Friday, December 21, 2012

Talking the Talk ... on the Phone

by R.C. Lewis

2012 turned out to be an eventful year for me. I signed with an agent in late May, and she sold my book just a couple of months later. The agent-getting part involved five agents offering representation, so I had The Call five times—three of them in one day. With submissions, I talked to two offering editors on the phone.

The phone is not my favorite thing in the world.

It makes me feel awkward, and like I have to really concentrate to catch every word as well as every nuance of tone since I have no body language and facial expression to cue off of. And my agent (bless her!) let me know I had some bad habits.

See, once upon a time (when I was a teenager—no, I won't say how many years ago that was), I had a friend who would talk on the phone for hours. Usually some kind of teenage drama or another that she wanted to rant about. If I didn't say "uh-huh" on a fairly regular basis, she assumed either I wasn't there or didn't agree with her stance of being outraged at the situation. So I got used to a lot of, "Uh-huh, I'm still with you."

I also have a mother who can't always find the word she's looking for. Somehow, I almost always know what that word is, I provide it for her, and we continue the conversation. It's just how conversation works with her.

But you know what? When you do either of those on the phone with strangers, it can be kind of annoying and off-putting.

Not exactly the impression you want to give prospective agents and editors, right?

Honestly, I was always listening and paying attention to what the other party was saying. (How could I not? Agents and editors!) But I learned that it's important to sound like you're listening by not saying anything at all. In my case, I learned to wait until a direct question was asked or there was a full second of silence—more than just taking a breath—to take my turn at talking.

And I'm definitely glad my agent was direct and honest enough to train me up on that before my editor calls.

So, when preparing for The Call at any level, definitely get a list of questions ready, things you need to know by the end of the conversation. But also take a hard look at any bad phone-talking habits you might have.

You know what they say about first impressions.

Do you have any tips or tricks for successful phone conversations for a phone-phobic person like me? Any strategies for handling the inevitable nerves that come with high-pressure phone calls?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

From the Write Angle will be taking next week off. Happy Holidays to all our readers, and Good Writing in the New Year—break a pencil!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Procrastination

by Riley Redgate

Hello there, FTWA readers!

It's Wednesday. I have two final exams on Thursday. I have another one on Friday. This is a blog post.

Let's talk about procrastination!

Do you know why procrastination is easy? I do.

It's not scary.

The actual writing part of life almost always involves some element of I'm Not Good Enough. Editing, drafting while knowing you'll have to go back and edit 90% of what's coming out of your fingers, querying, synopsizing - the whole deal involves self-criticism. And procrastination, happy activity that it is, does not. It allows you to think of your work in the positive terms of the abstract, even whilst you cheerfully shirk it. Malformed sentences go away. Characterization issues disappear into the ether. And plot holes? What plot holes?

Procrastination happens because we're scared of what could happen in its stead. We could spend hours on a single scene and emotionally exhaust ourselves. Worse, we could spend hours on a single scene and then realize that scene needs deletion. We could rewrite our query four times and still realize it's not good enough.

For example, let's take my current mode of procrastination. I have not looked back over the book that I should have looked over several times by now for Friday's exam. Why? Because I'm scared I'll get to it and realize I need to memorize a million things I don't already know. I'm trusting in what I've already done rather than rediscovering what I've done and what I need to fix. Procrastinating, I can say, hey! You know what? I know a lot of things. Here's what I've learned. A lot of things, right? I'll be fine, eh?

After I finish writing this blog post, I will read the book in question. And, odds are, I shall rapidly discover I have yet some things to brush up on.

So the cure to procrastination? Make it as scary as going back to your unfinished draft.

Here's why you should be scared of procrastination:

1) You'll regret it later. Nothing's less satisfying than going to bed thinking about what you could have done with your day, and what you did instead of what you could have done.

2) You don't have all the time in the world. You have time. But not infinite time. You have people you love and places to go; you have books to read and other activities in which to participate. You do not have a million hours to spend faffing about on Twitter etc. while your WIP languishes in that other window.

