The Long and Winding Road to Publication and Back

In the summer of 2012, I packed off my daughter for her first summer camp- an entire month away from home at a traditional summer camp where the kids went on canoe trips, swam in the lake every day and participated in the annual “color war.” During the time she was away, I resolved to finally write that book I’d been talking about for years. Over the course of my life, I’d resolved at different times to write a book. Sometimes I aimed for a straight up thriller, or sometimes a horror tale, but that particular summer, I resolved to write a book for kids. Specifically, I wanted to write a book about kids away at summer camp who have to save the world. And not cotillion kids, or kids at boarding school, or chosen ones- I wanted to write about kids who lived in a trailer park, who didn’t have iPhones and who used the public library for internet.  My goal was to write a book my daughter would enjoy, and heck, maybe I could even get it published.

Three months later I had Coriander Jones Saves the World.  Actually, I had a first draft of CJ but little did I realize the importance of putting the book away and then coming back for multiple rounds of edits. By then, my compulsive nature had lead me to many hours of researching publishing, agents, and how to query. Even with all that information, I still managed to make every rookie mistake the good folks at QueryTracker warn us about.  If only I had discovered the forum sooner!

Genre? Who really cares if it’s MG or YA? Um, everyone. Fantasy? Adventure? Magical realism? What’s the difference? Lots, as it turns out. Even with all my mistakes, I still had a few nibbles, and even a few offers from small presses. Their contract terms were so one sided I didn’t bother to negotiate. A mistake? Maybe. Should I have followed up on the R&R from an agent? Maybe. But long about then I had decided that my personal goal of writing a book was enough and I could publish it myself. And then I decided to close out a partial request from a small press with a nudge so I could cross it off my list, and the editor immediately responded that yes, she had received the partial and could I send the rest. And then she asked what part of Florida I was from, and noticing my maiden name, asked if I knew an old high school friend of hers, who, as it turns out, is my cousin. Best of all, she love Coriander and her friends. She got what i was going for with the characters and the story. And I knew that going this route was not significantly different than self publishing as far as distribution. But the book was published. It even received some very flattering reviews and a few small awards, but as expected, sales were in the basement.

By then, I had kept writing, hopefully improving my craft, had made friends on Querytracker and  Twitter and felt like I was ready to not only write CJ II but also that quirky thriller I’d been thinking about for, literally, decades. So armed with Gator Bait, I dipped my toes in the query trenches again. This time, I struck gold when Gina Panettieri saw past the flaws and gave me a chance to make revisions. With those, she took me on as a client and GB is currently on submission. Along with, I might add, CJ, which I had mentioned to Gina, she asked to see, and decided it might have a second chance. So it’s on submission as well, with the second book done, edited, and ready to get in the queue. My small press is going in a different direction with their projects and they wished me well and gladly negotiated with me to return my rights early.

The odds are definitely against a previously published book like Coriander Jones, especially in a tight market like YA. But everything from here is gravy. I like my trailer park girl. Of everything I’ve written so far, her voice spills out the easiest. I may end up toting the series around to indie bookstores and craft fairs, but honestly, I wrote a book I liked, and my kid liked it too. Recently, a little girl that had been given a copy of the book very shyly asked me if I could please hurry up and finish the second one. It’s not a starred review in Booklist, but it’ll do.

On a side note, my own daughter hated summer camp and came home early. Go figure.

Check out the “Which Character Are You” quiz on http://corianderjones.com

 

 

 

 

Thrillers, Women Characters and the Barbie Effect

I love reading thrillers, the pulpier the better. Airport kiosks bursting with potboilers are my playground. But  if I let myself stray from reading for sheer enjoyment to a more critical analysis, I sometimes conclude that in order to be a woman character other than the MC, one must be 1) in her early to mid-twenties; 2) smoking hot 3) single and ready to mingle; and, 4) if the plot demands it, have an advanced degree enough to earn the grudging respect of colleagues but not enough to prevent said character from getting kidnapped or murdered or both.

Of course, this isn’t true across the board, and there are plenty of great women characters that don’t fit this archetype (Detective Rizzoli, “Bones” Brennan, for example). But it does seem that a good number of suspense thrillers use the supporting women characters either as a plot device (their brutal murder haunts the MC) or as a luscious love interest in the prime of her youth. It doesn’t matter if the male MC is fifty-something with scars and a beer gut, that lithe coed/neurosurgeon is gonna be all over him by the end of Act One. I read a book awhile back where a female assasin (in her twenties and with a perfect body, naturally) went about her bloody business… topless. ‘Cause, you know, sometimes the girls gotta breathe. The reader was also assured that her assets were spectacular. So that was a relief. Also, these women have no  body fat, no kids to distract them and really shiny hair.

