Giving the date seems superfluous when I'm still gorging on the wonderful workshops from Wednesday. That's the joy of this virtual conference because we aren't limited to the workshops that we could attend. We can attend all of them (and I'm doing my best to make that happen).
The first workshop that is most pertinent to each of you is the creative world beyond tenure track teaching. I honestly wish we had had something like this conversation in my MFA because the reality of academia is not what we imagine when we're in our MFA where it's all about craft and the joys and pains of workshop. Tenure track faculty positions are few and far between in the current climate, so they discussed the challenges of tenure track (TT) and some options outside of TT. Here were some suggestions:
There was also the "grading creative writing," which is never a bad class to revisit. One of the things I always find missing at AWP is a track for craft, which you learn here at SNHU. I imagine that's because their attendees are either faculty or MFA students, but I always think they do a disservice not to put more emphasis on craft, but I guess that's my personal preference. It's been a fascinating experience and I look forward to the final days.
It's 930PM local, and I'm still watching workshop videos.
There's such an interesting mix of good and bad about virtual writing conferences. On the negative, it's a solitary experience. I know at least two of my colleagues are registered for the conference, but I don't "see" them. If there are over 200 attendees in a workshop (and that's been true in a couple of instances), there is no convenient way to see if my colleagues are there. More, I don't pass them in the book fair or the Expo. We can't meet for lunch and talk about what the best workshop of the morning was. There's no post-dinner confab at a local watering hole.
To AWP's credit, they did have a Tito's vodka segment during a networking event that demonstrated how to make an American Mule (I was underwhelmed...you mean, that's all you do?), but it's just not the same as sipping a martini that you wouldn't drink in your everyday life while exploring the limits of the writing craft with brilliant people who live in faraway places. In short, there's nothing glamourous about it that differentiates conference life from everyday life.
Ah, except for the workshops. The best thing about this particular conference is that they're leaving the workshop videos up "on-demand" for another month, so we can watch as much as our heart's desire (I have much desire for these workshops, too). Normally, I would have to choose between the CNF workshop "On the question of essay v memoir" and "how do we get free" (women writing about liberation). With this model, I can go to both. Once in "live" mode (most are prerecorded to prevent tech issues) and the other long after others have gone to the Tito's vodka party.
So far today, I have attended
And I have 7 more that I want to watch from today's agenda (just maybe not tonight). It's also easier in the virtual mode since I'm not traipsing through a huge convention center, in heels (I can't help myself...I feel incomplete without them). I won't get tired out from all the walking and all the noise. I don't have to quit at dinner time, and I don't have to split up from my group so we can get to as many workshops as possible. We can attend any and all, and that's quite a benefit.
Tomorrow promises to be interesting in a new way. Typically, after an evening in Tito's party lounge, that first-morning workshop is at risk of cancellation due to a hangover or an audience that overslept. With this model, we can sleep in and still catch our morning workshop at a time and place of our choosing. If nothing else, the topics ahead are of interest. There's a very strong focus on marginalized writers, women writers, queer writers, feminist issues, diversity issues, and more poetry workshops than I would ever want.
The poetry workshops simply mean I'm not jumping up and down to go to EVERY workshop. No matter how much I've tried, poetry is not my jam.
The first couple of workshops in the morning are about writing grief. I have a fascination with the topic, so there are a couple that I plan to attend. There's also a "is a creative writing Ph.D. right for me?" (Someone save me from my own joy in learning), race studies, video game writing, and loads more. I'll share what I can.
Every writer struggles with criticism. A friend of mine breaks out the M&Ms every time she gets a revision letter from her editor. All of us handle it differently, but like grief, it tends to follow a pattern.
It's easy to get stuck between anger and bargaining. Anger gives us a sense of purpose. In workshop, this is often when we start to think or say bad things about our critiques, because that's better than believing bad things about our writing. My friend (see above) is more likely to breeze past anger and jump into bargaining (right after the very trope-ish but true dependence on chocolate). Me, I like anger, so if your first response is to launch into a vehement and often silent argument with your critiquer? I get you.
