Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Week in Writing #218 - Report from the Front - Writers Digest Novel Writing Conference 2018

Well, as the title indicates, I attended the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference 2018, along with Paul, this past weekend in Pasadena, Californa. As whenever I go to a convention, I try to summarize my experience here.

Going to this convention was a little like going to San Diego Comic-Con, in that you leave feeling excited about the future. Writing is what I want to do and I've just been immersed in a two and a half day celebration and learning session. The feeling is that if I can just keep with it, I, too, will eventually be published, not rich but published. There is a great emphasis on the fact that one does not necessarily lead to the other. But I'm not picky, one step at a time.

It's not to say that all the advice on getting to step one is consistent or equal. I attended several "so you want to get published" types of programs and the advice was sometimes complementary and sometimes contradictory. Case in point, mainstream publishing. Agent Barbara Poelle, whom I saw on two panels, made the point that if a book goes out of print, you can ask for the publishing rights back. This was 180 degrees different than advice from April Eberhardt, who, as part of her pitch for Hybrid publishing, said that mainstream publishers want the rights for the length of copyright and will not ever give them back.

And there is also the issue of self-publishing, which again Poelle said would keep you from getting the book published by a mainstream publisher and later, Danny Manus, during his panel Everybody Says My Book Should be a Movie, said if you self-publish and it doesn't sell, mainstream publishers will be okay if you change the title and submit it to them.

In both these instances, I would tend to believe Poelle, though I'm not trying to call anyone out on this.

Friday began with a really good panel called FightWrite led by Carla Hoch. Really interesting. An overview of what you need to know before writing fight scenes, Battles and Brawls. I won't go into everything she said, though I did think it would be a good panel for Comic-Con since there are several panels there already devoted to writing. She's also a weapons expert and that would also do well there. She also has a blog I would recommend,

Fearless Marketing lead by William Kenower was a sort of last-minute replacement when another presenter became ill that morning. Not really about how to market but more about how, as a writer, you need to bring your love of writing to that side of the business. More of an inspirational session than down in the trenches on marketing.

The Query Letter Panel featured four agents: Barbara Poelle, Laurie McLean, Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty reacting to previously submitted query letters read by Writer's Digest editor Tyler Moss. As he read, each agent would raise their hand when they would stop reading the query.  A couple of takeaways: each agent is different in what they will react to. They are humans after all.

Good Comps are important to some agents but not so much to others. I didn't get the sense that if you didn't have a good comp, they would stop reading the query. They are more to give them an idea about what to expect. It is more if the subject or genre isn't something they represent that will stop them from reading. Again results will vary by agent.

Also, when comparing your book to another be sure to make the comps current (less than two years) but not a phenomenon, like J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin. Also, unless you already know comps, don't research online but ask a librarian for comparable titles.

The important elements are the Hook, the Book, and the Cook. Tell them about the hook or a logline that will grab their attention, as well as genre, word count, comps. Give them a couple of paragraphs summarizing the story (the Book) and tell them something about yourself (the Cook).

Don't follow up, unless the agent has asked for pages from you. Usually, there will be information about responses on the agent/agency website. Read those first before submitting as they all have different requirements.

Writing Sex Scenes with Rachael Herron, Sophie Littlefield, and Adrienne Bell was next. Their point was that sex scenes are usually really emotional acts that will be significant later. Sex is not an accidental act. Each genre will have it's own conventions and expectations.

There are two types of sex scenes, Closed door, and open door, which I think are sort of self-explanatory. I tend to write closed door but there are apparently audiences for open door and they can go from "flower" and "staff" to "pussy" and "cock".

Simply put sex should mean something to the story and if the characters aren't well developed the sex won't work. Also, you should use protection when your characters are having sex. At least mention it once.

Rape is not sex, it is a crime scene.

The final panel on Friday was A Recipe for Disaster: 4 High Stakes Elements Every Character Needs, led by Jordan Rosenfeld.

