Monday, October 29, 2012

5 Steps to Ensure Your Novel Isn't a Piece of Crap

I got an email last week from a writer who'd stumbled on my blog after searching on Google for "How to tell if your novel sucks." Oh yes, and she got this disgusting toenail post I did back in April.

The writer, whom we will call "Trina," said that she had just finished writing a novel, and was wondering how to really tell if it sucks (my toenail post didn't help all that much as it was mainly about toenails). She said she would be really unhappy if her completed novel turned out to be a piece of crap. I totally understand. After all that hard work, how can you bear it if it's not bestseller quality?

So I humbly present 5 Steps to Ensuring Your Novel Isn't a Piece of Crap:

Step 1. Adjust Your Expectations.
If you have just written a novel, the sad truth is that it will most likely be a bit crappy. I'm sorry. You don't want to hear this, I know. Sometimes it takes writers years to come to terms with this fact. Some writers never make it beyond the first novel, so great is their disappointment. But if you want to get published, you absolutely must face the fact that writing well takes practice. I'm talking years of toil. "Oh, yes?" you say. "What about all those authors who say in the back cover bio on their books that it is their first novel?" They mean it's their first published novel. They probably wrote four or five novels before that one.

There are always exceptions to the rule, of course. But another cold truth is that you are probably not going to be that exception. I know, I sob with you on this point, because I too believed that my first novel was going to defy all odds. I planned an elaborate five continent book tour for myself, so sure was I. Good thing I didn't book plane tickets.

Step 2. Find Feedback in the Right Places.
As I told "Trina," if you have your mother and your best friend read your novel, they will lie and say it's really good at best. At worst, they will say nothing. No, at worst they'll suggest that you look into self-publishing, and that everyone's doing it nowadays, and how great it would be if you did that too, after all,
then you could have a copy of your book, and how cool would that be?

It's not cool.

That isn't to denigrate self-published books whatsoever. Rather, self-publishing should not be used as a way to avoid making your book better because you think it's your only option. Where were we? Yes, get feedback from people who don't love you. This is essential. That means:

  • Finding a writer's group in your area
  • Join online forums like Absolute Writer or Backspace
  • Join local chapters of national writing organizations like RWA (if you write romance)
  • Pay for a professional critique (if you can)

Step 3. Study and Learn the Way of the Writer.
Reading widely in the genre you write in is a must, as is reading widely on the craft of writing. You must do these things. There are lots of lists out there on good books to read on writing, but I recommend starting with:

  • Stephen King's "On Writing"
  • James Scott Bell's "Plot & Structure" 
  • Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird"
  • Robert McKee's "Story"
Those are just a start. Get a subscription to Writer's Digest or The Writer. Read writing blogs. There's so much wonderful information out there--but you need to make the effort.

Step 4. Accept that You Must be Patient.
You must come to terms with the fact that you need to be patient in your journey. Give yourself time to learn. Give yourself time and room to write more. You won't want to hear this if you've just finished a novel that took you a year to write and longer to revise, and you ignored your spouse that whole time, stopping watching television and shaving your legs, and became a recluse and never spoke to your children all that time because you were busy pouring every ounce of your soul into your novel. I get that. I totally do. But just because you tried hard doesn't mean you don't have to stop and take stock of what you're doing and where you're going. And if all indications point to a novel that isn't quite there yet, then you need to go on. It doesn't mean you've failed, it doesn't mean all that passion was misplaced. It just means that you had no idea that this was a much bigger thing than you expected it to be.

Step 5. Write, Revise, Revise, Write.
If you want your novel to be good, you can't just type "Finis" and save and close the file. Keep working on it. Revise the living daylights out of it. Set it aside for a long time and then come back. Travel, and then come back to it. Think about it all the time. Read books in the genre and then come back to it. But don't walk away from it and assume it's perfect, because it isn't, and books take much massaging and working before they're saleable. Sometimes this means that after two years of revisions, you discover that you have to rewrite the whole thing because a fundamental plot element never occurred to you until just now. If you're devoted to making your novel a success, then you have to accept that revision never really ends, and you need to be open to it at all stages.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to add any items of wisdom in the comments. Or, just leave a comment and tell me about your experience with your first novel. I want to know!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thanks for sticking around

My blog has been bombarded by spammers recently, none of which get through on comments because Disqus does a decent job of filtering them out for me. Nonetheless, I wondered about the uptick in spam. Is it because my activity on the blog has fallen way behind and posting has become sporadic? My blog traffic is steady, but I think a lot of that is drive-by readers or spammers.

Whatever it is, thank you to everyone who has stuck by me and continues to read my drivel. Having a baby 18 months ago really threw a wrench in my world-domination plans (if the Nemesis reads this, he need not infer that this gives him a leg up in the slightest). Some moms have angel babies who sleep 12 hours a night straight through from day 1, and some, like me, suffer horribly even now.

So, thanks. I have amusing post plans starting Monday.

Have a great fall weekend. And please enjoy the return of my Halloween pumpkin head up there in the header of the blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

This is not the way to tweet

The other day while on Twitter, I noticed a graphics company tweeted to me:

“@sierragodfrey Love your stuff! Hope you'll return the follow and follow us. Need anything done? Call and mention 'twitter' as a thank you!”

Well! I thought. How lovely! What a lovely, lovely tweet! Someone I don’t even know contacting me to tell me they love my design work! How random and sweet—especially since I only just recently thought to set up a company facebook page for my freelance graphic design business (go on, like me), and I even more recently decided to set up a dedicated Twitter account (@sierrafong) for my design business (go on, follow me). I gave myself a huge pat on the back for getting positive response through social media for my business.

