Monday, August 31, 2015

Me as a Mentor

Well, the time is drawing near: Pitch Wars mentors are finalizing their picks, and entrants are biting their nails (or, er, anxiously awaiting the announcement, as the case may be). Backstage, we're discussing our intentions--are we going to offer edit letters for those whose work we sampled beyond the initial chapter? Are we going to send feedback? Are we going to tell our backup picks how close they were and offer to help them later? Are we going to put our mentees through hell?

That last is the intention of quite a few mentors, by the way. If by "hell" I mean Really Big Revisions over the course of two months. I think the ability to issue requests for huge developmental editing changes is really amazing, because I don't think I've ever done it. I've never read someone's work and said "cut this perspective" or "switch to third person" or "add a character who does X" or "make it end like this." And I've known authors whose mentors or critique partners have said things like that and made their books way better, and they're grateful for it, and they successfully get signed or sold under that advice.

But I've never been comfortable doing stuff like that. If I find a book that doesn't work for me, I usually don't know what to do with it. I don't know what it "needs" most of the time, though I might be able to identify what I don't like about it, where it falls apart for me, what isn't satisfying, or what aspect causes disconnect on my end. I'm better with little changes (especially grammar and sentence structure), and I can be pretty excellent with helping develop characters. But I worry that injecting specific direction on a really big scale might, in my case, interrupt the author's ability to develop the story or the authenticity of their storytelling voice, so I find myself unable to "finish their sentences" for them, so to speak. The most I can do is point out if their sentence isn't finished or contradicts itself somehow. Then I leave them to figure out how to fix it.

So what can my mentee expect from me when the choices are announced?

  • I'll be offering a ton of line editing. Grammar, punctuation, the works.
  • I'll give honest opinions about what I think is working well and what I think is lacking.
  • I will probably yell at the characters in the margins, make ridiculous jokes, talk back to people, type sarcastic comments, and give a play-by-play of what I'm thinking as I read.
  • I will definitely provide guidance on the query, top to bottom; I think I'm pretty good with queries, and letters that come through me generally do result in requests.
  • I will give honest, though not necessarily nice, realistic thoughts on my mentee's chances of getting published.
  • I will be there to bounce ideas off of, to come to with questions about querying or specific agents or basic writing insecurities.
  • I will be more than willing to listen to both doom-and-gloom raving and over-the-top squeeing as we ride the publishing train together.
  • I will be a friend if my mentee wants one.

I don't want to be the hard-ass who insists you take my advice or fail, and I don't want to create a situation where you feel intimidated and pressured to do what I want. I'm okay with a little "please help, Obi-Wan!" because I understand we in Pitch Wars Land have cultivated this understanding that mentors theoretically know what they're talking about, and if you look up to me that's fine and dandy--I guess you're supposed to. But I want you to understand I don't intend to put myself on a pedestal or Tough Love your manuscript to the point that you don't recognize it. I will indeed murder unnecessary commas and squawk indignantly at every misused homophone, but I do not want to compromise the soul of your book, and I want us to have the kind of relationship where you'll tell me if you think I'm wrong about something.

That said, I do of course want respect for my time and realistic expectations of my literary magic. I do take some responsibility for how well we do in this contest together, but I cannot guarantee that an agent will nibble on you or sign you, and I don't want to get singularly blamed or crap-talked if the stars don't align for glorious victory. You'll have my support and my advice and hours and hours of my time, and I like to think most people who submitted to me would be happy with the level of attention I will devote to polishing their work and getting it ready for the world.

In Pitch Wars 2013, I chose Whitney Fletcher as my mentee. I had an issue with one of his early scenes feeling too crowded with character cameos, and when I gave him direction he came up with a solution far more elegant than anything I could have suggested. He took direction awesomely throughout. He got an offer of representation two days after the contest closed and is currently represented by Lana Popovic. We are still in touch regularly, chatting by phone, Skype, and Twitter DMs. 

My alternate team for Pitch Wars 2013 consisted of Ryan Glover and Jessica Gunn. We don't have alternates this year, but it was pretty cool to have them in previous years. Jessica ended up selling her book without an agent to Curiosity Quills. Ryan completed edits with me and continued seeking representation, and he got to listen to me praise his work in person when he took me out for sandwiches when I was in his neighborhood lecturing at Princeton.

Last year I picked Megan Paasch and Natalka Burian as my mentee team, with Megan as my mentee and Natalka as my alternate. Megan did a bang-up job polishing the heck out of her book and tweaking her query, leading to multiple requests during the agent round. I haven't managed to play witness to her happy pairing with an agent yet, but we'll see! And Natalka, the author of the weirdest book I read in 2014, mostly just got line editing from me until I told her what I didn't like about the ending, and she rewrote it in a phenomenal way that wham-bammed me. When I was in New York for the Lambda Awards Natalka bought me a nice Italian lunch.

So it's pretty much a rule now that if I come to your city you have to buy me food if I mentored you.

Thanks, future mentee, you're too kind!

I look forward to working with you, whoever you are, as I pretend not to know who I'm picking. Can't wait to spill the beans and find out what I can do for you--what your book needs, what your publishing journey will hold, and what we can be to each other as writers and crit partners. (This is your warning that I have been known to hit up past mentees for beta reading.)

