Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I know. I'm sorry. My blogs have been down lately, but in all fairness, let's recap the last month:

July 3-9: Out of town on Anniversary trip with Danny, both Silverton and Black Butte

July 11: Attended baby shower

July 11-12: In-laws visiting

July 12: Threw bridal shower

July 17: Picked up Plain Jayne galleys for edits

July 17-22: Finish electronic changes to manuscript

July 23: Make hard-copy changes to entire manuscript.

July 24: Finalize hard-copy changes, email edit inserts to editor, drive finished product to Harvest.

July 25: Pick up Brother-in-Law in Corvallis; photograph Geoff's bachelor party

July 26: Teach Sunday School. Drive BIL back to Corvy, assist in the purchase of mounting equipment for his new/our old window A/C unit.

July 27: Drive up to OCW at 7:20am; return home 9:30pm.

July 28-29: Prepare to leave for Canada/Geoff's Wedding

July 30: Depart for Calgary, then drive to Three Hills. Rejoice that it's much, MUCH cooler outside.

I really ought to be packing, but it's hot. Really hot. And yes, we have A/C, but only for the north side of the apartment. The south side is about 15 degrees warmer, and behind the office door, 25.

Trouble is, the things to pack are mainly over north; the suitcase is south. We've had some late nights lately, mainly because it's fairly late before the concept of moving around sounds like a good idea. Tonight may be another one of those nights.

Suddenly feeling better about not posting regularly. Time flies when you don't hold still.

P.S. Posted on Yes, mine is the zombie one.

P.S.S. The basil is still alive, by the way. A little toasty from hanging in my car between errands (I was dropping to off at my grandma's not showing it the sights), but otherwise very healthy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Etiquette for Writers

I've had this post brewing in my head for a while; it seems like a subject that needs to be explored but hasn't yet been.

Or maybe it has and I haven't seen it yet. Either way, I'm adding my two cents. Writers can get rather lax on the subject, especially considering that our business attire can include bunny slippers. But it will only ever help your writing career! And let's face it, writers can use all the help they can get.

In Critique Groups:

1. Be constructive. For some reason writers, who are some of the most articulate beings on earth, have a tendency to take a look at a piece of writing and say, "it's awful." Kind of a head scratcher, considering that we are unilaterally thin-skinned. If a piece of writing is truly bad, no amount of saying how bad it is will improve the writers' understanding of the craft. Do the verbs need to be more active? The writing more visual? The characters more concrete? Please try to say something nice about everyone's manuscript.

I was in a Fantasy Fiction class once at the U of O, and read some truly horrible short stories. I mean, so bad I saved them.

But in every case, I found something nice to say. When in doubt, "Vivid Characters" is a good standby.

2. Don't rewrite someone's work. You have a computer/typewriter/paper to write your own things. Give suggestions, give edits if invited, but imposing your voice over someone's work isn't helping anyone. Consider, selfishly, that your voice is your own. If you share your voice, you're competing with yourself.

In Written Communications with those in the Publishing Industry:

1. Be professional. Never use email abbreviations (ur instead of your, 4 instead of for, 2 instead of to/too. Frankly, I don't think they should be used ever, but that's just me.). Spell and punctuate things properly. Let the editor/agent initiate the use of smiley faces.

2. If you know the editor/agent personally, do use their first name as an address. If not, use Mr./Ms./Mrs.

3. Never, ever demand a response. Instead, write something along the lines of "many thanks for any assistance."

4. It should go without saying, but never tell an editor that God has said their publishing house will/should publish your book. If in fact God thinks such a thing, assume that God has not chosen you as the vessel of that message.

In Your Blogs

1. For pete's sake, spell check. Seriously. Nothing bothers me more than gross misspellings in a blog. Be aware that your blog is your internet face. Your internet face should be spelled and punctuated properly. If you can't manage to write a blog appropriately, why would anyone read your book? No one's expecting your posts to be professionally edited, but it's important to catch the basic stuff.

2. Be appropriate with content. Assume that the person you would like to rant against reads, or knows people who read your blog.

