How To Make A Writing Space: Part 1; Physical space–Think outside the desk

I like to think of my writing space the same way I do my altar space–you can make anything work with the right setup and a bit of creative thinking. My altar has been on my dresser, on top of a wardrobe, and at one point a tiny decorative box next to my bed, behind a couch, on a living room floor (ah, my first year on my own). My writing space is no different. Your writing space does need to have a few requirements, just like my altar does, but A Real Desk is not one of them.

Safety
This is going to sound a little weird to some of you, and to others it’s going to make perfect sense. You need to feel safe where you’re writing in that if you have a bad day, or you’re feeling anxious, or you simply dig into The Real Life Experience and start crying uncontrollably, you can do so without feeling awkward or out of place. Writing is digging, sometimes you’re pulling out some heavy emotional shit, and you can’t do without a safe environment.

Peace
You need to be able to work without noise. You do. Even if you think you don’t. Writing happens when you’re in control, and you don’t want someone watching TV in the next room to throw off your rhythm. For me, I need to be in control of the noise being made, but I need my own noise to make the world noise fuck off. This alternates from my 8tracks collections (link to my personal account) to ambient noise (link to slytherin house). You can also do this by simply putting in a pair of earplugs. If you’re going to be writing sans computer, I highly recommend the Relax Sounds app for ambient noise. For music on the go, 8tracks has wonderful playlists themed just for writers. You can save them all into collections for hours upon hours of mood music.

Reliability
Your space needs to always be available to you. You don’t want to be working around a weird schedule and then get thrown off because Life Happened or your boss changed up your hours so now your coffee house or library or what have you is closed. You don’t want to be scheduling around your roommates for common space–trust me, you don’t. You want to be able to write whenever the mood strikes.

Comfort
It goes without saying that you need to be comfortable while you write. This could mean investing in a nice pen or a good keyboard. I recommend something with a good grip like a SARASA or even a fountain pen (the lack of pressure needed to write helps my hands a lot) or the Logitech Wave keyboard for typing. You need to have good back support–you don’t want to hurt yourself for your art (its not cool kids its just bad for your health). You also need to be warm/cool, so if you’re planning to carve out the garage or a shed, be prepared to have a really safe heater and a really nice fan.

Where do I write: in my bedroom. I have two desks–neither of them are for writing. Neither of them are in my bedroom. I have my lovely glass Z-line desk for editing–its got a Serta office chair that keeps my bad back in line. I have an old wooden desk that I picked up at a Goodwill with lots of drawers and a nice lip around the top to keep things from rolling off–thats what where I do my engraving and other jewelry work, as well as clothes studding and patches.

My writing space? Its my bed. With one of those Sit Up pillows. My bed has all of the above. I have slippers and blankets to keep my warm, and cat cuddles for comfort. It’s always open to me, and I can work for hours here without disturbance. While I will do revision at the desk, simply because I like my keyboard settings for this specific task, I write most of the time on my Toshiba laptop, and so that is in essence my writing space.

If you’re feeling a little out of it stressed or lost for inspiration, you can always get out of the house. My personal favorites are my local library–there is nothing better for me than to walk into a library and be reminded that I too can get on these fucking shelves if I just keep working at it. You may even be able to find a copy of a great writing magazine to thumb through if you need a little pick me up. If the weather happens to be cooperating (I live in Massachusetts, so this is as rare as a white tiger) I will go outside and write on my deck or my yard or the local park. I don’t do coffeehouses–too many people for me. But if it works for you, fucking do it.

None of these places have a writing desk.

And thats the point. You don’t need a writing desk, or a battle shed (though damn, wouldn’t that be great). All you really need is peace and quiet, some place comfy, and the basic tools of the craft. Your physical writing space doesn’t need to be your bed. It can be a chair at home in a corner you like with a collapsible table you bring out when its Writing Time. It can be a seat at your kitchen table (if you live alone or with people who are quiet as mice). It can be anything, anywhere, that suits your needs.

If you like what you’ve read here, be sure to subscribe to our website here at Word Vagabond, and stay tuned for our next installment–all about carving out a digital writing space, completely organized and custom tailored for you.

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Critique is Crucial: Seven steps to a great writing group

Writers love writing; we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t. What writers don’t love (for the most part) is sharing their writing.

Sharing your writing is terrifying. There’s no bones about it. Your words could get torn apart, or worse–stolen. It’s baring your precious darling to the world and praying it doesn’t get hurt. This is why authors need great editors to insure your book is as perfect as it can be.

This is also why authors need writing groups.

Writing groups can be many different things for authors. They can be a safe place to get your butt in the chair and just write (these are called write-ins). They can be sounding boards where you talk business and marketing and the craft of writing (Writers Coffeehouse on Facebook). And they can also be a place where you can find out for certain if your book will make it or break it in The Real World.

