Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Amanda Wells of FLOW STL Helps Writers Prepare for the Journey of NaNoWriMo

Article by Lauren Miller

On a brisk November day, writers prepared for the journey of NaNoWriMo with a camp session led by Amanda Wells, who taught them how to "Survive the Hike and Plan the Aftermath" of writing 50,000 words in a month. Wells joined writers from FLOW STL, which specializes in nurturing creative individuals in the art of storytelling, and she led interactive exercises on writing self-care and self-awareness for attendees.

Kicking off the first step of preparations, Wells asked writers to ask themselves the question, "What's in it for me?" when contemplating an ambitious writing project. Wells explained, "When we set out on a large project about writing and plotting, we sometimes forget why we're doing it," she said. By focusing on what we benefit from attempting and completing this project from its outset, we can reflect back upon those reasons like a compass when we feel like we have lost our way. From your answer, draw forth three words that are your central motivations, like a constellation of stars, and hang them in your writing space to remind you of the reasons why you set out on this journey in the first place. What are these motivational words?

The second stage is to make sure you have packed everything you will need. Wells instructed writers to think about the rituals of writing, both of famous writers like Hemingway--he would straighten all of the pictures in his home--and those habits you may do without thinking--like reaching for your favorite coffee cup. So, ask yourself, what are your writing rituals? By taking a few minutes to set up your space with all of your essentials, you will help yourself remove some of the distractions that may get in the way of the writing flow (no pun intended). Next, write down three signposts for personal development that you want to grow into along the way. Perhaps this is researching a specific time period or getting better at writing dialogue or using fewer gerunds. How will you measure your personal growth -- what does success look like for you?

"Writing is about more than storytelling. It's important that you establish things outside of this that remind you of why you are doing this, for yourself. […] You have to prepare to embrace a bigger idea than the 50,000 words you're committing to," Wells said. So, what are your writing goals? Maybe it is committing to writing 30 minutes a day, no matter what. Perhaps you'd rather focus on a daily or weekly or monthly word count goal. More than likely, your goals may emerge from those original motivations you established earlier, and that's okay, too. The purpose should be growth for you as a writer, beyond the success (or failure) of this individual NaNoWriMo project.
 "How do I feel about what I just accomplished today and why?"
At the end of each writing session, before you put away your keyboard or pen/pencil, ask yourself the following question, "How do I feel about what I just accomplished today and why?" This kind of self-reflection and awareness practice can enable writers to remember to take care of themselves, be attuned to their own needs, and keep the storytelling continuing. Draw from the answers to these questions to remind yourself why you are doing this when the temptation to put off writing for a coffee date or a holiday party comes your way or when you are discouraged and want to give up.

After NaNoWriMo, Wells suggested that writers should write a letter to themselves for next year. "Get in your favorite place, without your manuscript, just with a journal. Think about those questions you've asked yourself before. […] What do I absolutely love that I did over the last month? Was it a specific moment, a particular piece of research, a compliment from someone?" This is you cheering your future self on, so after you've written this letter, seal it, and don't open it until November 1 next year. You'll have a wonderfully personalized letter of encouragement from the person who knows you best (you!). By incorporating these questions of self-awareness and making time out to focus on self-care to nurture yourself as a writer, you will be taking positive steps to set yourself up for a lifetime journey of storytelling.

Speaker Bio
Amanda Wells is a writer, scholar, and community builder. She was awarded the first ever stARTup grant from the Arts & Education Council of St. Louis, and is joyously busy building FLOW, a community-based literary arts center, at Centene Center for the Arts. Wells is a member of the traveling poetry collective Liminal Women, who claim the vocation of "aiding and abetting women on the threshold." She has a Masters in English Composition from the University of Missouri - St. Louis and has featured on various stages around the country, including Kranzberg Center for the Arts, The Focal Point, The Stage at KDHX, Prohibition Hall, and even a rundown truck stop in Tennessee. Her work has been printed in The 2River View, Bellerive, UMSL’s Litmag, Flood Stage: An Anthology of Saint Louis Poets (which she also edited), and elsewhere. She plans to put more miles on her Nissan in pursuit of liberation and magic, however those may find her.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Writer Beware Workshop Oct. 6: How Not to Get Published

