You Are Not Your Genre

Power of WordsI’ve been writing for a long time. I think my first story was given to my grandfather when I was maybe 5 or 6. It was short and sweet, more of a comic than anything else. It was a bit crude, and even a bit rude, but he must have liked it since he’s still got it tucked away in a toolbox in his basement. I was that kid all through school that had a book with me instead of a Discman or a Game Boy. I would haul all kinds of tales on my back, along with my school books, and would read away all the painfully slow minutes of school that I could.

I read everything that I could get my hands on. Sometimes I would be tucked away with The Romanovs, by Robert K. Massie, or Dove by Robin L Graham, other times I would read the Harry Potter series and pretend that I was on a train instead of a dusty hot bus. I always had a notebook stowed away too, one that no one was allowed to see. I’d pull it out to entertain myself when I found the world around me to be too boring or stagnant.

I started with poetry, and I wrote a lot of it at first. It varied from dark to inspiring, and I even published one of the more appropriate poems in my graduation yearbook. I suppose that no one ever really got a good look at my private writing up until recently.

When I told my family that I was going to have one of my short stories published, they were excited, as is to be expected. When they asked me what it was about, I was a little apprehensive. I mumbled the word “horror”, hoping that they would be too happy to hear and would maybe even forget all about it. It’s not that I am ashamed of my stories, it is more that they are so different from what I think everyone would expect. It’s not that I am a super bubbly person in real life, I’m not even that cheerful. My mother jokes that I am Spock‘s daughter, if that tells you anything. Logical, undramatic, and ever the realist.

I am shy about my writing. I only let a select few read it, and those are a couple of close friends with a knowledge of my writing and my personality. It’s going to be an experience seeing one of my stories go public, even if it’s only flash fiction in a magazine. What I am trying to tell myself now is that just because I write horror (at the moment), it does not mean that I am a dark and twisted person myself. All it means is that when I feel a story tugging at my fingertips and funneling my vision, something wants to be written. I cannot always control what that is.

I write and edit a lot of business content for clients. This is my bread and butter. What comes out creatively, in my own time, is something completely different. It is my own. It is completely and utterly separate from my work and from what people expect from me. Perhaps it is the thrill of writing something that contrasts my professional writing so blatantly that shapes what I write.

Either way, just remember that whatever you are writing, whatever your genre or story, whatever appears on the page, it doesn’t mean that you are what you have written. Inspiration and drive come from a million different places, some acknowledged and some forgotten. Something as simple as a word could inspire a tale to sprout and grow in your brain. It’s not always within your control, but you should never ignore the need to write.

Have you ever been shy to show someone your writing? Was it because of your genre? Was it because you were afraid of negative feedback? What did you do to get over it, and how did you feel when you did?

Can Good TV Help Your Writing?

6855051531_5aab68eb90_zI think that the short answer is yes. How many of have heard that too much TV will rot your brain? I suppose it will, depending on what you watch. Your mind is a lot like your body, if you put junk into it, junk comes out. You need to feed your mind, just as you need to feed your body. Sure, you can survive on junk food, but you won’t be healthy.

I binge on TV. We’ll find a show that looks good, give an episode or two a try, and then binge watch the rest if we enjoyed them. Not all at once, but we’ll devour that season or series pretty quickly. In our house, we usually watch shows that contain intellectual, historical, or educational value. These shows generally promote healthy debate and conversation after the fact as well. We’ll spend time discussing an unexpected twist, or researching the history behind a certain event or character. We’ll talk about feasibility, technicality, and accuracy in almost any show that we watch. It sounds boring, doesn’t it? But the shows that we watch are actually quite interesting and dramatic for the most part, and I love a good discussion.

Some of our favourites include: The Borgias, The Tudors, Deadwood, Rome, Vikings, and Lost. Of course, we like some normal shows too, but for the most part, we aren’t into junk TV. If you haven’t figured it out already, we really like Micheal Hirst. (Just a note: those shows all contain violence, sexuality, and so on. Don’t take it as a recommendation if that’s not your thing).

