Hi, friends! My colleague and friend Lise MacTague (if you haven’t read her stuff, omg, DO SO NOW and hit the link to check out her website) and I do the Lez Geek Out! podcast, and we just dropped episode 75, in which we talk about the joys and pitfalls of writing book series.
You can find Lez Geek Out! on all the major podcast platforms if you’re interested or you can go to our website to check out previous episodes, which involves talking about fangirl stuff, books and authors we love, movies we watch, and TV shows and comics we’re checking out. We’re all about queer and feminist rep.
I really, really hope you’re all doing well and staying safe and I hope that you’re able to find the resources you need to get through this giant bucket of fuck that has beset us.
I’ve been talking to my writer friends and some are throwing themselves into their next writing projects while others just can’t and they’re feeling really freaked out about not writing to which I say:
It’s all right.
These are fucked-up times, and we all have to figure out what works for us to get through. Some of us are struggling with anxiety and depression. Some with hunger. Some are struggling with no jobs. Some are struggling because they’re trying to balance what work they have with suddenly homeschooling kids in the house. And some are dealing with ill family members (blood-related or not) or dealing with illness themselves or, goddess forbid, dealing with a loss as a result of this pandemic.
I’m trying to keep a household with a couple of older relatives even-keel; we’re passing depression and anxiety around like a soccer ball but I’m working on getting household projects assigned practically every day so we all have things to do that maybe have needed to be done in the past.
All these little podunk projects that we laughed off in the past now have profound meaning because they engage us and keep us routinized and no matter how small the task or project, I feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s done. It’s grounding, in seriously ungrounded times.
So don’t feel guilty if you’re not finding the time or the drive to write. It’s okay to freak out and try to deal with things in other ways (please make those healthy things). These are incredibly difficult times, and we’re all trying to figure out how to help ourselves and help others when a lot of us are confined to our households.
So here are a few things I’ve been doing to deal with things while I’m not fucking writing:
I’ve gotten a routine going. I’m fortunate in that I still have a day job and though it’s remote, now, I keep regular hours at it and treat it like going to an office. After I’m done for the day, I do evening stuff — make dinner, clean up a bit, then do emails for my writing and publishing stuff (not actual writing) and check in with friends and family.
On weekends, I do bunches of little projects. I’ve been painting some trim in my house, for example, and doing some clean-up of the grounds (weather permitting).
I’m trying to be kind to myself. So you try to be kind to yourself, too, no matter what form that might take. If you have a few hours and you don’t want to do anything except binge something on TV and you have that luxury, do it. I recommend you watch stuff that isn’t going to increase your anxiety or depression, though. If you can grab a few minutes outside by yourself or with others in your household to play a quick game of catch or something as you’re able, do it. Something that makes you feel good and connected to yourself and maybe others might help alleviate some of the internal turmoil you may be feeling, at least for a little while.
If you’re not dealing with as much anxiety and depression as others in your life, check in with those folks and see if they need you to do a regular check-in at the same time every day to help them establish a new routine. It might help you, too, if that becomes part of YOUR routine.
Try to do something physical every day. Even if it’s some kind of jerry-rigged home workout using stuff around your house and your body weight. 15-20 mins a day with a set physical routine can do wonders for your state of mind (I also like to dance around my house with earbuds in…SILENT DANCE PARTY!).
Make goofy videos or photos to share with your friends and family. And hell, if you want to, post them on social media. Or do like some people and re-create famous artworks with whatever you’ve got.
Point being, shit is real right now, and if you can’t bring yourself to write — if you’re in survival mode however that looks for you — that’s okay. Really. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and help how you can.
Take care, all. And if Easter is your thing, I hope it’s safe and happy.
So let’s say you’re interested in publishing a manuscript you’re working on and you decide to approach a house. Here are some tips to help you do that correctly.
1. Make sure your manuscript is finished. This may seem obvious, but it’s not to some writers, especially those who are just starting out. I get it. You’re working on a novel and you’re really excited about it and you want to get it published. BUT…
There’s an old saying: “Don’t put the cart before the horse.” What that means is, don’t do things in the wrong order because it’ll cost you time and effort at the very least.
Most publishers do not want to see a partially-written manuscript. Publishers don’t grant contracts on the basis of a chapter or two (unless you’re a long-established author). They may read the first few chapters, but they will only do that if the manuscript is complete and the query letter and synopsis piqued their interest and if the manuscript fits their lists.
So don’t send an email to a publisher saying you’re working on a manuscript and you have X words done. They don’t care. They want the COMPLETED project, not 10,000 words of a draft.