3) It makes the writing harder. What if you get out of practice? What if you forget quite how your MC's particular voice sounds? These are problems not-unheard of. Coming back to an unfinished draft after an overlong break is laborious, and disrupts rhythm, and could be disadvantageous for quality itself.

4) It makes writing feel like work. I mean, come on. What other types of things do you put off? Studying for exams. (Ahem. -averts eyes-) And like, emailing your least favorite relative, and filing taxes, probably. But writing? Writing is a joy to you. That's why you do it. Whether you get an adrenaline rush, a deep satisfaction, a further knowledge about the human condition - whatever. You have a reason to be doing what you're doing. What you don't have is a reason to delay it.

Thus concludes another blog post that sounds more like a lecture/chastisement than it probably should. -sigh- Sorry about that. I'll blame it on finals week stress ... and now I'm off to review Aristotle's Poetics!

Bonne chance! Your WIP loves and awaits you!

Riley Redgate, enthusiast of all things YA, is a bookstore-and-Starbucks-dweller from North Carolina attending college in Ohio. She blogs here and speaks with considerably more brevity here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spice Up Your Writing Life

by R.S. Mellette

When I was a kid, daytime talk shows were a different animal than they are today. There was this guy, maybe you’ve heard of him, Phil Donahue. He had a little show in Chicago where he went into the audience to have them ask questions. No one screamed or shouted. The guests were intelligent, and for the most part so were the questions. No one took lie detector tests, and the legitimacy of babies was never discussed. Generally, after watching his show one felt pretty good about the state of human evolution.

For some odd reason I remember seeing a Cajun chef on Donahue once. I don’t remember who he was, but I remember something he said.

“In Cajun cooking, we spice at every level.”

What he meant was, when making the chicken stock, or roux, or dry rub, or sauce, every step gets spiced.

I have taken it to mean that every step of any process needs some special attention. If you write from an outline, then make sure you don’t cut corners there. Spice it up. Make it jump off the page, so when you’re stuck in the manuscript, you can take a taste of the outline and remember what had you so excited in the first place.

If you find you have to add a minor character, give him or her some seasoning. Make us remember that tasty little tidbit. When your characters have to go somewhere, make it a more interesting place.

But remember, spice is, by definition, a small ingredient that has a big impact. Don’t confuse it with flowery. You’re not looking to overwhelm a story, just punch it up a little.

When reading through your work for the millionth time, play a game. Get into your kitchen, bring out your spices, and as you read think about which spice might help in the scene you’re reading. Maybe something unexpected—like some sugar in a salty scene. Maybe something hot. Maybe not. Mix it up.

Spice at every level.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse anthologies.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Five Must Hear Podcasts for Writers

by Jean Oram

I've recently discovered podcasts as a part of my quest to improve my writing. While some of you may be laughing and saying they've been around for ages, it's only recently that two events in my life have conspired to make podcasts something I can sit through.

One is a half decent smart phone that can handle podcasts. And two is (mostly) getting over my Talk Radio ADD. (When I was a kid my parents had CBC (Canadian Public Broadcasting--kind of like NPR) on in every room and every vehicle 24/7. It wasn't until I was a teen that I finally realized there were other radio stations out there. Over time I learned to tune out CBC because it was a lot of talk-talk-talk going on around me all the time. Problem is… my Talk Radio ADD applies to pretty much anything recorded that involves talking whether it happens to be talking books, talk radio, or podcasts. Which means I get a minute or two into a program and slowly, without noticing, I tune out. Welcome to my happy place.)

The podcasts I am recommending here are five that I enjoy and seem to be able to stay tuned into. They are well worth listening to (on your phone or online) and can teach you a lot not only about writing, but about the business side of things as well.

Five Podcasts Worth Listening to for Writers

1. Writing Excuses

Motto: 15 minutes long because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart

Oh my god, what is not to love about that motto? Great, brief, and highly informative podcasts that don't ramble on and waste your time. It's put together by several people and they will often interview others. Seriously great.


