Reasons and excuses

First a bit apology for not writing for so long, but I hope you enjoyed the interview with author Valerie Hobbs.

So, you might be wondering, why has Day By Day Writer not been writing? Good question, and I have reasons and excuses.

My reasons are:

  • At the beginning of June, my dad had surgery (he’s doing great, thanks for asking) and I went to be with him for the week.
  • The week after I got back, my husband and I visited Austin (three hours drive away) for a couple days as he had a job interview. The day after the interview, he was offered the job and our life got a bit turned over.
  • Cut a long story short, the job is a great opportunity, and within a week after arriving home from my dad’s surgery, I was trying to sort out us moving to Austin.

So, those are my reasons, and as the fellow writers in my writing group told me when I said last week Saturday would be my last meeting, they’re pretty good ones. Sometimes, the rest of our lives do get so busy that it’s tough to make time to write.

But I’ll be honest here, these are also excuses. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t make the time to write — I could have dragged myself out of bed at 4am every morning and still got an hour or so in — but with everything else in my head, I felt too distracted. My story has been on my mind, my characters have been playing around in there, but every time I thought about facing the page, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt that I’d let down those characters, because my mind was more on the packing I had to do, and finding a place to live in Austin. I just didn’t feel creative at all.

The thing is, though, that writers need to write, and now that I’ve been away from my novel for a month, I’m really looking forward to getting back to it. I miss it. I miss my characters and the world they live in.

Sometimes it’s ok to take a break when everything around us gets crazy, but sometimes, when everything else is crazy, that’s when our writing can help us the most.

How do you deal with writing when your life gets a bit too overwhelming?

Write On!

P.S. I’ll write again much sooner this time.

Finding inspiration in writing groups

Manuscript update: Current word count is 13,842. It’s coming along.

A new young adult/middle grade writers group has started up in my area, and I went to my first meeting last Saturday and will definitely be going back.

The second meeting of the new group, Saturday’s was focused on prioritizing techniques so we can all make sure we can get our writing time in with everything else — something true to my heart with this blog. But, I’ll be honest, I almost skipped the meeting because I thought, I’m good with organizing. I’ve carved out my writing time each day. I made the change to stop finding time to write and start making time to write a few years ago. I’m on top of it! (Even if I have been missing a lot of writing lately because of www.discdish.com.)

I went anyway, and I’m so  glad I did.

During the meeting, I learned lots of new ways of keeping my writing on track, one of which I’ve already incorporated: Set an event in your calendar/phone, whatever with an alarm, for the time you need to start writing with a reminder 15 minutes before. (Many thanks to my friend Chantee for this one.) If you want to read more of the techniques we learned, fellow YA/MG meeter Vonna Carter wrote about them.

But the most important thing for me that I took away from that group meeting is a feeling of support. I left feeling energized, and that I’m not alone in my writing. I’ve got all the people in that group in my corner, just like I’m in theirs. I get support from my critique group too, but it’s different. In critique group, we just work on our five pages. In this new group, we work on everything, and doing it with all these wonderful writers, feels great.

And in between the monthly meetings, we can keep in touch for mini inspiration with our Yahoo group.

One of the best parts is that at the end of the meeting, we all set goals to get done before the next meeting. They’ve been recorded so we can’t forget, and we’ll all support each other to get those done throughout the month. How great is that?

If there’s a group like this in your area, I recommend joining. If not, start up one yourself. Ask your local bookstore if you can put up a poster and/or set something up through your local SCBWI group.

Or keep an eye on this blog, and I’ll give you a jolt of inspiration after every one of my meetings.

Got any other writing support tips?

Write On!

P.S. If you’re a fan of HBO’s True Blood, check out the cool Disc Dish contest to win a copy of the True Blood: The Complete Second Season DVD or Blu-ray.

Great writers auction

One of the things I love best about this industry is how people come together to help others.