Tension is what keeps the reader reading.

1) Danger can be broken down into 4 types:

Intentional Danger - brought on by the antagonist
Accidental Danger - an accident
Natural Danger - Hurricane, earthquake, etc.
Supernatural Danger

You can be in physical danger and emotional danger.

2) Conflict - an act of an opposing force. Opposing goals, wills, plans, etc.

Protagonist vs. Self
Protagonist vs. other characters (antagonist and allies)
Protagonist vs. Nature
Protagonist vs. Supernatural
Protagonist vs. Society (family, culture, religion, etc.)

3) Uncertainty/Suspense - Nobody knows what will happen next, that's why we keep reading. When characters are anxious, so are the readers.

Implausibility is when a character behaves in a way they have not before, surreal, creates uncertainty.

4) Withholding - The act of not giving someone something they want or not in the time they want it. It creates complex feelings within characters.

Things to withhold: approval/respect/esteem/material possessions/romantic union/information, etc.

Goals should be driven by character's backstory and by plot events. A character should have a goal in every scene.

Torture the protagonist. Be mean to him or her.

Eliminate the everyday, mundane dialogue and info dumps.

Have beautiful descriptions.

We stayed for the keynote speaker, Robert Crais. His advice:

Finish what you start - finish your book
Write about what you love - what you want to read
Don't chase trends
Defy the conventional wisdom - trust what you love
Free yourself from the yoke of perfection
There is no one way to write

Saturday started with 10 Best Ways to Market Your Book led by Laurie McLean

Her advice was to:

1) Develop 1 year and 5-year goals, which could be anything from finding an agent to quitting your day job in five years.

2) Know Who You Are
What could your author brand be?

3) Social Media Audit
Google yourself and see if you show up on the first page.

Ways to accomplish this:

Think of Twitter as a cocktail party and Facebook as a family reunion.

Set up an Amazon Profile - You can have one without having a published book. It is an aggregator of your social media

Use Pinterest


One suggestion that came out of this which applies to writing queries. A lot of agents want the first ten pages in the body of the email. One way to do this, rather than cut and paste directly from Word, is to paste the first ten pages into a new document and save as plain text and then paste that into the email.

Next was The Changing Face of Publishing - What all Authors Need to Know with April Eberhardt.

Eberhardt is a writer's advocate as well as an agent. She gave pros and cons for various publishing including Traditional (Big Houses), Small Press, Self-Publishing (DIY), Assisted Self-Publishing, Amazon Publishing, Cooperative Publishing, and Hybrid Publishing.

While she will try traditional publishing, it seemed that the real point was to push Hybrid publishing as a second choice. The biggest pro, according to her, is that you get to keep your rights, but the biggest issue for many writers is the $5000 to $10,000 you'll have to spend out of your own pocket.

The choice is really up to you. What do you want personally? Professionally? If it's to make money, don't quit your day job (this would not be the only time I heard this at the convention).

Finally - Make Revision FUN! with Rachael Herron

She suggested using Nanowrimo to write as many bad words on the page because you need something to revise.

Remember: Not every suggestion will work for you.

Revision is when the magic happens. She considers the first draft to be the zero draft and revision gets it to the first draft.

The first thing is to finish your book. Revising as you go is a bad thing (this harks back to Robert Crais' advice as well.) That is unless that's the way you work and you're completing good works.

97% of writers never finish a book.

Start your revision with the theme. Every choice is made easier if you know the theme. Every scene should serve the theme whether explicitly or implicitly.

Make a sentence outline. For every scene write a brief sentence. Not the time to make line edits (you'll remember what needs to be changed.) Don't spend time fixing things you might not want to keep.

A sentence outline will allow you to read your book in a matter of minutes.

She uses post-its to keep track of changes she wants to make to the story. Then she combines the outline with the post-its.

Look for plot holes. Is there the inciting incident? Are there turning points? The context shifting mid-point? The Dark Moment? The Resolution?

