Writing Gratitude Countdown (5): The Gift of a Deadline

lamp post with four feet and very knobby knees outside the Zwinger Museum in Dresden.
Need a leg to stand on? Try one of these contests to get a little more support for your writing. © Laurel Decher, 2016. Zwinger Museum, Dresden.

This is the fifth post in my Writing Gratitude Countdown. I keep finding more things to appreciate about the writing life.

It’s sometimes easier to be gentler with other writers than with yourself. But being hard on yourself for too long dries up the words. Gratitude is a wonderful oasis from ambition.

Gratitude also seems to be a writerly re-set button. Remembering all the people who took time for me is humbling. Humility and gratitude make it easier to give myself time to grow as a writer.

(You can find earlier posts here: 1. The Gift of Attention , 2. The Gift of Permission, 3. The Gift of Hospitality, 4. The Gift of Feedback)

5. The Gift of a Deadline: the value of markers in the sand

Even after a manuscript has been re-written and polished, there are so many steps to work through before it can be sent out into the world. Gratitude helps my writing motivation and so does a solid deadline.

Fortunately for writers, the publishing community has a generous selection of contests that help great stories come to light. Here are a few of the ones that have helped me:

a. Get your pitch** ready. When I first heard about Twitter pitch contests, I didn’t get it. How could it help to describe your manuscript in 140 characters?

But Twitter pitches aren’t just a catchy sales technique to find an agent or editor. Writing a Twitter pitch for #PitMad helped me identify my story’s core.

**Read all about pitches and find dates for upcoming contests at The Winged Pen.

Thanks to Authoress for organizing all the moving parts of so many pitch contests! I’m very grateful for the deadlines! Check out all of her contests here.

b. Get your query ready.

Michelle Hauck offers several contests that require a query letter: Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Sun versus Snow, Picture Book Party, and New Agent. I got great feedback in the New Agent contest.

Thanks Michelle Hauck for organizing these great opportunities!

Thanks Wade Albert White for your excellent feedback on my query and first 250 words and a even a synopsis! (Talk about over and above!) His middle grade book is available for pre-order on Amazon: THE ADVENTURER’S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES. You can add it to your GoodReads list here.

c. Get your first page(s) ready.

  • Secret Agent Contest Submit the first 250 words of a completed manuscript. Monthly except June and December. While you’re at Authoress’s website, Miss Snark’s First Victim, check out her other contests.

The other contestants weigh in on the entries, so you’ll get lots of feedback even if the Secret Agent doesn’t comment on yours. And the feedback I got from superagent Linda Epstein made me say: “Oh, that’s what they mean by tension!” Invaluable.

Thanks again, Authoress!

Thanks Secret Agent Linda Epstein!

Kathy Temean’s contest lets you submit 250 words to a different agent each month. If your entry is chosen, you get specific agent feedback on your page.

Thanks Kathy Temean for organizing this monthly contest and for interviewing new agents every month! Sign up for her excellent newsletter here.

Thanks to YA author and literary agent, Marie Lamba, for her insightful feedback!

d. Get a once-over for you first 50 pages. Or your whole manuscript.

Believe it–writers are generous people. #PitchWars is a contest where over 100 authors volunteer to read submitted manuscripts and fight over the privilege of working with their favorite over the next three months. For a taste of what these generous writers are like, check out my fellow Winged Pen mentors here.

Some mentors even offer feedback to manuscripts they didn’t take on. I really appreciated hints I got back from my almost-mentors that my story was starting too late. It’s easy to write a few more chapters for the beginning once you have feedback like that.

Thanks for organizing this amazing event every year Brenda Drake! I don’t know how you do what you do. You’re always thinking up new ways to fish writers work out of obscurity.

Add these books published by #pitchwars authors to your reading list.

If, like me, you didn’t get into PitchWars or you missed the deadlines for these contests, there’s no need to despair. There’s more generosity going on all the time. I’ve seen a number of charity auctions offering great writerly prizes to raise money for colleagues, help refugees, or to celebrate a writing anniversary.

For example, here’s one that was organized by middle grade author, Shannon Hale. Auctions are often announced on Twitter.

I was fortunate to win a 50-page critique from Jackson Eflin in honor of Ava Jae’s Blogoversary.