::quietly slips onto the Pitch Wars train and rides away::

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Personal Digest Saturday: August 22 – August 29

Life news this week: 
  • Saturday was Drink and Draw! I got to see my friends again and hang out doodling and munching good stuff. I had a really yummy VLT and soup, and we got to talk about drawing, cartoons, and writing.
  • Sunday and some time every day the rest of the week was spent on Pitch Wars submission reading. I am almost certainly the slowest mentor in the pack because I'm reacting to each one as I read it, writing feedback--partly so I don't have to do it later and partly because it helps me figure out concretely which things I like best. I only requested extra material from a handful of my submitting authors . . . and I'm not done yet.
  • Work at the office was really busy, too. I had a big proposal I had to put together on Monday (and had to work extra hours), and then I got pulled into a huge production job to send out some fliers. I'm going to have to put out more than 3,000 of these things. Rargh.
  • I got a follow-up interview on some quotes I gave a while back, so I guess another interview with me is going to be posted soon. It sounds like it's going to be a pretty in-depth article given the number of my own quotes they read back to me.
  • My friend Jeaux's electricity got turned off for a box replacement or something so he had to sleep over my house. Which is cool since he sleeps in the daytime and was doing so when I wasn't even there. Then he left when I came home. And I went to my mom's. We had Chinese food and hung out talking, and I got to get some of my submissions done there too.
  • Wednesday was Jeaux Day and we ate at Chili's, and then did our usual America's Got Talent watching and updated ourselves on the latest Gravity Falls.
  • I finally hit 5,000 subscribers on YouTube, so soon I'll be able to answer all the questions people sent in for my 5,000 subscriber special. :)
      Places featured:

      New reviews of my book:
               Reading progress:

              • Completed reading: Nothing because I'm focusing on Pitch Wars reading.
              • Currently reading: Sam & Max: Surfin' the Highway by Steve Purcell.

              New singing performances:

              Here I'm singing "Hand in My Pocket" by Alanis Morissette.

              New drawings:

              Webcomic Negative One Issue 0537: "A Family, I Guess."

              New videos:


              New photos:  

              Me at Drink and Draw with Eric's poster.
              My yummy veggie sandwich.

              Social media counts: 

              YouTube subscribers: 5,002 for swankivy (36 new this week), 502 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 671 for swankivy (3 new), 1,156 for JulieSondra (31 new). Facebook: 286 friends (no change) and 186 followers (lost 1) for swankivy, 595 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 110 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 2,129 (3 new).

              Wednesday, August 26, 2015

              Wednesday Factoid: First Thought

              Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?

              To be honest my first thoughts were fairly boring because they were about my alarm going off and whether I would have time for breakfast with my mom before going to work, but I did have some weird dream-dregs that I had to sort through upon glancing at my alarm and checking out what time it was.

              I had been drifting in and out of sleep for a little while before I "actually" woke up, and during that drifty time I know I was semi-dreaming about Pitch Wars stuff, stressing that I was being asked for a declaration of my final pick and not being able to declare it because I'm not done reading yet. (I'm afraid I'm a bit slow and steady here. But I have no idea if that wins the race.) I dreamed that there was some kind of conflict with an entrant having been discovered to have entered the contest multiple times and it was sad because someone actually wanted to choose her book but she'd broken the rules submitting it to multiple groups of mentors under different titles and names, thinking she was increasing her chances. When I woke all the way up I was trying to figure out if it had actually happened. (It didn't.) 

              Tuesday, August 25, 2015

              Release Day: J.C. Nelson's WISH BOUND!

              Hey everyone! I'm so delighted to be supporting and spreading the news about fellow SF writer and Pitch Wars mentor J.C. Nelson's NEWLY RELEASED BOOK . . . 

              WISH BOUND!

              A little about the book:

              As a partner at Grimm’s magical Agency, Marissa Locks is used to working odd jobs. But when an evil queen reappears in Kingdom, life becomes too strange to handle…

              Even when she’s not starting it, trouble follows Marissa everywhere. First there was the incident with the homicidal Fairy Godmother. Then there was the time she accidentally started Armageddon. But the problems that always seem to arise on Marissa’s birthday take the cake.

              This year, her annual bad-luck presents include an army of invading goblins, the resurrection of two vengeful enemies from hell, and the return of the Black Queen, the evil sorceress whose reign of terror still haunts Kingdom and who happens to have claimed Marissa as her servant.

              As Marissa’s friends try to save her from the Black Queen’s clutches, Marissa fights to end a bitter war that started before her birth. But her quest for peace is about to bring up some inconvenient truths about her own past—ones that might cost her the happily ever after she’s always dreamed of…

              About J.C. Nelson:

              A Texas transplant to the Pacific Northwest, JC Nelson lives with a family and a flock of chickens near rainy Seattle.

              Twitter * Facebook * Author Page on Goodreads * Book on Goodreads * Pinterest * Amazon * Barnes & Noble

              So . . . sound cool? Guess what else is cool? This Rafflecopter giveaway. SO YOU CAN WIN ONE. OMG.

              a Rafflecopter giveaway

              But if you haven't ever read the others in the series and you want to, you might try #1, #1.5, and #2 first. 

              I'm always so excited when I see the other mentors and folks in my writing-peeps circles getting their titles out there. This one especially so because it's even in my genre. Support J.C. Nelson and spread the word about this nifty series!

