Revising Your Children's Manuscript too Much

As you may have noticed, Buried in the Slush Pile has undergone yet another transformation over the past 24 hours.  I have spend countless hours tinkering and moving widgets, columns, and various objects back and forth.  The result?  A blog that looks almost exactly the same as when I started it in 2006 with just a different color background, a graphic header (of stuff from my actual slush pile) and a wider spread.

Sigh.  Sometimes there really is no point in messing with a good thing.

And this is a lesson that applies to revising, especially children and teen manuscripts.  There is such as too much revision.  Tinkering away at your manuscript can sometimes make it weaker instead of stronger.  I've watched authors nit-pick at the things until the passages actually are choppier and more disjointed than they were 4 drafts before.  Like everything, show some restraint and moderation when it comes to revising.  And if you find yourself compulsively rewriting the same paragraph for the 45th time, it's time to take that manuscript or chapter to your critique group.  Obviously you could use an outside opinion.


Editor Profile:Madeline Smoot (aka Me)

It has occurred to me that people might want to know the answers to those conference appropriate questions I posted. Since the only editor I have access to on such short notice is myself, I'm going to appear very self-centered and interview myself first. However, I have started putting out feelers to see if anyone else would be interested in answering these questions.

Madeline Smoot is the publisher of CBAY Books, a small independent press in Texas. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter where she masquerades online as the semi-anonymous Buried Editor.
  1. What are your favorite books (either that you acquired or wished you had acquired)?
    Well me, that is an excellent question. I find that I love all the books I acquired. Since I have full discretion, I only acquire the books that I'm willing to read a minimum of 5 times. However some other favorite books of mine are Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall, Ally Carter's books, Diana Wynne Jones' books (especially the Chrestomancis and Archer's Goon), Robin McKinley's Hero & the Crown and her Sunshine, Paranormalcy, A Brief History of Montmaray, Datlow & Windling's anthologies, The Lost Conspiracy, Larklight, the new Death Cloud by Andrew Lane and so many others I can't event think of them.


Conference Questions

Spending the week working on my CWIM article about editors has gotten me thinking about conferences. After all the main place new authors get to meet editors is at conferences. And what I think of as the conference season is upon us. (I have found that January through July culminating with the big SCBWI LA conference in early August is the busiest time for writing conferences. Conferences do happen in the fall, but there are fewer of them with all the holidays and all.) This year I find myself completely conference free since I have not been doing the proper pimping of myself as a speaker to the various local SCBWIs. This is good since it gives me more time to get ready for other stuff like TLA, but it's bad since I like conferences and they are a good source for slush.

However, I'm digressing. What I wanted to talk about are the kinds of things that are appropriate to ask editors either during a conference Q&A or even when you have the chance to talk to them one on one. Here are my top ten:
  1. What are your favorite books (either that you acquired or wished you had acquired)?
  2. What kind of books do you enjoy?
  3. What are you looking for for your list?
  4. What kind of books do you really dislike?
  5. What kind of book is your dream book to acquire?


We have a winner for our contest! Congratulations to BN Lippy for her "The Book of Yet to Come." It was a very close race with both stories in the lead at various times. However, Lippy ended up receiving 55% of the votes.

Congratulations to both of you for being finalists. I look forward to reading more entries from you both.

And thank you to the 67 people who voted. That was a great turnout.


A Little Dribble Drabble Voting

I have a dilemma. When I went to judge the Drabble contest this morning, I found that there were two stories that I liked best, the ones by Estela and BN Lippy. That happens all the time in contest entries, but in this case I found that I didn't find myself leaning more to one than the other. In fact, I like them both equally, a rare occurrence. Normally, I would then just award 2 prizes and say, "Yeah!" But this weekend I truly only have time for one critique and to try to do 2 would either result in 2 lesser critiques or 1 just not getting done. So, I find I have to award only one winner.

And that's where you come in. I'm going to open the contest up to voting. I'm going to post both stories here, and then you, dear readers, will vote for the winner. Now, I've limited voting to once a computer (although if you have multiple computers I suppose you can pack the pot), and voting is only open through 11:45 Tuesday night.


Drabble Contest

This week I've been talking about short stories, and I think the time has come for us to practice them. So, I'm going to do a Drabble contest this week. A drabble is a short story of exactly 100 words (not including the title). That means your entry has to be exactly 100 words (plus title). Not 99, not 101, but exactly 100 words. Challenging, I know.

