Friday, December 16, 2016

The Myth of Going It Alone--Why Book Writers Need Community

My fall online classes are ending this week, and the groups are loathe to leave each other.  They've bonded terrifically this semester, which often happens in these classes.  Somehow, online learning can foster a kind of intimacy among writers that I don't always find in in-person classes. 


They are exchanging email addresses and committing to exchange work too, after we end.  I am glad--it's a strange myth among writers that we need to go it alone.

I believe writers need community to thrive.

A blog reader from New York wrote me last week about this.  She has joined two writing groups and loves the feedback, but she says she has a challenge.  It's hard to discipline herself to write.  "It appears to me that I might be a one-on-one person that needs a writing companion to be accountable to for my writing," she says. 
 
Many writers feel this way.  I've been in monthly writing groups and weekly writing groups, and I love the feedback, but I also need other structures to keep myself going as a writer.  One is online classes--I teach them, but I also take them.  I've just signed up for one starting in February.  The accountability of submitting work each week is precious. 

I also work with several writing partners who I met in online classes.  They don't live close to me, so we can't meet in person, but we like each other's feedback and we're determined to keep writing, so we send each other chapters or scenes each week. 

Why do we believe the myth that we need to go it alone?  As the blog reader said, "Things come up that detour me from writing."  For me, having that writing partner waiting helps me figure out what my next sentence will be.

For some of us, this is a season of giving
.  Give to yourself too.  Your weekly writing exercise is to make a list of 5-10 writers you could partner with.   Even just to check in every Sunday night by email or phone to say, "I wrote this week."  Or "I'm having trouble getting started.  Can you give me a prompt?"  You'll find this kind of simple sharing is a wonderful gift that busts the myth of artistic isolation.

We're all in a community.  Maybe you just need to find yours.      

The blog will be on holiday break for two weeks.  Have a happy new year!

Friday, December 9, 2016

Scrivener--My Favorite Software for Organizing a Book

Before I wrote books, I wrote stories, essays, poems, columns, and articles.  Short stuff.  Short stuff doesn't require that much organization.  I had a good word -processing software.  I kept files of the multiple versions of my short stories, for example.  I used a spreadsheet to track where I sent writing and what happened to it.


Then I began writing books.  Within months, pages accumulated.  Way beyond anything my short stuff generated.  I was swamped in paper, with no great way to organize it.
I began struggling with my trusty word-processing software.  How hard it became to keep track of each version, the corrections I made, and what I'd missed.  I literally had to print each draft to double-check it.  Sure, I could do a whole-document search for word repetition, for example, but it was beyond clumsy.  I began looking around for something more streamlined.
 
Twelve books got written and published before Scrivener came along.  It has saved my writing life.  And many of my students' and clients' as well.

There have been a lot of programs that try to help writers both organize and write.  Some of them include WriteWay Pro, Z-Write, WriteItNow! and Rough Draft.  Some writers swear by a program called Ulysses.  They offer a list of contents or topics on one side of the screen and an editing or writing desktop in the center.  But many are plain text, no formatting ability. 

Scrivener was developed by a writer in Cornwall, UK, who was unsatisfied with the mechanics of what was out there.  He wanted to be able to import images, different fonts and text, and other options into his documents--easily--and still have the ability to keep track of the overview via a sidebar list.

To me, Scrivener is light years beyond anything I've used--and you may agree if you've tried it.  It does take setup time, to import your current document, but for the way I write books, it's perfect.  I can craft "islands" or scenes and log them as individual documents on my sidebar list, then begin to group them into folders as my chapters build.  If I am missing a scene, I can easily create a placeholder for it on the sidebar list.  Best of all, if I decide scene 2.4 really belongs in chapter 10, not chapter 2, I can move it on the sidebar list and it automatically moves in the document itself. 

Scrivener also takes care of the multiple versions of any scene, chapter, or act.  The feature called "snapshot" allows you to take a picture of each version.  They are stored with the current version and can be accessed in a click.  You can decide part of an earlier draft was way better and paste it in with no trouble.  Try doing that in Word--yikes. 

Another thing I love about Scrivener is the ability to bring in visual or written research and view it either in the notes or in a split screen as you work. 

There are so many features of Scrivener that I haven't even tapped, even though I've taken four classes on it.  I use what I need, and when I'm ready to learn more, I go for another class. 

Scrivener for ipad recently came out.  I'm still learning it, but there are tutorials if you're interested.  All versions are available at www.literatureandlatte.com both for PC and Mac.  They offer a 30-day free trial, so you can test drive before buying. 

It's good to set aside 2-3 hours to set up your draft in Scrivener.  You are given different templates to start with (I use the fiction template).  Then you basically copy and paste in your islands, scenes, or chapters from Word or Pages.  It helps to sit with someone who knows Scrivener, as I did, while you get set up.  There are also some good tutorials here. 