Earlier today, I posted about some writerly auctions going on to raise money for diabetes research.

Now I’ve got another for you. A bunch of writers have organized an auction to raise funds for flood relief in Nashville. Some great items are up for bidding, including a query critique, 30-minute phone conversation with literary agent Chris Richman and masses of autographed books.

So, get bidding.

Write On!

Researching a new book

Manuscript update: 812 words so far today, including scraping what I did yesterday because it… well… sucked, and redoing it. 🙂

So, I’m starting my new book, and I’ve got the basic idea, the character, the rough layout and the ending. With all that in mind, I jumped in. Eight hundred words in, I started my research.

I know some writers do a lot of research before they begin writing. I’ve heard many people recommend that. But for me, I tend to research as I go, when I feel I need it.

When do you research, all up front or as you write?

Write On!

Writer's voice

Query update: Done! After about 20+ versions of my story pitch, I have one I’m happy with. I’ll start submitting tomorrow. And, then I’m going to start my next book. I know which idea I’m going to move on with, and at the same time, I’m going to start researching one of my other ideas. Fun!

Voice always seems like one of those things that’s so necessary for a writer to have but so elusive for a writer to attain. We always read that agents and editors want a “fresh voice.” But what is that?

After much reading and writing, the best description of voice that I’ve come across is this: The same story can be written a million ways, and your voice is the way YOU tell the story.

Writers get their voice by reading and writing. The more we read, the more what we read is reflected in our writing, and the more write, the more our writing is independent of what we read.

Does that make sense? Early on, we are influenced by the books we read, but the more we write, the more we find our own style.

It’s like painters; they try on the styles of the greats that came before them, and as they learn and grow, they develop their own style of painting. That’s their voice, and it’s the same with writers.

On her Kidlit.com blog, Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole has what I think is a great lesson on developing voice. In her latest Workshop Submission, Mary analyses the opening of a book and says:

The number one reason some writers make it and others don’t is voice.

To help this writer with voice, Mary says:

Voice. Here, we get a lot of dry language. It doesn’t have style to it, or attitude. It doesn’t have emotion running like a current through it. Lots of these words lack energy. They seem like they’d belong in a periodical or in a business memo. How can this story be told with more style and careful word choice?

Mary says a lot more, so click over and check it out.

And when you’re reading through your manuscript, look for your own style, your attitude, the emotion in the story and the words you have chosen to convey that emotion. That will be your voice.

What do you do to develop the voice in your work?

Write On!

Tip to success: Show Up

A friend of mine quoted Woody Allen to me recently: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And I think it’s a perfect quote to inspire writers.

There’s another statistic that only a small percentage of the writers who start writing a novel finish it, and even fewer revise it, and even fewer polish it and query it.

Writing a novel isn’t easy, and writing a good or even great novel is harder. But there’s one thing that’s more necessary than anything else: Writing it. Sitting in your chair and typing in your computer or writing on your notebook. If you don’t write the first word, you can’t write the last.

My first novel took about three years to write. It was before I was writing every day. And in that three years, there were many times that I wondered if I was wasting my time, if the book was any good. But the truth is, it didn’t matter. All that mattered, at first, was that I wrote, word after word, day by day. The day I typed The End for the first time was soooo great.

Kirby Larson talked about something similar at the Austin SCBWI conference, offering writers the advice of “butt in chair,” to do the work and get it done. It’s good advice for all of us. That blank page can be scary, but the important thing is to fill it. The thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad the writing is, because it will all be better after revising.

Here’s my advice: Choose one of these quotes, “butt in chair” or “eighty percent of success is showing up,” write it on a Post It and put it on your bathroom mirror. When you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, read it and make your plan of when you’ll write during the day. And when you’re brushing your teeth at night, read it and either congratulate yourself for writing or make a promise to yourself to do it tomorrow.

Now, where are my Post Its?

How do you keep on track with your writing?

Write On!

