Monday, June 11, 2007

Authors and Writers and Readers, Oh My!

I'm too slammed with work--writing CHASIDAH'S CHOICE and deep in the final, final copy edits on THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES--to be particularly witty today. So I'm going to ramble...

I spent this weekend north of Tampa, FL, giving two workshops at the New Port Richey library for the Florida Writers Association. I had a terrific time and my thanks go to Dahris Clair and the FWA, as well as the lovely people at the library who kindly made extra copies of my handouts. FWA is a multi-genre writers' organization so it appeared to me that you don't get the kind of genre-bonding that you do when you're part of a solo-genre group, like MWA (Mystery Writers of America), RWA (Romance) or SFWA (Science Fiction). Hence, there were a fair amount of authors-to-be in the audience who were attacking the goal of being published via the more difficult path: alone.

I mentioned at in my opening--and it's something I've commented on before--that I have the greatest respect for writers who became authors in the pre-Internet days. Before information was literally dripping off the walls. Before professional advice was a mere mouse-click away. Jacqueline Lichtenberg's writerly advice on her Sime~Gen site saved my pre-published patootie more than once years ago. Her advice still keeps my published patootie in line.

So it surprises me when I speak before a fiction writing group and they not only don't know the difference between external and internal conflict, but they have no idea where to find a sample of a query letter. (And I'm not stating everyone in my workshop fell into that category, but there were more who did than I'd expected.)

The truth is not only out there, folks, but so are the answers. In addition to Jacqueline's WorldCrafters Guild, there are sites like my agent's blog, PubRants, where she fully and often humorously demystifies the process of getting an agent. And Miss Snark ::genuflects:: may have recently retired, but her blog archives--and spot-0n advice--is still there.

Authors like Holly Lisle and Orson Scott Card have long maintained wonderful "How To Write Your Novel" pages on their sites. And when you're burned out from crafting your words, go hang out with RITA-award winning author, Robin D. Owens, and revive your muse.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure many of you have your favorite Writing Help/How To site. Share, okay? And when I get time [Linnea falls off her chair, laughing], I'll do up a page on my site, listing them all.

So the plain fact is, educating yourself on the craft of writing AND (and this is a big, whopping, important AND) the business of being a published author is not an impossible task. It's out there, kidlings. Click, scroll, learn.

Which brings me to the other half of this blog: readers.

I was absolutely blessed (and surprised) to have GAMES OF COMMAND make All About Romance's "Desert Isle Keeper" list recently. The DIK designation means this is a book the reviewer would want with him/her on a desert island. It's a honor. I'm truly honored. Because writing a book that makes people happy is a lot of hard, hard, hard (did I say it was hard?) work.

I'm not sure readers realize that. Sometimes I think readers pictures authors as lounging on the chaise, dictacting their next novel whilst being hand-fed chocolate-covered blueberries. Or some such thing. Every word we dictate is then accepted without question by the editors and copy-editors who adore us, and we go on to our next novel, and our next bowl of chocolate-covered blueberries.

Trust me, it's not remotely anything like that. Writing a novel is slightly less painful then going through back-to-back root canal operations. Don't get me wrong. I love writing. I'm addicted to writing. But what I write, what I present to my editor and what comes out as the final book is a long, often frustrating, always crazy process. So in case any readers were wondering:

1. Yes, I have to write to a specific word count. I cannot just ramble on like I am here. Yes, there is some leeway in the word count but when my editor says CUT I have to CUT. That may mean a fairly important scene never makes it into the final book because there are more important scenes than that one. It's like packing for a week's vacation. You have a suitcase of a certain size. You have airline weight limits for that suitcase. You have fifteen outfits you want to bring along but only room for eight. What goes? What stays behind? That's what writing and EDITING a book is like.

2. I have to balance both the speculative fiction aspect (science fiction/fantasy) and the romance aspect. And often, some mystery or political intrigue that has to be cleared up by book's end. I have to keep both my science fiction readers and my romance readers happy. That means, yes, it's a balancing act and no one, ever, is going to be one-hundred per cent happy. Not even me. That's why I have to groan when I read a blogger's or reviewer's comment that a) Linnea Sinclair had too much romance in [fill in novel title] for me and, from another blogger or reviewer about the identical book b) Linnea Sinclair had too much science fiction in [fill in novel title] for me.

Please see item #1 above. I have a finite amount of space in which to produce a novel. I do absolutely the best I can at the time to keep everyone happy but (see item #1 above) I also have to listen to my editor and copy-editor. Things get cut, and understand I may not always agree with the things I'm told to cut. But I cut. That's my job, as much as writing the book is.

