Monday, May 30, 2011

In Memory

Photo from isafmedia at
Today is Memorial Day.

From Wikipedia:

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that honors soldiers and is observed on the last Monday of May (May 30 in 2011). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service.[1] First enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War,[2] it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

I don't personally know anyone who has died during service, but I do know quite a few veterans, including both of my grandfathers, an uncle, a few cousins, and some friends' spouses.

If you get a chance today, please thank a veteran. Or, take the opportunity to remember one who didn't come back from war.

Until next time,


Monday, May 23, 2011

Confession Time

I have a confession to make today.

I, a woman who desires little more than to see her books in print form and to sign with an agent, has yet to attend any conference with any literary agents in attendance.

I'll pause while you pick yourself off the floor.

There's a bunch of reasons I haven't made it to any of these. The two primary ones: time and money.

In fact, the last time I went to any conference related to writing was probably at least ten years ago.

Now, I've been to multiple shorter events, usually Sisters in Crime talks, and an occasional book signing.

But to go to a convention, or even a weekend seminar? Hasn't really happened. At least not in person. I did attend parts of the Muse Convention online last year, just before the health mess with my son started getting rolling.

I've wanted to go to Bouchercon for years. This year, it's in St. Louis--which would be a very affordable train ride via Amtrak across the state of Missouri for me. But, I've also heard Bouchercon is more for readers rather than writers. *sigh* What's a girl to do?

I think ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) is also having their conference in St. Louis this year, just a couple weeks later. While I'd fit in theologically, my stories... well, they really won't fit with the ACFW or CBA "guidelines." Hmmm...

Getting TMOTH to sign off on any convention at this point is also pretty iffy, given our son's state and the "mommy" factor--he about panics whenever I leave him, even with Daddy for an hour or two.

Maybe a convention isn't in the cards this year.

But, I do know that I can't afford to keep ignoring this aspect of the writing game.

Today's Question: Have you ever attended a conference? If so, which one(s)? What did you find most beneficial? If you haven't attended a conference, what's holding you back?

Until next time,

Monday, May 16, 2011

Traveling on the Writer's Journey

Photo by: Ed Coyle Photography on Flickr
This month with the blog chain, the topic is "The Journey." It could be any type of journey, but I thought I'd share a bit of my writer's journey.

I remember writing stories as early as around 2nd Grade. My favorite TV show at the time was Disney's Rescue Rangers. I was fascinated by the main characters: two chipmunks and two mice, especially the female mouse, Gadget. I even named a hamster after her. *grin*

My stories weren't sophisticated by any means. Although, looking back, I have found that some of my obsessions were clear even at that early age. (I have a hard time writing a novel-length story without a female side character being pregnant. Go figure that one out.) I was also already obsessed with right and wrong, even though my introduction to the mystery genre wouldn't happen until I was ten.

Enter: Nancy Drew and her cohorts, the Hardy Boys.

Sidenote: I still have a crush on Ned Nickerson and Frank Hardy.  Though, admittedly, I think I've got it worse for Tony Stark these days... Don't tell TMOTH. ;)

After reading almost every book in the multiple series I could get my hands on, I decided to try my hand at writing again--mostly because it was pretty much the only thing I would read and the publisher wasn't putting them out fast enough.

Long story short: started writing fan fiction, which eventually evolved into writing my own stories with new characters (although there were a lot of similarities to Nancy, Frank and Joe, as well as people in my own life.) Finished writing a novel, thought it was terrific. Sent it out to a couple of publishers (including some of the bigger ones.)

Ohhhhh Boy.

I ran across the notebook with some of that original draft in it a few years ago.

I am so glad I got rejected! Talk about embarrassing.

I was so blessed as a writer to start going to a Sister's in Crime chapter near my hometown in my late teens. And, though it was extremely painful, I attended the critique group that met separately almost religiously (until I met TMOTH, that is.) The ladies in the group were tough, yet kind, and really helped me see where I could mature as a writer. I still remember being so angry, mostly with myself, the first time I got an honest critique. It was very painful, but words I needed to hear.

That first group pointed out my flaws, and encouraged me to keep working. Slowly but surely, I improved.

But, then I moved away and got married.

For about a two-year period around the time I was dating, then after I married TMOTH, I did little to no writing, despite the fact I held a journalism degree. Slowly, I started writing again. I wrote one novel which I'm not sure will ever see the light of day to get the blood flowing again. Started a few more, then I caught an idea that wouldn't let go. Off I went, writing.

And writing.

And rewriting.

And having a baby or two.

And editing.

And tweaking.

