I haven’t been writing on here nearly as much as I used to, and I want to change that. In the meantime, I might make up for lack of blog words (as I’m trying to focus all my words elsewhere at the moment) with photos.
We just returned from a week in Scotland, and spent 2 nights camping in our favourite spot at the foot of Ben Nevis. There was snow and hail above 700m and it rained almost the entirety of our stay, plus I was on week SIX of a mutating flu/cold/virus thing with my right ear completely blocked, so we didn’t do any proper climbs. But it was gorgeous as ever, regardless of where I stood.
Once back on dry, sunny land in the lowlands, I managed to meet one of my favourite authors (Laini Taylor — author of the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy and the recently released STRANGE THE DREAMER, which I’m currently devouring). And ate some scrumptious Mexican food.
This week I received two fantastic emails. One was from a friend I’ve never met, who ironically lived in two cities I lived in, but never when I was living there, and now he lives in one of them again. The other was from a writing instructor from a workshop I participated in awhile back. Sometimes you hear just what you need, when you need it, and I’m so grateful for it.
I asked for honest advice, and I received it – and it surprised the heck out of me. They both believe in me, and neither one gains anything from it – one’s not a writer but a reader, and the other is a bestselling author, so I don’t think they need my feedback on their work. 😉
Because writing can be so solitary, it’s heartwarming to find you’re not just wandering around in the dark on your own, fumbling from one attempt to the next, being a harsher critic on yourself than anyone else. There are others out there, and sometimes their lights are better to see by than your own. Just want to encourage you not to feel like no one will understand, because it’s simply not true.
Thanks, friends. You know who you are. 🙂
One a similar note, I made a new friend today, on Twitter. We’ve followed each other for awhile, both writers working on non-conformist fantasies (haha), and her attitude really encouraged me on this drizzly, 58-degree-typical-British-weather day.
I took this photo only 3 weeks ago, in Glenfinnan, Scotland where I’d stripped down from a jumper, scarf, and hiking trousers to shorts and a tank top by 10 a.m. I’m going to pretend it’s still this marvellous outside.
I won’t bother to re-list my writing goals for the month, suffice it to say I ACTUALLY FINISHED THEM in the first week. I’ve spent this past week entering a few contests (and not the online variety), making notes for and researching my next story, and reading. Currently on C.J. Sansom’s DISSOLUTION, and really enjoying it. Hoping to read and enjoy (rather than plow through, which never does me any good) more books this month than I have in awhile.
Have a great week, and I wish for you a bit of light that fills a dark corner when you least expect it. 🙂
This should really be called, “What I was reminded by being a publishing intern,” but I’ll get to that in a minute 🙂
It’s certainly all happening this time of year. NaNoWriMo began two days ago (if you’re involved, let’s be buddies! :)), this is a #WriteMotivation month and yesterday I returned from a month-long part-time internship at Black & White Publishingin Edinburgh. It was a fantastic experience. I’m so grateful to the wonderful staff there for having me!
I’ve worked in three publishing companies in various roles including assistant to director of operations, subscriber services, accounts payable, and QA at two magazine publishers (VoxCorp, Inc., in Nashville, TN; and Future Publishing in Bath) and one book publisher (Walnut Grove Press in Nashville). This was my first chance to get a proper look at how book publishing marketing and submissions work from the other side. It strengthened my desire to work with authors, be it developing stories from the editorial standpoint, or within a literary agency. I was reminded what a competitive industry publishing is, particularly in the UK where there are so fewer companies than in the US.
There were a lot of interesting fly-on-the-wall things I was privy to, such as seeing potential models for a book cover design, marketing techniques, approaching booksellers, book signings (one that I attended, more on that in a future blog), and some seriously deliciousgingerbread cookies 🙂
Here’s what I learned from a writer’s standpoint though, as writing is, after all, my biggest goal, first and foremost. So here are a few items that stood out, with regards to submissions:
1. Synopsis: Many people didn’t even include one, despite it being in the company’s submission instructions. Following instructions can win you massive brownie points 🙂 And the synopsis itself – if you can get it down to 2 pages, perfect, because I want to know right away what happens, the overall story arc, and the end – without loads of details or side plots/secondary characters’ lives magnified. Now that I’ve seen how a good, succinct 2-page synopsis can work, I’m determined to shorten and tighten mine. I didn’t fully understand the power a good synopsis can wield until having read dozens.
