Impossibilities?

Wikipedia has taught me to believe in the impossible more often. In the past several decades I’ve had to accept other ideas that I formerly thought were impossibilities but that later turned out to be good practical ideas. For instance, I had my doubts about the online flea market called eBay when I first encountered it in 1997. You want me to transfer thousands of dollars to a distant stranger trying to sell me a used car I’ve never seen? Everything I had been taught about human nature suggested this could not work. Yet today, strangers selling automobiles in the major profit center for the very successful eBay corporation.

 

Twenty years ago I might have been able to believe that in 2016 we’d have maps for the entire world on our personal handheld devices. But I could not have been convinced we’d have them with street views of the buildings for many cities, or apps that showed the locations of public toilets, and that it would give us spoken directions for walking or public transit, and that we’d have all this mapping and more “for free.” It seemed starkly impossible back then. And this free abundance still seems hard to believe in theory. Yet it is on hundreds of millions of phones.

 

These supposed impossibilities keep happening with increased frequency.

 

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

 

 

Why Memoirs Fail

Most memoirs fail because of voice. It’s not distinct enough to sound alive and compelling. Or there are staunch limits to emotional tone, so it emits a single register. Being too cool or too shrill can ruin the read. The sentences are boring and predictable, or it’s so inconsistent you don’t know who’s speaking or what place they come from. You don’t believe or trust the voice. You’re not curious about the inner or outer lives of the writer. The author’s dead in the water.

 

– from “The Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr

 

Read Your Work Aloud

I recommend you find places to read your work aloud.

 

A chance to teach, lecture, lead a retreat, speak at a workshop—all these give writers a chance to write a piece we can read aloud to an audience so we can hone our skills and see if what we are writing is worth the time it takes for someone to read it. There is no better way to see how a longer work is coming along than to read a portion aloud to a crowd of unsuspecting folks.

 

When you read a work aloud, you can tell if the tone of voice holds up. You can spot the holes in a story more quickly. You can tell when the thing is slowing to a crawl and when it is moving too quickly.

 

You can tell whether or not people are laughing in the right spots or reaching for their tissues when you hoped they might. You can tell when the work drags and when the work sings.

 

If you read your work aloud and you cannot tell any of those things, you may want to take up watercolors.

 

– Robert Benson

 

Whether or Not It Has An Audience

Creative work is also worthy whether or not it has an audience. Much of the work you do will be more for your personal development than for anyone else’s needs. Your task is to engage in the work you are called to do. I’ve written a dozen or more short stories, several of them very meaningful to me. One of them was published several years ago; the rest are in a file that I return to from time to time, but I have no hopes of selling them, and I rarely share them with anyone else. I don’t think those stories are really good enough for an audience, but they were good enough for me when I wrote them. They helped my writing progress, and they satisfied something for me personally, and that’s enough.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

 

What Should Your Book Outline Include in Your Proposal?

  • by Angela Scheff

 

As you’re developing your proposal, it’s important to include information about your manuscript, but what exactly should it encompass?

 

Agents (and publishers) are looking for a book outline, something that will walk them through your book structure. A list of potential chapters is good, but if you’re trying to show movement when writing, having defined sections is important. Even if your book has an informal tone and is written in essay form, don’t discount the journey you as the author will be taking the reader on. Look at each chapter and see if you can identify some larger themes they would fall under and organize it that way.

 

For example, this is good:

 

Chapter 1: Title

 

Chapter 2: Title

 

Chapter 3: Title

 

Chapter 4: Title

 

Chapter 5: Title

 

Chapter 6: Title

 

Chapter 7: Title

 

Chapter 8: Title

 

Chapter 9: Title

 

Chapter 10: Title

 

Chapter 11: Title

 

Chapter 12: Title

 

Yet, the following may be better for a nonfiction manuscript (even if it doesn’t end up with parts in the final manuscript) as it clearly spells out the themes and movement for the agent/publisher.

