Rejection: A Mother’s Perspective

Writers experience a lot of rejection–from agents, publishers, even readers. And it’s never fun. For some writers, the pain of rejection makes them question if they want to continue writing at all. That’s understandable, as a rejection of your work can feel very personal.

Rejection of your baby hurts

Story Baby

And why wouldn’t it feel personal? A writer spends months, sometimes years, perfecting their story. Many of their own emotions and experiences bleed into the story, making the opinions of others feel like a judgment on themselves. Indeed, many writers refer to their works as their “babies”—and what’s more upsetting than someone telling you your baby is ugly?

But here’s the thing—our stories are not really babies, even if we do “carry” them much longer than many pregnancies. But that fact is an awesome thing, because that means the rejections and the bad reviews don’t have to hurt as much, because none of that rejection is permanent.

With a real baby, you only get once chance to do it right. All of life is a first draft, with no possibility of revision, no Undo button. With a real baby:

You can’t put her in a drawer and give up when the going gets tough in the messy middle.

You can’t go back and rewrite the story arcs that didn’t go the way you intended.

You can’t reword the harsh dialogue you spoke to her yesterday.

You can’t make a scene unfold exactly the way you wish to make her happy.

You can’t make sure the boy that made her cry on the playground gets his comeuppance.

You can’t manipulate time to focus on pleasant moments and speed past the painful ones.

Most of all, you cannot hold her in your arms and protect her from the world.

We all want to share our stories with the world. And it’s terrifying to put something you love out in the public eye. Rejections sting. A horrid review can wound deeply. But neither of those things spell the end of your career. In this day of self-publishing, you can always put out a revised version of a book that didn’t quite measure up. When one book doesn’t work out, you can write another one. Unlike with a real baby, you can start over when things go awry. You don’t get only one chance to do it right.

So when you start to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, try to remember: it’s not personal, and it’s not The End.

DNA & Genealogy: Finding cousins, connecting family

I recently have been getting involved on the DNA side of genealogy. It is a science, so there’s a lot to learn. Fortunately, I have always liked science. I am new to this, so I have barely scratched the surface of what there is to know.

So far, I have found about 20 “cousins” and how we connect in our family trees. That’s always exciting! They have ranged from 2nd Cousin 1x Removed to 8th Cousin 1x Removed. One of my new connections is actually a branch of the family that my mother’s family lost touch with some 55 years ago! The older members of our family who remember each other are still alive, and are happy to be back in touch.

DNA is confirming my paper trailThe other exciting thing about DNA is that it can confirm your paper research. Finding matches with these other cousins has enabled me to confirm many of the lines I have been researching for years. The red parts of the fan chart below are ones that I have found DNA matches for. In case you’re wondering, most of the unproven lines are Irish. Either my relatives haven’t tested, or there aren’t many left to test. For instance, I know that my Sutton family largely died out several generations ago, so any remaining Suttons will be quite distant from me.

I was hoping to solve a mystery 185 years in the making. In 1839, the Bergin family emigrated from Ireland to Australia, but left their 7-year-old daughter Johanna behind. I have a Johanna Bergin that would have been the right age, from the right area in Ireland. Research suggests strongly that she is the left behind girl. I have been working with an Australian descendant of her brother, and we had hoped that DNA might prove the tale. However, he and I didn’t match—which doesn’t prove anything, because we are just on the line where as cousins we might not share DNA even if we are related. I am trying to have him move his DNA to another website where my mother’s is, in hopes that a closer generational distance will unearth some DNA connection.

Many people do DNA testing for the fun of finding out their ethnicity. It can be fun to see, but keep in mind that the ethnicity estimates are just that—estimates. They will vary from company to company, as the algorithms are different, although they will be mostly similar. I got a good laugh over 2 tests showing me having <1% Oceania/Melanesia ethnicity when my parents don’t show any DNA from there.

There is a danger in DNA testing, though. In forums online, an amazing number of people who test have found they are not who they thought they were. Many find out that their father wasn’t their father, or their full sibling is only half. It can also shake out family secrets from farther back, when you don’t match anyone from, say, a grandparent’s line, but do match a whole bunch of names that aren’t on your tree. While the ethnicity is only an estimate, the actual DNA doesn’t lie.

