Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Treat yourself; free downloads of two wondrous new MG fantasies

Just in time for the holidays, two of my editing clients are staging a joint book launch on November 22nd.

It has been both my privilege and my pleasure to be a guide along the way for these two marvelous middle grade authors, and if you love magical fantasy and stories about worlds-within-worlds, you owe it to yourself and to any young readers in your life to download these books–and indeed, all the titles in both series.

Emma Warner-Reed is launching Book 2 in her Calendar House series about Welsh orphan Dotty Parsons in Dotty and the Chimney Thief. In this tale, Dotty has to track a missing friend, in the process uncovering new clues about herself, her late mother, and the world of magical chimney sweeps hidden inside her Great-Uncle Winchester’s labyrinthine old house in Yorkshire. A perilous new threat menaces them all—and Dotty cannot be sure who is friend and who is foe.

Marc Remus is launching Book 3 in his award-winning Magora series about young Holly O’Flanigan [who coincidentally is also an orphan] in The Bridge in the Fog. This series brings to vivid life the world of Magora—a place where art and magic are one in the same, and where voracious creatures called the Unfinished are both feared and persecuted. In this installment, Holly and her three best friends at Cliffony Academy of the Arts must tread a fine line between helping the Unfinished and potentially unleashing a nightmarish danger upon Magora.

Both series have proven popular on Amazon and I think if you download them, you will see why. And today the downloads are free!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Size does matter: keep an eye on manuscript word count

I write long, especially on first drafts—and I am not alone. I see the same dangerous prolixity in the manuscripts of many of my editing clients and writing students. It’s easy to understand why we all do this—we ramble on, blundering about in the uncharted darkness of our own imaginations as we try to find the right path into the heart of our stories. And the more we ramble, the higher our word count creeps.

I’m struggling with that now on my ghost story. Intended as a middle grade novel, at the rate I’m going, I’m worried that it’s  going to top out at over 70,000 words. And although it’s true that the first Harry Potter novel was about the same length—77,325 words, to be exact—my projected 70,000 words is still on the long side for a middle grade book.

“Hold on a minute,” you may be thinking. “Are you actually obsessive enough to count every word in 'Sorcerer’s Stone?' "

No—but the Accelerated Reader program did. And they have a free tool that you can use to learn just how many words a published book contains.

Why should you care? “My book is special,” I often hear. “Sure, it’s on the long side, but 'So-and-So' is long, too. I’m sure it won’t matter to editors that my picture book is 2,000 words instead of the 500 to 800 they are asking for these days, or that my YA paranormal is 120,000 words when they expect 70,000.”

Don’t delude yourself. Whether we like it or not, size does matter to prospective publishers. The longer the book, the more it costs them to print it, and the more they have to charge for it. And this in turn increases the risk that the book will sell fewer copies due to price resistance on the part of parents, schools, and young readers.

So yes, a proven writer with a successful sales record and a built-in audience of fans frothing at the mouth for the next book can write as long as she wants. That’s why the fifth book in the Potter series, Order of the Phoenix, was a whopping 257,154 words long. But don’t expect any publisher on the planet to give the rest of us mere mortals the same perk.

To estimate how long your manuscript should be, I think it’s helpful to make up a list of several titles in the same age range for which you are writing, then go to the AR book finder site to see what the word count of those books is.

Do a search for the book you want to check, then click on the blue underlined title in the result that comes up. That will take you to a window where you will find the word count. See what the median word count is for all the books you check, and aim to hit that mark in your own manuscript. For most of us, that means streamlining—for me, too!

There is of course another compelling reason to streamline your manuscripts: the tighter you write, the more powerful your prose and the more gripping your story will be.

Remember, especially you first-time authors, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the length of a manuscript and its chances of finding a publisher. In other words, the shorter the better.

PS: Many thanks to Katie Davis at the Institute for Writers for sharing this site with me.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Birth announcement for Melissa Roske's debut novel

 I am beyond excited this morning: Melissa Roske, one of my "ducklings" as I secretly call my writing students and freelance clients, is celebrating a huge milestone today. Her first novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, is available for pre-order on Amazon today. I've already ordered two copies, one for her to autograph next June when the book finally comes out, and one for my iPad. you know, so I can carry KAT around with me everywhere.

And to celebrate, she's offering a book giveaway over at Nerdy Book Club, along with an interview with Nathan Duffey, the artist who created the cover.

