Giving thanks

Life’s busy, dear reader. We all have a lot going on. This week we at Forever Mountain Publishing are taking a little time to give thanks for all that we’ve been given and all that we’ve achieved in this past year (kinda what that thanksgiving thing is about…).

What are you thankful for? Think about that. Give thanks (if you want to). And, I’ll see you next post.

The “1 ½ Pass” Rides Again

Well, I finished the first draft… My next non-fiction book (the one I pitched at the conference 3 weeks ago) is a completed manuscript. Now comes the rest period where I set it aside and shift from writer mode to editor mode.

In the meantime, I’m doing some developmental editing on my other big project (well, one of my other big projects…)

What the story was

Back in the day, when the world was young, and I hadn’t published a book yet, I started a NANOWRIMO project, Johnson Farm. It was the story of a young man discovering family secrets and making hard life choices. I promised myself it was a one off. There wouldn’t be any sequels. I also sort of punted by deciding to self-publish instead of getting a publisher.

I worked hard. I got the book to the best point I could. And then, in short order, I published the “one off” book; realized I had a sequel; discovered some problems in the self-published first edition; realized a side story was needed to make the whole thing complete; and then started a plan to create the necessary related stories and publish them.

What the story (s) is (are)

Johnson Farm, the first edition, was published six years ago. The follow-on books (numbers two, three, and four of what I thought would be a six-book collection) have been written. But I can see a lot of work needs to be done.

I’ve learned a lot in the last six years. I’ve built my skills. Built my contacts. I found a better way of doing things. At last month’s conference, I concentrated a lot on developmental editing and had some bolt-from-the-blue realizations on what I needed to do to fix Johnson Farm. I also figured out some solutions for the parallel books. And all of that suggested how I should rework the last of the four existing books (after four, I realized I really need to get the written books right before starting the last two…)

So, I’m applying my realizations and my 1 ½ pass technique (developmental self-editing). To make some serious changes.

What the story will become

As a side effect of the conference, I discovered a publishing company that specializes in the kind of book I want to put out. It’s a much better option than self-publishing the next edition or some of the other publishers I’ve considered (I’m still self-publishing some stuff, but there are good reasons for that, and being afraid rejection isn’t a good reason…). So, I’m building a “standalone story with series potential” (that wording is important) and then the rest of a series that will be pitched to (and hopefully published with) a house specializing in my market.

Instead of one book with no sequels or six books, I’m looking at two stand-alone books and potential sequels. I’m taking an over grown and hurting project and turning it into a professional and perfected series of books.

What we do takes work and learning, dear reader. I don’t pretend to be perfect. I learn more with every project work on. Success is coming. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep working and looking. You can find it too.

Build your story. Build your dream. And, I’ll see you next post.

Book Review: It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences

I’ll admit it (actually I do regularly…), being a writer doesn’t mean I’m the best at spelling or punctuation.

Even when we know our subject well, there are things we may forget or overlook. So, having information sources we can refer to helps. It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences is one of those resources.

It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences by June Casagrande is a short humorous book about grammar. It reminds us about(or teaches us about) the grammar stuff we writers ought to know. It does one other thing too. It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences, is funny.

This isn’t a paid promotion, it’s just me sharing something I’ve found in my writing adventures. And it’s true, It was the best of sentences it was the worst of sentences, contains actual humor along with useful and thought-provoking information about perfecting our writing on the copy editing level.

It probably won’t help with the developmental editing part of the process, but it reminds us not to write about an “Antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers” (that’s the actual title of chapter 9…). It helps us with the small-scale part of the writing that makes a big difference.

It’s a quick read by someone who really knows what she’s talking about. And it’s an area in which we writers need to know what we’re talking about. So, in my estimation it’s really worth the reading time and space of the shelf.

It’s worth checking out, dear reader. And, I encourage you to check it out. Your writing is worth the effort.

I’ll see you next post.

Facing what you create (Honest self-editing)

I may have confused a few people at the conference this year. About half the sessions I went to were editing sessions and not “writer” sessions. Actually, I didn’t hit any “writer” sessions this year except the keynotes.

