by Liz Winks
And just like that, my fellow classmates and all those participating in this novel writing adventure, the semester end is upon us. It’s finals week and luckily, at least for me, it will probably be the least busy week of the entire semester. And we all know what that means: I’ll be able to sit down and have loads of time to continue working on my novel.
Just because the class is over doesn’t mean that our novels reach the end of their existence, too.
Oh no, just the opposite.
This week in class we discussed the Publishing Process: one of the goals all writers strive to achieve. And a broad, whole new side of the publishing world was revealed to all of us. In order to achieve any sort of publishing, be it with a big company or self-published, you have to follow one simple rule:
In class, we submitted our query letters and ten page partials to three faux agents we believed would hopefully want to request the full manuscript and then take us on as clients. After turning them in and commencing the waiting game, we discussed the world of publishing and the different facets to it (which, don’t worry, I’ll reveal to you all as well). During our last class of the week and semester, we did a “slush pile” activity before getting our results from the faux agents.
This week, we participated in two learning activities: submitting and receiving feedback from faux agents and a “slush pile” activity.
The faux agents were graduate students in Cathy’s fiction workshop. They created a real-seeming profile (including a photo, bio, list of clients, list of desired genres, etc.) that they based on real literary agent profiles commonly seen on websites or in a guide to literary agents. Agent Profiles 612 F13.
Submitting to the faux agents was very honestly nerve wracking. I don’t know how many times I read over my partial to make sure it was as perfect as I could make it—and then I still felt that it was not ready, absolutely not ready for anyone to read.
I was scared.
And I don’t know how many times I fiddled around with each query letter to make sure I didn’t sound like an absolute newbie trying to enter into a field (fake though it may have been) that I didn’t have any knowledge about.
Without any other choice, I had to turn in my three envelopes and force myself to forget about it for the remaining two days. I couldn’t let the suspense kill me.
When it was time to get our responses back, the room was filled with tension and I looked over to a fellow student and debated whether we wanted to open the envelopes or not.
I finally did and was pleasantly surprised: two rejections and one “I’m intrigued, send me 50 more pages and a clearer plot summary.”
Huh, alright. That’s better than I could have hoped for.
I was prepared for three rejections because, out in the wide and fiercely competitive world of submitting to agents and publishers, getting rejected is just a reality. In the big scheme of things, actually getting an acceptance letter is possible, but only after many long years of work and persistence.
It was really encouraging, though, knowing that someone had indeed liked my baby enough to want to know more. It was the extra little nudge I needed after a long week of school to remind myself that I needed to get back into writing.
The other activity we did was reading ten different first pages from published books. Cathy found them all on Amazon. Some of them were traditionally published, others not. We pretended we were an agent’s assistant charged with reading through the slush pile to find the best work to pass on to the agent. We gave each submission an “A,” “B,” or “C” in which “A” means that the agent we were pretending to work for absolutely had to read this selection and “C” being the exact opposite.
After coming to an agreement on which letter grade each selection should get with our table mates, we went around the room and put our decisions on the board so we could see which selections ranked what.
Surprisingly, a lot of the selections received “C’s” or both “A’s” and “C’s.”
How is that possible for something to be ranked both amazing and horrible at the same time?
The same way some agents will absolutely love your work and some will hate it: it’s all subjective.
This was a true eye opener because it shows that if one agent rejects your work it doesn’t mean that every agent will. What one agent hates you for, another might love you for it. It’s a crazy, often contradictory business.
The most important thing to do is to just write a good book.
- Publishing is not hard. Anyone can basically self-publish this day or submit a book to a press that doesn’t do much vetting and will publish your book. This is called, suitably, “vanity publishing.”
- You have to figure out what’s most important to you: being published just to hold your own book or get published to make an income and gain a reputation as an author.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are publishing companies out there that know just how desperate everyone is to hold a book they’ve written and they WILL take advantage of you. Have enough respect for yourself, and more importantly, your book, and don’t give into that temptation. Publish properly.
- Don’t get something published that isn’t ready. You’ll regret it down the road.
- If you don’t get published with one of the main publishers in New York, don’t give up! That’s not the end of the road by any means! There are a lot of university presses or small “indie” presses that you can submit work to. But again, do your research before doing so.