2. So. Many. Prologues. They do work in some books. In Harry Potter And the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, we get a glimpse of Harry as a baby and the characters who worked to get him to the Dursley’s, hinting at so many things to come that we wouldn’t fully understand until future chapters or future books. This worked, at least, for me. This wasn’t called a Prologue, but is simply Chapter 1, and maybe that’s why. It wasn’t forced on me as being outside of a narrative I’ve not yet even entered. On the internship, I read countless submissions with prologues that made no sense to me, even after reading the first 3 chapters. I’m not sure why, but people seem to think that in order to make their story’s present have significance, something external from the main narrative needs to be described. I don’t think this is the case, in most stories, but that’s my personal feeling for it. When you read submission after submission with some Big Things hinted at in an enigmatic setting between characters not mentioned again for over thirty pages, it begins to drag on and doesn’t–in fact–stand out the way an author might think, “I know what’ll catch their eye!”
3. Just bad writing. To put it bluntly, the majority of submissions were full of poor (or missing) punctuation, spelling errors, bad sentence syntax, misuse of apostrophes, and sadly, screwy formatting. Something as simple as indenting paragraphs (and not halfway across the page….one tab’ll do!) can really just put me right off a story. These are such simple mistakes, for the most part. So okay, not everyone is a grammar freak and adheres to all the rules about fragmented sentences or the list of words not to begin a sentence with – but to my mind, this is all relevant to specific context. Things like separating or indenting new paragraphs, learning how to use commas and apostrophes, and not capitalising random words for No good Reason, would put you in the 5 or so percent of manuscripts that are easy and worthwhile reading. A mistake here or there didn’t stand out to me, but when it’s clear someone doesn’t understand the difference between a comma and a period, it’s another on the NO pile.
4.First page – For it to grab me, it either has to:
give me a situation or emotions I can relate to/sympathise with;
give me an immediately likeable or interesting character (good or bad); or
give me an intriguing idea.
Those are three pretty simple ideas, but if you can do one of those three on the first page, I’m hooked. By the end of the chapter, if you’ve done one really well, I’ll keep reading. If you’ve managed all three, even better! I’m taking this and applying it to everything I write from now on. It sounds like, “DUH! Total given!” but reading sample pages over a whole range of genres, that’s the first thing that struck me: why do I care?
Agents harp about this repeatedly on blogs and Twitter. “Why do I care?” Query Shark asks that all the time. So you’ve got a 16-year-old girl with divorced parents, facing the struggles of high school. So what? We want readers to care about our story immediately. There’s no point in saving all the goods for Chapter 4. The slushpile reader/agent/publisher may never get that far. Give me one thing, even the tiniest glimmer of appeal, and I’m good.
Most of the pages I read had a first page, or even chapter, that was like reading a newspaper article. Just the facts, ma’am.
“John Doe worked in the city, and had a beautiful wife and three kids named Sue, Pete, and Bob. Bob liked to play with tanks, Sue was good at swimming, and Pete preferred to watch TV. John’s wife, Anna, worked in accounting and was considering retiring early. On Saturdays, the family often….”
You get the point. Snoozeville. And I was shocked at how many submissions were like this. Most of them. I feel bad being critical at all, as a writer myself. Believe me. The first few days of the internship, I wanted to give every single writer whose submission I read a huge hug and a box of cookies, and sit down with them and say what I thought. It’s not that I’m any expert by any means, but it certainly made a few well-worn writing tip-cliches come to life for me. By the internship’s end, I was feeling like a lot of writers out there sit down to write a story when they’ve read maybe 3 books in the past 5 years. Because it seems easy. Because they can do it from home. Because their brother-in-law said they’d be good at it.
Emailing rejections was hard, but I think I have a better appreciation for what agents/editors deal with. I can understand completely now why my first sets of queries were totally ignored. Something really needs to stand out, and what that is will obviously be different for different readers. Another intern was working at the same time as I, on different days, and some of the things she liked, I thought were boring or needed more work than was going to be practical. And vice versa, no doubt. But some things just stand out immediately. The author might rely on a key phrase or two too often, or might have a few grammar ticks to be made aware of, but overall, you know right away whether you feel confident in the author’s ability to lead you through this believable world.
