Tag: writing life

More Straight Talk from Editor Kristen Hamilton

Last week, we started this interview with Kristen, owner of Kristen Corrects, Inc. in Idaho.

I asked Kristen if she had any especially disagreeable authors (other than me) and what she would do when an author argued with her about her suggested changes.

KRISTEN: I’ve had authors disagree with edits I’ve made to avoid a blatant error (usually with capitalization or grammar). In most cases, I’ll explain why the edit is necessary, and the author will agree. But sometimes, the author disagrees. These instances are harder to let go, because it reflects poorly on the author and on me, the editor. Still, the author’s in charge, and I’ll leave the error in if they request it.

Wow! I want to insert that this MIGHT not be true if your editor is with a periodical or publishing house. Most of the time, those editors have the final say on small things like this.

Kristen’s been an editor for many years. Nosy authors want to know: What’s the most difficult part of being a book editor?

KRISTEN: It’s tough to deliver bad news to authors, especially when I know they’ve already been through several rounds of self-editing and revisions. This usually occurs in the manuscript critique process, where I’m reading their manuscript and pointing out any big-picture issues in pacing, character development, or plot and story structure. There’s no secret formula to create a good book, but if the book simply isn’t engaging, something’s off. It’s not always easy for an author to see this, as they’re so close to their work. I always focus on the manuscript’s strengths and offer constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement in the areas that aren’t working, but it can still be difficult to deliver that news.

I’m always a little scared to open a manuscript from my editor. In my experience, you do a great job of offering balanced feedback. We’ll see if I feel the same way once you get a look at A LABORING HAND in September.

Now that the negative is out of the way, what do you find to be the most satisfying part of your job?

KRISTEN: Books have always just done it for me, you know what I mean?  (I’m nodding here because I DO know.) I’ve had a lifelong love affair with books. And to know that I’m personally improving every book I edit…well, that’s a powerful feeling. These books will exist forever, in some capacity. That’s a pretty big job. And that’s pretty satisfying.

Ah, books. It’s so satisfying to have a conversation with a person who loves them nearly as much as I do.

The publishing industry has undergone a huge transformation in the past few years, and it’s still changing. How has your experience as a freelance editor changed your view about self-publishing and traditional publishing?

KRISTEN: I’ve had the pleasure of reading, editing, and critiquing hundreds of books by unknown and unpublished authors. There are some incredible stories out there! Since self-publishing is a relatively new thing, it’s opening up an entirely new platform to give a voice to everyone—what an incredible thing. And trust me, as I mostly work with fiction novels and memoirs, both forms of creative writing, I can say with certainty that everyone has a story. So when some traditionalists scoff at the idea of self-publishing, saying it’s “not real publishing,” I just smile and move on. Traditional publishing is great for the masses, but if you want to hear real stories, self-publishing is where it’s at.

I’m a little floored by that answer. In fact, I’m going to use that last line in a quote graphic that I’ll be sharing on social media.

Real stories: find them at the indie bookstore not on shelves stocked by big presses.

Now that we’ve come to the end of our “chat,” I can’t say “thank you” loud enough and long enough to express my appreciation for Kristen. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer questions for a bunch of authors who sometimes wonder if they’re writing in the dark.

I’m looking forward to watching Kristen’s expertise make my indie published series REFLECTIONS shine like a diamond among the millions of books available in this new publishing paradigm.

If you have a question about editing, comment below. I’ll make sure Kristen sees your questions so she can respond.

Book Proposal Workshop Woes

A professional spends time and money on education. It’s no different for me as an author. I’ve spend money on conferences, retreats, online classes, books and most recently a workshop. This particular workshop claims to show me the best way to write a book proposal.

Fiction writers don’t generally have to write proposals. As the instructor of my workshop—literary agent Wendy Keller—is fond of saying, a book proposal is like a nonfiction book’s business plan. Because a nonfiction book is selling knowledge and the publisher who puts it out there wants to be sure the plan is sound (meaning has a good hope of making money).

This spring, I attended an online writing conference and one of the sessions advertised this workshop. Of course, like any good marketing campaign, it made it sound like there was a decent chance any sound proposals would be snapped up by the agency presenting the course.

Or not.