- Start looking at spines of books to see where they were published. You can learn a lot from this.
- Look at books in general. It is easy to see which ones got published with more “prestige” based on how they look. Hardcover versus paperback; the texture of the pages inside; the covers of the books; the fonts on the covers; and so on and so forth. Think about how you’d want your book to look.
- Fun fact that we learned in class: books with torn-looking edges (called deckle edges) are more expensive to publish because they mimic the process of having to cut open fresh books way back in the printing press days. So, when you see a book with disheveled edges, it actually took more money to print. The Torn Page Prestige (which sounds like a band name, no?).
- Read different blogs on publishing such as this one by Jane Friedman.
- Publishing is a long and arduous process with many ups, downs, setbacks, and leaps forward. Keep your chin up and a pen in your hand always.
WHAT I LEARNED
- The most important lesson I learned was that, in the end, I didn’t really mind that two faux agents rejected my work. I still haven’t decided if publishing is for me or not, or if I prefer to just write for myself. But this exercise has me thinking about what option means more to me.
- I also learned to just not give up. Persistence really is key for anything in life, whether it be getting that new car, trying to lose weight, or attempting to get a book published. As long as you never give up, then there’s always a chance for success.
- I love writing and I will keep on doing so. Both the faux agent submission and the “slush pile” activity showed me that there will always be people who don’t understand what you’re doing, but that there’s a lot of…interesting…stuff out there that’s been published. I love my story and characters and these reminded me that, at the end of the day, if I’m happy with what I’ve done, then that’s most important.
- Opinions are very subjective. You’ll never be able to please everyone with your writing. Someone will inevitably hate it. Both the activities taught me that I just have to look past those instances and keep on loving my characters. At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to deal with them. Agents will read it and quickly forget about it if they don’t like my tale, so therefore I just have to be sure I’m happy with it.
- The most important thing is to just keep writing. From this process and all semester in general, that’s what I’ve learned and will keep close: make time each day to write.
We’re all writers. Keep typing, keep putting pen to paper. Never stop. That applies to us within and outside the fishbowl. We are all swimming in the same sea of opportunity.
We all must keep writing. Good luck to us all.
[Many apologies for the lateness of this post. This was the week of Fall Break at Ball State, and so things got a little confused. My bad! –Cathy]
By: Heather Hood
The theme for last week within the fishbowl was…you guessed it theme! Before I go into what theme is and how you can apply it to your own writing style, I want to discuss something we did differently in class last week. No, no it’s nothing bad. Actually it was relatively fun. So what is this not bad, relatively fun thing we did in class? Well, we flipped our class.
What do you mean you flipped your class? Flipping means instead of having the usual lecture in class, our teacher, Cathy Day, recorded a screencast about the week’s unit on theme and had us watch it on our own time. So what did we do in class then? We worked on homework for the class and if we had any questions, we could just ask Cathy, who was right there working with us.
So, my fellow bowlmates, how well did this work for you? I know I personally felt more concentrated on the Reverse Storyboard Project we had due this week. I’m not afraid to admit I am a procrastinator, especially on bigger projects, so it was nice to be in that small, studious atmosphere. And I know I personally loved the screencast for this week unit of theme because I found it easier for me to take notes and listen to what was being said. Did any of you feel that we missed out on anything by flipping? If you are not inside the fishbowl, would this have been something/is something you wish your class or school did or would do?
I should stop talking about flipped classrooms and get down to business and discuss want you really want to know about… theme!
What is Theme?
The main idea you should remember about theme is that a theme is about an author trying to say something that is important to them. It’s an author’s thought on a subject. So if you want to know the theme of something you are reading, ask yourself what or tell yourself that an author is saying? What is the piece about? Every piece is saying something.
Searching for a Theme
Cathy gave the fishbowl a great example of creating a piece of art out of a block of marble, like Michelangelo did with his sculpture David. Every piece starts off as a square, bland piece of marble. It’s there, waiting, but nothing screams of great things to come out of it by itself. A sculptor has to be willing enough to step in front of the marble block, see what is lying in wait, and make it. Here, Michelangelo states it better:
“Every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
As the artist, all you have to do is find the right block of marble, and the right piece and the theme will be waiting for you.
How can you supply a Theme in your work?