One author compared himself to Steinbeck, Douglas Adams, and Dickens in his cover letter. It can be helpful to be told up front what sort of readership you might appeal to, but there are good ways and bad ways to go about this. I’ll leave it to you to guess how I felt about this way 😉
Well, that’s my long-winded roundup. It was a worthwhile and lovely experience, I met some great people, and really feel like I gained an insight into how a smaller publishing company works. From the writing side, it was just good reading experience. They always say that reading everything you can get your hands on is integral to being a successful writer. I read genres I never go near, stories I’d never have picked up, and it all opened my eyes. So, thank you, Black & White! And I hope some of those submissions I read get their time in the limelight they so definitely deserve 🙂
Monday I’ll be back to blogging about #WriteMotivation and my NaNo progress (such as it is, so far), using Meredith McCardle’s borrowed questionnaire to log where I’m at in the process 🙂 If you’re doing NaNo, I wish you success this month!
I’ll also be holding a blog giveaway contest after reviewing one of Black & White’s titles in the near future. And the lovely Alexandra Diane has tagged me in a blog hop, so I will get to that, too (sorry for being late!) Busy month! 🙂
I’ve not posted in awhile but with this month being another #Writemotivation goal month, I’ll be fixing that! And if you’re a writer and not familiar with K.T. Hanna’s #Writemotivation group, please check it out! 🙂 It’s the friendliest group of writers I’ve met, and am so grateful for their welcoming zombie stripper t-rexes waving pom poms and bearing cookies. Or something like that.
We had a 4-day weekend last weekend so I was all excited for that and basically got nothing done for the week before, or this past week (sad, I know). Other stuff has kept me busy, too, though. I finally landed a work experience placement with a publisher, after the one I was asked to interview for was cancelled AFTER I booked £160 train tickets for (which Royal Mail has now lost, and Virgin Trains refuses to refund me despite proof that I sent the tickets to them and therefore didn’t take the journey, but don’t get me started on Virgin. I will definitely never, ever, ever use their services again. Appalling customer service. And am pretty darn glad they lost the bid for the West Coast franchise!!! But I digress…). I’m excited for the placement I was offered at another publisher in Edinburgh, and will begin that the second week of October for 4 weeks. As we’re planning to buy a house and settle in Scotland, this might help open some doors for meeting people and getting the experience I’ll need to land a job up there. But it also means being away from my husband for awhile, and since we just got married in May, I’m not thrilled about this. But after 2 years of trying to find work down here, you can bet I’m taking this opportunity when I can.
Our weekend was a blast. We played beach volleyball on Saturday, and Sunday hiked along the Brecon Beacon ridges around Pen-y-Fan and had beautiful weather.
Then we got a train into Paddington early Monday morning and spent 2 very full days on one of my favourite activities: traipsing around London. I love to traipse, especially there. The museums are endlessly fascinating, even when I’ve visited them 10 times already. I always see new things, and now that I’m dabbling in historical fiction (to a degree ;)), it’s even more interesting to see some of the artefacts from the time period I’m writing about.
I had my 4th or 5th visit to the British Museum, and the above is one of the Lewis Chessmen, a chess set dug up on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. These chaps are made of walrus ivory and whales’ teeth and date back to 1150 AD. Not among the oldest items in the collection by a long shot, but fascinating nonetheless.
Then, the major event of the weekend was seeing Les Miserables in the West End for my third time. The first time was on my 30th birthday, second time was just this past May when my sisters visited from the U.S. and got us front row seats (nothing could beat that!) and this time was courtesy of a friend’s wedding gift, so we had 7th row and it was, once again, the most moving show I’ve ever seen. I cry pretty easily normally, but this show pushes me over the edge. I’ve been a musical fanatic since I was a kid. Phantom was my long-standing favourite, replaced by RENT. I still love both, but nothing beats Les Mis for me now.
And it always makes me giggle when Marius sings, “Hey Eponine, what’s up today?” Anyone else? *crickets*
I made the mistake of wearing some crap shoes, though. It was ironic. My first ever day in the UK was spent walking around London, and I bought a pair of sparkly flats from Faith on Oxford Street because they were more comfortable than what I had on, and plus I just wanted to buy shoes from Oxford Street (because, c’mon, who travels to London and doesn’t buy shoes?). And now, 5 years later, I wore those same shoes both days on our trip to London, and my feet were *screaming*. So I bought a new pair of shoes on Oxford Street to replace the sparkly flats and save my toe from needing blister-related amputation. Someday, I’ll learn!