2. Do not ask a publisher to assess the first few chapters of your unfinished manuscript to “see if you’re on the right track.”
Time is money, people. You want someone to assess your work? That’s what editors do, and they’re professional and offering a service. So pay them. Or get some fab beta readers who are willing to work with you.
This scenario — asking me as a potential publisher to assess part of an unfinished manuscript — has happened to me more than a few times in the past and just so you know, it’ll get you tossed out the airlock at almost every house you try this. I’m an exception, because I’ll explain to you that this is not how you go about approaching a potential publisher and I’ll probably provide you some links to resources that tell you how to effectively approach a publisher with a submission. Then I’ll toss you out the airlock, but gently.
Unless you’re a dick in your approach. In which case, no resources for you. Just a “we do not consider unfinished manuscripts. If you’re looking for guidance, we recommend you consult with beta readers or hire a developmental editor,” and then we put your name in the “hell, no” forever file.
It is not a publisher’s job to assess your work or help you write your manuscript so they can publish it. That’s a developmental editor’s job, and you should hire one if you’re having trouble writing a manuscript. Or hire a writing coach. Or chat with your beta readers. Don’t have any? Get some. It’ll save you getting flung out a publishing airlock and/or being put in a “hell, no” file.
3. Put a professional query packet together so it’s ready to go. This includes your FINISHED manuscript; a query letter (no more than 2-3 paragraphs that includes your background, bio, and any other things you’ve written); brief synopsis (no more than about 250-300 words). And have a longer synopsis ready to go in case a publishing house requests one.
The key here is to look professional. You want a publisher to take you seriously? Then put together some serious materials that help a publisher get a sense of who you are and what your writing approach might be. Don’t forget to have a website for your writer self ready to go to include in your contact materials.
Caitlin Berve has some great info on query packets at Ignited Ink. You should go see.
4. Make sure you read the submissions guidelines THOROUGHLY and prepare your query packet and manuscript accordingly. If you don’t do that, a publisher will wonder what other instructions you ignore. Every publisher is different, so make sure you know what each one is looking for.
And with that in mind, make sure you send the right query packet to the correct publisher. This has happened to me more than a few times, too — I’ve gotten query letters addressed to someone at a totally different house.
Details are important, friends.
5. It’s okay to ask if you’re not sure about something in a publisher’s submissions requirements. It’s okay to send a quick email to ask for clarification. Be polite and get to the point immediately in that email. Don’t go on about the project you’re working on or your super-sexy query packet. Just ask your question, say please and thank you, and go about your business. And if the publisher doesn’t respond to that one little email, well…maybe you’ll want to approach other houses instead.
All right. Just remember, publishing is a business. Think of approaching them as if you were getting ready for a job interview. You want all your materials ready to go, and you want to present yourself as a fellow professional. Don’t give them reasons to think otherwise.
R.G. and I are co-founders and co-owners of publishing venture Dirt Road Books. We and 4 other authors got together and launched it in 2017. R.G. and I come from traditional publishing back in the day; collectively, we have over 40 years of experience in publishing (omg dinosaurs roaming the earth).
Both of us worked with publishing houses before ebooks, way before the availability of platforms as we know them now, so we’ve been editing and proofing manuscripts in various formats for a while.
Today we were talking about typos and errors that sneak into the final product, and I thought I would offer some thoughts about how and why that happens, and I’ll do a comparison of old-school vs. new-school processes in publishing a manuscript.
Also, it might be valuable for readers who don’t have a background in publishing or editing to understand the amount of work that goes into a manuscript, whether its format is print or ebook, so you understand why books are priced the way they are. Sure, you can say that “ebooks should be priced even lower than they currently are because they’re just electronic files,” but the fact is, the manuscript behind that ebook went through an ass-load of work before it got ebooked. You wouldn’t do a ton of work on contract for a pittance, would you? Or for free? Well, there you go. Just something else to ponder.
I tend to think a lot about process and the little things that go into working on a project and yeah, the overarching philosophy behind the act of writing.
I mean, obviously, if you’re writing a novel, you probably have the ultimate goal of being published. Let’s assume that’s the goal, anyway and let’s focus here on writing novels/fiction.
Writers don’t write just to get published. If that’s the only reason you’re doing it, re-assess. Write because you love it, because you can’t NOT write, because if you didn’t your soul would wither into a desiccated carcass, left to bake on the salt flats of your future.
So with that in mind, I’m here to disavow you of some notions because writing a draft of a novel isn’t just hammering something out and then you’re ready to go get it published (and then make ass-loads of money). Continue reading →
ANYWAY! Thought I’d get back into the groove here with some more blogging. Not that I haven’t been blogging/writing/podcasting, It’s just that I’ve kind of left my website all by itself and that ain’t right!