The last is the hardest by far to find, but it can also be the most rewarding. If you’re ready to put your work on the chopping block, you can begin the work of making the perfect critique group in seven easy steps.

  1. Find People You Trust
    You don’t have to be close friends with your group members; it’s better if you’re not. But you need to be bale to trust their opinions on your work to be honest and backed up by something other than personal taste. For example, if someone is saying the sexual assault scene doesn’t seem very accurate, they have to tell you why and back it with reasoning and research.
  2. Find People Outside Your Genre
    Your first instinct may be to invite all of the people you already chat with in your genre–don’t do it. People outside your field will be more effectively critical of your work. They catch things that you wouldn’t, and you’ll do the same for them/ If it all possible, find people who each writer very different genres and styles. You may be surprised how each person in your group will catch something very different. The result: well-rounded critiques for all! Like the Oprah of editing–all for free.
  3. Have A Set Deadline
    The best critiques come over time, not on the spot. As you’re creating the schedule for your group, be sure to also have a set deadline for sending in your work atg least one week before the group meets. This gives everyone time to review each other’s work fairly.
  4. Have A Limit
    No one wants to be that asshole who submits a 15k story, when everyone else’s subs are only 3k. Have a cap for how many words and stick to it. Remember that if you want your group to to work on longer pieces, you’ll need to set your submission deadline accordingly. 10k subs should have at best two weeks to go over them before your group meets.
  5. Be Kind
    It’s easy to be critical, but don’t forget to point out the good too! If something made you laugh, made you smile, made you horrified, say it! Kind words help authors remember that their story isn’t all bad–even if it does need a lot of work. Offer suggestions as well, as these can help to bounce ideas around and move their story in the right direction.
  6. Food Is The Best Break
    Your group might not always see eye to eye, but even if you disagree on an opening, you can always agree on where to order take out. Planning your meeting around a meal time gives everyone something to look forward to, even if their nervous about well their book was received.
  7. Don’t Forget The Doorknob Questions
    Always ask whoever’s on the chopping block if they have any questions before you move along. This way, the author always has a moment to explain their choices or even just everyone’s thoughts on an aspect of the story that went unaddressed. This one simple question insures everyone gets the feedback they need to make a better book.

A writing group can be an invaluable resource to authors at all stages of their careers, provided you stay on task and put your own hard work into it. Stay on task, take careful notes, and bring dessert for back up.

Announcements for 2017

Suzanne will no longer be offering discounts for first-time clients as of 2017. She has now been with us for two years, and has built up a solid reputation as a whipsmart, savvy, and knowledgeable editor. We are considering offering genre-themed sales for a smaller discount at points during the year (possibly in the realm of mystery and LGBT manuscripts).

Due to her more recent promotion at her day job (now the store manager of an independent bookstore in Worcester, MA), Suzanne is currently tackling one round of copy edits every two weeks and developmental edits in one month. She is working to take on only one large project and one small project a month (one large novel and one short-story novella) until she can finally come back to working for us full-time, which she hopes will be one day very soon. You can follow her on Twitter for updates and publishing news, or on her own blog, An Andro Named Sue, where she writes about mental illness, folklore and paranormal studies, gender and sexuality, and the publishing community.

We are also working to keep a regularly updated page for Convention Appearances. Suzanne loves to go to conventions all around the North East coast. She is currently planning to attend Boskone, NECON, Readercon, and Howlercon. Last year she was given a place on a small panel discussing independent publishing, and is looking forward to getting more involved this year. You can also find her at events with Writer’s Coffehouse New England, run by River City Writers, as well write-ins with Worcester Writers Collaborative.

That’s all folks! Hope everyone’s 2017 is off to a great start, and we look forward to seeing all of your marvelous stories in the months to come.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat: getting serious about self-publishing

Let’s get a few things straight here.

Self Publishing is not:
-easy
-cheap
-for people who can’t write

Self Publishing is:
-expensive
-time consuming
-for anyone who wants to run a small business

Okay but why the Jaws analogy?

Because self-publishing is a lot like fishing. Anyone can do the basics, but to be successful at it you need to have the right rod and tackle, dedication, and willingness to learn from your mistakes. Often times when first time writers give self-pub a go, they realize they’re in way over their heads. What was thought to be a “click and upload” quickly becomes a giant ravenous shark set to devour your bank account and your sanity all in one fell swoop.

chummin for sharks.gif

So do what Peter Benchley would do – your homework. Self-publishing requires at least five people or skills to be successfully accomplished.