Since I’m a writer, why would I skip the writing sessions? Because there’s more to writing than cranking out a draft. There’s more than world-building. The key to successful writing is the stuff you do with your ideas. Once you have a draft, once you build your world, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

First drafts aren’t perfect (they might not even be complete)

Successful first drafts are full of energy. They’re full of the joy of creation. Usually, they’re full of energy because they take a lot of work. And they may be full of the joy of creation because we’re glad we got the thing done…

Because a first draft is a lot of work, we rarely have the time, energy, and attention to do all the things needed for a finished work. In fact, it’s often best to put some of those things to bed and leave them for later. While writing a first draft, editing can be a creativity killer.

There will be things we miss. There will be things we thought we wrote that we didn’t; things we wrote then forgot about; and parts that just don’t work on the page (even if they worked in our heads).

That means after the first draft, we’ve got to go back and work on the things we’ve written. And, we need to do more than just running Grammarly or spell check.

It’s usually a good idea to let the work rest a bit before we comeback and edit. We need to be in a different frame of mind for editing. We have to take off our creator hat and put on our editor hat.

Editor hats are funny things (and sometimes hard for writers to wear). That’s because an editor hat isn’t just a writer hat. A good editor hat is a reader hat. That means we have to fight some of our natural tendencies as writers. We have to stop protecting our babies unfairly.

Yeah, that first draft is our baby. We don’t want to see it struggle. But we and our writing have a lot of work and growing to do before things come of age. That means we have to look at the flaws and the successes.

It means we have to honestly look for and at the stuff that doesn’t work and find a better way. We have to fill in the spots we missed and cut the excess. That’s not easy. We probably like the things we write.

You love them (but maybe you should keep them to yourself…)

In every good first draft, there are bits we’re particularly pleased with. The problem is, they may not belong in the finished piece. If we’ve done research (and we should) there may be interesting facts we found that just don’t need to be there. If we’ve created good backstories, we’ll probably know lots of things about our characters that just bog down the manuscript (but we created them so we want to use them!).

I’ve got good news. We don’t have to send it all off into the void. We don’t have to send that factoid, detail or turn of phrase off into non-existence. But we can’t leave it in the manuscript.

If you use Scrivener, create another folder. If you write in Word, create a secondary file for those little nuggets of goodness. If you’re really old school and use a typewriter or pen, create a scrapbook. Find a place to keep the beloved but unsuitable bits. They may not fit this project, but you can come back for them and do something with them later.

You can keep them, just don’t keep them in the manuscript if they don’t work.

Understand what you can’t do (it’s not a one-person job)

One of the big secrets, the ones we don’t like to talk about (even to ourselves sometimes) is that we can’t see all the problems, especially not in our own work. Some of us may be lucky to find 60% of the problems in our work. And that’s ok. We get the 60% handled, and then we call for backup.

Editors, both in-house and freelance, exist for a reason. There’s a purpose to writing groups and beta-readers. They help us see the stuff we can’t see (or don’t want to see) in our work. We shouldn’t confuse a beta-reader with an editor (it’s two different jobs) and we don’t have to take all their advice. But, as writers, we’re well served to have that second (or third or fourth) set of eyes looking over our stuff.

It’s about the final product. It’s about achieving what we want to do with our writing. If your end goal is to have words in a drawer, a first draft is good enough. But if you want something more, dear reader, then we have to dig in, do edits, and face what we create.

Edit bravely, dear reader. Edit well. And, I’ll see you next post.

Fast Pitch!

Well dear reader, I’m back from LDSPMA 2022. There’s a lot to talk about. Today we’ll talk about one of the most valuable activities at a writer’s conference, doing Fast Pitch.

What is it?

What’s fast pitch? In the writers’ conference context, Fast Pitch is kind of like speed dating. You sign up for a ten-minute slot and talk to an editor or agent. Usually, you spend three minutes or so doing your pitch and (hopefully) spend the rest of the time answering questions from your chosen editor or agent.