3. Be aware that prospective editors are likely to check out your blog. You've been warned.

At the Conference

1. Show up for Editor/Agent meetings clean and well-dressed. If you're meeting with Karen Ball, don't wear perfume or cologne OR scented hair product in your attempt to look groomed.

2. Have your proposal materials ready, with a cover letter addressed to the person whom you are meeting.

3. Make sure your materials are at their very best state - it's rude to show up with work that's riddled with stupid mistakes. Have a few people go through it first.

4. Be ready to talk articulately about the project (this is often the most difficult part). Practice in the mirror if you have to.

5. Be gracious and thank them for their time, no matter what.

6. Never write on someone's business card.

7. Try very hard not to lose the business card of editors/agents when they're given to you. The card is your golden ticket for further correspondence. Use it to follow-up with a short thank-you note after the conference.

8. Never approach an editor/agent/published writer for their assistance while they are in the restroom or in the middle of prayer. Back off FAST if they don't appear at all interested. Don't be that guy!
9. Don't pick your nose during a meeting. Just saying.

To come:

Etiquette notes for when you're publishing, and after you're published.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Avoiding what we love

Last week, I was between projects. I had just finished throwing a bridal shower for my brother's fiancée, and knew I was facing Plain Jayne edits at the end of the week.

I felt like I should hunker down and relax, but I was bored. And I hate being bored - actually don't believe in it. I feel that if you're bored, you're doing something wrong.

In my case, my antipathy towards boredom began (and likely continues) as a fear. Even as a child, I packed for all occasions. I brought toys, books; more than what I'd ever need to help pass the time, should the opportunity arise. I left things at friends' houses often.

Even now, I'm happiest with a book, and/or knitting in my bag when I go places. And when I say "go places," I mean the grocery store. But I digress.

Last week I was cranky and listless. But I opened my document for the first chapter of Simply Sara and started writing. I felt better. My muscles relaxed. Life was once again worth living.

Late that day, I had a conversation with my best friend Kara. Turned out, Kara had been exhibiting the same symptoms I had earlier that morning. She too was in-between projects and avoiding writing.

One of the tricky things about being a working writer is that writing becomes not work, but drudgery. Sure, we have the happy serendipitous moments when the stars align and the words flow, but a lot of writing is plugging away when you'd rather be doing anything else. Like housecleaning.

At that point, writers associate writing with a lot of negative feelings and bad karma. You rarely see any writers update their facebook status with something cheery, like, "so delighted I get to write today!" or "the words, they are a-flowing." No, it's more like, "I haven't unloaded my dishwasher in two weeks, my children eat nothing but cheap pizza, my husband has no clean underwear, and I'm still 2,000 words behind my daily quota."

No wonder we're cranky.

But it shouldn't be that way. I think with this next project, not only do I need to be on a more realistic writing schedule (last January-March's death march was not much fun), but take the time with a few side projects to enjoy writing. After all, I started writing because I enjoyed writing, didn't I?

In all fairness, I've loaded/unloaded my dishwasher and run five loads of laundry because I'm avoiding editing. Procrastination has the power to make me a crackerjack housewife sometimes. And I'm only going to Costco this afternoon because we're nearly out of toilet paper.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The thing about agents

I've had some conversations lately about writing and agents and when to get an agent for your writing. There are a lot of advice books out there, some of them excellent, some of them worthless.

I figured I'm only going to be asked this question more and more often, so I figured I'd post about it...and if I was really lucky, shorten the conversation by being able to direct people to my blog. Not to say I don't love to help. I do. A lot of people have helped me. There just seems to be a more efficient way to do things (the whole "being-married-to-an-engineer" thing is starting to show).

So here goes...

Question: When am I ready to find an agent?
Hillary's advice: When your project is completed, and really not before. As a beginning author, you want to show them that you're capable of finishing a project. You want to appear as professional as possible; having your manuscript ready is the first step.

