Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How To Revise Your Novel: Tips From a NaNoWriMo Survivor

Happy Wednesday!  As promised, we've got an awesome guest post today.  But before we do...a little bit of (fun) business.  You see, Rate Your Story is in a bit of a conundrum...

Awhile back, we posted an 'ad' for an illustrator to do our logo.  And the wonderful Dana Atnip stepped forward.  She drew design after design (putting up with a few many tweaks and changes on our part), and came up with a final round of rough sketches.  Then, I put them to our panel of judges for a vote.

After two rounds of ties or too-close-to-call, we've decided to put the logo vote to you.  Which logo do you like better for Rate Your Story?  Vote now, and then scroll down for an AWESOME POST from newspaper and magazine editor turned YA-novelist Melissa Gorzelanczyk!

And without further ado...the logo roughs:

#1 - Scroll and Feather

#2 - Woman and Stars

The link for voting is at the end of the post.  Now enjoy Melissa's Writing Wisdom!

How to Revise Your Novel: From a NaNoWriMo Survivor
By Melissa Gorzelanczyk

In 2010, I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a novel in a month. I cheered, printed my winner’s certificate, clipped it to the fridge and took a well-deserved break from my amazing manuscript.

Then, January came. I decided it was time to begin the revision process. I reread my novel THE CHANNELS … and my heart sank. My work wasn’t a novel at all, it was a mish-mash of 50,000 words that didn’t fit together or tell a story or have a plot. I frowned. I sulked. And after a night of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to get to work.

One year, six months and five revisions later, a real story is beginning to emerge from the ashes of my horrible first draft.

What I learned

Patience. Resist the urge to share your manuscript with anyone until after (at least) two solid revisions. I am truly sorry for those who suffered through reading chapters from my original draft. Now I know the revision process takes a long time, maybe years, but it’s necessary. You’ll need a lot of patience to enjoy it.

Outline the major plot points before you begin writing. I won’t approach my next book the same way as THE CHANNELS. For my new work-in-progress, I’m identifying the main character’s motivations, what’s at stake, my story theme, climax and how it will end before I write the first 50,000 words. yWriter is a free software program I use that allows me to plot my book scene by scene.

Revision tips

Print a hard copy of your manuscript. Use a red pen to write notes for yourself. Focus on the big picture at first instead of perfecting the writing.

Create an outline. Write a quick summary of what happens in every chapter.

Mindful writing. Use your outline to define what you want your reader to get out of every scene. How do the events in the chapter move the story forward? This exercise helps you realize when you’re cramming too much into a certain chapter. You’ll also see what scenes can be deleted (and you won’t have to cry).

Learn along the way. Read books, articles and blog posts about how to revise a novel.    
After the third revision, approach a group of first readers. I had four wonderful first readers: my husband and three friends who read a lot and are writers themselves. (Note: Your family is probably not a good choice for constructive criticism. My husband is the exception to that rule.) Print a hard copy of your book, supply a nice red pen and hand it over with a page of specific first reader questions. Here are three questions to consider.

At the end of each revision, ask:
Is my book ready to send out? If you’re not sure, read it again and rewrite it again until you can answer YES.

“Everyone has a history. Most of it isn’t very interesting. Stick to the parts that are.” -Stephen King in his memoir On Writing

Melissa Gorzelanczyk is on Facebook and Twitter. You can read about her journey to work from home as a writer on her blog, Peace & Projects.

The vote is open until next week Wednesday.  Make sure to check back next week for the results of the Logo Vote!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Take Critiques - Guest Post by Julie Hedlund

It's Wednesday!  That means we've got a guest on the blog.  Today we welcome a real "knockout."  Welcome, writer Julie Hedlund!

Critiques:  How to Take Them
By Julie Hedlund

My brother was a boxer as a kid.  One of the first things his coaches taught him was how to take punch.  If you're going to take one in the gut, you have to harden your belly to reduce the impact.  It might still hurt, but probably not enough to bring you to your knees. 

Critiques are like that.  As writers, getting feedback on our work can be like taking that punch.  But if we're not willing to take it, we can't even enter the ring.  Nobody - and I do mean nobody - is so gifted a writer that s/he can birth a masterpiece with no input from others. 

Yet, many writers are so in love with and so protective of their "babies" that they can't even hear feedback, much less incorporate it into their work.

At a workshop I attended a couple of years ago, author Alane Ferguson said it best.  Sometimes she comes across writers who are so unwilling to consider revisions "it's as if they think they are channeling God's words."  To which she said she always wants to respond, "Honey, God is not that bad of a writer."

So, how can we "get over ourselves" enough to use the golden nuggets of feedback we get from critique groups? 

Mind your defensiveness.  I have noticed, in critiques, that when someone gets very defensive, it’s usually over an issue that is very important to the direction of the work, and one that almost all of the other critiquers agree upon.  I know I do that too.  So take note: the points that make you feel the most defensive are probably also the ones you most need to hear.  When you start thinking, "They just don't 'get' it," or “She doesn't recognize my genius," or "S/he doesn't know what that s/he's talking about,"  that is precisely when you need to stop talking and start taking better notes.  You'll decide later after you have more distance whether the feedback makes sense, but if you tune out or talk over it, you'll miss a huge opportunity to evaluate your work.

Pretend everything is true.  Nancy Mercado, editor at Roaring Brook Press, said she had one author that used to get riled up every time he received her edits.  They always spent lots of time wrestling over them.  Then one day he called her and said, "For two weeks, I decided to pretend everything you said was true."  He revised the manuscript according to her suggestions and found that the vast majority of them made his work better. I've tried this myself, and I’ve found it gives me the emotional distance I need to decide whether certain comments work for my manuscript or not.