The shows mentioned above help me to think about the way that I write. They help to show me clever dialogue, fictional settings, character relationships, historical accuracy, and imagination. They help me to visualize plots and people and places. I look at good shows and think “how would one write that?”. How would you describe something in writing that took up half a second on screen? Of course, it would take longer, but looking at how good writing shapes TV shows can help you to cut back on your detail and your descriptions. It can help you to determine what is important and what is not.

For example, say you are weaving a cliffhanger through the story that will leave the reader at the end of the book with that “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!” face. It’s hard to decide how much the reader will need throughout the story to actually understand the ending. If you don’t give enough, they’ll just be left feeling really, really confused. Too much and they will be saying “Duh”. In TV shows that have this, you can actually see it happen, allowing you to gauge how much you need to write in hints, how small they should be, and how often.

Look at GoT, for once we have a brilliant show based on brilliant books. Amazing, eh? If you have read the books, think about how similar, and at the same time, how different the book and show are from each other. Both have gleaned a crazy amount of success, and both are appreciated in their own right. But both of them are based on the same thing. Sometimes, I like aspects of the show better, other times I am much more enthralled with the books. The TV series shows me how things could have been done differently, and how some things could even have been left out or changed.

What do you think? TV or no TV? Are you like me in that you see writing everywhere? Any good books that were turned into good shows or movies?

Stumbling and Appreciation

downloadIt’s common to hear that people “stumble” while reading. This can be caused by anything from a misspelled word, a hard to (mentally) pronounce name, an inconsistent detail (unexplained change to a physical feature), to a badly constructed sentence. It causes the reader to be pulled out of the story and into reality. It’s a negative thing, and it’s something that us editors watch for and look to correct in writing.

I’m sure that you have all come across something at some point. What makes one person stumble may be different from what causes another to do so. A book that I just read (and enjoyed), The Pillars of the Earth, has a few spelling errors in the trade paperback edition (at least, the one that I have). These small errors, that could have been caused by the author, editor, or even the typesetter or printer, caused me to feel as if I were in a vehicle that suddenly, and unexpectedly, stalled while in motion. You can easily get back into the story, but it would be better to avoid being thrown out in the first place. It’s like stubbing your toe: it only hurts for a minute, and then you can get back to your intended destination, but it would have been smarter to watch what you were doing in the first place.

Not all stops have to have a negative association, though. Sometimes I stop to appreciate a beautiful piece of writing, or an intellectual thought. Sometimes I stop to appreciate an entire passage, or merely just a lovely word.

An excellent example of this would be when I read The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Some of the writing in that book was so wonderfully and refreshingly unique that I had to take a moment to savour it. The similes, metaphors, and personifications in that book are brilliant. The book appealed to all of my senses, and the jarringly different from normal words made me feel as if I had found a spring after thirsting for days. I had to stop, just to sit and look in awe at the style, eyes wide and flashes of imagery playing behind them.

I really did like both books. Ken Follet wrote a strong and complicated story that spanned a huge amount of time. It followed a plethora of characters, events, and political changes. He wrote it simply, and he wrote it well. Markus Zusak added depth, style, and individuality to an already strong story. His writing made the story come to life, and without his style and tone, I do’t know if I would have relished it quite as much. The story was much simpler, in a fashion, but it holds its own because of the superb talent of the author.

The point being that there are many ways to be removed from the reading experience. It’s important as writers, and for me as an editor, to watch out for these things. Listen to your readers when they tell you that something isn’t working. Listen to your editors when they suggest that something may need some modification. Your tone and style should be your own, and they should support your story. They may even vary depending on what you are writing.

Do you have any stories that made you stumble? Do you have any that you stopped just to appreciate? What are they?

Sheep, Tell me a Story

Illustration_for_the_Brothers_Grimm_fairy_tale_Rapunzel.My little sister, fourteen years my junior, has called me “Sheep” (sometimes “Sheepy”) since I can remember. She is the most important thing to me in all the world and everything that rolls beyond it. I find it appropriate that she calls me something unique because, even as sisters go, our relationship is something different.