Writing cross-genre fiction is--again--like packing a suitcase for a week's vacation where the climate will vary greatly: a snowy ski resort at the top of the mountain and a balmy beach below. Bikini. Down-filled parka. Flip-flops. Ski boots. What goes, what stays behind?

3. I write to deadline. That means I not only have to make all these decisions and changes and adjustments to the novel, I have to do it before X date. While at the same time--and this may shock you--trying to spend some small amount of time with my husband. And remembering to clean the kitty-litter pans. And feed the duck. And yes, travel up-state to teach two workshops. In between that, I have to update my website. Design and print my bookmarks. Answer fan mail (love doing that!). Fold laundry. Life eats away at writing time. Unfair but factual.

And this isn't just me, kidlings. Every published author faces these kinds of problems. Did you all notice the first sentence of this blog? I'm WRITING one book while stil EDITING another.

Which brings me back to writers' organizations, like RWA, SFWA and the Florida group (FWA) that I visited this weekend. Get used to hobnobbing with your fellow and sister writers and authors now--even before you're published. Because once you get published, life quickly morphs from crazy to insanely outta control. You're going to need your author buddies, not just for critique reads or cover quotes or characterization questions, but just as someone to laugh with. Someone who has a shoulder to cry on. Someone who can help you celebrate when your book is designated a 'Desert Isle Keeper.' And someone who can help you pound your head on your monitor in frustration when one reviewer notes that the romance in GAMES OF COMMAND between Sass and Branden was a waste of time, and another blogger pens that the romance in GAMES OF COMMAND between Sass and Branden was the only thing worth reading.

Authors and writers and readers, oh my! ~Linnea


  1. Anonymous4:38 PM EDT

    Linnea says:
    "Writing a novel is slightly less painful then going through back-to-back root canal operations."

    Too funny! I would have said that writing was slightly MORE painful than the ops - without novocaine!

    who had a front-row seat at some of your recent angst-filled moments and will never again equate writing with lotus-eating (or should that be chocolate-covered-blueberry-eating??? LOL)

  2. I NEVER thought writing was easy. EVER. And I'm not a writer, just an enthusiastic reader.
    Btw, I love your books as they are and am EAGERLY awaiting The Down Home Zombie Blues!!

  3. "Yes, there is some leeway in the word count but when my editor says CUT I have to CUT."

    My trunk novel is 230,000 words. I've learned to cut since then! Thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. I'm not in the hot seat myself, so it's easy for me to say you can't please everybody. I can see you've worked very hard to build a broad reader base, balancing Science Fiction and Romance. I've seen you connect with readers who are hesitant to buy new as well. From what I've seen, this hard work has paid off. No rest for the weary though, right?

    One question: When you mean Write and Edit, what exactly do you mean? I have over twenty novels already written in heaps and piles in my head, notebooks, napkins, and computer files. When one's turn comes up, it gets 'Slashed & Burned' into a comprehensible draft. I'm not even sure I'd call that editing. I can do several novels at that stage. Finally, one must be chosen to be Polished and that's what I'd call editing. I don't Write and Edit at the same time, but I don't need to. It's already done in my head. Every once in a while I'll get derailed with a new novel gelling in my head and I have to bang it out before I can get on with editing, but that's different. Isn't it? I think I've streamlined this process a lot since I started taking writing seriously a year ago. But, still... What do you do?

  5. Hey Tia, glad to see you here! 230,000, eh? Piffle! My GAMES OF COMMAND (127,000) was squeezed out of about 300,000 words... I do believe I done got you beat! ;-)

    Kimber, by Write and Edit, I mean I'm editing ZOMBIE BLUES final final draft (not galleys--I'll have to edit those too, when they get here). And I'm writing CHASIDAH'S CHOICE. If not at the same time (literally I can't) but the same day. Or same week. I might spend 8am to noon going through edits on ZOMBIE then from 1 to 5pm I write CHASIDAH'S. So now if Theo--my hero in ZOMBIE-- mysteriously appears on Dock Five in CHASIDAH'S, you'll know why. ::grin::

    As for my OWN writing and editing process (the one above is an outline of the stages I go through with Bantam), I edit as I write, yes, but judging from my copy-editor's remarks, not as closely as she'd like. For one thing, I have a penchant for English cadence. IE: "Funny thing, that!" That's Brit-speak. I have no clue where I got it but I've spoken that way--and written that way--for decades. I also write "blonde" and Bantam demands "blond." I write "towards" and they demand "toward." I'd say "advisor" and they correct it to "adviser." I write "it's one damn thing after another" and they tell me "it's one damned thing after another." I'd say "Me, too" and they delete the comma. Ninety-five percent of the changes my Bantam copy-editor makes are stylistic--their style versus mine. Towards and toward are both correct. So are advisor and adviser. Five books in, you'd think I'd have memorized their style manual. I've not. (And see, they'd change that to I haven't).