Thanks Ava Jae!

Thanks Jackson!

This post is getting too long again now, so I have to stop. But there are always more opportunities to help and be helped as a writer. If the contests above aren’t quite the kind of deadline you’re looking for, the Sub it Club does a contest round-up every month.

Feel free to mention your favorite writing contest below in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experiences of generosity.

Happy writing! Happy submitting!

So that’s my fifth installment of gratitude for my writing journey. (The earlier posts are: 1. The Gift of Attention , 2. The Gift of Permission, and 3. The Gift of Hospitality, and 4. The Gift of Feedback.) More to come!

If you’d like to share about people who helped you see your own work clearly, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear about it!

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Writing Gratitude Countdown (2) The Gift of Permission

A stone face with a water spout mouth. Pink flowers behind.
Give yourself permission to spout off. Get writing! Rhöndorf, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the second post in my Writing Gratitude Countdown. It’s my way of re-discovering the richness of the creative life. You can find the first post here: The Gift of Attention.

2. The Gift of Permission: the value of allowing yourself to create

Giving yourself permission to write is a way to counteract the doubts that come when we face a blank page:

Is it good? Am I a writer? Should I write more? Have I got a story here?

Permission is a cycle. It starts and ends with you, the writer, and in the middle are all kinds of readers.

a. You: Giving yourself permission to take time to learn, create, and revise.

The people who helped me most with permission are the ones closest to me. My husband takes on childcare so I can go to writing conferences or local writing groups. My children patiently traipse through research museums with me, take photos of settings, listen to garbled explanations, and put up with slapdash meals because the creativity was all used up by the time we got to food.

When other people make sacrifices for your dream, it’s the most tangible kind of permission there is. Thank you darling family!

b. Readers: Friends who read books agree that what you’ve written sounds like a “real” story.

At the beginning of the writing life, it’s hard to find other writers. The closest you can come are people who read a lot of books. They have taste and experience.

Sometimes the most encouraging people won’t be your “target audience” that is, they don’t read the kinds of books you’re trying to write. Don’t forget to value them.

Our dear neighbor Rebecca told me once that she didn’t like novels because she didn’t enjoy reading about the conflict between good and evil. But because she was a reader and valued books of all kinds, she still encouraged me to write. I still miss her.

Other friends have promised me that they will read or buy my book when it comes out even though their personal and professional interests are in totally different areas. It’s a special vote of confidence.

Librarians and teachers are a special category of experienced readers. I hope you have many special ones in your writing life!

c. Writers: Other people who write make it all seem normal.

My husband’s cousin is a talented furniture maker. He knows all kinds of people who makes things with their hands. (He put in our kitchen–Thanks, Matthias! We enjoy it!)

I’ve been writing for a while and I have so many writer friends I can’t list you all! It’s natural and wonderful. Thank you writer friends!

It’s fun to “talk shop” when you’re learning a new skill. Comparing tools, asking for opinions, and practicing getting the words down together can be a blast. An afternoon of writing prompts at a local coffee-shop, a day-long local workshop, or book festival can re-charge the writer batteries.

Watch your local newspaper and library bulletin boards to see what writers in your neighborhood are up to. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you’re still looking for your own set of writers, you might enjoy: Six Tips to Find Your Online Writing Community and my round-up of middle grade writing communities: Writers Working Together: 8 Things We Can Do Better Together.

(More about my current critique partners is coming in a later post, so stay tuned!)

d. Authors: Published writers (or any writers ahead of us on the path) share insight into the whole writing and publishing path. Secret handshakes are also a kind of permission.

It’s always an honor when someone who does something well treats your early attempts with respect. Susan Gilbert-Collins is a published novelist (Starting from Scratch) and much more experienced writer than I am. I’m so very grateful for her generosity. She read my “trunk novel” graciously and I’ve lost count of the number of times she has read and praised my middle grade work-in-progress. Thanks a million, Susan! I’m looking forward to your next novel!!

Tracy Barrett is the author of 22 books, including Anna of Byzantium. and a brand-new The Song of Orpheus: the Greatest Greek Myths You’ve Never Heard. She’s also an active and generous member of SCBWI. (If you write children’s books and want to find like-minded people, visit the SCBWI website and extensive discussion forums.) Tracy gave me a personal critique at an SCBWI Germany & Austria workshop and I’m still referring to her notes. Thanks, Tracy!

