Monday, May 15, 2017

Becoming a writer: Why knowing your strengths and weaknesses MATTERS

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Are you feeling discouraged and thinking of giving up?  Or maybe you’re thinking about writing something but you just can’t get started?  Maybe you figure it won’t come out right – so why even bother.  Does any of that sound like you?

Maybe you just don’t know what you’re good at.

I talk a lot on this site about not just writing a book (just one book?) but about becoming a writer – looking at writing as a career (even if you already have a career!).  And part of becoming a writer is figuring out what you’re great at doing… and what doesn’t come so easily for you.

I think I’m good at writing – but when it comes to marketing, which is a big part of being a writer today (like it or not), I don’t think that’s one of my strengths.  What about you?

What are you super-good at?  I bet you know already, but maybe you haven’t spent enough time basking in it.  This could be something you’ve heard from a whole bunch of people.  Maybe you’re secretly proud but don’t want to seem like you’re gloating.

Take the time to enjoy your strengths.  In the table below, you’ll find a bunch of different writing tasks and you’ll have a chance to see exactly how many things you are probably quite good at doing.

Unfortunately, unlike in many careers, you can’t just work on a sub-specialty and ignore the rest.  You will eventually have to deal with everything I’ve listed in the table below – and then some.  But there are some very good reasons to go into writing with your eyes open – with a keen awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses.

Why figure out your strengths?

Identifying your strengths makes you feel good about yourself!  I’m not big into self-esteem just for self-esteem’s sake.  But if you genuinely ARE good at something, you deserve

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Be grateful for editors!

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Yesterday, I got the phone call I was dreading – a call from my EDITOR.  I spent half an hour on the phone yesterday with the person in charge of editing my next children’s book, and I have to admit, I had been dreading her call for a while.

I got an email from her when the book was first accepted by the publisher (yay – details to come, I promise!) saying, basically, “We love your book, but naturally, we’re going to have to make some changes to the text.”  Which is their prerogative, right?  I can’t force them to publish my book as-is, no matter how much I love the text, so my best bet if I want to be published is to roll with things.

So.  I was prepared to roll with things.  But that doesn’t mean I was looking forward to her call, in which we would “discuss the changes.”

Ugh.  Did she not realize how much I’d sweated over every single word of that story?  Written, revised, erased, gotten it to the point where it was just about perfect?

Let me tell you – I didn’t feel particularly grateful about the spectre of her call.

When you read a commercially-published book, you’ll often see a bit at the beginning or the end where the author thanks her family, her agent, and then her editor (or editors).  I always took that part for granted until I started working as a novice journalist and working with editors who actually hacked and slashed and carved up my writing to find the most important points within it and bring those to the fore. 

And at first, dealing with those editors, what I felt was mostly ingratitude.  How dare they tell me how to write?  Isn’t writing supposed to be an art form?  And if so, would they swipe their red pens across a Degas or Van Gogh if they didn’t like what they saw on the canvas?

I was being – feel free to slap me now – frankly ridiculous.

Oh, I was gracious enough.  I wanted to keep making money and getting published, so I rolled with it, like I said, and even said “thank you.”  But I wasn’t feeling it.  Oh, boy, was I not.

But gradually,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

From Manuscript to Commercially-Published Book in 12 VERY Easy Steps

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Have you ever asked the question – if I self-publish, does that mean I’m stuck self-publishing forever?

A lot of writers think they’re stuck defining themselves as one or the other, either a “self-published writer” or a “commercially-published writer.”  I hope you haven’t fallen into that trap!

In fact, you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself that way, as I hope I’ve proved with the release of my first book from a commercial publishing company, Yossi & the Monkeys (Kar-Ben, 2017).

So what’s it like having a book commercially published after so much self-publishing experience?

It’s weird, that’s all I can say.  It’s all about sitting back, relaxing, and WAITING, because this thing took – well, forever.

But still – I thought it would be fun to break it into steps, like in my last post, so you can see what was involved along the way.  So here we go… with Step 1.

Step 1.  Contest submission.

It all started back in 2014 with a Jewish kids’ story contest at Barbara Krasner’s website.  I entered, didn’t win, didn’t even come close.  But a real editor was reading!

Trouble was, my story came in at around 10,000 words (what was I thinking???).  It had 10 chapters, it was an EPIC.  Oops… wayyyyy too long!  Here’s Chapter One.

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2. Contest rejection

Well, needless to say, this 10,000-word behemoth was rejected – with just about the nicest rejection note I have ever, ever seen:

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She liked it!  She really did!  Considering I hadn’t paid anything to enter this contest, it was a delight to receive a positive reply like this.

Only trouble was… how to get the story down THAT small?  10,000 words to 850 words???

From Manuscript to Self-Published Book in 10 Simple Steps

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What’s next? 

That’s the question I hear most often from writers out there.  Maybe even from you.  It’s what everybody wants to know, so if you’re stuck on that question, you’re not alone.