2. Copyblogger

Motto: Content marketing advice and solutions that work

If you follow me on Twitter [@jeanoram] (and if you're not, why not?), you've probably seen me tweeting Copyblogger's blog links. Basically, their podcast covers similar content to their blog. Everything from how to write a headline (for your blog, newsletter, press releases and more) to how to market (your books, your blog!) is covered. Their podcasts include interviews and are always informative. It is a painless way to learn how to draw people to your blog, as well as do a little effective book marketing.


3. The Creative Penn

Motto: Helping you write, publish and market your book

Put out by author Joanna Penn, it features interviews with authors, marketers, and pretty much anyone who has a thing to do with publishing and writing. While this podcast can ramble a bit, the variety and content makes it worth it. (Plus you can jump ahead.)


4. DBSA Romance Fiction Podcast

Motto: All of the romance, none of the bullshit

That's right. These are smart broads who happen to read category romance. And while their focus is romance some of their podcasts such as "Book Accessibility for Sight-Impaired Readers" is something ALL authors need to check out. You could be missing out on one of the biggest reading markets out there. Listen to it now!


5. Grammar Girl

Motto: Quick and dirty tips for better writing

Brush up on your grammar in short and sweet segments. If you've ever Googled anything grammar related, this site has has probably popped up on the first page of results. Something I've learned from their podcasts: "burnt" is typically British, and "burned" is typically American.


Now that you've looked at podcasts From the Write Angle which one will you start with first? Are there some must-listen-to podcasts on your list you'd like to share? Let us know in the comment section.

Jean Oram is a fiction and nonfiction writer who writes stuff and is always up for a challenge such as writing post-apocalyptic chick lit such as in her story
Crumbs found in The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse. She also blabs on about writing on her blog.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Save the Snark (and the Hate)

by R.C. Lewis

I've been on Twitter for a few years now, almost exclusively for the writing/publishing side of my life. If you've been around the Write Angle for a while, you know several of us are big fans of Twitter as part of a writer's social media package. Jemi Fraser recently did three different posts on great Twitter hashtags for writers, and Calista Taylor laid out the basics in Twitter 101.

You can get amazing things from Twitter—camaraderie of other writers, news on industry trends and events, and insider tips straight from agents and editors. Amidst all that, you also get what people are eating for lunch, who's coming down with a cold, and complaints about weather/mass transit/utility companies/anything else that can be annoying. Part and parcel.

Here's a small subset of the tweets out there—writers snarking at those industry insiders, especially agents.

They come in several forms, but the underlying sentiment always seems the same. Agents are evil, money-grubbing, elitist jerks. They only want crap from celebrities anyway. They won't take a chance on anyone new.

Now, hang on.

There's nothing wrong with going it alone, whether by self-publishing or working with publishers who take unagented submissions. Many writers find that's the right course for them. For others, the efforts of querying and securing representation are worth it.

Whichever course we choose to take (or maybe both!), why sling hate at the other?

By and large, agents work hard. They often hold down other jobs to pay the bills, essentially working for free on the hope that the books they believe in will sell. I certainly couldn't do what my agent does (fair enough, since I'm pretty sure she couldn't teach my math classes, either).

I imagine there are some agents who are jerks. After all, you can find a jerk or two in just about any group of people. And yes, we have the right to be ourselves and say what we want.

But what possible good comes from being rude (and even at times downright hateful) toward anyone in an industry we hope to be considered professionals in?

No matter what the industry is doing, and no matter our course within it, behaving like a professional will always be in fashion. The same goes for more than agents—editors, fellow authors, and readers deserve it, too.

There's plenty to be gained by developing a reputation of respect.

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Monday, December 10, 2012

Research Like A Third Grader

by Mindy McGinnis

So, you've got an absolutely fantastic idea to write a romance set during the potato famine in Ireland. Maybe you just like the accent, or are drawn to rolling green hills, but the idea is stuck in your head and you can't get it out. So what's stopping you?

Maybe the fact that the accent and rolling green hills is the sum of what you know on the topic?