But at some point, hopefully, I chill out enough to move to depression (no chocolate, just deep self-loathing). Finally, I get to the more balanced response of acceptance: Ok, so they don't get my genius. It's not their fault, because my vision doesn't unfold on the page. What do I need to change, fix, delete, add-to, in order for the reader to get me?
As you review any criticism, consider how you can move to a more balanced and emotionally-healthy response. Acceptance isn't acceptance that your writing is bad. Acceptance is the realization that you're human and your writing isn't perfect. Acceptance is the realization that your critiquer--be it teacher, classmates, or editor--may have a point.
See my YouTube video about some typical responses to workshop: Seeking Blessings for the end of the world
AWP is Association of Writers and Writing Programs, with the conference open to faculty, students, and writers (independent of a college) held in San Antonio this year. So here's some cool new stuff on the relationship between persona (typically discussed in regards to creative nonfiction) and character.
[As background, I have both an MFA (fiction) and an MA (creative nonfiction) in creative writing]
When I went through my MA, I started with a personal essay class because my mentor needed one more student for a particular class to go. I fell in love with the genre and proceeded to take every class I could. In the personal essay class, we studied Dinty Moore's book on the topic. In my memoir class, we studied Sue Williams Silverman's Finding Innocence and Experience: Voices in Memoir. The first personal essay I polished and submitted won a contest and a Pushcart nomination. Jill Christman was the judge.
So, imagine walking into a workshop where all 3 of these writers were presenting. It was surreal, and wonderful, and educational. :)
Persona isn't something we talk about in fiction, because we know the characters are fiction. There's no need for a persona, but in CNF, the writer is on the page, yet it's not fully the writer. It's a persona. It's a piece of self without the whole being.
Dinty Moore, during the presentation, said that persona is the embodiment of self but tidied up. “Constructed of the truth but not fully the truth,” creating a more consistent character than the self. "Persona is a consistent and engaging personality on the page." Persona is a glimpse of who we are. We dial it up, emphasize, and stretch" without embellishing or misleading.
[the same can also be said of plot in CNF... Books have a consistent plot, but real life does not.]
Jill Christman clarified more: "The I is a mark on the page. It is not you on the page. You can try to make it a version of you, but your 3-dimensional self is a multitude of I’s. The persona will not contain all your selves."
Ok, so how can we use this information in fiction? On the face, there is no tie, because we're not writing about flesh-and-blood people, but when we look deeper, persona ties directly to characterization. It's very easy to write flat characters, those one-dimensional beings who are there to serve the needs of the writer and the plot, but easy doesn't equate to good. In this case, a flat character annoys or bores the reader, so the same elements in selecting character traits also applies to fiction.
If you want a round character, you have to demonstrate their roundness. You need to find those ticks and traits that you want to demonstrate. The character must remain consistent (a thief doesn't suddenly become a priest... at least without motivation/change), but the character should show some of their different traits when encountering different situations.
Here's an example I use with my undergrads. You use a different voice on Facebook (where grandma can see it) than you do in Snapchat where it's just your friends. You know, often intuitively, what type of posts you can get away with on the different social media platforms.
The same is true of persona. As the writer, you can adjust the character's behaviors based on who is around, so a character in a thriller might act one way with a client, another with a coworker, and yet put on a different persona when they're dealing with criminals (or suspects). Give your characters some depth, some roundness, by pulling out true-to-life traits and personas.
If you're struggling with a character, consider what some of his/her traits and personas might be and how they would manifest within the story. If you don't like the character, or feel they're flat, consider giving them different personas that makes more sense for the story.
In the end, fictional characters will never be wholly human, wholly realistic, but we can give them multiple dimensions so they're interesting and full. How can you use persona in your work?
Every time, and I mean every time, I submit to my publisher and/or an agent, they ask for comp titles. Don't get caught flat-footed. Do the research before you get ready to submit. Know where your book fits into the literary marketplace. When a publisher sees the comp titles, they start to figure out where to market your book.