Since she was smaller than I thought people could be, I have been telling her stories. I have created castles and dragons and hairless bears and ghost children all just to see her eyes light up and to hear laughter burst from her like seeds from a dandelion. I have shaped her dreams while she has slept, and I have guarded a fire in her that I hope one day becomes a roaring passion for literature. She, in turn, has told me her own stories and it has been a frightening experience to watch her imagination streak from simple plot lines to complicated story arcs over the years.

When I talk to her, the words “Sheep, tell me a story” inevitably slip from her lips. Half of the time I want to say, “not right now”, but I don’t. There is nothing more beautiful in the world than a child asking you to expand their imagination, to push the limits of their thoughts, and it would be a travesty to deny her such a small thing. The gears and cogs of my brain will start turning as she waits in expectant silence, and eventually, after tossing out countless ideas, I will start. It’s never anything brilliant, and it’s never anything worth writing down, but it’s all the more precious because of that. It’s something that is hers alone. She will never have to share it with anyone but me, and I will never need to share it with anyone but her.

She pushes me to think creatively, to look at everything in words, and to store that information to make a story out of later on. She has, single-handedly, pushed the limits of my own mind by speaking the simple words of “Sheep, tell me a story” over and over and over.

I think it’s important, as writers, to have people like that in our lives. People that rely on our words, that give them meaning and purpose, no matter what story those words might tell. We need people that push us to look at everything around us like it’s the whisper of a story that only needs to be captured and held in ink. Without anyone to give our words to, there’s not much point in writing them.

What or who pushes your writing?

You’re Not Going to Like This

Bookshelf

Well, you might, but there is going to be a good amount of “reality check” material in this post, so be prepared.

I’ve only been working in the publishing industry for a few years, but through ads and clients and my website, I have come across a lot of first time authors who are trying to take their book to the next level. A lot of times, these people turn out to be flaky in the sense that they don’t want to pay for services, or they want to receive services for a very low price. That is to be expected, since I know that just because you are a writer it doesn’t mean that you are made of money. However, it’s important to be realistic about your manuscript and your work when you bring it to a publisher, editor, or marketer. Especially if you haven’t done anything but write it.

I often hear that authors know that their book will be the next bestseller and that it will go to heights similar to Rowling’s. While this may be true for a few, it is certainly not true for all. The amount of interest your book gleans doesn’t necessarily depend on the content alone, it also depends on the marketability and genre. My point is that you need to be educated on your market, genre, and also be mindful that, although you are unique, there are still a large number of manuscripts circulating right now that are within your genre, market, and area. Be reasonable about your expectations.

Even if your book is picked up by a publisher, your work is not done. You will still have to go on tour, engage your fans, assist with promotions, and sometimes even plan and arrange all of these things on your own. Depending on the publisher’s budget, they may or may not be willing to pay for the marketing plan that you were hoping for. A huge factor in determining the success or interest for and in your book will be the uniqueness of it. It’s not likely that another romance novel (sorry, romance writers!) will be taken to extreme marketing heights unless it really is completely different from everything out there. Fifty Shades wouldn’t be what it is if James hadn’t first received a huge amount of positive reviews and then took it to a publisher. Publishers sometimes want different things than the general public.

Putting no money into your manuscript prior to publishing can damage your success. If you aren’t willing to put money into it, why should anyone else? If you have ever been on Amazon and looked at the reviews, you can understand how picky and nasty people can be about self-published books. People can even be nasty about extremely popular and professionally published books. Those reviews can sting, but if they are legitimate concerns, such as with spelling, grammar, or a major hole in the story, maybe the manuscript wasn’t ready to be published. It doesn’t hurt to have your manuscript reviewed prior to publishing or even submitting to a publisher. Although every publishing house will edit your manuscript, the amount of work it will take to get your book to the right level will influence the likelihood of them taking it on.

Personally, I am less likely to read something that has too many negative reviews in terms of spelling and grammar. Not because I don’t think the story will be good, and not even because I think money should be put into it, but because it seems more to me like a notch on the writer’s belt (bucket list: publish book, check!) than a labour of love. Writing should be hard, and so should editing. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect a certain level of effort since I am expected to put in the time to read it.

