Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Editorial Process

Let's say you've finally beaten that writer's block we talked about last week and you pushed through until the very end. You now have a completed manuscript. What will happen once it has been accepted? Let's take a walk through the editorial process.

  1. First you'll submit your manuscript to your publisher. Don't forget any additional items like artwork, appendixes, permissions, and sources. That last item is especially important; have mercy on any poor editors who have to do your source-checking!

  1. After he or she receives your manuscript, the editor will read your submission and make any changes necessary. This edit is the most comprehensive; the editor will point out problems with plot, character development, research, structure, and style. He or she will also query you with any issues that might come up and will make sure all your manuscript elements are in order (such as illustrations, headings, etc.).

  1. The editor will then send the manuscript back to you for your approval. This might be the most difficult part for you; it’s hard to see other people’s thoughts and criticisms about your work, but try to remain open-minded and realize that the editor is doing his or her best to help. That said, fight for the elements of your manuscript you really care about! Don’t let them change the entire story. This stage is also your last chance to make any changes or adjustments.

  1. You’ll then send the MS back to your editor, who will incorporate your changes and double-check to make sure any problems have been resolved and that the manuscript is in good shape.

  1. Once the manuscript has been typeset, paginated, and approved by the manuscript editor, the proofreader takes over. The proofreader will check to make sure pages are in order, headings are the same font, running headers are consistent, and that there are no orphans or widows. This is also the stage where the index is added, if there is one.

  1. Then the manuscript goes through final revisions. This stage can happen multiple times, depending on what kinds of errors are found. Don’t worry, these errors are often small and not the fault of the author. It can be things like a chapter title not matching with the table of contents.

  1. Finally, the typesetter’s final files are gone over once more, and they are then sent to the printer. The printer will then send back a final proof (often called a blueline) for one last look-over. Once that’s complete, the publisher gives the OK to the printer for publication.

Woohoo! You just published a book. Sit back, relax, and wait for the royalties to come rolling in.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Break through Writer's Block

There you are, sitting at your desk. Everyone is sleeping, but you aren't. No, you're slumped over a laptop, rubbing your forehead. There's one lamp on in the corner of the room. It casts a faint rust-colored light that reminds you of candles. It usually inspires you.

But not tonight.

Tonight, there is no muse whispering in your ear. Tonight, there is no inspiration. Tonight, your only companion is the block.

Many writers have endured the wretched experience of battling writer's block. And sadly, it often leads to hours and hours of Solitaire or Facebook. Neither of which solve the problem. There are a lot of books out there that tell you how to blast through writer's block, but perhaps the most helpful solution is also the most difficult: write through it. Even if everything that comes out is just plain garbage, keep writing.

So, instead of giving you a whole bunch of tips about how to woo your muse back into your life, we're going to give you something else. Something that will keep you writing. And something that will probably seduce the muse anyway.

Here are eight writing prompts that will help you write through the block. But these aren't just eight random prompts to get your pen moving. These creativity boosters were written with the intention of getting you writing the actual manuscript at hand. The prompts don't offer random exercises like, "Create a character who reminds you of your childhood best friend." Instead, each prompt leads you back to the important thing: your current manuscript. So let's not just get that pen moving, let's make that pen productive.

1. Character Correspondence

Write yourself a letter from your character. You can be his best friend or her biographer, it doesn't really matter. If you write yourself a letter from your character, you have the opportunity to get to know him even better. Your character's voice will come through and you will feel more confident writing dialog. Is your character willing to confide in you? What secrets do you learn? Is this the first letter she's sent you? Is she impatient for you reply? Perhaps you could even write a reply. How would you answer your character's questions? How would your character answer yours?

2. Hungry for Description?

Write a scene where your characters are sitting down to eat. Is it a fancy banquet? Is it a prisoner's ration? Whatever it is, describe everything. Can you see the steam rising from that pumpernickel bread? Can you smell that cherry pie baking in the back room? Use all five senses to describe the meal. And don't forget the other details like the quality of the silverware or the stony chairs the characters are sitting on.

3. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch . . .

Go to a pivotal scene in your manuscript. What was going on elsewhere while this was happening? Write the scene that was happening miles away (maybe even with the villain as the main character) while this pivotal scene was unfolding.

4. It's a Baby Bad Guy

Every villain had his own beginning. Write about your bad guy's past. Did he go to private school? Did she have a whole clan of older sisters? What made him take the path to villainy? The more you know about your villain, the more believable her evil ways will be. You could even write about the villain's birth. What were his parents like? Who does she resemble?

5. Man's Best Friend

Describe your main character through the eyes of her pet. Dogs, cats, horses, they all stick around because they happen to love their master. Why do they love your main character? You can do this about any character in your manuscript. Even villains have pet crows or snakes. Why do these pets stick around (especially if their owner is a vicious bad guy)? Maybe your main character doesn't have a pet. Just pretend that he does for the sake of the exercise. Remember, you can learn a lot about a person by the way they treat their furry friend.