God forbid a forty-something gal with roomy hips and maybe a few gray hairs wants to get in on the action. Yes, attractive people make up the bulk of fictional characters in books, television and movies. Pretty sells better. I get that. But surely the women characters can be a little rounder, a little more realistic. Start small. Make them less Barbie and more “Bones.”  And for Pete’s sake, put some clothes on those poor girls. They might catch a cold.

 

Nano No No

This year I decided to give the November novel writing challenge known as NanoWriMo a shot. I had created an account last year but never went further and so I geared up for a productive month. I was armed with a pseudo outline, synopsis and the first 2000 words under my belt.

And then life got in the way. This month has been a perfect storm of teenager-related activities (driving lessons, anyone?) a job re location (complete with packing and cleaning and finishing up projects) and the usual nagging necessities such as sleep and meals. At the almost halfway point, I have not added a single word to the initial count.

“Sigh.” I keep thinking, “There is next weekend!” But then I remember I need this weekend to do work projects. I’m not giving up yet, but realistically, I’ll be lucky to log in 20,000 by the end of the month.

In happier news, a short story I submitted to Pulp Literature’s Raven short story contest made the long list, but alas, not the short list. But hey, it’s s a start. It’s a creepy little horror story that I hope will find a publication home somewhere. I’ve always loved reading horror, so I took a stab at writing it, and if I ever finish two other WIPs, I’ve sketched out an outline for a second short story.

Oh, and there’s also that pesky academic paper I need to finish in 2016 to stay on track for completing a degree I’ve been plugging away for several years.

So whatcha doing this November? if you’re on Nano, look me up (I Am Groot is my handle) or drop me a line. Anyone else taking a stab at short stories? If so, where are you submitting? What books are on your holiday wish list? Oh jeez, that reminds me, I’m way behind on my Goodreads reading challenge…

Fall Reading and Writing Projects

I didn’t get as much summer reading as I had hoped, but for a good reason. My adult thriller (under a pen name TBA) got a home with the fabulous agent, Gina Panettieri, and I was whipping through some revisions to get it ready for submission. I am woefully behind in this year’s Goodreads reading challenge, a process that I’ve decided can be counterproductive because it makes me look at reading as a job instead of a pleasure.

Right now I’m reading “My Grandmother Told Me To Tell You She’s Sorry.” It started off with such an engaging voice I was hooked, but I’m at the point now where I really want something to happen. I’ve also got “The Windup Girl” teed up along with the Gail Carriger Parasol Protectorate series and a little Cherie Priest thrown in. “The Impossible Knife of Memory” has been languishing on my nightstand for months now. So many books, so little time. (I think that was Frank Zappa.)

While I chew my fingernails waiting for news about my thriller, I also polished off the second book in the Coriander Jones series–release date forthcoming. For the first time, I tried the plotter/outliner approach for my WIP,a humorous YA zombie book I’ve been noodling around with for over a year. I think it worked. I wrote a synopsis, not really an outline, and it’s flowing onto the paper. I hope to have the first draft complete by the time pumpkin season is in full swing. And the project I’m most excited about is a steampunk novel set in the Old West (hence the inspiration reading in the genre) that I am researching and outlining whenever the spirits move me. I’m really excited about this project. It combines my love of history (I have a Masters Degree and hope one day to go back and get my PhD) and speculative fiction and I can’t hardly wait to write it.

What’s on your reading list this fall? What projects are you hoping to complete?

Do I Need an Editor?

Today’s special guest is Becky Stephens, aka the “Twisted Book Junkie.” She is a freelance editor and book blogger and was kind enough to answer a few questions about editors, why a writer needs them and how to navigate the selection process:

Kim: First tell us a little about yourself, your background, and why you became an editor.

Becky: I have always loved escaping into an imaginary world filled with magic and adventure. It’s not that I don’t love my life, but I sure haven’t met any witches or mermaids. In high school, I discovered that I had a natural talent for spotting spelling and grammar errors. I knew then that I wanted to edit fiction for a living. Because I wasn’t willing to move from sunny Florida to New York City, I thought that I would never see my dream become a reality. However, the Internet has made it possible–even easy–to connect with authors and other publishing professionals. I have honed my abilities over the years, beginning in college where I majored in English Lit, then in my professional editing career. I’ve been editing in some capacity for nearly twenty years. It’s my passion and I love every minute of it.

Kim: Explain some basic editing terms: a copy edit vs. content edit, for example.