But what’s $199 among friends? Or would that be agent and possible future author client?

Or maybe, it’s a six-session course that gives feedback on every part of the proposal. By the time I finish, the whole proposal will have been seen by this agent and multiple editors. It should be as close to perfect as I can make it.

After that, I’ll be able to actually shop my nonfiction book Through the Valley of Shadows to my top agency choices. It might have the chance to be sold.

And this is one of my writing projects for 2020.

If only I wasn’t in the middle of writing first drafts and revising beta drafts and working eight-hour days teaching freshmen about refugees and imperialism.

If wishes were pennies, I’d be rich.

The Sessions

The first two webinars were horrible. Not because the information shared wasn’t good, but the first one had such horrible audio quality that it gave me a headache. The second one, the slides that the presenter shared weren’t actually shown. Not helpful if you’re trying to take notes.

After that, it wasn’t too bad. There was a combination of ideas and encouragement, but I didn’t feel encouraged.

Seriously. She basically said if you didn’t have a platform, her agency wouldn’t pick you up. And if you self-published your book, you were only hurting yourself. Unless you had a ready-made clientele.

I got the message…but not the T-shirt

Yes, she did give the framework necessary for writing a proposal. She had a few unique tips I hadn’t heard elsewhere, but in reality, there wasn’t much here.

Unless the idea that I “fabricate” speaking dates (nine to twelve months in the future) is to be considered an excellent piece of advice for a Christian author. (I wish I was joking.)

The Homework

The assignments were directly related to the lessons. The coursework divided the proposal into parts and each lesson covered one of these. The corresponding homework involved writing that part.

One of the pieces of the proposal that I hadn’t completed before was the comparative analysis. This involves reading as money books similar to the one you’re writing as possible. Our first week we had to find these books in the top 150,000 on Amazon.

During the following six weeks, we were supposed to read these six to eight books.

Yeah. Right.

A re-enactment of one of my THREE TBR piles before they collapsed

I read two books per week, but I didn’t want to read six books on the topic of grief. Not when the skies were gray and I had writing to do.

So, I’m still working on the last two of those books. Because I need to have read the by the time I send my proposal out. I can hope that the books will STILL be on the Amazon charts at that point.

The End Result

At the end, I had every piece of this proposal written. All except the final piece—Marketing Plan, also the second most important section of the document—had been read and reviewed by professional editors. I’d had the opportunity to rewrite each section according to the recommendations from said editors.

The entire proposal had final input from an editor. After implementing these suggestions, I would have the best book proposal I could possible write.

What I didn’t have was an agent.

But then again, did I truly expect the road to be easy? It hasn’t been this far.

And no matter what this agent says, if I don’t sell this book to a publisher, I’ll create an online course for it. I’ll get it out to people because I believe it has a needful message.

I know it’s helped me in the aftermath of grief, and I believe God can use it to help others find hope and healing, too.

What is something you’ve signed up for that didn’t have the expected outcome?

Why Does Retirement Mean I Have to Get a Job?

Retirement: that time in life when you cease being employed for money and start employing your time on your personal interest. Isn’t this a fair assessment of what it means to be retired? Then why am I looking at getting a full-time job?

A few months ago, my husband and I met with our financial planner. He’d been hounding us to send him all the various retirement account information (which happens when the major bread-earner has worked for multiple companies) and we’d finally supplied everything he requested. He wanted to talk about HOW we planned to spend money once we retired.

Did I mention I’m not planning to retire from writing books? Not ever. Well, unless my mind goes and I can’t come up with decent stories to engage readers. After a lifetime of longing and dreaming of writing stories, I have no desire to stop creating in the name of “retirement.” (Based on the definition of “retirement” I supplied above, I’m not employed for MUCH money doing the writing anyway, and it IS my foremost personal interest.)


Retirement: the Why

If I’m never planning to retire, why is this a discussion?

Because Mr. Computer Engineer doesn’t want to keep commuting to his office five days every week. He has no desire to be flying off to the uttermost part of the globe to install a new network security system. (Or whatever else he does in both foreign and domestic locations without me.)

Does he think he’s going to sit around playing video games instead of earning a paycheck?

