Wednesday, December 7, 2016

To MFA or Not To MFA?

I've been really lucky. I have a fantastic critique group based out of San Diego Writers Ink. It's a group that meets once a week and is led by a seasoned facilitator. But while I've seen significant improvement in my writing, I can't help but think, should I take the next step? Should I apply to an MFA? If I do take this step, is it the right step? 


Vermont College of Fine Arts
To MFA:

1) Opportunity to engage with like minded individuals 
2) Structured time to learn craft 
3) Continuous feedback from seasoned writers

Not To MFA:

1) Significant cost
2) Significant time commitment
3) May require relocation

Each of these issues is critical to deciding whether an MFA is right for you. One of my initial concerns was the need to relocate full time but nowadays there are low residency MFAs that give you the opportunity to hone your craft through intense one week residencies followed by a semester of self-created study. 

I know what you're thinking. "But that isn't real immersion?" Yes and no. Sure, you aren't seeing your professors or other students on a daily basis, but writing is an exercise done mostly in solitude. The bonus of a low residency MFA is that you are in constant communication with your faculty advisor who only has a handful of students to focus on (not a classroom of 50). 

In my case, I was to focus on one project and see it through. This would be a great opportunity for me to be able to experiment in a safe environment (and for less cost than a full time residency MFA). 

Low residency MFAs are gaining wider traction and recognition these days. For a list of the top five low residency programs, click here

It's not easy. There is still the lengthy application process. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Reasons to Write . . . Gulp. . . Fan Fiction.

 For starters, I'll admit it is a little fun.

See, I have a close friend who has been bitten by the writing bug and decided to write fan fiction. She tells me all kinds of funny stories about what her characters are doing and how people are reacting to her writing.  It seems like fun.

So on this year's Thanksgiving road trip, I did a little google search on writing fan fiction and then decided to give it whirl myself.  Why not?  What else am I going to do for a five hour car trip?



By the way, I never did finish my story, but it was fun to do and it got me writing again.  But here is what I learned from listening to my friend, internet searches, and my own experience:





1. It is fun.
2. Good writing practice.
3. Learn to come up with and focus on new ideas and plots.
4. Acquire Beta Readers
5. Learn from reviews on how to be a better writer and what your target audience wants.
6. Build a following.

FYI - I'll keep y'all posted on whether I finish my fan fiction piece and if I decide to post it.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Successful Author Chat: Kendra Highley shares her path to pub story, writing advice and a chance to win a $25 gift card.


I'm thrilled the have author Kendra Highley here to share her path to publication story (spoil alert: perseverance is key!), writing advice, and her latest release The Bad Boy Bargain. Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the post for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card and more!



Guest Post: Author Kendra Highley
I started writing toward publication in 2008. I was in English major, and had been dabbling in writing for some time, but finally had an idea that made me feel like I should be serious about it. Na├»ve enough to believe it was great (this book will never see the light of day), I subbed it to agents. 110 rejections later, I took a step back, started a new project and found a great online critique group. The second series went a little better—fifteen partial requests, six full requests, and two offers for representation. What people don’t tell you, though, is getting an agent isn’t the same as having it made. After the book failed to sell, my agent wasn’t interested in any of my other work—including Sidelined, which was ultimately my first traditionally published novel—so we parted ways and I pursued self-publishing. I had some real success in that arena, but when I heard Entangled wanted sports’ related contemporary YA, I sent in Sidelined—unagented—and the rest is history.

My writing process has slowly evolved from total pantser, to plotter, to outliner. Over time, as my craft developed, I realized how many words I had to delete by not planning ahead. I still surprise myself and the story sometimes drives in a different direction, but the discipline has helped shorten my timeline—which is good because my deadlines have become tighter, too.

One of things I do that helps is set aside time to write. My biggest blocks of writing time come on the weekends, when I try to sit down for three to four hours each day and put down as many words as I can. This isn’t the time to smooth things out. “Push the story forward, clean it up later” is my mode of attack to finish a draft on time. I do fine tuning and put down additional words during the week, so I have sense of where to go when the next weekend comes.

I don’t have many secret tips other than read in your chosen genre, find a good critique group who will push you to develop, and practice your craft. Write a little every day, even if it’s two hundred words. I’ve found a few books helpful, also: Save the Cat (plotting), Self-editing for Fiction Writers (Editing), and The Emotion Thesaurus (to help vary emotion tags). The most important thing, though, is to believe in yourself and your story. It might take time (for me, it was 4 years) before you have a piece of work polished enough to put out into the world. Don’t do it too soon—reviews are tough, and you want to be ready.