Why does it matter?

When you’re doing fast pitch, you have access to an agent or editor. That means you can slip past the slush pile and talk to someone who can help you get your book published. You’re getting a response (“yes, send us the manuscript” or “no, we’re not interested”) in a few minutes rather than six months or more.

How hard is it?

It’s a challenge. There’s a lot of work involved. But, if you do it right, if you plan and execute well, you can really reap the benefits.

The worky-icky part is you have to fit your idea (the story of your story), your manuscript length, where you are in the process, your comps, and why you’re the right person to write the book into something you can calmly and clearly communicate in less than five minutes.

It’s serious work. But it’s also a great opportunity.

Pitching a book and getting accepted is definitely a way to ‘win’ the conference. And it’s only one benefit of attending!

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Good luck with your writing. I’ll see you next post.

A one percent return (Part 3)

In the previous parts of this discussion, we’ve collected a pile of research and refined it. Now, we’re going to use that pile to build our writing.

There are many writing and citing styles out there, and a plethora of subjects and subject matter to work with. There are many reasons for writing and many audiences to read that writing. It’s hard to advise you at this point. But there are three things I can tell you.

Know your audience (and why you’re writing to them)

Your audience is coming to whatever you write with expectations. You need to know those expectations. Writing your doctoral dissertation, the same way you write a children’s chapter book or picture book won’t get you very far (unless you’re studying the writing of chapter or picture books…). Writing your fantasy novel in the same style you would an accounting textbook is probably worse.

While we’re doing our research, it’s worth doing a little research on our audience and what they want. That might mean checking publisher requirements, picking up a style manual (and reading it), considering the people on your thesis/doctorate committee, or even reading a book or two in your genre (gasp!).

You also ought to think about why you’re writing to them. What is your purpose? Even non-fiction can be considered a story. But why are you writing to the people you’re writing to?  

  • If you’re writing to entertain, definitely stay away from that accounting book.
  • if you’re writing to inform, have good information in your text.
  • If you’re writing to convince… Well, we’re back to knowing your audience. Convincing a boss to hire you is a different thing than convincing a professor you’re ready to graduate. And neither one is the same thing as convincing kindergarteners to brush their teeth.

Allowing for your own words

This series has been about collecting research and using it in your writing. Don’t forget your own writing. Usually, we’re using research to support what we mean to say. We’re using it to build our ideas and arguments (hopefully the logical kind). The folks we’re quoting may be experts in their fields, but we’re the expert on what we’re trying to say (if those other experts were experts on what we’re trying to say, they would have said it already).

That means we need to pay attention to our writing and not let our voice and meaning to be lost in a slush of quotes and references.

Citation, it’s not just a good idea

Quoting and citing other people in our writing is good practice. Stealing their ideas is not.

This is an area where our writing style matters. We need to know how to reference other people’s work without looking like we’re trying to steal their thunder. It’s pretty simple (as much as any complex behavior can be simple):

  1. Be aware of the things you borrow from others (even indirectly).
  2. Mark those things appropriately in our text
  3. Attribute the marked text appropriately for the style we’re using. (Trust me Chicago and APA ain’t the same thing…)

It’s not just an “honesty thing” either. Proper citation shows we’ve done our research and know what we’re talking about. It makes us look better while acknowledging the original authors. It also supports our case if someone tries to plagiarize from us…

Writing can be challenging. Doing research for our writing is a challenge all its own. But, if we want success, it’s worth doing and worth doing right. It’s something we can all learn more about (Like seriously… I’m attending a conference session on research for historical fiction about two hours after I write this…).

Do your research, dear reader. Do it well. And, I’ll see you next post.

A one percent return? (part 2)

Last time we talked about the first step rough processing part of doing text-based research. This week we’ll talk about the next step of the process. We’ll process the metaphorical ore into the verbal/textual metal that we’ll incorporate in our writing (the part we’re talking about next week…).

I don’t want to scare anyone, but it’s time to do some reading. And yes, Johnny, I know you had to do some reading to get to this point. Before we’re done, we’ll read some of our material a second time, a third time, and possibly several iterations after that.