If you're struggling to find comps, ask one of your critique partners or BETA readers as they may have a more objective view of your story. Or, do the research:
So, how do you do that? Well, reading voraciously helps. I sometimes offer comp title suggestions to my students, and I can do that because I have read a wide-variety of books and I notice similarities. Note that comps work when the similar work is well-known. If you give a comp that's obscure, you're giving the impression that there's no market for your book. Eek, that's not what you want to do!
In the end, comparable-titles are a way to demonstrate your knowledge of your genre and the literary marketplace. They're also shorthand for a longer discussion on market, niches, etc. If you have to do the research, and for reasons beyond me you don't ask a librarian, at least have fun with it!
Post your comp titles in the comments below.
No work is perfect. That's the truth and the liberation from our perfectionist tendencies. No one expects perfection from you.
So don't expect perfection from yourself. No perfect writer exists, which leads to what I want to discuss today. Editing and revision in the course of writing and publishing.
Most books go through several rounds of editing and revision before publication. At one time, I had heard that a famous author of epic novels had a non-editing clause in her contract. I don't know if this is truth or internet rumor, but I can assure you, such a thing would be a mistake. Every work can be made better.
Last year I gave a keynote address to a women's group, and at the end, during Q&A, someone asked me what editors do. Oh, I could go on and on, but it boils down to this: an editor makes the work better. Writing and editing are collaborative processes. Editors are an asset, not gate guardians (although they can be).
So let's talk about the many ways your book will be polished and improved before publication, because this will demonstrate that every book on the market has gone through multiple stages of editing. What you see on the page is the result of finely honed editing and collaboration skills, not inherent genius (although for some writers that may also be true). So don't compare your drafts to someone else's published novel.
1) Self-editing and revision prior to submission. You are probably editing and revising as you work. You'll receive critiques, feedback, and workshop commentary to improve your original submissions. You'll read/revise/edit after you finish the first draft. And once you think it's polished, you'll send it to an editor/agent. What follows are the steps in their process.
1.5) Revise and resubmit. Some publishers have a little test between the "we like the work and are considering publication" and publication. That's called a revise and resubmit letter. The editor sends you a letter in which they say they are interested in contracting with you, but they need you to make some changes before they will go to contract. I had one of these early in my career, before I jumped onto the mommy-track, and I didn't realize that the editor wasn't saying she hated my work. She was saying she liked my work, but she wanted to see how well I took correction. How well I could make required changes. Obviously, past-me failed that test. If you receive a lovely or not so lovely revise and resubmit, you're working without guarantee of contract, however, the editor took the time to evaluate the work and list what would improve the work and ready it for publication. They wouldn't waste their time if they weren't interested.
If you get this letter, run-don't-walk to your computer and make the changes. They're serious about your work, but want to see how you handle the revisions. How long does it take you? What's your attitude about the changes? (please don't argue with an editor/agent at this point... save that for when you have a standing (professional) relationship). How well did you make the proposed changes?
2) Content edits. These are larger revisions. Once you sign the contract, your book will go into a publication schedule based on a timeline your publishing house has preset. SO, you may not get edits for awhile after signing the contract, because it's not on their production timeline. When it is, your direct editor will send content edits. This is big picture editing that focuses on inconsistencies in character, plot, etc. My editor broke it down by chapter with about a paragraph of suggestions for each chapter. Others will use the comments and track changes in MS Word. HOW you make those changes is typically up to you. And they can be annoying. I once had to change a character name because they'd just published a book from another author whose character had the same name. Do the work anyway.
2.5) Managing editor comments/Q&A: After content edits, the work goes to the managing editor for that line who does a similar set of suggestions based on the needs of the line/publishing house. This ensures the continuity in their published works.
3) Line edits. This is what I thought about when I thought of editing. It's when the editor adds comments and questions at the paragraph and sentence level, typically using comments and track changes. It's done after content/Q&A edits are completed and in the production timeline of the publishing house. Translation: It feels like there's a lot of wasted time, but while the editor is working on your line edits, they're also working on someone else's content edits. The process feels a bit like an assembly line, and each time, someone else wants you to make a change. It's all part of the process.