You already have a great story, one you really believe in, and you’re READY – you just want to get your story out there into the world.

Here’s the great news:  you CAN!

You can self-publish your book, in ten not-so-tough steps I’ll lay out for you here.  You’ll have to put in some time, some energy, and there is absolutely a learning curve.  But I believe this process is so simple that just about anybody can master it with a little experience.

I’m going to illustrate these steps with a book that I actually did self-publish.  It’s called Shabbat Monsters.  It’s a good example because it’s a pretty classic 32-page rhyming picture book. 

Let’s get started… at the very beginning, with

Step 1.  Your MANUSCRIPT.

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Looks pretty plain, doesn’t it?  I hope you’ve had it professionally edited.  If not, go do it – NOW.

Okay, you’re back.  Your story’s ready.  Let’s move on to…

Step 2. Your dummy

No, I’m not CALLING you a dummy!  It’s time to make a dummy.  32 pages, 2-page spreads.  Time to start planning what we (the reader) are going to see on every single page.

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So that’s the first stage of planning what the pages are going to look like.  Once I know what illustrations I’m going to need, it’s time for…

Step 3.  Artwork

If you’re not an artist (you’ll know if you are), I strongly recommend you get a professional to do this step, even if you have to pay them.  I loved the artist I worked with for this book.  A little slow, but she was very responsive.  First, she sent me sketches…

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Want to teach values in a kids' book? Put them in the background!

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Got a message you’re dying to share?

I’ve been there.

But those of us who do have a real problem.

I’m sure you’ve heard before – and I’ve certainly said it before – that kids’ books shouldn’t be used to preach at kids.  If you put that message first and fill your book chock-full with good healthy values, you’ll end up with a terrible book that kids simply won’t enjoy.

Think of zucchini.  Nobody in my family likes zucchini very much.  If you adore zucchini, think about another vegetable.  Eggplant, maybe.

Now, you know you should eat zucchini.  It’s super-good for you, right?

But if I were to cook up a big batch of zucchini for my family, they’d all sit and stare at it – myself included – and not know what to do with it.  That zucchini would sit uneaten on the plate.

Now here’s the cool part:  we actually eat a LOT of zucchini.  We eat it sliced into chicken soup every Friday night; we eat it grated into latkes and any number of savoury dishes; we eat it pureed into potato soup.  I’ve even baked zucchini bread, though yes, I understand, it’s not entirely super-good for you if it’s surrounded by flour and sugar!

The trick to zucchini, or whatever veg you don’t like very much, is to put it in the background, and the same is true for morals, values, or any other type of lesson you’d like to embed in your book.

In my new book, Yossi and the Monkeys (2017, Kar Ben Publishing), there are a ton of what the publisher probably calls Jewish values, but which I consider pretty universal.  Here’s the first page:

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What values are here – in the background?  There are things Yossi really wants, but they are not selfish wishes; they are things he wants for his family. 

(So I don’t have to come out and say something annoying like, “Don’t be selfish!”  Kids know that already anyway, so they’ll just tune you out if you try.)

The holiday itself is another value right here on this front page:  I love writing stories with Jewish holidays in them but which aren’t about the holiday.  There are too many “what is Chanukah?” books out there for me to want to contribute to the genre, plus those kinds of books have always bored my children, who have known since infancy what all the holidays are about.

(Notice I haven’t said: “Shavuot is a wonderful festival in which Jews…”  This book isn’t about Jews in general, so forget about them.  This is Yossi’s story.  Just in case the reader isn’t familiar with the festival, the publisher has included a short paragraph about it on the copyright page.)

Here are two more pages from later in the story:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The most depressing thing that will ever happen to you as a writer (and how to deal)...

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Are you feeling discouraged?
Is your writing career just not taking off the way you'd dreamed it would?

Yup, it happens to the best of us.

And get ready for the most depressing thing that will ever happen to you as a writer.
It can happen to you no matter where you are in your career.
Even if you've been published before.
Even if you've sold a ton of books.
Even if you adore them; heck, even if readers adore them.

Here it is, the very worst, most devastating thing that can happen to you:

Feedback.

Good, honest, reader feedback.  Critiques from true friends and writing companions.  It can be devastating.  It can hurt, not just a little, but a lot.

When I read feedback on my stories, I can’t help it, I’m flooded with feelings of inadequacy, a devastating inner monologue that goes a little like this…

I suck.  My story sucks.  Nobody liked it (even if they explicitly SAY they liked it!  That just means they're lying.).  Nobody likes me.  My writing is lousy; the story is stupid; it will never succeed.  I should cling with all my strength to my day job.  I am just not cut out to be a writer.  Even if I have succeeded before, I have cut off more than I can chew with this particular piece of crap.  I’d better just throw it away, forget about it, never look at it again.  Never write a word again.

How does it feel when you submit a story for critiquing?