Featured From the Archives: How to Fix a Morphing Voice

Lately, my blog seems to feature nothing but publishing/editing related topics and the occasional book review. That’s largely because those are the dominant activities in my life — editing and reading. But behind the scenes, I’m still working on my own writing, still hoping to someday be a published author in my own right. I’ll be doing some posts soon about the process I’ve been going through in my attempt to fix my nemesis WIP, but this seemed like an appropriate one to feature today, given that I’m still dealing with the same problem. Only now, instead of choosing Option 1, as I mention at the bottom of the post, I’m definitely doing Option 2.

Anyway, here you go, three strategies for how to deal with the curse of taking too damn long to write something. Enjoy!

 

How to Fix a Morphing Voice

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/7/13

After last week’s motivating tirade of snark, I found myself perusing Unmoving, trying to get reacquainted with the characters and plot.  I know, re-reading while in the drafting phase is a cardinal sin. But I had to, because (and this is going to horrify a lot of you) it’s been about 7 months since I last looked at the darn thing! And with a bazillion plot bunnies constantly distracting my muse like an ADD dog in a field of squirrels, I wasn’t feeling particularly confident that I remembered where I was going with poor Derek. I’d cruelly left him stuck on his park bench, and trust me, he’s quite pissed about it.

But anyway, I was reading — okay, skimming; I do know the story better than that — along, everything was going well, I was getting inspired, the muse focusing, and then Bam! Derek’s voice shifted, and not in that it’s-just-this-scene kind of way. No, it shifted in the I-took-too-damn-long-to-write-this-and-now-I’m-a-different-writer kind of way. And I realized I had forgotten the biggest reason why you should never be a slow writer like me — the morphing voice.

When it takes you an eon to write a novel, you’ll run into this problem. (And yes, that makes Reason #382 why you don’t want to be me, in case you were counting.) Growth is an inevitable part of the process, just as it is in life. Creative influences will come and go, creeping into your style and changing it without your permission. Your perspective on things will change, and suddenly your character does a complete one-eighty in their personality. Or you simply improve, because, as they say, practice makes perfect. Regardless of why it happens, when you take too long on a project, you’re bound to find yourself staring down the barrel of the morphing voice. And that’s a blow to your manuscript editors won’t forgive. So how do you fix it? Well, that’s the tricky part.

The way I see it, you have three options.

Option 1: Edit and Hope it Works

This seems like the logical choice, right? You’ll have to edit anyway, so why not just shrug it off and deal with it later. But that’s not actually a good plan. Depending on how dramatic the shift is, trying to edit it into submission can turn into a giant pit of tar you’ll never escape from.

Chances are good the problem lies in the beginning of your story. And the thing about editing is that it’s like throwing a pebble into a pool of standing water. Even minor tweaks can create disastrous ripples, impacting the entire manuscript and obliterating the later parts in a tidal wave of mess. It can be done, but only if you possess an editor’s eye for structural inconsistencies and can accurately assess exactly where the voice distorts and why. Or, alternatively, you could bribe an editor with those skills to help you out. I suggest a large plate of brownies. Or money. Money works too. The point is, it takes a valiant effort on the part of the editor (whether that be you or the poor soul you lured in with the promise of chocolate) to save a story from a shifting voice. And even then, the result is likely to be stilted, rocky, and forced. Which is why I would probably go with Option 2.

Option 2: Rewrite

Ah, rewrite. Every writer’s most hated nemesis. (Except me, but I’m weird. We established that a long time ago.) In this scenario, though, it’s actually your best friend. Unlike editing, where you can tweak and twist and try your darnedest to force your manuscript and characters into submission, rewriting provides a clean slate. Okay, a partially clean slate.

In this strategy, you actually start over with a blank page, using the original work as a template. The key is to hold on to the scene itself, not the words. By picturing the scene and divorcing your words, you can try again to capture it in your new, improved writer-voice. Instead of ending up with the strange, forced sound that editing alone gives you, you end up with an organic, natural-feeling version that should coincide perfectly with the later parts of the story. Sounds like the perfect solution, no?

