Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I Is an Author Now!

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Today was an important milestone in my writing career.

I got my first rejection letter. I think I'm going to throw a party.

You might wonder at that reaction. A party? Really? For a rejection?

Yes, a party. I mean, I did submit to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I was aiming high. Yes, the form letter rejection was addressed to "Author" so I know they probably have to send a billion of these per issue. It's not like they crafted this loving, supportive personal letter to me.

But I'm going to celebrate. Why? Because this was the first time I ever did something like this. I'm pretty sure editors at Ellery Queen read my submission. My name is out there. Lots of people write something. Few ever bother to send it out. Fewer still are successful.

And this is not final. I have more stuff. And I will keep sending it out and looking for places to submit.

Publishing is not a sprint. It's a marathon.

And I'm just getting warmed up.

(PS: If you know of a great place to submit short fiction - meaning short stories or novelettes, anything under 15,000 words - let me know in the Comments.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brands and Platforms, Oh My!

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

As a new writer, I hear a lot about establishing my "brand" and my "platform."

No, I am not building anything nor am I working with cattle.

Simply put, my "brand" is who I am, my "voice" as a writer. This blog is part of my brand. Every story I write - mystery, romance, young adult fantasy - is part of my brand. It just sort of happens. Of course, I'm a little confused as to what all of these multiple genres, all of which I've really enjoyed working in and want to continue, say about my brand, but let's let that one go.

So you might think, "well, establishing your brand should be easy." Maybe. See, that's why I've got to be so careful about what I post in places such as this blog, my personal reflection blog at Summaria.net, on Facebook, or Twitter. If I make a political or religious comment, that becomes part of my brand.

That's not necessarily bad - if that's what I want my brand to be. And maybe I don't want my political railings to be part of my brand as an author. So I really have to think twice before clicking "Comment," "Share," "Publish," or "Tweet." Do I want this to be what people think of when they hear my name? Really?

It's not that I can't be me online, I just need to be careful of how much "me" the public sees. Think of it as your boss seeing that picture of you shotgunning beer at a party. Now multiply the number of "bosses" by the number of people in the reading public.

I'm sure you see the problem.

Then there's platform. Honestly, I'm not sure what this one is. But I think the best explanation I've seen is this one by Jane Friedman. My platform is what makes me visible as an author. Publishing something would establish my platform, obviously. But there are other things too.

This blog for example. If I had 500 followers, that means I've got an audience. That's platform-building (for the record, exactly one person follows this blog, so if you're so inclined, add yourself as a follower). I've networked and "met" a fair number of people, including some in the publishing industry (writers and such), on Twitter. They know my name. That's building a platform. Connecting with people via my Facebook author page - platform building. My work with Sisters in Crime - platform building.

So I need to work on my brand, I need to build a platform - and oh, yeah, I need to continue to write so I can do that most important platform-building activity of all GET PUBLISHED.

You can see why some authors resent all this brand and platform stuff. It takes time away from creating.

But that's too bad, because that's what agents and publishers are looking for these days. So help a gal out, why don't you? Follow this blog or pop on over to "like" my author page.

I need all the building help I can get.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Scrivener Step 4: Importing & Compiling

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I am using Scrivener for Mac. If you are using Windows, please allow for differences.

So here we are, the end of my Scrivener musings. I want to talk briefly about two remaining features: importing documents and compiling output.

First, importing. It's a breeze, seriously. Create your project. Choose File > Import and select the thing you are importing. Normally, this will be a file. Scrivener can handle .doc, docx, .rtf, .txt and maybe some others. If you are importing things with images or footnotes, you'll get a warning about those things. That's okay.

After the import, you wind up with one single Scrivener Text document. Here's the hard part. Well, not hard, but tedious. You have to break this into individual scenes using Document > Split. Okay, you don't have to do that. But to really get the full power of Scrivener, you really should.

I did this twice with two shorter works: a novelette and a short story. Both times I used the short story project template. I had offset my scenes in Word, so I just scanned my import for the "#" symbol and split the file there. Along the way, I found a couple of other places I wanted to split, so it was a helpful exercise.

Once you have all the scenes split, you can multi-select and set labels and status if you want. And that's importing. Pretty simple.

Once you're done, you can compile your manuscript. Again, pretty easy. Click the big "Compile" button on the toolbar, or choose File > Compile. Set all your options or accept the defaults. Those defaults will result in a standard manuscript submission template. One note: If the "Compile For" field says "Print" it means print - as in sending to your printer and results in a hard copy. If you want a file (say a .doc file for submission), change the Compile For field value. Scrivener does support the .docx format. You might get a message about certain characters being stripped. If you want to change your output format, you can do so.

I compiled for a submission and got a .doc file that was, almost without tweaking, in standard manuscript format: 1 inch margins all around, Courier 12pt, first page with title and address block, and header. I did have to make a few tweaks, but they were minor. Of course, I then noticed that you can change the front matter template, so I won't have to do it again.

And that's it. I'm sure there's more to Scrivener, and if I stumble across something I think is really valuable, I'll let you know. But these four steps are all you really need to be productive. Someone asked about learning curve. I think someone who is reasonably proficient with computers or Microsoft Word can be using Scrivener comfortably in a week or less. So yeah, not a big learning curve.

I already like Scrivener a lot. I think I'm going to love it. So what about you? Ready to take the plunge?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Scrivener Step 3: Starting to Write

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I am using Scrivener for Mac. If you are using Windows, allow for differences.

I finished the tutorial. I created a project, and set up my character and location sheets. Now I'm ready to write.

At the heart of Scrivener, at least the fiction projects, are Chapters and Text documents. Chapter documents can contain text or just be a "holder" for Text documents, which are usually scenes. In this way, Scrivener forces you to write scene-by-scene.

At first I didn't think I was going to like this. After all, when I get in a groove, I don't want to stop. On second thought, and after using Scrivener to prepare sample scenes for a project, I like it.

The reason? Simple. The mantra in writing is that every scene needs to move the story forward. Every scene needs to contain some conflict, or tension. If you don't consciously write scene-by-scene, it's easy to lose sight of this. So now when I sit down, I can focus on one particular scene. For example, "here's the scene where she meets the man who is going to be her mentor." And all of my thoughts focus on that scene, instead of wandering off into something three chapters later.

This scene-by-scene structure will pay off later as well. I've often had to restructure works and had to hunt for the scenes. I'm sure you know the feeling. "I need to move that love scene in the hot tub. Now was that chapter 7 or chapter 9?" If you're writing by scene, you can zero in on that love scene and drag it to the new location.

This is probably why Scrivener recommends not using "Scene 1, Scene 2," etc. Give your scenes meaningful descriptions. I also used the Synopsis note functionality. That way I know "Love scene in the hot tub" is actually the scene I'm looking for - and that's pretty cool. The ability to drag a scene is also much easier than the old "cut big chunk of text, paste to second document, find new location, cut text again, paste to new location" work flow in Microsoft Word. I mean, that might not be bad for a 5,000 word short story, but for a 90,000 word novel it's exhausting.

The actual typing in Scrivener is rather like any word processing program, so there's not much to say. It's got a default font and single paragraph spacing. You can change that if you want because it'll all be standardized when you compile your project (that's the term Scrivener uses for creating the final manuscript).

Because people have asked about learning curve, I'll say that I think it's not very steep, especially if you are starting a new project (like I am). I'm sure there's more to learn if you import an existing project (written in Word or something else) and they'll be some to learn upon compilation. But I think anyone can get the basic content-creation work flow down in a few hours to a couple of days.

I'm going to get writing now. If I learn anything stupendous, I'll blog again, but expect my next Scrivener blog entry to be about compilation. That will take a few days.

Updated 6/16/12: I forgot about one really cool thing. You can assign a status to each scene: First Draft, To Do, Finished, etc. This way you can see how much needs to be done. Also, if you're further down the story, and you suddenly think, "Oh man, I need a love scene in the hot tub in Chapter 3," you can put the text document for the scene where you need it, leave it with a status of "To Do," and keep on motoring where you are, so you don't break the creative groove you're in. I like that - better than a post-it note. =)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Scrivener Step 2: Setting up a New Project

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I am using Scrivener for Mac. If you are using Windows, please allow for differences.

So having completed the tutorial, I set up a new project. I decided to use something completely new and not convert something existing (you can import Word documents into Scrivener, but I'll save that for later).

Note: Something really cool - the Scrivener trial goes by 30 days of actual use, so if you use it every day, it's 30 days. If you use it every other day, your trial will expire in 60 days. That's nice.

Creating a  new project is dead simple: File > New Project. Once you've done that, you get to pick the template you want to use. Here is where it gets really cool.

You can do a "blank" project where you have to create everything. However, say you're writing a novel. Under the "Fiction" category, there is a novel template. That template contains a predefined cover page and will automatically number your chapters when you compiled the project. So if you decide to move Chapter 20 to Chapter 13, you don't have to renumber everything.

The "Fiction" category also contains templates for Novel (with sections) and Short Story. Each contain a title page (which you need to fill in - the file is in the Front Matter folder in the Binder).

Also included in this template is predefined output for manuscript submission (1" margins all around and 12pt Courier/Times New Roman font). As I pointed out yesterday, this is cool because if you prefer to work online using a sans-serif font as I do (e.g, Arial - my eyes have trouble focusing on serif fonts on a screen for long periods of time), you don't have to worry about making sure you've replaced all your fonts correctly before you prepare your manuscript for submission. Scrivener will do that for you.

