Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #4, Darwin & Barbie

A few shout-outs to some friends, first.

Deborah Heiligman’s new book, CHARLES AND EMMA: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, is rocketing to the top of everyone’s Best of 2009 List, collecting bushels full of starred reviews and well-earned praise from everyone. Deb had an editorial in the Los Angeles Times recently and will be talking about all things Darwinesque on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition tomorrow.

Tanya Lee Stone has also been very busy. Her newest book, Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, will be published at the end of the month. Tanya is working on a book about Barbie (yes, the doll). She is looking for submissions – from you! But the deadline is a week away, so hop to it!

Let’s have Tanya explain: “I am currently collecting short (150 words or less, please) quotes/anecdotes from kids, teens, and adults about BARBIE for my new book, BARBIE: FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE. If you have a Barbie story to share, read this, and email me your contribution by February 20, 2009! Email: tanyastone AT tanyastone DOT com.”

And, now, today’s writing/publication questions.

You wrote: I’ve read you published your first seven books without an agent before getting Amy Berkower. How difficult is it to publish without one and were you actively pursuing one the entire time before Speak brought you acclaim?

I sent many manuscripts, both picture book and novels, to a couple of agents when I started out, but no one was interested, so I decided to focus on going straight to the slush pile. Yes, it took years. Yes, it was very frustrating. And yes, both Speak and Fever 1793 were rejected by other publishers before they were bought. They are my “Success From the Slush Pile” stories. Once I had proven my ability to write books that readers enjoyed, it was easier to get an agent.

Getting your foot in the door is going to take longer than you want. Instead of pouring your energy into being frustrated, devote that energy to the book you are currently writing. Be thoughtful and steady with your submissions and keep developing your craft. Eventually, the door opens.

You wrote: I wrote a YA contemporary fantasy based on a Native American legend, but it also references a few Christian ideas (the protagonist goes to church, reads the Bible, and believes in God). The Christian themes are not the main focus of the story, but a friend of mine suggested I should send it to Christian publishers (or try to meet Christian agents and editors at a local writer’s conference). How do I know whether to try the Christian market? I respect Christian literature… but I wonder if that market would limit my audience. I just want my story to be available and accessible to all readers, whether they read Christian fiction or not. But perhaps I have a better chance of selling the book in the Christian market?

This is a terrific question. I have never been published in the Christian market, so my opinion is not based on much, but I have an idea for you. Before you submit anywhere, you should have a very good understanding of the kinds of books that a publisher or an imprint puts out. You should read a number of their books before you send to them – and that goes for all publishers! Get the names of a couple of respected publishers in the Christian market, then read the books they’ve published in your genre. If you think that your story fits their vision for fiction, then by all means submit to them.

Busy day ahead! Scribblescribblescribble….

Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #3, with ice and snow

Must start with art today. Nature’s art.

Our back porch has a metal roof. The last two days have been warmer than usual and the thick blanket of snow on the roof has been slooooooowly sliding down. Then it refreezes. Next day it warms up, slooowly slides some more, and refreezes.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Early this morning, it looked like this.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic It is a frozen waterfall of snow that reminds me of the classic The Great Wave at Kanagaw by Katsushika Hokusai.

I am sure that by mid-afternoon the house will shake and there will be a rumble and the whole thing will slide off.

Speaking of freezing and thawing, thank you Jennifer for an extremely well-written review of Wintergirls!

Now back to our regularly scheduled questions.

You asked: What are your daily tasks as a writer?

Well, I write a lot, though not nearly as much as I’d like. I’ll take yesterday as an example. I started work at 6:45 am. Took a quick lunch break, several breaks to make tea, and a half hour off for dinner – for a total of say and hour and a quarter away from the work. With those exceptions, I was at my desk until about 9:30 pm.

What did I do there? The most important thing was fleshing out a chapter that’s been bugging me. A lot of things happen in this chapter, so I had to back up and double-check my sources to make sure I had the historical facts correct. I spent about eight hours on the chapter.

The rest of the time was spent on email: writing a historian about gaining access to some manuscript sources that are not available to the public, checking with the publicist about a small bit of writing she had me do for NPR, asking my agent about a foreign tax question, a half-dozen emails from librarians and teachers and another half-dozen from readers (who were not asking for homework help.) Oh, and I dealt with some needed doctor referrals. And I took some time out to blog, and do a quick social networking sweep, adding requested friends on Facebook and MySpace, etc.

What did I NOT do yesterday that I wanted to? I didn’t run. Didn’t go to the gym. Didn’t make a dent in the email. Didn’t take care of any of the fanmail that’s been piling up. Didn’t work on my taxes. Didn’t work on my presentation for the upcoming booktour. Didn’t work on the needed content for the website update. I’m pretty sure I didn’t brush my hair, either.

My “me time” was just before bed. I spent an hour drawing. I’ve been doing more of that lately. I have no aspirations to be an illustrator. Mostly I’ve been copying other people’s pictures. It’s surprisingly relaxing and a nice way to wind down after a long day. (I also snuck in a few pages of a biography I’m reading about Louisa May Alcott and her father – that was when I ate lunch.) I went to bed at 10:30pm, fretting about all of the stuff that I didn’t get finished.

But I have to say, when I was deep in that chapter, life was grand.

You wrote: Several times I’ve seen publishers asking for short stories, novels etc:
But trying to find out what number of words they mean can be difficult. What is your view of the various lengths?

My only concern about length is to make my stories as short and the writing as tight as I possibly can. But I understand your desire for some guidelines. I strongly suggest you check out the best website for information about publishing books for kids and teens, Information about Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children’s Books: The Purple Crayon. The site is maintained by former editor Harold Underdown, who wrote the Absolutely Necessary Book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (If you enlarge the cover image, you’ll see that I blurbed the book, which I rarely, rarely do.) Those two source will give you more specific information than I can.

Off to attack another chapter and wait for the snow wave to crash.


Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #2

Went for a nice walk in our Little Forest yesterday with the Creature With Fangs and my Beloved Husband.

BH is cooking up a new project that I’ll be blogging about soon. Can anyone guess what it is?

Whilst perambulating, I came across

the first hint of Spring. We are still likely to get snow for a couple of months, but the days are a wee bit warmer. Know what that means? The sap is starting to rise in the maple trees!!!!!

Aside from tromping through the snow, yesterday was an excellent writing day. I tried to take a break to watch the All-Star football game, but honestly, I couldn’t get into it.

Now, to Batch #2, (I will get to all of your questions, I promise, even if it take a couple of weeks.)

You asked: When you’re working, how do you measure progress? I’ve set a personal daily goal of 2000 words a day (1000 before lunch, 1000 after dinner) and try not to type less than that many a day.
I know other authors just spend X hours on the computer and are happy with whatever comes out.
DO you have a recommendation?

It depends on two things: what kind of book I’m trying to write and where I am in my writing process.
Right now I’m working on a historical novel. For me, that means I spend a lot more time up-front developing and polishing the two plot strands – the exterior plot of the story that deals with the historical events (CHAINS = occupation of New York City by the British in 1776) and the interior plot arc of my main character, which must be woven in with the historical events.

Right now I have all of the historical plotting done on my current Work In Progress. I’m still refining the interior stuff of my main character. In the last week, I tossed an entire sub-plot tangent that bogged down the book and took my character to a really dumb place. So sometimes, you can measure progress by what you are throwing out!

When I have the bones of my plot laid down, and I understand my character’s internal journey, then I let my imagination run and my fingers fly. At this point – if family demands and publicity needs can be kept at bay – I try to write a minimum of 10 pages a day, though it can be a lot more than that. These are not polished pages, not at all. This is letting the magic of story – circumscribed by the limits of my plot structure – flow.

After that comes the slow and painstaking revision process. Sometimes that means one page a day, but if I’ve done my job, it is a well-written page. Different writing tasks require different measuring sticks.

As always, a caution. This is the way the writing process works for me. Every writer develops her own style, so feel free to ignore all of my advice!

Another note – the process for my YA novels is different. Someone ask me about that later in the week, please.

You asked: what kind of educational background do you have and do you think it prepared you to be a writer. what other things helped you be a better writer?

I did not go to college straight after high school. I worked at the mall and later on a farm. When I was ready to go to school, I went to Onondaga Community College in Syracuse NY and got an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts. I LOVED community college. It had terrific professors and I could afford it. I did so well there that the nice people at Georgetown University gave me a big honking scholarship. That, combined with a lot of student loans, let me go there. I studied foreign languages and linguistics. I avoided the English department and did not take any creative writing classes.

What prepared me to be a writer was reading thousands of books, writing – for fun – not worrying about publication, and learning how to observe people and human behavior. I also had a job for a while as a freelance newspaper reporter. That helped me learn about deadlines and not being afraid to revise my work.

There are a few people who go to college and come out with the skills, perspective, and experience to launch themselves into a career as a full-time writer, but the truth is, that doesn’t happen to too many people. Go to college, study what sounds interesting, and figure out how to get a decent day job that will pay your bills. Then write for fun. Again, other authors did it differently. But it worked for me.

AFTER you reach your writing goal today, head over to Fuse #8 to watch the hands-down best video ever from the world of children’s publishing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (It’s long, but so worth it. Go to the bathroom first so you don’t ruin your pants.)

Writing & Publishing Questions Batch #1

Thanks for all the great questions!!! Let’s get to it!

You asked: When your first book was published, was it by a small, independent company or one of the larger, well-known ones? If a publisher rejects you, should you send the same manuscript back to them a year later, or assume that they’re not interested?

My first published book was a quiet picture book about a girl in Kenya called Ndito Runs. It was published by Henry Holt in 1996 and has been out of print for several years. (It was later translated into Xhosa, Zulu, Africaans, and Lesotho for publication in South Africa. That was very cool.) Henry Holt is one of the major publishers. My first piece of published writing for children was a short story in Highlights Magazine. That was a real thrill because I had been such a fan of the magazine as a kid.

If a publisher rejects you, then please do not send the manuscript back a year later. They are dealing with too many manuscripts as it is. Send your story somewhere else and get to work on a new one. I have plenty of manuscripts that were rejected. Why? Because they weren’t good enough to be published. I thought they were, but the publishers didn’t and that’s all that matters. It hurts, it sucks, and it’s part of being a writer. Write something new.

You asked: Does it have an effect on your work if you watch tv shows or movies? A big obstacle for me is that my characters seem to be too much like characters from my favorite tv show. (Let’s not bother guessing which one.) How do you avoid creating something that seems more like fanfiction than original work?

I don’t watch many movies or television shows (except for sports) so I’m not the best person to answer this question. Maybe you could experiment with taking two weeks off from your normal television watching and use that time for writing instead. By the end of two weeks, I bet you’ll see a difference. If you do this, let me know how it turns out.

Thanks to the LiveJournal Spotlight this week, we’ve had many more blog readers. Hail and welcome to the Forest! I hope you come back!

For those of you who are new to the blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter. My name there is halseanderson. This will explain what Twitter is if you don’t know.

I didn’t get the 10 pages I had hoped for yesterday, but I found a way to tighten up the second half of the book, so it was a day well spent. Am going back to it right now. (Feel free to keep those writing and publishing questions coming!)


25 random… one day late

Yes, it’s a Facebook meme, but I feed my LJ to my Facebook, so this is called efficient blogging.

1. I am too busy for this meme.
2. – 25. See above.

Honest – I’ll try it again in the summer. Everything that came to mind to write in the meme had to do with feeling overwhelmed or not having enough time or some other whiney crap that nobody wants to read.

For me this is the best of times, mostly, and a little of the worst of times. Obviously, I’m enjoying (well, basking in) all the wonderful attention that my work has recently received.

Interjected note for those of you seeking to break into writing: I started writing for kids on September 7, 1992. First picture book was published in 1996. First novel SPEAK, published 1999. So it’s taken me 17 years to get here. Be patient and keep working!

People have been very kind about my books, I have the chance to do work I care about, my family is healthy, my bills are paid. So I have no serious worries. The only small cloud on my horizon is learning how to better balance the time demands. I leave in about six weeks on the next book tour and have a bunch of other speaking trips after that. Once we get past ALA, I’ll have plenty of writing time, but the book I’m working on is due before that.

I’ve thought about taking a 6 month hiatus from blogging, but I’ve decided not to. The blogosphere is my water cooler, where I get to hang out with friends while I pour a cup of coffee. It is also part of the Author side of my job. If you are making your living writing books, you have two jobs: Writer = writing books. Author = everything related to publicity and contact with readers.

Despite the very cranky note on my website discouraging readers from contacting me with homework questions, I received a flood of them this week. Most of them wanted me to explain various aspects of my books for an essay or a report. These were usually accompanied by demands that I answer by midnight, because the paper was due the next day.

For the record: I don’t do homework. And I was such a bad student of English, that if I did give answers, they would probably be wrong.

A couple of the emails asked good questions about being a writer. I thought they might be of interest to you, too, so I’m going to answer them on this blog next week. If you have “What’s It Like To Be A Writer?” questions, leave them in the comments section, and I’ll answer those, too.

What’s it like to be a writer for me today? I am going to try to write 10 pages, and empty my email box and get started on the fan mail that came in this week. And I really need to go for a run.