Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Write Like a Poet!

FYI "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning"
is my all-time favorite love poem.


It's the end of National Poetry Month, and I think it's worth reading what some of the great poets have said in order to help get inspired for our own writing. Because, really,  Baudelaire nailed it. All writing should aspire to be poetry. Tight. Aware of the way consonants and vowels roll off the tongue. A composed rhythm of sentences. A picture of life that makes us see the eternal truths in life. So here we go... :)



Poetry should... should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.
John Keats




Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.
W.B. Yeats

Always be a poet, even in prose.
Charles Baudelaire

Monday, April 28, 2014

Writer's Resource: Should You Incorporate as an LLC?

Whether you plan to go the traditional route or the self publishing route, at some point your writing will move from hobby to business.

The good news: your writing related expenses are tax deductible.  That includes your computer, travel associated with book promos and writing research, writing conferences, website development, purchasing your URL, promotion materials, etc.

The bad news: you now have to think through all that pesky business stuff, like taxes and whether or not you want to incorporate as an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).

It's worth noting that I am not an accounting or legal professional, so please do not take this as formal legal or accounting advice. I'm still trying to figure it all out with the rest of you.  :)

Should writers incorporate as an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation)?


If you're earning income from writing but have made no moves to set yourself up as a separate legal entity, you are by default a sole-proprietorship.  For many people this is perfectly fine -- you are able to file your writing taxes along with your regular tax documents, which in general makes things pretty fluid and easy to manage.

The downside is that your business and personal finances are intertwined.

More specifically, if you were to ever get sued (for example, for copyright infringement) creditors could go after your personal assets (your house, your personal bank account) in addition to any business assets.  Incorporating as an LLC separates your business assets from your personal assets, so any business liability is limited to the assets associated with your LLC. (Hence the name, Limited Liability Corporation.)

Said another, incorporating as an LLC puts a layer of protection between you and your business.

Another tertiary benefit is that instead of using your SSN# on business related documents, you can use a TIN# (tax ID number) or EIN# (employer ID number), which is a little safer to have floating around in a world where identity theft is a risk.

On the downside, there's more cost and work if you choose to set yourself up as an LLC.  Exact costs depend on the state you live and incorporate in, but there is at minimum a one-time fee associated with incorporating that typically starts around $350.  To get the benefits of your LLC, you will need to keep your business and personal expenses separate. This may be cumbersome for some, because it means having a separate bank account that your royalties and business expenses are managed from.

In general, the likelihood of litigation (at least from the research I've done) appears to be low, and many publishing houses have contractual clauses that assume some litigation risk. But it becomes a question of how much risk you're willing to take and what you, as the business owner, are most comfortable with.

It's also worth noting that you don't have to make up your mind up right away. Some people continue on as a sole-proprietorship until their writing income becomes large enough to warrant the extra time and expense, at which time they make the move to incorporate.

Regardless of your decision, take the time to consider your options, so some research and make the choice that best suits your needs.  See below for a few websites and blog posts that I found useful when doing my own research.

Handy resources to help you decide if you want to incorporate as an LLC 


This website does a great job of laying out the different types of incorporation options, which include LLCs along with Partnerships and Sole-proprietorships.

Wikihow takes you through the steps to set yourself up as an LLC in the U.S.

This about.com post and this absolute write thread include some handy pro/con LLC discussions. Read through the comments - that's where the good stuff is.

This blog post also includes some great information about making the transition from hobby to business and what you should consider.

Happy writing (and incorporating!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Grammar Gripe: I/Me Errors

Although I've tried not to let it show too much on this blog, my friends and critique partners will tell you that I'm a bit of a grammar stickler (that sounds nicer than nazi, right?).

grammar nazi

Unfortunately, there's one I can't keep to myself anymore. In the past few weeks alone, I have heard approximately 4 billion* I/me errors. These aren't just being made by non-writer family members and friends. I've heard lines like "he gave it to her and I" on TV shows, seen them written in magazines, and horror of all horrors, even found one in a published novel.