PitchWars is a classic example of authors giving back to the writing community. Author mentors coach mentees through an extensive 3-month revision and then help them connect to a stunning list of literary agents. The generous Brenda Drake (Thief of Lies) has been organizing this amazing growth opportunity for writers since 2012. Thank you Brenda Drake!

Author Michelle Hauck (Grudging) runs several contests, including the New Agent Contest. I won the chance for a mentor to get my query and first 250 words in good shape. My mentor was the wickedly smart and amazingly tactful author, Wade Albert White (The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes). Thanks Michelle Hauck! Thanks Wade White!

e. Agents and Editors: People who can assess writing for its qualities and marketability.

The first time a real live agent or editor seriously listens to your pitch or reads your query while you’re sitting there is amazing. I’ll never forget watching the classy Meredith Bernstein consider my written pitch at a conference years ago or her hand-written comment on my manuscript: “You deserve time and attention.” Now maybe she writes that on other people’s manuscripts–I have no idea. She gave me written permission to write and to persevere. Thank you Meredith Bernstein!

f. Reviewers: People who assess published work for its qualities and marketability.

Here we’re back to experienced readers. I don’t have any reviewers (Yet ;)) but I review books I enjoy and try to nudge them towards friends who’ll also enjoy them.

g. Readers: People who want to read the next thing we write.

Seth Godin coined the term permission marketing and explains it better than I can. People who voluntarily give their e-mail addresses in exchange for finding out when your next book is coming out give you the ultimate permission.

They want to read things you haven’t even written yet. They are inviting you to write something new. Thank you so much to all my e-mail subscribers! It’s an honor to have each and every one of you!

h. You: Giving yourself permission to try something new.

And that brings you back to the blank page where you need to give yourself permission all over again.

Happy writing!

So that’s my second installment of gratitude for my writing journey. (You can find the first post here: The Gift of Attention.) More to come! If you’d like to share about people who gave you permission to write, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your story!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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The question that moves my work forward

Fountains, square tower with crenelated edge on top, small palm trees in the foreground, huge one in the back, stone-edged path, green grass and blue sky.
What can you do when everything seems so complicated? Image: English Gardens, Palermo, Sicily. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

What’s the simplest solution?

This is the question that moves me forward when I get stuck. I’m not sure why it helps. Maybe it’s what my friend and writing mentor Susan Graham calls “making a decision.” Friends are a gift.

With this question, I move forward with the information I’ve already got. Information gathering stops. I try something out.

Do you have a question that helps you move forward when you get stuck? Share it in the comments below.

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Round-up: Self-publishing and Children’s Books

Steel automat vending machine with tiny windows and coin slot. It says "Stockings" across the top, in German.
“Strümpfe.” An old vending machine for stockings is conveniently located right on the street in Altenahr, Germany. Stockings (and books) are sold differently these days. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

Self-publishing gurus abound these days, but many of them don’t mention children’s books. Since it’s worth learning self-publishing skills no matter how we publish, I’ve collected the best resources I can find for children’s authors. If I’ve missed good ones, please feel free to mention them in the comments. Thanks!

  • Does self-publishing children’s books make any sen$e?

U.S. sales and strategies from Daniel Kenney on Amazon’s kboards. “My latest milestone and what I’ve learned about Middle Grade Fiction.” (June 11, 2015) and the follow-up post “6 Weeks, 4,000 Print Books: What I’ve Learned” (December 13, 2015). More details are in his funny and inspiring post on Hugh Howey’s blog. He’s had better success with lower Middle Grade.

Sales in Germany. “Middle Grade Fiction Sales in Germany in 2015” by bilingual German writer and translator, Anja Bauermeister. (January 12, 2016) She’s also on Episode 136 of the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast: “Self-Publishing in the German Market with Anja Bauermeister.”

Sales in the UK. UK author, Karen Inglis reports her sales numbers on her Self-Publishing Adventures blog. Here’s her post on marketing tips. She has lots of tips about formatting e-books in Word if that’s your thing. Scrivener’s done a great job for me creating e-book files, so I don’t do the Word conversion for Smashwords.