Okay. So I thought I’d bring some things up for y’all to think about — ESPECIALLY if you’re an unpublished author looking to be published and get your debut novel out there for the world to see. Continue reading →
So here we are in a new year and I know for a fact that bunches of you are working on manuscripts and once you’re done with your draft, you’re going to hopefully get it submission-ready. That is, you’re going to prep it in hopes that a publisher will think it’s awesome and sexy.
First things first. Not all houses accept a full manuscript for a read. They might just want the first few chapters. Or maybe the first few chapters and the last few. That’s fine. The point is, if you have a full manuscript that’s ready to go, you can easily extract the chapters or first 50 pages or whatever it is the potential publisher may want to see. And you want those to be clean and ready for viewing. So here are 10 things you can do to help you get it that way.
Hope your holidays went awesomely and that you’re well on your way to settling into this latest chronological trip around the sun.
So let’s talk new year, new opportunities.
I don’t make resolutions. Instead, I make a few goals to accomplish but leave options open for opportunities that may spin off said goals and/or things that don’t go so well. I also create new good habits or strengthen existing ones if I haven’t been as engaged as I’d like in those.
So here are 10 things to do to get you into the swing of a new writerly year and to keep you going throughout the year. Or, if you’re not a writer but have other pursuits (whether creative or otherwise), some of these you may be able to tailor to that.
1. Get organized.
I do this at the start of every year. And generally it begins New Year’s Eve with a house-cleaning. I’m pretty regular about cleaning my house, but I do a symbolic one around the end of the year so I go into the new year feeling fresh n’ clean! LOL
Then I usually spend the first week or two of the new year getting rid of material things around the house and donating to charity. Clothing, dishes, furniture — things that have served their purpose but no longer do (at least with me) and someone else no doubt could put them to use. I also begin organizing for tax season, something that you have to do every year regardless, but for writers, there are things you need to organize in terms of deductions and royalties and the like.
Point being: organization and cleaning up can help unclutter your creative energy and help you focus, which might also help with some forms of depression.
2. Set a goal for the one writer project you want to complete this year.
Maybe it’s a novel. Or a novella. Or a few short stories. Whatever it is, create a realistic timeline (part of the “get organized” strategy) and make a schedule. By such-and-such date, for example, you want to have 5,000 words written. Or whatever it is.
TIP: Be realistic about all the commitments in your life. It is possible to work in writing a novel around a day job and a family and all the other things that come up (ask most writers). Even 30 minutes a day once or twice a day can move you to your goal. Carve out the time. If you’re serious about writing or any other goal you have, carve out a bit of time and be open to moving that time block around as you figure out what your schedule is during these first few weeks of the new year and what times of day you’re most creative. Work it that way and stick to it.
Find a writer buddy who is also working on a project who can serve as your cheerleader and nag (lol). Like a workout buddy, your writer buddy will engage in writing sessions with you, whether online or in real time. What that means is, if you’re doing an online writer session, you agree with your writer buddy on a set time on specific days and you check in online and do your writing thang. Then you share what you wrote.
Sometimes you won’t get very far with your word count. So what? The important thing is, you’re producing something and you’re sharing it with your buddy (and she’s sharing it with you). It’s like you’re working out together, showing how many sets and reps you got in. And your buddy might also serve as a beta as you’re going along, which helps with the re-writing aspect of writing. Heh.
4. Take breaks.
From writing. Seriously. Writing burnout can be a thing. I know people tell you to make writing a habit and you have to produce something every day and omg deadlines but guess what? Driving yourself off the road because you’re exhausted or tense or need to deal with other things does not help you complete the journey. Stop at a rest area and stretch your legs (to continue that metaphor).
Make sure you spend time with your loved ones and that you take time for yourself that isn’t the physical act of writing. Writers are ALWAYS writing, because we’re constantly seeing stories all around us and working scenes out in our heads, but the physical act of writing is where you’re staring at your screen and pounding away at your keyboard (or longhand writing; however you do it). I’m talking about taking a break from THAT. Once a week. Once every two weeks. Just a little break from your routine to refresh your mind and give you a jolt of creativity.
5. Get out.
Literally. GET OUTSIDE. Specifically, green space, friends. Wherever you are, go to green space. Some of you live in areas of the country where that’s not difficult. Others have to use what’s been engineered (e.g. Manhattan’s Central Park). Or, hell, take a walk around your neighborhood. Just be OUTSIDE. Make it a point to do that. And also, do not use your phone or other tech when you’re outside. Be present.