Article written by Jennifer Stolzer

“This [talk] is titled ‘How Not to Get Published,” Richard C. White noted at the Oct. 6 workshop. “Actually, I’m going to help you all GET published, but I’m going to help you avoid some of the silliness that goes on in the world.”
Richard’s seen a lot of silliness over the years as one of three members of the publishing watchdog group, Writer Beware, and as an author who’s written everything from comics and super heroes to nonfiction and noir. He started writing at fifteen, working for a local newspaper, and currently is a technical writer. “I have no pride, I’m a writer,” he laughed.
“Writing is an art, but publishing is a business, and it behooves everyone to learn the business behind writing.” He encouraged writers to do a lot of research before launching their queries for an agent or publisher.
We spend a lot of time creating our work, yet a lot of people send it to the first agent they find. But anybody can print up some cards and call themselves an agent, as noted on a satirical website called Bad Agent Sydney “And that’s how cats end up getting manuscripts,” Richard said.
If your agent doesn’t have the same goals as you do, it will be a waste of time. Don’t be afraid to pass up an agent that isn’t a good fit. “A book publishable by one is publishable by many,” he said.
The traditional route is trade publishing. Agents are the gatekeepers, publishers are the producers, and readers are the target market. You have both desirable and undesirable agents. Desirables are established agents or new agents. Undesirables are amateur, incompetent, and fee-charging agents, who are essentially scammers.
Agents sell their clients’ books to advance-paying publishers. They work on commission and have experience in the publishing industry.
“Many are former editors or have come up as a junior agent through an agency,” he said. They know editors and how to get your books in front of them. They proudly show off their clients’ work. There is no such thing as a “stealth agent”-- it’s all about networking.
New agents should still have experience in the publishing industry. Most worked for other agents when they started out, but have broken off to start their own agency. Many are looking for their own niche or to specialize in genre or age group. Like experienced agents, they work strictly on commission.
“AAR (Association of Author Representatives) specifically says you cannot ask for money up front and be a member,” Richard says. “If you’re paying [an agent] up front, they don’t need to sell your book. They’ve already got your money.”
Amateur and incompetent agents aren’t necessarily bad people. They have little to no experience in the publishing industry, and they know very few (if any) editors personally. Consequently, many send manuscripts to inappropriate editors. Many got frustrated selling their own books and turned instead to selling others’ books. Some are agents as a side business and work on your book as a hobby. Most became an agent with the best of intentions, but being an “agent is not an entry-level position … Would you trust a doctor who skipped medical school?” Richard asked. “Whether new or established, get an experienced editor.
Fee-charging agents may require a reading fee with submission, or may have a “marketing,” “submission,” or “evaluation” fee before accepting you as a client. Some offer a “detailed critique” for a fee or sell “adjunct” services, like editing services. Fee-charging agents might recommend a vanity publishing company, which is also a fee-charging company. They may refer you to a freelance editor or editorial service/offering or require an agent’s paid editing service before they will publish you.
While some established agents do offer their services as editors, the difference is there’s a firewall between the businesses. You can’t submit to them as an agent and also as an editor.
Other undesirable agent red flags are agents who specialize in new authors, specifically. That’s basically telling you “we’re going after people who don’t know what they’re doing.” They may have no list of clients or post anonymous testimonials. These agents may refuse to talk about sales or have no verifiable sales. When agents approach authors, it’s called trawling.
“If you land a plane in the Hudson River and no one gets killed yes, you’ll have agents lined up to approach you, but not everyone is Captain Sully,” Richard said. Agents on Pitmad and Pitwars and other Twitter contests are often legit, but many are not. Undesirables scoop up new authors, including NaNoWriMo writers, trying to scam them into sending money. These fake agents are trying to take advantage of ignorance.
Another red flag is non-standard commissions. Standard commission is 15%, with 20% for foreign sales. If an agent is asking 40%, that is a scam. Consider an agent’s correspondence and website. If these are not free of grammatical errors and typos, that is a warning sign. “You don’t want to write better than your agent,” Richard said. Additionally, offering agent services to poets is a red flag because agents do not generally represent poets. “If an agent brings up any of these points or asks you for money, run, do not walk, to the nearest exit,” Richard said.
There are different types of legitimate publishers. Commercial publishers are those like the Big 5 (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster). Medium-sized publishers might specialize in different genres or niche titles. University, regional and specialty publishers will know what bookstores and outlets would be appropriate for the market. This includes books on civil war, local ghost stories, etc.
Small press and e-publishing companies are not always a bad idea, he said, noting some do gangbuster work for romance and erotica. They may give you resources you do not have yourself, such as licenses for characters, distribution deals, and the like.