Or if it’s not all about the money, read this warm fuzzy story about a picture book published in Sri Lanka“Why I Write and Self-Publish Children’s Books”. I love the cover.

  • Where can I find a simple plan to see what’s involved?

Susan Kaye Quinn’s free e-book Quick-Start Guide to Self-publishing and the blog version of her Indie Author Survival Guide. She’s updating the Guide (3rd edition) on her blog. The first chapter is here. You can get her free e-book, Quick-Start Guide to Self-publishing, at the same link and sign up for her For Love or Money Facebook group.

Both Susan Kaye Quinn and Anja Bauermeister have rocket-science backgrounds. Self-publishing children’s books is an experimental world, so maybe that helps.

  • How can I get involved in a community of self-published children’s book authors?

Sign up for Darcy Pattison’s Indie Kids Book Listserv (Yahoo discussion group) about self-publishing children’s books. The same page links to more posts about self-publishing children’s books and marketing picture books with Pinterest. Or listen to Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast’s Episode 48: Making a Living with Children’s Books with Darcy Pattison (May 22, 2014).

The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has a new moderated discussion forum on self-publishing on their Blueboard. You need to register(free) for the Blueboard or login as an SCBWI member to see the discussion forum.

Have you self-published a children’s book? What challenges did you face? Do you have tips to reach older middle grade readers? Please comment below.

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Writers Working Together Online: 8 Things We Can Do Better Together

House with lit up windows as night falls in winter. Bare trees, green grass, pale blue sky.
12, Rue Cortot, Montmartre, Paris. This house in Montmartre housed a community of Impressionist painters and writers and is now a museum. © Laurel Decher, 2013.

Have you noticed all the different kinds of group writing blogs on the internet? They range from #pitchwars mentors and debut authors with books coming out in the same year to industry gurus.

It’s easy to see the advantages for mutual support. (If you need to brush up, read Twyla Tharp’s The Collaborative Habit about the power of creative collaboration.)

  1. Authors target readers. These blogs focus on the world of middle grade books:

From the Mixed-Up Files “In the spring of 2010, a group of nearly thirty authors banded together to form a website and blog like no other in the history of the internet. As writers and readers of middle-grade books, our goal is to bring awareness and enthusiasm and celebration to books for 8-12 year olds, creating a *home* for anyone and everyone who loves books for this Golden Age of Reading.”

Middle Grade Mafia “The mission of the Middle Grade Mafia is to provide a refuge, a klatch, for established and aspiring middle grade authors. The purpose of the site is to share knowledge, inspire each other, and celebrate good news. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but when you are part of a family, you are never alone.”

Smack Dab in the Middle “a middle grade authors’ blog”

Notes from the Slushpile “a team blog maintained by seven friends who also happen to be children’s authors at different stages of the publishing journey.”

2. Contest collaborators talk behind the scenes. Author mentors, literary agency interns and editors who donated time to PitchWars “behind the scenes” continue their collaboration.

Writing with the Mentors “Tips, tricks, and techniques, from Agented/Published Authors, Interns, and Editors.”

3. Debut authors band together.

The Sweet Sixteens 2016 Young Adult and Middle Grade Debut Authors. I love their “Find an Author Near You” option.

4. Industry experts weigh in.

Writer Unboxed  “about the craft and business of fiction.”

5. Indie publishers show us how its done.

Alli Alliance of Independent Authors blog about self-publishing.

Group blogs on writing are probably only a small part of the internet, but they signal something important. We need each other to navigate this vast virtual sea of interesting stuff. This shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does.

Getting the words down is easier alone. But finding readers, giving critique, releasing books, interpreting the publishing industry, querying, editing, revising, and self-publishing all look a heck of a lot easier in a group.

The Museum of Montmartre is a lovely example of writers and artists working together, but the internet means we need each other more than ever.

What are you still trying to do all on your own? Should you be collaborating with someone?

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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5 New Publishing Tools from the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair

Presenter Dai Qin of Douban Read at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair International Self-Publishing and Author Programme. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.
Presenter Dai Qin of Douban Read at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair International Self-Publishing and Author Programme. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.