              Monday, August 24, 2015

              It's Not Fair

              Overall, so far this Pitch Wars contest has been great. So far, it's worked out wonderfully for connecting people with similar interests and a variety of publishing paths and aspirations together, though we don't yet know what the mentor matches will yield. But of course, as with any contest this large, there has been some arguing and some frustration and some nastiness.

              I want to address this one: "But that's not fair."

              My answer:

              NO. IT ISN'T.

              I'll avoid explaining the whole life isn't fair parable because you don't need to be patronized, but I will explain exactly why this contest is not fair and why that needs to be okay with you if you are going to participate.

              Writing is an art. Which renders it one of the most dang subjective activities on the planet. It's no secret that some people love books that others hate, and they might even love them for the exact reason that someone else hates them. That's going to be reflected at every level of publishing. You are writing for your audience, and you are not writing to please everyone. It's true that some of the books in this contest legitimately aren't ready and that's why they're getting ignored or passed on, but in other cases the mentors just know it's not their thing. You may get some feedback after the contest that will help shed light on why you did not get picked, but you may not.

              Every mentor who volunteered to help in this contest has tastes. You should not interpret those tastes as "bias" or "unfairness." Many of us did our best to list aspects of our taste that wouldn't be immediately apparent from looking at an abridged list of genres we accept, like that I'm a fantasy reader who prefers modern settings and K.T. Hanna doesn't want you to send her military fiction. That doesn't mean I'm saying period fantasy is crappy or that K.T. Hanna is saying military science fiction is worthless. We're saying we don't want it. But furthermore. . . . 

              If we don't want it, chances are high we don't read it and therefore we wouldn't be very good at helping you with it. Pitch Wars potential mentees are entering because they want someone who's done what they want to do and they want some semi-expert advice. (Hahaha, us as experts. Hahahahahahaha. But anyway.) If someone does not read your genre (or a particular flavor of it), there is no practical reason to berate them for not considering yours "fairly." And on top of that. . . . 

              This is a free contest made possible entirely by people donating their time, attention, and expertise. That means we give because we want to, and we can only choose one of you. That doesn't mean the rest of you who don't get picked must have written crap, or are being sent a sign that you should give up, or won't be requested by agents, or won't sell in the marketplace because you've written an unpopular or played out subgenre. It literally means you picked five people and none of those mentors chose you as their very favorite out of dozens (with some of us getting well over 100 submissions).

              Subjectivity is one of the most difficult things to get new writers to swallow. I have already had the experience in this contest this year of reading a submission and thinking it's very weak, only to see it listed as another mentor's top choice. We are not gods, and we are not agents, and we are not your future editors or publishers. We are individual writers who might know a little bit more than you about what we're all trying to do because we've done it, but we do not have a consensus on what works and we do not possess the golden keys to the publishing gates.

              This subjectivity that you're facing in this contest right now goes all the way up. All the way up, and all the way down too. You will write your book and face judgment from the contest mentors if you've entered, but even if you do get picked, you will then face agents' opinions, then editors' opinions, and . . . possibly most importantly . . . readers' opinions. We all select based on what we like (though in some cases agents and editors liking something is partially based on whether they think it will sell). Editors at large publishing houses sometimes turn manuscripts down because "I just didn't connect with it." That is what this business is. There is no way to make this process objective. Unless you think it would be somehow "fair" to come up with a scoring rubric that would be applied robotically and result in automatic, soulless selection of what is conclusively the best. (And I don't actually see how that could be done.)

              We are a community of artists, and our consumers are appreciators of art. They are not obligated to like everything even if you worked hard on it or even if you followed the rules or even if you did what everyone says you should do. There is no "fair" in this world. And ultimately, as an artist, you should want it that way. So that when you do succeed, you know the appreciation is authentic and deeply felt, and you know your stories have touched people who honestly enjoyed it. In this contest, if someone gets selected and you didn't and you feel kind of bitter about it, that's okay, but try not to let it turn into resentment or belief that the contest failed you on fairness. We can't make it fair. We can only sort through what was given to us and hand-select one person whose manuscript matches our skills and tastes, and do our best grooming it to join others like it in the marketplace.

              If your idea of fair involves expecting decision-makers at every level to ignore their own interpretations and tastes, then it's very likely you're in the wrong business and it's going to destroy you.

              Saturday, August 22, 2015

              Personal Digest Saturday: August 15 – August 21

              Life news this week: 
              • My editor told me my paperback hits stores October 13, 2015. Yay!
              • Last weekend was pretty productive; I got a lot done on Saturday! Finished a comic, processed a video, and even had some time to play Dance Dance Revolution. On Sunday I went to my mom's 'cause she wasn't feeling super hot so I just spent some time with her. She seemed in decent shape when I left, so yay.
              • The work week was tiring because it was pretty busy and I had to do it on reduced hours. (I have my hours cut at the office. I think that will be over soon though.) Lots of proposal things and audit package things and draft reports and final reports to produce.
              • I did some analysis of my Pitch Wars submissions and got through some of them, but I'm kinda way behind the other mentors in that I haven't even read half of mine yet. I'll be taking the entire time allotted to make my decision about who to mentor. Eep.
              • My friend Victor got a job! I'm excited for him. He starts at the end of the month. I'm relieved 'cause he really needed that to happen.
              • I went to my mom's on Tuesday (again) and brought over a rice dish. She provided mushrooms and I cooked everything while she was napping, and we ended up having a super late dinner (like, after 11 PM). And stayed up all night being dorks and watching silly things on YouTube. :) She made me breakfast in the morning too.
              • Wednesday was Jeaux Day and we ate at Burger 21, and then did our usual America's Got Talent watching and updated ourselves on the latest Night Vale.
                  New reviews of my book:
                           Reading progress:

                          New singing performances:

                          Here I'm singing "Your Eyes" from Rent.