4) Copy Editor: The copy editor is the grammarian and style guide for the publishing house. Here's a for instance. My publishing house has a style sheet that italicizes sounds like boom, bang, clack. The copy editor makes those changes, but is also an expert at grammar and Chicago style who makes the grammar-approved changes so your high school English teacher doesn't email you with a list of grammar errors in your work.
5) Proofreader: Changes everything the copy editor did. :) Sorry, I couldn't help myself. It certainly feels like this is true, because the copy editor will add a comma, and then the proofreader suggests removing the comma. The real goal of the proofreader is to catch the final errors in the galley before it goes to print. When you consider that the work has gone through multiple edits with multiple people, the potential for dangling strings is high. This is why you sometimes see double-typed words or unfinished sentences in a published work. They're often pieces left over after changes during the line editing stage. The proofreader's job is to catch those and more. Most publishing houses have a hard rule against major editing or revision at this stage, because the work is in the final stages and you don't have time to do another proofreading of the work.
Ok, so what you see above is how much work is put into editing and revision before a book is published. The goal of sharing this with you is to demonstrate that you can't compare your draft to a published novel. Your work doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be a compelling story. The rest can be fixed in the editing process.
I'm a big fan of turning points. Well, not in real life, because in real life, turning points are messy things. Turning points are the chaos leading us inevitably into the storm.
My father died when I was thirteen. It was life altering before I was old enough to understand the implications and repercussions of such an event. From that point forward, my life was broken into before and after.
Before my father died:
Turning points are messy things because of the effects they have on our character's lives, as they had in my life, as they have in your life. Turning points are story events that cause the story to turn in a new direction.
The new direction in fiction is typically caused by a choice the character makes (or doesn't make) or a dilemma they face, such as if my mother had chosen to keep living on the "good" side of town by getting married rather than going back to college.
These turning points should lead your character into something new and significantly different. If the choice your character faces is whether to eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant or Taco Bell, that's probably not a turning point, but if the trip to the Chinese restaurant leads our character into China Town where she is faced with a life-changing choice--find the treasure your boss stole or your best friend dies--that's a turning point.
The crossroads in this fake story is the character's before and after, and like those traumatic before and afters in your own life, the character's life will never be the same.
For instance, the protagonist who was just going to dinner with a friend is there to discuss a job offer because she can't work for a dishonest so-and-so any longer, but after her friend is kidnapped, she has to stay with the employer to find the treasure and save her BFF. So the dinner in China Town becomes one of the character's turning points.
In real life, turning points are traumatic, but isn't that exactly what we want for our characters? If the character is not faced with significant turning points and equally disastrous choices, then we may not have a turning point that will keep the reader reading.
In the opening of this post, I said turning points were the chaos leading us into the storm, but the storm is where our character will grow. Give them that opportunity by giving them a worthy turning point.
Some thoughts on how and when to build your platform
This is an honest and complex question. So many publishers, editors, and agents say a writer needs to "have a platform," which is a lot like the need to have credit to get credit.
How do you build a platform before you have a product to put on that platform?
When I first met my publisher face-to-face, having a contract and a release date in the far distant future, I asked her the number one thing I could do to set myself up for the release. She told me to get active on Twitter. My response (not wise, considering... publisher) was "I hate Twitter."
She had the marketing department scour my website and social media pages to give me suggestions. Not all publishers do this, but it was invaluable. They sent me a 6 page report on what I was doing right and what I should improve. The good news is that traditional publishing takes so long you have time to build before the release. The bad news is that every editor/agent who is serious about your work is going to ask about your platform. Do you have a website, a FB page, a Twitter handle, etc?
I have since reevaluated my opinion on Twitter, as I'm fully an addict, and I now despise Facebook, but I also think the publisher is both right and wrong about "get active on Twitter." Twitter is great for many reasons, but Twitter is not the place to sell books. Mind you, people try, but it's really just yelling into the wind. Facebook is a good marketing tool for writers, but the targeted advertising is part of what makes Facebook a burr under my saddle.
