Have a Piece of Chocolate and Move On

By Ellen Leventhal
rejection

I know I’ve written about rejection before. But see, that’s the thing. It’s not something you think about once, get over, and move on to a field of daisies and puppies to write happily ever after.  Yes, after a rejection, eat chocolate, have some wine, and move on.  Definitely move on. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that once you move on, you’ll never get that punch in the gut feeling again.

For traditionally published authors, and those attempting to be one, the rejection letter is sometimes a literary form of “It’s not you, it’s me.” It usually reads something like this: “Although you have a wonderful way of telling a story, it’s just not right for our list. We hope your manuscript finds a home.”  (That always makes me think of hundreds of poor manuscripts huddled together under a street light; homeless and cold.) Sometimes that’s true. Different agents and editors are looking for different things. And sometimes it’s timing. I once got a beautiful rejection telling me that they liked my writing, but they just published a book with a very similar theme, and they are a small press….blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s not you, it’s us. But then there are also the ones that pretty much tell you that you are a fool to have submitted because your work is way below their standards, and you might as well throw your computer away because you are a hopeless hack. OK, I may have overreacted and read that into my last rejection, but you get the idea.

So how about if you indie publish? No rejections? Right and wrong.  Although there may not be actual rejections, you still need a thick skin. Most critique groups have caring, diplomatic members who will point out issues in your manuscript without making you cringe. Critique groups are wonderful for finding things you missed because you are too close to the project. But sometimes an editor may not be as diplomatic. And what about when you pay someone to critique your work and then get a less than stellar review? You may take their criticisms as a form of rejection. Again, drink wine, eat chocolate, and fix the manuscript. You still may feel like you have been punched in the gut, but at least you have a chance to revise. So do it.

Now, what about the indie writer who doesn’t get his work critiqued or edited? Well, maybe they won’t face the same type of rejection, but most likely, their book won’t do well. But those writers are for a whole different blog post. Indie writers need to go through all the same steps as traditionally published writers. When they don’t, they make the rest of us look bad. More on that another day.

We all face some type of rejection. It’s not just about writing.  How do you handle it? I’d love to hear because I’m running low on chocolate and wine.

 

 

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Happy Leap Day/ List Day

time management threeBy Ellen Leventhal

The writer’s life and time management. Unfortunately, these two don’t always go together well. At least not for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my wish for more hours in the day. Does anyone else end their days staring at the ceiling, ticking off all the tasks you did NOT get done that day? Please tell me it’s not just me!

So how happy am I that there is a full extra day this month? VERY happy. Surely, I will use this day to check things off my list. There aren’t that many things, right? I can do this! Here we go:

  1. Send poetry to that magazine.
  2. Dig out the email that tells me the name of the magazine.
  3. Type out texts of picture books to work on pacing.
  4. Go to the library and check-out said picture books.
  5. Begin work on that new website I’ve been talking about for years.
  6. Find someone to help me do that.
  7. Walk around the block. Sitting all day is bad for you.
  8. Finish three critiques.
  9. Call Comcast so I can get online to pull up the stories to critique.
  10. Re-write that short story in picture book format.
  11. Re-write that picture book manuscript into short story format.
  12. Have lunch!
  13. Stop at the Galleria after lunch to pick up those cute clothes for grandkids.
  14. Text daughters-in-law and double check sizes.
  15. Reply to store’s request for more books. Yes, the reissue of that book will be out by summer.
  16. Nag anyone who is responsible for getting the new book out.
  17. Have dinner.
  18. Climb into bed and tick off every item I did not accomplish. Sigh….

Sometimes it’s time management issues. Sometimes it’s computer issues. And sometimes life interferes with the best laid plans. But I will take this extra day for something. Even if it means counting my blessings because, although the book deals aren’t rolling in, a lot of other great things are.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Use it to do what makes your happy.

 

 

Indie Blow-Out at the Indiepalooza Conference

by Monica Shaughnessy

chairs-1442847If you’re an indie author (or thinking about becoming one) and live in the Greater Houston Area, then you should definitely go to Houston Writers Guild’s Indiepalooza on September 26th at the Crown Plaza (Galleria area). I will be speaking during the first break-out session on “Adding Art to Your Words.” I’ll talk about spicing up your indie works with illustration and building digital picture books and bonus books (for adults) using the Kindle Kid’s Book Creator.

Here’s a summary of my talk:

Images, whether photos or sketches, take your project to a professional level. During this workshop, learn how to jazz up your novel’s interior with illustrations and graphics. You’ll also discover how to work with programs like Kindle Kids’ Book Creator to take your picture book from idea to digital reality. Then we’ll dive into graphic “bonus books” that push creative limits and package extra content for your fans. Lastly, you’ll get an overview of the tools you’ll need to make it happen. Find out why indie publishing doesn’t have to be black and white anymore.

If art isn’t your thing, there are lots of other break-out sessions to choose from. Take a look:

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For those wanting an extra networking opportunity, there’s also a kick-off cocktail party the night before with the Pulpwood Queen’s founder, Kathy L. Murphy. She’ll offer insight on the relationship between book clubs and authors.