Despite having a wonderful fun-filled time away, next week was meant to be my belated birthday trip to Paris so I’m a wee bit down. I’ve not been to Paris yet, (Euro Disney doesn’t count!) and my husband booked us a 4-day trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise I’d need to apply for my new visa so soon because we weren’t aware of the immigration law changes that came into effect 9 July until just beforehand. I’d originally planned to apply for my new visa in September. The UK Border Agency is hideously backlogged–they say, due to the Olympics and to cutting staff–and some people are waiting over 9 months to have their passports back and their visa decisions. This means no travel. These people (including myself) are effectively stuck here, future uncertain, unable to travel or visit family, until the UKBA pulls our applications out of the towering pile and decide to process them. There is no way to communicate with them as their website says you may call after 6 MONTHS, but those in online forums who’ve reported calling the day after their 6-month mark have been told, simply, “You have to wait. We have no information.”
All this for £561. That’s $890. As others have pointed out, you can track a pizza ordered from Domino’s for a tenner, but for nearly $900, you are given no information whatsoever about the process, and have to just let go of all thought of your future, because it’s utterly out of your control. No proof of who you are, why you’re here, whether you can work or not. It’s shocking, disheartening, and borderline inhumane, in my opinion, but that’s how they do things.
So next week, it’s likely my husband is taking our trip to Paris alone. At least one of us can make use of the nonrefundable trip. To say I’m frustrated is putting it lightly, but obviously God’s got other plans. Who am I to argue? This has all been a tremendous lesson in letting go for my control-freak nature. In a week’s time when it’s come and gone, I’ll let you know how I’ve fared.
Apologies as I like my blog posts to be a bit more focused than this, but it’s representative of how scattered I’ve felt since the waiting game of visa, moving, jobs, and settling down began. I have to keep telling myself (as does my husband) that this is life – life always has “the next thing” you’re waiting for, or working towards, and there will always be something you can try to worry into being the way you want it. I just want so badly to learn to get my head down, do the work today’s given me, and make the most of whatever enjoyment I can get right now. Stressing about the future’s never done me any good before, but as any other control freak can tell you, it’s really hard to break the life-long pattern of thinking, “If I’m worrying about it, that means I’m doing something.”
I believe that’s completely untrue. So why do I find it so hard to shut that voice down?
In any case, thanks for reading, and I hope anything you’re progressing towards and waiting for is teaching you to make the most of today in the mean time!
It’s been awhile since my last post and I want to thank every person who kindly posted encouragement, support, and well wishes for the wedding and my time away. It was absolutely awesome. We had the best weather imaginable (85 degrees and sunny in Scotland. Unheard of!); my mother and sisters and aunt came, as well as some friends from England, Scotland, and as far away as California, and a lot of us had some time before the wedding day to spend either in London or up north together. The only thing I wish was that I’d had more time to spend with everyone who travelled so far, who I miss, and that was the only hard part about getting on a plane to Corfu at 8:30 in the morning the day after the wedding. 🙂 The ceremony was short and sweet, the minister lovely, Andy the piper played the songs I requested absolutely beautifully, and marched us back up the aisle to Scotland the Brave at the ceremony’s end.
We had a fantastic week of relaxing in Corfu, which I highly recommend. I’m not very good at relaxing, it turns out, especially after 5 months of wedding planning, so it took me about 4 days to actually realise it was perfectly acceptable – expected, even – to do nothing but lie in the sun, read, sleep, eat, and drink cocktails by the pool. I got into the swing of that REALLY well in the last few days. Then we topped off our honeymoon with a few days hiking in the Cairngorms in the Highlands, and a visit to Inverness and Culloden Battlefield. (Not very romantic, that last bit, but in a very strange kind of way, to those of you who’ve read any Diana Gabaldon books…).
So now I’m back, and have finally (more or less) caught up on unpacking, thank-yous, name change stuff and a full inbox. Now it’s time to get back to job hunting, and writing of course. On my to-do list is to migrate to wordpress.org and host my blog somewhere externally – which I’m hoping to do this week. That means a venue and name change! I think it will be cheyennecampbell.com, but I’m still deciding. I hope anyone following my blog will follow me when I move!
And I promise my next post will be less a list of reasons why I’ve been away, and more about writing. Thanks for reading! Hope YOU had a fabulous May/start of June!