I am enjoying exploring my DNA, and expanding the family as I do so. Hopefully, it will help me break down some “brick wall” ancestors at some point—although it hasn’t yet. I look forward to learning more about this science and my family!

Can DNA prove my royal link?

Revision: 3 problems, 3 fixes

cover of manuscript revisionI’m deep in the revision of my YA SciFi manuscript VERITAS. Much of it involved minor mechanical fixes and flew along. Then I got to the ending.

My denouement  section was too long. My developmental editor suggested trying to get it to around 25 pages. After reviewing everything, I decided 30 pages was more realistic. I set my goal: trim from 64 pages to 30.

Once I dove into the revision, I found 3 recurring problems that inflated my ending.

Segmentation

I had several storyline arcs which I spread over multiple chapters. The love story had 3 chapters. The “consequences” storyline had 4. In addition, these events stretched over several days. Did I need to spend all that time and all those words?

Repetition

This revision problem piggy-backed on the segmentation issue. Having so many similar scenes meant I covered the same ground over and over. Even outside those chapters,  I tended to repeat myself, so repetition was an issue throughout the book, as well as the ending.

Addition

The denouement of a story should wrap up all the major loose ends. Taking place after the climactic scene, the denouement serves to allow the protagonist to process what has happened, and to settle into the new world she has helped create. Any major subplots also need to be resolved. What should NOT happen in a denouement is the introduction of new story questions. Leaving some minor things open is fine, but bringing up new “in your face” storylines is frowned upon.

So how do you fix those three problems with the ending?

Marked-up manuscript in revisionCombining

Segmentation can be solved by combining scenes. Creatively find ways where one scene fulfills the goals of what is now two related scenes. Sometimes it is as simple as shuffling two scenes together like a deck of cards, weaving bits of each to make a new whole. Other times it means throwing out the old scenes and writing a new scene from scratch.

Excising

Repetition is often most easily solved by cutting. Pick the moment that most poignantly embodies the idea or information you want to convey, and cut the rest. Alternately, you may be able to combine several of your favorite repetitive moments into a single scene that gets the point across.

Seeding

I added new storylines in the denouement of my story because I wanted to set things up for future books. The problem was not in wanting to leave clues for future books, the problem was visiting these potential storylines in deep detail. Instead, seed your denouement with hints that readers will remember when reading the next book. For example, I took a chapter and a half that examined new storylines and turned them into 4 lines of dialogue.

When your revision starts, look for these issues in your manuscript. Use these tips to fix them and make your manuscript tight and compelling.

Did I reach my goal? Not quite. I cut it from 64 pages to 34 pages. And unless my critique group sees a way to tighten it further, it will likely stay that way. I’m happy with it. The length feels right, and everything I needed in there is there.

What recurrent issues do you find in your manuscripts when you edit?

My manuscript before revision

Thanksgiving 2017

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the USA! I hope that you are having a good time with family or friends, that you have someplace warm to go, and that you enjoy a feast tonight.

I have much to be thankful for this year. I have a healthy family, including a husband I love and a daughter who is my heart. I have a snug home and enough food. I have a career I enjoy and which is moving in good directions.

I am lucky. I have all I need and more. There are many who are not as lucky. During this holiday season, may we all take a moment to lend a hand to those in need. Contribute to a food drive, donate to a charity, give items to Goodwill or the like, clean out your closet and give your lightly-worn clothes to a charity, volunteer at any organization that stirs your passion and compassion. There is so much that can be done with little effort.

My thankful list is a long one, and includes all of my readers. It is my wish that all of you have everything you need and more.

Have a safe and happy holiday, and I will see you back here next week!

Slimming Down the Ending

I have been revising my YA Sci-Fi Veritas, guided by developmental edits from fabulous editor Kathryn Craft. I chopped the first 4 chapters down to 2, then cruised through the next 70 or so chapters.

Then I got to the end, which is too long. I knew it was too long when I sent it in, but I didn’t want to believe it. After all, tightening my work is hard and everything I wrote is so perfect and necessary, right? I blame editing fatigue.

So now I’m at the end, and I need to cut about 40 pages from the 64 that currently exist. Kathryn suggested many cuts, but I cannot cut everything she suggested, because I need some of it to set up future books. So how am I going to do this?