What writers can learn from the Olympics

Revision update: On chapter 22 of 30.

I’m taking a pause in my Houston SCBWI conference coverage for a little Olympics wisdom. Check back in tomorrow for National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten.

We all know the Olympics are great for that ‘WOW! People can do that?’ factor. I must admit, I tear up when I see what some of these people do. We enjoy seeing the athletics of these individuals, how they tone and push their bodies to do amazing feats. And we think how great it must be to stand on that podium with a medal around our neck. We live high because of what they can do.

But how can they change our lives? Well, they can’t, but they can teach us some important lessons that can.

perseverance: The U.S. hasn’t beaten Canada in ice hockey since 1960, but the team just overturned that record with a winning 5-3 score. They’ve now gone through Switzerland and will be playing for a chance for a medal.

Writers often don’t hit gold off the bat. Some of the biggest writers went through multiple rejections before their books were published, and many writers weren’t published until after they had written a number of books. perseverance is key.

Passion: Slovenian cross-country skier Petra Majdic broke ribs during training but persevered and won the bronze.

Writing is full of setbacks (although less painful than broken ribs). Sometimes the ideas aren’t flowing, doubt has turned your thoughts negative, or a critique was less positive than you had hoped. For many writers, these can be crippling. There’s a statistic that says that something like only 5% of the people who start writing a book actually finish it, and of those 5% only about 1% continue the work of revising and polishing for submission. (The numbers might be slightly off, so don’t quote me, but it’s something close to this.) Passion is what pushes a writer through the dark times and back into the light.

Practice: As the youngest skaters to ever win a gold medal — at their first Winter Olympics, no less — Canadian figure-skating partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir appear to be an overnight success, but what they make look easy is far from it. Virtue and Moir have been skating together since she was 6 years old.

When we read our favorite books, we might think it was easy for the author, placing just the right word in just the right place to get just the right reaction from the reader. But we don’t see the hours and hours and drafts and drafts that writer went through to get that particular word in that particular place for that particular reader. They say, practice makes perfect, so…

Go for perfection, but enjoy your wins: For skier Bode Miller, being all he can be — being perfect — has been more important than medals, but when he scored a gold during this Winter Olympics, he was more than happy. Nobody’s perfect, but in our writing we should all strive to be as perfect as we can be. And when we reach something good, we should reward ourselves. Give yourself a gold medal next time you write a sentence, paragraph or scene you’re particularly proud of.

Funny, all these are P words. 🙂

What have the Olympics taught you as a writer?

Write On!

Editor Ruta Rimas on what makes a great book

Revision update: On chapter 14 out of 30. I still think I can make my end of February goal.

In my first post about the Houston SCBWI conference, I’m featuring some tips from Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas. Energetic, knowledgeable and obviously passionate about books, Ruta advised authors to read books by the authors they love both for pleasure and craft.

She gave a some examples of books she thought were worth reading:

Ruta also recommended Francine Prose‘s Reading Like a Writer and quoted the book as telling writers to put “every word on trial for its life.” I love that!

To do that, Ruta told writers to look at their work in progress and:

  • choose a section and look at the words. What words stick out? How do the words support the theme of the story? Do any words stick out as inappropriate? Why?
  • choose a favorite sentence or series of sentences and ask yourself why you love it (them). How does it (they) inform the reader of who the narrator or character is? What does the sentence structure do?
  • choose a sentence you don’t like and ask yourself why you don’t like it.
  • choose 3-6 paragraphs and look at how they break. What if you break them differently, how will that affect the tension or flow?
  • choose a scene and try rewriting it in a different voice, different perspective, different tense or another character’s point of view. What would the scene be like if the character was different emotionally, i.e. angry, upset, cynical?

Ruta ended with a great quote from novelist John Gardner:

It’s the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer.

So, Write On!

Check back tomorrow for notes from author and Scholastic editor Lisa Ann Sandell.

