Links for Friday

Happy Friday, everyone! My weekend is fair on bursting with work and obligations of all sorts, but I’m happy to say that I have my usual link round up for you all. Whether you’re having a leisurely couple of days or on the run already, I hope you have a few minutes to check these out. Either way, have a lovely weekend. Enjoy!

Write like Jane Austen – Get modern words translated into period-appropriate Jane-Austen speak.

Regency Place Name Generator – An excellent companion to the link above.

Yale Introduces Another 7 Free Online Courses – Looking to expand your mind? Free online university courses might be the ticket.

Slush Pile Hell – Next time you’re cursing literary agents, remember that we see this stuff every day. In multiples.

Neil Gaiman Interviews Stephen King – Just what it says.

When Things Fail to Go Precisely as Planned

Imagine you’ve slaved over your beloved manuscript, polishing each word, perfecting your plot, making your characters as real and engaging as you can. Your agent has sold your book, and you and your editor and copy editor have gone several more rounds to make sure your story is the best that it can be. Someone has designed a lovely cover for you. Review copies have gone out into the world, to newspapers and bloggers and anywhere else that might garner your book a little bit of attention. You have told all of your friends and family and local librarians and bookstore owners about your upcoming publication. Excitement grows. Finally, a box arrives on your doorstep, filled with copies of your brand new book. You crack it open, pull out the topmost volume, and run your hands lovingly over the cover. Then you start to read… and realize something has gone terribly wrong. The first sentence of your book is… not there.

This is what happened to author Mary Robinette Kowal this week. Her novel Glamour in Glass, the second in her Regency-with-magic fantasy series, underwent a printing mishap and was published absent her opening sentence. Instead, the book starts with sentence number two. The sentence was there when it left her hands, and her editor’s hands, but somewhere along the way there was an error regarding which corrections were to stay and which were to go, and the book went to press minus its opening.

So, what did Mary do? Well, she blogged about it and Tweeted about it, and she set about finding ways of fixing the problem. At her launch party last night in Portland, OR, she hand wrote that first sentence back into the books she was autographing. She’s offering to send readers bookmarks with a copy of that first sentence if they’d like one, and has also provided the same bookmark for download at her website. There are now adorable t-shirts for sale online that feature the book’s title and original opening line. She created a quiz where people see if they recognize the second lines of famous books, and she challenged people to write their own opening sentence for Glamour in Glass. In other words, she’s taken a mishap and turned it into a veritable party. Was she upset by the printing error? I’m sure she was. But rather than wallowing in her disappointment, she turned the tables on the situation and made the best of it. Future editions of the book will fix the printing error, but in the meantime, Mary is showing her spirit and class by handling the situation in a creative manner.

These sorts of printing errors are rare, but they certainly do happen. You hear about books where a section of 64 pages was bound into the volume upside down, or where a segment of the book is missing entirely — or else repeats. Pages are cropped unevenly so one margin is too wide and the other non-existent. And yes, occasionally the wrong version — an uncorrected version — goes to print instead of the most updated copy. No system is perfect.

Sometimes things are going to go wrong along the way to publication day. Just as with any aspect of life, it is impossible to control every single variable, and if you try, you’ll just make yourself crazy. The only part of this final process you can truly control is your reaction. You may never face this sort of mishap in your own publishing career, but if you do, look for ways to make the best of it and move on. Your readers will learn far more about you as a writer and as a person from your gracious behavior than they might have from a missing sentence.

Hugo Nominations

Hugo Award nominations were announced over the weekend. A huge congratulations to these very fine authors. If you’re looking for some good fantasy or science fiction reads, you could do far worse than checking out these titles, or other work by the nominated writers. A complete list of the finalists is available at, including where they were published in the case of the shorter works.


Friday Links

Not only is it Friday, but this weekend marks two holidays — Passover and Easter (for those of you who aren’t Eastern Orthodox — our Easter is next week). Our office is technically closed both today and Monday, so I’m leaving you with these links and then scampering for parts unknown. Or, well, okay, for my couch with my laptop to read submissions. But I get to ignore phone calls and e-mail, so that’s a long weekend in my book.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend, whatever you are celebrating. Take some time to enjoy your family and friends, a good book, and maybe a little writing if you’re so inclined. Meanwhile, here are this week’s links:

Words I Couldn’t Use… – Ever wonder how the authors of historical novels keep their vocabulary period appropriate? Mary Robinette Kowal describes how she checked her word use for her Regency-with-magic fantasy series.

Why More Adults Are Reading Books for Teenagers – There’s been something of a debate about this topic going on this week. Here’s an interesting take, if only a very small part of the answer.

The Hobbit Illustrated by Maurice Sendak – On this long-lost edition that never was.

Things to Write About – Some interesting prompts and places to look for more.

The Greatest Bromances in Southern Literature – This just amused me.

Have You Seen This Short Story? – Talk about creative formatting…

A PSA about Mice – Author Erin Morgenstern shares where to get candy mice quite similar to the ones featured in her debut novel, THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

Tricking the Writer’s Brain: Put Your Subconscious to Work

Have you ever been lying in bed in the morning, not quite awake yet but still aware on some level, and suddenly had an idea for a story? Or thought of the perfect thing to get your hard-to-shop-for brother for his birthday? Or remembered just where it was you put your passport “for safe keeping”?

The brain is a funny thing. There are sections that seem to function only when we’re asleep, and often those feel like our smartest, most creative brain cells. Our dreamscapes are bizarre, mysterious places where we suddenly defy gravity, recall every word of our high school French, and make brilliant leaps of intuition. We know that our minds use the time when we are sleeping to work on some of the thornier problems in our lives, even if the form they take makes little sense when we wake. It stands to reason that, as writers, we can count on that time for solving some major plot problems as well.