6. Set the Scene
Go back through the chapters you've already set down on paper. Where can you describe the scene with more clarity? You can also describe places you haven't yet written about. Describe your character's bedroom or the inside of her crush's car. If you've created a brand new world, draw a map of it. Where do the ogres live? Figure out how close your characters live to one another. What's the time period? How many bicycles are in front of Old Man Jenkin's house?

7. Turn the Tides

What happens if your main character fails in his quest? What are the consequences? Write the scene where your character is supposed to become the hero, but then let her fail. What happens? If the main character has to die in order to fail, hop to the perspective of someone else. What horrors are going to befall everyone now? Can someone else rise up as the hero? Go back to your main character later and help him realize the consequences if he fails. How does this change his determination to succeed?

8. Write a Picture Book

If you just can't bring yourself to write the descriptive paragraphs that a novel requires, then simplify the task. Turn your novel into a picture book. How would you tell the story to a little kid right before bedtime? What details are unimportant? What characters have no real purpose? Simplifying the story can help show you where the holes in the plot are. You can also find out where you're investing unnecessary time and energy. Also, drawing pictures of your characters can help you visualize them better (even if you're not an A+ illustrator).

There you are, sitting at your desk. Everyone is sleeping, but you aren't. No, this time, you're armed with writing prompts that are useful and relevant to your manuscript. This time, you have what you need to blast the block. This time, you can write through it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Four Children’s Fantasy Novels to Revisit

C.S. Lewis said, “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” And to that we say, Right-o, Jack! And since he was so fond of fairy tales (and so are we), here are four children’s fantasy novels that children from one to one hundred will enjoy revisiting.


1. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews (yes, the Julie Andrews). When Lindy, Tom, and Benjamin make friends with Professor Savant on a chance visit to the zoo, he opens their eyes to a lush world of pure imagination—Whangdoodleland. Their journey takes them into the very heart of the vibrant land, where the Prime Minister (the Oily Prock) will stop at nothing to keep them from the king Whangdoodle—the very last of his kind.

Reason to revisit? At the end of their first meeting, Professor’s Savant says to the children, “Have you noticed how nobody ever looks up?....Nobody looks at chimneys, or trees against the sky, or the tops of buildings. Everybody just looks down at the pavement or their shoes. The whole world could pass them by and most people wouldn’t notice.” This is a story of what happens when you look up. 

2. A Wind in the Door, by Madeline L’Engle. When people think L’Engle, they usually think of A Wrinkle in Time, but this book nearly has the Newberry-winner beat. Charles Wallace is back again, but this time the battle he quietly wages is not out into the edges of the universe, but inside his own body. With the help of the singularly plural cherubim named Proginoskes and the Teacher Blajeny, Charles Wallace’s sister, Meg, must find out how to rescue one microscopic creature inside Charles Wallace from the deadly grip of the evil Echthroi. The fate of Charles Wallace—and the whole universe—depends on it.

Reason to revisit? From the brightest stars to the smallest cells, no organism in L’Engle’s cosmology is insignificant. The survival of one means the survival of the others, and all of them deserve a Name. 

3. Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. Sophie is the eldest of three—a pretty unlucky fate in the magical land of Ingary. So Sophie is not very surprised when the Witch of the Waste casts a spiteful spell that turns her into an old woman and she ends up the slapdash moving castle of the lecherous Wizard Howl to beg for help. In fact, she’s not even alarmed when she strikes a bargain with a fire demon, or uses a pair of seven-league boots, or embarks on a quest for a missing prince. What startles her most is discovering that being the eldest might be luckier than she thought.

Reason to revisit? Aside from its wit and whimsy and wonderful characters, this is a love story about the truest kind of love, the kind that gives lovers the best of maturity and youth. 

4. The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. Milo is bored with everything. And then he finds a tollbooth that leads him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Milo enters the land out of boredom, but he stays to help rescue Rhyme and Reason, the two princesses who were banished when the kingdom began to bicker over whether letters or numbers were more important. On his way, he’ll team up with the Watchdog Tock and the Humbug, and together they’ll face the fearsome demons of the Mountains of Ignorance—like the Senses Taker, who robs them of their senses asking useless questions, and the Terrible Trivium, who wastes their time with trivial jobs.

Reason to revisit? The book’s puns on English idioms are clever enough when you’re twelve, but it’s the demons that older readers will recognize best—those insidious roadblocks in the constant struggle to make meaning from life. And besides, the novel’s a linguistic treat filled with wordplay and metaphors that aid philologists, mathematicians, and philosophers everywhere in their own quests for rhyme and reason. 