This error is rampant in popular music, too. Lady Gaga alone has not one, but two major hits that prominently feature I/me errors. In the song "You and I," there's the line "Yeah, something about, baby, you and I." The song "Bad Romance" has this lovely gem: "You and me could write a bad romance."


Lady Gaga bad grammar

Clearly knowing when to use "I" and when to use "me" can be confusing. Below is a quick rundown on the rules. I'm going to try to avoid using a lot of complicated grammar terms, because I have a feeling that's where most people get bogged down.

the rules

Rule #1: Use "I" for the subject of the sentence (the person who's performing the action). 
This is why we say I went to the store rather than Me went to the store. If there's more than one person performing the action, that's okay--you should still use "I" (as in Tony and I went to the store).

The only place where this rule gets tricky is when a word acting as a subject in the sentence isn't at the beginning. For example, if you were to say This is the one I like, it's correct to use "I" instead of "me" because "I" is doing something (in this case, liking).

Grammar matters to you and me

Rule #2: Use "me" when the action of the verb is being done to the person.
This could be a straightforward sentence like My sister hit me or a more complicated one like Lucy wrote an email that she forwarded to Jackie and me. (Notice that in the last example, "me" is the object of a preposition. In this case, you would always use "me" instead of "I.")

Again, the sentence order could be switched around so you end up with "me" at the beginning. In the sentence Between you and me, this isn't a good idea, the correct word to use is "me" because it's the object of the preposition "between."

Quick and Very Useful Tip: Most of the confusion comes from instances where the "I" or "me" is connected to another pronoun or name. Example: He told the good news to her and (I or me?)

When you encounter a sentence like this and aren't sure which one to use, try writing or saying the sentence without the first pronoun and the conjunction. So for this example, the choices would become He told the good news to I or He told the good news to me.

It's pretty easy to hear that "me" would be correct, isn't it?

If you're more confused than before, or if you're looking for a more in-depth discussion of I/me errors, try the following links:

Grammar Girl: Between You and Me
Oxford Dictionaries: "I" or "me"?
WikiHow: How to Choose Between "I" and "Me"

*This is a slight exaggeration. It was probably more like 3.8 billion.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Industry Month In Review: You, Me, and Millennials

Flowers blooming in springFor those of us on the East coast, we're just now starting to breath a sigh of relief as six foot snowbanks make way for bright sunny skies and warmer weather.  So what better time to take a look at that manuscript you're working on with fresh eyes and a new perspective.  

One way is to take a look at your manuscript and it's potential audience.  Are you speaking to the Millennial generation?  If so, then you should make sure you're addressing their needs.  While this article in Marketplace speaks more to overall marketing to Millennials, there are quotes that hold true for story tellers as well.

MaryLeigh Bliss, a trends editor and strategic consultant with Ypulse, a youth marketing and research firm, says for Millennials, story is key.  

"Making it more than just a product, you know it gives it a background that you can connect with emotionally rather than it just being a thing," she says.

Bliss says Millennials likes to share experiences. They don't like to show off. So her advice to marketers –stop trying to promote your brand, and instead, focus on emotion.

So how do you know that you're manuscript is speaking to your audience?  I'm sure the majority of you are participating in helpful critique groups (whether locally or virtually).  These groups can provide great insight, but in some cases they can also veer you off from the right path.  It's important to assess from time to time the critique group you're a part of . Is it providing you with the right level of support and information?  

Noelle August's BoomerangEmma Dryden, editor/publisher consultant extraordinaire provides a great recipe for a good critique group in her latest blog post.  I particularly like her final note:

Every once in a while, it's a good idea to add a one-time ingredient to this recipe, such as a professional editor or published author who will provide a new voice and perspective to the discussion. 

Now not everyone has access to professional editors or published authors but even a fresh addition or another writer from a different genre may help you see things you would not have seen otherwise. 