No. In fact, he doesn’t want to stop working altogether. He’d rather build things and be a handyman rather than report to an office every day.

And it would be great to take days off or work only a few hours each day…on his own schedule.

Retirement: the When

Back in the day, people retired at age 55. I know teachers who still do this.

And then they turn around and work as substitutes for the next ten to twelve years to afford their insurance premiums.

My husband plans to retire at age 67. By then, I will be old enough to receive Medicare (supposing that isn’t a government institution that gets disbanded). We’ll still need to have supplemental medical insurance, and those premiums (even for relatively healthy people) are ridiculously expensive.

In fact, that’s what most of our money will be spent on in retirement. Crazy, right?

Retirement: the What

Now, on to those personal interests we’ll be investing most of our TIME in once retire. We’d both like to:

  1. Travel
  2. Enjoy our grandchildren
  3. Bowl
  4. Be active
  5. Spend winters in the sunshine
  6. Volunteer
  7. Expand our hobbies
    1. Such as scrapbooking, hiking and biking for me
    2. and golfing, building things and exploring for him

Most of these things take more than time, they take money.

Retirement: the Where


Unfortunately, we haven’t nailed the where down. We’ve considered relocating to Central Oregon where there are more sunny days and we could lead a more active, outdoor lifestyle.

But that means further from the grandchildren. (By the time we retire, I expect we will have at least TWO.)
Now that we’ve spent WAY more money to remodel our master bathroom than we’ll ever recoup, it seems we need to stay put for at least five years. Since retirement is a decade out for Mr. Wonderful, this should work out okay.

Double bonus: we have more time to decide on the where of retirement.

Retirement: the HOW

This is the biggest question mark.

Our financial guru’s special software, says we’re on target to have the right amount of money to pay ourselves for 25 years at the rate the same program says we’ll need to travel and keep our house.

But it was a pretty close thing.

And I’m not one who likes to risk homelessness or hunger.

That’s why I applied for a full-time job as a communications assistant with the local school district. I could return to school (online at WGU costs less than $3500 and if I work fast and hard, I’d have a MAT) and take a teaching position.

But I know myself well. I plan to work for a couple years, pay off our debts, build up my Roth IRA and then withdraw back to my full-time author status. During that time, I hope I can still release a couple novellas each year and expand my back list of published titles.

If I spend money and time to get an advanced college degree, I’ll feel obligated to work longer. Will I make more money? Well, I hope so, but I don’t actually need to make a TON of money. And the more I make, the more Uncle Sam will take because he’s stingy that way.

Would I enjoy teaching? Sure. I enjoy subbing now and I don’t have to bear the brunt of work and responsibility.

But I also remember how jaded I’d become about education when I quit working in it full-time nearly six years ago. The climate in education hasn’t changed all that much. Do I really want to deal with all those politics again?

“There’ll be politics no matter where you go,” says Mr. Helpful.

Yeah, thanks. That makes this decision so much easier.

What advice to you have for me as I search for a way to ease the financial stress of retirement?

Ten Things to Know about Being an Author – Part One

Since shortly after I was old enough to read and imagine my own stories, I wanted to be an author. My first story was penned in a spiral notebook when I was in third grade. The past four years that I’ve been living the dream doing this author thing have been amazing.

And instructive. And painful at times. Filled with discouragement and despair at other times. Even wrought with excitement to the point I soared above the clouds.

The higher you go, the further you have to fall.

And falling from such heights hurts. It might even kill you(r dream).

Traditional publishing is the slow track to being published.

By slow I mean, it takes years if you pursue one of the large publishing houses (which means you have to find an agent first). After you spend months writing, revising, editing and polishing your manuscript, the journey of ten thousand miles begins.

It starts with research. Which agents are looking for your style and genre? Which publishers would contract it?

Then the rounds of submission begin. Most of this is done electronically. This speeds the process of notification to three months instead of six to twelve. Many agencies won’t respond unless they’re requesting pages.

Talk about disheartening. It feels like tossing my life’s work into a black hole.

I wanted this for myself. I needed the validation. I wanted a publishing professional to confirm that my work was of a quality to be read and circulated.

Publishing with a small press is the fast track to getting work in front of readers.