Picking out the best bits

At this point, we’re forming an idea of what we want to say. We’ve met a lot of the pieces we need (there may be more, but we’ve got a lot of them in front of us already). Much of our gathering work and hopefully our first pass reading is done. We’ve rejected the material that clearly doesn’t fit and collected the stuff we want to use.

Now the job is to dig into that material again. This time we’re not interested in a general “this article is good.” This time, we’re looking at the specific parts that are good. We’re making evaluations and decisions.

Are we dealing with primary sources or is the author quoting someone else? If they’re quoting someone else, do we also have the original in our stack? Can we find the original if we don’t have it?

Does the material support what we’re saying? Does it present an alternative view that we’ll need to explain (Don’t toss those out!)? Does the author point us toward other questions we need to ask?

If there are alternate views or additional questions, we’re better off addressing them than trying to hide them. Hiding them or avoiding them leaves us open to questions we might not want to deal with later. Dealing with them now shows that we’re knowledgeable in the area and strengthens our case.

Is the information really relevant? If we’re writing a paper about the nutritive value of oranges (the citrus fruit) we probably don’t need a lot of information about orange peppers or carrots. We definitely don’t need to talk about “don’t shoot me” orange hunting vests.

Do we have more information about a particular area or item than we need? We might keep the extra arround around, but we don’t have to use all of it.

Highlights and notes in the margin

So far, we’ve been talking about reducing our list to the sources that we really need or want. Eventually, we’ll have reduced the list of sources to the ones we want, but we’re not done. We have the sources, but are we going to use the entire book/article/blog post/whatever?

Eventuallylater, it’s time to mark things within the text. There are many tools to do this: highlighting, underling, comments, and others. I recommend you experiment and find what tools and methods work best for you.

I also recommend that you use a combination of tools and methods. Sure, underlining or highlighting marks the part you want to refer to. But they don’t tell you why you wanted to refer to them. Comments or notes in the margin will do that. Comments and notes also help you draw connections to other sources and your own ideas. They can help you draw the conclusions that you need to make. But they won’t tell you which specific sentence you want to quote,

The idea here is to mark and connect with the specific pieces within your research that you actually want to use. And then, go through that stack one more time, looking for holes, places where you have too much to use, themes that resonate but you haven’t put into your own words yet, and other treasures you might have missed in earlier searches.

By this point, we’ve done a lot of work. We’re almost where we need to be. Next week we’ll get into the cutting, fitting, and mixing the research we’ve found with our own words.

It’s a challenging process, dear reader, but it’s a key to good writing. Good luck in your writing (and research) dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Sometimes good things come in “Oh crap, what did I get myself into?” packages…

Next month I’m going to a writing conference (I might have mentioned that). I decided that I’m pitching a non-fiction book at the conference. Initially, I decided to finish a chapter before pitching, with the rest to come. Well, that’s been pushed to three chapters (and of course the pitch!). I really need these three in a decent state so I can feel confident in my pitch. And, even more so, because completing these three gives me the best understanding of the book for writing and delivering the pitch.

I’ve also received an honor that’s also a bit of a ‘tactical problem’. They’ve asked me to be the marketing and sales manager for the 2023 conference! Unfortunately, that means combining the job I was doing, another person’s job, and part of a third person’s job into a well-focused six-person team’s job (me and five other people). I’ve got a lot going on right now.

Because I’ve got a lot going on, several other projects are getting the “can I have a minute?” treatment. I didn’t want the blogs (or you, dear reader) to be one of those things. So, instead of just putting posts off till next week I wrote this post to let you know the stuff I’d been planning on posting will be up next week.

Seek that which is good, dear reader. Learn and grow. And, I’ll see you next post.

A one percent return? (part 1)

I’m working on a book chapter this week, with a word target of 10,000 words. That works out to be about 20 normal pages or 40 manuscript pages (give or take because… you know… formatting…). Not the biggest thing I’ve written, but not the smallest either.