The problem is that many writers are unable to step away from that original version. Maybe it was particularly painful to do the first time, or they just can’t kill their darlings. Whatever the reason, they dig their heels in and resist. Personally, I have no problem saying “See ya!” to a section and starting over, but I can understand why it would be hard for others. Rewriting like this requires a blind leap of faith. You’re trusting yourself to recapture the scene in a different way; trusting that it will be better than the original, that it will convey the same message in a shinier package. And that kind of self-belief can be hard.

There’s no doubt that this approach is the most difficult, both in what’s required and in the amount of work involved. But I believe it’s usually the best option. Once you get over the fear, rewriting can become a freeing experience, and you might even be surprised at how much stronger the scene is the second time around.

But, for those unconvinced cynics out there, there is a third option.

Option 3: Scrap the Whole Thing and Walk Away

Hey, I didn’t say you would like it! 😉

If editing has made your manuscript a bigger mess than when you started, if the idea of rewriting has you screaming in horror and feels like an Everest-sized task you’d rather die than tackle, then you’re really only left with one choice: scrap it and walk away. Brutal, yes, but what else can you do?

Chalk it up to a learning experience, hide away the embarrassing evidence in a drawer somewhere, and move on. It doesn’t mean you failed. It just means that maybe that wasn’t the project you were meant to complete. It was a practice run, a chance to stretch your literary wings. And now you can fly with the next one.

See? It’s not all bad and dreary. In fact, I bet all of us have at least one half-finished manuscript lurking around somewhere that already serves this purpose. It’s okay to have more than one. They can be buddies, then.

As for me and my conundrum with Unmoving, I’ll be choosing Option 1. Usually I go with 2, but in this case, I think I can salvage it. At least, I seriously hope so. I shudder to think how long it would take me to complete it if I had to start over. At that point, I might just chuck it at the wall (or a blazing fire) and go with Option 3. There are plenty more plot bunnies where that one came from. But I don’t think it will come to that. Will it, Derek? *sends a pointed glance at the stack of pages on the desk*

Obviously, the best fix for a morphing voice is not to end up facing it in the first place. But I’m curious, have you had to deal with this issue? How did you fix it? Share your strategies in the comments below.

The Types and Importance of Queries

Scattered Books Photo

Queries. Pitches. Synopses. Three words that strike fear into every author’s heart. And rightfully so — selling your book to an agent or editor depends on your ability to encapsulate your story’s heart into a few simple sentences. For most people, that’s a nearly impossible challenge. But perhaps if we look at why this practice is necessary, it will help you understand how to do it. So, I’m going to show you what I look for in a query. Keep in mind that these are solely my opinions, and other agents or editors may look for something else, but if you plan to follow along with #REUTSsubs in the near future (I’m currently working on resurrecting that feature), this will give you a glimpse at the thought process behind my decisions.

Let’s start by looking at the three potential ways you go about introducing your work to an agent or editor. They are:

  1. The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis
  2. Pitching in Person
  3. Elevator Pitches on Social Media

All three serve the same purpose — hooking your audience into asking for more. That’s a phrase I’m sure you’ve all heard thrown around in writing seminars, but what does it actually mean? In essence, it means you break through someone’s focus enough to grab their full, complete attention and get them to react. In other words, it’s a sales tactic.

Now, I know many of you just groaned. Sales is about as far from writing and creativity as you can possibly get. But the truth is, publishing is a business. There are bottom lines to be met, production costs to worry about, returns on investments that have to happen, etc. So when you send in a proposal (which, let’s face it, is what these things really are — sales proposals), what you’re really doing is arguing why we should become your business partner for this venture. And you’d darn well better be convincing. Don’t you think?

So, how do you achieve that? What makes a sales proposal appealing to the potential buyer? How do you turn indifference into “OMG, yes, I must read this”? Well, I look for a couple of key ingredients:

  • Interesting concept and premise
  • Unique attributes
  • Market potential

That’s it. Every time. Seriously.

Whenever I’m reviewing a pitch/query/etc, I ask myself the same three questions:

“Does this make me excited as a reader?” (This is more of a visceral reaction than a true question. Basically, I’m looking for that internal pique of interest, that “oooooo” factor.)

“What makes it different from everything else in its genre?” (The more specific the better on this front. Diverse cast? Unique twist or angle on the familiar? New setting?)

“What is it similar to/where would I put it on a shelf?” (This is ultimately the most important because it tells me A: where it fits within the REUTS catalog, and B: where it fits in the larger market and who its readership might be.)

All right, now let’s look at how you apply that insight, shall we? Because each type of pitch listed above is a slightly different opportunity to sell your work, and you shouldn’t use the same blanket strategy for each.

The Traditional Query Letter & Synopsis

First off, a query is not a synopsis and vice versa. They’re two separate entities used to achieve the same goal, but one is the lead singer, and the other is the band. You need both, but they serve completely different roles in the process.

Your query letter should be no more than 3-5 paragraphs, and its sole job is to pique the reader’s interest. It has to fit that criteria I listed above. It needs to give just enough information for me to tell whether or not it could be a fit for REUTS. So focus only on the most important aspects — the conflict and stakes that drive your story, sprinkled with a little info on the world/character and just a hint of what makes your manuscript different from the rest. Give me the heart of the tale; I don’t care about the rest yet.

Other things I need to know are genre, target audience, and comp titles (comparable books that might bear similarity to yours). Genre tells me where it fits in the bookstore and who it might appeal to, target audience tells me who I’m going to get to read it, and comp titles give me an instant snapshot of what to expect in terms of feel/tone/theme/style, etc. (One caveat on choosing comp titles: aim for ones that aren’t genre heavy-hitters, but that are prominent enough I’m likely to have heard of them. Also, the more unique the mash-up, the quicker I’ll be able to pin-point my expectations as reader.)

And that’s it. 3-4 paragraphs should easily be enough room to capture all of that, once you isolate the key things an agent/editor looks for. Your final paragraph should be about you, what you bring to the table in terms of experience, etc. Honestly though, most of the time, we kind of skim that info. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to us, just that more weight is placed on the content of the story than your particular pedigree.

IF you’ve achieved your goal and hooked my interest, I’ll dive right into the sample pages (because a great pitch does not always mean great execution), and if those pass the quality test, I’ll check out the synopsis. A synopsis is a glorified outline. It tells me the highlights of your story in 1-3 pages. It should capture the emotions, the main conflicts, some of the character motivations, and the entire narrative arc. The details of your world, sub-plots, supporting cast, etc, aren’t as important; the structure of your overall story is.

Manage to hold my interest through all of that, and guess what? You’ve just earned a full manuscript request. (I’m pretty sure this is the process most agents/editors go through, but some of the particulars may vary a little.)

Pitching in Person

Ah, now, this is a whole different game — one part speed dating, one part American Idol audition, all rolled into a giant ball of anxiety for everyone involved. But it’s a very viable option if you have the chance. Out of 55 total pitches I heard at the Willamette Writers Conference last summer, I requested samples (and even some fulls!) of 48 manuscripts. The idea behind this is much the same as the process above, except you only have 4-10 minutes, if you’re lucky, and have to talk to an actual person. Terrifying stuff, for sure.

So what’s the key in this scenario? Be a human. Don’t stiffly recite your memorized query letter while you stare at the table. Engage with us! Take that query you wrote above and hone it even more. In a 10 minute pitch session, your pitch should take up no more than 2-3 minutes, max. Give us the bare bones, the core of your story, and then let us come to you. Think of it like baiting a wild animal; you don’t give away the whole dinner up front, you toss out some crumbs and lure us into the trap. Or, in other, less poetic words, give us time to ask questions.

A face-to-face pitch session should feel more like a conversation, and every agent/editor will hone in on something different. So leave yourself room to answer those questions. If you don’t, and you babble through all 10 minutes, you might end up not getting a request at all. Because that tidbit in the middle that you glossed over? Yeah, that was the one thing that agent/editor was looking for, and you didn’t give them time to find that out.

