Off Topic: Publishing Star

People love competitions. We watch sports, reality shows, and fictional situations on TV because there’s drama in character/contestant/team A overcoming character/contestant/team B. I think the publishing industry could tap into this natural tendency of human nature by sponsoring a sort of American Idol meets Design Star for the next great writer.

I don’t think you would necessarily need to air it on TV, given that it would be mostly written content. Instead, the web would be a great venue for the video aspects. The concept would be something like this:

  • The publisher opens a website touting that someone will win a publishing contract (cue the viral marketing).
  • Unpublished and self-published writers with a completed manuscript are invited to submit a short sample of their novel (two or three chapters) for a period of three months. During this time, users can review these samples and vote and comment on them.
  • A panel of agents, editors, and publishing experts selects seven finalists from the submissions. In addition, the three highest rated writers on the website also become finalists, giving a total of 10.
  • After being selected, the ten finalists compete in a series of assignments that, while compressed from normal writing, establish versatility and marketability. For example, the writers must pitch their book in 30 seconds or less; the writers must successfully revise their samples based on editorial feedback; the writers must convince visitors to a bookstore to buy a book; the writers must come up with a compelling advertising idea. (Not all of these are completely fair, but they would be entertaining.)
  • Each round, the judges eliminate one writer until there are only two writers left.
  • Those two finish and revise their novels while the “episodes” are airing.
  • The final two writers will have their books published on the website, along with a video appeal, and the world will vote on the winner.
  • The winner gets a publishing deal.

In any case, I offer this as a free idea because I’d love to enter/watch it myself. Granted, this isn’t the conventional way of publication, but it could certainly generate interest and visibility for publishers, agents, and writers.

Weekend Website: Michael Hyatt’s Blog

One of the blogs that I’ve recently found is filled with advice for writers of every style or genre. Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, spends more time than I would think he has doling out advice on everything from proposals to presentations to posting on Twitter. His background affords him a unique perspective into the world of writing, and each of his posts will challenge you to improve your present processes.

Some posts and pages you should consider:

Site: Michael Hyatt’s Blog

Episode 34: Research and Other Bad Words, Part 1

There’s an urban myth that doing research is a pain. Well, okay, it’s no myth—that is, it isn’t a myth if your main memories of research involve last-minute dashes to the university library to complete a ten-page paper that’s due in two hours.

As odd as this sounds, I actually enjoy research. When I was in grad school, part of my job as a graduate assistant was to track down articles for my professor. She was working on a book, and I was her research gopher. And, yes, I liked the challenge.

More recently, my editing and writing have given me a rare opportunity to pour on even more research in a vast number of fields, and yet that hasn’t caused my enjoyment to wane. Why? Simply because I’ve found ways to make my time researching more productive and less frustrating. At least, this is the method that works for me:

  1. Understand the topic: I like to call this the “pre-research” phase. If I know what I’ll be writing about (subject matter, characters, specialized settings), I spend some time just doing a brief overview of the subject. In other words, this is the Wikipedia phase. I may get some ideas, but I’m not worried about notes just yet. The point isn’t to really dig in; the point is to know how the topic “feels” in general.
  2. Ask questions: Once I know what I’m covering, I always ask questions. If you know a subject-matter expert (e.g., a police officer when you’re researching a character), ask them about the topic and get a grasp of the potential “touchy” areas (i.e., issues that might be controversial). If you don’t know an expert, ask your editor for help in contacting someone or look around the Internet or in your community. The bottom line is to find out more than just the facts; you need to know how those who are experts in that topic address the issues.
  3. Look for a pattern: Now that I have a basic understanding of the subject, I try to find patterns. I might ask something like this: When other writers are addressing my issue, what keywords do they use and how do they approach it? Different subjects and genres have a “feel” that you’ll be expected to know.
  4. Go to the books: Only at this point do I really start researching. As I’m prone to do, I use Google Docs to keep track of what I’ve looked into and what things stand out. If you can find everything online, that makes it easier, but sometimes there’s no replacing a good library.
  5. Decide on an angle: Sometimes I don’t have a choice about what my “angle” will be, but usually I have some leeway. My goal, when I do have the freedom, is never to decide how I’ll deal with a subject until after I dive in. The research should lead to the conclusions if possible, since this will make the writing more organic.

Next week we’ll look at taking the research and using it in your writing.

Do you have any research methods that you rely on? How do you go about gathering information?