1) I’m going to highlight all the information I need to retain and number each.

2) I’ll put each number and a short reminder of what it is into an Excel sheet so I can see all of the pieces at once.

3) I will then see what information can be woven into existing scenes that I will be keeping and what information might be combined into new scenes.

4) As I put that information into the story,  I will mark it in the spreadsheet so I don’t accidentally leave anything out.

5) When I have done all that, I will whisper an invocation to the goddess of writing and chocolate and hope the page count is okay.

6) If it’s not, then I will go back and try again until I get it right.

That’s my plan for yanking 40 pages out of my denouement. I will report back once I have completed the process.

Do you have a specific process when you need drastic cuts to your manuscript?

 

 

 

 

Destroying the Schedule: How Wrecking the Routine Improves Story

Daily work scheduleI like my schedules. Whenever we change the clocks, I don’t feel right for days. This week, my daughter woke up at 4:45 AM Monday with a cold and fever, and didn’t go back to sleep. Monday lasted for about 2 days. Plus, since she didn’t go to school, it messed up my weekly work schedule. Finally, Wednesday was the last day of school this week, so I spent the day thinking it was Friday.

Humans are creatures of habit. A million little things can derail our comfortable routines. When anything knocks us off the rails, it can make us irritable or anxious or leave us feeling unfocused.

This got me thinking about our characters. They have their routines, too. Having something disrupt their day is a great way to add tension great and small.

Not getting their morning coffee can make them angry, which perhaps makes them mishandled a situation, which leads to further unhappy consequences. A larger incident, such as a car accident, can change their whole world.

Inciting incidents are the ultimate shakeup of our character’s schedule. It alters their world in such a way that they can never go back to their comfortable cocoon.

The one that comes immediately to mind is from Star Wars: A New Hope. Luke Skywalker’s routine is broken when he has to hunt down runaway R2D2. As a result, he is not home when the stormtroopers murdered his family. With nothing left to keep him on Tatooine, he embarks on his adventure to the stars.

Knowing how discombobulated even a minor change in schedule leaves me, I want to make sure my characters display a similar disorientation in proportion with the incident they are facing. Too often protagonists seem to take such shakeup in stride, which makes them less realistic and less relatable. So I want to work on that in my characters.

Meanwhile, I am waiting for my internal clock to readjust.

Monthly schedule

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November 1st: The Most Wonderful Date of the Year

And no, it has nothing to do with NaNoWri Mo. I have never done National Novel Writing Month in November, although I would like to at least once in my life. This year will not be the year, however.

No, I love November 1st because that means October is over! The last 10 days of October are a whirlwind for me: parents’ anniversary, my anniversary, my daughter’s birthday, then Halloween and all the concurrent festivals and festivities. For an introvert like myself, that’s a lot of socializing in a short amount of time. It’s also quite a bit of planning and errand running to pull off the birthday and Halloween so close together.

So when November 1st dawns, I take a deep breath and revel in the sudden silence of my social calendar. Not that November won’t be busy—I am the mom of an elementary school child, a working author, and there’s that whole Thanksgiving thing—but the month goes back to the normal level of crazy.

Although I am not doing NaNoWriMo, I plan on doing NaNoEdMo—National Novel Editing Month. I got my latest manuscript back from my editor in August, and didn’t get to look at it until October. So now I intend to buckle down and finish the revisions this month. By the end of November, I want to have a shiny manuscript ready to be sent out to agents.

Then I can spend December compiling my list of agents, readying the materials needed to send to them (query, synopsis of varying lengths), and be ready for a query storm in the New Year.

So now that I can breathe, that is my plan for the month. We shall see how well my plans pan out, since we all know how often life derails our plans!

What are you doing for November?

VPL FanCon 2017

at VPL FanCon 2017Last week I spoke about having a selling drought at book events, and how even a “dry” event could be worthwhile. I pointed out that I had learned of the FanCon event while at an event where I didn’t sell a single book. I called the next day and they still had table space, so I got in under the wire!

VPL FanCon 2017 was my first ever actual “con” event. All of the rest have been more typical book festivals or other bookish occasions. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

The first thing I noticed was the variety of vendors. A couple of us had books, but there were also comic vendors, artists, game sellers, paraphernalia hawkers, toy sellers, and even a ghost hunting table. Literally something for everyone.

my table at VPL FanCon 2017

Costumes ruled the day. Kylo-Ren and Stormtroopers walked the halls next to the Flash and Green lantern. A man dressed as Wonder Woman balanced a woman dressed as Alexander Hamilton. Pint-sized Pokemon mingled with various gaming characters near the life-size TARDIS.

at VPL FanCon 2017

Panels, drummers, games, caricatures, and making your own lightsaber kept people busy all day. The staff of the Vineland Public Library ran around all day, making sure everything ran smoothly—including ensuring the vendors got lunch from the food trucks outside or the vendors upstairs.

VPL FanCon 2017 was a smashing success. As the first year of this event, no one was quite certain what the turnout would be like. One staffer confided that she had hoped for at least 25 people. Far more than that came—the crowd milled all day, and many of the con-goers stayed for the bulk of the day. As one person said to me with a sigh, “The sight of all these nerds under one roof makes my heart happy.”

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Con, and hope to go back if they repeat it next year. Aside from meeting interesting people, both vendors and con-goers, I not only broke my book drought but sold just one shy of my single-day sales record.

And to think that I would not have been there at all if I hadn’t gone to that “dry” event the week before.

photo courtesy of Vineland Public Library

 

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The Value of “Dry” Book Events

Book Events - River ReadsThe reality of the book business is that sometimes you go to book events and end up selling zero books. I had two events this weekend, and I hit a sales drought. However, I would never call those events “wasted” time.

There is much to be gained from every event you attend, whether you sell any books or not. Not least is your expanded geographical knowledge. I am not an explorer. I do not like going where I have never gone before. But because of these events, I know places now that I never would have gone to otherwise.

Marketing knowledge is another reason to go. I learn a lot from watching other authors. I get ideas for display, for giveaways, for ways to entice people to your table. I also listen to other authors. How do they pitch themselves and their books? How do they hook the customers?

Networking happens at events, too, unless you don’t talk to anyone. This weekend I met cover artists, illustrators, librarians, and people creating a podcast. I found out about another event I can attend, and a podcast that specializes in interviewing authors. You never know who you will meet, or how they will eventually impact your career.

The final reason I like events, even when I don’t sell, is because of the camaraderie. There’s something special about being in the sales trenches together. Spending time with other writers, sharing war stories or marketing advice or craft tips, is invigorating. Being surrounded by people who “get” writing is comforting, relaxing, and uplifting.

Book events are what you make of them. If sales are your end all and be all, you are missing out on the myriad other benefits of spending time with other authors. We’re all on the journey together—let’s enjoy the company.

Book Events - Indie Author Day 2017

Book Event Season Begins

New Providence book event

With J.R. Bale, founder of the New Providence Book Festival

September through Christmas tends to be a whirlwind of book events for me. In the last few weeks, I have done 3 events, and I have 2 more this weekend.

The first event was the inaugural New Providence Book Festival. It was well attended and enthusiastically embraced by the locals. We had sunny, if hot, weather, but whenever your event us outdoors, heat is preferable to rain!

I was supposed to be on a two-person panel, but a last minute cancellation gave me my first ever solo reading and Q&A at a festival. I was up first in the morning, and the handful of people who came to my panel were interested and knowledgeable. The event went well, and I look forward to next year!

My next event was Eastampton Day. Once again sunny and hot, but a good crowd, better attended than last year when it was chilly and overcast. I shared a tent with the local PTA, and we had a fun time together—although I think I would have sold more books if I had stuck some on their table. They were selling machines!

Collingswood book eventI also had good neighbors at my last event, the Collingswood Book Festival. This year the weather cooperated and we were outside! My neighbors helped put up my tent, and we passed the time chatting about books. It was a good day overall, but the best part for me was the young boy who came up to my table and said, “I read that book. It was amazing!”

Nothing lifts the spirit more than a happy reader!

By busy run continues this weekend with Indie Author Day at Vineland Public Library on Saturday, and the second annual River Reads Book Festival at Prallsville Mills on Sunday. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

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