Your mission in an in-person pitch is simply to get that business card (See? American Idol golden ticket, right?) and a request to see more. That’s it. You’re not going to be signed on the spot, and you’re not going to give us your entire book on a silver platter. It’s simply the first step to a longer conversation.

Elevator Pitches on Social Media

Have you guessed the reason behind this order yet? It’s because they get progressively shorter and shorter. Much like pitching in person, an elevator pitch on social media should comprise the basics of your story. It should only contain the hook, the thing that is most likely to get people to stop and say “ooo, that sounds good.” You have 140 characters, so every letter has to count. Which is why you really only want two things (aside from genre/audience): the stakes/conflict, and what makes your story different. Again, you’re not trying to cram your whole book into 140 characters; that’s madness. You’re only trying to get us to want more. Which is why including that unique-factor is crucial.

To win this round, all you have to do is get a favorite from one of the stalking agents/editors, which then results in a submission of what? The first type of pitch: a traditional query letter and synopsis. It all comes back around to create a massive circle of Submission Hell.

But there you have it, a breakdown of both why pitching is necessary and my particular thought process for evaluating them. I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this article originally appeared on the REUTS Publications blog, and I have syndicated it here for a couple reasons. One, I realized I have yet to actually talk about queries over here, and I hate trying to rewrite something I’ve already written. And two, I wanted to bring that blog to your attention, in case you didn’t know we had one. As the Acquisitions and Editorial Director for REUTS, it’s my sometimes job to add helpful articles and info over there too, specifically in regards to a post series titled Adventures in the Slush Pile, which will showcase the query/response process in real time. So if you’re a fan of #tenqueries on Twitter, that might be something you’re interested in. And if not, then don’t worry. I’ll syndicate some of the more helpful articles here as well, when time and permissions allow.

Until next week, happy pitching! 😉

Featured From the Archives: Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

All right, I know I promised that we’d be returning to the info-filled posts of yore, but after a week of battling a heat-induced sinus-migraine, I’m a bit lacking in the spare brain cells department. Plus, I’ve done a lot of serious posts over the past months/years, and when I look back through the archives, I realize just how much I miss the more lighthearted, humorous ones. So hopefully I can bring back some of the snark I used to possess, which seems to have fallen into the same elusive black hole as my artistic skills and the socks stolen by the Dryer Gnomes. In the meantime though, this is the perfect post to help inspire some humor.

Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

by Kisa Whipkey

Originally Posted on 6/15/12

By now I’m sure you’ve gleaned that sarcasm and I are BFFs. And if you haven’t, let me spell it out for you: sarcasm and I are BFFs. There, don’t you feel enlightened?😉

But while I’m a huge fan of the cleverly timed sarcastic quip, not everyone is. Some people fail to see the humor in wittily worded insults and beautifully snide observations. (There must be something wrong with them. Who doesn’t love some clever, snarky banter?) Just like I fail to see the humor in Slap-Stick, Blunder, or Practical Jokes. (Which no one will ever convince me are anything but dumb and ridiculous.) I mean, really, why is it hysterical when some moron hits himself in the groin? Or falls over trying something that’s obviously going to end with a concussion and broken bones? Or farts. Seriously, just farts. Comedic genius? I think not.

I was often told growing up that I didn’t have a sense of humor. But as I got older, I realized that, no, I just didn’t have their sense of humor. But that didn’t mean I was/am completely devoid of appreciation for all things humorous. I’m just particular about it. Which brings us to the point of this week’s rather short installment.

Humor is subjective.

And I don’t believe that any one type of humor is better than another. Really, I don’t, I swear! (She says with fingers crossed behind her back.) The important thing is that something makes you laugh. And for better or for worse, sarcasm (along with irony and satire), is what does it for me.