And just to make it more interesting, you have to use your #storystarts entries as well. The title of your story will be the #storystarts entry from this week, and you must at least mention your Egyptian God #storystarts from a couple of weeks ago.


Microscopic Fiction

One of my favorite types of short story is the the microfiction or flash fiction style of short story. Although varying in length, these tales are told in extremely limited word counts -- often under 500 words. And unlike a picture book manuscript of a similar length, these stories are published unillustrated forcing the author to rely solely on words. Some good examples of children's microfiction include Aesop's Fables and some of the shorter fairy tales.

As with all short stories, these have at least one major character and a full plot with beginning , middle, and end. There is a conflict and some sort of obstacle for the protagonist to overcome. The story can be action-packed or quietly introspective, but one thing all of them have in common is their length. A micro-fiction is short.

And that brings me to this week's #storystarts Twitter contest. It is to think up a short story title. The winner of the Twitter contest will get an ARC copy of The Beastly Bride, a short story collection edited by Datlow & Windling. They do some really great teen anthologies that are themed around various folk, fairy tale, or mythological theme.

However, when you choose your title think carefully. On Friday I will be doing a blog contest that will be incorporating my #storystarts contests. I'm not going to tell you exactly what the contest is until Friday, but I will let you know that the prize will be a three chapter (or 3 PB manuscript) critique.


Short Stories

I like short stories. I like being able to read an entire plot arc in 15-20 minutes, to be able to pick up a story and read the whole thing at the doctor's office or while waiting in the car while someone runs an errand.

It's probably a good thing that I like short stories so much since I've been reading quite a few of them in my picture book submissions. Because word counts tend to be similar between a short story and a picture book manuscript, I can see how the two could be confused. In fact I talked about this recently in my Short Story MS vs Picture Book MS: There is a difference post. I'm not going to recap that discussion here. What I thought I would do instead is discuss some of the things that make a good short story.

Good short stories have:
  • A complete story arc.
    Yes, that's right. A good short story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If it doesn't the tale is probably an anecdote or even just a scene from something longer.
  • Compelling characters.
    Just because you have fewer words doesn't mean your characters get to be types. If your character is an uninteresting stereotype, then I'm not any more inclined to read his/her 5 page story than I was to read his/her 500 page novel.
  • Focused.
    Since you are working in a smaller (word) space, a short story has to be more tightly focused than a novel. There often can't be any subplots, and there tend to be fewer supporting characters. Take as an example the difference between Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" and Ender's Game. The short story does not mention Ender's siblings and the politics of Earth. It also starts earlier and ends earlier in the novel's plot line.
  • Judicious use of summary.
    You can get away with more summary in a short story, but you still can't use it much. After all, scenes are so much more interesting to read.


What's in a Name?

This post falls under the "somewhat random" category; however, I have recently been thinking about pen names.

Pen names intrigue me. They can be powerful marketing tools for branding a series or even a particular style for an author. Think Lemony Snicket. They can allow an author famous for one type of book to publish in another genre without alienating existing fans. They can be clever characters in the novels themselves like Vordak the Incomprehensible or even allow a first person book to be "by" the character in question.

However, most of the time pen names are used by book packagers with ghost-writing teams to provide a cohesive author name for a series. (The most famous would be Dixon for the Hardy Boys or Keene for Nancy Drew. Neither of these people exist. Both series were developed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. A more modern example would be James Frey's new projects.) And this I understand as a logical marketing tool. It is confusing to read 14 books that all sound exactly the same but have 12 different authors. It also can be nightmarish from a shelving perspective since books tend to be alphabetical by author. (39 Clues was a real pain this way.)

What are your opinions of pen names?


Beating the Blockage

The nice thing about writer's block is sometimes just writing about it can help it go away. It's like the old belief that knowing someone's name gives you power over that person. By naming my writer's block, I robbed it of its power, and thus it went away.

In other words, yesterday I powered through and finally managed to write my 300 word intro. I know. Impressive stats. And what's even better, the intro that yesterday I thought was possibly the worst thing I'd ever written, today reads as not so bad, and a decent base for a rewrite. So, the other moral of this story is to always let your writing sit for a bit before judging it. What was once brilliant may become more flawed and the direst muck may turn out to have some redeeming value. It's just to hard to tell when you are coming off the high (or low) of initial writing.