Finally, what's spring without the announcement of a highly anticipated new release?  So excited that Noelle August's (pen name for New York Times Best-Selling author Veronica Rossie and the truly talented independent editor Lorin Oberweger) first novel Boomerang is set to release July 15th.  It promises to be chalk full of romance, drama and titillating urban adventure. Can't wait to see what August has in store for us this summer!



Thursday, April 17, 2014

OF BREAKABLE THINGS: blog hop, interview & giveaway!

You guys, I'm sooo excited to share my interview with A. Lynden Rolland, the author of OF BREAKABLE THINGS (released April 8, 2014). As if that cover wasn't enough to make you want to read, the story sounds amazing.  Check out the interview below, and don't forget to scroll to the bottom for a chance to win your very own copy.

Book cover for OF BREAKABLE THINGS, a novel
How long did it take you to write OF BREAKABLE THINGS from start to finish?

Well … *clasps hands together* that’s the funny part. I never set out to publish Of Breakable Things. I just had some time and a story in my head, so I didn’t plot it out. I just wrote and wrote until the story was finished. The initial version was about 800 pages! My best friend asked to read it, and although I doubt she read all 800 pages, she liked the gist of it. We started googling how to become published, and whoa. If I knew then what I know now I would have taken up knitting or something. The first version took about a year to write. I spent the next year editing (and chopping it in half), and then I began submitting to agents. So, I guess the solid answer would be two years.

What was the inspiration for OF BREAKABLE THINGS?

I can’t pinpoint one thing, but I had this idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. I thought about how much we love things. How much we hate things. How much knowledge we gain in a lifetime. I couldn’t imagine that when the body died, that all of the mental energy just … disappeared. So I started thinking that maybe those emotions and that intelligence could come alive into a projection of a person.

Then I needed people. I needed a girl who would die prematurely, to be physically breakable. And once I began researching Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (vascular EDS if we want to get specific), Alex came alive in my mind. And Chase just appeared there beside her one day, holding her hand. Chase’s brothers kind of elbowed their way into the story after that. They’re pushy.

If you had your pick, what movie star(s) would you pick to play the main character(s)?

I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to blast some music and surf the internet for pictures. I enjoyed the hours it took me to find the faces matching the ones in my head, especially the boys. All of them are older now, but their teen pictures are perfect.

Alex=Twiggy

Alex is shorter, and her hair is a bit darker, but everything else is perfect especially the big eyes.

Of Breakable Things, by A. Lynden Rolland

There are four Lasalle brothers, and they all look similar, but Chase (the youngest) and Kaleb (the oldest) look like a young Rob Lowe:

Of Breakable Things, by A. Lynden Rolland

I’ll throw in this one too. I know you won’t complain:



Of Breakable Things, by A. Lynden Rolland

Jonas and Gabe, the middle brothers, are more serious. The picture below of James Dean reminds me of Jonas, who is rougher around the edges.

Of Breakable Things, by A. Lynden Rolland

Gabe is the bookworm, so let’s use James Dean with some frames.

Of Breakable Things, by A. Lynden Rolland

Where's your favorite place to write?

I’m a regular at my local Barnes and Noble. It’s usually pretty quiet in the cafĂ©. Also, there’s a beautiful store downtown in Annapolis with old books, wine, and coffee. It’s great, but parking is a nightmare, and I stress about things like that. So, usually I write in my office at my house because I have notes pinned to the walls and the desk and the chair and the door. All over. It’s a mess and I love it.

The cover is beautiful.  How much input did you get to put into the design?  And tell the truth - how many times a day do you stare at it? ;-)

HAHA! Thank you! I was asked originally what I envisioned for the cover. Broken glass. Maybe part of a face. Or a reflection in the glass. I had the opportunity to see a few of the ideas, and I was completely enamored by what was then a black and white image (it would later become the cover). I’m thrilled it was picked because I didn’t want something ethereal. Alex’s life was hard. Her illness was hard. Her death was hard. Her afterlife is no walk in the park either. That face has a great story to tell, and I hope readers think so, too. I hope they pick it up!