                          New drawings:

                          Webcomic Negative One Issue 0536: "Words You Can't Believe."

                          Webcomic So You Write Issue 51: "The Significance."

                          New videos:

                          What Goes In My Bio? is here. It's about how you decide what to write about yourself in the bio section of a query letter.

                          New photos:  

                          Me after DDR.
                          Wearing my "back together" shirt at work on Casual Friday, 'cause I'm silly.
                          And my haircut comparison photos:

                          Front, February 2014
                          Front, August 2015
                          Back, February 2014
                          Back, August 2015

                          Social media counts: 

                          YouTube subscribers: 4,966 for swankivy (32 new this week), 501 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 668 for swankivy (1 new), 1,125 for JulieSondra (62 new). Facebook: 286 friends (no change) and 187 followers (2 new) for swankivy, 592 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 109 likes for So You Write (lost one--oops is it because I posted a comic about diversity in literature? Gee). Tumblr followers: 2,126 (no change).

                          Thursday, August 20, 2015

                          Boys vs. Girls

                          As long as I can remember, I was told that I was a girl and therefore I would hate boys until some magical transformation suddenly made me love them.

                          Both the hating of boys in childhood and the loving of boys in adolescence was billed as cute, normal, and expected. 

                          I was Team Girl, and everyone else who wasn't Team Girl was Team Boy. We were supposed to continue a standing rivalry, arguing about who rules and who drools, until romantic partnerships (of the heterosexual sort, of course) developed and changed us into men and women. (These relationships were, and are, conceptualized as both a sign of transition to adulthood AND a threshold one must cross to be considered an adult. If you "still" didn't like boys when you were a teenager, you were "immature.")

                          As a child, I had no idea why I was supposed to hate boys. My cartoons and books told me I was supposed to, but I didn't hate any actual boys. Despite that, I understood that membership on Team Girl was partially dependent on considering Team Boy to be my enemy, and there were no narratives that taught me either what I should do if I didn't WANT to "fight" or what to do about people who didn't fit either team (or were actually on the other team from the one they were designated). I pretended that boys were weird and gross because that was how girls were supposed to act, and it was easier to see it that way being that I didn't have any brothers.

                          Then the day came when a boy harassed me in the cafeteria.

                          I was in first grade, carrying my cheese and crackers out of the lunchroom and standing in line waiting to go back to class, and this boy just walked up to me and said "Can I have some of your cheese?" I looked at him blankly because I didn't want to be mean but I thought it was very odd for him to just walk up and want my unopened cheese snack. When I didn't answer, he simply snatched it from me, opened it, dug his fingers into the cheese and ate half of it, and then said "Now let me have some crackers," and he just grabbed a couple of the crackers and shoved the remains of the package into my hands, finally walking away like that had been an okay thing to do.

                          I probably cried, but I don't remember. What I do remember is telling an adult in the lunchroom and being told that boys are just like that. Boys will be boys.

                          They're a force of nature, basically. That's just how boys act, and maybe that's why we hate them. They take our cheese.

                          A couple years later I was being babysat by a neighbor and she had two kids. The younger one, a toddler, was a boy. And one day he headbutted me while I was trying to take a nap. REALLY hard. I woke up crying and told my guardian.

                          She defended her son and said he couldn't have hurt me because I was seven--a big girl--and her boy was just two years old. I tried to accept this and go back to sleep but then the kid kept headbutting me and wouldn't leave me alone, and the guardian wouldn't make him. The conclusion: even though I said he was hurting me, it either wasn't true or wasn't worth doing anything about, because what he was doing shouldn't bother me. When I tried again to at least ask her to make him play somewhere else during my nap, she reminded me that he was a boy and boys roughhouse. It's just what they do, and he probably just wants my attention and wants to play with me.

                          They're a force of nature. Again. There's no reason to ask boys to stop hurting girls. Just ask the girls to deal with it.

                          In fourth grade a boy on the playground kept doing this obnoxious thing where he'd sneak up behind me, put both hands on my shoulders, and jump so he'd press his weight down on me. I would usually fall down. The first time I told an adult about this, she laughed and said "Sounds like he has a little crush." I was astounded. A boy was pushing me down on the playground, but this was funny and I should take it as a sign of affection. I'm not the first person to point out how ridiculous this is--that we train girls from an early age to interpret abuse as attention we should appreciate. Weirdly enough, when responding to a writing prompt about "what do you worry about?" during a journal activity, I wrote about this incident and my teacher wrote in the margins, "I will definitely talk to him about this!" It was the first time I could remember a grown-up acting like a boy's unwanted behavior toward me was unacceptable. 

                          In the late 1980s the song "Bad Boy" by Gloria Estefan came out. My elementary school years were partially accompanied by this soundtrack:

                          Boys will be boys, bad boy, bad boy
                          Always gettin' so restless, nothin' but trouble

                          Get me feelin' breathless, nothin' but trouble

                          Bad, bad, bad, bad boy, you make me feel so good

                          As I got older the "bad boy" trope became something spun as attractive; guys who bucked tradition, acted rudely, harassed others, "didn't care," or were rebellious became the cool kids, and it wasn't attractive at all for a boy to be polite (because then he was a goody-goody). And as much as this hurts girls and women, it certainly hurts everyone else too; we may not be playground enemies anymore at this point, but we're still Team Boy and Team Girl, and now Team Boy is supposed to play a certain role to get Team Girl interested. It still involves mistreating them, and girls are still trained to interpret the mistreatment as affection. Everyone--including male people--is encouraged to interpret boys as a force of nature, and we're not supposed to ask them to modify their actions for our comfort. If men change their ways for a woman, they're whipped. I guess it makes sense when an adult woman won't even tell a two-year-old boy to stop headbutting a girl because that's just what boys do and who are we to stop them?

                          I've spent most of my life slightly outside of a lot of the boxes assigned to me, and it wasn't too difficult for me to sidestep some of the expectations that came with being female in this world. I know I'm "supposed to" like boys and I don't. But I was still trained from early childhood to see boys and men as a force that acts upon me, and I was still conditioned to interpret any attention they care to give me as a compliment, from a little boy painfully interrupting my nap ("because he just wants to play with you!") to getting catcalled on the street ("they're just trying to make you feel good and letting you know you're beautiful--what's wrong with that?").

                          But you know what? I think this boys vs. girls thing is what's responsible for a lot of seemingly unrelated hostility in our world. When someone is gay (or otherwise not straight), the dynamic of how we understand men and women is disrupted. How do you have a relationship like that, anyway? Which one of you is "the man"? They just don't know how it can work if the romantic relationship isn't built on the balance we've been trained to understand as normal. If there's not one man and one woman (and therefore a Force of Nature balanced with a One Who Cleans Up After It and Tends to All Its Needs), how it is it a relationship?

                          We even romanticize abuse and hatred as a "real" relationship, normalizing dysfunctional relationships that exist based on this lopsided power dynamic. That Man who was once a Boy, raised on Team Boy, was told (and shown) that there are two types of people and his Team is perpetually at war with the other Team. He is rewarded for abusing and insulting the other Team, and he is taught that the playground harassment of his youth is somehow transformed into loving attention when the adult equivalents come out of him as a man. That's why we have Pickup Artist communities and men teaching men how to trick women into giving them sex through "Game" (seriously, there are actual huge communities that have developed complex rules about this and they literally call it "Game"), and that's why we have abusive relationships that others keep interpreting as normal and appropriate. 

                          People get confused and hostile about people who do not identify as men or women, because they don't know which Team to put them on or how to push them into their assigned role. (Okay, let's not kid ourselves; nonbinary people are usually interpreted as the gender they were coercively designated at birth, and shamed when they don't model it or internalize it.) People get confused and hostile about trans people who they interpret as "changing sides" (even though that's not really what it is). People get confused and hostile about same-sex romantic relationships, or people who don't want any relationships. Because they have internalized these assumptions about how the world works and they don't know how to make those assumptions about people who are saying they don't fit the framework, so their first reaction is to react with aggression, erasure, harassment, condescension, or shaming. Make it easier for me, they insist. Be the boy or the girl so I can continue to treat you as though you are either on my Team or the opposite Team, and prioritize my ability to deal with this over your own discomfort at not fitting into that binary in the first place

                          There are of course many other intersectional factors and additional reasons why people who don't fit typical male/female expectations, roles, and identities are bullied and targeted for violence of all kinds, but I think this societal dependence on boys and girls as warring factions is behind a good deal of many people's knee-jerk bigotry and invalidation. 

                          Even as a woman who does not have or want a male romantic partner, I have to live in a world that has taught men some poisonous things about what I am to them, and I've been poisoned myself in how I should think about men. I live in a society built on this dynamic. I'm not free from it just because I'm outside some of the situations in which it would likely manifest most strongly. 

                          I wonder what this world would be like if we were never told we all fit on one of two teams and the other team is our enemy. I wonder what this world would be like if we weren't taught it's normal and cute to hate each other. I wonder what this world would be like if boys "being boys" was not connected with violence and destruction.

                          Wednesday, August 19, 2015

                          Wednesday Factoid: Pizza

                          Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What is your favorite kind of pizza?

                          Wow survey, you're really digging deep here.

                          I'm a big fan of white sauce mushroom pizza. I also like pretty much anything that is mushroom pizza as long as the tomato sauce isn't too heavy. I'll eat crispy or thick crust, but deep dish is too greasy.

                          I like to make pizza at home from scratch. (I don't mean buying dough or a crust in the store, I mean mixing the yeast and everything. Though I do not make my own cheese, or sauce, haha.) Sometimes when I do that, I put fake hamburger on it (soy crumbles), and that's super tasty.

                          Tuesday, August 18, 2015

                          Nerdy Analysis: Pitch Wars 2015!

                          So it's time for me to commit some nerdery around here.

                          Pitch Wars! The submissions window is closed! Which means I've received all the submissions I'm going to receive and I can now start narrowing it down. How would you like a peek inside my inbox?

