Is Your Writing Ready?

This morning I went to a writer’s work shop. Well, I’m not so certain you could define it as a workshop, but it was via the Skagit Valley Writer’s League. It was my boyfriend’s mom who found about the talk that was happening in the Burlington Library, and it was with her that I went. 

I won’t lie, it scared me, and had I not being going with a familiar, friendly face, I probably would have backed out. I’m afraid of social situations, and I get intimidated by other writers – never mind that I had no idea where the Burlington library is. I’m from the next county north, Skagit county is new territory. 

We took our seats, and it wasn’t long before I noticed that while there were perhaps 20 of us attending, I was easily the youngest by 20 years, more than likely more. Many were from the county, out bey Rockport, Concrete and the like (I hate to say it, but many jokes of red-necks and hill-billies originating from the areas – of course the people attending were not the case). 

I was impressed by the turn-out, to be honest, if for no other reason than for the inspiration of hosting something similar at the venue Think Piece has been using. Many of the attendees had already dabbled in self-publishing, had been accepted by publishers, or had a great deal of experience in the literary world, but were just staying current. I felt a little out of my league.

It was a lady named Beth from Booktrope Publishing that was presenting, and the lecture was about the process of publishing – basically how it all goes once your piece has been accepted for publication. 

She explained through the presentation that once a book has been accepted by a publishing company, especially a non-traditional publishing company such as Booktrope, a team is assembled to get the piece to production, consisting of:

  • The Author
  • Marketing
  • Cover Designer
  • Proofreaders
  • Editor

She explained that on the particular piece she was using for an example, a children’s book about a little Zebra that wanders off from his mother and his heard, that she was the project manager as well as the editor. The piece was submitted by a gentleman in London in a PDF format, with the paintings for the book and the layout for the most part completed. 

Beth went through, page by page, and wrote her comments and thoughts. During the presentation she went through all the editorial steps and communications with the author to get the piece to the final draft – from little things such as pointing out that the giraffe was tall, to establishing the character’s characteristics within the first page – opposed to just stating what the character looked like. 

At the end, she allowed for question and answers. 

While I’m not to a point of publication – and the piece I had originally thought to be ready for publication I have already decided to re-write, chapter for chapter – Beth gave me a few things to consider with my writing. 

  • Within the first few pages, the character’s characteristics should be established (as mentioned).
  • Within the first few pages, the issue should be established. 
    For example, in the book I was reading, The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter, within the first few pages you know a woman is going into labor, and twins are born. Within the first chapter is known that a child with Downs Syndrome is born, and the father sends her to be put in an institution. Within the first few pages, the issue is known. 
  • Really reiterating to be sure that the reader discovers for themselves via the character that which needs to be discovered, rather than being told by the narrator. 
    This is something that I have heard over and over again. The example used was the narrator was saying that the little zebra shouldn’t have wandered so far from home.
    The argument I have with this, especially as I do it a lot – is the narrator not being the all-knowing third person, but just the second person. The person that only knows what the character knows. I might say something like “He shouldn’t be here, he should be at home, snug in bed,” meaning that this is what the character is thinking. it’s the narrator telling the reader what the character is thinking, rather than putting the text in italics/quotations and ending with “he thought”. Is there a difference at this point? Is it semantics? 
    The point being to let the reader make the connection that the character should or shouldn’t be doing something, trust that the reader is going to come to the conclusion of what should or shouldn’t be done, regardless of what the character chooses to do. 
    Unfortunately I forgot to bring that point up. Oops. 
  • Being sure that the narration doesn’t take away from the story.
    Once again, it was a similar example used as above, where the narrator in the first draft was saying that the little zebra shouldn’t be there, though taking it a step further. In the first draft, the narrator said that the little zebra’s mother was worried. By doing this, the reader was taken away from the focus of the little zebra, back to the unknown whereabouts of his herd, to his mother, who was worried. 
    The all-knowing third person, but only for a moment. 
  • Being careful not to repeat a point. 
    I know that in my completed novel, I certainly repeat certain points to really drive home the feeling that my character is feeling, however, is it necessary? 
    This is one of those things that I think might be different between a kids book and a full on novel. After all, a children’s book is generally only a few pages, verses a novel which is generally a couple hundred. There is a lot of information to get lost. 
    Opinions from any one on this point?
  • Slow down and take your time.
    The little zebra wandered off from the watering hole, then found himself at another place of water where he came across a crocodile, then on to the river where he met the hippo, and so on. Beth pointed out that this is confusing, the amount of different watering places that the zebra went to, yet couldn’t find his herd. 
    By spending a little more time to analyze the whole surroundings, whether or not the whole area is describes, it allows constancy opposed to redundancy,
  • Who is doing the discovering/learning?
    While other characters of course can discover and learn and bring new information to the table, it is the main character that has to do the learning and discovering of the final hurrah – whatever that may be. The story is the journey of the main character, the character that the reader has essentially taken into themselves, and thus wants to be “the one” to put the pieces together. 
  • Keeping in mind cultural difference between author and publisher.
    This was not something that Beth brought up directly, but something that I noticed, and a few things that she had struggled with.
    In the UK, some sentences are structured differently than ours, their spellings are different that ours, and their nick-names are different than ours.  
    For example, the zebra’s name was Zips. They had wanted to change it to Zip. However, in the UK (and I’m sure other parts of the world), they generally shorten names and slap on an “s” to it. For example, I have a cousin by the name of Rebecca, who’s shortened name is Becky, which is further shortened to Bex, or Becks (I’ve not seen this written out). Or even the word “sorry” is shortened to “Soz” in some areas. 
    Since the author chose to send his piece to a publisher in the US, that is something he could expect to compromise, change completely, or hold his grounds on. 
    Me personally – keep the cultural differences. If kids in the US don’t get it, it’s an opportunity for both parent and child to expand their cultural understanding. 
  • Allow the editing team to contribute
    When a book is submitted and accepted, it’s not a matter of going straight to print. As mentioned before, there is a whole process that goes into this. Allowing the editorial team their input and working with them will help the peice to grow and show some perspectives that the author may have thought of. 
    The editor is not always right, the author is not always right, but they can always come together and compromise on something. 