  1. The author
  2. The editor
  3. The cover artist
  4. The book formatter
  5. The PR pro

Either you are going to be doing all of that on your own, or you’re going to hire someone. I’m an author, an editor, and a book formatter – but I know my limits. I know how to market a website or an online business, but not an author. That requires additional knowledge and training that I will never be able to acquire on my own. I also can’t do cover art; I can barely make my handwriting legible. (You should all be so lucky that we’ve done away with hand-written edits. Your novels would come back looking like something your English professor graded.) Know your strengths and limits.

How do you hire the right people?

That’s entirely up to you. Different genres require different needs. You may want to go for a more modern model and background cover for a contemporary romance, or a traditional artist for a high fantasy. (Typography should be a deal breaker – if they can’t do it, walk.)

Your editor should be someone whose worked on books in your genre and charges fair rates. They should always have a list of previous clients/books worked, and be mindful of your unique needs. If you don’t like them, walk. There will always be more editors.

Book formatters should always mention ‘by hand’. Don’t hire a book formatter who offers less than one week turnaround and charges $50. You will get $50 worth of work, and it will show. The book format is how you package your product to sell, and packaging is everything.

Your PR pro is your marketing and your fairy godmother more or less rolled into one. They should be able to help you with everything from a marketing plan to setting up social media to getting you in places for book signings. (If not physical signings, then blog tours). Without great PR, the prettiest and most well-polished book will still be dead in the water.

(You can also think of this as a heist movie, if it helps.)

Oceans 12 awkward crew gif

Your self-publishing tool box will need to include the following:

  • One professional email account
  • An html-editing program (examples: J-edit or Dreamweaver)
  • Book-creating program  (example: Calibre)
  • Latest Word (anything newer than 03 will do)
  • Pdf reader (primarily for print book formatting)
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Modern web page that is frequently updated
  • SEO keywords
  • Excel 

Additional skills include:

  • Networking: this includes everything from chatting at places like Absolute Write to keeping up with social media, and should always include attending conventions and conferences
  • The Pitch: the ability to summarize your book in 2 minutes to potential buyers. Become the master of making everyone love your book.
  • Online Identity: your social media needs to do more than just spam your book; you need to find the Thing that puts the U in Unique and present that to the world. (You’re a writer, I guarantee you’re not that boring)
  • Business savvy: includes but is not limited to- knowledge of the publishing industry, keeping up with news in the writer’s market, trends in cover design, whose buying what, and number crunching (your taxes are going to suck, there’s no easy way around it).
  • Legal know-how: ISBNs. Contracts. Right to Print. Keeping your rights in-tact while still making money.

bigger boat

So, how much does it cost to publish an e-book? That depends on length, formatting, and you. What skills do you have or are willing to learn, and what do you need to hire-out for? If you’re paying for everything, here’s what you’re looking at:

Comprehensive editing packing for 80k novel: $800
Cover art: $200
E-book format: $150
Print format: $150
Promotional services: $50-200 (varies on services requested)
Total cost: $1,500

And that’s just an approximate. You could need to spend more on a cover, or more on formatting, or your book may be longer or shorter. You may need to even hire someone to build you a website if you don’t have one already, which would cost $500 for a custom build by a professional graphic designer.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. But that doesn’t make it impossible, far from it. The business of being an author is just like any other, do your research and have a set of plans and goals in mind. The only way to get serious about making money as a writer is to get serious about writing.

Don’t treat it like a hobby.

Treat it like the career you want it to be.

Small House, Big Competition: the evolution of publishing as we know it

Before we begin the learning portion of today’s exercise, I would like to open with the following statements:

If you think e-readers are the downfall of civilization and the writing industry as we know it, turn back now.

If you think self-publishing is only for People Who Can’t Write, there’s the fucking door.

If you think getting published is a lot harder today, sit down, grab a cup of tea – we have a lot to discuss.

dis-gon-be-gud

For those of us new to the world of publishing, the grand scheme works something like this. You, the author, write things. You go out and find a literary agent, whose job is to help you make money from these things, because they don’t make money until you do. They try to find your book a home at a publisher. The publisher’s job is to make money, regardless of whether you do or not. The publisher then has to get a distributor to actually create your book and spread it amongst book stores, shopping centers, etc.

As a diagram, it would look something like this:

Author -> Agent -> Publisher -> Distributor -> THE WORLD (hopefully).

As with much of the world’s industry, the Powers That Be of Publishing are down to the Big Five. These guys have gobbled up most of the underdogs, including a major merger four years back of Penguin and Random House. Many of the presses you’ll see on books are imprints owned by one of these conglomerates. For example, Delacorte is a big name in young adult titles, and is part of Penguin Random House.

Due to this shift in the publishing industry and the rise of e-readers, I hear  authors complaining constantly at conventions and meet-ups that it is next to impossible to become published today.