If I had a chance to do things differently, I probably wouldn’t. Everyone’s writing journey is an iterative process, and it’s as unique as leaves on a tree. What works for one writer won’t always work for another. My biggest pieces of advice is you do you—if something is working for you, don’t change it even if “conventional wisdom” says otherwise. Stay true to your story, and it’ll come out in the end. 

About The Bad Boy Bargain by Kendra C. Highley 
Publication Date: November 14, 2016
Publisher: Entangled Teen Crush

Baseball player Kyle Sawyer has many labels: bad boy, delinquent, ladies’ man, fearless outfielder… Only one of them is actually true. But then sweet ballet dancer Faith Gladwell asks him to help wreck her reputation, and everything goes sideways. 

Faith knows a thing or two about love, and what she had with her cheating jerk of an ex wasn’t it. When he starts spreading rumors about her being an Ice Queen, Faith decides it’s time to let a little bad into her life.

Lucky for her, Kyle Sawyer—dark, dangerous, totally swoonworthy Kyle Sawyer—is landscaping her backyard over Spring Break. Shirtless. And if she can convince him to play along, “dating” Kyle will silence the rumors.

But Faith’s plan threatens to expose Sawyer’s biggest secret of all…and that’s a risk he’s not willing to take.

Disclaimer: This book contains drop-the-book-and-fan-yourself kisses…and touches. Fall in love with a bad boy at your own risk.



 
About the Author 

Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to four self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most important job. She believes in everyday magic, extraordinary love stories, and the restorative powers of dark chocolate.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Queries: To Personalize, or Not to Personalize?

I started the query process again this week (after a few months off buried in intensive revisions, thanks to being selected for Brenda Drake's Pitch Wars contest!). As always, I was torn on whether to personalize my queries or just jump right into the manuscript pitch. If you search for advice on the subject, you'll find conflicting opinions. What to do?

One of the biggest proponents of skipping the personalization and getting right to the point is the Query Shark herself, Ms. Janet Reid. She likens querying to calling around to find a plumber—would you tell them all the reasons you're calling them, rather than someone else?

You might also find people making the argument that agents get hundreds (some even thousands) of queries a week. To have the best chance of hooking them, don't you want to lead with your best material? Hopefully, that's your manuscript pitch, not reminding them what their own website or Twitter posts say they want.

On the flip side, querying can be very impersonal. Agents hate it when authors address queries to "Dear Agent" instead of using their name like a person. So maybe it makes sense to humanize yourself right off the bat by proving that you chose them for a reason. In addition, adding reasons why you're querying that agent with that particular project—as long as your reasons are good ones—shows you have some knowledge of the publishing industry and your genre and themes, or similarities between your novel and others. Former agent and author Nathan Bransford admits that he used personalization as a way to flag queries that deserved a closer look.

In the end, I decided to personalize my queries going forward—but only when I have something that legitimately makes me think that agent is a good fit for my manuscript. If the agent doesn't have much online about their tastes, clients, or wishlist, I won't try to make something up. It's easy to tell when people are reaching—and a clumsy personalization seems like it would be worse than none at all.

Do you personalize your queries?

Monday, November 14, 2016

NaNo on and keep it real.

As many of you know, I never NaNo.  This time of year is just too busy for me.  Sometimes I JaNo and sometimes I SEPTEMBO, but never NaNo. I wish that I could, but I just can't.  I do, however, enjoy the excitement other authors are sharing as they embark on this endeavor.

For example,  I do have a close friend who has decided that not only she, but that her whole family will NaNo.  I am so thrilled for her and have been cheering her on for nearly two weeks.  I try to give her space so that she can get those words out in peace, but I am also available for walks and talks so that she can work through various writing issues.  It is fun to be a part of her writing process.

 Now as she and countless others fast approach the halfway mark, I just thought I'd put out a reminder call for you all to keep it real not just in your stories, but also your personal lives.  Don't forget to get out in experience life this month; it'll only help to make your writing that much stronger.  I think it is important to write as much as you can while on a roll, but sometimes, you hit a snag in the writing process and no matter how hard you try to force the writing it just doesn't come naturally.  Fine - take a break.  Get out and experience life.  Inspiration will come again and you'll be back at those keyboards in no time.

Best of luck NaNo writers.  Keep it real, find that voice, and torture those poor characters a little.  Your readers will thank you.

Now lace up those shoes and get out there!
And don't worry, your characters will be with you every step of the way.

Enjoy life, enjoy writing!