What that means is, when you’re doing a writing session, you are writing. Don’t go messing around on social media after you finish a paragraph or a chapter. Get up and walk around or make a cup of tea or something and go back to writing until your scheduled session for the day is done.
Try to minimize your obsession with the rest of the world at least during your writing time but I’m going to STRONGLY suggest that you unplug regularly, for maybe an hour a day. It helps give you perspective and allows you to be present with your thoughts and to engage with the world without the filter of social media.
And in these shitty times, it’s important to ensure you don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the toxicity of what passes for discourse these days. Which is not to suggest that you don’t engage at all online with your contacts, colleagues, and friends. Just don’t get sucked in and make sure you spend time engaging in the real world, too.
7. Eat right.
Creativity needs good fuel. If you’re eating/drinking things that aren’t conducive to overall health, you’re eventually not going to feel completely healthy. And it will run you down, which means you will lose effective writing time. So have a look at your diet and clean it up, friends.
Start with one small thing. For example, switch from soda (even diet, which has its own set of issues) to, for example, sparkling water (the kind that doesn’t have fruit juice, which adds sugars). Almost 6 years ago, I went off caffeine, which meant that I stopped drinking soda. I had been drinking diet colas, but going off caffeine made me quit those. Sure, there are decaf soda options, but I lost the taste for soda really quickly and I don’t miss it at all.
Eat regular meals (and try to eat with your loved ones, no distractions!) and don’t eat late at night. That can contribute to and exacerbate issues. So don’t eat after, like, 6 PM which is what I try to do.
Snack on ready-sliced fruits and veggies. I get this stuff ready ahead of time or buy those packets of baby carrots and dip them into guacamole or tzatziki or I’ll just munch ’em plain.
Lower your unhealthy carbs (i.e. cut back on alcohol and overly processed carb-laden foods). If you start focusing on eating more good proteins and vegetables, you don’t need the energy burst (then crash) that comes with carb and sugar boosts because your body will be effectively fueled all day.
But if you just want a starting point: stop drinking soda and cut back on alcohol. And if you smoke, maybe make that one of your writing goals, to stop. Better overall health means more creative energy and more stories. 🙂
8. Get moving.
Exercise helps with overall health — physical, emotional, mental. And exercise helps clear your mind and energizes you, which funnels right into creative energy.
And you don’t need to join a gym to do it, though that does help get you into a routine. I actually do workouts based on Navy Seals exercises, because I don’t need a gym and I can take the routines on the road (I travel a lot) and they don’t require special equipment.
I do a circuit of those 3-4 times a week, then on non-circuit days I’ll walk or ride a stationary bike or do some other kind of cardio-only then finish with a few sets of core-strenghtening exercises.
It is extremely important to strengthen your core. If you primarily sit to write (I alternate sitting and standing), you need to get up and work your core. Here’s a great list of core exercises that don’t need equipment.
Some of those exercises can be found in this cool list of 50 bodyweight exercises (that is, you don’t need equipment; you’re using your bodyweight as resistance).
Want to start simple? If you can, start walking. If you can’t quite do that, check out the bodyweight resistance exercises and core exercises to build up to moving around more. If you have health issues that preclude just starting on your own to exercise, check with your docs about what you can and cannot do and go with that.
Your body and your mind are interrelated. Keep your body strong and fueled with good stuff and it boosts your brain. 🙂
Be your own Amazon.
Read WIDELY. Across genres. Fiction and nonfiction. Magazines. Blogs. Fanfic. Read all kinds of stuff. Make it a point to stretch your reading comfort zones and read authors from different backgrounds and countries. Engage your critical thinking skills and question not only others, but yourself. This is how we develop and it’s how we create better stories.
10. Have fun.
This can also fall under “self care” (see above, too). My have fun routines include indulging my fangirl side, so I go to see movies or indulge in a staycation in which I get to catch up on some programs I haven’t had a chance to engage with.
I’ll also go out with friends and take day trips to get new perspectives. If you can, do a road trip, even if it’s just a few hundred miles. Get out of your zone, see new/different things, engage with different people. Fuel for stories, friends. Even fun stuff fuels your creative energies.
AND A COUPLE MORE THINGS.
Be kind, to yourself and others. Stay alert and help build the communities that feed your soul.
I’m working on several see-krit projects at the moment. A not see-krit project is the fanfic I’m doing over at Archive of Our Own. It’s a Clexa piece, and it’s over 180K words, now. Still going. Basically, I rebooted season 3. You’re welcome. 😀
Anyway! Here are some writing tips just for you, in a few different (oldies but goodies) blogs that I wrote. I still get requests for these, so here they are again: