Saturday, September 26, 2009

Writing Forward

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I attended the September meeting of the James River Writers and wanted to pass along some of the insights and information I garnered there. The writers’ group held their usual speaker panel which included three published fiction authors, Ms. Carolyn Parkhurst, (The Dogs of Babel, Lost and Found),Ms. Leslie Pietrzyk, (Pears on a Willow Tree, A Year and a Day), and Ms. Susann Cokal, (Mirabilis, Breath and Bones.)

One interesting recommendation that came to light I had instinctively followed, but hadn’t quite put into words. The idea was to Write Forward. All three speakers agreed great books are often allowed to develop this way. Basically, it means to give your story permission to write itself – allow the story to be part of the process.

As I recall, each writer went into a project with nothing more than a rough idea of how the story might develop and with little more than a basic concept of the ending. They typically had little more than an idea of the characters they would create, a rudimentary central theme they wished developed and a sense of the ending. With this, they would begin writing and see how their imaginations would allow the story to develop.

They didn’t have each and every chapter outlined, there were no storyboards or index cards taped to the wall in chronological order, there was nothing of that ilk. They sat down, started writing and waited for that wondrous muse we call “Story” to fly from their fingertips and onto their computer screens - almost by itself.

An example Ms. Parkhurst gave was a sugar bowl with a note in it. She had no idea of where or how the crockery would come into play, she simply felt it belonged in the story. As with the concept of Writing Forward, it found its way into the storyline of its own accord.

Personally, I do about the same, though I usually have only one character in mind. I think I know how the story is going to end and I start with little else. By the time I get to “The End”, the character is still there, but the ending has morphed into something much better than I’d imagined when I started. As I write, I “feel” where I have to go and then figure out how to get there. A recent example in my new novel, “Born to be Brothers” is a pocket watch. The story is set in the mid-nineteenth century when pocket watches were the norm. I understand how men feel their individual timepieces are a representation of themselves and knew I needed a watch to help fill in the story. So, as the story fell onto the page, I kept the watch in the back of my mind. When it needed to show up, it did. And when it did, it changed the entire story.

So, when you sit down to write, many writers find it useful not to have the story too complete from the start. Allow your creativity to write your story, and don’t be afraid to let loose of the intuition within you. I’ll bet your writing will be a better for it.

Until we post again, good writing.


Friday, September 25, 2009

How to Find Representation after Self-Publishing

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This question was recently asked of me, “any suggestions for new writers looking for representation after self-publishing? Finding representation is hard!”

Her last four words put the entire process in perspective. It is difficult and is not getting any easier. I was at a writers’ seminar last night where three outstanding, published women were on the panel of speakers. They told of their initial forays into the agented world and two of the three told a story of serendipity. Not where I wish to place my future, to be honest. After their initial and fortunate encounter with agentry, (hey! A new word!) it was easy, as you might expect.

Another of the speakers, with an insider’s connections, mentioned the NY times receives around seven hundred fifty submissions for reviews on a weekly basic, of which maybe fifteen or so would be accepted. Tough competition, indeed! I don’t remember the source, but an article I read the other day says there are about one million manuscripts submitted to the industry for publication annually. About fifteen percent are actually published.

What these examples show is competition for publication is not only tough, but fierce. Our individual chances of being published are minuscule, at best.

This compels one to ask, how is agentry, (there’s that word!), ever accomplished.

There are some basics in the industry that cannot be avoided. For example, if you’re famous, your odds increase exponentially. Alas, most of us are not. If you’ve already produced a highly successful work, again, your odds increase in geometric fashion. Alas, most of us have not.

So, what choices do we have?

First and foremost, learn the craft of writing. Learn it well. Without this, you’ll never sell. Immerse yourself as much as reasonable possible in the writers’ world. (Join groups and surround yourself with those more accomplished, continue writing, read other works in your genre, etc, etc, etc.) And as important as all else, learn the business of writing.

Secondly, one may self-publish. The stigma of this is quickly diminishing, but without knowing the business of writing, it will not lead to sales.

Now, to the first part of her question, how does one find representation after self-publishing?

Well, it is my understanding, it makes things more difficult.

Some years, yes – years, after writing my first manuscript, an agent to whom I had submitted the book called out of the blue. During the course of what was to me an exciting conversation, I mentioned I had finally self-published the novel we were discussing. Before the sentence was out of my mouth, his attitude shifted from interest to disinterest. I asked him why the sudden lack of curiosity and he mentioned once a book has a UPC code, it’s DOA as to publishers. It just created issues, he said. These issues went undefined because I didn’t think to ask. Lesson learned.

So, if you have a self-published novel, don’t mention it to people. Though the stigma of POD is diminishing, attitudes with some hold fast for a long time.

Since then, I’ve decided what I will do with that first novel should I ever be picked up for representation on something else. I’d first, rename it then rewrite it. I’d not change the entire manuscript, but rename characters, change some events in the story line, that sort of thing. I’d also rename the book. Then, I’d resubmit.

Further, I’d not tell anyone, who doesn’t ask, I’d rewritten my manuscript. Keep in mind I don’t encourage dishonesty with agents as they are your partner, but I simply would not answer questions that were not asked. Besides, once you’re successful, they’ll tell you to do this anyway for it translates to more sales for you, and thus commissions for them.

So, assuming you have a viable manuscript, I’d recommend you rewrite, rename and try it again.

Now for some good news.

The publishing industry is changing at breakneck speed and yesterday’s publisher is losing his control over distribution, which was his only real trump card. The Internet, POD, social networking and the like are opening the distribution channels to anyone who understand the BUSINESS of writing. (Was that enough emphasis?)

In the very near future you, as a writer, will not need representation. You’ll need a publicist, a production partner, a distribution partner and a good editor. As a writer, these people will work, as independent contractors, for you and respond to you rather than the other way around. Oh yeah… you’ll also keep a MUCH larger portion of the profits.

Best of luck to you all.


Author of “Born to be Brothers”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New, Interesting Site for Writers

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I ran across a new site for writers this afternoon called

Once I clicked on the link, however, I had this flashback to my days in Catholic Schools! I thought I was reading one of those newspapers the good nuns warned us about! This place has the whole "Mother Russia" thing going on, but boy it did look like fun.

At first blush, it appears I've found a winner.

Writers should check it out at

Let me know what you think.


Wife is Out of Town.

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Katy, my lovely wife, is out of town on business until Friday.

She's worried I won't eat. I keep telling her nobody fed me between the time I left home at seventeen until we married some forty years later. I think I'll survive.

(Toast is a food group, right?)

Do miss her already, though.

Editing Done!

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One more check of the time line then "Born to be Brothers" is off to agents!

The Answer to a Writing Secret

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An answer no one has ever given before! Way to go, @NathanBransford.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Interesting Thoughts about the Pub Industry

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Found this at @Quillp on Twitter.

I think they've nailed this one.

Times! They are a'changin'!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Great Hike!

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Saturday was perfect for hiking a battlefield.

If you ever wish to spend some time alone, walk a battlefield. Check out some of the photos on my FaceBook page later today.