Sunday 31 March 2013

So, You Wrote A Story, Now What?

What does a writer have to do to become a published author with a traditional publisher?

Illustration by Samantha Kickingbird
This advice comes from my experiences of learning to write well first and then, becoming a published children's book author.

When I first started writing seriously, some twenty years ago, I thought every story I wrote was worthy of being considered for publication. That was so not the case.

I think a lot of writers have that same syndrome when they are beginners. It's called the Ego Syndrome.

So my first rule of advice is to get over yourself, burst your ego bubble, and get to work. I know that sounds cruel, but it is the absolute first rule of becoming a published writer.

So once you have a story completed, then what?

Edit, edit, edit, and then edit.

A good piece of advice here is to leave that story alone for a few weeks, then go back and edit it for possible better words to use, ditching more adverbs than keeping, and  most important, the killing of useless words and sentences (useless words and sentences are those that do nothing to move the plot, character, or scene forward).

I know, the killing of our own words is the hardest killing of all. This is also the process of killing your ego, which for a writer is a very important lesson.

 So you're ready to start submitting your story? Not yet. More work.

 Leave that story alone again for a few weeks. The next time you edit, go over every sentence individually, looking for ways to enhance that sentence by re-writing or re-wording so that the writing flows. Re-write the sentence a dozen ways if you have to. You will know when that sentence is the best it can possibly be, when the words flow off the tongue like something similar to music.

Submit now?  No.

Another edit for punctuation and grammar. You will not believe how many times the Spell Check on your writing program has the wrong word usage, or how many times your punctuation can be simplified.

Okay, three major edits and you might be ready to start the submitting process.

The submitting process is loads of work. One of the best things you can do before you start submitting is to research the publishers; find out what they are accepting, follow the guidelines listed by each publisher, learn how to write a great cover letter and/or query letter.

The book, Book Market for Children's Writers, will become invaluable to writer who can follow the rules in the submitting process.

And now that your ego bubble is burst, you've done your best work, the rejections that follow should not deter you from getting your book published.  And quite possibly, many rejection letters will follow.

My first book, Sir Princess Petra - The Pen Pieyu Adventures, had 27 rejections before finding a home with a traditional publisher.

Chin up. Persistence will get you published if your story is well edited and written well, and you follow the guidelines set out by publishers before submitting your manuscript to them.
Illustration by Samantha Kickingbird
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The author has a journalism diploma from the Schools of Montreal and an advanced diploma from the Institute of Children's Literature.

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Sunday 24 March 2013

Writers On Writing.

Writer's quotes are like mini writing lessons--they make you think deeply about the writing process. 

   My favorite quote from the list below is #6, James Michener, because I believe the art of writing well is all in the editing. In the editing, that is where the best of the story comes out and the writing  can soar.

1.  "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges

2.  “The idea is to write so that people hear it, and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” —Maya Angelou

3.  Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~E.L. Doctorow

4.  And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. ~Sylvia Plath

5.  If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

6.  I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener
7.  Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

8.  Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

9.  To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music the   words make. ~Truman Capote, McCall's, November 1967

10. Be obscure clearly. ~E.B. White 

11. A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident. ~W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938

12. The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

13. Caress your phrase tenderly: it will end by smiling at you. ~Anatole France

14. Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. ~Franz Kafka

15. The best style is the style you don't notice. ~Somerset Maugham

16. Kids: Fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists. Stephen King

17. When you are describing something:
      A shape, or sound, or tint;
      Don't state the matter plainly,
      But put it in a hint;
      And learn to look at all things,
      With a sort of mental squint.
~Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll)

These writers have important truths in their quotes. Take their advice, then re-write until your words sing.

When  dragons and faeries are real to me, the writer, they will be real to my readers.
 Diane Mae Robinson

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Saturday 16 March 2013

Those Darn Dangling Participles.

Dangling Participles. Sounds scary but they really aren't. It's more a matter of common sense and a couple of rules that will correct this pesky problem.
The definition of a dangling participle:  Adjectives ending in -ing and sometimes -ed are called participles. When a participle modifies the wrong thing, then it is said to be a dangling participle or a hanging participle.

In the sentence below, the modifying clause (Rushing to catch the dragon) contains a participle (rushing). The participle is said to be dangling because the subject of the main clause (Sue's sword) is not the thing modified by the initial modifying clause. It was not Sue's sword that was rushing.

[wrong] Rushing to catch the dragon, Sue's sword fell out of its sheath.

[right] Rushing to catch the dragon, Sue realized her sword fell out of its sheath.

And in this example, the modifying clause (Running after the dragon) is dangling because it is modifying the arrows. The arrows are not running, Sue is:

[wrong] Running after the dragon, the arrows fell and broke.