Days like this I am extra-grateful that I've got two new knees: because now I can really do a happy dance for Melissa. [Which I am doing due to the beat of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling," in case you're interested.] I was privileged to be there as a kind of midwife, easing Melissa though the first few revisions of this warm and funny and insightful middle grade novel. So it gives me deep joy to know that soon everyone else is going to have the chance to find out for themselves what a fantastic writer she is.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Fourth of July!

© Photo by Nancy Butts
This is Yukon, our goofy Newf, gamely posing in his Uncle Sam hat, and wishing everyone a safe and glorious Fourth!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Another plug for the serial comma

As my students and clients know, I am a big fan of the serial, or Oxford comma—you know, that punctuation mark that belongs in a list of three or more things before the word and.

lions, tigers, and bears

For such a tiny little squiggle, the serial comma elicits a lot of heated debate. The British writer Lynne Truss defended it beautifully—and hilariously—in the New York Times bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

If you can't make time to read Truss' book [although really, you should], here is a quick two-minute video by New Yorker copy editor Mary Norris, aka the Comma Queen. I couldn't say it better.

Mary Norris
Queen Mary has a new book that I'm eager to read. It's entitled Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Has anyone else read it yet?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Read Christine Kohler on keeping an emotions journal [yours truly is quoted]

Photo by Jacek Halicki
It’s been a long time since that idyllic trip to the Adirondacks: cue the big sigh. Cobwebs are dangling all over this blog since then, however, but before I go into “poor poor pitiful me” mode to make my excuses for that, let me first do a little crowing. My friend and colleague Christine Kohler—author of the YA historical novel No Surrender Soldier—has a new blog post over at UncommonYA that is well worth reading. It’s about how keeping an emotions journal can help writers create more vivid, compelling characters. Christine did me the honor of quoting me on the subject, too, so please head on over and check it out. 

So other than contributing, in a small way, to that blog post, what has been keeping me silent here? Well, first I had to pay for my month in the mountains kayaking by coming home and working through a mountain of manuscript critiques. It’s work I love, mind you, so I’m not complaining. But it took a while. After which I dashed off to DisneyWorld with my sisters and parents in mid-September. It was the first time I’ve ever been there without kids in tow, and it was fun enjoying it as a grown-up: despite the punishing 104 degree heat. I love the Haunted Mansion!

Then I came home and had a total knee replacement on Sept. 30th: ouch. I’d been dreading this for years, but when you can’t keep up at the Magic Kingdom with your 83-year-old mother who’s had spinal surgery, you know it’s time.

Not my knee, but close

According to everyone, I’m having the most phenomenal recovery in the annals of medicine—so much so that I’ve scheduled the second op for the other knee in early December.

Still, this surgery has knocked the wind out of my sails. What I call “Pain Brain” makes it hard to string three coherent words together into a sentence, much less be creative. So I hope you’ll forgive the silence of the past few months, and the silence to come. But it will all be worth it: and next year I’ll come back stronger than ever.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Drifting on a lake of peace—and I've got a chapter in a new book that just came out

© Photo by Nancy Butts
The wandering writer has found her way home at last. I just returned from a nearly-idyllic month away from the suffocating heat and humidity of summer in the South. I spent all that time in one of two mountain ranges: the Blue Ridge in Virginia; and the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks in upstate New York, about an hour from the Canadian border.

I am lucky enough to have a sister with a camp, as they call it up there, on a lake in the Adirondacks, and that’s where I spent three weeks with my loud and crazy family.

And for those three weeks, I found I was able to live each day for itself, not worrying about what went before or what lay ahead. That is a gift that is rarely given, and I tried to appreciate every moment of it. Being unplugged from email, television, newspapers, and the Internet certainly helped banish the usual stresses of modern everyday life. And so I was able to steep in the refreshingly cool silence, and bask in the bright sunshine like the little brick-colored lizard that lived beneath the outdoor shower. My favorite thing was to get up at dawn to kayak when the lake was like glass, with loons trailing along behind me and a bald eagle soaring overhead. 

But all idylls have to come to an end, so now I’m back at my desk and already a little cranky from having to juggle deadlines. Sigh.

© Photo by Nancy Butts
However, in the days and weeks to come, whenever I need a respite, I think I will be able to dip from that deep lake of peace inside me that I filled up while I was in the mountains.

And I do have some exciting news to share. Chris Eboch, my fellow writer and instructor at the Institute of Children’s Literature, has recently published a new book, You Can Write for Children.

She has kindly included a chapter from me inside! With my permission, she used some of the material from my web series on viewpoint in a chapter in her book on POV. So please, check it out. Chris’ latest book makes an excellent companion to her other guide on writing, Advanced Plotting. That’s a resource I recommend constantly to my students and clients.