“It’s all a bunch of human beings with their ideas.”
~Beth Bacon on the editorial process

Finally, she gave a good hint on how to get unstuck when writing – which was to write 20 different situations/endings/ideas of where the story could go from there. This came about because she hadn’t like the last page of the book, and she was trying to help the author create a new final two lines. 

“It doesn’t matter if it is about how Zips turns into Santa Clause – just write 20 different endings.” 

The idea is that afterward, you can go through and see if any one has a nugget of inspiration in them to help push you through your stuck-patch. 

During the Q&A, Beth gave a little bit of insight to self-publishing companies, mostly highlighting Lightening Source and Create Space (neither of which I have any experience with, so any input on these would be appreciated!).

  • Lightening Space will look more professional and provide better quality
  • Create Space is owned by Amazon
    If you are self-published, Amazon will not carry your book unless it is via Create Space

She advised that once you’re accepted by a publishing company to get to know your editor. If you and your editor don’t see eye-to-eye (the example she used was her hatred of sci-fi and having to be a project manager/editor for a sci-fi novel – it just was not going to work), then it’s going to be a painful process. 

I asked about introductions when submitting a piece. Should I send it as my first few chapters? Should I send just my introduction? 
The answer I received was less about if that should be included in my submission, but more meditation into if my introduction was necessary. Is it important to the story, and if so, why is it not the first chapter of the book itself? If it is a backstory of what has happened a long time prior to the beginning of the book, is there a way that it can be woven in without standing out on its own? 

I have recently been contemplating a lot about the introductions to books. I feel like I used to come across them quite a bit, but in the last half a decade or so, I have seen them less and less. It was this realization that caused me to wonder what an introduction is for in the first place? The only time I generally do see them is in non-fiction, and it is usually the space the author uses to give their background on the subject they’re writing about. 

So why have an introduction? Is it actually necessary?

It was very interesting. While the example used was a children’s book, something that I’m not entirely interested in creating, it certainly gave me a few things to ponder upon with my own writing, thinking less about the stories I’ve been trying to pump out and more about the target audience, and what they will perceive the story as. Why is it that most of the readers that have read my piece don’t like the character that is my favorite? Where have I failed to show how he has redeeming qualities?

The last piece of wisdom she left with us was something I thought to be very powerful when it comes to obtaining writers. I’m sure most bloggers already know this, and I’ve just been in my little turtle shell of nievity, but her words were this:

Writing is a Business, and needs to be treated as such.




4 thoughts on “Is Your Writing Ready?

  1. Pingback: Scribing English
  2. Pingback: What Profession – Pros and Cons of Writing Professions | Scribing English

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