If the publishing company you find is new, wait at least two years before submitting to them to make sure they are stable.
Self-publishing is evolving. Tools are becoming more available to authors to edit, market, and publish their own work.
“The average small press sells something like 75 copies of a book over its lifetime,” Richard said. “Many small presses can’t do much more for you than you can do for yourself self-publishing.”
However, most larger publishers will not accept un-agented material, which is where medium, small, and self-publishing come in. “With self-publishing becoming so much more popular, the sharks are moving out to the self-publishers,” Richard warned.
Vanity Presses
Vanity presses do little more than print your book for a fee and put their name on it as the printer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for some specialized books with limited appeal, like a family history, memoir, or recipe book that will only sell to a very select group of people. Those with a built-in audience can get some benefit from having a printer, for example, speakers who offer a book companion to a talk.
Vanities are not good for fiction. Because of short print runs, the sticker price is usually higher than trade published. A lot vanity presses don’t edit, but print “as-is,” and they offer no returnability, making them harder to get into bookstores.
While vanity presses are up-front about their services, reverse-vanity presses advertise as “traditional” publishers. The also offer little to no editing and books are priced beyond the casual reader’s interest. Few bookstores accept them because they are usually non-returnable or return at a bad discount.
There’s no up-front fee at these presses because their primary income is from selling books to the authors. They target retirees, college kids, and new authors. “They tend to be an author farm.” Richard said. “They accept everything that comes in.” They have setup fees or deposits on books, pressure authors to buy their own books, and have a pre-purchase or pre-sale requirement.
“If they force you to buy 75 copies, that will cover their entire print run and some profit for them,” Richard said. “No publisher should ever be asking you for money, no agent should ever be asking you for money.”
Watch for terms like “subsidy,” “co-op,” “joint venture,” or “partner.”
“There are hybrid authors, but not hybrid publishers,” Richard said. Companies that volunteer to match your investment are taking your money.
When it comes to self-publishing, it’s important to understand the difference between being a writer and being a publisher. Self-publishing is a full-time job in itself, which has a lot of hidden costs. You have to balance your time between writing, publishing, promoting, and working with artists and editors. Publishing can eat into your writing time.
“If you’re not paying yourself, then why are you doing it?” Understand how to separate paying the company from paying the writer. Find successful mentors who can help guide your path to success. Be honest with yourself. For instance, if you’re not good at editing, you should hire an editor.
“If you are a writer [only], do not pay for an editor. Edit yourself, have beta readers. If you are a publisher, you probably should hire an editor,” Richard said. “If you put out an unprofessional-looking book, you will probably never sell another one.”
Create a business plan and stick to it. Do not spend your savings to get a book out, and if it’s not working, know how to walk away. There’s no shame in admitting when something isn’t working -- ninety-percent of new businesses fail in the first two years.  Remember highly successful authors in self-publishing are notable because they’re rare.
Editors can be predatory as well. Make sure your editor has qualifications, and ask for a chapter or sample gratis to test their style. Make sure they are the type and style of editor you need at the time.         While publicists can help, make sure you have a very good sense of what they’re doing for you and for how much. You need to make sure you’re getting a good return on investment. Publicists even have a hard time selling books for big companies.
Watch out for reviewers who ask for money, including Kirkus. Kirkus reviews are good when they are organic, but paid ones do not weigh the same in the minds of librarians and booksellers.
Always ask yourself, “What’s in it for them?” Be clear about what are they doing for you and what they doing to you.
When in doubt, remember Yog’s Law: “Money flows to the author.” Also recall Crispin’s Corollary: “The only place an author signs a check is on the back.”
Self-publishing is different because you are also a publisher, but you -- the author you -- should also be paid. “We all want to be read, but when you take six months to a year to write your novel, take a second and think, ‘Is this really what I want to do with it?’”
Writer Beware
Writer Beware’s mission is to track, expose and raise awareness of the prevalence of fraud and other questionable activities in and around the publishing industry. Founded in 1998, Writer Beware is concerned not just with issues that affect professional authors, but also with the problems and pitfalls that face aspiring writers. Writer Beware is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, with additional support from the Mystery Writers of America, the Horror Writers Association, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Writer Beware Blogs: www.accrispin.blogspot.com
Absolute Write Water Cooler – Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Checks (especially for those who don’t write science fiction and aren’t self-published) www.absolutewrite.com/forums