Revising on paper or computer

Revision update: I buckled down yesterday and jumped in. More today.

I’m a computer hound. I have a laptop, and it’s like my good and trusty friend. It’s always with me. If I go on a trip, the computer is packed. When I went to the Austin SCBWI conference a few weeks ago, I stayed overnight with some friends and took my computer just in case. I didn’t end up using it, but I felt better knowing it was there.

My love for my computer isn’t because it’s a portal to the Internet. I’ve never been one to spend hours on Facebook or watching videos on YouTube (although, I do occasionally catch up with TV shows on Hulu). To me, my computer is my writing tool, and that’s why I love it — and feel lost without it.

So, when it’s time to revise my manuscripts — like I’m doing now — I find it hard, unnatural even to work on paper. I start on paper, but I usually end up getting back on the computer long before I’ve gotten to the end of my printed manuscript.

But working with paper on a revision has it’s benefits:

  • It allows you to see your work in a different way, as a reader instead of a writer.
  • It’s easier to make notes in the margins without doing actual changes.
  • Making notes instead of actual changes, allows you to think about the issue twice, once on the paper and again when you go back to your computer to input the revisions.

Still, for me, working with paper is hard. I wrote a blog post about this same subject last year, and although I stand by what I said then and say now, I always want to jump back onto the computer. That’s why I was amazed when author Lisa Graff, at the Austin SCBWI conference, said her revising strategy is:

  1. go through the manuscript on paper
  2. open a new Word document and retype the whole manuscript with changes
  3. print and repeat until she’s satisfied.

It works for her, and ultimately, every writer is different and must find what works for them — but, if you don’t try other things, how will you know whether it works for you? Of course, Lisa was an editor for five years too, so she knows a thing or two about revising. Maybe there’s something in this paper revising after all.

What about you? Do you prefer working with paper or computer when revising or writing your first draft?

Write On!

Answers to your questions about ghostwriting

Author Laura Cross

Laura Cross

Today, I’m pleased to host Laura Cross, author of many ghostwritten books as well as her new Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to Become Successfully Published. In January, you posted great questions about ghostwriting (Thanks everyone!), and Laura has some eye-opening answers.

Before we get to them, though, we have a winner for the PDF copy of Laura’s Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent book. The winning question came from Suzanne Pitner. Congratulations, Suzanne! Laura will be emailing you your prize. Enjoy!

And now on to the questions and answers:

DayByDayWriter: How much ghostwriting is done in publishing?

Laura Cross: It’s estimated that more than 80% of published books are ghostwritten.

Karen Strong: I was once approached by a company who wanted me to do some ghostwriting for them, but I wasn’t sure about how much to charge. What is the going rate and what should a writer beginning in ghostwriting charge for their work?

Cover of The Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent bookLaura: Book ghostwriting fees range from $10,000 to $100,00 per project — $10,000 being the very low end and $100,000 usually paid to more established writers (“celebrity” ghostwriters earn $250,000+ per book). Many ghostwriters determine their rates based on how much they can command per hour (based on experience, portfolio and demand for their services). Once you determine your hourly rate, you can translate that fee into a per page rate, a per word rate, or a per book rate (based on how much time it will take to research, organize, outline, write, edit and revise a project.)

So how do you calculate the time needed for a project? Some writers can write one standard manuscript page in 30 minutes, others require three hours. Some can conduct research and organize a project on the topic of neurosurgery in 80 hours, while others need five months. You need to be aware of your own skills and strengths. Over time, you will have a good understanding of how much time is required for any given project. For instance, I know that for most 200-page prescriptive non-fiction books on the topic of business or finance, I require (remember, each writer’s requirements will be different) about 275 hours of time (around 60 hours of research, organization and outlining time, one hour of writing time per page, and one hour of editing/revising time per 15 pages).

Suzanne Pitner: How does a writer get a ghostwriting gig if he or she doesn’t have a published book yet? Are other writing credits enough to land a job?

