Things We Forget

I remember a moment of time before I signed my first publication contract when I would hear published authors say – All of you newer writers, enjoy this time of no deadlines, where you are writing purely for the joy of writing. Where you can shut out the world, deadlines, editors, and critics and just write.

They weren’t lying. Being able to shut those things off is brilliant. But they also sometimes forgot to mention that the more novels we have behind us, and the more edits we’ve gone through, the louder that internal editor can be. That editor-voice can scream before we start writing, while we’re writing, and after we’re through. Now, I’m not saying this is a BAD thing, but it can really trip us up.

I knew NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) was out for me this year. I’m knee-deep in house buying and selling paperwork, my husband has already moved so I’m single-parenting it, I’m recovering from a fairly major hip surgery, and I’ve kicked up my editing job a few notches. But I love the spirit of NaNo for its reckless abandon of everything but story. In that spirit, I started a new project this month. Something else totally new for me, and while I love it, I’ve also spent a lot of time over-thinking, and just when I was about to set it aside indefinitely, I figured I’d write up the end to see how the mess I’d planned all turned out. (I plot in loose bullet points and scribbled out name changes).

Here’s what I’d forgotten: If I know a novel ends happy, I need that ending written early. I need to write that ending when I first start. I need to write that ending again when I’m about 1/3 of the way through and then again when I’m 1/2 the way through, and then again when I finally write myself to the end.

The ending sets the trail and tone for so many little moments, scenes and twists. Now that I know where I take my people, I can’t wait to sit down and write, which is a lovely change from sitting down, wondering if the work is going to be worth it, and then picking up another editing project instead.

So, here’s my best piece of advice for people stuck in a story – NaNo project or not: Find a way to love your characters so much that you cannot possibly let their story go untold. If that’s writing the happy end? Go for it. If that’s spending 2-10 days working on character sketches? DO IT. Find your path, take it, and revel in the feel of weaving a story from an idea.

And never forget why you started your journey.

~ Happy Writing!

Jo

P.S. I promise to try and not leave you all for so long, but for all the reasons listed above, my brain just isn’t functioning to capacity, so I’ve saved all the bestest brain cells for my lovely clients.

 

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Hone Story-Telling Skills Without Writing

I’m going to start this post with a short personal note.

Over the past week I put a house on the market that I designed and built. I had my first surgery outside of wisdom teeth removal and have been stuck in bed. And while bed-ridden, moved from the house I built into a basement where the few clothes I can wear sit in a laundry bin. We’re preparing for a move out of state.

Between big life changes and pain-killers, my brain is not in a good place for writing.

This makes me panic on two levels:

ONE – I define myself (probably far too much) as a writer.

TWO – I’m working on a few projects that are very different for me and require a lot of brainpower. I feel a NEED to turn something over to my agent.

So, instead of writing, I’m reading and watching TV. And not just reading, but reading books that have sold well, that are similar to what I want to write. I’m studying the characters, informational reveals, and pacing.

I’m watching TV (Netflix) for the same things – Character study, subtext, pacing, what makes one show compelling and a similar show boring. Teen shows, mystery-suspense, paranormal… Even a few documentaries (let’s face it, a lot of us love mysteries that read like documentaries – just look at Silence of the Lambs).

I could totally take time off. I could shut down my brain and watch bad TV for bad TV’s sake. And maybe I should do that more often. But right now, I feel as if I’m both taking a break and doing research that will make my stories stronger in the end.

On another note – my edit brain seems to be working quite well, and since I have all this free time on my hands, I can turn around a story edit pretty dang fast. See HERE for details.

THANK YOU!

Happy writing!

~ Jo

 

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Manuscript Isn’t Selling?

The thing I hear most often at writing conferences is the following : I’ve edited and edited. Worked and worked. And I still can’t get an agent or publisher interested in my Manuscript.

So, I paired up with MAKEREADY DESIGNS/QUIRKS & COMMAS to offer the following:

  1. A free read of chapter one (no more than 4k) – at this point, we can both decide if I’m a good fit for your story. I’ll happily pass on 2-5 paragraphs of notes without charge. If I don’t think I can help you with the MS, I’ll let you know.
  2. If you’d like me to help you know why your MS isn’t selling, and what you could do to make your story more marketable, I’ll read your manuscript and write up an edit letter – similar to what you’d get from an acquisitions editor when your novel sells. This is generally 2-5 pages long, depending on the issues found.
  3. After you’ve read over my notes, if you have other questions, I’d be happy to work those out with you. If you’d like help finding comp titles, I’m happy to help with that once we’re finished.
  4. If you need query letter help, cost varies from 30.00 (one edit pass) to 90.00 (if you want me to write the whole thing).

 

What sets us apart?

Our focus not only on storyline but marketability.

FREE first chapter and $50.00 per 10,000 words after.