And thank everyone for your comments yesterday. I especially liked the "all editors were one step lower than God". I guess that would make me a literary angel. I like that.


Oh no. Writer's Block. Mine.

I am currently working on an article about various small press editors for the next edition of the CWIM (Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market) guide for Writer's Digest. It's suppossed to be 1500 words. I have 117. I've had between 90 and 120 words for some time now, all in the first paragraph, all rewritten multiple times. The usual tricks for writer's block don't seem to be working. Things like:
  1. Never removing your fingers from the keyboard, just keep typing until your character starts doing something interesting or back in line with the plot.
    (Not real applicable for nonfiction, and I don't think my editors would appreciate it if I started inventing plot lines for them.)
  2. Writing down everything that comes into your mind regardless of it's relevance.
    (Although I'm sure my rather random passing thought about going back into time and trying to explain blood types to Sherlock Holmes & Watson and the relevance for forensic investigation is fascinating, it seems kind of inappropriate for my article.)
  3. Not rereading what you wrote but continuing writing.
    (I tried this for the second go at my intro paragraph. For some reason every sentence except the first started with "After all,".)
So, I have instead opted for asking for help. I'm trying to describe what people who have never met them think of editors. Now, I realize that for many of you this might take you back a bit, but I would like everyone to pretend that you are once again an unpublished, unseasoned author at your very first writer's conference who has discovered that for some reason you've been seated next to an editor at the conference lunch. In a phrase or three separate words, describe how you feel. Then, describe again in a phrase or three separate words how the generic editor appears to you. (I don't mean physically, rather things like intimidating or approachable or evil incarnate or divine luck, that sort of thing.)


Twitter Winners

Since this was the first contest and since there were only 3 entries and since I liked them all and have plenty of Amulet of Amon-Ras to giveaway, I have made an executive decision and have made all three entries winners. Yeah!

The three winners are: @clothdragon, @bnlippy, and @brykateemma

If you three would email or direct message me your physical address, I will get those books out to you next week.

(Oh, my email is found on every page of the CBAY site.)


Twitter Contest

I have a lot of books at home. Some of them are CBAY Books that I set aside as giveaways that I then never gave away, and some of these books are readers (either for CBAY Books or other publishers). But the one thing all of these books have in common is that they are middle grade or teen books, and they all need to go away. And being the kind, generous person I am, I have decided to give them away to my blog/Twitter followers. However, to make this more fun, I have decided to have a weekly Twitter contest for them.

Here's how it will work. Every week at a random time, I will post a tweet that starts with #storystarts. Then I will give you a writing assignment that can be done in 140 characters. After that, I'll list the prize for that week. Example of a tweet could be:

#storystarts Spaceship haiku. Go. Prize: Necropolis ARC

To enter the contest, reply to the tweet with your answer to the writing assignment. So, to enter my sample contest above, you would reply tweet me your spaceship haiku. Each contest will be open for 24 hours at the end of which I'll pick the winner(s). At my discretion (and based on prize availability), I may pick more than one winner. I'll then contact you to get an address and mail you your book. Because I'm eating shipping, at this point, this contest is only open to folks in the United States. That may change in the future, but for now, I'm having to stick to it.

Finally, the #storystarts I provide may be silly, serious, or downright strange, but hopefully they will motivate and inspire your writing. None of these should take more than a few moments to do, and hopefully, they'll be a good diversion from your writing projects. For the first contest tweet, head on over to me Twitter feed now.

(Note: Sometimes I post writing prompts. Those are not part of the contest. Only tweets that start with #storystart are contests right now.)


Submissions Recap

So, I must say, this seemed like quite a successful submission period. We had over 200 submissions (211 to be exact) and some good potential CBAY books. I haven't gotten to look at all of them yet, but I am looking forward to it. Just so everyone knows, with this number I'll be able to look at each one personally. Im about 2/3 through, and I hope to finish by next weekend. We definitely should be able to get back to everyone in 6 weeks -- half what I was expecting.

And once again I'd like to thank everyone for the professional submissions. I didn't have a singl blog worthy example in the whole bunch.