Even though it was a small publisher who gave me my first fiction contract (and all my subsequent contracts until I began writing for Kindle Worlds), it didn’t feel like traditional publishing to me.

First of all, the submission hoops are simpler to understand and jump through. The turnaround time for notifying you of acceptance is shorter.

I started with short stories in answer to specific submission calls. This is the only way I’ve managed to publish in my dream genre (young adult fantasy).

The contracts are long but straightforward, and most of the small houses don’t offer advances. They split the royalties half and half, though, which I understand is a substantial raise over big houses.

You still get the benefit of several editing passes (story development, line edits and proofing) and a professional cover. On my stand alone titles, I’ve been consulted about the title and my thoughts and opinions were considered and employed.

Traditional publishing success is ninety percent about who you know.

Slush pile. I’m not sure the few manuscripts I’ve sent, although requested, actually met up with the agent or editor. Getting a query past this point is something I’ve only managed with small houses.

Could be my queries are weak. Or the agent wasn’t looking for the kind of story I was telling.

All I know is that hearing nothing is more depressing than a rejection. It’s like all your effort is meaningless to the agent or editor. Sure, they have a ton of work, but does it really take so long to send a four line email saying you aren’t interested?

If you can get an author to recommend you, I understand the odds increase exponentially in favor of a contract.

Small press publishing is fifty percent finding the right publisher and fifty percent telling a good story.

It will still take effort to locate the right press for your story. More small houses appear every month. Many of them will disappear within a year or two. I don’t send anything to a publisher that’s been around for less than a year. And I always check out their current and past titles.

I’ve started reading some stories from a small press that weren’t all that great. Then I see that the author is also the editor-in-chief. This looks like a new form of vanity publishing to me.

They started up the press so they could publish their own books.

I’ve also read a few fantastic stories that come from the same situation. The difference? I didn’t take a poll, but I think it involves professional editing and more skilled writing.

I don’t want a bad story to be published. This is what kept me from subbing manuscripts for years. I wasn’t good enough. Even reading the first fiction short that Roane accepted makes me cringe a little.

Indie publishing requires both entrepreneurial finesse and cash reserves.

Independent publishing makes you the boss of it all. You’re the captain of the publishing ship.

If you want, you can churn out a story and upload it to Amazon with a thrown-together cover. Maybe you’ll sell a few copies.

But if you want to be a professional author, act like one. Make a business plan. Plan a production schedule. Give yourself deadlines and then meet them.

To succeed, you need to learn the business. Locate professional editors and hire them. Listen to their comments and improve your stories.

If you don’t know design, hire a cover designer. You can hire someone to format the interior of the book. You can even hire a publicity representative to plan your marketing campaign.

All of that costs money. Plan on investing anywhere from $500 to $1500 from your savings per book. Then do the math and find out how many copies you have to sell to break even and make a profit.

I still haven’t broke even on my indie novella Reflections from a Pondering Heart.

This is only FIVE things you need to know about being an author. I’m guessing 900 words is more than long enough for most of my blog readers.

Come back on Thursday to learn the other five things.

Which of these seems most obvious? Most important? Most discouraging?

First Draft Finish Line

In this journey toward becoming a published author, I’ve learned to celebrate the small things. Otherwise, a road that can stretch for five years AFTER the manuscript is complete gets to feel somewhat like the Sahara at noon.

Dry. Dismal. Another hill to climb that looked just like the last five dozen hills climbed. No end in sight.

You get the idea.first-draft-oconner1

Thus, when I recently completed two first drafts within two weeks of each other, I did a serious happy dance. I posted my exultation on Facebook. Tweets exist to document my joy.

Of course, I know that a first draft is even uglier than a rough draft. It is generally filled with plot holes, clichés and shallow characters.

So, I opened the three-inch binder that held the 320-page manuscript of Doomsday Dragon. As I’ve shared before, after setting the project aside for a week or two, the first step toward perfection is a complete read-through.

Image my surprise when I didn’t have to make tons of circles (more information needed) and question marks (is this scene necessary?) on this first draft. If you recall my initial reaction to the last manuscript I rewrote, my stunned delight was nothing less than a 180.