 

Here’s what I bring to the table:

  1. My obsessive watching of Publisher’s Marketplace, outlining recent sales.
  2. Over a year of interning with a large, reputable literary agency.
  3. Time spent with content, line, and copy editors from five different publishing houses.
  4. Seven years working as a published author.
  5. Years of working as mentors for numerous writing conferences, including drafting, editing, and query workshops.
  6. A willingness to discuss my notes with the author when I’m finished with their manuscript and have passed along my notes.

 

To schedule a read, please email me at jolenebperry (at) gmail (dot) com

I’ll ask you for your first chapter, send you notes, and then you and I will decide if I’m a good fit for you. What’s the purpose of this? If I don’t think I can help, I don’t want to read your book. On the flipside, if you’re not sure about me, my advice won’t help you either.

Happy Writing!
~ Jo

How to be Your own Beta-Reader

I’d like to begin this post by contradicting myself – YOU NEED BETA READERS WHO ARE NOT YOURSELF. But really, there are a few things you can do to be a more effective self-editor in early editing rounds – big picture stuff.

  1. You have to be willing to set the MS aside for long enough that the words feel new. For me, this is about 3 months, IF I’ve seriously worked on at least one other project during that time.
  2. Pretend you’re reading for someone else. No in-text notes, just overall ideas and thoughts at the end. (Remember, we’re talking early edit rounds here).
  3. Read the MS on something like a kindle. Something that would make it super annoying to fix anything, or impossible to fix.
  4. Do your best to read in one day, maybe two.
  5. I like to make ONE SENTENCE notes and some highlights on the kindle text, but you really just want to get through the entire novel so you have a solid big picture idea of what’s missing or needs to be re-arranged. So, the below is from a book I’m working on now. My kindle notes are hard to decipher b/c I don’t fix typos, and I opened the MS, so I’d know what chapter I’m in. (I like to be able to check off chapters). And then in blue, I have notes that are bigger than the chapter. The chapter notes, I can strike through, but I leave the blue notes to check over at the end. Often, those blue note things lead to questions that I ask my first reader.Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 6.59.16 AM
  6. When your notes are all together, read them over before digging in. You might take a day or two off to really think about your notes before diving in.
  7. If you haven’t blurbed your book yet, do it NOW. (Like a query letter  – something similar to what you’d read on the back of a book at the bookstore).
  8. Write your theme or main idea. Maybe the reason you wrote the novel. Maybe the idea you hope people will walk away with.
  9. Write how you want your reader to feel at the end.
  10. Write how your MC feels at the end of the novel.
  11. Look back over the notes you took, and add to them after writing up those three things. Make sure your story is tight (revolves around that blurb/theme/idea/feels)
  12. Put your notes to use in your MS.
  13. NOW send to someone else 🙂

While I’m a HUGE believer in good readers, I also believe that sometimes we get off track from what we want our story to be. If I’m able to force myself to spend time away from my book, I’m able to keep my stories closer to what I want them to be, and so when I get notes back from other readers, I can sift through them more easily.

Sometimes our readers come back with – “I don’t like how your MC did X.”

And you think,, “But she has to do X. Oh, well…” And you take out that thing b/c someone didn’t like it.

When in reality, you maybe just needed to bring your reader to the point where it makes sense that your character would do X. THIS is the exact reason that I try to do the above with every story. When I’ve done a read myself, and written up those few extras (#6-9), notes from other readers are so much more valuable, and my story remains my story.

Happy Reading!

~ Jo

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A Little Late for an Intro.

img_9581Yeah, it’s a little late for an intro,  but I’ve rarely been good at following rules.

I grew up with the kind of dad who used a lighter to detect possible gas leaks in gas lines. A dad who said things like, “They let electricians do it! Of course you can wire your house!”

Because of this line of thinking, and my mother’s ENDLESS patience and support, I competitively show-jumped, I went to college, I became a teacher, I tried new things. Every year. At least one. Because of my parents, I drew plans for a house, because hey, they let architects do it! And then twice (because much like childbirth, you forget the pain) we built two houses starting with the plans, all the way to the final bits of paint on the walls. And there is nothing like building your own home.

But when it came to thing that I wanted to do more than anything else, that thing that felt so unattainable, I put off trying. I put it off by switching away from an English major in college. By keeping only a moderate journal. By quashing the idea as soon as it formed.

And then blogging became a thing. A big thing. Everyone had a blog! Even stay at home moms like me! And it was a struggle learning to stay home with the same single, small person every day after herding classrooms of middle and high school students. So I began to blog. The first ones were clunky, but they got better, more succinct. The writing came easier. Sharing small stories about our day became easier. That brilliant part of storytelling where some tidbit from the beginning, comes back around in the end… That got easier too.

So, one day I’m playing my guitar (guitarists do it!) and I had this idea for a story. We were feeling particularly broke at the time (student loans – almost everyone does it!) and driving up the road when I mentioned having this idea for a scene or story, and my husband said, “Why don’t you write that down? Just for fun?”