    Writing on deadline also doesn't give one the leisure to pick nits with a fresh eye. Crank it out is very real and in cranking, one reads and rereads and rererereads so that one no longer can even SEE the damned (got it right!) misspellings or transpositions. Finger farts. So errors creep in that normally I'd have caught.

    Does that answer your question? ~Linnea

  6. Heck, yeah!

    My Crunchies are always nailing me for things like that too. Sometimes I learn...for a while. (rolls eyes)

  7. I would take your books to a dessert isle. Oh, wait, you said desert. Yeah, that too. :D

    Wonderful post, but I did get a little distracted by the chocolate covered blueberries. I mean I knew your brain was weird and wonderful, Linnea, but chocolate covered BLUEBERRIES?!?

    And I love blueberries. ;p

  8. Anonymous8:25 AM EDT

    Multi-tasking? Deadlines? B-b-business? *whimper* I'm doooomed!

    On the other hand, I'm pretty good at eating chocolate covered raisins. Or just plain chocolate -- I'm not picky. *grins*

  9. Bev, you've never had chocolate-covered blueberries? Child, you are deprived. (That's deprived, not depraved, although we might not argue the latter...) ;-) ~Linnea

  10. David, I think you'd rally to the task for a NY publishing contract... ::grin:: ~Linnea

  11. Linnea:

    Thank you for the kind words!

    Kimber An: You don't "get chosen" to be published. You study what "they" want and give it to them packaged so they can market it with the least effort.

    Publishing is in flux (which is usual but not quite like this) and "what they want" is even more confusing than usual.

    But there are very particular and exactly structural requirements for a piece of commercial art that will be MARKETED through very specific channels.

    I have new advice for the current marketplace. This is what I've been doing lately, but haven't yet perfected it to where I can try it out and see if it works. But I do know others who've done it.

    Study SCREENWRITING -- dissect and study TV and film structures -- write your novel EXACTLY to that structure (precisely place events at exact spots in the plot according to the percentage of the total pages, but use the percentages of FILM.)

    The reason for this -- nobody reads anymore. 90% of the fiction imbibed by consumers comes via TV, DVD rentals, and theatrical releases, comics, graphic novels, music videos, etc.

    We have a generation out there we're trying to entertain and we must speak their language -- and today's language has been formulated by H/Bollywood.

    Learn the language well enough to speak it like a native -- then tell your story in that language.

    And that language is structure, pacing, protagonist, antagonist, A, B, C story, and the 3 act structure, with a major climax also at the 1/2 point. Be off by even one page and your novel will not "be chosen."

    Hit those marks like a professional actor hits the mark on the stage (ever seen those taped X's they use?) and your novel will "be chosen."

    The "rejection" is decided on structure -- the acceptance considers "content" but not very seriously if AND ONLY IF your "content" is constructured rigorously around a "Concept."

    Study High Concept, master it (Linnea got born with it pre-installed) build your story around it, structure your story to hit "the beats" of a screenplay -- the book WILL BE CHOSEN (by someone somewhere).

    The more precisely you do all this, the more likely you are to make mass market.

    Study The Dresden Files (see my review column for my extensive interview with the author), study how it was done, and internalize the simple lesson -- make a movie even if it looks like a novel, and it will sell big time.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  12. Excellent advice, Jacqueline! Structure is always tripping me up anyway. It's been much easier with my Young Adult than my SFR, but still... Doesn't help that I'm so easily distracted! It's on my 'To-Do List' to check all of that out.

  13. Anonymous2:05 PM EDT

    Wow, that whole their style versus your style thing is kinda scary. To me, "I've not" and "I haven't" have a different feel. Spelling changes I can understand, but the homogenizing of the grammar I don't like too much. It seems too much like they're trying to rub off some of the Linnea.

  14. Maryk:

    Aha, well that's why you should only submit to a publishing house you want your novel to be published by -- and their previous works have to be scrutinized. You will be required to conform to get paid. If you argue, your next book will not be bought.

    It is a business, and in business the customer is always right. Publishers give their customers what the Publisher thinks the customer wants.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  15. Linnea, thanks for mentioning how important it is to meet and stay in touch with other authors. I can't tell you how supportive authors can be--they understand your pain! I have gotten through many depressing times in my career just by having a fellow author hold my hand or cry with me or give me that piece of advice that got me through. I try to return the favor. We have to stick together in this biz!

  16. Hey Jennifer! Great to see you herer. Thanks for the input. ~Linnea