Main characters must be primarily involved in creating/fixing/changing their internal and external plot conflicts.

Ask yourself: Are your characters believable? Individual? Are their goals/motivations/conflicts compelling? Enough to make the reader turn the page?

The sentence outline is your map.

Revisions are hard but only you can do it.

Go through revisions in a linear manner.

Pro Tip #1

Save each day's work with the date in the title and email it to yourself. It's a backup.

Pro Tip #2

Every day read over all post-its before you start working.

Make various passes through the manuscript:
Character Description
Character Voices
Replacing dialogue tags with action beats
Adding emotion and visceral feelings

Last pass:
Make line edits
Now is the time to make the book sing.
These scenes are staying. Make sentence edits.
Time to contract and expand when necessary.

Can't do your own copy edits (grammar) you won't see them.

And remember: Not all advice works for everyone.

The next panel was Research Writing What You Don't Know with John Dedakis

He talked about doing what he called Spade Work, i.e. prepping, tapping into your subconscious, interview your characters.

Do some preliminary research but don't get bogged down.

Write the first draft straight through - turning off your internal editor.

Note what you don't know but keep writing. This will help you focus your research.

Your first draft is not the final draft.

Research methods:

Go There!
Have Beta-readers familiar with what you're writing about give you feedback.
Interviews - for writers who are introverts, this may seem like getting out of your comfort zone.

What to Expect When You're Expecting ... A Publishing Career led by Barbara Poelle.

Poelle gives a very breezy take on the steps once you've finished writing your book. It starts with you finishing your book. Then revising and revising again. Then there's the query letter (Hook, Book, Cook).

Thet letter should go out to about 15-30 agents (using their websites for specifics). Use a spreadsheet to keep track of the agents.

Of course, Barbara will be one of them and you'll want her to represent you. She'll ask for pages and you'll nudge her after 7 weeks and then every 2 weeks after that.

When she offers you representation, you're to ask to talk to two clients, to find out 1) what she does well and 2) what she needs to improve.

Then you'll want to know from her how much revision she thinks you need and to set your expectations.

She touched on movie/Tv rights, foreign rights, audio rights, in addition to publishing rights.

Even though you'll want her, she did talk about how new agents might have more bandwidth and be hungrier as they build their lists.

The final panel on Saturday was Everybody Says My Book Should Be a Movie with Danny Manus.

The bottom line is that most don't.

Themes have to be broad and universal. Must appeal to foreign audiences as well, since a bulk of the money comes from overseas.

Characters can't be ordinary people doing ordinary things.

Genre: Most have two. Primary, which sets the rules of the genre - the concept and a secondary one that moves the plot.

He talked a little about adaptations, but the overall feeling was that its an uphill fight.

And, Self-publishing is the mistake. Hollywood will not knock on the door.

The final panel on Sunday morning was Act of Villainy: Breathing Life into Your Antagonist with Phillip Athans.

Every story begins with an act of villainy.

A villain is a character who is actively destructive in some way.

The antagonist is a character in opposition to the protagonist but is not necessarily a villain.

A villain is someone whose motivation we understand but whose methods we find abhorrent.

He ventured the 3M's of a good villain:


There are the obvious motivations:
Pure Evil

Then there is the secret motivation - why the villain thinks he's doing this.

The final motivation is The Hole, or why the villain is really doing what he's doing. What hole in the villain's life or psyche is being filled by the villain? The why not the how. The villain doesn't necessarily understand what or know it in a conscious sense.

To write a convincing villain, you must explore the darkest corners of your own psyche. If you're freaking yourself out, you're probably on to something.

So that sort of sums up what I learned. The big takeaways are to keep writing and don't give up!

As far as my own novel, I did about 100 pages of editing. Attending this conference has given me some ideas that I'm trying to put into motion. I'm trying to go through Broken People (fka A Killer Blog). I've already excised the first two pages and am considering trying to combine the first two to get to the action faster. More on this as I go along.

Still, radio silence from the editor on Familiar Stranger, so nothing to report there.

Worked and finished two reviews for Trophy Unlocked: While the City Sleeps and Follow Me Quietly. As an added bonus, TCM was showing the latter on Saturday night, so I was able to watch it again and add some details that had been missing.

Published the last horror review for October, The Mummy (1959). Now we're closing in on Noirvember, as well as discussing the 900 review milestone, Christmas reviews, and the anniversary review as we're coming up on eight years.

Even though Paul and I were attending the conference we did manage to look new pages from both the artist (pages 5-8 issue 9) and the colorist (pages 17-20 and the cover for issue 8, as well as a holiday surprise for the website. Gave a little feedback but for the most part really good work. Our colorist already turned around the pages, so the artwork for Issue 8 is done.

Speaking of the website, there is a new poll question to answer:  Would you want to be able to make yourself invisible? Would love to see your vote on the website.

And speaking of all things Powers Squared, Paul and I made our 5th A Week in Powers Squared Vlog on YouTube, which we invite you to watch here. It's short and fun, so watch.

Well, that's about it for the week. Next week it's hopefully rewrites, reviews, and more planning on the future of Powers Squared.

If you have any comments or questions, I'd really like to see them.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

A Week in Writing #217

Next weekend, Paul and I are attending the Writer's Digest Novel Writing Conference in Pasadena. It will be our second time to attend. In the spirit of the event, I'll start with my current rewrite work on fka A Killer Blog. 

I had two versions of the story that I was trying to wed together and it was the main focus of my writing this past week. Putting together two similar but slightly different tellings of the same events proved to be much harder than I had expected and somewhat frustrating. If I had more than one version of the novel open, I would find myself editing the wrong version. I took a different approach and at least, by the end of Saturday, had combined the two versions and made the edits I had wanted to make, though sometimes the lines I wanted to edit were not in the combined version.

There is still a lot of work to be done. As an example, when searching for a phrase, I found it used twice within about 50 pages of each other, showing the differences between two. While I feel I think better at a computer, I know I edit better with paper and pencil, so it looks like I'll be printing through another ream of paper to finish the editing. Hopefully, by the,n I'll come up with a better title.

And hopefully, by then, I'll hear from the editor on Familiar Stranger, but as of now its still radio silence from him. I  tried to change that and called this week but I got voicemail instead. Today, with people only having cell phones, I have to wonder if he saw it was my number and did not answer. Ouch! I'll have to keep trying but some of it comes down to him as well. Communication is a two-way street.  Not sure why there has been no response. Very curious to say the least, frustrating as hell but curious nonetheless.

The silence we had been getting from our contact at comiXology finally broke and in a rather disappointing fashion. While he has blown hot and cold since we've been dealing with them, he pretty much turned on the cold air for good. I had asked if he could look at the next two issues of Powers Squared but in so many words he told us to leave him alone. Not what you really want to hear from anyone, especially your "publisher". 

I haven't done a study but anecdotally, I get the feeling that indies, like us, don't usually get much support from the online publisher. While they had done some press for the release of Issues 3 through 5 that was more to make up for not doing anything when the first two issues were published. That goodwill is now apparently gone, used up.

comiXology is not really in the business to grow new IPs but rather to make monies on existing ones or new ones that come from the major publishers: Marvel, DC, Image and the like. Like YouTube, they welcome all comers but the little guys aren't primary to their success. 

While we will still, hopefully, publish on their site, we're going to have to carry the load ourselves so before we submit Issues 6 and 7, we're going to have to get some things lined up on our side. More on that later.

On the flip side, San Diego Comic-Con recognized Paul, Trevor and I as Professionals. While that doesn't really matter to readers, it was still nice to receive. So, there is hope.

As far as the comic book goes, we have received the first four pages of Issue 9 as pencils. Rachel sent us the pages earlier in the week and we gave her some feedback. New versions followed but that is about it as far as what we've received. Surprisingly, October has been a slow month. For the first time, I'd say I was concerned we're not going to have 8 new pages this month. No pages so far from Nina either, traveling and family but there is still time I guess before the end of the month.  Trevor has lettered more pages on Issue 8 but other than that, not much more to report on production wise.

Paul and I have continued our weekly vlog on our YouTube channel and we've continued with our weekly poll on the website. Last week's poll question was "If you had to choose one: Telepathy vs. Teleportation?" with teleportation winning four to none; that's right four. This week's poll question "If you had to choose one: Super Sight or Super Speed?" only has to votes with Super Sight winning two to none. So far the numbers for both are low and while it's easy to want to give up, hope and desire keep us going.  

The rewrites on fka A Killer Blog has taken away from time on reviews for Trophy Unlocked. I did do some more work on the review for While The City Sleeps but not really enough. I also need to work on a new review for Follow Me Quietly, the film noir we watched on Friday night.

Our horror look for Spooktober did continue with Get Out (2017), which was our Saturday Morning Review. Even though the film is very recent, I gave it a more in-depth look since I figure it will be talked about for a while.

So, next week, rewrites, reviews and seminars. I'll be sure to share here what I learn next weekend as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Week in Writing #216

A lot of radio silence this week. Still no word from my editor on Familiar Stranger. My fault for not contacting him but it wasn't a good week for making phone calls. Not wanting to let moss grow under me, I've been working on the novel fka A Killer Blog, though it doesn't have a new name as of yet.

I've been making pretty good progress though I decided I needed to take into consideration another version of the book I had written. Like the other novels, the protagonist is a private detective, J.D. Barrister. In the original story, he meets a former news anchor, who was disgraced when she appeared in a sex video. She sees a case J.D. is working on as a way to redemption. The case is the murder of a blogger, hence the fka, who was murdered when he discovered that the mayor of Los Angeles was being funded by the leader of a Mexican drug cartel.

The woman's past was not agreeable to agents, so I ended up changing her, making her simply a waitress who is more of a bystander to the case; even changed her name to Abigail Dietrich. Her past was shady but not as overt as Stacy's had been.

In light of the #metoo movement and the recent arrest of a couple that would drug women and then videotapes them having sex, I got the idea to make Stacy's video one in which she was a victim. She still loses her job because no one believes her at the time but she is now a victim of circumstance. I hope the change will make her more acceptable.

What I'm finding is that some of the work from the second version helps the overall story. Most of it is the sequencing of the story which I think the newer version helps. The issue is gelling the two together. The final version will be a bit of cut and pasting between the stories as well as some new bits to connect the two. It can be a little overwhelming but hopefully rewarding.

On the review side, I completed the review of The Mummy (1959), meaning we have the necessary ones for Trophy Unlocked's annual celebration of horror films. This week, we published a review of Doctor X, an early Technicolor horror film directed by Michael Curtiz starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Lee Tracy.

Now we're starting on film noir of Noirvember, which is just an excuse to celebrate the genre prior to Christmas films in December. We watched While The City Sleeps on Friday so I will be working on that review next week.

Something I had thought I would have been working on more this past week was Powers Squared. Except for checking on them after the destructive Hurricane Michael passed through Georgia, where both are based, really haven't heard anything from either the artist or colorist this week, though we did appear in an Instagram story Nina put up earlier in the week, so I know she is working on it.

Trevor, who is working after Nina completes the coloring, has just completed the first six pages of Issue #8, so progress is being made.

We added a new poll question on the Powers Squared website. Again, its a question related to the comic book. This time we're asking for people to choose one of two superpowers Marty and Eli share: telepathy and teleportation. Interested in what you might think so please vote. We change the poll every Friday afternoon, so hurry.

