Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 24, 2014

Re-Reading: Waste of Time or Needed Rest?

As a kid, I re-read a lot. Sure, I always devoured new books, too, but there were books I read over and over. When you’re a kid, you have that luxury of time, so you can read new books and old books at will.

As I got older, through high school and college and grad school, I stopped re-reading. I had too many new books to read for school, and I had a job as well. No time for dipping back into a book I had loved.

That set the trend for my adulthood—I rarely re-read. I went on a classics binge and read all the “classics” I hadn’t read in school. Lately, I’ve been reading all the Newbery Award winners (I think I have 6 left.) But re-reading? I had no time for that—especially after my daughter came along.

Yet here I am, three weeks into re-reading books I loved when I was younger. It started because I fell into a period where I couldn’t get to the library, yet had finished all the books I had gotten out. I am a person who HAS to have something to read, so I got a book off my bookshelf and started reading. I have read Jean M. Auel’s Shelters of Stone, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Antonia Barber’s The Ghosts, and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House In The Big Woods and Little House On The Prairie.

Part of me thinks this is a waste of my time. With so many books out there, why re-read something? But I am finding this to be restful. My brain is buzzing all day long. With a familiar book, I can settle into the story and enjoy the writing, but not have to put all my brain into concentrating. Perhaps it is my version of zoning out in front of the TV.

I find that I see things in the books I did not when I read them years ago, which keeps a freshness to them. And none have been in my current WIP’s genre, so it is not causing creative conflict in my brain. Yet they are stories, and that helps keep my mind primed for writing even as it lets me sit back and breathe.

I will return to reading new books, probably very soon, but I think this respite has been good for me. Like comfort food for my brain. And it has made me remember what it was that I loved about reading, and about the stories I read as a child. Reconnecting with that passion as a reader will feed into my writing—because I want to write stories that people will want to re-read again and again.

How about you? Are you a re-reader? Or is once enough for you?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 17, 2014

Treading Water: When the work seems futile

Perhaps it is the artist’s temperament, but I sometimes feel down for no real reason. Not depressed, just as if I am performing exercises in futility—like I’m treading water.

There are days, sometimes weeks, when I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and like nothing is happening. I tried to explain this to my husband the other day, and the best analogy I could come up with was treading water. I’m not drowning, but I’m not moving forward, either.

Usually this suspended feeling happens when I combine too little sleep with too many projects, with a healthy dose of my-daughter-is-giving-me-a-stroke-itis. Almost always, this feeling grabs me when I am working on many projects that have no immediate payoff, such as working on social media stuff or blogging or at the beginning of a long novel. When these things happen all at once, it creates that feeling of working hard and getting nowhere fast.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the type of person who insists on instant gratification. But sometimes I wonder why I’m doing all this. I start to wonder why I blog. Or write a short story. Or even work on my current Work-In-Progress. I work so hard and then wonder, so what? I mean, who cares, really? And what does it matter, really? Who is ever going to notice if I just stop it all right now? And sometimes it gets so overwhelming that I actually do think about walking away.

But I know I won’t.

Because people have told me that they read my blog and it helps them. Because I learn so much from the blogs I write for. Because people have told me that they read my latest short story and it moved them. Because I am excited about my current WIP. Because I know I will not always be exhausted and have a preschooler underfoot to make writing time a guilty pleasure. Because I have my debut novel coming out next year and am crazy excited about it.

Because I will never stop writing until I am dead. It is who I am, not what I do. And if even one thing I write helps one person, then I have changed the world.

That is no small thing.

Do you ever feel like this? How do you shake out of your funk when it seems like all your work is futile?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 10, 2014

What’s Your Observational Intelligence Quotient?

This article on the Blood-Red Pencil brought to my attention the idea of observational intelligence (OQ). We all know that most writers are pretty observant people, but did you know that there are two types (and a continuum in between)? An “innie” focuses more on the interior direction, and the “outie” focuses more on external observations. Neither is “bad” or “wrong,” but if we know which we are, we can work on strengthening our observational skills.

I took the OQ quiz confident that I would be a solid “innie.” It’s no secret that I am an introvert and prone to introspection. So my score—20—shocked me. It placed me dead in the center of the continuum. So I examined my answers to see how I had gotten that score.

I found that I had rated several of the major external observational factors quite high, while others didn’t register at all. How could that be? Then the pattern became clear.

My anxiety disorder had tipped the scale.

The anxiety disorder makes me hyper-aware of certain things, such as:

  • Where are the exits
  • What is the mood of people around me
  • Hearing even soft sounds while immersed in something else

In other words, I am highly observant of anything that will help keep me safe, help me avoid dangerous situations, and allow me to flee if needed.

Other external factors, not so much. I am rarely aware of:

  • What people are wearing
  • The color of walls in a room
  • If something subtle has changed in the room since last time I was there

So the good news is that I am more observant than I thought. And I could work to become even more observant of those factors I rarely notice now, which could improve my writing.

I think, though, I would have to have a limited observational improvement. As with most anxiety-disordered people, sensory overload happens easily for me. And when I get overloaded, I shut down and stop interacting. I feel like I’m not really there, as if I’m watching everything from outside my body. It is an uncomfortable and frustrating feeling. So while I would like to up my OQ, I think I would only “engage” the new skills at selective times and places, when I am not already feeling overwhelmed.

What’s your OQ?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 3, 2014

How to Cut a Book in Half: 3 Tips

No, I am not doing that magic trick where a magician cuts an assistant in half. I would never hurt a book that way! Seriously, though, I had a big problem with one of my middle grade books.

I have been working with 2 co-authors on a middle grade adventure book. When we started writing it together a few years ago, we were all new to the publishing track of writing. None of us had any book-length publishing experience, although a few short stories had seen the light of day. So we wrote this awesome book together.

The problem was that it was 96,000 words long.

For those who do not know, that is a very long book. Even had it been an adult book, it would have raised some flags, depending on genre. A middle grade book, though, is usually dialed in at 40,000-60,000 words (depending on genre). So you can see how far off we were. Why did we get it so wrong? We were new, and didn’t know any better. We made the mistake and that is how you learn.

Even at that length, though, we had several agents interested in it–even asking for fulls. So obviously there was something in the idea that they liked. A good sign.

Developmental editor Kathryn Craft worked on it for us, and gave us great tips, one of which was that it was way too long. So, we headed back to the drawing board.

We have cut that book from 96,000 words to 53,000 words. Right in the sweet spot.

How did we do it? Here are 3 tips:

1) We took out all the scenes that were not in our protagonist’s point of view (POV). We realized we didn’t need those scenes to tell the story, although we loved a lot of them.

2) We dialed back the subplots. We loved our subplots. They really added to the color of the story, especially since it is a historical novel. But they weren’t necessary to move the plot forward. So we cut them down (or cut them completely) and settled for hinting at the subplots rather than fleshing them out. Instead of whole scenes, we used a line or two here and there to hint that:

  • Sister works at Wanamaker’s and wants more than to be a housewife
  • Pharmacist sells illegal booze from their store (it is Prohibition)
  • Brother has PTSD from World War I, drinks and brawls
  • Professor at museum drinks and must hide it from the administrators

3) Replotted the first part of the book. The last part of the book, where the action ramped up, was good. We had a lot of feedback that at a certain scene the book took off and people couldn’t put it down. Clearly, we needed to get people to that point much faster. We went back and revisited the longer, fuller, and thus slower-moving first part. By removing subplots and non-protagonist POV scenes, we had a clearer idea of where the main plot needed to go. We found ways to hit the high points faster, and compressed the entire timeline of the book from almost 3 months to 6 days. Much better!

Of course, after replotting and streamlining the first part, it took a while to wrestle the second part into shape, to make sure everything was consistent and the voice didn’t change. But we did it!

So that’s how you cut a book in half: ruthlessly cut everything that is not integral to the story and then make what’s left move faster. Simple, right?

Have any of you needed to make such a major edit? How did you do it?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 26, 2014

Because it All Reflects on Me

Publishing is a business and everything I put out reflects on my brand. Everything. Even if it’s something outside my usual commercial writing sphere that few people will ever see.

Most of you know I successfully self-published a genealogy book for my dad’s family. It came out wonderfully, and I was very pleased. I decided to edit the book down to end with my grandparents’ generation (to keep personal information on living individuals private) and release it to the public.

I chose to get the book professionally copy edited, because no author can catch all his or her own mistakes. I did not hire a professional book designer only because I could not afford one. However, I did research the basic design mistakes of self-published authors that make their books look amateur and did my best to avoid them.

My genealogy book is clearly a niche book. I will be shocked if it sells even 100 copies. Because of the small expected sales, and because genealogy books even by the genealogy publishers are not exactly known for their book design, I felt that the business decision of not paying for professional design was a valid one. Had this been a book I anticipated having high sales numbers, I would have thought otherwise. However, knowing the expectations of my audience, I made a calculated decision.

Because, as a business, I have to decide how to spend (or not spend) my limited money.

Time is also money, as the saying goes, and as a business owner, I need to make another decision: How much time am I willing to invest in any given project to make it “good enough.”

After I got my copy-edited genealogy Word manuscript back, I made the changes, went through it one more time, then converted it into a PDF file. I added in all the photo JPGs, checked everything one more time, and then went through the final step of converting that regular PDF into a PDF/X-1a file, which is the required file format for Ingram Spark (and CreateSpace). I had done this exact process for my family’s edition, and it had worked flawlessly.

Then I uploaded the PDF/X file and waited for the e-proofs from Ingram Spark. I got them, and flipped through the proofs quickly to make sure all the margins and layout looked nice. It did, so I Approved the paperback version and ordered a hardback version for myself so I could see the cover prior to Approving it. I got the hardcover (beautiful!!) and happily pressed Approve. My genealogy book was now available to the public.

But.

A few days later, I was at my cousin’s house, and I pulled out the hardback to answer a genealogy question. And I saw something strange in the text. A weird space in a word. Instead of Census, it said C ensus. I flipped a page—d aughters. And another. And another. Odd spaces in random words littered the book.

At home, I pulled up the final PDF/X file. Yup, there were the weird spaces. I pulled up the regular PDF file, the one I had converted from. No weird spaces. I tried the conversion again. The spaces appeared again. To this day I have no idea why they appeared in this conversion, when they did NOT appear in the family edition version. It is a technical mystery that is baffling me. But I had to find some way to fix it, because I could not let the book stay out in public the way it was.

So I went into the PDF/X file and painstakingly found every instance I could of the spacing. I went through the document twice, and used the Text Touch-Up tool to fix it. It took hours over the space of several days. But I finally had a version with no weird spaces. I uploaded the new files—even though I knew it would cost $25 per version to change the interior after I had Approved it.

The second set of e-proofs came in and I vowed to go through the text this time, not just flip through. And I found more space issues. They were more apparent in the e-proof because the font was slightly thinner, enlarging the space between letters. I checked the file I had uploaded. Yup, there they were—not as glaring as the ones I had fixed, but noticeable now that I was attuned to them.

So I fixed the PDF/X again. More (but fewer) hours. Another upload (but this time no fee because I was still in the Approval process).

Third set of e-proofs. I combed through the proof and all was looking good—until page 167. I found a space I missed. And another space on page 304. And another on page 338. But that’s all. Just three spaces.

Did I go in and fix them again?

Yes, I did. (You knew I would, right?) And I also found another space I had missed, and a misspelled name that had escaped both the copyeditor and me. And then I uploaded PDF/X #4.

I am waiting for this set of e-proofs, but I think I have finally gotten to where this result is “good enough.” Nothing can ever be perfect, so there comes a time when you need to let it go. I am at that point (barring some glaring error) with this project. I have spent all the time I want in getting this as close to perfect as I can. No doubt some of you are thinking I have spent far too much time on it, given the small rate of return I expect. But I think my time was worth it. Why?

Because publishing is a business and everything I put out reflects on my brand.

Everything.

So I have to make it good.

 

What do you think? Am I conscientious or completely obsessive? When do you get to feeling that it’s “good enough”?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 19, 2014

Publisher Edits Done: What Next?

My journey towards publishing took another step this past weekend. I took advantage of being childfree to delve deep and finish the edits my publisher had sent me for my novel OZCILLATION. After working on them for weeks, I could hardly believe when I made the final change and hit Save.

I sent them off to my editor with much jubilation.

So what now? There will be at least one more round of edits. As my editor explained, the first round is for the “lumps”—the bigger picture things that need to be smoothed out. Such as extending the ending, tweaking the voice, adding more depth to the world. The next round will be a “polish” edit, focusing more on the nit-picky details of grammar and word choice and things like that. I suppose, if necessary, we would do a third, but hopefully that won’t be needed.

We are also starting to move into the marketing side of things. Most importantly, do we keep the title or change it? I personally like OZCILLATION for a number of reasons, but if we can come up with a more market-friendly title that resonates with me, I am not opposed to changing it. I am terrible at coming up with titles, so I hope the publishers have more ideas!

I am starting to work behind the scenes for when we need to start the book buzz process. I am getting my website and blog revamped. I want to work on a Teacher’s Guide and Book Club questions. I am trying to network with librarians, teachers, parents, and kids to see how I can fulfill some need for them while getting word out about my book.

There’s so much to do! The journey continues into uncharted territory.

Any published authors out there who can suggest other things I should be thinking about/working on?

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This year’s Philadelphia Writers’ Conference suited my introverted, straight-A, personality perfectly—quiet, intimate, and studious. The newly remodeled hotel exuded a sense of freshness and beginnings and possibilities. People spoke of courage and dreams and magic.

Last year, that magic worked on me to spark my creativity—a creativity that had gone dormant since my daughter’s birth 4 years prior. I took that spark home with me, and slowly it grew into a full-blown creative fire.

This year, my biggest takeaway was not of the creative variety, although I learned a whole lot about craft that I can’t wait to start applying. This year, my biggest takeaway was an appreciation of the opportunities that can arise out of simply going to the conference.

I’m an introvert, as stated up top, and I have anxiety disorder, so social situations are pretty much a circle of Dante’s Inferno for me. Yet after going to the conference for 4 years in a row, I have met and gotten to know many people who come each year. While I do not do much formal networking, it is nice to have people to say hello to and have people greet me in the halls.

But two events made me appreciate the opportunities we have to connect at the PWC. One began last year, and one happened this year.

Last year at the conference, I pitched to an agent. We hit it off, and he asked for my manuscript. Just as I was preparing to send that manuscript to him, I got an offer from a small press for a different manuscript. Although thrilled with the offer, I was totally unprepared to negotiate a contract without an agent. I asked this agent if he would represent me, and although he declined, he did agree to take a quick look at the contract. To my everlasting-gratitude, he helped guide me to a contract that was satisfactory for both the publisher and me.

This year, I pitched another publisher another book. She was interested. In a serendipitous connection, one of the workshop leaders was her husband. I had sent in a piece for critique to him, and he liked it so much that he showed it to her. She tracked me down the next day and demanded to know why I hadn’t pitched THAT story to her. I told her I only had three chapters done! She urged me to finish it soon and send it to her.

Will anything ultimately come of this? Who knows? But the fact that she was so excited about my project made my weekend. That story is the first book I have started from scratch since my daughter’s birth, and her interest reassured me that I really had found the creativity I had once been afraid I’d lost forever.

Going to the PWC, and taking advantage of the opportunities presented to me, has already helped forward my career. It has saved me from contractual missteps, and given me renewed confidence in my writing ability. These unexpected events and the appreciation of them are my biggest takeaway this year.

Writing is powerful. Often, though, we weave our spells in solitude. We forget—or we never knew—that the writing community has a potent magic all its own. A magic that seeds, revives, and nurtures dreams. Come add your magic to the collective cauldron.

Because we are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | June 5, 2014

Philadelphia Writers’ Conference 2014 Precap

I suppose, being a writer, I should call this post a prologue, rather than a precap, but my many years in the video business have conditioned me to say precap and recap! And really, this is more of a precap than a prologue, so it’s all good.

I will be attending the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC) this year, as I have since 2011. It’s my hometown conference, so I can commute daily instead of paying for a room, and I can secure babysitting for my child. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoy this conference. I always leave with tons of information, a handful of new friends, and a boatload of inspiration!

It is odd to think how different my position this year is compared to last year. I have 4 publishing credentials to my name. My first short story, To Light and Guard, was published just days before the 2013 PWC. Since then, I have added a poem, The Towers Stood, in the World Healing, World Peace 2014 anthology and the short story Dying Breath published just a few weeks ago in Youth Imagination magazine. I have also self-published a genealogy book on my father’s side of the family, The Warren Family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Their Ancestors.

Added to that, my middle grade novel Ozcillation has been picked up by the independent publisher Evil Jester Press, and will be released in 2015.

So my experience of this year’s PWC will be from a very different perspective than last year.

I do have a book deal, but I still do not have an agent. Since you don’t have to have the book finished when pitching to agents at a conference, I may pitch a second middle grade book I’m working on, since I have the other middle grade coming out next year. I do have a YA novel making the rounds in the agent query world, but I keep hearing that the genre is not selling well, so maybe it’s time to put that one on the back burner for a few months (genres always cycle back around).

I’m excited for this year’s conference, because I am looking forward to seeing old friends and friends I have only ever “met” online. And this conference really does feel like home to me. As a person with anxiety disorder, feeling comfortable at a conference is a big deal. I know I will still be totally exhausted by the end of the three days, but it will be a “good” exhausted.

As I have done for the past 3 years, I will be doing a nightly report on the PWC each day of the conference over on The Author Chronicles. Come over each day and see what’s going on at the oldest writers’ conference with open registration in America! We’ll also have a recap on Tuesday, and I usually do a personal “biggest takeaway” post back here on Thursday.

If you’re going to the PWC, I hope to see you there!

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 29, 2014

Kid Questions #1: Does Writing A Novel Ever Get Boring?

My mom works as an English as a Second Language aide. One day, an author visited her school. One of my mom’s students asked my mom, “Doesn’t it get boring writing a long book?” My mom asked how I would answer this question. So here’s the answer, for my mom’s student and for anyone else who ever wondered the same thing.

Writing a book is a long process. I feel many different emotions during the writing of a book. So let’s start at the beginning, and see how it goes.

When I first get a new idea, I’m excited and happy. I’m so excited that ALL I want to do is work on the book. I don’t want to go out, I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to live in my brand new story idea.

Some writers create detailed plots and character sketches and do massive amounts of research prior to actually writing the story (those writers are called plotters), and some only have the sketchiest idea of plot and character and do their research as they go along or after they finish the first draft (these are called pantsers). Me? I’m a bit in between, but closer to a pantser. I do a rough outline. At this stage, the idea is still shiny and new, and I am still excited and eager to get to the writing.

Once I start writing the first draft, the first part usually goes smoothly. The excitement of a new adventure, a new world, a new group of characters, is still heady, and it carries me along.

Somewhere in the first draft, though, things change. The excitement fades and the words don’t come as easily. Sometimes I struggle with scenes that just aren’t coming out right. Sometimes my characters start to go flat. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to take the story next (this is where plotters probably have the advantage). At this stage, I feel frustrated, because I have this great idea in my imagination, and I can’t get it right in words on the page.

When I am frustrated, that would be a really easy time to just give up. And a lot of writers do give up, which is why so few people who START writing a book actually FINISH one. If you want to be a real writer, you have to finish, period. There is no shortcut. You have to put in the work and struggle through the hard parts. So another thing I feel at the same time I get frustrated is stubbornness. I’m stubborn. I will not give up on an idea I think is worthwhile. You need that sort of stubborn perseverance if you’re going to succeed in writing—or in anything else, really.

Usually, as the end of the first draft approaches, the excitement comes back, because I know where the story is going, I know the characters, I can see the end in sight, and I want to make it an awesome ending. And when I finally reach the end, it’s a mix of feelings. Happiness, because finishing is a big achievement. Pride, because it was hard to finish. Relief, because I made it through the tough part. Sadness, because I’m done writing this story. Except that I’m not really done yet!

You’ll note I didn’t ever say that writing was boring. And there’s a good reason for that: if I am bored writing a scene, a reader will be bored reading the scene. So if I find myself bored with what I’m writing, that’s a BAD sign.

Finishing the first draft is not the end of the process. Then comes the editing and revising. I revise everything AT LEAST five times. Usually more.

I actually enjoy revising—a lot of writers don’t. But when I am reworking the story, I rearrange parts of it, delete scenes, write new scenes. I figure out my theme and find symbols that worked their way into the story. I find deeper meanings to the story than I had plotted. All of these things make me surprised and happy and excited.

But there are boring parts of editing, too. Finding all the passive verbs (like “was,” “were,” and “had been”) and making them into stronger active verbs (like “throw,” “ripped,” or “lectured”). Taking out the words ending in -ly or -ing (they tend to make your sentences weak). Formatting checks like having only one space after a period or making sure all your dashes are em-dashes. Spellcheck (always, always Spellcheck!). Those are not creative, and can be boring, but they are absolutely necessary to creating a good book.

So that’s my answer in a nutshell. During the process of writing a book, I feel many emotions—but boring is not usually a top one. And getting to the boring part is actually a good sign, because it means I’m REALLY close to having a publishing-ready manuscript!

How about my fellow authors out there? Do you ever find writing a long book boring?

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Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 22, 2014

The Origin of DYING BREATH

DYING BREATH is a contemporary YA short story. It’s my second short story published–the first, TO LIGHT AND GUARD, was published last year. My goal for last year was to simply place a short story, which I did. My goal this year was to place in a paid market, which I did!

DYING BREATH, like TO LIGHT AND GUARD, grew out of a prompt from Jonathan Maberry‘s Advanced Novel Writing course. He wanted us to practice combining two semi-random things into a story premise on the spot. His two prompts were “organ transplant” and “Afghanistan.”

Well, I floundered in class (I’m not fast with stuff like that; I’m a “percolator”), but the idea took hold and DYING BREATH was born. After 3 intense rounds of edits with my critique partners, I sent it out into the world.

I am so pleased and excited to be in this month’s Youth Imagination online magazine! Please read the other great stories in this issue, and browse around to old issues if you like what you see.

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