Where do I begin? How do I put myself out there when I hate "selling myself."
The biggest thing pre-publishing is to get onto your preferred social media platform and start making connections. Follow authors in your genre (as your writer page). Join conversations in Facebook groups or follow Twitter hashtags like #writingcommunity or #amreading. On Insta, it's #authorsofinstagram. You're not selling yourself, not yet, what you're doing is forming bonds and friendship with people who like books and your particular genre. You're building an online network.
Minor digression on the value of online networking
I graduated from Regis University with an MA in creative writing in 2015 (Regis now has an MFA program). A fellow student at the time just released her first book of literary nonfiction. She reached out to me on social media. I shared her release to my readers. I shared articles about her release on everything from social media to LinkedIn. This isn't a quid-pro-quo, as I don't expect anything of her in return. It's just the right thing to do to support fellow writers. You can do the same with published authors before you're published.
How do I "sell myself" as a writer before I'm published?
You're not bringing attention to something you haven't done yet, you're bringing attention to the thing you love: books. My publisher gave me a list of 15-20 top influencers in the form of bloggers and book reviewers that I should "get to know" or connect with online. I found that too artificial. Instead, I engage with other writers and readers. I like/share/retweet other writers whose work I like/love to build good will with others, and even if they don't directly reciprocate, I figure I'm growing my good karma (and that it will come back to me in some way in the future).
When is the best time to build a platform? Pre or post contract?
There's no "right" time to build a platform. Honestly, and I mean this, writing comes first. Let me say that again:
Writing. Comes. First.
It's easy to get sucked into the social media mud pit and get stuck, but if you're already active on a certain platform, getting to know other writers and readers shouldn't be too big of a stretch to start with. Things like a website or a blog can wait until the book is finished, but social media takes time to grow, so starting now would definitely be a move in the right direction.
Where do I start? Social media is overwhelming.
There's so many ways to get active in a way that is authentic, which I think is what you should focus on. Don't think of it as selling yourself. Writers for the most part aren't really good with that. Instead of "selling" or "marketing" which are dirty little words, consider social media as community building. You're finding a community to interact with, and you can do it no matter where you live, no matter your publishing stage... as long as you have Internet.
As for where to start, ask yourself: What social media platform do I prefer?
I know some publishers push you to be active on all platforms. Good luck with that. Although I do have someone help me with Facebook (she posts what I send to her onto my writing page because I don't have a personal account on FB), I don't have the time or money for a personal assistant, so spending an hour a day building my social media isn't in the cards, but I do focus on being active on Twitter, because I'm there anyway, and I enjoy the interactions. I even use it for my undergrads instead of online discussions (see one of my Twitter hashtags to see what they post).
Follow writers. Stephen King is on Twitter, and full of all kinds of fun posts from directly related to writing (like when a new book or movie releases), but he also posts pictures of his dog, retweeting other writers (including his son) and generally posting several times a week. JK Rowling used to be much more active, being quite vocal about things that matter to her, but seems to have slowed off the last year of so. Still, she's a good follow. Start with those writers you love, and even if they don't respond, you can interact with those commenting on their posts. And guess what? Those people are probably readers.
But it makes me feel like a fraud
Posting to someone who is not your family or friend is weird at first, but I promise, you're not a fraud. You are a writer. You are writing. You are connecting with readers and writers.
Remember the line from Field of Dreams. "If you build it, they will come."
Quick intro to say I'm posting this for previous students, current students, and any writers who may check out this part of my website for writerly content. The video mentions a file toward the end, however, in respect for the presenter, I'm not sharing that publicly...only with my current creative writing students. Sorry, Charlie. :)
Video post w/ transcript
. Good afternoon writers. I am recording live from the Rocky Mountain fiction writers conference in Denver, Colorado, I'll be here until Sunday afternoon. And I just wanted to touch base with you guys like you know I'm not going to be on much, but I'll try and add some value in the course announcements with things that I'm learning from the conference. So today I got to be just an attendee. Tomorrow I have two presentations, an agent appointment, and my publisher is here so I'll be able to have conversations with her. But today gets to be just attendee day. And one of the workshops that I really wanted to go to is by Marie Force it's about book series, she fluctuates between series I think she said she has a total of six different series happening at one time. One of them's like 21 books into the entire series, and I know several of you guys have either mentioned the fact that you are in the middle of a series or you're hoping to write series. And so I went in there to figure out how she manages that so you'll see my notes. They are very much bullet point notes as she is talking and they're very organized because she presented the information in an organized way.