I don't think the first step is buying a plane ticket. I'm a thorough researcher and I like to exhibit that in my writing, but I don't start by traveling internationally or finding out the bacterial origination of the black rot that wiped out the potatoes in Ireland all those years ago.

Because that's not what I need to know in order to write this story.

I love non-fiction, but reading a dense book (or two) about the immigration statistics and cultural backlash that arose from the potato famine probably isn't going to fire a lot of creative synapses in the brain. It definitely can inform the story, but you're still on square one and drowning this little seed of an idea with 200 gallons of water isn't the best way to nurture it at the outset.

My advice? Go to the kids section of your library or bookstore. Find a very basic book about the topic you want to learn about in order to start this story. Right now your seed needs simple building blocks of life to get a good start - water, sunlight, soil. It's the Who? What? Where? When? of your story, and a non-fiction book written for children will point you in the right direction without the unnecessary equivalent of chemicals and growth additive type facts that are just going to burn the tender roots of your seedling idea and make your brain switch off.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Morphing Like X-Men

by Lucy Marsden

I try. God knows, I try.

I plot and I plan and I do Goal Motivation and Conflict outlines for them, but are my characters grateful? They are not. Currently, they’re ignoring all the lovely thematic elements I’ve laid out for them, and are morphing like X-Men.

I guess we just can’t have nice things.

Eleven thousand words into this manuscript, it’s looking more like a patchwork quilt than any kind of cohesive narrative, and the people currently in a lip-lock with each other are disdaining any knowledge of the characters who showed up in their first scenes. It’s gotten to the point that I’m grateful to my hero for shifting from the charming con-man I’d originally envisioned, into an irascible Beast—at least I know what he wants and why. But that heroine of mine has regenerated more often than a Time Lord, and if she could find a minute to drop me a post card with the address of her current head-space, I surely would appreciate it.

How is this possible? How is it possible to figure out a forgery plot so good that it synchronistically shows up on an episode of LEVERAGE (Love. That. Show.)—and still be floundering with my heroine? Why won’t that wench just gel, already?

If you, or anyone you know (or anyone you’ve ever even been “Friended” by on Facebook), would like to stop by with a box of tissues, or a stiff drink and an explanation, that would be delightful. Until then, I'm choosing to believe that I am in the process of discovering these characters, and that all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Please, please, please...

Lucy Marsden is a romance writer living in New England. When she’s not backstage at a magic show or crashing a physics picnic, she can be found knee-deep in the occult collection of some old library, or arguing hotly about Story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

3 NaNo NoNos

by Jemi Fraser

It's easy to get caught up in the euphoria that surrounds a NaNo win. After all, writing 50k words in 30 days is something to be proud of. Go ahead and celebrate!


There's always a 'but', isn't there? Here are a few Nano NoNos to keep in mind.

NaNo NoNo Number 1

Submitting your novel on December 1st. Or any day in December. By and large, this is a very bad idea. Maybe you are Super Drafter and your story is error free, but I have my doubts! I know mine sure isn't. I imagine agents cringe when they see the words, "I've just finished this novel for NaNoWriMo..."

NaNo NoNo Number 2

Revising right away. So you decide to give those agents a break over December, but on January 1st, you're submitting. After all, the agents will be rested and salivating over the thought of a new story. Wait! For most writers, it's a really a good idea to let your first draft sit for several weeks before you go back in and revise it. That way, you've got a bit of distance between you and the story. Your brain will actually see the words you've written instead of the words you THINK you've written.

NaNo NoNo Number 3

Putting your novel aside - forever. This is kind of the opposite of the first two. Don't assume your story is garbage just because you wrote it in a month - or because you're sick of it at the moment. Sure, it might be a hot mess, but the idea sparked enough of your creativity for you to spend 30 days on it. I bet if you give it those weeks I spoke about in #2, you'll find there's a lot to like.

So, give yourself some time away, then go back in and dig into the wonder of that first draft your wrote.  Once it really shines, submit away! And make sure you have some cupcakes to celebrate along the way!

Any more NaNo NoNos you can share?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of romantic mysteries, currently recuperating from her NaNo win. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs.