Friday, August 27, 2010

Accountability and the Writer – The True Challenge

Start the ominous music, right?  That title just screams "Run Away!"

I mean, as a writer I like to work on my own time, go with the flow, wait until I'm inspired. Because of that, this is a subject that I often try to get around – at least in my writing life.

But here's the thing; as a college student, I practice accountability every day. I need to be at school on time, sitting in that classroom and taking notes. I need to get my homework in when it's due, or make sure I have that report written. I need to be ready for that test.

When at work, I need to focus on my job because I am accountable to my boss and to the people I work with. (Granted, I don't exactly have a solid job currently, but even with my chores around the house, I am accountable to myself and to my family.)

And I need to be accountable to God: I need to pray daily and make sure I have my heart set right before him every morning.

If I can be accountable in all these other points of my life, then why can't I be accountable in my writing life as well?

A common remark I hear from artsy friends (and that I sometimes harbor myself) is this simple truth… "You can't rush art". And as many of us know, writing is an art-form. But a common misconception among writers is that, at the root, this saying means "wait until you are inspired and write then." I've done that before.
Sometimes it works; other times it doesn't.

But here's the thing; if you write only when you are inspired, it might be months before you sit down in front of your computer screen again and type a few words. However, if, like me, you are basing your entire future on writing and the ups and downs of the publishing world, then once every few months isn't going to cut it. You need to have your book written and be working on another one, and you can't afford to have a really crappy first draft.

This is where accountability really starts to apply. As a writer, you are accountable to your future publisher and your readers to do everything within your power to write your book the best that it can be and to do it in a timely fashion.

Let's look at Bryan Davis, for example: in an interview I once read with the author of four best-selling Christian Fantasy series, Davis stated that he usually completes a book in 4 months: 3 months for the writing, and 1 for editing. Now, we can't all be like Davis, I'm sure  (I, for one, have to work around a school schedule, musical practice, and work, along with family life), but his example is admirable. If he can do it in four months, why can't I do it in six, or even eight? I may not always be inspired to write but, like I do with every other part of my busy schedule, I can work a time in that's dedicated to nothing but writing.  And, at that time, I can sit my butt down in that chair and type out SOMETHING, even if I'm not all that happy with how the scene reads at the end of the session.  I can always go back and fix it later.

Some of you may say, "well, yeah, that works fine for a rough draft, but what about the second draft or the edit? I want my book to be perfect, and if that's going to happen I need to take my time on it."

Yeah, that's a tricky subject; I like to take my time on the edits as well. But if Davis can manage his edits in a month, then why on earth can't I keep my editing down to 2 or 3? After all, the basic story is already there; I just want to make sure it's written well.

So what can a writer do to become accountable to their writings?

  1. Go ahead; schedule in that writing time each day, and then be faithful to yourself and make yourself sit down at that time of day and write… no matter what. I don't care if the world is falling apart and aliens are invading at the same time that all life as we know it is about to be snuffed out. Write! You have no one to blame but yourself if your story never gets finished.

  2. Research. This isn't always the most fun part of being accountable to your writing, but it usually comes in handy at some time or other. Now, if you are a fantasy or Sci-fi writer (as I am) then perhaps the hard-core science and history research isn't your thing, but that doesn't exclude you from this step. This step is vital. If nothing else, research your craft: that means look up books about writing, blogs about writing, websites about writing. Read… always read. If you do nothing else in this area, READ! And, of course, practice. Put all that writing research to work: apply it as you write and see how it improves your writing, or makes it worse. Look up the Publishing business; get familiar with potential allies and potential competition. I've been researching writing technique and the publishing world for almost 7 years and I'm still not tired of it!