In preparing to write the chapter, I’ve worked my way through 2,000 pages of reference material. One of my friends (and the accountant part of my brain) pointed out that I’m getting a one percent return. Well, actually it’s less than that and more at the same time.

It’s less because a one percent return would mean I just plonked out 20 pages worth of the 2,000 pages I read. That would be plagiarism and I’m not into that. Since I need to fit my own words in there, I read 2,000 pages to get maybe 10 pages worth of stuff.

But, it’s more because those 2,000 pages provide me with the material I need to write my own words and get them published. In the end, I’m only using a fraction of what I read, but I’m using it to create something new, something that supports my goals and objectives in a way regurgitating the previous material alone doesn’t.

A different kind of work…

Doing research is hard. In fact, in some ways, it’s harder than it used to be. Back in the old days (when I rode my mastodon to the university every day) I had to go to the library, collect a stack of bound journal volumes, and then go to a photocopier to make copies. After that, I had to read the articles I copied (not always easy) and extract the information before I could use it. And that’s not counting the work to find the articles.

Right now, in 2022, I haven’t had to photocopy an article in years. I don’t need hiking shoes and a luggage cart to find the information I need. I can find it electronically, but that’s where things get complicated and today’s work gets harder. There are a lot more sources out there. We don’t have to hand lug stuff, but we definitely have to achieve clarity about what we’re looking for and what sources to trust.

Defining what you’re looking for (even if you’re not sure what it is!)

As we start our search, we might not know what we’re actually looking for. If we knew, it would be much easier to find our information. But knowing what we’re looking for, the actual points and quotes we’re looking for comes at the end of the thought process, not the beginning.

So, we start by creating some broad and general definitions (“I would like to talk about what the word magnify means in a scriptural sense.”) and cast a wide net. We look over what we’ve got, and start deciding (“Three sources are all citing one original source. Since what I want is the bit that they’re citing, I’ll drop all three and go with the original if I can find it”).

Next, another iteration of refining, which allows us to further home in on what we’re looking for. We may also find that we need to “open another can of worms” by expanding our search into new areas. That’s ok we’re learning what it is we need to learn.

We’ll repeat the process with these new searches, but remember two things: 1) we need to keep our focus and remember what it is we’re working on and looking for (it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole) and 2) eventually we need to tie all the stuff we’re collecting and using into one coherent story (even if it’s non-fiction…)

It’s a complex process, and we haven’t even gotten to where we can use the stuff we’re finding. Miners and refiners of metal have to separate the ore from the host rock before they can refine the ore (and they usually have to refine the ore before they get a chunk of workable metal). We’re doing the same thing. We’ve collected some material and are separating it from the host rock (all the other information and “stuff” that’s out there.

In the next part of this series, we’ll move on to refining the ore, extracting the bits that matter from our research. And then (in part three) we’ll move on to actually “using the metal”, meshing the research with our own words to create something greater.

It’s a challenging process, dear reader, but it’s a key to good writing. Good luck in your writing (and research) dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

There’s still time… But not much!

If you’re reading this when the post went live, we’re about two weeks into the virtual conference/pre-conference for the 2022 LDSPMA conference. There’ve been some interesting sessions. I’ve learned a thing or two and took part in discussions on manuscript prep, book design, and how to handle “fast pitch” situations in selling the things we write.

There’s more to come in the next couple of weeks, including sessions on pitching fiction and nonfiction work, query letters, marketing and critiques. And after that comes the main (live) conference .

Yes, dear reader, some of the virtual sessions have already happened. But that doesn’t meantime’s run out. All of the virtual sessions have been recorded. If you register for the conference you gain access to the virtual session recordings, including the ones that’ve happened already, from the moment they’re posted (two business days after the session happens) until the end of the year.

That means you can watch (and rewatch) the sessions even if they happened before you registered.

If you write, and I know some of you out there do, a conference can be really helpful; not just with information, but through the contacts and friendships you can make. The LDSPMA conference has great stuff for music folks, artists, and filmmakers too. And, if you do it right, a conference can be a lot of fun.

Check out the website. And, I’ll see you next post.