Thursday, January 26, 2012

Interwebz Hiatus

Not that I'm such a consistent blog poster that anyone would be alarmed at my absence, but I'm going to pretty much disappear from The Interwebz for the next two weeks while I'm in Jordan and then moving back to the States.

I will return with tales of travel and writing!

Don't get into any trouble while I'm away.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Project Runway Taught Me About Explanations

If you've been watching Project Runway with as much dedication as I have, you know who Elisa is. She's the wacky designer who marks fabric with spit and sort of seems like she's always tripping on acid, but just a little bit. She also seems like a really nice person, and that counts for a lot in reality television these days, at least for me. However, I've never really liked her work:



I am of the opinion that you can always learn about writing from television, and Project Runway is no exception. The reason I bring up Elisa is that what I learned about writing a few episodes ago, I learned from her. And this...garment:

(source)
Basically, that is a bathing suit with butterfly sleeves. The sleeves have writing on them. My initial impression of this was a stream of thoughts that went something like this: BATHING SUIT ugly fabric butterfly sleeves where the hell would I wear this and how did it take her two days and what is that crap on the sleeves? Basically, you could summarize my reaction with just three letters: W. T. F.

Obviously Elisa was in the bottom three, so she got the chance to talk about her look. And she launched into this semi-philosophical explanation of the look, involving circles and energy and how, if you put the sleeves together, they tell a complete story. I found it to be really thoughtful and interesting, given her particular belief system. But there is a distinct mismatch between what she said and what her look says. You would never get her explanation from that look. You would have to read her manifesto first.

(source)
 But before I get all judgy, let me say that I think a lot of writers, myself included, have the exact same problem. People read our work, whether it's critique partners or editors or book bloggers or everyday readers, and they make their assessments, and we sit there thinking "but that's not what it says!" or "well, that's not what I meant!" or "you totally missed the point!"

When I was in writing class in college, there were rules for critique sessions. The most important one was: the writer is not allowed to say anything. Yes, that's right: an hour of people picking apart my story, which I crafted lovingly over a period of weeks, and I was not allowed to say a single word. I couldn't defend myself. I couldn't explain anything. There are many reasons for this, but for me the most important one is that my defense and my explanations were unimportant. Useless, actually. If something doesn't come across in the writing, it's not the reader's fault, it's mine.

Sure, there are times when it's clear, even in those critique sessions, that someone was not reading my story at all carefully. And I couldn't blame myself for someone's misinterpretations if they just glanced it over while walking to class, because the reader has to assume some responsibility. But if someone read through my story at a reasonable pace, and they didn't "get" it, it was not because they were stupid. It's okay if your reader has to work a little-- some reads are more challenging than others, after all-- but they should not have to do most of the work, or even a lot of the work. The story should do it for them.

I feel like I've started to say something dangerous, so let me back up. I'm not saying that, in order to make sure that the reader "gets" something, you should try to be really heavy-handed and obvious about it and sort of shove it in their face. Noooo no no. I'm saying that sometimes, what people don't "get" shows you exactly what you need to work on as a writer.

Let's say I write a book written in first person about a destructive friendship. I write it, critique partners say "this book never indicts the friend for being controlling/abusive/condescending/etc.! In fact, it glorifies the destructive friendship. WTF?" And I get all huffy and say "well, I couldn't portray the friendship as unhealthy because I was writing in first person and my narrator wouldn't stay in a friendship she knew was unhealthy, obviously! So you just weren't reading it right."

The thing is, there are ways to communicate something to the reader in a first-person account that the narrator herself is unaware of, almost like the story is talking around its own narrator. Some authors do it extremely well. So my defense of my own work, above, is not particularly valid-- instead of getting huffy about what people didn't "get," I should be working on how well I communicate with my reader.

This happens on a small level, too. When reading the rough draft of Insurgent, someone confused one character with another to the point that it changed her interpretation of a substantial part of the story.  My first instinct was to say "no, no, she read it wrong, that was someone else," but my next thought was, "you know, if she didn't realize that she was mixing characters up, I probably didn't make them distinct enough." And making each character feel distinct and separate and unique was something I worked on in my next round of revisions.

This is why I sometimes ask non-writer friends/family to read a story and tell me what they think about it. If you want to try it, you should make a list of non-leading, specific questions to ask them. Some examples are: can you describe the main character to me, or, what did you think when this character did this thing, or, what kind of thoughts did the story leave you with, or, who was your favorite character, what was your favorite scene, which characters do you not remember very well, did you ever feel confused....etc.

Anyway, the lesson here, to me, is: if you have to explain something, don't assume it's the reader's fault, assume it's yours. And take it as an opportunity to learn something about what you need to work on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Peek Behind the Publishing Curtain

Before I got published, I had no idea how publishing works. It's like any other industry-- how it works is not common knowledge. I mean, do I know how grape juice is produced and bottled? Do I know the inner workings of the teacher's lounge? Do I know who designs toilets and how you get your foot in the door of that industry? No.

So, this post is just an attempt to pull back the curtain for you guys a little, if you're interested. This is also a partial response to those lovely enthusiastic readers who tell me to write faster so the book can come out sooner. To those of you who have, I'm glad you're eager! But the fact is, I don't set the release date, and a book release depends on WAY more than me writing as quickly as possible (which, believe me, I am already doing), as you will be able to see.

Here are the book making steps (also, props to my editor for helping me with the things I forgot):

1. Author writes rough draft. This can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on how fast the writer writes and what the publishing timeline is. For example, Insurgent is coming out a year after Divergent, but some authors have more time between books and some have less time.

2. Author gets editorial feedback on rough draft. This can take awhile, because it takes a long time to read and analyze a book carefully, and also, editors work on more than one book at a time.