There used to be fewer writers. It used to be a profession that could feed your family, get you a decent car, and even a little bit of fame. It’s not like that anymore. There are so many of us out there that publishers can be choosy, and so can readers. What might have passed as a brilliant story years ago might not cut it today because there are ten more like it sitting in the pile. The internet has given us a platform to write, to submit, to publish, to promote, and everything else in between. There weren’t so many writers competing before online publishing became an option, now everyone wants to write a book, even if they aren’t writers.

This post isn’t meant to discourage, it’s meant to inspire you to think realistically about your work and what you want to do with it. Being published by a large publishing house requires drive, tough skin, skill, imagination, obsession, and the ability to get back up should you get pushed down. Even becoming successful as a self-published author requires that. If you aren’t willing to bleed for it (metaphorically) then be realistic about where you want to go with it.

To all of you, wherever you are on your journeys, I applaud you. To start writing is a beautiful thing, no matter why you are doing it. Whether it’s for pleasure, relaxation, fame, or anything else, the fact that you are doing it means something. If you’re struggling with it, just remember that there’s a crazy amount of us struggling along with you.

Where are you with your publishing or writing goals? Where do you want to be with them?

Promote Yourself—A Poor Writer’s Guide to Online Marketing

facebook_twitter-640x480There are a lot of bumps with being a self-published or an independently published author. The ones that I have worked with or known from blogs and friendships have always had to face some sort of difficulty, whether it be in terms of finance, time management, or becoming overwhelmed with the whole monstrous job of making a book happen.

Aside from those, a lot of authors face difficulty with promoting themselves. They’re all on a budget, a lot of them work full-time jobs and have families, and a lot of them aren’t sure where to start with marketing. There are tons of cheap, easy, and fairly quick ways to promote yourself, whether you are established or not. Publishers will even look at these things when considering your book and a potential marketing plan. It’s a bonus when sending in your manuscript to have an established fanbase because it means that the marketing team doesn’t have to start from scratch.

The first thing I recommend is a blog. That’s probably pretty obvious to most of you since you all have one already, but just having one isn’t enough. You need to post regularly, interact with other bloggers, and keep your audience interested by posting relevant content. Too much self-promotion and you will overload your followers by seeming too desperate. Too little and you will find that your audience strays from your project. Find a happy medium and tell your followers about the new, exciting, and big information. Blog tours are also a great idea once you are published.

Social media is also a big one. This includes Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, etc. By the time I am done writing this post, there will probably be 5 new platforms about to launch. Pick the ones that best suit you and your work. Post regularly, but try to make one or two posts from outside sources to match each one about your own news. You don’t want your fans or followers to be interested in your book alone, you want them to be interested in you as a writer.

Contests don’t get enough love. If you are looking to increase awareness, your Facebook page likes, the number of followers on your Twitter account, or even just traffic to your site, contests are the way to go. When I run contests for clients, I post them not only on social media, but on national contest websites such as Red Flag Deals. You can run contests for a low price or even free, depending on the platform you want to use, and you can add a feature that makes the entrant have to “like” or “follow” prior to filling out the entry form. Not only will you gain traffic and increase your numbers, there’s a good chance that you will also have at least a few people buy your book because they are interested in it.

The last one that I will recommend today is the good old fashioned newsletter. Whether you send it straight from your own gmail/hotmail account, it’s still a great way to keep your fans in the know. They’re free, easy, and get to the audience that hasn’t felt the need to create a social media account. They’re a nice way to keep in touch with your fans and create an easy way to post all of your news for the month at once. You should write a little about your life as well, because it will reinforce that you are an individual that can relate to your audience.

Which ones do you use for yourself? Are there any others that I haven’t included that you want to mention?

PS: HAPPY LONG WEEKEND!

A Call to Arms! (Or, mostly just a call for opinions)

1346340_80135298Ok, so this isn’t a call to arms, I have just always wanted to say that. Mostly because battle formations in movies, TV shows, and books really get my inner-warrior roused and raring.

As a part of my job and part of my outside-of-job life, I have come across many aspiring writers. Many of you are either anticipating submissions or have published something already. As a writer myself, I understand that budgets are low for most in terms of editing and manuscript evaluations, whether for long or short stories.