Why is it the perfect mate for my breed of humor? I’m not really sure. Maybe I was hard-wired that way. Maybe it’s a by-product of growing up on shows like Friends and Seinfeld (which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I still watch daily on re-run). Maybe it’s because it lets me be a snarky ass and get away with it, earning me approval points instead of derision. Or maybe it’s because I just can’t resist pointing out when someone does something painfully obvious and stupid.

But most probably it’s because, in my eyes, sarcasm requires the most intelligence to pull off. And I find intelligence on anyone sexy. To me, it doesn’t seem like it would require much straining of the brain to conjure up jokes revolving around disgusting bodily functions, or to create ridiculous scenarios the audience can see coming a mile away. And don’t even get me started on the number of beyond-stupid things people post on Youtube — a phenomena I have yet to be overly amused by, but that will entertain my husband for hours upon days upon weeks. Half the time, when he shows me a montage of some idiot doing things even idiots should know better than to try, he’s met with a dead-pan stare and raised eyebrow that says, “Why? Why would you waste my time with that?” I just don’t get it. Sorry. But billions of people do, apparently. Hence the long-standing success of America’s Funniest Home Videos, a show whose sole purpose is to crown the royalty of morons with $10,000 for their stupidity. Just saying.

As a writer, I have a fine sense of appreciation for the brilliant usage of words. Which, in the humor department, usually stands hand in hand with sarcasm. I like it because it’s subtle. It doesn’t stand in the room with a neon sign flashing over it’s head, screaming, “laugh now!” It’s simply a statement of the obvious. A twisted and bitter version perhaps, but still. It’s put out there and just is. You either find it funny, or you don’t. The validity of the statement isn’t void if no one finds it funny. It makes the person who said it seem like a pretentious d-bag, but the observation still stands. Case in point, I’m sure those of you that adore videos of people doing stupid things would agree that I now sound like a judgmental jerk.

But fear not, the beauty of humor is that it can often be combined, appealing to several comedic preferences at once.

Below is one of the few videos I’ve found (okay, had force-fed to me because I rarely ever hang out on Youtube) that combines both idiocy and sarcasm, and does it well. Copyright belongs to the brilliant minds of Break Originals, and I make no claims to it. I just thoroughly enjoy it and am not ashamed to say I still laugh every time I watch it. Making it the perfect way to close a post about humor. Enjoy!

Warning: Contains heavy sarcasm, people being injured, and country music. And I’m pretty sure a few exercise balls were harmed in the making of this video.

From the Editor’s Desk: Ghosts by J.M. Frey

Welcome to the resurrected Book Review Wednesday! I have a whole slew of amazing books to review and share with you all, so rather than detract from the content I know many of you have been missing (the articles on publishing/editing/writing), I decided to add a posting day. Or, rather, to resuscitate one. So Friday will be returning to the snark-filled, sometimes-helpful articles you’ve all grown to love over the years, and Wednesday will be reserved for sharing book information, should I happen to have something to share. Sound good? Good.

Today’s offering is the newest release from J.M. Frey. Some of you may remember my review for the first book in this series, The Untold Tale, from a few months ago. Well, this is the next installment, a prequel novella that’s nothing short of fantastic.

Ghosts

by J.M. Frey

Ghosts

For seventeen years, Bevel Dom has been the author of his own story. Or, rather, he’s been the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn, the illustrated scrolls chronicling his adventures as first the squire, then the colleague, and then finally the friend of legendary hero Kintyre Turn. But there are some stories that Bevel doesn’t write down, doesn’t tell to eager audiences of bright-eyed boys and sighing bar wenches in taverns. Some he simply folds into his heart and keeps. This is one of those tales.

In this prequel novella, fans of The Accidental Turn Series are offered a glimpse into the lives of Bevel Dom and Kintyre Turn shortly before their arrival at Turn Hall and the events that follow, further expanding upon the world and characters seen in The Untold Tale and the the upcoming sequel, The Forgotten Tale, coming Summer 2016.

