Tip of the Week 7/31/08

Tip of the Week: Characters are Real People Too

Now I haven't developed that disorder where I can't tell reality from fiction. I don't mean that I take my characters out to the movies or sit down to share a refreshing cup of tea. My characters aren't the tea drinking sort.

What I mean is that all of your characters are real within the confines of your fictional world. They have pasts, presents, and (if they aren't killed off) futures that you as their creator ought to know about. These backstories probably won't make it into your actual novel, but they will help you know how your characters react. They give you a reference point for grounding each of your characters, no matter how insignifgant or minor the character is for this particular story.

And knowing this backstory might someday provide you with a whole different story to tell.


Mission Name: Back on Blog

Yesterday, a friend gave me a pointed, yet subtle, reminder that I had not posted recently. And of course, my friend was right. I haven't been able to post for the past 10 days or so. But for once, I have a good excuse. I was at Spy Camp. Or to be more accurate, I was in co-charge of a day spy camp for girls aged 9-14 based on the Kiki Strike series of books. (I also came down with a mild case of flu, but that is a different story all together.)

At the camp, we spent the week trying to keep a secret treasure out of the hands of those who would loot it for their own personal ends. To do this, we had to "break into" several buildings, including the state capitol, and do a fair amount of reconnaissance. My character was the tech/theft expert and did things like pick pockets and crack encrypted messages. I also made every kid a fake Delaware ID to go with their alias. They were laminated and based on an organ donor card instead of a real ID, but the kids got a kick out of them. Here is what mine looked like:

On a side note, it turns out I'm kind of good at faking IDs. Perhaps I should give up publishing for a life of crime. It would probably involve less risk.

And should you ever discover that you need to create an alias, here are the same tips I gave the kids:
  • Use a name that is similar, but not too similar, to your own. For instance, my alias was Mattie which sounds an awful lot like Maddy, one of my real nicknames. I never once failed to turn around when someone called my name. Nothing gives away a fake name faster then forgetting that it is your name when someone is calling you.
  • Choose a friend's birthday as your alias's birthday. You need a birthday you can remember, so instead of choosing a holiday or just randomly making one up, choose a friend's. However, try to choose a friend that would not come up on a standard comprehensive background check. So, no parents or close relatives and not your best friend since you were 5.
  • Try to choose a street name and number of a place that actually exists in the town you are claiming to live in. It would take authorities that much longer to discover the location's inauthenticity.
How do I know so much about this? Well, it's not from an active life of crime. It's amazing what you can pick up from murder mysteries and shows like Law & Order and Without a Trace. I also think it's common sense.


Tip of the Week 7/16/08

I've probably said this before, and I know I'll say this again, but please, please, please remember:

Tip of the Week: Check a publishing house's or agent's website for the most up to date submission information.

At the very least, look at the latest edition of the CWIM or similiar publication for the information in them. Do not use an out of date copy of one of those books. It's bad enough to send stuff to publishers who are no longer accepting submissions, but it is even worse when the submissions are addressed to people that haven't worked at those houses for years. Do your research beforehand, and save yourself lots of time, trouble, and postage in the future.


Happy Buried Editor's Birthday!

That's right! Another year has gone by, and yet again it is that national holiday, the Buried Editor's Birthday. For those of you who are new, it's a day of great feasting and celebration and occasionaly fireworks. In France they call it Bastille Day (Bastille must be French for Buried Editor), and for some reason have got the date wrong by two days. But we shall forgive them. All is forgiven on Buried Editor Birthday, especially this year. For this is a special birthday year. I'm not going to say how old I am, merely that it ends in a -0.

So, have a lovely, cupcake filled day. Hopefully the parades haven't been to much of an inconvenience on your way to the park, or shopping, or heaven forbid, work.


Question of the Week

How much are you willing to forgive edits required if you really like a manuscript? I think people have the idea in their mind an editor will only accept something if it is absolutely perfect, but if this is really the case, then how come there is so much editing done after acceptance?

If I really, really love an idea, I'll work with the author to try to bring that idea out. I've been known to have people do three or four major rewrites and then still do polishing even after that. When I have the time (so not right now), I like to work with people on their manuscripts. However, that being said, I don't actually acquire a manuscript until it has been rewritten into a fairly workable state. It may still need line editing, and it will definitely be copy-edited, but the manuscript's bones are now there. I don't acquire until then because I don't want to buy a manuscript and discover the author can't rewrite. Nothing is more frustrating then that.


Where does the time go?

It has occurred to me that maybe one of the reasons I'm not posting quite so much on this blog has something to do with the fact that I'm now running 2 blogs at once. Yes, that's right. There are now 2 whole places where you can read my brilliant prose.

Of course, for all my musings on writing and getting published, you should stay tuned right here. But for interesting stuff I've read and my opinions on actual published books in a non-writing capacity, you will have to head on over to the BookKids blog. Yes, this is a BookPeople sponsored thing, so there will be event postings and the like that will most likely be interesting only to the people who live in Austin. But, there will also be book reviews and book talk about kid and teen books over there as well. For instance, I wrote all about my love of fantasy and Diana Wynne Jones here.