I also recommend taking a class from Gwen Hernandez, who wrote Scrivener for Dummies.  Gwen is an excellent instructor and her online courses take you through basic setup and use of Scrivener tools, through advanced levels.  Check out her Scrivener Classes when you're ready to get started.     

I wish I'd found Scrivener many books ago--I've only been a fan for four years.  But it's changed my writing life.  I can't recommend highly enough (and I don't get paid to say that). 

Your weekly writing exercise is to download the free trial, if you haven't tested it out.  If you already use Scrivener, check out the tutorial link, above, and try working with snapshot or one of the other extras.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Pitch Conferences: How to Meet and Greet with Agents

Many of my students and clients are signing up for spring pitch conferences, where they hope to pitch their book to a few agents.  These "meet and greet" events are currently one of the best ways to get face-to-face with agents, hear them talk about their lists (the books they represent) and preferences, and learn about the publishing industry today.


When you're ready to market your book, and if you've decided you want to get an agent, there are a couple of ways to start.  You first need to research the agents.  There are so many right now.  Each specializes in a certain kind of book.  Just like a realtor shows houses in a certain price range or neighborhood, and knows their clientele in that area, most agents have a "stable" of editors they like to work with.  It takes time to build this stable, so more experienced agents are in more demand.

If you're sending out queries (requests that agents look at your work), you can do it cold, just by picking agents online or from the acknowledgements in books you love.  Agents receive hundreds of queries a week, sometimes.  Cold solicitation is a hard game--your chances of getting a positive response are about 1 for every 75 queries you send, according to a colleague in the business.  That's depressing.

At pitch conferences, you get much closer.  You're in the same room with agents you want to approach.  You get to hear them talk, maybe talk with them, even pitch your idea one-to-one in a pitch session.

You also get exposed to both experienced agents and newer agents.  New agents are trying to build their list, so they are often more willing to consider new writers. 

How Pitch Conferences Work
Most pitch conferences offer a program:  workshops or breakout meetings on different aspects of marketing your writing, plus pitch sessions. 

Pitch sessions are why most writers come.  They are brief but potent.  Each session lasts five to eight minutes, usually (varies by conference).  Some conferences offer each attendee three pitch sessions, some only one session--registration price goes up with more pitch sessions, of course.  You request the agents you want to pitch.  You prepare your pitch and any questions.

How do you decide which agents to request?  Before you register, browse the conference's list of attending agents.  Then go do your homework:  Look up each agent's website, see what they're looking for.  Some agents have great blogs and you can read about what they're seeking.  If their website is more generic (all memoir, all commercial fiction), it helps to read through their list of clients, then go to amazon or another online bookstore and search out these clients' books.  Don't just choose agents because they fit your genre--that's too much of a wild card.  Look for the style of writing they love.  Are any of the books they represented remotely like yours?

Study the first pages for voice or subject matter (you can do this free on amazon.com).  Compare your voice and subject matter. 

The goal is to first eliminate agents who are not a good match for your book.  Be ruthless about this.  You don't want just any agent--you want someone who will fall in love with your story.  The closer you get to matching your book to an agent who loves the same kind of writing as you write, the more successful you'll be.

Once you've chosen your agents, take some notes.  When you pitch them, it's helpful to refer to one or two books they've represented, so they know you've done your homework and have selected them carefully. 

What to Bring to the Pitch Session
Write out a premise (a short, three-minute pitch) for your story.  Work on it!  Read the back-cover copy on published books to get a sense of what a premise should be.  Usually, it's about four to five lines long, or three minutes if read aloud.  Polish it until it's friendly, interesting, tense, upbeat--whatever your story's tone might be.

Practice your pitch a loud.  Do this a lot, until you can say it without notes.   You'll be seated across from the agent, looking at each other.  Eye contact is good; reading from a page isn't as good.  This may well be your next business partner in publishing, so you want to see how the chemistry is, also.  

The agent will often ask questions.  How much have you written, how many words?  Is this your first book (nothing wrong with that--your "debut" novel or memoir or nonfiction)?  Do you have a platform (social media followers, a blog that is connected to your book)?  Again, if you don't, don't sweat it. 

Don't bring your manuscript or even a sample.  Agents usually don't want to lug anything home with them.  All you want from the session is an interest in seeing your query or sample pages after the conference.  They'll give you their business card, if they're interested.  When you get home, you email them with the subject line of "per your request at ________ Pitch Conference" or something like that.  Include what they ask for.         

If they say it's not a good match, thank them for their time.  They know what they can sell, what they can't.  You might ask them what they'd suggest, if anything, revising.  Maybe they'll give you a couple of pointers.  This is valuable! 

Even if you get a no, it's not wasted time; you've learned something.  You've gotten a chance to pitch your book and see how it feels. 

Your weekly writing exercise this week is to write a pitch.  Try it, even if you're not conference bound.