I’ve been hearing a lot about beta readers lately and it got me to thinking: I am interested in beta reading, but because of my experience and my education, I don’t think I would want to provide beta reading as it is—free. I still need to eat, you know. So, I’m wondering what you, my readers, think of my idea.

I am considering offering a sort of beta reading, or light manuscript evaluation for short stories at a low cost. Maybe along the lines of $5/page up to $250.00 (this is just floating around in my head, I am open to suggestions). That way, flash fiction and short story writers can get a professional review of their work without breaking the bank and they will have a stronger story to submit when they decide to take the plunge.

I would want to provide feedback in terms of where the story could use some work, how to fix it, and a few suggestions on what could be done differently. I’d catch any errors that I found, but it wouldn’t be a full edit. I would take a look at characterization, story arc, plot, premise, dialogue, and setting, and let you know my thoughts in a write-up after I finished.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not one for blatant self-promotion, that’s not what this is. I am simply curious as to what the reception of such a proposal would be like. I also like to help writers without making it impossible for them to get the advice or support that they want. This would be for fiction only, as that’s where I am happiest, and I think that us fiction writers need the most help.

So, I ask you, would you be interested in something like this? What do you think would be a fair price? Do you think that something like this would be helpful?

If you’re interested in having something like this done for your work, you can
email me
with any questions, suggestions, or thoughts. If you want to know more about what I do, you can visit my website, where you will find all kinds of interesting things.

Rejections Won’t Kill You

th5Although I have been writing since I can remember, I have only recently started to submit my own work to publishers. I am focusing on short stories and flash fiction because that is where I am the most comfortable, so I have been submitting to small magazines and publishers.

Out of three stories submitted in the last couple of months, the first I submitted was accepted immediately and the other two were rejected. I have read that a lot of writers face rejection with a bout of disappointment and a feeling of inadequacy, however, I did not. When you are submitting your work, here a a few things to remember that might help take the sting from a rejection:

-Every piece that has ever been published has been picked for a reason. Every book or story that you don’t like that exists happened because someone saw something in it. If one person rejects your work, that doesn’t mean that it was bad, it just means that they don’t have the same reading interests as you do. We all like different things.

-Your style is your style, but that doesn’t mean that it will resonate with everyone. I love Tolkien, but I know a lot of people who do not share my enthusiasm. I have heard that he is too detailed, the books too long, and the story too slow. I don’t find it so, but I realize that even the best of stories are not meant for every single person on the planet.

-When you get a rejection, you are then free to send it to someone else. It might feel like you are starting the whole process over again, but you aren’t. You’ve already written, edited, and formatted the story. Find another publisher and send it along again.

-Rejections can let you know when you should rework a story. I’ve made a “two rejections” rule for myself. If I submit a piece to two different publishers, and it is rejected both times, then I need to do something differently. I need to go in and make some changes. I need to have someone read my story and tell me where it falls flat and then I need to figure out how to improve it. Generally, I find that the bones of most stories are good, it’s the guts that need either filling or trimming.

-The fact that you are writing and submitting makes you a writer. It doesn’t matter if you get rejected, you are writing and you are submitting. Rejections are part of being a writer, and if you can’t handle them, then you need to rethink your goals. We aren’t all going to become bestselling authors, but we can become writers in our own right. Be proud that you have the gall to spend your free time making something that means so much to you, and that you actually send it in to be shown publicly.

-Be realistic. You know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If you aren’t where you want to be yet, work at it and get better. Publishers like good writing, so if you find you are getting too many rejections, don’t ask “why” no one has accepted your piece, ask “how” you can write a story that will be accepted. If you see weaknesses in your own story, expect them to be even more glaring to others.

And most of all, don’t be upset because one or two editors out of millions didn’t see what you were trying to do. Take your rejections and use them as a badge for yourself. They might not be what you were anticipating, but they prove that you are on the journey of being a writer. They show that you made the effort and that you are on your way. You might not make it as far as you would like, but you took the first steps.

And last of all, remember this:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 1.

The Ten Commandments (Book Lovers’ Edition)

Ten_Commandments_MonumentIf you are like me, you really love books. They are your getaway, they are your passion, they are your hobby. It’s not a casual relationship, it’s a lifelong dedication to literature and everything that it includes. I was thinking about how books influence my life, and I came up with some general rules that apply to my reading habits. So, here are the ten commandments for book lovers:

1-Thou shalt not start with any book in a series other than the first.