Do you have any trunked manuscripts?  If so, how did you know it was time to move on?

A few, yes. I can usually tell after a few pages if the writing is going well or not. If I’m getting bored or restless writing it, a reader will feel the same way. Some ideas are so much fun, and I just can’t get into the characters. I never throw away anything though. One day it might work.

I see from your website bio that you have an agent.  How long did you query, and how did you know she was "the one?"

I racked up a lot of rejections. I keep them in a computer file marked with an inappropriate word. Queries are so, so agonizing to write and my pitch was really lacking. I worked on it for months. Then, I got a few bites. I received some great criticism. I wrote and rewrote and revised and reworked. I know it’s been said again and again, but it only takes one person (and maybe a little luck). My agent, Rachael Dugas, found the manuscript in a pile left by a former agent. She was the one because she understood my vision for who I wanted the characters to be, and what I wanted that afterworld to be.

Any words of wisdom you can share with writers still working their way through the query trenches?

Enroll in workshops. I took a query workshop taught online by Kristin Nelson, and after that, I signed with Rachael.

What did you learn from the publication process that surprised you?

So. Many. Writers.

It really is so competitive. That’s why it’s difficult to land an agent. That’s why it’s tough to find an editor who hasn’t heard a pitch similar to yours.

On the plus side, networking with other authors has been inspiring. Writers are an odd breed, and it’s wonderful to be around people who are similar to me.

Congrats on the launch of your book, and thanks for the time!

Thank you so much for having me! Your questions were fabulous. Readers can find me online here:

Goodreads |  Twitter |  Facebook  |  Website

About Of Breakable Things:
Book cover for OF BREAKABLE THINGS, a novel
A captivating debut about the fragility of life, love, and perspective.

Alex Ash was born broken. Living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is like living on death row, but she is willing to fight for her frail life as long as it includes the boy next door. Chase has always held the pieces of her together, but when he dies tragically, Alex’s unfavorable fate becomes a blessing in disguise.

Faced with a choice, she finds herself in a peculiar world where rooms can absorb emotions and secrets are buried six feet under. Among limitless minds, envious spirits, and soulless banshees, Alex hardly rests in peace.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

National Poetry Month!!!



As a way to celebrate National Poetry Month, I've been posting quick poetry lectures online for my students (flipping my classroom a bit), and I'm finding that the more I read poetry out loud, the more lyrical my prose writing becomes (still not as lyrical as I'd like, of course, but better). Anyway...I encourage you all to celebrate in your own way, but I highly recommend that it is out loud and often. You just might be surprised at the euphonious results that trickle down into your own writing.

Here is a link to one of my ridiculous video lectures on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" (an interpretation for high school students where I am sure to add a side note they rightfully mocked about not taking heroin) in case anyone has that much time on his hands. :).


XOXO
--Lauren
aka Miss M.

Monday, April 14, 2014

YA Book Pick: THE RULES by Stacey Kade

Once a month, we choose an outstanding YA book to review. We want to spotlight books of interest to aspiring writers, as well as highlight some of our favorite books and authors!

This month's Book Pick is THE RULES by Stacey Kade.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

1. Never trust anyone.


2. Remember they are always searching.

3. Don’t get involved.

4. Keep your head down.

5. Don’t fall in love.

Five simple rules. Ariane Tucker has followed them since the night she escaped from the genetics lab where she was created, the result of combining human and extraterrestrial DNA. Ariane’s survival—and that of her adoptive father—depends on her ability to blend in among the full-blooded humans in a small Wisconsin town, to hide in plain sight at her high school from those who seek to recover their lost (and expensive) “project.”

But when a cruel prank at school goes awry, it puts her in the path of Zane Bradshaw, the police chief’s son and someone who sees too much. Someone who really sees her. After years of trying to be invisible, Ariane finds the attention frightening—and utterly intoxicating. Suddenly, nothing is simple anymore, especially not the rules…

First Line: "I have a dead girl's name."