Give it time.  Do not make revisions immediately after receiving a critique.  You need a bit of a "waiting period" while your brain comes to grips with the suggestions so you can decide what is true for your work.

Writers can be sensitive souls. But even though the feedback you receive from critiques might sting sometimes, remember that even the act of considering it will ultimately make your writing stronger.

Believe me, because I know how to take a punch.  My brother was four years older than me, and he had to practice on somebody. :-)

Julie Hedlund is a picture book author, a member of SCBWI, a monthly contributor to author/illustrator Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast, and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Julie’s website is

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing Wednesdays and Slush Booty

Happy Wednesday!

After a two-month break from regularly-scheduled posts, Rate Your Story is continuing a Wednesday series with free writing tips.  Instead of focusing on Author Interviews, however, we're going to have a rotating selection of guest posts from Rate Your Story fans/writers, published and pre-published authors, and professionals from the publishing industry (a totally incomplete, tentative schedule is posted on the sidebar).

As a writer myself, I know how time-consuming and nerve-wracking it is to prepare and send a submission anywhere.  Since taking several editorial freelance jobs and especially since launching Rate Your Story in October, though, I've come to remember that the editorial end can be just as time-consuming and nerve-wracking.

So to kick off the Writing Wednesday series, I wanted to share some of the invaluable writing lessons I've learned from being the intern in control of the slush pile that ebbs and flows in the ocean-like inbox at Rate Your Story.

I call these treasured tips and wisdoms "Slush Booty."

Slush Booty
By Miranda Paul

Slush Booty #1
Someone else probably just submitted something similar.  

Or the exact same story, with different character names.

It was only three weeks after Rate Your Story opened that a submission came in with the exact same title as one of my WIPs.  I thought I was the cleverest person in the world when I came up with that title.  Apparently, there were two of us – probably more.

Since we've opened, I can't tell you how many stories we get like this:  MC doesn't like who he/she is (or what type of animal they are), tries out to be every different type of person/animal in the school/garden/farm/zoo and voila! decides that being him or herself is best.  I know the storyline well because I wrote a story like it ("Cock-a-Doodle-MOO!") for iStorybooks a couple years ago (and it just so happens it's not the only children's story out there with the exact same title).  I don't think this is a bad storyline, of course, but if RYS judges have seen this type of story 15 or 20 times in a span of eight months, imagine how many an editor or intern at a publishing house has seen...

And last, which is loosely related to this booty-tip:  Google your title to see if there's been another picture book (or seven) already published with the exact same title.  You wouldn't believe how many submissions we get where the title is already a picture book.  I know, I'm guilty of it too.  But I'm savvy now.

Slush Booty #2
Your title and pitch might be way better than your story.

This is probably the most common thing I see.  As the person who moderates the inbox and passes submissions to judges, I get to see all the titles and pitches in the email body -  but I don't read all the stories before passing them along.  Many, many times I am surprised at an awesome pitch or totally bizarre title that comes back as not-so-good rating.  While the author has done a good job grabbing attention, it's important that what/how you pitch and title your story is matched by the same style and quality of writing.

Slush Booty #3
Editors may or may not read your query/email/pitch.

We get busy.  We get lazy.  We forget.  We get excited by the title and want to get to the MS right away.  Combined with the above advice, make your pitch short and sweet and spend your time on making the manuscript perfect.  An imperfect query or pitch is probably fine, so stop stressing.

Slush Booty #4
Don't send anything that's a Work in Progress (WIP).  

And if you do, because you're probably going to, don't tell the editor that it's "not quite finished yet but I'm submitting it anyway...just to see what you think." Maybe we get this line more often at Rate Your Story because writers feel this is a "practice submission," but it's really unprofessional.  It's like the girl who goes to audition for a role and coughs or makes an excuse that she's hungover and not feeling well just before she even opens the script to read her lines. 

Slush Booty #5
Technology is Evil.

Sometimes attachments don't open.  Sometimes emails get lost in space (probably the same place the dryer sends those missing socks).  Emails get magically marked as read when they weren't.  The lesson here is to follow up!  I realize that many publishers say "no answer means no," - but there's a significant chance that they either haven't gotten to it yet or it really never reached that editor.  I had a piece sit on a slush pile seven months and considered it rejected.  Then, out of nowhere, got an email from the editor asking if it was still available and that she wanted to publish it.  She had just opened it that week - that's how behind she ways.  So, keep a good submission tracker spreadsheet or use an online software and follow up (gently and politely).  The worst thing that can happen is that the editor ignores you or says "no."

Slush Booty #6
Make sure your story is a story.

This seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many stories we get that really aren't complete stories.  While some authors say "this is a concept book," or "it's a chapter as part of a larger novel," etc.  - it's important to remember that an editor is going to look at your piece as a whole.  Especially the editors at a site called "Rate Your Story."  Even concept books or board books seem to have a flow from beginning to middle to end, even with a twist sometimes.  And if you're looking for a critique on a chapter, make sure it can stand alone as a story itself.

Well, those are the most important treasures I've discovered thus far, but there are actually many more nuggets I've learned from being on the editorial ship.  Now, back to slush-buckling, mates!

Join us next week (Wednesday) as we welcome Julie Hedlund, one of the pirates individuals responsible for making our slush pile so much larger by sharing Rate Your Story with the 400 writers participating in 12 x 12 in 2012.