Question: How do I find an agent?
Hillary's advice: Sure, you can go through a market guide (like this one), but if you have the opportunity to go to a writers' conference, meeting agents in person is worlds better. Agents are inundated with queries and proposals (more on these later). If they connect to you personally, they are MUCH more likely to respond to you, or tell you in five minutes if they're remotely interested. Also, you can get a feel for whether or not you actually like that agent. Once at a writers' conference, I had lunch at the table of a literary agent, thinking I'd get a feel for him and if I'd want to approach him with one of my proposals. Well, I didn't even have to talk to him to decide that I found him deeply irritating. Wouldn't have gotten that piece of info from a book.

Question: What if I don't want to go to a writers' conference? They're so expensive.
Hillary's advice: Yes, they are, and a good conference is worth every penny. I connected with both my publisher and my agent through Oregon Christian Writers. To cut costs, look at staying in a less-expensive motel, or bunking with a nearby friend/relative rather than staying on-site. The reason conferences can be pricey is because they're paying for flights and usually a paycheck for the agents and editors that you want to meet so much. Choosing a conference is where a market guide is handy - you can get a feel for what kind of agent/ publisher works with your kind of material, then look for the conference with those people. Most larger conferences will list the agents/ publishers attending on their website.

Question: What should I look for in an agent?
Hillary's advice: You want someone who's proactive. Some agents will sit on manuscripts until the end of time, even if you're a client. A proactive agent uses all of their contacts in the industry to find the best home for your project. Your agent should know the business well, or, if he/she is just starting out, be in a literary agency group with others who do. It's also helpful to like your agent, so look for someone you don't mind talking to for lengths of time.

Question: How much does an agent cost?
Hillary's advice: An agent's cut is 15% of your earnings. The upside is that she doesn't get paid until you get paid. Never, never, never, never, ever pay an agent anything upfront or any "fees" for looking at your work. Ever.

Question: Wow, 15%. What if I find a publisher willing to take my manuscript without an agent?
Hillary's advice: I found a publisher willing to take my manuscript without an agent. But the thing is, I don't know anything about the inner workings of literary contracts. They're still mysterious to me. There's a lot of legal jargon in there that's so specific that you could take it to a lawyer, and the lawyer wouldn't be about to sift through it. I signed on with Sandra so that I didn't have to worry about it. Part of her job is to negotiate points of my contract. A good agent will probably find things to negotiate about that you wouldn't ever think to quibble over. Also, it means that you get to keep a happy relationship with your editor and your house. Let your agent be the tough one. It's enough to argue with your editors as you go over drafts.

Question: What's the easiest way to get an agent to take you on?
Hillary's advice: Have an interested publisher. Preferably two. It's a good idea to be talking to both editors and agents simultaneously for this reason.

Question: Okay....what's the easiest way to get a publisher interested?
Hillary's advice: Write a really good book with subject matter that sells well for that house. Sorry, I know it's glib, but it's the truth. Most houses will be pretty straight-forward about what kind of material they're looking for. Read up on what the houses publish - take a look at their catalogs (usually online). Read about what's selling. Ask a bookseller what's selling. Right now, it's Amish and historical. A few years ago, it was chick lit. Few years before that, it was suspense.

Question: Right. So if I'm sending something to an agent/publisher I haven't made contact with before, what should I send?
Hillary's advice: A query letter. A query letter is like a first date: you give the pertinent information about your project in such a way as to be intriguing and a bit mysterious. Do not give your life story. Do not describe your entire book. Just enough information about the project for an agent to be able to gauge his interest. Include the fact that it's finished (it should be!), the word count, and from what perspective it's written (first-person past, third-person omniscient, etc.). Write a sentence about why you are uniquely qualified to write this book, unless of course there is no good reason. When in doubt, remain mysterious.

Your letter should be no longer than a printed page, four to five paragraphs tops. Oh, and don't compare your book to other books or movies that didn't sell well, or were box-office flops. Your publisher is just as interested in being solvent as you are.

A few more things about queries - always thank the agent/editor for any assistance. Always. Do not ask for that assistance within a certain timeframe; it is, however, appropriate to follow-up. It's permissible to follow-up twice, I think, in four week intervals (this is where queries and first dates diverge). After that, move on graciously.