That's one benefit for you guys for me being here and then the other one is just to talk a little bit about what you do it conference. Conferences about learning craft learning workshop, learning, the business of writing meeting editors and agents and publicists and the people who can assist you in your writing career. And then there's a huge, huge chunk of networking which isn't always easy writers tend to be very introverted and so the idea of getting out there and networking is very stressful. I will say book signing is a lot like trying to go to a networking event where you don't know anybody. So I have a friend of mine coming she's from my MA program at Regis. I had my MA program at Regis and the MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University. So I have two masters in creative writing, and my MA was here in Denver so she's coming I haven't seen her in several years. We'll catch up see what each other's doing learn a little bit about where we are industry wise where we are academically. And I also have somebody that I know is going to be there for my book signing that we can kind of riff off of each other so it doesn't feel so awkward because book signings can be awkward it's sort of a big long row of authors that are presenting that will be doing book signings tonight so it gives me a chance to catch up with her and do the book signing and network, all at the same time. Tomorrow I'm presenting so I won't probably have a lot of notes about the conference, but I'll try to check in at least once with you guys so that you get some benefits from having a professor who's at a conference. I hope you're doing well. I will check with you.
My mother quoted both Shakespeare and Newton and others I have yet to divine, and as a child, I was completely unaware. It's completely shocking to read a work of great literature, or science, and hear my mother speaking the lines from decades past.
When it came to Newton's laws, her recitation tended to follow a complete kid klutz moment. For instance, putting books onto the dining table, push back, spill milk across the dining table. Mom would spout Newton's 3rd law:
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
I guess that was better than yelling at us for spilled milk.
But here's the thing. Newton's laws apply to people and characters as well as the universe. Newton's law of inertia, states that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside source. In this example, the object at rest is our character before the story begins.
Jennifer Brody, in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, writes:
[momentary pause wherein I acknowledge my mother's genius]
In this analogy, the character is the object at rest. The character is living their happy or unhappy life in stasis, or as Christopher Vogler (The Writer's Journey) calls it, the Ordinary World.
The character may be unhappy, but they're not unhappy enough to move. Take Luke from the original Star Wars. He's completely unhappy working for his uncle on the farm at the far end of the universe, but he's there anyway, plugging along, dreaming about leaving, "some day." He has the desire, but not the actionable force. It takes a droid, a crazy old hermit, and the death of his aunt and uncle to "force" him from his Ordinary World. Vogler called this the Call to Adventure, but in Brody's version, the events that take place are the equal and opposite force that compel the object at rest into an object in motion (or, a Character in Motion).
Once the character is in motion, their wants and goals keep the plot moving.
When a hero wants something, it sets them in motion. It gets them off their butt and into the action (Brody 13).
As the story progress, the equal and opposite force that Brody discusses can come to life through either conflict or a nemesis (antagonist). It is the equal and opposite force that acts against the character in motion.
It's the question "[w]hat is standing in the hero's way?"
The force standing in the hero's way must be strong enough to push him off course. For instance, think about what it took to force the Millennium Falcon close enough to the Death Star to get captured? And yet, isn't that where Luke and Han were destined to go?
Think about your current work in progress (WIP).
I never stopped to consider that something in science, one of my least favorite subjects, could impact my writing world. That was a deficit in my viewpoint. Everything in the world and on our planet can impact our writing world. From years ago, my mother was teaching me how to apply universal laws to my life, and I am the better for it.
Now, if I could just find that outside force to get the rest of my life in motion.
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
Show Don't Tell
To Be verbs
Wired for Story
Genre by any other name
He for She
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.