The best way to do that is to use what you have available to you: your narrative tools. You can show a theme through these elements, but try to do so in an organic way that is doesn’t seem deliberate but is:
- choice of characters
- a character’s actions
- a character’s dialogue
- reoccurring patterns
If you want the readers to know something is important, Carol Bly suggests telling the readers three times. She calls it the Rule of Three because, each time something important is introduced, the reader will have a different reaction.
- The first mention would go unnoticed because the importance, or theme, probably blends in with what’s around it.
- The second mention would resonate with the reader like a memory and they would start to ask questions about the piece.
- By the third mention, things start to click into place and readers see a pattern being established in the piece within the beginning, middle and end.
Developing a Theme
Donald Maass suggests five ways you could go about developing a theme in his book Writing the Breakout Novel.
- Consider alternate endings and outcomes. Explore through questions or scenarios how the ending of your novel could be or how different a scene could have come out.
- Give your characters parallel problems. Explore another character and how they would handle the same (or opposite) problem as your protagonist. Is their resolve better?
- Use foils. Use a contrasting character to highlight your protagonist’s qualities or use more characters to represent more choices (think of character delineation).
- Can your character’s problem speak to louder problems? Create their problem so that you can expand off of it to create an even larger problem until maybe there is no larger problem. Theme can come from doing this.
- Create a backwards antagonist. Explore the world of the antagonist and its minions. See how they are right and if the way they do things could work just as well as the protagonist’s ways. Just have fun with it.
- Write what you feel and what you want and a theme will develop.
- Have fun and enjoy what you write. Passion can make a theme stronger.
- The theme is already there, you just have to mold it and display it so others can see it.
- The Rule of Three is helpful when writing!
What I learned/ Figured Out This Week
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that a theme doesn’t always jump out of nowhere and knock you on the head and say, “Hey! I’m right here!” For some people that may happen and that is great, I wish I was more like them. For me and some others, theme doesn’t show itself so easily. And that’s fine too, because eventually it will be easier to identify. But there is always a theme to take from and to put into a piece, even if you think there is none. I’ll leave you with this…interesting image to try to remember theme:
|Adam Gulla maximized his word count by
“counting” journaling each week.
Here’s a post over at my blog The Big Thing about the students who drafted the most words in my class during Spring 2013: Adam Gulla and Veronica Sipe.
Here’s a sneak peek:
I found this great article the other day, “Seven Effing Great Ways to Build Your Writing Routine.” The author encourages us to find our writing “sweet spots” in order to maximize our daily/weekly output.
Consider the following questions:
Yes, I am a Pantser. I’ve been writing “by the seat of my pants” for as long as I can remember. This method of writing has its pro’s and con’s of course, from the exhilaration of not knowing what will come next for your character to being like, “I have no idea where this is going and could turn out to not make any sense, whatsoever, crap.”
I may or may not have two different distinct personalities inside me. And by may or may not, I mean may. And by two, I mean at least five. This however, if it concerns you, has nothing to do with multiple-personality disorder. I am completely aware of all the different parts of me and why they come out at certain times. This helps tremendously with my characters. Even tremendously, in life. I am very open-minded due to all these different view-points. This is what has drawn me to act. To read. To write. The more I learn about who I am, all of me, and what I can accomplish with them, the more I write with a continued passion and understanding of who the heck these characters are and what they will become.
SO THE POINT that I am getting at is the different persona’s inside all have different agendas. And about four of them are Pantsers, and one of them is a Plotter. All the Pantsers make me late to class. Or work. They make me put off homework, cooking food, doing laundry, cleaning my room. They make me write slow, then write fast, all the time not knowing what is going to happen next. Writing by gut, emotion, drive of a feeling. And then of course, the one PLOTTER inside will be like, “HEY!” And then suddenly I will make a list for that day and a block of time and finish my homework beforehand, have multiple batches of cookies baked and fresh, fold all my clothes, clean every inch of the house, and then write out a good four pages of solid plot.
I suppose this makes me 4/5th’s crazy, 1/5th sane. My dominant sides love the crazy, adore the process of making things up, and revel in the dreams. And then the little control freak inside me will pop out once in a while and clean up the messes, organize the words, and straighten out the paragraphs.