NOTE: If you have a lead on a bad agent or publisher, or get a suspicious solicitation, forward your email to beware@sfwa.org
Speaker Bio
Richard C. White is the author of tie-in fiction for a number of media franchises, including Star Trek and Doctor Who, as well as an original works such as Gauntlet Dark Legacy: Paths of Evil and Harbinger of Darkness. Among other interesting jobs, he has worked as a journalist, a substitute teacher, an independent comics publisher, an analyst for the military, and, currently, as a technical writer. Find him at richardcwhite.com or on Twitter @nightwolfwriter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Authors describe genre differences: speculative, mystery and romance

Article by T.W. Fendley

Those puzzled by the differences between fiction genres left the Guild’s Sept. 8 workshop much wiser after hearing from local authors Jo Hiestand (mystery), Camille Faye (speculative) and Mia Silverton (romance).

Speculative Fiction
CAMILLE FAYE described speculative fiction as “not being set in our world.”
“The settings have imaginative elements and futuristic ideas,” she said. “There are a lot of arguments about where to shelve these books, which often blend more than one genre, like paranormal romance.”
Some of the speculative fiction subgenres she described were:
§  Science fiction – “what if” stories about advancements in science and technology (think DNA, UFOs, etc.)
o   Steampunk is a subgenre, using tech of 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery
§  Fantasy – often set in medieval times
§  Superhero
§  Horror
§  Paranormal/supernatural – a little spooky, but not hard-hitting like horror – ghosts, vampires, werewolves, magicians
§  Magical realism – Looks like the real world but has a magical undercurrent because someone has a special quality, revealing magical or mystical elements – more literary or artistic than commercial fiction.
She gave the example of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, the magical realism story of a woman whose feelings become part of the foods she cooks.
Because of its literary nature, where the goal is to have beautiful turns of phrase in every single sentence, authors of magical realism have difficulty meeting the criteria for commercial authors.
“Midlist authors have to crank out two to four books per year, focusing on story, plotline, and character development to make their books page-turners,” Camille said.
Why write speculative fiction? For Camille, it’s about sharing big ideas.
“You can make sense of this world by creating imagined worlds and showing how they are influenced by interpersonal relationships, cultural movements, technological advances, or new philosophies with regards to scientific advancement,” she said.

JO HIESTAND said the direction of your plot determines what mystery subgenre a story falls into. Using the well-known Wizard of Oz plotline as an example -- four characters trying to get to the Emerald City -- what kind of story will this be?
o   If they’re being chased and given one clue after another before they move on, you have mystery.
o   If it’s not about “who dunit” but focuses on their challenges to get there, it’s action/adventure or thriller.
o   If they’re trying to get there before the Wicked Witch of the West, it’s suspense.
o   If the Munchkins are mutant killers, then it’s horror.
She described the three main mystery subgenres as:
o   Classic – draws on solving the crime – usually a murder is the core of the story, and the focus is on finding the murderer’s identity
o   Suspense – the crime has not yet taken place – the culprit may be known or suspected, anticipation builds tension, to see if he/she can be stopped from striking again
o   Thriller – focuses on feelings of excitement and suspense – espionage stories with sex and violence, detective stories focusing on the struggle between good and evil, kill or be-killed situations
Within these three subgenres are other categories defined by your protagonist and the direction your plot takes:
o   Amateur sleuths – cooperate with authorities but are viewed as meddlers, but they solve crimes – archeologist, librarian, dog trainer, the list is endless
o   Police procedurals – crimes solved using police rules of evidence
o   Private detectives – usually licensed or ex-police
o   Cozy – small towns, seemingly peaceful places, little violence, usually off-stage, no gory details, satisfactory conclusion
o   Golden Age – emphasis on solving puzzle
o   Hard-boiled mysteries – noir novels with grim details, settings dingy and rough
o   War
o   Medical
o   Cat crimesolvers
o   Hobbies or careers – portrayed by protagonist – scrapbooking, quilts, baseball 
o   Medical and legal – protagonist not a detective but solves as part of legal practice
To heighten suspense, stories should have a bad guy who is as good as the sleuth (e.g Sherlock and Moriarty), she said. All the characters should either help the sleuth or muddy the waters. The solution should make sense and give reader satisfaction.
Keys to this are the suspect’s “motive, means and opportunity,” Jo said. The suspect must have:
o   a reason to commit the crime
o   a way to commit the crime
o   a chance to commit the crime
What if you don’t want to write about murder, which is the ultimate social crime? Your focus needs to be something important or valuable, such as government papers, stolen jewels, poison pen letters, vandalism, threats, or kidnapping.
“The motive can be anything plausible – debt, feud, jealousy, love, rage, revenge,” Jo said.
How long should a mystery be? The average book is 80,000 words. Cozies can be shorter – 55,000 to 79,000 words – and thrillers can be longer – 100,000 words.
“If you want published by a traditional publisher, you should pay heed to the suggested word counts,” she said. “Publishers think books of this length work the best.”
 If your book is incredibly long, make it a trilogy or a two-parter. “People love series,” she said. If it's short, add another character or a subplot that gives the sleuth another way to investigate.

MIA SILVERTON noted that romance books are a $1 billion industry, accounting for 34 percent of the fiction market, with about 20,000 titles published each month.
“The main plot focuses on individuals falling in love and struggling to make their relationship work,” she said. The ending has lovers rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love as they accept each other. Traditionally, romance books had “happily ever after” endings, but some are now “happily ever after – for now.”
Romance can take on any tone, style, place, or time. This gives you more opportunity to address other socio-economic issues.
The “heat” levels range from sweet to extremely hot, creating different subgenres:
·      Sweet – handholding, some kissing, no sexual content – G-rated
·      Moderate – more seductive, physical quality, most is off the page—PG-13-rated
·      Sensual – lots more sensuality, descriptive quality, more R-rated content
·      Erotic – explicit description, entire physicality shown, not BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism)
Each publisher might have different word counts, so always check before submitting. A general word count guide is:
·      Novellas 20,000 to 40,000
·      Short 40,000 to 56,000
·      Medium 56,000 to 84,000
·      Long 84,000+
·      Historical 89,000 – set before the 1950s, including medieval and ancient China
·      Contemporary 84,000 – set 1950s to present
Romance books can also be about sports, the military, rock stars, billionaires, religious or spiritual themes, erotica, New Adult/Young Adult, or suspense.
Discussing disclaimers, Mia said, “the best authors explore the concept that the central character always offers [sexual] consent for both parties – [Authors] are also very conscious to label the back of their covers with trigger warnings for sensitive readers.”
When it comes to crossovers, “that’s the fun of romance these days,” Mia said. Some popular titles are Jeannie Lin’s historical steampunk Gunpowder Alchemy, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and Angie Fox’s Southern Ghost Hunter and Demonslayer series.
The three authors agreed: First write your story and don’t worry so much about the genre. It might be the thing that changes someone’s life – they need your story! You can think about genre classification later, and your critique group or the Writers Guild can help you with that.
While you should write what you want, you should also deliver what readers want.
“It is a business,” Mia said.
How do you market your books?
Mia – She relies on social media ads, word of mouth, networking, talks, Penned Con, and Red Coat PR. 
Jo – “[On my first book], I kept getting rejections with comments – almost there. Another member of Sisters in Crime who was published read it and gave me a five-page critique. I was mad, but she gave me three great pieces of advice.” Jo’s now been published for fourteen years.
Camille – “I did a marketing plan with the release of my second book; for my third book, due out next April, I will schedule two months for marketing, including in-person signings, talks like this, Penned Con (and other writing conferences).” Facebook and everything online leads to her website, and she has a reader email list.