But how can you convince your brain to tackle the problems you think are important? How do you tap into your subconscious and do a little of the steering? And better still, how can you be sure you’ll remember anything you think up while asleep?

Chances are, if you’re really troubled by your work-in-progress, or struggling to develop a new story idea, it’s already weighing on your subconscious. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give things a little nudge in the right direction. Our brains are pretty suggestible. Often, what we dream about is linked to whatever we did that day, or even immediately before bed. Now, I wouldn’t suggest you sit at your desk and struggle over your current writing project minutes before going to sleep; the frustration you feel might well keep you awake half the night, completely defeating the purpose. But you should have your question or issue in mind when you finally turn out the light.

Choose a day when you’ve been working on your problem project. Then do a little reading before bed — preferably something that won’t hijack your thought process, so no page-turning murder mysteries or anything of that sort. A book on writing is a good choice, since it will put your brain in a creative place without installing someone else’s storyline. Try something like Stephen King’s On Writing, Alice La Plante’s The Making of a Story, or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. After you’ve read for a half hour or so, think briefly about your writing problem, but then put it out of your mind and go to bed. Make sure to leave a pen and paper on your nightstand.

In the morning, try not to leap out of bed and start your day. Lie there for a few minutes and let your thoughts turn back to the story with which you’re having trouble. Try to think about it in vague terms — the big picture instead of small, specific moments. See if anything new falls into place. Jot down any ideas that come to you before they slip away.

There’s no guarantee this will work, of course. Or at least not the first time you try. But the sleeping brain and that half-dreaming state first thing upon waking can help you let new thoughts sift down from your subconscious. You might be surprised by the results.

Good luck, and happy writing!



Never Enough Time: The Writer’s Day

One of the most important skills that you, as a writer, can develop, beyond the obvious concerns regarding craft and story telling, is the ability to pace yourself. This is true of a writer just starting out, who has yet to acquire an agent or a publishing contract, and for the writer fully in the thick of their career, balancing writing with editing, marketing obligations, and anything else that might come their way. It is important to get things done, but it is equally important to avoid illness or burnout due to being stretched too thin.

When I first sign on new, unpublished writers, they are almost unanimously in a hurry to get their manuscripts out the door and onto the desks of editors. After all, they’ve written the book and acquired an agent, so surely the book contract is the next step, right? They’re willing to do some tweaking, some revising based on my comments…but then it’s time to submit, yes? They can be surprised when I ask for another round of changes, or additional polishing — when I question plot points and ask them to dig deeper. It never occurred to them that this was not a strictly linear path.

What I try to impress upon my clients is that I want to help them get their manuscripts into the best shape possible before we begin submitting to publishers. I’ve signed them on because I see the potential in their project, and in their writing, and I believe we can sell that novel. But this in-between stage is also about helping a writer help themselves — so with the next manuscript they will polish as they go, ask themselves those questions that enable them to dig deeper. Now is the time to do that, when there isn’t a deadline looming over their heads.

Once a book is sold — perhaps in a multi-book contract — that writer will never again have the luxury of working without pressure, without expectations. There will be a date on the calendar that they must work toward — the day the book is due to their editor. They will be conscious of wanting to match or improve upon the quality of their previous efforts. The carefree period of being an unpublished, aspiring author will be over.

One of the most common complaints I hear from unpublished writers is that they have trouble finding the time to write between their other commitments. In most cases, they have full-time jobs. Many have children to care for, family and friends who demand more of their days. And in our health-conscious age, they also struggle to fit in some personal time to get to the gym or go for a run, fix a healthy dinner, and so on. Time is a precious commodity in our modern era, and writing regularly can be a difficult task.

I won’t argue with that. But I will point out that a writer’s job only gets more complicated once a book is sold. Most writers do not get six-figure book deals, which means if they held a full-time job prior to selling their novel, they will most likely continue to hold that job after they sign their book contract. That spare time they fight for will now go not just to writing — because there’s more than likely going to be a second book in the works — but to making changes on the first book per the editor’s requests, reviewing galleys, and so on.

Then there will be marketing tasks. Most new writers don’t have to worry about a big publisher’s book tour, but many take it upon themselves to reach out and do signings in communities where they are known — current hometown, wherever they grew up, perhaps the town or city where they went to college. Although cleared with the publisher’s publicity department — you don’t want to step on toes — these events will still take time and effort on the writer’s part. There are also conferences and conventions that offer opportunities to speak about writing in general and your project in particular — another way of getting word out about your book.

Even if a writer does very little in the way of traveling publicity, the virtual world has opened up a huge number of marketing opportunities. So there will be “other” writing obligations, including maintaining and updating the writer’s own web site, blog, newsletter, Twitter account, etc.; providing the publisher with any extra material they might wish for publicity; guest blog posts; and more.

Gone are the days when a writer only wrote. If you wish to write for publication and to have your audience find and read your work, you need to devote some time to the marketing and business side of your career. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have a break-out bestseller that affords you the luxury of writing full-time and hiring on a publicity staff, there will always be parts of the job you must address yourself. You must learn early to balance your schedule, prioritize your tasks, and to enjoy the lulls when they come. Develop a system early to keep track of what you’ve agreed to do, whether it’s to create an online presence before you sell your book or to market your soon-to-release masterpiece. And make sure you communicate with your agent and editor regarding your publicity ideas; they may have suggestions on how you can streamline your efforts.

I am not saying wait forever before you submit your work. It is certainly possible to linger on the shore, afraid to dip your toe in the water. At some point it is necessary to move forward, to dive in and swim hard, or you’ll never get to the other side. But while you do have that time, that moment of fresh air before the plunge, don’t forget to breathe deep and appreciate it.