Friday, May 26, 2017

Saving Your Work--Ways to Keep Your Writing Safe Today

I spent much of yesterday at the Apple Store, which often starts out as fun but ends up being exhausting.   A friend's laptop had an accident:  salt water got into the hard drive, and the photo our tech took of it confirmed no recovery possible.  I had a laptop I no longer used so she took it in with her external drive and we crossed our fingers as the data migration took place.  So far, all is well.  But if she hadn't backed up her computer on that external drive, it would be a sad story.

Afterwards, in the car, we talked the various ways of saving work.  When she first got the bad news about her laptop, I read the panic on her face.  All her creative work, gone?  She hadn't ever had to recover data from an external drive (Time Machine in Apple lingo).  So she didn't actually trust that it would restore her files. 

I'd recovered my lost work one time, successfully.  It took a while, but the external drive was a good choice.  Before I got smart about saving my work somewhere outside of my computer, I wouldn't have recovered anything. 

I often poll writers in my classes about the ways they protect their work.  It's no longer good enough to just have one copy, on your laptop or desktop.  Here are some ways they use.  Not all these methods were popular with everyone, but they do present a wide range of possibilities.

The main piece of advice I've gotten over the years is:  Save your writing in a minimum of three locations.  Do it religiously.  How often?  I save every time I finish a writing session.  Sometimes, because I've experienced the horrors of a crash or power outage, I save every hour. 

I save in four places:

1.  Save on my main computer (desktop or laptop).
2.  Email myself a copy of the file.  If the computer crashes, I can retrieve from my webmail.
3.  Save to an external drive, like a Passport or Porsche or LaCie drive.  These are not expensive (under $100 last time I checked) and they hold a LOT. 
4.  Use a Time Machine to back up the entire computer every night or once a week, as my friend did, above.  These usually work best when stationery, at your desk, hooked up to a desktop and set to backup on schedule.

Other methods you might consider:

1.  Use a cloud option--there are many companies that will save your work or even do automatic backups to the cloud for you.  Several of my students do this and swear by its ease and security.
2.  Print hard copies.  One of my writer friends, who describes himself as a "typewriter guy" who reluctantly moved to computers, doesn't feel secure until he has printed copies. 
3.  Use a thumb drive (flash drive).  Very cheap, stores a lot, can be carried anywhere because it's the size of your thumb.  You can find these in office supply stores.  When I'm traveling, I use this instead of the larger external drive.

Your weekly writing exercise isn't about writing this week; it's about maintaining your ability to keep writing your book.  Evaluate how you safeguard your writing.  What new systems do you want to put into place this week?  If something isn't working as well as you'd like, what might you change?         

Friday, May 19, 2017

Finding the Right Home for Your Memoir: A Success Story

I first met Elisa Korenne in one of my online classes.  Elisa is a professional singer/songwriter with several CDs to her credit.  She was writing a very intriguing story--about moving from downtown Manhattan to the wilds of northern Minnesota, for love.

I followed her progress in subsequent classes and saw such a blossoming of the story.  It's a simple tale, yet unique:  the integration of cultures, the finding of oneself and home, all around her profession of music and storytelling.

Elisa's memoir, Hundred Miles to Nowhere:  An Unlikely Love Story, has just been released from North Star Press.  Click here to find out more.  I interviewed  Elisa to learn more about the process of finding the right home for her book. 

Why did you decide on this press?  How did you find out about them?  Did you research others? 

I decided to pursue North Star Press because two writers I knew and respected, one a friend and the other a writing teacher, had been published by them.  I had done a lot of research about traditional publishers, small publishers, and agents, and had already gone down all of those roads.  Amazingly, I had neglected to put North Star on my list despite what I thought had been exhaustive research.

When I finally thought about North Star, I recognized that it would be an ideal press for me and my story.  For me because I am a first-time author and a small press would give me more attention.  And for my story because North Star is based in outstate Minnesota, and my story is about moving to outstate Minnesota, so they would have the network to appeal a good portion of my target audience.
What made you choose this avenue over traditional publishing?
It was more that this avenue chose me!

I started trying to get my book into the world by pursuing literary agents.  I had initial success--a good 30-40 percent requested full manuscripts after I sent them my query letter.

From their responses, it became clear that my story, about a singer-songwriter moving from New York City to rural Minnesota for love, did not have enough appeal (read: potential book-buyers) for agents to approach their contacts at larger publishers.

This led me to start reaching out to smaller publishers.
Tell us what kind of support you got during the publishing process.
North Star offered me a writer-friendly contract that included an industry-standard royalty package and a connection to a national distributor.  They asked me to commit to buying a number of books at wholesale price up front.  They were willing to work with me on adjusting their standard contract to be the right fit for me.

They provided editing and all the backend work of getting my book into the world, in both print and electronic format.
I was not expecting marketing support and was not offered it.  From the beginning of my pursuit of publishers and agents, I was aware that I would be in charge of most of the marketing for the book no matter what press published my book, big or small. 