                          No, I'm not going to tell you which entries I'm liking or any hints about how many authors I've requested additional pages from. I'm just going to tell you some stuff about what people sent me. ;)

                          Last year was pretty overwhelming. I had over 100 submissions (AND MY BOOK WAS RELEASING THE SAME WEEK). I tried to be a little more restrictive in my bio this year and make it clear that I honestly want to focus on SF/Fantasy/SpecFic, and really don't want submissions featuring romance-centric stories or stories grounded entirely in reality. That seems to have worked a little; I did get fewer submissions this year than I got last year.

                          How many eligible submissions did I receive, you ask?


                          90 people would actually want goofy old me to mentor them. Hahaha.

                          Now I'm going to show you some graphs, so please get out of here if that frightens you. (Or if the photo of me wearing Hello Kitty earmuffs frightens you.) (Or if I frighten you in general.)

                          Just go. I mean it. I'm gonna graph. 

                          You were warned.

                          First up: CATEGORY.

                          I received 2 manuscripts that were not Adult or New Adult, so I'll have to disqualify those. Of the remaining 90: How many were Adult and how many were New Adult?

                          I was surprised by how many New Adult submissions I got! At first I thought there must have been a mistake because my first five submissions were all New Adult, and last year only 17% of my inbox was New Adult. It's really growing as a category! And I have consistently chosen a mixture of Adult and New Adult manuscripts for my team in the past, so I would say the New Adult has just as much of a chance.

                          Now let's try something more complicated: Genre.

                          Last year we had drop-down boxes with predefined genres. This year we had fill-in-the-blank. I'm not a huge fan of that because people are notorious for making up their own genres or handing us four or five in one to make this weird fusion genre, and that makes it just that much harder to pitch. So first I'm going to show you a version of my genre breakdown with simplified genres (which you can click for a better view if it runs into the sidebar or doesn't show up properly for you):

                           Now here's what it looks like according to the authors' interpretation of their genres:

                          I think I prefer having it identified as a more easily categorized, mainstream genre first, then having "X with Y elements" or whatever just mentioned in the query somewhere. That helps agents understand how you think the book should be handled marketing-wise.

                          So, anyway. Clearly I got a ton of science fiction and fantasy! I'm excited that I got some with LGBT elements and some unconventional takes on the genres. Can't wait to be dazzled by all the strange worlds (or weirdness lurking in our own world!).

                          So what else nerdy can I show you? How about some word count graphs?

                          Here is a representation of how long the books in my submission pile are.

                          As you'd expect, the sweet spot is 80,000 words to 100,000 words, with mostly New Adult manuscripts taking the lower end and big fat fantasy novels spiking up to 150,000 words. My one submission that was over 150,000 was also over 200,000. Ahh, I remember those days. One of my novels was 255,000 words. It became a trilogy. Wheee! I was also puzzled by one submission claiming to be 4,900 words. Even if they meant 49,000, that's still pretty short for a New Adult book, but we'll see.

                          And just when you thought I must be done . . . NOPE.

                          Pitch Wars twins! Since submitting authors could choose five mentors, some of us were especially popular in certain genres. Which mentors did I share the MOST submissions with?

                          By far, the mentor with the most submissions in common with me is K.T. Hanna. We shared 50 submissions, which is more than half of my entire haul! Sounds like we must like a lot of the same things! Hayley Stone, J.C. Nelson, and Lynnette Labelle shared a large number with me as well, and I wasn't surprised to see quite a few in common with Emmie Mears, Samantha Joyce, and Charlie N. Holmberg. A few of the folks listed above with submissions in common with me actually shouldn't have been there, because occasionally someone would send a submission to a mentor who does not take that category (but some of the mentors on their list DO take the category).

                          I'm going through my submissions slowly and writing feedback as I go, just like the last couple years. We aren't announcing our picks until September, so I've got some time, and I want to make sure to do a really nice thorough job. So far I've had a great time chugging through the submissions, and I can't wait to find out which ones I'll fall in love with.

                          Okay, so that's enough of my splashing geekery all over you. Let me know if there's another aspect of my submissions you want me to analyze for you, and we'll see about getting some more graphs going! (You know I just want to be distracted, right?)

                          Hope you enjoyed that. :)

                          Monday, August 17, 2015

                          Query Letter Bios

                          I usually do blog on Mondays but I'm planning a cool Pitch Wars stats post and I can't post it until all the submissions are in or the data will be incomplete, so look for that tomorrow. Instead, today I'll just share a video I made about what to put in your query letter bio.

                          The basic takeaway here if you don't want to watch me ramble for ten minutes:

                          1. Be brief
                          2. Be relevant
                          3. Be humble
                          4. Be recent
                          5. Make it tailored

                          Saturday, August 15, 2015

                          Personal Digest Saturday: August 8 – August 14

                          Life news this week: 
                          • I finally sent out my newsletter again. I last sent one in March 2015, so the update was a bit overdue. You can actually read the newsletter without subscribing, but if you read my blog you've probably seen the highlights anyway.
                          • Also made a video the same day (Saturday). It's nice when the videos are easy and quick without much editing to do.
                          • Went to dinner with my mom on Sunday night, and we hung out for a long time after.
                          • Made a bunch of Pitch Wars blog posts this week, gearing up for the big event. Which sneakily opened for submissions on Friday night instead of Monday, because Brenda is silly. :)
                          • Tuesday I went to Mom's, had pancakes and blackberries, and helped her with some chores. Also finally got to go to the craft store, which is something I put off because I go inside that place and spend all my money.
                          • Jeaux and I ate at Pei Wei (I had tofu pad thai) and we watched America's Got Talent. It's finally getting good now that we're at the live shows. I didn't think I'd care this year because the auditions were kinda meh, but we're having fun now. :)
                          • Finally got edits out to one of my critique partners. (He graduates to critique partner rather than friend who reads my junk because he finally wrote a book for me to read!) And helped him with his query a little. He's entering Pitch Wars but not submitting to me.
                          • I made a silly video for my personal channel inviting people to come ask questions for me to answer to celebrate hitting 5,000 subscribers. The comments are already full of great questions. I just hope I hit 5,000 soon so I can close the comments, or the answering video will end up ridiculously long.
                              New reviews of my book:

                              Places featured:
                                       Reading progress:

                                      New singing performances:

                                      Here I'm singing "Love Is a Battlefield" by Pat Benatar.

                                      New drawings:

                                      Webcomic Negative One Issue 0535: "Game Over."

                                      New videos:

                                      Letters to an Asexual #29 is here. It's about "deserving" a community and the circumstances under which I will engage with abusive comments.

                                      And then there is Ask Swankivy Anything, my 5000 subscriber invitation video requesting questions for me to answer.

                                      New photos:  


                                      Social media counts: 

                                      YouTube subscribers: 4,934 for swankivy (33 new this week), 499 for JulieSondra (1 new). Twitter followers: 667 for swankivy (no change), 1063 for JulieSondra (32 new). Facebook: 286 friends (no change) and 185 followers (2 new) for swankivy, 591 likes for JulieSondra (3 new), 54 likes for Negative One (no change), 110 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 2126 (9 new).

                                      Thursday, August 13, 2015

                                      Avoiding the Red Pen of Doom


                                      So you Pitch Wars folks may have heard I'm a grumpy editor and that I will be grading your papers--excuse me, your manuscripts--extra hard on silly things like spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word use.

                                      Well, you heard right.

                                      I don't really want to spend this post rambling about the importance of a polished manuscript, so if you want to read my philosophy on the topic--which could be summed up as "please don't make me be your literary janitor"--I have already written a post on that. But one major reason you want your manuscript to avoid certain common errors is that doing so makes us feel like we're in good hands.

                                      Ahh, we think when our internal editor can go to sleep and just enjoy the story. Finally. Someone who knows what they're doing. That's it, really. I want to feel that sense of confidence, like I'm dealing with a professional. For that reason--and because I would love to work with a mentee in Pitch Wars who will allow me to give my red pen a rest--I am now going to lay out the most common glitches I find myself yelling at people about over and over again during editing.

                                      You may be surprised what you don't know. Trust me here.

                                      1. Extra spaces.

                                      The standard now is ONE space after terminal punctuation. If you currently have a manuscript featuring two spaces after sentences, you'll need to globally replace every set of two spaces with one space. You don't want to look outdated/old-fashioned. I also often find two spaces between regular words, or even more than two spaces, so I recommend a good old automatic search-and-replace.

                                      2. Mixture of straight quotes and curly quotes.

                                      Nearly every manuscript I've edited has this problem and I don't know why, but this formatting inconsistency is usually a consequence of editing in more than one program. (I've heard conversion to Word from Scrivener sometimes causes this if you then start editing inside Word after the conversion, for instance.) You should do a final once-over to make sure your quotes are all curly or all straight. Inconsistency looks sloppy and we can see what parts you've been messing with. You need to be especially careful about apostrophes; sometimes they flip the wrong way if they're curly, and apostrophes should look like a tiny nine, not a tiny six.

                                      3. Inappropriate use of single quotes.

                                      US standards and UK/Australian standards are sometimes different on punctuation, and this is one of those times. But since I am US-based, I am explaining the US rule. Dialogue should be in double quotation marks. Quotations should be in double quotation marks. Scare quotes are also double quotation marks. Single quotation marks rarely make an appearance except inside doubles (to indicate something quoted inside something else that's being quoted). I'm not sure why it's so common for authors to use single quotes like my example above, but you shouldn't.

                                      4. Inappropriate dialogue rendering.

                                      Dialogue appears to be one of the world's last great mysteries to some folks. I see quoted text blending into stage direction that's handled like a speech tag; I see commas used after question marks and exclamation marks; I even see people forgetting their commas before speech tags or using the wrong capitalization/punctuation for attaching speech tags. Bottom line is that you should end your dialogue with terminal punctuation inside the quotation marks unless the sentence continues outside the quotation marks to attach a dialogue tag, and if what follows after the comma is NOT a dialogue tag, it needs to be converted to the proper verb form before you add it on there. (For instance, in the first example in the graphic above, you'd write "Just don't," she said, walking away scowling, or "Just don't." She walked away scowling, or "Just don't," she said as she walked away scowling.

                                      5. Improper rendering of ellipses.

                                      Ellipses baffle many. That's probably partly because three dots looks right and four looks like too many, and partly because there is a special character to create ellipses that converts automatically in some programs. Well, the Chicago Manual of Style is a common style guide for many editors and publishers, and these days it recommends spaces before, between, and after a set of three periods to indicate a pause--unless it is at the end of a sentence, in which case you get a fourth period that ends the sentence (flush against the sentence it ends, just like a regular period), followed by the spaced-out periods. It's also not three periods followed by one space, which I also see a lot.