Then I looked at it again.

They weren’t tweeting to my design Twitter account, @sierrafong. They’d tweeted to my writer account, the one where I don’t censor anything I say and I tweet back and forth with other writers and authors and publishing folks. They were tweeting to @sierragodfrey, which has been around for years, and which has lots of followers, most of whom are authors trying to up their follower numbers but whatevers (you know those types, they're slick looking and they are promoting a recently published book and you don't know them, but they think because you're a writer following other writers, you'll follow them; note that I am not talking about authors who actually use Twitter for conversation), there are tons and tons of people who I love talking to on this account, my main account, which has over 10,000 tweets because I’m really gabby.

So why were they tweeting to my writer account?

I clicked on their Twitter account (I use Tweetdeck) and lo and behold, all they do—every single tweet that gets sent out—is the same exact one. "Love your stuff! Hope you'll return the follow and follow us. Need anything done? Call and mention 'twitter' as a thank you!"

I tweeted back to them, “But you say that to everyone!”

And although everything they’d done so far suggested they were randomly tweeting to people whose tweets popped up in the Great Stream, or were listed on somewhere, and that all they ever had to say was “Love your stuff! Hope you'll return the follow and follow us. Need anything done? Call and mention 'twitter' as a thank you!” like a big massive tweeting magpie, and although this is the worst of the worst business offenses, and violates the whole point of Twitter for businesses, which is to have meaningful, authentic conversations with your customers, and even though tweeting the same thing to people is smarmy and fake, they replied back almost instantly:

“Only to the friends we were following and thought that to be true. =)”

Aside from the fact that this is complete bullshit, I was floored that some human was actually there. (Well of course there was, someone had to follow everyone they could and tweet the same tweet to them all.) Another check on their stream revealed that when people tweet to them, they actually respond back right away with a “thanks!” or something similar.

All the same, I blocked the bastards. We both knew we weren't "true friends" because they'd never heard of me and I'd never heard of them. And therein lies their mistake.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but when you tweet the same fake things to everyone, regardless of who they are (because it was pretty clear these guys didn’t know about my designer self), no one wants be to be your friend. It absolutely amazes me how many people—especially published authors, who, granted, might be told by their PR people to go blast vomit all over Twitter in the hopes that some people will think they’re being sincere and buy their book—these people are not genuine. And even though you can see right through them every single time, they persist.

For that, I’m thankful. Some spam and nasty marketing is hard to spot and fools lots of people, but fake tweets like that—they’re pretty clear.

So what about you? Have you noticed these fake tweets and what have you done about them?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

5 Things I love right now

When I did a birthday post a few weeks ago on 5 things I'm loving right now, I kind of fell in love with the format. I love a good list. I've been known to create elaborate lists in layout software just so I'll have organized, pretty templates for lists. That's sad. Lists are sublime. You can never go wrong with a list. Sadly, I've just quoted one of my own characters who said that, but lest I turn into one of those people who quotes my own unpublished writing, I've removed the line from the ms...wait, where was I? Right, I like lists. And I therefore love writing lists of 5 things.

It turns out that doing this little exercise of posting 5 things I love isn't that easy--sometimes it's hard to pick out 5 things I'm loving right now. Isn't that pitiful? I could come up with a list of 5 things I can't stand like a snap. So, in the spirit of being happy and positive, even if I have to work at it, I present to you now 5 things I love, a regular (possibly the only) blog feature. (If you missed it, here's the Birthday Edition.)

5 Things I love, October 9 Edition

1. This existential angst cat video. I admit: my snickering turned into guffaws when it got to the butt hair trimming bit.

2. These Clarks boots. I hesitate to even post these because I love them so much and only want them for myself. And I'm not even a shoe-girl. Meaning, I don't own expensive designer shoes nor a massive collection. But like all females, I do possess the genetic marker that is a shoe disposition. Anyway, I need these really, really bad. Look at the heel! Look at that smooth ankle thingy! Really need this boot. It is $90, alas.

3. Author Catherine McKenzie. Just discovered her. Loved her fast, entertaining books. Loved "Arranged." Catherine is a women's fic writer and a Canadian (both pluses in my book) and I'm so happy to have found her books. Her new one, "Forgotten" just came out (or does for the Kindle 10/16) and I can't wait. New fan! Here's her website.

4. Peter Facinelli. This has nothing to do with Twilight. And quite frankly, I'm on Jennie Garth's side.  It sounds like (in the Court of Sierra where I preside and am also the jury) that he did her wrong. I was reading Jennie's story in People (it pains me to admit it but I do, I read People, although "read" is a bit loose as mostly it's just looking at the celeb pics; is this the female equivalent of "reading" Playboy?) and while Jennie is lovely, man that Peter. Hot. Mind you, not when he's blonde, and possibly not when he smiles. I like the dark and broody Peter.  Here's a link to his picture.

5. Trader Joe's Halloween JoJos. Do I even need to explain this? Okay, okay. JoJos are nothing more than Trader Joe versions of Oreo Cookies, but somehow, the packaging for the Halloween JoJos is so charming that I am persuaded instantly of their superior quality and fine ingredients, as opposed to the fake, chemical-laden, pure sugar rot gut that are holiday Oreos. Who could possibly fault these darling little Jack-O-Lantern cookies? And the vintage packaging! Design raptures! Plus, they're quite tasty. I mean, look at these things!

Next week I may post 5 things I don't like (loss of Internet connection is number 1, always), or you know, 5 things about writing that I do. Thing is, you're getting a lot more of these 5 things because I freaking love them.