Question: If I'm meeting with an agent or editor at a conference, what materials should I show?
Hillary's advice: When meeting with an agent or editor, or hoping to catch that person walking about, have a proposal at the ready. For the written materials, visit Jeff Gerke's site here for the best, most comprehensive description I've found.

Question: If I meet an agent/editor on a plane, should I pitch my project?
Hillary's advice: No. He's off-duty. The exception to this is if the conversation goes as follows:

You: So, what do you do?
Editor/Agent: I'm an editor/literary agent.
You: That's wonderful. I recently finished my first novel.

IF the editor/agent says, "oh really, describe it to me," then by all means, do so. If she says, "can you believe what they're charging for on-flight drinks these days?", drop it. Fast. You don't want to be that guy.

Now, if you're at a writers' conference, he's fair game UNLESS you're in the restroom. Seriously. And it has happened. DON'T BE THAT GUY.

Question: Your advice doesn't jive with what I read in my book.
Hillary's advice: While I'm certainly not the world's greatest living expert on the matter, I've also been around the Christian publishing industry for over ten years. I listen to experts talk about this stuff multiple times a year. Your book may be old. The publishing industry changes like the wind. The editor you're working with may leave that publisher tomorrow (it's happened). Trends come and go. What people are looking for changes.

Question: Fine, then. What books on publishing should I look at?
Hillary's advice: Sally Stuart's Guide to Getting Published and Ron Benrey's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Christian Fiction. Sally's advice is always spot-on, and Ron, being an engineer as well as a writer, is very thorough. Randy Ingermanson and Jeff Gerke also have excellent resources for writers on their websites.

Question: Any other advice?
Hillary's advice: Have your verbal pitch ready at all times. Be able to say, "my book is about a woman in Alaska who leaves her family to become a travel-writer abroad" at a moment's notice. Practice in the mirror.

Aside from that, read constantly. Read older stuff, read newer stuff. Read the kind of stuff you write; read other genres. Watch movies. Watch good TV shows. Surround yourself with good writing. Then go out and experience things so you have something good to write about. Not only will this fill your creativity tank, BUT, you'll have something to talk about when you meet with people!

Hope this all helps - if you have other questions, post them at the bottom and I'll try to answer them as best I can!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Us - Part II

Two years ago today, I married my best friend.

I loved being married for a year. I've loved being married for two years even more.

Part of me wonders if Danny and I will be able to read each other's minds by next year. We know each other so well, can read expressions and body language and tonality so well that telepathy can't be far behind.

But on the other hand, we still manage to surprise each other. At least, Danny still surprises me. He'll goof off to make me laugh and I'll think, where did that come from? Followed by, I hope he'll do that again...

I was at a gathering a few months ago, and found myself asked (rather inappropriately) if the honeymoon was over. I honestly didn't know what to say for a few moments. Clearly, we had returned from our post-wedding vacation, not taking the year-long break advised in the old testament (if only we herded sheep with our families, that might have worked).

So if it wasn't a logistical question, it had to be emotional. Do I still love my husband like crazy? Of course. Am I aware of his faults? Better yet, is he deeply aware of mine? Certainly. Of course. And we're still nuts about each other.

I think Hollywood and fiction writers (bless them all) would have us believe that love and romance is found in meet-cutes and grand gestures. What the film Up got so right was that the little moments, even the boring moments, are the ones that matter, the ones we remember.

The walks. The lazy mornings. Sitting on the couch just reading. Dancing in the living room and sorting laundry (not at the same time) - those moments make up a marriage.

I have loved teaching Sunday School with Danny, watching him play cars and tea party with our class. I've loved celebrating and struggling through the process of publishing together. I love the look on his face when I bring him a fizzy drink from the grocery store, and the way he still opens my car door. I love how pleased he is with himself when he successfully flips a pan full of hashbrowns with a flick of the wrist. I love how we read books together. I love that I got him hooked on oatmeal cookies.

I love that we're married to each other. It's nice.