  3. Make yourself accountable to someone. When comparing your social life with your writing life, you probably notice that you are much more accountable in your social life. I know I've noticed that in my life. That is because when people feel obligated to do something, they usually do it. Without that drive, we all tend to be lazy. Talk to a friend or relative and have them make you accountable to your writing: have them ask you every so often how far you've gotten, or what your word count is. If you know that they will be watching to make sure you do it, you will most likely sit down and DO IT! 
I challenge all of my readers to be accountable to their writings. And, following my own advice, I pledge to be accountable to my writings through my readers. Right now I'm working on the edit of my novel "Eldrei". (SOTD is about as finished as it gets!) From now on, when I post I'm going to try to remember to post my current Word Count until I have "Eldrei" completed. That way my readers can see that I'm actually working on writing my novel, and not just letting it sit until I feel inspired to get at it. If you see that I haven't posted my word count, shoot me a comment and let me know: I'll get it up as soon as I can.

And to start off on the write foot – er, RIGHT foot – here is Eldrei's current word count: 23,082

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Some Good Advice on Crafting a Good Query Letter

I don't have much to post today due to homework and lots of small projects that I'm working on.  But as I was checking the updates of blogs I follow, I came across this post:  On Query Letters, Part 1.  It has some really good advice for crafting a good query, and also for setting decent stadards for yourself -- you know, not getting completely discouraged when you get a form rejection and things like that.

Again, I appoligize that this post is so short.  But somedays the words flow, and other days they just don't. 

Enjoy the read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cyndere’s Midnight Review (And Some REALLY Exciting News!)

Well, it's been awhile since I've actually sat down to do a book review, and now school is starting up again tomorrow. I'm not sure exactly how I feel about that, considering summer seems to have only been two weeks long. But perhaps this semester will be easier than the ones previous and I'll really be able to concentrate on my book. Remember how my goal for this year was to see it on an editor's desk before 2011? (If not, read my bio.) Well, the all exciting news is that I have now reached my goal!!! I won't say which publisher it is (not until I know for sure whether or not they will actually publish me), but I received a request in the mail the other day asking me to send my full manuscript for review. The even better news is that the publisher I received the letter from – though a rather small press – is the one that kept popping up in my prayers when I was asking God to point me to the right publisher for SOTD. However, just because they want to review my work for consideration doesn't mean that they will decide to publish it, and I certainly don't want to count my chicks before they hatch so please keep your fingers crossed and pray. :D

And now to the real reason for this post. As a warning to those of you who would rather find out about plot and such by reading the book yourself, (and as usually happens with book reviews) this review contains some spoilers.

Cyndere's Midnight is a continuation of "The Auralia Thread" Written by Jeffrey Overstreet, the first book of which is "Auralia's Colors". (You can read my review of "Auralia's Colors" here)

As per his first book, "Cyndere's Midnight" is written with vivid color and a subtle flare that I find very addictive. After reading "Auralia's Colors", I knew I had to find and read the other two books in Overstreet's fantasy series. "Cyndere's Midnight" picks up along the line of where the first book in the series left off, with Cal-Raven, House Abascar's young new king, trying to lead and rebuild what is left of his people after Old Abascar's disastrous fall. Then some new characters are introduced: Cyndere is the newly widowed daughter of the king and queen of Bel-Amica, a house built on the edge of the Mystery Sea and whose people are devoted to following their desires and their "moon-spirits" rather than The Keeper. And then there's this Beastman…

Well, here: I'll just post the cover blurb for you and let you come to your own conclusions. :D

When a murderous Beastman discovers the art of Auralia's colors, something awakens within him. When a widowed heiress risks everything to help him, their lives – and the lives of a kingdom – hang in the balance.

Jordam is one of four ferocious brothers from the clan of cursed Beastman. But he is unique. The glory of Auralia's colors has enchanted him, awakening a noble conscience that clashes with his vicious appetites.

Cyndere, heiress to a great ruling house, and her husband, Deuneroi, share a dream of helping the Beastmen. But when Deuneroi is killed by the very people he sought to help, Cyndere risks her life and reputation to reach out to Jordam. Beside a mysterious well – an apparent source of Auralia's colors – a beauty and a beast form a cautious bond. Will Jordam be overcome by the dark impulses of his curse, or stand against his brothers to defend House Abascar's survivors from a deadly assault?

What did I think after reading this book?