 [right] Running after the dragon, Sue felt the arrows fall and watched as they broke.

Each sentence in the examples above beginning with an "ing" word is called the participle. A participle is created when we turn a verb like rush or run into a word phrase that acts like an adjective. The
participle is created by adding "ing".

          Rush becomes rushing

          Run becomes running.

An adjective must modify some noun.

The modifying clause doesn't always 

Another example:

[wrong]  Sue ran from the dragon, still holding the dragon food.

So who exactly is holding the dragon food, Sue or the dragon? As the sentence reads, the modifier clause (still holding the dragon food) modifies the dragon. If you meant to say Sue was holding the dragon food, the sentence would read like this:

[right] While still holding the dragon food, Sue ran from the dragon.

Now the sentences sound like Sue is the culprit, running away with all the dragon food. Why? We don't know. I think, sometimes, Sue just likes to tease the dragons.

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copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2013

Sunday 10 March 2013

Integrity of Book Reviews.

Children's book reviewer, Sue Morris, at Kid Lit Reviews responsed to my previous post, The Problem with Amazon Reviews, where writer, Michael Drakrich, talks about the importance of getting and giving honest book reviews.

             Integrity + Honesty = Pride

By Sue Morris.
I find myself agreeing with everything Michael Drakich wrote. The reviews part is most distressing, considering I am a children's book reviewer. Just recently, I was asked to review a book and at the bottom of the email were links to three reviews. The author invited me to read the reviews to help me decide to accept the book. It was good advice but caused me to reject the review request.

Two of the reviews were written by the same person who was paid to write a positive, 5 star, review. The third was, according to the website, written by the author. The author denied, but the terms of service clearly stated that each book must be reviewed by the author to get on the top page. Needless to say I refused the request. I have plenty of books from legitimate authors that I have no desire to waste time on those that cut corners to cut out competition.

I have known for a long time that authors are writing their own reviews, or simply 5 star rating their books after uploading them to places like Library Thing, Goodreads, Jacketflap and the like. Doing so is not against any official policy on any of those sites. Still, what about ethically? Is it fair to give yourself a false leg up by giving yourself a 5?

Sure the author believes this is true, or they should if they believe in their writing. But to take 5 stars from systems that are relying on reviews from outside sources is, to me, unconscionable.

Honesty is important, especially in children's books. Kids view some authors like movie stars or super heroes. They need those authors to be good people, honest people, people the kid can look up to and emulate.

Cheating is wrong. "Only trying to make a living," is no excuse. 

I agree totally, Sue Morris and Michael Drakich!

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Sunday 3 March 2013

Plotting The Plot In Children's Books.

Plotting--the fuel of great storytelling. In a story, just about anything can happen, as long as it comes about logically, makes sense, and follows a few rules. Plotting is also the most fun part of writing a story.

Illustration by Samantha Kickingbird

Here are some of my suggestion for great plotting:

**  A plot proceeds logically from beginning to end. Anything can happen in the story, but it must make sense and not just be introduced into the story haphazardly. There must be a reason for everything that happens, regardless of how bizarre that reason may be.

** The main character needs a strong motive for what they want to achieve. Their motive may be honor, vengeance, or love. Whatever the motive, it must spur the main character to act.

** Adding conflict is vital to making the story interesting. Conflict  can be whatever or whoever is giving the main character a hard time. In writing children's books, the conflict can be a villain, a situation, or even a storm that forces the main character to fight to attain their goal.

**Dialogue that is exciting. Every single word of dialogue should move the story forward in some way. If it doesn't, then it's babbling. Moving the story forward with dialogue can: 
           --make the character's intentions or motives become clear.
           --explain the emotions of the character.
           --describe something or someone of importance, and at the same time tell the reader how the  character feels about it or what they intend to do about it.

**Characters that are credible and real (no matter who or what they are) will move the story forward naturally. Know your characters inside out and  those characters will always say and do things that are credible. Characters that are credible makes the reader really care about and connect with those characters.

**Logical surprise is the groundwork for humorous situations. But the surprise must come from some credible mannerism of that character or unfold naturally from the scene. Humor makes a character endearing. Even in   a bad situation, a character can do or say something funny, and that can make the scene that much more memorable.

**Write simply and well. Simple writing does not mean dull--it means writing with clarity and writing artfully, with grace. Simple writing is hard work, but the more times you edit your manuscript, the more simplicity and clarity will come forward.

**Edit, edit, edit.  Re-word sentences to read more gracefully. Take out all those words/sentences that don't do anything to move the plot/characterization forward. Make everything your characters do and say have meaning. This is the art of good plotting. And all the writer's hard work will be worth it in the final story.

copyright, Diane Mae Robinson, 2013

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