3. Author writes second draft, gets more feedback, sometimes author writes next draft and gets more feedback...depends on the book.

4. Author gets line edits. These are editorial notes that are on a line by line level, like "this sentence, as written, is confusing" and "doesn't this contradict what you said five pages ago?"

5. Author turns in line-edited draft

6. Author gets copyedits. These are editorial notes that are super nitpicky, like "no comma here, per rule 238923598B in the Chicago Manual of Style" and "this should be in italics, not quotes." (I used to do this as a job. I really liked it, actually.)

7. Author turns in copyedited draft

8. Author gets first pass pages. These are a copy of what the text looks like when it's in "book form," that is, in a PDF document, with the right font and chapter headings etc. This is the one of the last chances an author gets to make changes to the book.

9. Author turns in first pass pages, with notes.

10. Many more passes between Editorial, Copyediting, and Design occur, as they make sure every piece of punctuation is in the right place, and that there aren’t lines where the text is too tight liketherearenospacesbetween words or too loose l i k e  t h e r e   a r e  t o o  m a n y, or pages with just one line of text (that's called a widow, by the way). Their job is basically to make the formatting, font, and overall look of the text invisible so that all you notice are the words.

11. Author and editor work on flap copy, tagline, etc., that will be used in marketing, advertising, and talking about the book.

12. Somewhere in here, I get an author photo taken.

13. ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are printed and distributed to book reviewers and bloggers and teachers and librarians and booksellers and the like.

14. Time is allowed for ARCs to be read and reviewed, as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. Sometimes there are no ARCs. There are many reasons that might be the case.

15.  Sales Reps chat with bookstores all over the country once they’ve had a chance to read the ARC. Together, each bookstore and his or her Sales Rep determine exactly how many copies of every book being published that season they should order, based on past books written by the author, or other books of a similar nature.

16.  Paper is ordered for that print run, several months or weeks in advance. That much paper is heavy, and takes up a lot of space to store, so the publisher has to put the order in with the printer in advance, since every book is printed on slightly different paper (or stock) and the printer has to have time to get shipped from the papermaking plant to the printing location. 


17. Other marketing things also happen in the midst of this. Sometimes a book trailer is outlined, worked on, and produced. Sometimes facebook pages with special fun things like faction quizzes are created. Sometimes articles are written, interviews are done, and guest blogs occur. Sometimes it's the author who does all this stuff, while working on the book at the same time and possibly raising three small children and working part time. It all depends on the book, and generally, all these things need to be spaced out.

18. Sometimes Publicity and Sales decide to send the author on tour. If so, they have to set up events that work with each bookstore’s calendar. They also have to work out how to get author from City A to City B most effectively in a short span of time, and with as few crazy-early-morning flights as possible. If the author goes on a group tour with other authors, this becomes another one of those crazy word problems of juggling schedules, calendars, hometown cities, and flights schedules.
19. The final book is sent to the printer

20. Books can take months to print and put into cartons-- and even stickered, if the book has won an award or something. Sometimes books are printed overseas, and after they’re printed, they have to be put on boats (boats!) to ship back from the overseas printers to the warehouses in the US. This is because thousands of books are heavy and the publisher has to look for the most cost-effective method, so that book prices don’t have to be raised. 

21. Once the books arrive at the US port, they have to go through customs. And then they have to be shipped to warehouses in different parts of the country. At the warehouse, they go through quality checking to make sure pages aren’t printed upside down or backwards, etc., before any books can be released. Meanwhile, bookstores and sales reps have to transmit their final orders.

22. Each bookstore’s shipment of books gets shipped (again, slowly, to minimize cost) out to the bookstore’s own warehouse or processing area. 

23. Then bookstores put books on shelves!

I think it's important to put aside a somewhat romanticized view of book writing in which it's just the author and the pages and sometimes the editor. And the reason I think it's important is that there are so many people involved in this process-- people who work so hard, and who are really indispensable. I mean, every time someone says "oh, did you design the cover?" I try not to laugh, because seriously, if I had designed the Divergent cover it would look like this:

Don't tell me you would have bought this, because I'll know you're lying.
My point is: there are a lot of people who make this work. And they are good at it. So thank you, behind-the-scenes people. We, the authors, the readers, the book-lovers, salute you.

[Note: there are a lot of other things going on in publishing, like School & Library, or social media, audio, e-book, legal departments, finance, etc. But for the sake of streamlining this post, I listed only things that are more "steps" and not continuous, as far as the making and distributing of the physical book is concerned.]

And now, when I mention first pass pages, you will totally know the lingo.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

3 Things I Have

I have a post up at YA Highway about the oh-so-complicated author/reviewer relationship.

I also have a book 3 song (or at least, I wrote a scene while listening to this song yesterday):



And last, I have a picture of this bunny:


(picture removed)



Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Recommendation: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi


Summary (from the author's website):

EXILED from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland--known as The Death Shop--are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild--a savage--and her only hope of staying alive. 

A HUNTER for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile--everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must learn to accept one another to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

Of course I entered this book with The Burden of Expectations, as many who read dystopian YA these days do (and as I do with almost all books evereverever). And let me tell you, it
 A. totally bore that burden, and is
B. really well-written with
C. good, well-rounded, and likeable characters and basically
D. I enjoyed it very much and I think you should read it.
There, now you have four reasons to!

I am mentioning it particularly because it comes out tomorrow, which means that you can get your hands on it soon. Call it a New Years Celebratory Purchase. It is definitely worth it.

Go forth and consume words! (I think that will be my farewell from now on.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Such Good Advice

I stole this from Janet Reid's blog, and she stole it from Sean Ferrell's blog:


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