2-Thou shalt not dog-ear pages, crack spines, or cause damage to jackets.

3-When a character you love dies, thou shalt feel the wound in your deepest of hearts. (Especially if you are reading Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, Games of Thrones, etc.)

4-Thou shalt defend thine favourite authors with vigour, even if they write a book after the one that you loved that isn’t quite as good.

5-Thou shalt not, under any circumstance, prefer the movie to the book.

6-Thou shalt have more book covered surfaces in thine residence than not.

7-Thou shalt justify money spent on books by claiming that “books are never a waste of money, at least I’m not buying shoes”.

8-Thou shalt do thine utmost to ensure that if you have a series, they are all the same type and have matching artwork.

9-Thou shalt feel a pain in thine soul when deciding if you should let someone borrow one of your books.

10-Thou shalt refuse to remove pages from books to start a fire, even if you are in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.

Does anyone else feel the same, or is it just me? Of course, since I wrote these, they are made up of my own feelings. Are there any that you would add or change?

Sidenote: My new website has recently been completed, if you’d like to see you can go here: www.wordsmithery.ca. I’ve also, as you have probably noticed, made some changes to the appearance and address of my blog (it was mywordsmithery previously). And lastly, I have also made some changes to my FB page, which you can find here if interested.

Seize and Assist

I don't think I agree with this one, but it's an interesting thought.

I don’t think I agree with this one, but it’s an interesting thought.

Before I decided to go back to school, I worked at a call centre. I spent my days trying to keep my sanity, and attempting to assist angry people. Sometimes, you would have a good call and a customer would praise you, most days you had bad calls.

To add some humour to the monotony, I used to keep a folder of “funny things”. This included everything from comics to notes on hilarious letters from clients. On the bad days, I would take a moment and look through the folder while on a break to relax and it would always leave me laughing. I looked through it almost every day.

I have talked about how reading a word does not mean you know how to say it before, but this time I would like to talk about how hearing things does not mean that you can spell them. We are all guilty, but even while I was facing a life of constant irritation and mediocrity, I still found joy in words.

One of my favourites was a note left on an account that said “Please place seize and assist on account”. This was meant to stop calls to the customer. Obviously, they meant “cease and desist”, but I am assuming that they had only ever heard the term and had never actually seen it. Whenever I think about it, I imagine actually seizing the customer and providing aggressive assistance.

A friend recently shared with me that while at work, a co-worker exclaimed that something was the “vein” of their existence. The correct term would be the “bane” of their existence, as you probably know. I believe that the vein of existence has a very different meaning.

Another was a complaint letter about the product which said, “I find this product to be substantial!” Of course, this is not exactly the same thing, however, it is possible that this customer had always misheard the “in” part of “insubstantial”. I suppose they also could have meant substandard. It wasn’t a typo, either, it was a handwritten note. I really wanted to send a letter back saying that I was glad that they found the product to be so notable.

I am also guilty, for during my first and only venture into the world of a writers forum, I was trying to think of the word “warrant”, as in “a post like this warrants a response”. I accidentally used “warden”, and as a result, I left the world of online writing forums never to return. Not because I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t show my virtual face again, but because it was so harshly and quickly pointed out and torn apart that I felt unwelcome. But, that is a post for another day.

Just as when we see a word in writing and it comes out incorrectly when we say it, we also have the ability to hear something and write it down incorrectly. The English language is a strange beast and I don’t think that any of us can claim that we have never made a mistake. I find it amusing when I see things written incorrectly, but more in the sense that seeing it in a new spelling makes me think of the term differently. It shows me that there is a subtle yet considerable difference between the spoken and written word. It makes me aware that I cannot claim to be omnipotent in regards to the English language (or anything else, really).

Still, I enjoy these findings in the same way that I love to say words over and over again until they lose meaning and I can no longer remember how to say them properly.

Do you have anything to admit to? Do you have any that you specifically enjoyed in your own experiences? I’d love to hear them, I still have days where I could use a laugh!