Mia – After getting recommendations from other writers and looking at editors’ websites, she narrowed her search to three editors. She submitted five pages to see how well they’d work together. She encourages writers to get developmental editing to check for holes in the plot, what’s not working, or changes needed so the reader can connect to the characters.
“It doesn’t matter if the writing is perfect if it’s boring,” she said. Editors will usually want to see a sample of your work before giving an estimate.

What’s next for you?
Camille’s third book is coming out soon. With children ages 10 and 5, she was able to finish writing it in one year. Her next goal is to finish the series with books four and five.
Jo said one of her series, traditionally published with Wild Rose Press, is now available in audio. The other series is self-published. “And last night, I thought of new series,” she said.
Mia’s identified a couple of agents she would like to work with. Her Work in Progress is a rock star series she hopes to launch one book a month, in addition to working fulltime

Camille – Beginning writers worry that someone will steal their work, but just let go of that fear. Chances that some random stranger will get your story published are slim, and you automatically have copyright.
An audience member who works for law firm noted that if you should need to pursue legal action such as a lawsuit or cease/desist order, your work would need to be registered with the Library of Congress (that costs $35 and can be done online).

Are you able to support yourself by writing?
Camille – “If I did two to four books per year, I think I could. I’m trying to decide if I'm willing to work fourteen-hour days, six days a week. I’m doing well for what it is.”
Jo – “If the price of a book is $15 and the author gets $1.50, how many books per month would you have to sell? Very few people are supported by their writing.”
Mia – “No, I am not making a living yet. I am only just starting in this business. I feel it’s finding a balance between learning, producing, and not overworking. It’s not for the feint of heart. The nurse in me says ‘take care of your body. It’s essential.’ The whole body system will start to shut down working fourteen-hour days, setting you up for obesity, cardiovascular issues, and increasing the risk for diabetes. Schedule your exercise, eat healthy. If you’re not at peak performance, your writing won’t be either.”

About the Speakers
JO HIESTAND is the founding president of the Greater St Louis chapter of Sisters in Crime. She graduated with a BA degree in English and departmental honors from Webster University. She writes three mystery series -- two British and one local. She’s been a secretary and a graphic designer. Her hobbies include photography, music and researching the Scottish branch of her family.
CAMILLE FAYE lives in Missouri, loves on her family, and writes while her kiddos are in school. Her writing is inspired by her experiences growing up in a haunted house and her travels to 28 countries and counting! “Like” her Camille Faye Author page on Facebook where you can give your feedback for upcoming books. And visit www.camillefaye.com to sign up for her newsletter, download book discussion questions, and get the latest on Camille’s writing.
MIA SILVERTON is a St. Louis-born, contemporary women's fiction and romance author. As a writer, she feels called to help change lives in a different way -- by crafting dynamic stories. She promises to bring worlds full of strong characters, witty fun dialogue filled with heroes and heat. She strongly believes that we can all find happiness, sanctuary and even healing in a beautifully written book. Many times in the past, a well crafted phrase, word or story created a shift in her when the time was needed and she feels called to pay that forward. Mia loves to interact with her readers and you can connect with her on FB, Instagram, Twitter or visit at www.miasilverton.com. Make sure to stay up to date with the latest and greatest news by joining Mia's Silver Pen Tribe on her website.