Well, it was certainly an enjoyable read, but I found that I read it over a much longer period of time than I did "Auralia's Colors". Perhaps I felt there was more to digest in this book… I'm not really sure of the reason it took me so long to finish it. I think the plotline is a bit slower to follow than the first book, but it picks up more towards the end. Some of my favorite scenes included the story of the Ale Boy – named Rescue by the survivor's of Abascar – who believes it is his destiny to follow the Keeper's tracks and help any Abascar stragglers make it to the cliffs of Barnashum where King Cal-Raven is gathering the Abascar remains. I also enjoyed reading scenes that involved Cal-Raven's gift of stonemastery. The type of magic that Overstreet instills in his book is the type I fell in love with when I first read the Chronicles of Narnia: there is a holy mystery behind Cal-Raven's gift and behind the Keeper. They almost seem sacred, and every time I read a scene where either the Stonemaster or the Keeper are involved, I find I read the section slower, hoping to glean as much information as I can from the scene.

If you pick up this book hoping for a light, fantastical read, you'll find yourself disappointed… or perhaps not. Cyndere's Midnight, like its prequel, is not a light fantasy read to be picked off a shelf and read over the weekend. However, it is a very satisfying book. It addresses interesting political and religious topics in a subtle way that will force you (without seeming forceful at all) to think through what you are reading and consider all that it implies. I give it four stars while tentatively considering a fifth. This is most definitely a book worth reading.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let’s Talk Platform

Well, I'm back from my trip and, although I had an extensive amount of fun, let me just say that I am glad to be home. There's nothing like a few weeks roughing it in the mountains to make you appreciate the warmth and comfort of a house sitting in the middle of an Illinois cornfield.

Yes, warmth—in the middle of summer. It was very cold up there!

But though I know I promised you guys more pictures and more adventurous stories about a rough and tumble trip into the Rockies, that is not what this particular post is about. In fact, this post has nothing to do with my trip what-so-ever.

Instead, let's talk about "Platform".

Yes, I said it: the dreaded "P" word.

Actually, Platform isn't necessarily a dreaded subject; it's just a topic that most new authors don't know how to approach… and that includes me. Until now I've been able to put the matter on a back burner with the excuse "I'm just not ready yet". But now I've completed, rewritten, and edited my first novel (several times) and I can no longer ignore that little voice in the back of my head that's telling me to get my back-end in gear and get out there. However, "getting out there" is a lot easier said than done.

Essentially, building a platform just means getting your writings into the public's eye and getting people to notice you. The first thing every book publisher and literary agent looks at when reviewing a potential client is the writing. If the writing isn't up to par, an author won't get past the slush-pile. However, the second thing that's looked at is credentials. When a person is trying to get a new job, the employer usually asks about previous job experience; he wants to know whether you are qualified to do the job he offers and do it correctly, and he wants to know whether or not he should take a chance on you. The same goes for publishing. A platform is like publishing credentials: the bigger you've built it and the more good publicity you have behind your writings, the more likely a publisher will take a second look your way.

But how does a person build a platform? What all does it entail?

I don't really know that there's a right or wrong way to go about it. The first step is almost always getting over that initial fear that your writing won't be good enough or that your idea has been over-done; that is by far the hardest step. And sometimes you find out that you were right… but that doesn't mean that your writing can't improve or that your story can't evolve.

The first time I found my courage, I posted the first chapter of a novel I had written on the Writer's Digest forum. Some of the WD members might remember that first chapter. Simply put, it was awful. I've come a long way since then – a very long way – but that first courageous showing of my work was my first real step in building a sort of platform for myself, as well as introducing me to an amazing online writing community, and the pretty awesome people that came along with it. It gave me the opportunity to show others my writings and to learn what people thought of them. Plus it helped me develop my writing to be the best it can be, even though I've discovered that writing development is an ever evolving process. Still, I have found writers whom I deeply respect and whose works I know I will someday read. I've grown to appreciate the different writing styles and the different stories I've found on that forum, as well as the different writers. And perhaps I've gained some sort of a following too: maybe (though they are under no obligation what-so-ever) some of the people on that forum will get curious and have a look at my book when it comes out.

But a forum, though great as a critique group, can only take a person so far. I soon discovered that as my knowledge of writing and publishing grew, so did my understanding and opinions of it – and my opinions often varied from those of other people. So I started a blog.