Laura: I ghosted more than 30 books before my first “credited” book was published. You don’t need to have a book published under your own name to become a ghostwriter. Create a portfolio based on your magazine and newspaper articles. If you have not yet been published, collect your blog posts and expand them into full articles or book chapters, or use excerpts from your unpublished manuscripts. Define your specialty (business, health/fitness, memoir, etc.) and market specifically to those clients.

Anita Nolan: I’d like to know how to actually get a ghostwriting or work for hire job. I’ve actually done some work for hire, written for a magazine, edited a couple magazines, etc., but I don’t seem to be able to break through. (The WFH work I’ve done has come to me through friends of friends.) I apply for jobs, hear back that they’ll keep my info on file, but never hear anything more. What is the correct way to approach ghostwriting/WFH publishers, and what are the best ways/places to find out about this type of work?

Laura: I’m not sure what you mean by “ghostwriting publishers”? Most traditional publishers and imprints release books written by ghostwriters, though these publishers don’t often hire the ghostwriter directly. Some subsidiary publishers — who market themselves as “self-publishers” — and vanity presses (such as Authors House) offer ghostwriting services to their customers and keep a list of ghostwriters on file to hire on a per project basis. Approaching these types of publishers is not the best route for establishing a successful ghostwriting career or making a decent living — and is not a path I would recommend.

Most of your best ghostwriting projects will be referrals from literary agents working with experts or celebrities who lack the necessary writing skills to produce a compelling book. If you’re looking for quality, well-paying ghostwriting opportunities you need to connect with literary agents. (You can download a free chapter on “Finding and Selecting an Agent” from my book The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent at www.GetALiteraryAgent.com.) As a ghostwriter, you approach a literary agent just the same way any other aspiring author does.

Donna Maloy: I am assuming that most ghostwriters are paid a flat fee and therefore don’t have a claim on future royalties. But do ghostwriting contracts reserve any future rights at all — say after the acknowledged author passes away?

Laura: All contracts are negotiable, but with a standard ghostwriting agreement, you do not receive any credit or rights — one reason it’s important to be paid well upfront for your writing services.

Wendy Sue Rupnow: How do I try to get credit for ghostwriting and freelance copy and research on a resume? I was recently rejected because some of my freelance could not be verified. Also, I have attached copies of ghostwriting with applications and a few times was questioned… with authorship. Is this something people try to pull?

Laura: Never, ever disclose you are a ghostwriter on a project. It is unethical, and in most cases you put yourself at great risk for a lawsuit and a diminished reputation. Who is going to hire a ghostwriter who doesn’t stay hidden? If a potential client does not understand that you cannot disclose specific information, then you don’t want to work with that client — it’s never worth the risk. If the client is looking to hire a ghostwriter, he is going to have the same “issue” with EVERY ghostwriter he interviews, because no professional ghostwriter can (nor will) reveal authorship. If a potential client is questioning whether you actually wrote the writing you presented, then he’s questioning your integrity and you’re only going to have trust issues with the client throughout the project. Who wants to deal with that? You choose your clients as much as they choose you, and in this case I would say, “Run the other way… there’s many more choices out there.”  Respect yourself and know your worth — you’ll attract clients who feel the same about you.

Back to the portfolio question. For portfolio samples, you want to be very careful when using ghostwritten material due to non-disclosure agreements. My contracts specify that I may use up to five pages of ghostwritten content for portfolio purposes, without identifying the “author” or book title. You can also create a list of projects you have ghostwritten identified by topic and type of client — for example, “A how-to entrepreneurial book for a prominent business leader”, “A motivational self-help book for a respected psychiatrist”, “A loyalty-marketing book for the CEO of an Internet company.” Put together a client testimonial sheet to submit along with your samples.

Marion Steiger: How should I go about getting a good ghostwriter to help me finish a non-fiction book based on my daughter’s diaries when she was 14 and had cancer? I’m adding sections throughout the diary on thoughts from our family members and our experiences, so it will be a book for young adults and for adults also.