I worked with a literary publicist to start my marketing campaign six months ahead of the publication date.
Anything else you think might help readers make good decisions about finding the right homes for their books?
One of the hardest things for me was to figure out where my book belonged in the publishing world. 

My book was not the literary blockbuster of my grandiose imaginings. It was only when I looked at the realities of my story, the book market, and who I am as an author, that I was successful in finding a publisher.

I am very happy to be with a smaller, Minnesota-based publisher, as I know they have the connections that are the best fit for my book.
To learn more about Elisa's memoir and order a copy, you can check out her website at or find it at North Star Press or on

Friday, May 12, 2017

Storyboarding Multiple Narrators--How to Make Sense of the Whole Story

I get this question a lot:  When a book has more than one storyline, timeline, or main narrator, how do you make sure each storyline works individually? 

And, once you have each individual storyline in place, how do you weave them together to make sense of the whole?
Memoir and fiction has grown complex.   Maybe it's a reflection of our multi-tasking brains, but multiple narrators, shifts from a full backstory to a full present-time story, or completely developed stories in different locations are the norm now.  

It takes a lot more work from the writer than just a simple, chronological, single storyline.  Working with storyboards helps.  But even so, you may have your individual storyboards flowing just fine, but be stymied on how to bring them into one book.

One of my online students from Tucson, Arizona, is working on a historical novel.  She has chosen three of the main characters to be her narrators and she's built storyboards for each of them separately.  She works on one narrator's story and takes it as far as she can, then moves to another, trusting the process and not too worried about completing one before starting another, because the process is teaching her more about the book.
That's fine; she's doing the necessary first step.  But as she's completed these individual storyboards, she's become stalled out. 

"While the storyboards outline what happens to each of them, what they are involved in," she emailed me, "I'm not seeing or feeling THE STORY.  And I'm not sure how to get there."  What's the trick in making them mesh?

Five Points That Overlap
First, look for five main points that overlap.  If you're working with a storyboard, you know about the five main turning points in any book:  the triggering event at the start, the first turning point about one-quarter through, the midpoint (second triggering event), the second turning point about three-quarters through, and the final climax at the end of the book.  These are detailed on my videos and in my book, in case you want to explore further.

First, look for overlaps in location, time, or event.  Sometimes, a main event runs through the whole book and characters encounter it at slightly different times.  Or they are in a certain location where something changes, but on their own storyline.  These are the easiest overlaps to find. 

If these don't work for your particular book, freewrite, one page for each character, on what each of the five points mean for that character.  For instance, you are writing about a marriage.  What's the meaning of that moment for John, for Sylvia, for their daughter Harlow?  The meaning is where you look for overlaps if the easier ones don't work.    

Often you need to rearrange your storyboard to make this work well.  I might shift the plot or go deeper into researching meaning and make it more evident in a scene, to create strong weaving of the different stories.

Once you've created overlap in the five points of your book, you need to work on transitions.  I could teach transitions for a whole year--they are that challenging for many writers and that important.

The best way to learn transitions is to study film.  Directors work with them all the time, moving from scene to scene.  Two of my favorite films to teach transitions are The English Patient and Sliding Doors.  You'll enjoy both films, I bet, but go beyond watching them for enjoyment and study the moment when a scene changes.  See what image is used to transition.  It'll echo or repeat slightly from the first scene to the next one.  The more arty the film, the subtler the transition. 

When I work with my private clients on transitions, I have them study key images that repeat in their story.  Then we work on a chart where the last line of each scene is paired with the first line of the next scene, to see if there are transitions in place.  Words are your vehicle for images on the page, so words must create a transition image, or bridge, that the reader can use to slide effortlessly from one scene to the next.  You can also use more obvious time transitions, such as "three days later" or "meanwhile, back at the ranch," but in modern fiction and memoir, these are employed sparingly because they are more glaring to the reader.  The best transitions are nearly invisible.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
Take one of these steps--the five points exercise above or the transitions exercise below that--and set aside an hour to try it.  Apply to your book, see what you learn!  Does the weaving begin to happen?

Friday, May 5, 2017

If You're Writing a Novel, Do You Know Its Category? An Agent's Perspective

One of the writers in my advanced online class posted this article on our weekly classroom discussion.  She asked the provocative question:  what genre are you writing in? 

Fiction, I would've answered five years ago, because they were all fiction writers in this small group.  But her question went deeper than this:  what type of fiction are you writing and how will you present it to an agent or publisher?
Publishing has gotten quite complex at categorizing novels by certain qualities.  Is it award-capable?  Does it have a happy or mixed ending?  Is it a commercial or literary plot? 
It's absolutely necessary to know where your book fits, before you begin trying to send it to an agent or editor.
The article she shared summed it up so well.  Here's the link.  It's an infographic, or diagram that shows three main types of fiction--literary, upmarket, and commercial.  Check it out, and see where your book might fit.  Consider any changes you might need to make to fit in one of these categories.