I did learn, vicariously, through Nina's Instagram about something called Linktree. One of the downsides of Instagram is that it allows you only one link in your profile. Linktree allows you to create one link that contains several other links, sort of like the branches of a tree coming off the trunk. I set one up on Instagram for Powers Squared. Fairly easy to do and something I would recommend to others who are trying to use Instagram for promoting their IP.

Paul and I also made our weekly Vlog about Powers Squared, available on our YouTube channel.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Week in Writing #215

This is a good week to talk about the process of putting together an issue of Powers Squared, especially since this is the first week of the month and we're beginning work on a new issue #9, Mathemagical Part 2, with our artist Rachel Wells.

Every month, Rachel finishes 8 pages of art in inks and the next month, our colorist, Nina Gaillard, will color those 8 pages. With an issue being 20 pages, it takes about three months, including the cover and then another month for the coloring. Lettering can take place during that time but usually wraps up about a month or so after Nina is done.

So, this week, as it is the beginning of the month, Rachel sent us 2 sets of layouts for the eight pages she'll do this month. Paul and I sit down with the script and compare the layouts vs the script and decide which version we like best. Not only do we go back and forth on pages, as in the A version of page 1 and the B version of page 2, but sometimes it's down to the panel with the first four from the A version and the next two from the B version. Rachel will then take those and start work on the pencils.

This month, she had some ideas on the script, making suggestions about the actions and placement of items within the panel/story. I don't know if anyone else is out there writing an indie comic book but sometimes you don't notice inconsistencies or that having him play the guitar is better than having it by his side just before someone says "I heard you playing..."

She also made a suggestion about moving one panel from the top of page 8 to the bottom of page 7, since the action would flow better. Hey, our scripts are not written in stone so we're pretty flexible with suggestions and encourage a collaborative working relationship. The goal is to always make it better, which is the same approach I try to take to my writing.

In other Powers Squared news, we put up our second poll question on the website. Seeing how the first poll question registered no responses, I'm happy to report that right now, and after two days mind you, we have 4 votes on the poll question. The poll question this week is "Would you give up super powers for true "love"?" You can vote on the Powers Squared website. The poll is on the homepage.
The poll questions will relate to items related to the story of Powers Squared. If you're curious as to the first question, it was "Are you a twin? Yes, No, I don't Know."

We're still trying to publicize our YouTube Channel including the Vlog post Paul and I put up last Sunday. I boosted a post on Facebook about it and while they say we reached 348 people and received 100 likes on Instagram, the YouTube shows only 2 views, which is, of course, disappointing, to say the least. But Rome wasn't built in a day and so organically growing a social media following is a slow march. In the meantime, you can watch the video here. While you're there, please subscribe and ring the bell to get all of our YouTube notifications.

If you're wondering if we've heard back from our contact at comiXology, the answer would be "No" and I'm not pushing it at this point. There is this other comic book convention in New York that he is no doubt attending. I figure I'd give him a week to recover and then resend Issue #6 as well as Issue #7 to him. If he doesn't respond after that, then he's an ass and we can all agree on that.

If you're wondering if I heard back from the editor on Familiar Stranger, the answer again would be "no". Not the same excuse here but I'll have to follow up, again, and see if I can shake some pages loose.

On my own, I finished editing fka Killer Blog with a pencil and now will start the updating process this week. It may take a couple of weeks but I should have the re-edited version done soon and will then try to send it out to agents. I wouldn't mind having someone edit it but I'd like to shop it around before I die and that seems unlikely given the current rate of getting feedback at this point. Oh, the fun of queries.

Trophy Unlocked published Trevor's review of Coraline as our Saturday Morning Review, seeing how it straddles the animation theme from September with the horror theme for October. I've also completed my review of Get Out and am working on one for Hammer's The Mummy.

Next week, the challenges are going to be time-related again. We have a concert to attend on Thursday night and another birthday next Sunday, my wife's, so time will be well spent but not all of it on writing.