And So, beginning to write a novel has led me to question all the parts of me and which path would be best to take. I hope at least my Plotter will be up for many more future visits this semester. Pantsers…settle down.
|The sides tend to argue. Oy Vey!|
Let’s just begin by putting this out there: I love outlining. I work as a tutor and some of the first things that I tell people who need study tips are MAKE OUTLINES! OUTLINE YOUR NOTES! OUTLINE YOUR LIFE! OUTLINES FOR EVERYONE!!
So now that that’s out in the open, I guess it’s safe to say that when it comes to writing, I’m totally a plotter. I can sit on an idea for weeks (if we’re being conservative) just planning out who the characters are, certain scenes, etc. I can’t even begin writing until I have at least a few scenes in my head. I like having some kind of outline of events for my novel.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I plan and plot in a nice, neat order. Take a look at the image to the right. Most of the time, this is how I do my outlining. I’ll get an idea for about three-fourths of the way through and have that scene totally worked out. And then I’ll come up with a beginning. And then the ending. And then something right around the middle. And when I’ve come up with several scenes that are spread randomly throughout the novel, I finally begin to write.
When I plot and write like this, I realize that I have a tiny bit of pantser in me. Looking back at the image above, when I get to the inevitable Point of Question Marks between Idea Number 2 and Idea Number 4, I try to just wing it. So the lead just got transported back in time, but she hasn’t reached the scene where she is tried for witchcraft? Well maybe she could meet a bushy-bearded man named James Garfield?
Because of my plotting nature, this point, the Point of Question Marks, can become the Moment Where I Experience
Writer’s Block that thing where I can’t come up with any more ideas.
|This is just one of the little notebooks I do my plotting in|
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
This isn’t always the case; sometimes I come up with the best ideas off the top of my head. That’s why I don’t see myself as a strict plotter. I don’t plot out the whole novel; I come up with various scenes throughout the novel and then fill in as I go. Yeah, sometimes I get stuck because I’m not as good at pantsing as I am plotting. But I’d rather have a little bit of mystery waiting for me when I begin writing, rather than have the whole novel ready in my head before I even write a word. As James Scott Bell explains in his book Plot and Structure, plotters run the risk of lacking spontaneity, which the pantsers have in abundance. I don’t want my writing to become boring. So while I may be an outlining freak, I still have some pants. My pants are just more like booty shorts.
by Gaoly Thao
No Outline People or Outline People? If I had to choose which one I was, I would have to say I’m in between the two, but my radar is probably leaning towards the “No Outline People” more than the “Outline People” If I think about it really hard and look back at my writing style, I would be more of a NOP than an OP. It’s surprising because I like to be organized and write down my schedule or what I need to do for the day. However, when I am writing, I don’t really plan out my story or plot and just write whatever that comes to mind. I may have a few notes as to what I want to happen or something, but I just wing it. Is that bad?
by Tom Carreras
When I was a child, I wanted to be an author and illustrator. I was really into writing my own stories and drawing the characters that inhabited my imagination so that others could see. For some tragic reason, once I hit 7th grade, my writing desire all but vanished, and I didn’t write any stories until my senior year of high school, where I wrote a short story (16 pages) for my philosophy class. I loved it, writing by the seat of my pants (and procrastinating a bit to boot!) and loving it. Earlier in high school, probably around my junior year (and crescendo-ing into college), I became extremely interested in film. My personal film collection grew to be ridiculously large, I started to learn the names of too many films, directors, actors, actresses, and screenwriters (and other film trivia pursuit info), and I watched movies. Many, many movies.
|So many movies…|
All of this is to get to my writing method. Since becoming (after some flippy-flopping) a Creative Writing major at the start of my sophomore year, I have noticed that a lot of the way I like to write is in my mind. I enjoy thinking about scenes from stories I am developing – imagining them as live action films.
This mind-filming process of mine is typically coupled with plot outlining. I do like the surprises and changes that can come about from pantsing; however, I typically like having some sort of outline down, if anything so I can visualize more of my story in my head. I have not really used sticky notes or note cards much before for story-plotting purposes. I prefer just writing plot points in short paragraphs.
In planning out the novel for this class, I already have a feeling that there is going to be an exciting mixture of pantsing going on. I think that a balance of the two makes for a lot of fun – it gives me direction yet leaves room for exploration and improvisation.
Here’s to a well-plantsed novel!