What children's books do you always come back to?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Advice for Plural Possession

We had two recent requests to help clear up the usage of "advice" vs. "advise" and the occasional tongue twisting use of joint vs. separate possession. So let's just combine the two and have a grammar party today!

What I'm about to do is advise you, to give you useful advice about possession.

First, to help assist your mind in remembering the use of the verb "advise," I want you to picture a bright future—yours, to be exact—and gee whiz, it's so bright you can hardly stand to look straight into it. You need a visor. You know, one of those tennis hats without the cap, just a velcro or elastic band that wraps around the back of your head to keep the sun-shading bill snug above your forehead. Ah, see how nicely the visor helps you see into your future?

To advise (verb) is to give counsel and direction, to give someone a recommendation about what should be done. Those who advise intend to help others see better what lies ahead.

Sure enough, giving advice (noun) is something an advisor will often do. It's something parents do, too. Remember? We all hated that. It was like so totally the worst. They took all the fun out of being young. Their advice felt like a cage, like . . . like a VICE! You know, like they were constricting us by giving us advice, trapping us. Those pesky parents.

So now let me, your caring peer, offer you advice and advise you in the ways of wielding the words of possession.

The question we received was from Madison:

You're right, Madison. Hairy indeed. Let's see if we can comb our way through this topic together. Visors ready!

First off, possession refers to belonging. That visor belongs to me, therefore it is mine.

Here are the possessive pronoun words:

his, her/hers
its (notice, no apostrophe!)
your/yours (notice, no apostrophe!)

Did you notice how the possessive pronouns have no apostrophes? None of them! That may help you remember when to use it's/its and you're/your. If the context of the sentence includes belonging or ownership and a pronoun in place of its preceding noun, don't use apostrophes.
Mike loves ice cream in a cone; it's his favorite.
Cheri can't stand the way her ice cream makes its cone all soggy.
As you can see, "it's" is a contraction of two words: it is. It + is = it's. But ice cream + its cone = soggy. The cone belongs to the ice cream. Soggy belongs to the slow eaters.

But, I thought apostrophes were always used in possession, you say? Quite often, yes! Just not with the pronouns. So memorize the apostropheless pronouns and then you possess quite the advantage in the world of word ownership.

The other basic possessive wording is when one noun belongs to another noun.
The cat's pajamas fit her quite nicely.
Nancy's cat pajamas are too big for her
Nancy's cat's pajamas are much too small for Nancy. 
Noun: cat
Noun: pajamas
Proper noun: Nancy

Notice the possessive pronoun "her" is not used in the third example because there are two preceding (antecedent) nouns the pronoun could refer to: Nancy and the cat. We had to specify that the cat's pajamas were much too small for Nancy. Also notice how pajamas doesn't have an apostrophe. This may seem obvious, but still many people add apostrophes to nouns thinking if they add an "s" they should add an apostrophe for good measure. Not a good measure! Here's a better measure:

To make MOST/ALMOST ALL words plural, simply add "s" or in certain cases "es"; no apostrophe needed. As always, the safest reference is the dictionary!
Thumbs, ups and downs, churches, fixes, boys and girls, potatoes and tomatoes;
Chicago also lists: dos and don'ts, threes and fours, thank-yous, yeses and nos and maybes, ifs and buts
And don't forget those irregulars:
babies (never "baby's" for plural infants), children, data (plural of datum), leaves, geese, etc.
And here's what Chicago says about other plurals with apostrophes that AREN'T possessive (see 16.7.5–16.7.30 for everything plural and possessive).
7.14 Plurals for letters, abbreviations, and numerals. Capital letters used as words, numerals used as nouns, and abbreviations usually form the plural by adding s. To aid comprehension, lowercase letters form the plural with an apostrophe and an s
the three Rs; x's and y's; the 1990s; IRAs; URLs; BSs, MAs, PhDs; vols., eds.;
So basically, it's safer to add JUST the s if you're making something plural.

But the possessive apostrophes and possessive pronouns sure get hairy. Let's discuss joint versus separate possession, like Madison asked about.

Chicago 16.7.22: Joint versus separate possession. Basically, the concept is, does the cat belong to both Morgan and Madison? Or do they each have their own cat?

One cat owned by both:
Morgan and Madison's cat (apostrophe only links to name closest to the noun "cat")
Two cats, one owned by Morgan, the other by Madison:
Morgan's and Madison's cats (notice the plural noun "cats")
But if there MUST be a pronoun in the sentence, like there is in Madison's example, it gets confusing. "Fluffy is Morgan's and my cat" would be grammatically correct, but it sounds funny. It sounds worse as "the cat of Morgan and mine," so we might try another twist: "Morgan and I own this cat, Fluffy. She sheds like crazy."
"Bill's and my car was towed last night," or "The car Bill and I own got towed last night."

Questions? Suggestions for next week's post? Leave us a comment.