Tuesday Terminology: Circumlocution

Circumlocution (literally “talking around”) is a figure of speech in which the writer uses a more complex name for a noun rather than the standard name. This is often for comedic reasons (though it can be used seriously as well). Some examples:

  • James used his trusty log-splitter to prepare firewood. [instead of axe]
  • Take this thing that cuts through paper and other assorted items to your sister. [instead of scissors]
  • The dawn-maker rose above the horizon. [instead of sun]

If you would like to find out more, Wikipedia has an exhaustive article on the various types of circumlocution (though they leave out kenning).

Have an example? Leave it in the comments.

Weekend Website: Evernote

logoThis is a new discovery for me, and one that I’m still testing. But Evernote is a site that allows you to keep virtual “clippings” of interesting things that you find on the web, in documents, or even in audio. You can also upload snapshots from your phone to store for later—or mark off a to-do list. Essentially, the site is a great way to keep and organize your thoughts from wherever you are. For a writer and editor, the tool makes it easy to store research, notes, or whims.

As I said, I haven’t completely tested the site, but I like what I’ve seen so far. A standard account is free and should be sufficient for most people. If you need more, they offer a premium account with more storage, more file support, and better security (more details here). They offer a web version, as well as one you can download for your Mac, PC, or phone.

Website: Evernote

Episode 33: To Thine Own Self

Writing is the ongoing process of repeated failure. If that sounds a bit harsh, it is, but the failures aren’t the point. All those abandoned drafts, deleted scenes, blinking cursors, and reworked “finals” are the labor by which something greater than the sum of those failures is produced. That is, the writer may keep falling, but the trick is to always fall forward—and away from sinkholes.

One of the most—if not the most—important things that any writer can do is to routinely perform maintenance and checkups. We are a bit like cars in that regard: without maintenance we start to wear down. In fact, my guess is that most cases of “writer’s block” have a lot to do with a lack of introspection and refueling, if you will.

So, how does a writer keep the engine running (okay, I’ll stop with the car metaphor)? The simple answer is that there is no simple answer, but there are some steps that you can take to evaluate your passion and recharge.

First, routinely consider where you are as a writer. Set a schedule like you would for the dentist and stick to it (and no drilling involved). Pull out everything you’ve worked on since the last checkup and look for progress, themes, and patterns. For example, have you used certain phrases consistently? Do your characters have similarities? Are there things that bother you about your writing? Did you finish anything?

After that, find opportunities for enrichment. This is actually much easier than you may think. Some simple things you could do:

  • Read books or watch movies outside of your comfort zone. If you’re usually a history buff, read some science fiction. If you normally prefer suspense, attend a conference on antiques.
  • Join a writing group or take a class (you didn’t think I’d miss a chance to harp on that, right?).
  • Spend some time observing instead of writing. Go to a local library and listen to people, attend an expo, hike, or anything you prefer. Just keep notes about what you experience.
  • Start a blog and record your thoughts. Don’t worry about how great or regular the blog is; just focus on working through your ideas.

Finally, and perhaps most painfully, consider your passion. Do you feel like you have to write or do you force yourself to do it? Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see everyone take a crack at making words dance on the page (or, at least, hobble). However, if you want writing to be your main focus (and your main source of income), then make sure that you enjoy it. That may seem obvious, but writing for a living requires a great deal of work and commitment—and frustration.

The more you stop to consider yourself and your writing, the more you’ll have a good grasp on where you are as a writer and how far you have to go. As I said, just keep falling forward.

What are some of the things you do to evaluate yourself? How do you recharge?

Weekend Website: UW–Madison Writing Center Writer’s Handbook

innerPage_logo.jpgThe name is long, and the graphics are certainly nothing spectacular. But the UW–Madison Writing Center Writer’s Handbook website has been a boon to me over the years, as I’ve often had to switch between several different writing styles depending on the task at hand (APA, MLA, etc.).

Although not exhaustive, this site has more than enough information to show you how to format endnotes and footnotes or inline references. They also have a quick reference section for appropriate quoting and avoiding plagiarism. Recently, they’ve also added a podcast for the MLA section and a few downloadable reference guides.

Updates on the site seem to be slow, and there’s little to show what has been updated from the main page. Also, this may not go into enough depth for some purposes. But if you’re looking for quick info, this site will help you get up to speed quickly.

Site: UW–Madison Writing Center Writer’s Handbook