someone finds the culprit and connects the evidence with his crime
  2. A delectable treat that feels it’s not quite sweet enough to be a blueberry or a raspberry but a lesberri….awhhh!
  3. Artificial berry flavoring for those who are allergic to strawberries or other berries, but still want the flavor. (completelyorganic, hypoallergenic, gluten and sugar free.)
  4. A lingonberry cocktail popular at particular bars.
  5. A berry that does not require pollen distribution for reproduction. 
  6. The smoothie flavor preferred by 8 out of 10 women in East Portland.
  7. Cap’n Crunch’s newest flavor, due to economic conditions.  Creatively defined  by Layinda.

 

KANNINI

  1. A close cousin of the pannini, only thicker.
  2. The sound you make when someone in the kitchen turns on the dishwasher and you are in the shower.
  3. Emotional fit of apocalyptic proportions; the odds of death at the hands of the person having the kannini is 99.9%.
  4. The sound a car makes when it’s trying to start but can’t quite turn over. Kanninikanninikanninikannini.
  5. A toasted flatbread sandwich made with kangaroo meat. Kanninis are outlawed in 63 countries, but Williams & Sonoma secretly crafts a wildly popular Kannini iron made especially for the black market. 
  6. The question whether you are allowed to eat at this time.
  7. A fluid-filled cyst found in the folds of an obese mobster. Don’t bust my kannini!  Creatively defined by Charlie.

 

TREGIC

  1.  The quality of a tree no longer inanimate felled in a storm causing major damage
  2. When one of Scarlet Whisper’s strategic plans goes awry, the result is “tregic”.
  3. The sticky stuff that gets all over your hands when you climb a tree.
  4. The latest in tween slang. (Pronounced like tres chic.) “Did you see that? It was soooo tre-gic!”
  5. Three catastrophes at the same time.
  6. Poor tread on one’s snow tires. As in, You need new tires, those are tregic.
  7. The state of being sucked into a couch and spit out the other side in to a magical world. I went tregicing and found The Land of Zoozula.  Creatively defined by Charlie.

 

SAMELS

  1. Itchy, red pustules found on one’s inner thigh from too much friction. She has a bad case of the samels.
  2. A type of open toed footwear marketed by the makers of the snuggee. These wedged slip on sandles are lined with hand combed camel fur.
  3. The word that caused Eddie’s Used Camel Lot to go out of business. He wanted a sign that said “Sale! Used Camels Cheap!” The sign maker screwed up and sent him one that read “Samels! On Sail Cheep!”
  4. The opposite of differentials.
  5. Sandals for camels so they don’t burn their feet in the desert.
  6. Someone who smells the same all the time and is able to be identified by their particular odor.  And the tie goes to Siggy.
  7. Best friends who always dress the same and act the same and sound the same. As in, “She’s my samel”, a “They’re a pair of samels”.  As well as Michelle for their creative definitions.

 

COWPARI

  1. Someone who is obese whose work as a writer is panned when a picture was enclosed with his/her manuscript: a tragic story
  2. A spicy, bitter alcoholic Italian drink infused with the blood of angus bovine. Cowpari’s marketing campaign has been very successful in the vampire niche market.
  3. The latest style on the French Riviera for cows. Cowpari pants are all the rage for bovines.
  4. When a dairy farmer milks two cows at once.
  5. A kung fu move crossed with a fencing move for bovines.
  6. A cut of women’s pants that is very unflattering. 
  7. The language of cows- Moo means “hello” in cowpari.  Creatively defined by Charlie.

And the Bonus Win goes to Michelle for providing a word verification word of her own.  Mudgin–aka a small, fictional amphibious creature from The Chronicles of Narnia.

She gets the delightfully charming and ever informative book The Writer’s Essential Tackle Box by Lynn Price.  To collect your book, please shoot me an email with your address. 

Congratulations to the winners and warm fuzzies to all who participated in creating our Word War Cyber Dictionary.  You rock my socks off!

What’s your favoirte definition listed?