                                      6. Improper rendering of dashes.

                                      Dashes! Ask anyone who's ever received editing from me: I harass people mercilessly over dashes. Turns out people don't know there are different punctuation marks for different types of pauses, and many authors don't know the difference between the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash. 

                                      The key:

                                      ( - ) Hyphen (shortest!): Used for connecting related words, like short-haired and dust-covered. Or for number words like forty-two. It is not used for a pause in a sentence. Created using the hyphen key on the keyboard.

                                      ( – ) En dash (medium!): Used for certain rare, peculiar hyphenations that involve connecting a two-or-more-word phrase to another word, like Michael Jackson–themed or yellow jasmine–scented. It is also used for ranges, like scores ("they beat us 27–6!") or in substitution of the word "to" ("the Canada–United States border"). Created using alt-0150 on the keypad.

                                      ( — ) Em dash (longest!): Used to indicate interruption or pause in a sentence. You can use it to indicate that someone's dialogue is getting cut off ("But you said I could if I—") or to set off separate phrases or asides inside a sentence (The clown—still wearing his red nose—sighed deeply) or to add another idea to an existing one (Sometimes I think about dropping out—it'd be a relief, really). Created using alt-0151 on the keyboard.

                                      The em dash is also sometimes indicated by two hyphens next to each other ( -- ). If you are formatting your manuscript without the special dash character (which sometimes is converted automatically to a special dash character if you type two hyphens), you should not include spaces before, between, or after the dashes.

                                      Please don't make me yell at you over your dashes.

                                      7. Comma splices.

                                      Ever heard of comma splices? I used to have all kinds of comma splices in my writing until I found out they were a no-no. Comma splices can be hard to explain--both what they are and why they're unacceptable--but once you get the idea of what they are, they start to jump out at you everywhere. Comma splices are essentially when a comma is used to join two parts of a sentence that should be more independent from each other. They usually need a stronger separation--such as a period, a dash, or a semicolon. The example above could be fixed with a semicolon or a period, just depending on stylistic preference. I tend to see comma splices more often in sentences that are already quite long, with several of them in a row. Look up comma splices online to figure out what they look like if it's not clear to you already, and then kill them all.

                                      8. Unnecessary, "creative," or adverb-infested dialogue tags.

                                      Dialogue tags are one of the most frequently decorated parts of an amateur writer's manuscript. One good rule of thumb is to avoid telling us how someone said something if what they said already made it clear. You don't need to find a flashy word like roared or expectorated if the tone is already obvious just from reading the quote, and if someone says something pleasant and well-mannered, you don't have to add "she said politely." Give us adverbs or clarifying permutations for the word "said" or "asked" if something about it is not clear from the dialogue itself, like if the phrase is whispered and we wouldn't otherwise know, or if it's said sarcastically (provided we can't tell already from context).

                                      I think the main reason people think these gaudy tricks are good writing is that they imagine variation makes their sentences more attractive and innovative, but all it really shows is that they don't know the purpose of dialogue tags. Think of your writing as a road and your plot as a series of tourist attractions. Your job as you lay out the road is to guide your drivers to the attractions; the storytelling is the highway, and the stage directions and dialogue tags are instructions for traveling it correctly. You want the roadside signs to guide the drivers, not become pretty enough that they're mistaken for attractions themselves. Their job is to guide the driver and get out of the way--to be as invisible as they can be while still being understood.

                                      9. Inconsistent usage. 

                                      Inconsistent usage is tough to nail down because every writer has different problem spots, but I see it often in stuff like "toward" and "towards" both being used in the same manuscript (you should pick one and use it consistently, "toward" being more commonly accepted, and the only exception is dialogue). Usually I'll see this with authors sometimes capitalizing a person's title and sometimes not; or spelling, hyphenating, or capitalizing special terms made up for the story differently each time.

                                      10. Extraneous phrases and words. 

                                      Extraneous words are clutter. They jumble your sentences, make them more awkward to read, and can even slow down your pacing. "She wondered if she'd ever see another thunderstorm" is way more effective than "She found herself beginning to wonder whether or not there was ever going to be another thunderstorm." Not only is the former around half the length of the latter, but it's so much more readable and effective.

                                      Watch for unnecessary words and phrases like started to, began to, and in order to. Avoid phrases that are redundant, like whether or not (just whether works) or thought to herself (unless the character's speaking telepathically, they are most likely always going to be thinking "to themselves"). Cut unnecessary uses of the word that. Avoid using really, quite, and very if they're not necessary (and this is where creative word swaps do come in handy; I'd rather see "enormous" than "very big"). And try to avoid the word thing (except in dialogue) if you can think of a more specific word that describes what thing.

                                      I can deal with a few writing quirks and mistakes here and there. I'm good at helping authors identify their language problems, and I'm sure whoever I choose for my mentee will have a couple glitches I can help them with. (For the record, ending sentences with prepositions is accepted usage in informal writing, and starting sentences with coordinating conjunctions is similarly fine. These are not the types of petty problems I scream about.) However, I would prefer to work with someone who won't make me feel like I'm grading an English paper or watching out for mistakes all the time. Learn these common problems, excise them from your book, and help keep all of my hair in my head.

                                      And for those of you who will still insist on committing these sins . . . be prepared to feel the sting of my mighty red pen.