What a first line.  It says a lot and raises significant questions.  First and foremost: Why does she have a dead girl's name? It's stated very matter of fact and gives us some insight into Ariane's character.  She's very logical and straight forward - exactly what you would expect from a human/alien hybrid.

Highlights: If you're looking for a full fledged sci-fi psychological thriller, this may be a bit of a light read but what it lacks in science, it makes up in character drama.  The story is written from the POV of both Ariane and Zane and while set in the future, offers a very contemporary feel.  But that doesn't mean it's not complete with a few twists and turns that will keep you engaged till the end. 

While THE RULES veers from true sci-fi, it offers new readers interested in the genre a chance to ease themselves into something that's more than just a present day young adult romance. 

A Good Read For: For those who enjoy light YA quick reads with a touch of sci-fi.  Also for those YA writers looking for examples of stories with multiple viewpoints and plot twists.  Check out Lauren's review of MIND GAMES by Kiersten White to move on up in the sci-fi psychological thriller world.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Editing: Cutting Down Your Word Count

"It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."
-C.J. Cherryh

Today's post was inspired by two things. First, this blog post from literary agent Suzie Townsend on cutting down a too-bloated word count. And second, the fact that I just hit 92,000 words on the first draft of my YA contemporary/adventure novel... that I was planning to keep around 70,000 words. 

During the editing process, I'm going to cut a few subplots, which will help some. But what about the little things that contribute to bloated word counts? They add up faster than you might think.

Here's a list of things to check when you're trying to get your word count down:

1. Redundant phrases, ideas, or thoughts. Example: "He flew forward in his chair." We presumably already know he's sitting in a chair, so the italicized part of the sentence is redundant and could be eliminated.

2. Unnecessary dialogue tags. If it's clear from context who's doing the speaking, you don't need a "he said." It's only two words, but what if you could cut one or two of these from every page? That adds up quickly over a 200-300 page manuscript.

3. Spelling things out for the reader. This goes back to the good old "show, don't tell" adage. If you show a character's fear through his reaction to innocent noises, there's no need to then tell the reader that he's feeling scared. This is an area where most writers can cut ruthlessly.
4. Descriptive words and phrases. Look for adjectives, adverbs, and overlong descriptions of minor characters or settings. Some specific words to watch out for: actually, basically, seemed, just, really. The nice thing is that it's easy to do a word search on modern word processors.

For more strategies on how to cut big chunks of your manuscript's word count, check out these great blog posts:

Lighten Up! Cutting Down Your Word Count from Janice Hardy's Fiction University

Monday, April 7, 2014

Villain of the Month: Elsa?


Last week I had a slumber party with my little nieces and finally saw the much-discussed Disney flick, Frozen. Instantly, I was compelled to read up on the screenwriter and original story. Apparently (according the very reliable Wikipedia) Disney had been unsuccessfully trying to find a way to work the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen into a film, but the Snow Queen was a villain, and they were having a tough time humanizing her. 


Jennifer Lee
Enter Jennifer Lee. The talented co-writer on Wreck It Ralph had popped onto the Disney writing scene after going back to school (Columbia) when she was 30. After working on the Frozen script, she was moved up to a director credit, the first female director of an animated film at a major house. Under her hand, the powerful female "villain" became both not-so-villainous, and not-so-desperate for a man to take care of her (a much-mocked motif in earlier Disney films).

I think it's worthwhile to take a minute to appreciate the strength of the story behind the story here. 

Kudos (and thank you) to Jennifer Lee for taking the powerful-woman-is-villain cliche and turning it into a powerful-woman-is-hero ideal for kids today. 

And a lesson for all my lovely writer friends out there, by examining the villains of our society we expose the things we fear. Some of those cliche villains/fears are dark and horrible and need to remain the things we fear, but as writers, we have the opportunity to explore what it is actually most corrosive to our society. We have the opportunity to turn the cliche villains of oppression/voicelessness/etc. into omens of hope. And maybe I'm overstepping here, but as writers, I don't think it's just our opportunity, but our moral obligation.