Dylan eye roll

It is not impossible. It is harder to be published by a Big Five publisher, but Big Five is not the end all be all of traditional publishing.

What?! But in school, I was taught that there was only Big Publishing, evil Vanity Publishing run by Satan, and You’re Better Off Not Bothering Self Publishing.

I know – I was taught the very same thing. But I graduated in 2012. The world of publishing is a very different place today. Thanks in part to the challenges surrounding the Big Five of NYC, middle-sized, small-press, and independent publishing houses have risen up to take it upon themselves to change the face of publishing. These houses are unique in that they will often focus on the niche of your novel, such as sci-fi and fantasy publisher Angry Robot, or the young adult audience of Leapand of course, the godfather of independent US publishing: Kensington.

But how can a small or middle-sized house reach people like a Big Five can?

Easy – they use the same distributors as the big guys do. That means your book can still get into Barnes & Noble and everywhere else fine books are sold, without having to sacrifice a new born to get into a Big Five house. Not all major publishers have great promotional teams, and a big house does not mean a safer or better contract. (Seriously. Don’t sign the dotted line until you’ve read every square inch of it.) The key to selling a book well is not necessarily to get into a Big Five publishing house, but rather to have an excellent PR rep and a great distributor.

Now here’s the part where I ask of you, dear reader, to drink deep of this fine, indie publishing Koolaid and tell you one of two things.

First – you don’t need an agent to get into a small or mid-sized house. Many of them don’t require one. All you need to do is do the work of the agent yourself – that means going over your contract with a fine-tooth comb, and maybe contacting an author-friend or two before you sign anything.

Take a sip, and let that sink in.

Are you sitting? Have you tried the Koolaid? It’s actually herbal tea, but who needs the sugar really and all that fake coloring is just – I digress.

I’m going to tell you about a book. A very special book for many, many reasons. It’s a book I don’t order for my little book store through MacMillan or Edelweiss, aka the long arm of Penguin RH (brownie for you if you say Edelweiss with a heavy german accent). I have to go through Bookazine to get it because it’s published through an independent house. It’s gone again in three weeks or less, and I order them all over again like clockwork. Fabulous, profit increasing, indie bookstore supporting clockwork. The title is a middle-grade to young adult series called Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The author is Ransom Riggs. The publisher is Quirk.

You don’t mean the new Tim Burton movie that’s coming out this summer!

Oh, I do.


Because of this one book, Quirk, who primarily doth not tread in younger audiences, is now taking on middle-grade and YA titles.

So before you give up on publishing that book, before you heave that big ol’ melodramatic anti-hero sigh and decide that maybe getting published traditionally just isn’t for you, consider all of your options first.

I sense a change in the Force dear reader, and it’s bad news for Big Five and fabulous news for the writer’s market. Because if stories like Miss Peregrine become A Thing, stories where books from non-NYC based houses are given their due diligence, Big Five publishers are going to have to change the way they do things.

I see a better world for writers, one where alternative presses and small/mid-size houses actively compete in the land of publishing.

Think I’m crazy?

Keep drinking the Koolaid, and talk to me when Miss Peregrine hits theaters.

cheers McFassy

FREE NOW – Dare to Love by Carly Phillips

Review by Alexis ArendtDare to Love

“When it comes to family, billionaire football team owner, Ian Dare gives his all, but in relationships he offers the bare minimum. Until one glimpse of sensual Riley Taylor arouses his dominant and protective instincts. He will do anything to possess her … and does. But any future with Riley must include him dealing his half-brother who is a constant reminder of the pain he’d rather forget.

Riley Taylor believes herself immune to domineering men – until charismatic Ian Dare turns a simple kiss into an all-out assault on her senses and she discovers she likes his brand of control in the bedroom. As their affair heats up, they soon realize this is more than just an affair. But Riley’s past is closer than she cares to remember, and her struggles with Ian’s dominance might just cost her everything.” –Amazon.com

Dare to Love is an intelligent and engaging contemporary romance. I was impressed by the well-rounded characters: Ian’s relationship with his family and his sincere efforts to meet Riley halfway keep him from being just another alpha male. I liked the way his sisters kept him grounded and challenged him at the same time.

Riley also has significant depth to her story. Her past with an abusive father is portrayed realistically, without being either underplayed or eclipsing her as a person. In a genre where abuse is being treated more and more often as a romantic trope, this is very refreshing.

With a compelling story line, plenty of ups and downs, and a handful of steamy sex scenes, this is a book well worth picking up!

 

Title:  Dare to Love

Author:  Carly Phillips

Genre:  Contemporary Romance

Publication:  CP Publishing 2013

Price:  FREE (e-book, all formats), $12.29 (paperback)

Author’s Website:  http://www.carlyphillips.com