And the best part about this blog is that it will be (ideally) contributed to by people other than just me. You can read our book buyer's opinion of stuff. And really, how often do you get to read the honest opinion of a children's book buyer? (Other than on the PW sponsored blog Shelftalker, I mean.)


Tip of the Week 7/9/08

Tip of the Week: You can never have too many budgets.

There is just no such things. And right now I don't mean personal finances or watching your bank accounts. In this instance I'm talking about having different budgets for all the different resources you need to work on a book. For instance:
  • Time
    I don't care what the song says, time is not on your side. Between personal lives, other jobs, and that colossal time-sucking internet, there is never enough minutes in the day to write, edit, or market a book. Even if writing is your full time job and you have the discipline to sit at your computer for 8 hours a day typing away, there still isn't enough time. Because, of course, there is always a potential distraction. There are school visits to be made, and email to be answered. There are conferences to speak at, and blogs to be written on. And all of these things are important for your career as an author. You have to do them, but they take up time that you now don't have to spend, well, writing. So, make yourself a time budget (or as others call it, a schedule), and then whenever possible, stick to it.
  • Money
    Well, this one is fairly obvious, but budget your money. Unless you really and truly write for fun and never intend on trying to publish (and if that's the case, why on earth do you read this blog?), then you are professional, if unpublished, author and should treat your writing like you would any other business. And that means watching what you spend. There are all sorts of costs associated with being an author besides printer paper and envelopes for mailing submissions. There are monthly website hosting fees, potential travel costs, and promotional expenses. And have I mentioned postage? Sending manuscripts can get pricey, especially if you insist on tracking a package. Although your advance will repay and help subsidize these expenses, you don't want to go bankrupt. So budget your money, and spend it on what you think is the best investment. And always try to do as much for free as possible.
  • Plots
    Now this one probably seems a little odd. After all, how do you budget a plot? What I mean here is to not put every clever idea you've ever had into one story. There are two reasons for this. First, you probably plan on writing another book someday, and you don't want to dry up the well on your first visit. Second, if you put every clever idea you've ever had in one book, you can conceivably overwhelm the reader, thus losing the impact the idea would have had if it had stood alone. For instance, think of all the clever things Rowling did when she created Harry Potter. She made one very cool world. But if she had introduced you not just to Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, and the general wizarding world, but had also thrown in Hogsmeade, St. Mungos, the Ministry of Magic, parseltongue, and oh, by the way Harry, the reason Voldemort can't touch you is because you contain a piece of his soul, well, that might have been a bit much for one book. And then she wouldn't have had anything to surprise you with in the next 6 books.

Those are some basic things to consider when budgeting. I'm sure there are many other things you can budget as well, but these are some of the biggies.

Tip of the Week 7/2/08

Tip of the Week: Do not let pressure overwhelm you.

Last time I posted, over two weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a bunch of deadlines to meet. I'm still trying to meet them. One by one they've started pouncing on me, and one by one I'm scrambling to meet them. This has lead to a rather stressed-out me. The result is that I'm like a lidded pot that's been left on the stove. The pressure is building, and I'm in danger of boiling over.

This is not good.

So, I'm trying to take my own advice, and not let the pressure completely overwhelm me. If I do, I'll become so overwhelmed that I'll no longer be able to function at all, and then nothing will get done. Here are some steps I'm trying to keep myself from caving while under this pressure:
  • Make lists. - I know that lists can be daunting. Sometimes seeing everything that needs to be done is worse than just having everything pressing around in my head. But lists are good, even long ones. You can group similar tasks together and prioritize. And there's nothing more satisfying than checking or scratching through an item on a list.
  • Keep others updated. -- Let people know where you are on a project. That way if you need help or are running out of time, people know. They are also a lot more understanding about why you're suddenly freaking out about the temperature of your salad if they know that you have 20 pages of catalog copy due in 2 hours and only 7 pages written.
  • Do not disappear. - If you're going to miss a deadline, let people know. Don't stop answering the phone or checking email. Just because you're avoiding it does NOT mean the problem has gone away. Sure, no one is going to be happy that you've blown a deadline, but the earlier you let them know, the less upset they'll be. If you don't tell anyone and then become impossible to contact, you'll merely agitate everyone further.
While at work today I made my To Do list for the long weekend. I won't lie. It's daunting. But, there was one item on it that I think might interest some of you. I've downloaded onto my reader all of the submissions I have so far received during the pitch contest. I will start going through those this weekend. I can't promise to get through them all, but I'll get through as many as possible. I can promise to be done with all of them by the end of this month. So, don't exactly sit at home waiting for emails, but I will start contacting all of you again as I work through the submissions. Again, thank you for all of your patience.

Now, I head off to go back to being (start humming the Queen song now) Under Pressure bah dah bum bum Bum bum bum bah dee dum Under Pressure.