In the spiral notebook dedicated to this project, I turned to a fresh page and entitled it “Changes needed after first read through.” When I did this with Daughter of Water in February, I filled the front and back of a notebook page.

Even though there were only six problems, they were huge. Things like “add POV for Kale and deepen Ausha.” And “setting incomplete.” These weren’t easy fixes. They screamed that the story had some serious issues.

For Doomsday Dragon, I had three questions, a note to include additional descriptions of the volcano types and a note to cut two scenes. Five things. And none of them could be classified as a “problem” with the manuscript.

In fact, as I was doing the read through, I laughed aloud a few times. I reread lines of description because they were original and captivating. I posted a few of them on Facebook and Tweeted a couple others.

Like this amazing moment inside my character’s head. Her voice comes through loud and clear:

“Zi gritted her back teeth to keep the full-blown smile from breaking the tense moment. Going to climb Everest and awaken a dragon, but he would be careful. Hilarious.”

The biggest problem is that I’m not quite as great getting inside the male protagonist’s head. I need to spend some more time listening to him talk. My initial plan to help with this is to rewrite all the scenes from his point of view first and consecutively.

Yes, the book needs to be rewritten. Of course, there’s some stuff in this first draft I want to keep. Words I believe reveal exactly what I intended. But it’s hardly perfect or ready for any eyes other than mine.

I’m wondering if I’m getting better at writing first drafts. Or if I’ve lowered my expectations. If you know me at all, you know option two is highly unlikely. In fact, there’s more chance of a dragon landing on my front porch. Yeah, I need to work on that one. Still.

Any fellow writers reading this, have you experienced a similar phenomenon with your writing? Those of you whose interest is piqued about the story, submit your questions in the comments. I’ll be happy to post more teasers and sample lines as the writing process continues.

Top Five Blogs for Writers

topfive

I am a writer. I use blogs written by other writers, editors and agents to help me find the information I need to succeed. Here are my top five choices in the category “Top Blogs for Writers.”

Okay, I didn’t take a survey. I don’t have any fancy algorithms in place.  These are the five blogs that have become my “go to” blogs for writing advice and inspiration.

1. Kristen Lamb

If you want to laugh, you need to click on this link and follow this blog. Even if you don’t give a whit about writing, Kristen is hilarious. Besides being great with words, she has sound advice about building an author platform.

WANA is Kristen’s “baby” (literally. This is why she’s affectionately called the “WANA Mama) and she cares about writers. I know this because she critiques a story of mine just because I complained about the difficulty in getting honest feedback in the comments section for one of her blogs.

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with Kristen (but it’s mostly love). After all, she told me to dump my series. I had to start completely over when I was two-thirds done with the rewrite of the first book and about one-quarter of the way into the first draft of the second book.

Sure, she helped me come up with plot ideas for the new series. She even made me laugh when I really wanted to cry (did that after I hung up the phone). The bottom line is that she wants to help every author who is serious about their craft.

2. Jami Gold

Jami’s a goldmine of information on structure, craft and the publishing world. Additionally, she’s a great instructor and believes in the WANA Way – authors helping authors.

I love her beat sheet template and have raved about it in other posts. Check it out here. While you’re there, subscribe to the blog. You won’t be sorry.

3. K.M. Weiland

Aside from loving Weiland’s book, Dreamlander, I first found her through a free download she offered. It’s an excellent booklet about creating realistic and relatable characters.

I don’t read every blog. I do subscribe to her newsletter and return to read the blogs that pique my interest. This is another writer who donates time and effort to helping other writers succeed.

4. Nathan Bransford

If you’re looking for practical advice on how to write query letters and other specific topics, look no further. Just follow Nathan.

Nathan was an author agent in his previous life. Now he writes middle grade fiction. His blog makes me smile. I feel like he’s talking directly to me.

5. Writer’s Digest

Okay, really I check out the whole website more than any particular blog. I do find the information that Brian Klems shares interesting and engaging.

This blog is updated on a daily basis, so I don’t read every post. If it doesn’t sound like something I care about at that moment, I know I can easily find it later with a website search.

Their general blog is probably where you’ll find the widest range of information on craft, publishing, conferences, finding an agent or anything else that comes to mind.

Are there other blogs that help you as a writer? Share the wealth, my friend.