Now, a blog can be many different things. To some people it is like a journal, carefully documenting the details of everyday life. To others it is more like a newspaper where they can put tidbits of interesting information in hopes that people will find it useful. Still to others it is rather like a writing practice sheet where they feel obligated to write a story of some sort in order to keep their minds busy. Mine is like a conglomeration of all three. However, though the content of a blog can be very intriguing, I think the most interesting part of every blog is its followers. When I started "The Pen and Parchment" I never considered the fact that some people might find my random musings interesting, yet apparently many people did. My blog serves a double purpose: it gives me a place to practice writing where others can see and enjoy it, and it serves as a website which potential agents and publishers can refer to when considering my queries. It also counts as my official website. Some people build a separate website for their writings and just post a link to their blog; I totally respect this. In fact, I encourage it. But for me, a blog is simple enough to do what I want it to do and to have what I want it to have without getting overwhelming. I can have up to ten separate pages on it, and link to almost anything else I might find interesting or worthwhile, and yet all I need to do to update it is post another entry. I can do more to it if I want to: I can change the look, the theme, the title… almost anything. But it never seems to get complicated.

Here's a platform builder that thousands if not millions of people have come to love and often visit several times daily: Facebook. Now, I admit, I'm not the biggest Facebook fan myself, but I can't deny the potential it shows. Facebook has grown from something so small that people hardly knew what it was, to one of – if not THE biggest – online social site ever built. It's even bigger than My-space, which I remember was quite the fad for several years (though at the time I was never allowed to have one). On Facebook a person cannot only find and communicate with friends and family, but they can also find other people who share the same interests they do, build groups of just about every sort, and choose what they are fans of. They can arrange meetings online and offline, they can talk with people all over the United States and the world, they can follow people whose accomplishments they admire… and they can access all of this information from a computer, or even from a phone. These are just some of the benefits of Facebook and, while all of these facts make it a potentially dangerous site for those who don't know how to use it correctly, many businesses, bands, authors, and more have decided to use this social network to their advantages.

Twitter walks hand in hand with Facebook. Some people laugh that I never did get the hang of it – not for lack of trying, mind. I just can't seem to condense what I have to say in so few words, though if you're looking for quick info on a subject, you can always find something on Twitter.

And then we come to Authonomy, an online writing community where writers can post their work for critique and feedback, and have the potential to eventually be seen by publishers and agents around the world. The trouble with Authonomy is that it has been turned into a kind of game: people say they will read your work if you will read theirs; they will give comments if you do; they will back your book and follow you, if you will back their book and follow them. For some people this method has worked. Many publishers do keep an eye on the Authonomy site and, though the site is relatively young, several book deals have been signed from it already. I suppose my biggest problem is that I don't like to play such games. That said, I have discovered quite a few interesting books that I've read and started to read, and I've also met a few interesting acquaintances through this online network. If a person is willing to learn how the game works, he or she might go very far on this site.

But enough with online social networks; what else can we find to help us build up our platforms?

Contests, people! Contests have great potential when it comes to platform building, even if they seem meaningless and have nothing to offer except for a sparkly cyber trophy to the winner (which is always fun to receive anyway). Contests give writers the opportunity to practice and hone their craft, and to compete with other writers to see where their particular story might fit. Winning a contest will not only give a writer confidence in his or her ability, it also provides the writer with a foothold in querying. For instance "I've won several (small) writing contests and this is my first novel," sounds much more assuring than just "This is my first novel". By entering contests with the possibility of winning one or two, you are giving yourself and your writing a solid background that publishers respect. And on that same note, submitting to anthologies is another good, solid way to work on building your own publishing platform. Publishers will look twice at you if you have had something put in print before.

Then you have interviews. Now, granted, many people would most likely rather read an interview from a published or soon-to-be-published author than a writer who has never seen their work in print or in ebook form before, but why should that stop you? I've read many an interesting interview by an author who wasn't published yet, and I can truthfully say that I enjoyed and learned from those interviews. Besides, there's nothing in the rule book that says you can't be the one interviewing someone else. With you asking the questions, you may find that you learn a lot, enjoy yourself, and perhaps form relationships and acquaintanceships that may help you later in the publishing world. I've never done an interview before, but I think it must be a very enlightening process and I've always taken pleasure in reading interviews on other people's blogs.