Thanks again, Jennifer Lee.

If you have the time, I highly recommend reading some of her interviews. Fascinating person. From Pop Sugar:, with her co-director on Den of Geek, and if you want to watch CBS's take, here it is.

And I know I'm late to the party on this one so I'd love to hear all of your thoughts as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Revision Land: Revision Lessons From My Path to Publication

Sunday I submitted my revisions to my editor. Like all manuscripts, WHERE THE STAIRCASE ENDS has gone through several rewrites on its path to publication. But this round felt different.


First and foremost, it's nearing the end. This is about as close to a final draft as you can get without actually having the final product in your hands. Hell, I don't even think I can call it a manuscript anymore. It's practically a real honest-to-God book.  But the biggest realization I had is just how much I've changed since I started the very first baby draft of STAIRS several years ago.

Here are just a few of the revision-related lessons I've learned on this crazy path to publication.

1. When revising and/or reading edits, think less about the suggested changes and more about WHY the suggestions were made.


If you are repeatedly getting comments about a certain section of your story from critique partners and beta readers, take a moment to consider why. Your beta readers are probably honing in on a bigger challenge, even though the comments themselves might only manifest in the form of line edits. Often times readers can't put their finger on why something bothers them, so it's up to us - the people who created the world and the characters - to sit back and think about the bigger picture.

As an example, I had multiple beta readers make suggestions for how to tweak my original ending. Even after I'd incorporated some early feedback, I still got comments on that section.  But no one ever specifically said that the ending was bad or needed to be changed.  The comments typically read like line edits -- small changes vs. big changes that were easy to implement. It wasn't until I took a giant step back to ask myself why I kept getting comments on that section that the answer came to me: it was the wrong ending. But my beta readers didn't know it was the wrong ending. They just knew that something about it could be better, hence the repeated comments.

When offering up critiques to betas, it's so easy to get in line-edit mode. Same is true for receiving critiques - it's often much easier to accept the suggested changes than to sit back and think about why the changes were recommended in the first place. But if you really want to advance a MS forward, the why behind comments is the most important thing.

2. Learn to let go. Chopping can be cathartic! And it dramatically improves pacing.


I used to have trouble letting go of things I'd written. I'd revise, but was often guilty of revising around certain sentences vs. cutting them. Mostly because there were lines that I just loved and didn't want to let go of.  But the problem is that as stories evolve sometimes those original lines no longer fit, which means they will pull readers out of the story. You don't want readers stopping to admire a sentence - you want them enthralled in the whole story.

 Fast forward to this last round of edits. I was like Edward Scissorhands, and man did it feel good!  It also dramatically improved the pacing by trimming some of the fat to focus more on the action. I realize that while scene setting is important, too much of it comes at the expense of forward plot momentum.

What made me so receptive to cutting?  Well, for one thing I had some great inputs from my editor.  But the next point (#3) played an enormous role in giving me the clarity and fresh perspective I needed to let go of old words.

3. You need a serious break-up from your novel.  Like, for reals.


I've kind of beat this idea into the ground in previous posts (here) but it bears repeating because it's such an important lesson. Walk away -- and I mean really walk away -- from your manuscript. Shove it in a drawer, lock it in a box, do whatever you need to do -- just don't look at it for a while. You'll come back with fresh eyes and fresh perspective, and your book will be so much better for it.


4. Read, read and read some more.


You've heard this advice before, but it's still so, so important. Read within your genre, outside of your genre, and all the books in between.  Read everything you can get your hands on, and take the time to consider why the story works or doesn't work. And I include beta reading in this bucket - the more time you take to understand and articulate why things do and don't work for other stories, the more likely you will be able to see what does and doesn't work for your own story.

I realize that reading takes important time away from writing, but as with everything it's a balancing act. Would you ever want to watch a movie made by a director who doesn't watch any movies?  The same goes for writing - shop the world and learn from the best.

Happy writing (and revising)!