Submission Services from a Writer’s POV, Part 2

This post is Part 2 of 2 about my experiences working with Writer’s Relief, an agency that helps authors find agents and outlets for their work. In December, I had just submitted materials about my work and myself, so that Writer’s Relief could draft a query letter and send me a list of agents who might be interested. This post continues the Q&A format I used in Part 1.

1. What happened after you submitted your materials?

After signing up on Dec. 16, two different Writer’s Relief staff contacted me on Dec. 23 and Jan. 7. One asked for my publication credits, and the other sent this intriguing question:

How close to your life is the book? You’ve called it a memoir – does that mean that you’ve just changed names and some minor details. This will determine how we target your book. Is it based very loosely on your life? Could it be called a novel? Please advise.

I responded:

All events in the book happened, to me, as they are described, in the timeline described. I agree with your wording: only names and minor details (such as identifying locations and personal information) have been changed. And obviously I’ve put it into third person, which I think I noted in my submission materials was due to the sensitive nature of the health details–easier to read and write this way. It is definitely not a novel.

This level of detail told me they were looking very carefully for the agents who would be interested in my book, which I describe as a health mystery memoir.

2. What did you think of their query letter? And the list of agents?

On Jan. 13, I received their draft query letter. I was impressed. Though I had done my best with my own query letter to sell the big picture, Writer’s Relief zoomed out even more. They also sent me a PDF document of various resources for authors, which included a rationale for their approach in writing query letters. Their goal is understated professionalism. No clichés, nothing over the top. Let the work sell itself. Their opening paragraph reflected that:

Please consider my book Pretty On The Inside: A True Story of Transformation, an autobiographical account of my experiences dealing with a chronic, disfiguring skin condition. Due to the personal nature of the story, I’ve written in the third person and names have been changed.

3. Did you like the list of agents?

hidden entrance to a stone building

ooooh – mysterious …..

On Jan. 16, my personalized list of agencies and specific agents arrived, also in a PDF. The $250 fee covered 25 agents + query, but the list contained 29 names and email addresses, plus the materials I should submit to each party. What amazed me most was the fantastic fit of the agents to my work. I had no idea there were people who were seeking to represent “non-fiction efforts in health and wellness, relationships, popular culture, women’s issues, lifestyle, sports, and music.” Except for sports, my book has all those elements. Neat-o!

Many agents wanted an excerpt from the first part of the book, though this varied from as little as 5 pages to as many as 50. Most wanted the first 1-3 chapters. Writer’s Relief instructed me to query immediately (within 3 days), though this turned out to be a challenge given the particulars of each agency’s query preferences. As of today (April 15), I’ve managed to send 16 out of 29 queries. Shh, don’t tell Writer’s Relief!

4. What happened after you received the list of agents?

What happened next is I’m waiting and trying to find the time to finish querying. Of 16 queries already sent, I received two personalized notes from agents who expressed enthusiasm for the project but are just too busy (or not enthusiastic enough), but who encouraged me to keep going. Totally worth it. Thank you Janet Reid (who also writes a funny and sharp take-your-medicine blog for writers) and Molly Friedrich.

5. Can you recommend Writer’s Relief?

Yes. One could say that I can’t know for sure, until I find an agent. But honestly, the structured process of prepping my materials for a professional set of eyes, the long list of agents that assured me there is a place for my story, and the supportive personal notes from two agents have already made the sometimes confusing journey from query to publishing easier.

Claire Cameron is an educational psychologist and aspiring science writer. Her dream is to write about human development, health, and science in a way that everyone will want to read.

 

Creativity within Constraints

Bethany, Anne, and Carolyn.... 3/4th of BACCA Literary. Sadly, Claire couldn't make it this year.

Bethany, Anne, and Carolyn…. 3/4th of BACCA Literary. Sadly, Claire couldn’t make it this year.

What a wonderful way to welcome spring!  “Creativity within Constraints” was the theme of our Publishing Day: Meet (or Create) Your own Writing Group presentation on March 21st… and it was FUN!

After introductions, Anne stepped the audience through a hilarious fill-in-the-blanks word game!

A writer group is a partnership between CARS and MOUSTACHES that is designed to help BEAUTIFUL writers reach his or her PUPPY.

It is a step-by-LOLLIPOP process that creates clarity and PINETREE-filled moments.

Here are some of the mental, emotional, and IRRITATING benefits of writer groups:

  • Discovering your inner OVEN and allowing it to play.
  • Celebrating a transformative MEZZO SOPRANO experience.
  • Learning the art of HYPERVENTILATING.
  • Learning how to change CURIOUS thinking.
  • Learning how to express yourself HALTINGLY.

 

The relationship between a writer and their writer group transforms BUZZARDS and enhances the members’ VOLUMES.

True, it takes a commitment of time, and LEPRECHAUN, and BELLYBUTTON. And the writer group doesn’t always turn into friendship — it turns into something more powerful and AROMATIC.

A writer group is a great way to meet WEASELS and learn more about yourself, your DAY, and your WOODPECKERS.

After the laughter died down, Bethany hosted a mixer where attendees could meet each other and take the first steps to a creating a new writing group.

Writers meeting Writers at the Meet (or Create) Your own Writing Group event

Writers meeting Writers at the Meet (or Create) Your own Writing Group event

We’d handed a questionnaire to each participant at the beginning of the event to help shy writers break the ice  I joined in and met writers from all over the world.

I met new writers tiptoeing  into the writing group process and long-time pros who’d just moved to Charlottesville and wanted to make contacts.

Question asked at the end of the event included

How does an existing writing group select a new member?

Where can I meet other writers?

Bethany telling a writer  where to find other writers

Bethany telling a writer where to find other writers

Anne and Bethany did a bang-up job giving thoughtful and meaningful answers.

The only thing more fun than our 2015 Festival of the Book event was planning it!

The members of BACCA Literary

Carolyn O’Neal, AM Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson, Claire Elizabeth Cameron planning BACCA LIterary’s 2015 VaBook session.

Hope to see you next year at the 2016 Virginia Festival of the Book!

BACCA’s Back! Virginia Festival of the Book 2015

BACCA Literary Is Back at VaBook!

Virginia Festival of the Book 2015Yes, we’re presenting again in 2015, and on PubDay – the best day of the entire festival. Uh-huh. (We’re a bit biased.)

Come spend Saturday morning with us in the James Monroe Room at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. We start at 10am on Saturday, 21 March 2015. As I write this, there’s snow on the ground, but odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a charming spring day when you visit with us at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

What will we be doing this year?

Glad you asked. We’re coming to talk about writer groups – how to be in one, and how to find or create one.

When we did our session last time, we chatted with the Festival guests before and after our remarks about writer groups. It was a lot of fun, and good ideas came up. But there was something missing: More interaction with the Festival guests.

So, this time, we’re creating opportunities for Festival guests to meet one another and chat briefly, right in the middle of our session. Visitors to our session may possibly meet the future members of their new writer groups. And everyone will definitely have opportunities to learn more about writer groups, and what they can do to hone writerly and analytical skills. And cat-herding skills. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Where is The James Monroe Room at the Omni?

It’s easy to get to. From the hotel’s central atrium, turn toward the ballrooms. Catty-corner to the last ballroom entrance is our room, The James Monroe.

Map showing BACCA session

Shy, Introverted, Both?

Arrgh. So are some of us.

I know, I know. A Festival session with “activities.” The blurb for our session actually includes these words: “BACCA will guide Festival-goers in a fun and educational, hands-on mixer that will break the ice and start the process of building a writing community.”

It’s enough to make you run for the hills, isn’t it? Reconsider, please. Get an extroverted writerly friend to join you, and come join us. We’re gentle, promise. You might enjoy yourself. We look friendly, right?

The members of BACCA Literary

BACCA Literary Founding Members: Carolyn O’Neal, AM Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson, and Claire Elizabeth Cameron, after planning BACCA Literary’s 2015 VaBook session.

— AM Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors get their books completed, polished, and out into the world.

Relearning How To Write When I’m Happy

Writing and I need to work on our relationship. My new year’s resolution is to learn how to be a writer when I’m happy.

I’ve been a writer since 2007, when my depression and anxiety drove me to put pen to paper as a means to survive. I shut myself in my room with my laptop for up to 12 hours a day, hammering out stories about betrayal, loss, illness, death. I had a seemingly endless well of conflict inside, fuel to drive fables, screenplays, novels, poems… I wrote a lot.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

doodle by bethany

Thankfully, over the last 8 years my mental health has improved. Happiness is no longer a figment; it’s where I spend significant amounts of my time. Writing is not what pays the bills, but I’m enjoying my jobs, I love my friends, and I’m thankful for the little things, like a cup of coffee with a big red-headed Viking of a man each morning.

So, I’m no longer desperate, panicked, get-the-words-out-or-I-will-drown-in-them. I still love stories, to get absorbed in a book or a daydream. But the truth is, if I’m not awakened by a nightmare at 3am jumping out of my skin, I have a hard time sitting down and getting down to actually writing.

I’ve had relationships in the past based on complaining, gossip, lamenting, and grief; misery does love company. Some of these friendships have not survived my transition out of depression. But my very best friend has hung in there with me: the scary start of the slump, the increasing dark days, the long struggle, and the climb back into the light. We’ve had some rough patches, but my sister has not resented the ways I’ve changed, we’ve both adapted, and our relationship now is now stronger than ever.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

doodle by bethany

This is the model I’m hoping to pattern my writing life after in 2015. My laptop and I do not need to be in a codependent relationship. I’m hoping to learn that I can sit down to write because I want to, not because I need to. I can let go of the fear that my creativity dissipated along with my anxiety.

I can write for the joy of it.

I find that starting new habits requires some practical little guidelines to help them along. To facilitate my new year’s resolution of learning to write when I’m happy, I plan to:

  • Put my dream journal out at night before I go to bed
  • Honor the blocs of writing time I have set aside in my schedule
  • Leave space for other creative pursuits I enjoy, like drawing, collage, and origami

I don’t want to break up with writing because I’ve changed. So I’m working on it. Wish us well.

Bethany Joy Carlson is the founder of The Artist’s Partner and a co-founder of BACCA. And she’s still a writer.

Submission Services from a Writer’s POV, Part 1

You know how it’s hard enough to find time to write, not to mention time to research your best-fit agents, journals, or magazines? Author submission services make a living by performing some of the research and administrative work for you. There are several resources about author submission services, including some helpful warnings about particularly scammy situations. This post is not about those topics. Instead this is Part 1 of 2 about submission services from an individual writer’s POV. I’m working with Writer’s Relief, est. 1994, but this is not meant to be an endorsement.

courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

If you want the quick take-away, it’s this: I haven’t convinced myself that this is the magical path to publishing because, well, it’s not. But I am feeling renewed motivation knowing that some other professionals are involved in helping me navigate the crowded and constantly changing publishing world. I’m also using the experience to further develop how I market and communicate about my work. Now for lessons I’m gathering about Writer’s Relief, Q&A style:

1. How did you learn about Writer’s Relief and decide to submit? Several months ago, I heard that a co-worker’s wife used Writer’s Relief services for her poetry, and is pleased with the results.

  • TIP: If you’re considering author services, look for a testimonials page on the website. Writer’s Relief posts a range of feedback—from dripping enthusiasm to a pretty bland “I got an agent, so I guess you could say they helped me.” This honest representation of what different clients thought helped convince me of their sincerity. I also liked Writer’s Relief because they have a review process: they don’t accept all writing that authors submit, only work they think they has a reasonable chance of moving to the publication phase.

2. How did you become a client? When I visited their website in July or August 2013, I learned that Writer’s Relief was reviewing essays, poetry, and novel/memoir. My memoir wasn’t done, so I decided to submit three chapters adapted from my memoir into essay form. I don’t recommend this approach, because after 2 weeks, I received this reply:

Thank you for sending your work for our review process. Unfortunately, we are not able to invite you to join our Full Service client list. Because we do not charge a fee for Review Board consideration of your work, we cannot offer you specific critique. That said, we do invite you to send different or revised material in two months.

I then wrote to inquire about what this meant–was 2 months all I needed to become a polished author? (No.) I learned that they review material in 2-month cycles, officially. Which means any writer at any level can submit as often as every two months. But then:

3. What did you learn that’s not on the website? In early November, I noticed their official “deadline” to have work reviewed had passed on Oct 16. But when I emailed, I learned from Daniele:

Or next open call is in December. But if you’re ready now, we are still accepting new clients on a very limited basis. We’re not advertising this anymore, but we are allowing people to submit when they stumble upon our site. So, if you’d like to send your work along, I’ll be glad to have your submission read for you within the next week!

This perception of exceptionality—I assume calculated to make me feel special—nonetheless motivated me to prep my work for submission, this time in its proper genre of memoir. I submitted these elements:

– First 15 pages of book (required)
– Proposal (required but left open), which I interpreted as a 170-word author bio, 4-page synopsis, outline of chapters, and 3 pages about the market titled “Who will read this book and why”
– Mini ~150-word book synopsis (required)
– Short answers to several questions, including “What do you hope to achieve by working with Writer’s Relief?” (required)
– Sample query letter (optional)

Going through this submission process was valuable by itself. If I want to be a published author, I should be able to easily come up with all this.

4. How long did it take to have your work reviewed? I was impressed at the turnaround both times I submitted. The first round, the unsuccessful essays, took less than two weeks: from submission on Aug 13 to the form letter reply on Aug 26. The second round, the successful memoir, took less than a month: from submission on Nov 9 to an acceptance email on Dec 5.

5. What happened after your work was accepted? What does it cost? On Dec 11, I received a paper packet with a thorough description of a “Full Service” option. In the fine print and through a phone call, I learned that there are actually three price points:

  • Option 1, Full Service: they research agents and appropriate publications, prep your query (or write it for you), send you submission materials that you then mail out yourself*, and track your replies from agents, I presume on a fancy Excel-style spreadsheet. This costs a $250 administrative fee plus a first-time cycle fee around $400, plus a regular 2-month cycle fee around $300 –the exact amount depends on your genre, and books are the priciest. If you want to take a cycle off, it still costs $150 in case agents reply during that off-cycle.
    *This is because agents don’t want a middleman to deal with on top of the thousands of author emails and queries they handle. The fact I’m responsible for my own queries led me to choose the next option:
  • Option 2, A la Carte, Research + Query: This is the option I chose, for $250. They research 25 agents that are likely to be interested in my work, and they also write the query letter. This option still required an extensive additional set of materials from me, including:
    – One-sentence book description, e.g.: Anna, a young scientist, transforms the way she approaches life when a mysterious acne condition and a fear of Accutane lead her to seek the help of a local acupuncturist.
    – A list of genre and topic descriptors; they provide the list, you select the ones that fit
    – the region, religion if any, and demographics of characters in the book
    – Previous publication credits
  • Option 3, A la Carte, Research Only: For $150 I get the list of 25 agent names that they’ve researched.

I’m currently awaiting the agent list and query letter. Even though I have a query letter that I like, I’m eager to see what people who have seen and written tons of query letters will write.

Look for Part 2 in 4 months or so, after I’ve queried the first round of agents I get from Writer’s Relief. And keep writing…that’s what I’ll be doing with the time I’m not spending on research.

– C. E. Cameron

Proofreading and Editing

Like every reader, I’ve come across typos and small continuity errors in novels and short stories, but few created the world-wide uproar as the error found on page 667 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the First American edition, July 2000.

Voldemort and Harry’s wands had met in battle and the result was Voldemort’s ghostly victims spewing out in the reverse order that he killed them, that is, his last victim coming out of his wand first. When Harry’s parents appeared, his father came out of the wand before his mother.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My son was seven years old in the summer of 2000. My husband, my son, and I were reading aloud this fourth book in the beloved Harry Potter series and we immediately realized the mistake. Since it was Lily Potter’s love of her son, Harry, which destroyed Voldemort, she should have come out of Voldemort’s wand before Harry’s father. See http://www.hp-lexicon.org/about/exp-wandorder.html for more details about the wand order problem.

What lessons did I learn?

Primarily, I learned that even one of the bestselling authors of all time makes mistakes! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors).

Secondarily, I learned that writers must utilize many proofreading tools to minimize typos and continuity errors.

Here are a few of my favorite proofreading techniques:

One:  Read what you’ve written and then read it again. And again.  Read it until you can’t find any errors. But don’t submit yet. Your proofing has just begun.

Carolyn at her desk

Carolyn O’Neal. Editing, editing, always editing.

Two: Read it out loud. Hearing your words is like turning on the light in a dim room. Errors shine in the spotlight of the voice. Words should flow off the page. If you stumble as you read your own writing aloud, imagine how it will sound to others.

Three: Record your voice as you read what you’ve written. My favorite way to record my voice is with my I-Pod. Under Extras, I select Voice Memos. I record a piece and listen to it over and over until I catch all the elusive logic and continuity errors.

IPod Shuffle, Nano, Classic, and Touch
IPod Shuffle, Nano, Classic, and Touch

Four: Ask others to read your work. This is when being a member of a great writing group REALLY pays off. Having three or four or five other people read and discuss your work helps you find everything from simple typos to major plot problems. Yes, you can ask your parent or spouse to read your writing, but can they give you objective feedback?  Probably not. For more information on creating a great writing group, go to http://baccaliterary.com/how-to-create-a-writing-group/ the BACCA Literary logo

All of the above works well for small pieces.  Short stories or poems.   But what about novels?   Reading 80,000 words aloud would be exhausting.  The answer:

Five: Text to Voice software. Text to Voice software converts the words you’ve written into a natural sounding voice. This is especially helpful when listening to multiple chapters. I use NaturalReaders. A downloadable free sample of NaturalReaders is available at http://www.naturalreaders.com/download.php.

NaturalReader is a Text to Speech software with natural sounding voices. This easy to use software can convert any written text such as MS Word, Webpage, PDF files, and Emails into spoken words. NaturalReader can also convert any written text into audio files such as MP3 or WAV for your CD player or iPod.

 

 Additional proofreading suggestions

from guest contributor

Constance Renfrow,

courtesy  of DIYMFA

Constance Renfrow

Constance Renfrow is an editor at Three Rooms Press; an editor and publishing consultant at constancerenfrow.com

What to Know Before You Submit Your Novel

 

Check for Dumb Mistakes

It takes the trained eye approximately 0.02 seconds to notice the glaring typo on page one of a submission. And sometimes we editors are so stressed/exhausted/cranky that reading, “The tour-tooted animals” instead of the four-footed ones in the manuscript we’re looking at on our 4 p.m. lunch break is just the dose of hilarity needed to dissolve us into a dripping puddle of laughter-tears.

Read It As An Educated Reader

Now it’s time to read over your manuscript for anything an editor may find problematic enough to make her beg St. Francis de Sales for instant death. Are you making sexist/racist/controversial statements that have absolutely no bearing on the story? Get rid of them. Do you spend an entire chapter claiming your senator eats paint? Prove it with facts or rethink it. Does the book rely on stereotypes? That’s boring. No one wants to be bored and editors have especially short attention spans.

Exterminate all clichés. Even if they’re fairly new to the vernacular, just imagine how many times an acquiring editor sees them. I never want to see a person’s face described as a “mask of” horror/terror/ugliness/anything ever again.

Another thing. Pay attention to how many times you repeat words or phrases. Have you ever said a word so many times in a row that it loses all meaning? That’s what the editor will feel like if you use the phrase “so-and-so snorted” 381 times in a two hundred-page novel. I once had an author who used “shared” instead of “said” every single time, and I still can’t say/hear/read/think the word without wanting to throttle whatever good Samaritan is sharing her fruit platter with the rest of the office.

Some Tech Tools for Writers

calendar of Oct - Nov - Dec 2014

What’s Left of 2014

It’s fall. Everyone’s back at their desks, and signs of the November->January holiday madness are still faint enough to ignore. So in other words, we’re all on the brink of overwhelm. If, like me, you are juggling writing projects with other work, you want to feel you’ve got the materials you need, wherever you happen to find yourself when the time opens up to work on your writing projects.

Lately, I have found a few tools that really help keep overwhelm at bay, particularly in collaborative environments.

Tracking Shared Projects

To keep track of shared projects (in my world, that usually involves 2-5 people), I used to make a table in Word of the topics and tasks within each topic that were to be managed. The parties involved each received a copy by email, and wrote back happy emails about how organized we all were. That part usually went pretty well. Then the ugly part began when it came time to update it, and keep track of version numbers, and revision dates, and who had received an emailed copy of the latest version, and on and on. It became a minefield, not a helpful tool. So many accurate and true things in that table could become wrong and out of date, so quickly.

Now for shared projects I encourage my book coaching clients and other project collaborators to use Trello. It’s a web-based tool, free for basic use, for listing items and adding comments, files, checklists, calendared deadlines, images and other media, and more. A page, known as a Board, in Trello’s default format, which is easily edited, shows three vertical lists headed To Do, Doing, and Done. One oddity: You can’t delete items from Trello, but you can archive them so they aren’t on your screen.

Sample Board in Trello

Sample Board in Trello

Search is nice and fast. It works on devices with a web connection – which includes computers, tablets, smartphones, and so on. And it’s always up to date. When people add their two cents, or a new task, or check a box in a checklist, everybody involved will know about it the next time they visit the Trello board. The ugly part from the old days of tables build in Word just pretty much disappears.

Floating Research Library

It’s true what they all say about Evernote: You really won’t need to keep those scraps of paper any more. It’s amazing to me how readily I adapted from “Where the $%^& did I put that stick-it with that book title / idea for subplot / phone number / song fragment?” to “Oh yeah, I’ll just look in Evernote. I bet I put it there.” Like Trello, Evernote’s search is super-fast and thorough. Also as with Trello, you can make categories and sub-items, here called Notebooks and Notes, subject to annotation, media attachments, live URL links, etc. For me, Evernote is my great reference library in the sky. Nothing is too small to put up there.

I’ve been at meetings with only my phone, yet equipped to answer questions, back up my assertions, illustrate ideas, and keep the ball rolling because I’ve got Evernote on my phone. And when you come across that brilliant idea or crucial piece of info while you’re out and about, you can email it to your Evernote library with your special dedicated email address (that you remembered to stick into your smartphone’s contacts directory, of course). It works on most devices. Unlike Trello, the Evernote software is not web-based – you download an app, free for basic use, from the company’s website and it resides on your device, while sharing the contents of your library with other devices you authorize. There’s a username/password gate to pass through, securing access to your stuff.

Facebook Groups

I feel a little tacky admitting this, but you know what? Facebook can be a useful collaboration tool. Protect your privacy, of course, as you would with anything at all posted there, but within bounds, a Closed or Secret Facebook group can become a terrific tool for shared projects. Keep one another up to date, ask questions, post calendared events, share files and links. The biggest downside? You have to go on Facebook to access the good stuff your colleagues are sharing with you inside your walled garden. Time sucks lurk just outside the garden wall.

Image of a garden wall

Beware what lurks outside. Image from HGTV.com

Again, it’s free of charge, web-based, and platform-independent. A web connection is all you need. We BACCA members rely on such a group for keeping in touch between meetings.

Google Calendar

The interface is unbeautiful, old, and clunky, admittedly, and privacy is, uh, dubious, but inviting people to meetings, setting aside the time for them, linking to an agenda document, and other such administrative tasks can be handled pretty well from within Google Calendar. By the way, you can invite people who don’t have a gmail address. It’s web-based, platform independent and free of charge.

File Storage

When I have the chance to get some writing work done, I’m not always at my home office with access to the files stored on the server there. I switched a while back from Dropbox to Sync, as the place to keep drafts of works in progress. Truth be told, I prefer to use it only for temporary storage. (That’s probably my 60s-era bad attitude showing up, as it is wont to do these days.) Like the other products mentioned here, it is free for basic use. Sync says it uses encryption and otherwise is better at protecting my privacy than the competition.

Backup Is On You

With Trello and Evernote and Facebook and Google Calendar and everything else web-based, backing up your data is your job – not theirs. Procedures and file formats differ, so be sure to find out the ways to save copies from the cloud down to something local under your control. Then – and this is important – slot the time into your regular routine actually to DO those backups. It’s the old umbrella-toting-rainstorm-averting theory – if you make backups you’ll probably never need them. So make them.

Privacy

Yeah, not so much. I recommend assuming, at a minimum, that what you put up in the Cloud is or may be subject to anonymous data-mining. In addition, personally, I wouldn’t use any of these tools to store usernames and passwords, Social Security and other such valuable identifying numbers, large address books and contacts directories, valuable intellectual property, and confidential documents. Sync’s website includes a blog post itemizing some of the more egregious privacy policies out there.

The Monster in the Shadows

Okay, I admit it. Not covered here is a recommendation for the tool that facilitates easy collaboration on an actual document. That’s because I’m still looking for something better than Track Changes in Word. Please understand, by that I mean I really really really want to find something better. I have been known to wail, curse, stamp my feet, sigh, and otherwise demonstrate my utter frustration with that inadequate, inelegant, outdated tool. One that I’ve read interesting things about is called Draft. Here’s its info page about version tracking and revisions.

PS – In the day since this blogpost went up, I’ve come across a few more things on this topic. Two colleagues and fellow BACCA-ites chimed in: Bethany Joy Carlson mentioned Google Docs as a useful alternative to Word for some purposes (although I’ve also seen negative reviews of it for security concerns, for example), and C E Cameron is checking out Scrivener (as I am). And then I recalled having seen mention of Poetica for online document collaboration. And then I realized that Jane Friedman’s recent blog post about alternatives to Word may have been the place I learned about Poetica.

What do you think? Do these and other tools help you keep the overwhelm at a manageable distance? Please tell us in the Comments below.

— AM Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, is a founding member of BACCA, and is CEO of Chenille Books which provides editing and coaching services to authors.

 

7 Things I’ve Learned About Writing From Casting

Bethany casting a major motion picture in 2014... right before 1,055 boys and their entourages arrived

Bethany casting a major motion picture in 2014… right before 1,055 boys and their entourages arrived

One of my favorite jobs is being a Casting Assistant for Arvold.

A funny thing happens when you work casting. Actors come up to you and ask, “why didn’t (my son / my niece / my spouse) I get the part?!?”

If I’m ever feeling low about my rejections (I’m currently 0 for 2 this year on screenwriting competitions), I remind myself of these seven things I’ve learned about writing from casting.

  1. There’s a lottery element to producing creative work. I recently assisted at an “open call”, e.g. an audition for a major motion picture that was open to the public. We auditioned ONE THOUSAND FIFTY FIVE boys in four hours. We turned away over a thousand more. The police had to direct traffic. Art is tied to dreams, and a lot of people share the dream of seeing their creative work produced and shared and enjoyed. So the competition is stiff. It’s just not statistically sound to expect more yesses than noes.
  2. It’s worth it to show up even if I don’t book the gig. Most of the actors I see don’t book the part they’re auditioning for. But, I get to see them work. Which means when I’m brainstorming whom to call for the next project, the faces I’ve seen over and over again leap to mind. Familiarity is powerful. If you’re professional on the phone and email, show up on time, take direction, and keep your cool, you’re showing that you’re a pro – even if you don’t book this particular gig. So I make sure when I’m talking with agents, editors, producers, and other professionals, I’m behaving myself accordingly. Even if they don’t bite on my project. Yet.
  3. A performance can be amazing – and not right for the job. I have cried at auditions where the actor did not book the part. If we are looking for a haggard woman crying over the death of her son, and the actor is young and beautiful, they may nail the performance but simply not be right for the role. I submitted to a comedy screenplay contest earlier this year. My script is good, but it is dark. I call it a dark comedy, but reviewers call it a comedic drama. If the contest winner turns out to be a classic slapstick comedy, I’ll know my submission just was not right for what the judges were looking for.
  4. No performance happens in a vacuum. No actor’s performance stands alone in a film or TV show. It needs to be compatible with the other performances. If we’ve already cast 10 of 20 speaking roles for a particular show, the other 10 roles that remain to be cast need actors who complement the rest. The same holds true for a publisher’s line-up. If I submit a Young Adult manuscript about a 15-year-old Physics prodigy, and the publisher is already about to debut a Young Adult book about a 15-year-old Astrophysics prodigy, that’s just my bad luck. My book does not exist in a vacuum.
  5. Some days are bad days. This doesn’t really need an explanation. Even good actors have a bad day and turn in a lackluster performance. Sometimes my writing has no spark. C’est la vie.
  6. Some actors aren’t ready yet. We’re doing emerging actors a favor by not putting them in roles they can’t carry. Ideally, we want to set everyone up so they can succeed. Frankly, when I look back on it, I’m really relieved some of the manuscripts I submitted never got picked up. I would not want my major debut to have been that (in hindsight) overwritten mess.
  7. Beautiful and photogenic are not the same thing. I’m still trying to come to grips with the difference between what looks good to the naked eye and what works on camera. There are a lot of differences, actually: What works on stage is massive overkill on camera. Comic timing and dramatic connection are not the same muscle. Large features on a face may look a bit strange in person, but the camera lens may love them. And lots of actors are still trying to work out where exactly their talent lies – and auditions can help that process, because experts are effectively giving feedback over time based on what kinds of jobs an actor ultimately books. I felt that way about my writing for a long time. Do I write short stories? Fables? YA? Flash fiction? Graphic novels? It wasn’t until I really dug into screenwriting that I felt like I found my true strength.

I guess if there’s one thing to take away about writing from casting, it’s that persistence and professionalism pay off. Don’t take rejection personally; it’s probably moving you closer to your goal.

 

Arvold casts award-winning film (Lincoln), television (Turn: Washington’s Spies), and commercials (just wait till you see the Williamsburg Tourism commercial coming in 2015). If you are interested in learning more about film and television in the Mid-Atlantic, consider attending one of the monthly Arvold Live sessions – they are an invaluable discussion with industry pros about how Virginia’s star is rising for actors – and everyone who works in the business.

Bethany Joy Carlson writes dark comedy screenplays. (Or comedic dramas, depending on whom you ask.) She is a WriterHouse Board member, owner of TheArtistsPartner.com, and founder of BACCA.

Outlining My Way

I’ve always hated outlines. For big writing projects, that was always the directive: make an outline. Start with your thesis…then flesh it out with evidence. List all the important events in the piece in the right order. Open with conflict…then include key scenes to develop it.

When the instructor didn’t assign an outline, I felt I should use one anyway. It seemed a necessary step on the way to an achieved goal, like letting the dough rise or gassing up the car before a journey. If I skipped outlining, the image of a dull paper covered in red pen plagued me. So like a good doobie, I outlined. I made a list with Roman numerals, capital letters, and numbers. My outline was a beautiful thing, and one to which I rarely returned.

Farewell to Outlines Haiku

I will not ever

use a Roman numeral

in writing again 

Since drafting this piece, I discovered that two writers I know and admire—Bethany Carlson and Dan Willingham—are Old-School Outliners. I’m sure there are others as well, but truly, this piece is not for them. It’s for all the other people—people who, like me, don’t know all that you’ll write before you begin.

After producing many lovely and ignored outlines, I’ve learned to let go of the old way and see my process differently. Writing—even logical, systematic writing, like I do for my research job—is a creative process. I can’t show up at work at 9am and write until 5pm, and I can’t produce an outline and then follow it mechanically to its finish. There are too many unknowns on the way to a finished piece, and they emerge in their own due time. Not by an imposed schedule or anything as regular and top-down as an outline.

Sure, I might know my topic when I start, and I might even have a few things I want to say about it. But! There are invariably insights that arise as I’m writing, thoughts I wasn’t going to think until I wrote the sentence…that I just wrote. (For example, having just written the previous sentence, I thought of the word, emergent. Emergent thoughts, by definition, can’t be known ahead of time. The web tells me that emergent means “in the process of coming into being or becoming prominent.”)

It’s that “in the process” that I love. À la Don Fry, who wrote “Writing Your Way,” I’ve learned to use outlines my way. I use them in the middle of my process. Instead of an outline, that process begins with thinking off the page, contemplation on walks and while washing dishes and at other times when my mind is empty of deliberate input. I might jot some notes down to jog my memory later, like the note for this post I made on July 17: Outlines are not useless…or something to explain how using an outline to get started is only a start, [you] don’t need to stick to it.

At some point after in-the-mind marinating, I’ll write for a bit. Then, when the writing tide ebbs, maybe I’ll make an outline. It might even have a bullet point, but I avoid numerals. Too inevitable. Brainstorming with my writing group is pure fun. At other times, my outline is a diagram, like screenwriters use for movie plots. Or, I’ll use the Comment feature in Microsoft Word Review tab to describe the goal of each paragraph after it’s drafted. An outline that becomes prominent after the writing has commenced honors my personal process in a satisfying, bottom-up way that I don’t experience with the traditional outline.

outline

Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned since my early indoctrination is that there’s no place for “should” in my writing process. Like an old-fashioned outline, “should” makes me feel constrained to rigid sequence, with its mechanical headers and sub-headers and bullet points, and that’s not where my creativity lives.

Instead, I find my creativity in the process, and that’s right where I want my outline. In the middle of the mess and the emergence, it can do its job of guiding, signaling, and organizing.*

*Side note that wouldn’t be in any outline: I’ve heard the best leaders are more like coaches than like bosses—they’re focused less on the product and more on the process. Maybe that means my beef with outlines is really a problem with authority…

–C. E. Cameron

The Literate Movie Goers Guide

Books into Movies…

Why some movies CAPTURE or IMPROVE the author’s work

While others turn a night at the theater into an expensive nap  zzzzz…

“What Book to Movie translation is your favorite?”

Mike:

Lord of the Rings.  Lord of the Rings PosterThe three Lord of the Rings books were very descriptive and well defined (honestly, sometimes to the point of tedium). This level of description gave Director Peter Jackson ample  material for his creative team at Wingnut Films. The acting, special effects, and the musical accompaniment combined to capture the feel of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Hobbits, Kings, and Wizards. The classic trilogy translated well to the screen.

Don:

The GodfatherThe Godfather Poster.  The Godfather was Mario Puzo’s pulp novel about gangsters. However, in the loving hands of Director Francis Ford Coppola, this dime-store story became a classic film trilogy equal to the great Shakespearean dramas about family and betrayal.  The story of Don Vito Corleone and his corrupt children became a twentieth century King Lear.

With both the Lord of the Rings and The Godfather, the movies increased the fan base and boosted book sales.

But this isn’t always the case….

 

“What Book to Movie translation DIDN’T work?”

Don:

The Book Thief PosterThe Book Thief. The movie had the major plot points but didn’t capture the emotion of the book. Even worse, it didn’t capture the unique voice of the author. So much of The Book Thief is about the author’s writing style, but the movie had none of that. The take home is that words do matter, not just the plot.

Carolyn:

The Book Thief. No novel since To Kill A Mockingbird has captured the lives of young people caught in a tragic world of prejudice and death like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Set in Nazi Germany during World War Two, the narrator is Death, and he’s busier than he’s ever been. But Death takes a liking to a young German girl and her adoptive family. A riveting plot, yet there is much more to love about the novel. The author’s unique point of view character allows the reader to experience tragedy and hope on the same page, sometimes, in the same sentence. The movie version of The Book Thief only hinted at the depth of the emotional impact of the book. It never ventured into the stories within the story that provided much of the character development. Hitler and the Holocaust are barely mentioned in the movie, yet they are in every chapter of the book, as if the movie version thought that telling this side of the story would be too much for viewers.

Carolyn:

The Firm.  John Grisham gave readers an exciting tale of moral ambiguity, even among the  heroes.   The movie sanitized the hero and changed the last third of the story, leaving viewers with a hero that didn’t change from the beginning of the movie to the end.   Isn’t that one of the primary caveats of a good story?  That characters change?

Mike:

The Watchmen.  Once again, the movie version sanitized the source material, this time a Hugo Award-winning graphic novel.  The novel was weirder and more political, and had a stronger ethic than the movie.

 

These opinions belong solely to the O’Neal family.  Read the books, watch the movies, and decide for yourselves.   Add more titles in the comments!

 

— Carolyn O’Neal