Some people work on building their platforms by publishing their works in e-book format, or as a podcast or audio clip, and then advertising via their blog, website, or any other person's website willing to promote them. I've seen and heard of this being done on several different occasions. There are some writers who would swear by the process. I don't know that I would ever be brave enough to try it, but it is an intriguing thought. I once looked up a thriller writer who had done his entire book series as a podcast and posted it for free on the internet while simultaneously having the POD hard copy version for sale. Many people listened to the podcast, but just as many people, if not more, bought the book anyway and read it in its printed form. This man built himself such a large following that afterwards he had publishers vying for his attention. Unfortunately I can't remember the guy's name, which is very frustrating though not altogether surprising; I've read so many different articles on publishing in the last four or five years that my mind chooses what it wants to remember and what it would rather toss.

And last but not least (at least for this entry) you have the good old fashioned platform building tool that has been used for centuries: Word of Mouth. It's one of the biggest and most assuring platform tools writers have ever had. You see, people are naturally talkative, and if they like something, they tend to say so. Getting yourself involved in hometown writing groups, or helping out at the library, or just mentioning that you have written a book in passing conversation are just a few WOM ways to get people to think about your writings. I can't tell you how many people I've talked to who've actually CONTINUED on dying conversations based solely on the fact that they found it interesting that I was a writer and had written a novel already, even though it wasn't published yet. Several of those people went on to read up to three chapters of the manuscript, even though the genre I write in wasn't necessarily their favorite type of read. One lady (a trusted friend and co-worker) even became my first betta reader because she liked to read and found it fascinating that someone she knew would actually take the time to write something she might someday pick up in a book store. People are naturally curious creatures. Walking into a bookstore to find an author sitting at a table with books beside her waiting to be signed, the average customer will usually pause, check out the book cover, perhaps even pick it up and flip through a few pages. Never underestimate the power of human curiosity and the amazing abilities of random conversation. Who knows who might hear of you next?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Quick Hello... and then a Good-bye

Well, I've found a small amount of time in which I have internet access and a computer to use it on.  Still on my trip and it's amazing!  I tell you, now I know what it must have felt like to be Adam and Eve those first beautiful nights after they were created.  I've never seen such wonders!  And it promises to only get better.

Today we went on a 10 mile hike up the side of a mountain in the Grand Tetons and back.  Now let me tell you, I love to hike... but hiking the flat fields of Illinois and hiking up the side of a mountain are two very different senarios.  It was well worth it, though.  When we reached the top, we were at the snow line and there was a beautiful lake resting in a valley.  All the students decided to be stupid and jump into this snow fed lake... including me.  It was freezing!  But it was beautiful, and if I ever climb that mountain again, I'll be sure to have a dip in the lake when I'm done.

Here are some pictures I've taken from my trip.  They aren't the ones from today, when we went swimming in an icey lake.  But there is some beautiful scenery.  Enjoy!

Everyone decided that they had to climbe the rocks in the badlands.  This is only one of the pictures we took.

These are the girls I have a cookgroup with.  And one boy.  *lol*  He must feel really special!

Here's my entire cookgroup. 

I just thought this picture was awesome.  That's Danae, standing on the edge of a mountain.
We had a little rainfall to spoil our first day in the black hills, but the after view was amazing!
These guys were extremely persistant!  I don't know how many herds of bison we've run into already.
I finally got to visit Mnt Rushmore!
This is devils tower.  We had to find out what the tower was actually made up of: the rock is called "basalt" and the pillars are formed by "Culumnar Jointing"... which I'll explain later.

Here we are at Old Faithful... but she wasn't being very faithful for awhile.

And this is Tim.  He's crazy, plain and simple.  In this picture, he was trying to show off the temporary tatoo on his neck.

And in this picture he decided to Branco Ride a tree.  Don't ask me why.  Like I said, He's crazy.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!  I'll probably post more in a week.  Just one more week and then we go home!