Laura: Hiring a good ghostwriter can be extremely expensive. My question to you is: what is your goal for the book? If you are planning to acquire a literary agent and attract a traditional publisher, then, in order to have the best chance at landing a book deal, you may need to hire a ghostwriter. If you are planning to set up your own publishing company and release the book yourself, then you may wish to consider completing the content and hiring a good developmental and line editor to polish the material — this path will help you save tens of thousands of dollars.

(Side note: I recommend this route because Marion is writing a narrative non-fiction manuscript. For anyone contemplating writing prescriptive non-fiction, a ghostwriter is not hired until after you’ve landed a book deal from your book proposal and received an advance from the publisher, which allows you to then hire a ghostwriter. Many of my clients hire me to ghostwrite their initial book proposals and then the full manuscript once they have a publishing contract.)

You can find qualified memoir ghostwriters through 2M Communications Ltd. and The Penn Group. I am not an advocate of “bidding” sites for finding quality writers. Yes, you can definitely find exceptional writers on these sites (I’ve found some great clients there myself), but the overwhelming majority of “writers” on bidding sites are utterly inept.

Liz Maxwell: How do you say a polite ‘no’ when someone asks you to ghostwrite for them?

Laura: Well, that depends on why you want to say “no”  — are you saying “no” to ghostwriting or “no” to the specific project? If you’re not a ghostwriter and simply have no interest in ghostwriting someone’s book, you can just tell them you’re not a ghostwriter and that the process does not appeal to you. If you are a ghostwriter but have no interest in the particular project, be honest and tell the client, “I don’t believe I am the right fit for your book.” To create a successful book, the client-ghostwriter relationship needs to be right for both parties.

Ivette Ebaen: Whether the work is fiction or non-fiction, how creative is a ghostwriting job since you have to work within a given structure, genre, style — another writer’s work?

Laura: Ghostwriting is a business – I don’t necessarily consider it a creative job, though there are creative aspects. To stay balanced and keep my sanity while working on ghostwriting projects, I try to include time for more creative personal writing projects. When you’re ghostwriting non-fiction books, generally, your clients are not other writers — they’re usually business leaders, entrepreneurs, or experts who lack the skill to craft a compelling book (that’s why they need you). When you move into fiction territory, you encounter a few author-clients. Obviously, narrative non-fiction and fiction ghostwriting are more naturally “creative” than prescriptive non-fiction writing because you’re creating scenes, and dialogue, and turning points, and crisis, and resolution — but at all times, your goal is to remain true to the client’s “voice” and idea. The job of all ghostwriters is to capture the client’s “voice” and effectively get it on paper (especially if you’re ghostwriting a book for an established best-selling fiction author).

DayByDayWriter: Wow! Great information, Laura. I had no idea such a high percentage of books are ghostwritten. And the pay does sound enticing. Anything else you’d like to add?

Laura: I’d just like to say thank you so much for having me. And thanks to your readers for all the great questions. I hope I’ve been able to offer some insights into the world of ghostwriting for writers who are looking to break into the field, and for those who are considering working with a ghostwriter on their projects.

DayByDayWriter: Thank you, Laura.

If you have other questions for Laura, please post them in the comments. You can also find out more about Laura below:

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Laura Cross is an author, screenwriter, ghostwriter, freelance book editor, and writing coach specializing in nonfiction books and script adaptation (book-to-film projects). She writes two popular blogs, www.NonfictionInk.com and www.AboutAScreenplay.com, and teaches online writing workshops www.ScenarioWritingStudio.com/workshops. Her latest book is The Complete Guide To Hiring A Literary Agent: Everything You Need To Know To Become Successfully Published. You can download a free chapter, view the book trailer, read the full table of contents, and purchase the eBook at www.GetALiteraryAgent.com.