 

Introduction: Title

 

Part I: Title

 

Chapter 1: Title

 

Chapter 2: Title

 

Chapter 3: Title

 

Chapter 4: Title

 

 

 

Part II: Title

 

Chapter 5: Title

 

Chapter 6: Title

 

Chapter 7: Title

 

Chapter 8: Title

 

 

 

Part III: Title

 

Chapter 9: Title

 

Chapter 10: Title

 

Chapter 11: Title

 

Chapter 12: Title

 

 

 

Conclusion: Title

 

Obviously, don’t force it if it doesn’t make sense in your manuscript, but as an agent, I personally appreciate when an author has thought through their manuscript this much and can identify more than their overview. You need to let us know how you’re going to achieve this.

 

Think of your outline like a map. You know the destination you want the readers to arrive at, but you need to include directions in order for the readers to get there. There could be different ways to do so, but as an author you want to take the readers on a specific journey.

 

Following the table of contents, proposals usually include chapter summaries. While you don’t have to have your entire manuscript written at the proposal stage, you do need to know what each chapter is about. This can also look differently. Some authors may include a paragraph. You could also highlight themes, stories, etc., something like this:

 

Part I: Title

 

This section is going to touch on this theme.

 

Chapter 1: Title

 

This is your one-sentence description.

 

Topics to include: topic 1, topic 2

 

Stories to include: story 1, story 2

 

Again, while your entire manuscript doesn’t have to be written, you need to be able to convey to agents/publishers what you’re writing about and the map of how you’re going to get there.

 

One last piece of advice: While I’m very pro-plan when putting your proposal together, I absolutely understand chapters can take a different direction when you actually sit down to write it. Don’t be a slave to your map as your writing may want to take the scenic route, but do keep your publisher and editor informed if you change directions and you’re under contract.

 

 

Positioning, Packaging, and the Pitch

Today, in order to even have a chance at people’s attention, your project has to seem as good as or better than all the others. Three critical variables determine whether that will happen:

  • Positioning is that your project is and who it is for.
  • Packaging is what it looks like and what it’s called.
  • The Pitch is the sell – how the product is described and what it offers to the audience.

 

– Ryan Holiday, “Perennial Seller”

 

Rewrite Time

When the rewrite time comes, you put your gamer on. You jam the gamer down on your head and set yourself to work. The artiste who wears the beret is to be banned from the premises. The work is no longer golden. You are about to try to coax a book from a pile of unruly sentences. Sentences that merely hold some promise is often the best one can say for them.

 

A chest protector and a set of shin guards turn out to be helpful. Wristbands not untoward. Spikes not out of the question. Some of the so-called golden work must be thrown out altogether, never to be seen again. Other parts must be strengthened and moved and recast and pounded on with great fury until they are right.

 

A chapter’s worth of pages must be laid out on a table, and sections and paragraphs and lines are moved from one place to another. Chapters themselves get shifted around in search of the order that works the best.

 

I have a list of words, lovingly referred to as the search-and-destroy list, that I tend to use over and over—weak verbs, lame adjectives, unclear nouns [or “vague nouns”?]. I go through the entire pile of pages with a fine-tooth comb and a decent thesaurus, eliminating weak words and looking for stronger ones.

 

This is not work for the faint of heart. This work calls for people who do not mind if their gamer gets dirty and sweat stained and faded. What happens in this stretch often results in more words on the floor than on the page.

 

This is craft, not art. This work will make the book or will break it.

 

You do not whistle while you do this work. You mutter and scream and growl. You roll up your sleeves and go to work each day prepared to fight with and for each and every line and all that is in between.

 

I spend a lot more time in my baseball cap than in my beret. Which is one of the reasons I keep two books going almost all the time. I walk to a nearby coffee shop and order a café au lait while wearing the aforementioned beret. I do not like café au lait, but I like being a man who can order one and do so with the accent on the proper syllable. I get to wear my beret for at least six hundred words each day and remember I am an artist.

 

The rewrite work requires my Yankees cap and my colored pens. I live a part of my day for weeks on end in a literary MASH unit equipped only with colored pens and an X-Acto knife.