The International Self-Publishing and Author Programme at the Frankfurt Book Fair was on Saturday, October 17th. Here are five new tools I discovered:

(1) BookTrack is a tool that lets you add a soundtrack to your story or novel. Here’s a YouTube overview of how it works and a brief sample of what it feels like to read a book with a soundtrack. BookTrack takes a 30% royalty on the text and a 70% royalty on the soundtrack.

As a reader, I’m not sure I like the pacing arrow traveling the right margin, but it’s an interesting tool to check your pacing as a writer. What do you think? Useful or annoying?

(2) Soovle is a free tool for identifying search terms and categories to help readers find your work. You type words in the search box and get popular search terms and categories from Google, Amazon, YouTube, Wikipedia, Bing, Answers.com, and Yahoo. It has a selection of other search engines you can choose from including Barnes & Noble. I don’t see Kobo or GoodReads although they would also be useful.

You can save the search terms to a file. This isn’t the kind of tool that tells you how many people search on the search terms you find. It just ranks the terms in order of popularity.

(3) PublishDrive is an e-book and print book distributor based in Hungary. It sounds similar to Smashwords or Amazon’s CreateSpace in that you can opt in or out of each online store. The difference appears to be that PublishDrive has access to more local stores in international markets.

They require DRM (digital rights management) whenever possible. Like Smashwords and CreateSpace, you can get a free ISBN for e-books, but need to buy an ISBN from your country of residence for print books, as you do for Ingram.

(4) Agentur für Buchmarktstandards is where you get ISBN’s if you write and publish in Germany. I also learned that ISBNs are free for Canadian residents. Sounds like a writer-friendly country. Go Canada! 🙂

(5) Douban Read is an e-bookstore in China. According to this blog post, it’s not the first e-book distributor in China. Their presentation kicked off with this YouTube video of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt (2015 Hugo Award Winner).

There’s something enticing about reaching a world market this way and finding new readers in another culture.

Anything you want to try, either as a reader or a writer?

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Thanks for your interest in my work! If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

What do Babies and Manuscripts Have in Common?

Baby gray flamingoes in a flock of pink adults.
Baby flamingoes are gray and wobbly. But then they grow up. Weltvogelpark Walsrode, Germany. ©Laurel Decher, 2015.

How is a manuscript like a baby? These baby flamingoes in Weltvogelpark Walsrode don’t look anything like their parents.

I’m thinking about the time when my mom came to visit and I had a new baby in the house. I was obsessed at the time with the number of errands I could accomplish before the baby put an end to them.

We lived in snowy Minnesota and doing errands with a new baby was a major expedition. It meant packing the snow-suited child in a thrift store perambulator with a down pillow as a blanket. The snowplows clear the streets, but they throw up snow walls on either side, blocking the sidewalks’ connection to the streets.

The snow is a mix of salt, sand, ice, and snow and, after a few wind-chilled days, settles into a concrete-like mass only accessible to goats. (No complaints, mind you, this sort of physical activity can help a new mother avoid depression and find her waistline.) The other advantage to packing up a child is that you don’t have to heave them in and out of the car and wake them up. I proved very early that three errands were the maximum allowed.

The other option was the car. It’s embarrassingly unenvironmental and wickedly convenient. I once took a visiting Dutch conservation biologist on a tour of all available drive-throughs in our neighborhood. We had a pay-at-the-pump gas station, and a drive-through drugstore, bank, and county library. That’s four.

My mom made a mild comment. “Babies grow up you know. One day, the baby will suddenly be able to do something she couldn’t.”

I didn’t know. Our children are now 21 and 14 and they do all the amazing things other peoples’ children do (and more 🙂 of course). You’d think I knew how this worked by now, but growth still takes me by surprise.

Right now, many #pitchwar contest hopefuls are waiting to see if their manuscripts have unexpectedly grown-up. Like any field of endeavor, writing fiction involves a long list of skills to practice. Maybe today, our strengths are dialogue, pacing, and persistence. Tomorrow, we may find a new vehicle for our story, and achieve a new high in plotting, humor, or voice. “No” doesn’t mean failure. It means “not yet.”

We may yet find a way to delight.

Good luck Pitch Warriors! Many thanks to Brenda Drake and the 108 Amazing Mentors! (They have to be capitalized because they are.)

 

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