If you’re on the fence about coming, don’t be. I went to a HWG conference last year, and it was a great opportunity to meet fellow Houston writers. And I learned a few things to boot! What are you waiting for? Sign up now!

Story Structure 101 – FREE CLASS on 9/13

by Monica Shaughnessy

The plot thickens...no, it's just oatmeal.

The plot thickens…no, it’s just oatmeal.

Ever wonder why some stories drag or meander and some stories suck you in from page one and take you on a thrill ride? Well, dear reader, it’s all about the plot.

Since I’m preparing a presentation on structure for an upcoming series of Houston writing workshops (read to the end of the post for more details), I’ve got a bad case of the plots. No, it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Really. Stick with me.

 

If you learn the basics of the three-act structure, you’re making good progress.

3-act

 

(courtesy of Elements of Cinema)

But no so fast! What about genre? Each brand of fiction has its own conventions.

Science fiction and fantasy are normally plot-driven. The worlds and their complications are just as important as the people who inhabit them, and the story usually revolves around a tight structure. Yes, we want Commander Xletia to succeed, but we’re are just as invested in whether or not Planet Nebulon survives the nuclear holocaust. Oh, my!

Thrillers, too, are usually plot-driven, as are one-off mysteries. But a mystery series? That’s highly character driven. Who solves the mystery is as important as the mystery being solved. We can’t hang with a detective we don’t like, not for six books. Romance and literary fiction, too, heavily rely on their characters. This doesn’t shift the structure, but it changes the way books are plotted.

Wait! I haven’t even begun to talk about picture books!  Yes, there’s a formula for that, too.

Or how about Young Adult? Don’t even think about writing one without a romantic plot or subplot or you’ll be dead in the water. And the story’s got to move, baby, move, or so says R. L. Stine in an article last year.

And if your head isn’t spinning enough, let’s talk about novels in verse. You’re not thinking of rhyming, are you? That’s so nineteenth century. But are they plotted the same way as regular novels? In a word: yes. Just because you decided to cut your word count doesn’t mean you can skimp on setting, structure, and characterization.

These are the deep waters of novel writing, not for the casual hobbyist. Even if you’re the kind of scribe who lets the plot unravel organically, either by luck or by strong character motivation, your novel must find its way into some sort of structure (beginning, middle, end) by the final draft in order to be enjoyable by the general public (and no, your Cousin Tito’s cellmate doesn’t count).

Yes, yes, now I’ll get on to the part about FREE…

My fellow Space City Scribes and I will be presenting at Maud Marks Library in Katy, TX in a couple of weekends (9/13) and we’d love for you to come out and learn more about structuring your WIP. A few of us will also be talking about traditional publishing in October and self-publishing in November. It’s going to be a great series of workshops!

See you there! 

Cultivating a Writing Scene in Houston

by Monica Shaughnessy

downtown-houston-745017-mHouston’s writing scene is lacking. There, I’ve said it. And I’m not taking it back.

Sure, sure, we have local branches of national writing groups, like SCBWI (the local link was broken at publication time) or MWA or RWA. And we have inprint. And while these are great, Houston’s literary milieu feels marginal compared to Austin’s. The reason? Houston is a city of commerce, not a city of art, and it shows. That, and I’m convinced Houston’s official motto would be “So?” The apathy of my hometown is palpable, but I don’t really care. 😉

We are the fourth largest city in the U.S. and we still don’t have a proper book festival. And I mean a BOOK FESTIVAL. We have very little that compares to The Writers’ League of Texas (another Austin thing), the closest of which is the Houston Writer’s Guild. I have high hopes for the HWG. They’ve had a few leadership changes these last few years and are moving swiftly into what I hope will be a progressive season. And lastly, we have nothing half as cool as NYC’s (take that, Austin!) Gotham Writers’ Group.

Years ago, I was on a business trip in NYC and found one of their course catalogs on the street. It blew past me on the ground, and I picked it up. (I can hear you screaming: “Don’t pick it up! Don’t! People spit on the ground!”) Anyway, that course catalog changed my life. I remember reading it, thinking that I would one day take a course from them. And I did. In fact, I went on to take several, all online, and they made my writing gooder. 😛 But I secretly hoped that something like Gotham would come to H-town.

And it has.

Writespace is the brainchild of my friend and fellow writer, Elizabeth White. If she accomplishes half of what she has set out to do (workshops, retreats, write-ins, etc.), then we will have a fledgling Gotham Group on our hands. But she can’t do it without your help, Greater Houston Area writers. Right now, she has a Kickstarter campaign that is nearing its final stretch. If, like me, you’ve been pining for an expanded literary scene in the Space City, this just might be the start of something awesome.

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Prove me wrong, Houston. I’d love to hear about writing initiatives I’ve overlooked, if only to discuss them in the comments section. I’m sure others would like to know about them, too.