And getting critiqued.

And editing some more.

And adding new scenes.

And now, that story is Homebody. Which I'm hoping to start getting into agents' hands this summer or early fall.

There's something to be said for those early attempts--and my first critique group. I wouldn't be half the writer I am today without early encouragement and constructive criticism. I've given out some tough critiques to people before, so I know it's not easy to give out hard words that need to be heard, but am I forever grateful to the five women who took time to help mold me into the writer I am today. So, thank you: Anne, Lori, Laurie, Janet and Nancy. I don't know where you are today as I lost touch after I got married, but I hope you have all gotten closer to your publishing dreams.

Photo by: Laurentzziu on Flickr

Before I go, let me remind you to check out everyone's posts this month:

Until next time,

Monday, May 02, 2011

My Book Is Done... Now What?

Photo by Liberty Speidel
So, you've finished your novel. Congratulations! What an amazing step.

After you've been through many revisions, pulled your hair out, and agonized over every line, character, and location setting, you may think you're ready to send out your novel.

Close. Have you formatted it correctly, though?

What's this, you say? What's formatting??

I'll give my heart a moment to calm down.

In order to be taken seriously as a professional writer, you need to put your best foot forward. This means making sure you present yourself (i.e. your manuscript) in its best light. Sure, having your book in purple cursive font with every third word underlined and printed on Princess Pink paper may look good to you, but an agent or editor may think differently--and could result in your otherwise carefully prepared manuscript ending up in the slush pile.

When I started writing about 15 years ago, and thought I was ready for publication, the industry standard was just that--standard.

Nowadays, though, standard has become a more fluid term, especially with e-mail coming into play with more and more agents and editors accepting only online submissions.

You can find "how-to" guides for novel formatting almost everywhere. I did a search, and got more than 3 million hits. Holy cow! (Now, once you've read this post, it'll be 3,000,001.)

As a general rule of thumb, here's some basics:

Keep your formatting the same throughout. Use a readable (and, if doing an e-submission, common) font in 12-point. And make sure you double-space everything manuscript-related. (Synopsis and query letters can be single-spaced, though the synopsis may depend on required length.) Indent every new paragraph, don't indicate it with extra space.

Once you have those in mind, things become a bit more free-form. I've seen guidelines that indicate to still use the "old" system of 25 lines a page, with a width wide enough to average 10 words a line (so each page is estimated around 250 words.) Others say to use a more rigid guideline of either 1 or 1.5 inch margins all around.

My general rule of thumb is to scour the websites of the agents I'm going to submit to and see if they have any special requirements. If so, I modify my manuscript to suit, but if not, I use the following template:

  • 1-inch margins throughout.
  • Times New Roman or Courier New 12-point font (this is usually a judgement call as to which I think looks better, and presents my story in the fewest number of pages. Right now, Roman is winning that battle.)
  • Double-spaced with Widow/Orphan Control ON.
  • First line indentation of one-half inch for new paragraphs. Paragraphs should also not have any additional space between them.
  • Each new chapter heading should be in all caps and begin on the 4th double-spaced line by hitting return 3 times.
  • A header that reads in the format of: LAST NAME / TITLE / PAGE NUMBER.
  • No header on the first page.
These are the basics I pulled from former agent and new author Nathan Bransford's site. I think they look the cleanest, and are the easiest to manage.

If you haven't formatted you novel in this manner, it's pretty easy to change, as long as everything is in one file. Presuming you're using Microsoft Word, you can alter all of these settings on a relatively speedy machine in under 5 minutes.

Of all of these items listed above, I've found that the trickiest for me to setup is the "no header" part and have it number everything correctly. These instructions apply to Word 2003; if you have an older or newer version, they may not be applicable.

  1. On the View menu, click "Header and Footer."
  2. On the "Header and Footer" toolbar (which should pop up automatically), select the Page Setup button. (Hint, on my version, it looks like an open manuscript with the first page opened.)
  3. Select the Layout tab.
  4. Click in the box for Different First Page and click OK.
  5. Leaving the first page blank, insert your desired text on any of the subsequent pages. As long as you have no section breaks, your first page number will start at 2, unless you instruct it otherwise. 
 There! That's it!! Your manuscript is ready to be sent out to an agent. Keep in mind that most agents will delete any unrequested attachments, so while this may look pretty if you copy and paste your first 5 or 10 pages into the body of an e-mail, some e-mail programs will turn it into virtually unreadable gibberish, so always send yourself the e-mail first to make sure everything will look appropriate before making a fool of yourself in front of that agent you want to sign with.

Until next time,

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