First, let me just say that I adore Frey’s work. Not only is it intelligent, inclusive, and well-written, it’s also a refreshingly solid addition to the fantasy genre and a heck of a lot of fun. It’s the perfect example of fantasy written for modern times, with all the charm and appeal of its predecessors, and none of the staleness. And as a long-time fan of the fantasy genre, that trait alone is highly appealing.

But I think the thing that truly sets Frey’s work apart is the depth of emotional resonance she manages to pack into everything, be it novel or short story — or, in this case, novella. Written in the same fluid, yet classic-feeling style as the rest of the series, Ghosts gives readers a look into the inner mind of one Bevel Dom, sidekick to the infamous Kintyre Turn. Happening just before the events of The Untold Tale, Ghosts lays the groundwork for one of the novel’s “twists,” and expands upon the richly textured world of the series as a whole.

Bevel’s voice sings off the page with lively (and sometimes crass) wit, a stark contrast to the more refined notes Frey gave us in Forsyth, and the ensuing shenanigans paint a layer of the ridiculous over what is actually a rather heart-wrenching tale. Those who have read the novel will find the insight into the lives of Forsyth’s heroic brother and his lesser-known squire to be a satisfying extension of the arc seen in The Untold Tale. But you don’t have to read the novel to enjoy this small taste of the series. It can most definitely be read as a standalone, and I highly recommend that anyone looking for a new voice in fantasy give this novella a try. It packs a lot of punch for little investment and will introduce you to what is potentially one of the best new fantasy series out there. And I don’t just say that because I happened to have the honor of editing it, I truly believe that Frey’s work is not to be missed.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble

 

Book Feature: Princess of Tyrone by Katie Hamstead

From the moment I heard about this series, I was excited. It’s got all the makings of something I’m going to truly love — fairy tales, science fiction, and an author whose work I know I already adore. Ready to see more about it? Here you go!

Princess of Tyrone Book Cover

Apolline is happy hunting magical creatures on her pirate infested outer-perimeter planet. She is a fantastic shot, and doesn’t flinch at the blood and guts of her kills. Never once did she consider she could be the missing Princess of Tyrone.

All her life, she has heard the story of the Princess, cursed to sleep for eternity, unless her betrothed, the Prince of Oran, gave her true love’s kiss. Although Apolline knows she is betrothed, she thinks her fairy guardians arranged it out of ignorance of human ways. The thought she could be a princess is inconceivable.

Then Allard appears. Handsome, charming—but he’s not hers to have. He’s betrothed, too. Her guardians warn her against her new found friendship, but she and Allard meet in secret anyway. Despite her rough exterior, he sees beyond her gun-slinging bravado, and their love blossoms.

But the deadline for the sleeping curse is approaching. If Apolline falls in love with the wrong person, she could end up sleeping forever.

A quirky, adventurous retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a less than princess-ly princess!

Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was supposed to give you my thoughts on it today, but unfortunately, life has prevented me from reading it enough to provide a proper review. However, if there’s one thing I know about Hamstead’s work, it’s that I’m sure to enjoy it. I’m exceedingly excited to see what she does with this unconventional twist on a fairy tale we all know and love, and I’ll be sure to post the full review when I’m done. In the meantime, here’s one of the pretty teaser graphics to entice you and the link to the giveaway celebrating the book’s release (below).

Be sure to check it out!

pot3

About the Author:

katie hamsteadBorn and raised in Australia, Katie’s early years of day dreaming in the “bush”, and having her father tell her wild bedtime stories, inspired her passion for writing.

After graduating High School, she became a foreign exchange student where she met a young man who several years later she married. Now she lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter and their dog.

She has a diploma in travel and tourism which helps inspire her writing.

When her debut novel, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, climbed into bestselling status, she believed she was onto something, and now has a slew of novels now available, and is published through Curiosity Quills Press, Soul Mate Publishing, and REUTS Publications.

Katie loves to out sing her friends and family, play sports, and be a good wife and mother. She now works as an Acquisitions Editor to help support her family. She loves to write, and takes the few spare moments in her day to work on her novels.

Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Rafflecopter Giveaway