He had no idea what he would start with those few words.

I’ve been seriously writing close to ten years, worked with five publishers, done literary internships, switched agents, helped with writing conferences, attended many more, seen a few successes and many failures. Over thirty novels later, I’ve written a few stories.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

what the BL*RB to write next

You wanna write books that’ll sell? Sell them to yourself first. 

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The more years I spend writing, the more I see the benefits of having a workable pitch before I start writing, and the more I beg others to do the same. This helps keep the focus of the project as narrow as it should be, and this has also helped me pick which project to work on first many, many, many times.

ONE

I’ve talked about this before, but just write up a list of projects, and a one to two sentence pitch. Share with a group – separately. See which ideas people are attracted to.

Keep this basic:

Boy learns he’s a wizard and goes to wizarding school where he finds friends and discovers the world’s most evil wizard is still alive.

Ask yourself – which ones sound the most exciting when I can only share one sentence? Which stories were easy to write a one-sentence pitch for? (If it was easy for you to write that pitch, it’ll be easier for the chain of people who will possibly be selling your book).

Having a hard time with this? Write up a one-sentence blurb for a few of your favorite books, and then work on your own.

TWO

You know those Publisher’s Marketplace announcements? Read a few of those. Can you write one for your novel? Does it sound like something you’d sell your favorite pair of shoes (or insert other beloved object here) to read?

YES? Awesome.

NO? Drawing board. Go.

I’m going to use the one for Kathryn Purdie’s BURNING GLASS, since she was nice enough to give me an ARC 🙂 (You’ll note the title change)

Auraseer PM announcement

Do a search for the PM announcement for authors’ books that are similar to your own. Go ahead, write your own PM announcement – that has to be good for your mojo, yeah?

THREE

Write out a full blurb or query for each project.

First, the more clear and concise the blurb, the better you understand the story.

Second, again, send your blurbs to your agent if you’re agented, or to a few writing friends.

Third, I promise that the easiest ones to blurb, are often the projects with more commercial appeal, and projects that you’re more prepared to write than the others.

FOUR

If you’re still stuck… Let’s say you’re down to 1-3 ideas that you’d like to tackle next, write out the synopsis. And don’t fake it by doing bullet-points. Do a full-on synopsis. Sell that storyline as if you’re selling that storyline to your dream agent or publisher.

If you’re STILL not sure what to write, jump in and start a few different projects. One of the characters will grab you and won’t let you go. I can almost guarantee.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo

 

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Identity Crisis

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 4.52.38 PMWhen I first began writing, I had no notions of writing YA. I was going to be the next Nora Roberts or Sophie Kinsella. I hadn’t decided quite yet. And then I read Sarah Addison Allen, and I was terrified I’d never be able to write like that (I won’t, and that’s ok. We’re different). And I grew up reading Stephen King, but the idea of writing horror felt like I’d have nightmares every night during every project I wrote.

I fell into writing YA. My characters just started coming out younger than I expected. This wasn’t planned or calculated, they just happened to be teenagers going through things I’d gone through, friends had gone through, strangers had gone through… Teaching high school and middle school also certainly played into this.

I loved every second of writing my collection of YA titles. Well, except for those parts that made me hate everything writing related ever (most of you can understand this to some degree).

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But over the past year or so, since I turned in the final draft of ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, I found myself in the very center of a writing identity crisis.

Yes, I panicked for a while. But when I panic, it tends to rocket me forward. I wrote an MG novel with an adorable girl and a magic system that didn’t work. (this one MIGHT be revisited).

I wrote a YA horror that reads like a novella instead of a novel (that one will be revisited).

I took a step back and gave myself permission to write nothing. Here’s what I did.

I read and watched my old favs.

Pet Semetary, Jane Eyre,Garden Spells, Big Fish, Fried Green Tomatoes, Little Miss Sunshine, Veronica Mars, The Lake House, Sliding Doors, X-Files, Rock N Rolla, Snatch, Pride & Prejudice, Firefly, Stand By Me, IT, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, Jumper, The Illusionist…

And then, because I had so much fun playing with setting in ALL THE FOREVER THINGS, I thought about where I’d like to set a novel. I thought about places I’d like to go, but more than that, places that speak to my soul.

I thought about my favorite stories, and why they were my favorites, and then asked myself the hard questions like:

WHY ARE YOU TERRIFIED YOU CAN’T WRITE A STORY LIKE THIS?

And once I asked myself that question, I dug in again, hungrier than before, more excited than before…

So, here I am, ignoring the thirty or so novel beginnings I have on my computer, and knowing that I’m moving forward re-inventing myself.

This is my advice for writers who are feeling lost or stuck or unsure. Go immerse yourself in great stories. Books, movies, TV shows, radio shows, fiction, non-fiction… Soak up the brilliance, and then go forth and conquer.

Happy Writing!

~ Jo