Becky: The definitions vary from publisher to publisher and from editor to editor, but basically a content edit (also known as a developmental or substantive edit) starts with the editor helping an author develop ideas. In the case where a manuscript is already completed, a substantive edit is a significant restructuring of a manuscript. The content editor helps an author organize, sharpen, and tighten a manuscript so that the characters and dialogue are believable, the plot is coherent, and the setting appropriate.

During a copyedit, the editor ensures that the prose is smooth and the style consistent. She provides line edits with the focus on spelling, grammar, punctuation, verb tense, word repetition and usage, and all the minute things that would drive “normal” people batty.

Kim: Why does an author need an editor? Aren’t spellcheck and beta readers enough?

Becky: The word processor’s spellcheck is NEVER enough. No matter how advanced, it is not guaranteed to differentiate between “your” and “you’re” or to spot “in” when “it” was correct. Beta readers can be useful, and I’ve noticed a lot more authors using them recently. I think it depends on what is expected of your betas. Do they read simply for overall plot? Will they spot an inconsistency, such as a character walking barefoot on a cold floor, but suddenly is wearing shoes two pages later? Will your betas notice the missing or incorrect punctuation before the closing quotation mark in front of a dialogue tag? These are things you should ask yourself and things you may need to discuss with your betas. If you aren’t 100% sure they will spot these types of things, you should look into hiring an editor.

Kim: Am I going to get sticker shock? Is there an industry standard for editing fees?

Becky: Rates vary considerably depending on the nature of the work, the time frame of the assignment, the degree of special expertise required, and other factors. I’ve seen some rates out there that would break the bank! Based on the ranges of common editorial rates set by the Editorial Freelancers Association, my rates are fairly reasonable.

Kim: How do I find the right editor for my project?

Becky: This is a tough one to answer. First, ask yourself some questions. Are you looking for someone who follows all the rules laid out in the Chicago Manual of Style, an editor who is willing to bend–or even break–the rules, or someone somewhere in between? What you want is an editor who meshes with your style and genre(s). Don’t hire the first editor that pops up on a Google search. Talk to other authors. Ask your author friends and their friends for references. Find a Facebook group or Goodreads group where you can inquire about editors. Authors who are happy with their editors are willing to brag about them. It’s up to you to do your research. Once you find a few potential editors, get in touch. Ask about her portfolio, what genres she is most passionate about, whether she specializes in content or copy editing, and about her other clients. Due diligence on your part is critical.

Kim: What are the most common mistakes/problem areas you see a lot?

Becky: I think the most common mistake I see–especially with new authors–is using incorrect dialogue tags and inappropriate punctuation with dialogue. For instance:

“Maggie, darling. You’re here!” Jonathan cried out. In this case, because the dialogue tag says he cried out, the exclamation point is overkill. A comma is all that is needed.

“Jonathan,” Maggie breathed. In the example above, an incorrect dialogue tag is used. Breathed is a body function, not a dialogue tag. Maggie probably whispered his name.
Thank you for having me on your blog, Kim.

Kim: Thank you Becky! Becky is the fabulous editor of the upcoming “Coriander Jones, On Assignment at Sabal Palm Academy.” She banished all of my errors and dissuaded me from USING ALL CAPS IN DIALOGUE! Go check out her website:http://www.beckystephensediting.com

Can You Schedule Creativity?

Successful authors often advise aspiring writers to “write every day.” Even if it’s a few hundred words, the theory goes, you have something on paper, have established the muscle memory of writing, and even if the five hundred words are drivel, eventually, that drivel will morph into something marvelous if you keep writing. Not making time to write writing every day, we are cautioned, makes us less likely to write well and to finish what we started.

I liken this to the way songwriters make “appointments” to co-write with artists, a common practice in certain musical genres. Although it seems counter intuitive to make an appointment to create art, there must be merit to the process because so many successful people employ it.

Alas, I can’t partake. Like all “pantsers” I strike when the iron is hot, write until I run fallow and then take a nap. I can go for weeks, even months without writing anything and then go on a creative binge, smiling as I go because I know I’m writing something that was waiting to be written. Whenever I’ve tried the “write every day no matter how bad it is” method, I end up frustrated and surrounded by gobs of words I’ll never use. If it’s true that writers have muses, then mine loves to nap as much as I do. So I wait until she gets caffeinated and decides to pop an idea, a scrap of dialogue, whatever, into my head so I can write it. I know she’ll come when the time is right. I know she’ll help me figure out the sticky middle and how it’s going to end. I just know.

Also, she doesn’t take appointments.

Happy Labor Day weekend! Stay safe and read a good book.

Kim