 

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson

 

 

What is the Single Best Way to Develop a Relationship with Your Publisher?

– by Jana Burson

 

ONE WORD: COMMUNICATION

 

Just like in any relationship, be it friendship, business, marriage, etc., in order for a good relationship with your publisher to be healthy and to flourish, there needs to be good communication.

 

Publishers love authors who communicate with them on a regular basis about what they are doing, what they have planned and what’s changing. It allows them to stay current on their plans for you and your book release and promotion.

 

Never assume that the team at your publishing house has time to read every blog, or social media post you make. The reality is that they don’t. They have a long list of authors they are working with and are trying to balance all the demands of their job. When you communicate things of importance to them, not only are you making their job less difficult, you are also bringing their focus back to you. And let’s face it: the old adage of the squeaky wheel getting the grease is true.

 

Communication is key in every step of the process. Starting with your editor, if you are working on your manuscript or through the edits and things are going great let them know. If you are having difficulty and know there’s no possible way of meeting the deadline, communicate that sooner rather than later. When you don’t, you not only cause a breakdown in the relationship, you also cause a log jam in the editor’s schedule of work.

 

When it comes to marketing and publicity, communication can be the difference between having a positive or negative experience with the launch of your book. More often than not, a marketing and publicity team has more on their plate than they can say grace over, and it takes a lot of effort to keep all the plates spinning. By nature of the workload, when they don’t hear from you, they can easily think that everything is going great. Their attention is focused on the authors who are in regular communication with them. And when an author is in communication with the publishing house, in turn the team is in communication with the author thus making the author feel taken care of.

 

One last word of advice: always, always communicate your appreciation to your publishing team! A note of gratitude from an appreciative author goes a long way. And speaking from experience, it can often mean going the extra mile for that author.

 

Your Creative Calling

When you respond to your creative calling, you are doing something that is necessary for the world. It may be necessary in big ways-say a series of newspaper articles that can help shape the consciousness of a generation. Or it may be necessary in small ways-perhaps a charcoal sketch that brings you, the artist, healing. But art is not a luxury. Creative works are called out by cultural and personal needs that are too deep and intuitive to be obvious every time. We know, for instance, that music helps us in ways that we can’t always describe. Poetry and patchwork quilts are also appealing to us at an almost subconscious level. It’s difficult to quantify such quality. It would be impossible to do a spreadsheet analysis of how artistic work helps us.

Any creative work, “artistic” or not, is coming from a deeper place and answering deeper needs that cannot be named easily. In this respect we have to have faith-faith that what we do, whether an arrangement of flowers or a mathematical proof, is worth our best energy.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

 

If Something is Not Interactive, it is Broken

All devices need to interact. If a thing does not interact it will be considered broken. Over the past few years I’ve been collecting stories of what it is like to grow up in the digital age. As an example, one of my friends had a young daughter under five years old. Like many other families these days, they didn’t have a TV, just computing screens. On a visit to another family who happened to have a TV, his daughter gravitated to the large screen. She went up to the TV, hunted around below it, and the looked behing it. “Where’s the mouse?” she asked. There had to be a way to interact with it. Another acquaintance’s son had access to a computer starting at the age of two. Once, when she and her son were shopping in a grocery store, she paused to decipher the label on a product. “Just click on it,” her son suggested. Of course cereal boxes should be interactive! Another young friend worked at a theme park. Once, a little girl took her picture, and after she did she told the park worker, “But it’s not a real camera – it doesn’t have the picture on the back.” Another friend had a barely speaking toddler take over his iPad. She could paint and easily handle complicated tasks on apps almost before she could walk. One day her dad printed out a high-resolution image on photo paper and left it on the coffee table. He notices his toddler came up and tried to unpinch the photo to make it larger. She tried unpinching it a few times, without success, and looked at him, perplexed. “Daddy, broken.” Yes, if something is not interactive, it is broken.

 

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

 

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