In the Front Matter folder for the Novel template, you'll also see Paperback Novel and eBook. Each of these have template pages to complete that are unique to that output. For example, Paperback Novel has a copyright page and a dedication. Yes, there is an output specifically for eBook output, should you need it.

There are many other categories of templates including, Non-fiction, Poetry,  and Scriptwriting. I didn't explore them because I'm not writing those things, but I would imagine they come with their own standard outputs and associate front matter.

So my main task yesterday was writing some book treatments. Scrivener is not really a free-form text writer, so I wrote in Word. But while I was doing so I used another feature of Scrivener that I can tell is going to be useful: Character Sheets and Location Sheets.

These things are not included in output. Think of them as crib notes for the places and people you create. As I was writing my treatment and creating characters, I created Character Sheets in Scrivener. This is where the characters back story lives. The sheets include name, role in the story, physical description, personality, unique habits - all the things that you may use in your story. The character sheets also include two extremely important areas: Internal Conflicts and External Conflicts. This is awesome. Because if you can't fill in these areas, your character has a problem and maybe you need to put more thought into him. Because if a character doesn't have some conflict, he's not going to be very interesting, is he?

You can get as detailed as you need to be with these sheets, but I recommend putting at least a couple of things in each area. If you think of something else, you can go back and edit it. I did not create character sheets for everyone (for example, the nameless stable boy, or the maid that only gets one scene), but I did for my primary and major secondary characters. And don't fret. This is not a one time deal, so if you create a character when you're halfway through the book, you can create a character sheet for him. But they really make you think about your characters, so I highly recommend their use.

The second thing I did was Location sheets. These describe the places in your story (duh). But again, it makes you think. What is this location's role in the story? What characters will use this location? Are there unique features? What I really like is there's a place to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of the location. These are the things that will help you really bring your setting alive. What does a middle school smell like? You can say "the walls were bright yellow" or you can say, "the lights reflected off of the industrial-painted walls and the smell of heavy antiseptic cleaner and stale gym clothes filled the air." I bet the second description makes the place more alive (or I hope it does).

Again, you can get really specific or general. I created Location sheets for my major settings. I'm sure my characters will do things like ride down a road, but I didn't create a Location sheet for the road. I could, but frankly I think that's overkill.

You do not have to use Character or Location sheets, but I liked them. They really made me focus on why I was going to use specific things and made the story coalesce in my brain.

So now that my project was complete and sheets filled out, I was ready to start writing.

Update: I forgot something. Some writers aren't a slave to word count and don't care. But some like to use a general word count target. For example, say you're writing a short story and you know the target word count for submission is 6,000 words. Go to Project > Show Project Targets and you can both set your targets and see your progress (that's for later).

Tomorrow: Day 3 - Writing My First Scene

Monday, June 11, 2012

Scrivener Step 1: The Tutorial

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Note: I am using Scrivener for Mac. If you are using Windows, please allow for differences.

I downloaded the Scrivener trial from the web site, and installed it. I'm not going to say too much about that except it was pretty easy (I anticipate that will be the case for any OS).

Once I launched Scrivener, there was an option to do the tutorial or just start. I figured the tutorial would not be a bad idea. So here are my initial thoughts after doing the tutorial.

It didn't take me long to hit my first snag. In Step 2, they talk about opening files in the Binder by dragging and dropping to the Editor pane. But instead of opening Step 3, I just managed to drop the text into Step 2. So do yourself a favor - either click on files in the Binder or use the up/down navigation arrows (unless you're better at the whole "drag-n-drop" thing than I am).

I tried again and it worked - make sure you drag the Binder file to the header (it will turn dark gray) or all you are doing is dropping that text into another file. Don't think I'll be doing that often; a little clunky for me.

I like the custom meta data, especially as timelines are something I struggle to keep track of in my writing. So I can create a custom meta data field that allows me to specify "Day 1 - morning) so I make sure I keep my story timeline straight.

Composition mode is cool - especially if you've got flickering notifications or anything that distract you while you're typing (for Mac if I've got Twitter open the little blue icon that tells me I have new tweets is sometimes distracting).

Snapshots and Comparison are going to come in handy. That's something Word doesn't do: keep a copy of your original text so you can roll back if you don't like the changes, or compare version 1 with version 2 (unless you routinely save copies of your Word document before making edits and Word's compare feature is a little clunky).

Comments will be useful, you know the "need to research this" type thing that we authors often litter our manuscripts with. Unlike Word's comments, were you have to navigate the entire doc to find them, Scrivener's Comments appear right in their own Inspector - and you can see all of them in a single list. I don't envision using Footnotes too often, but I can see where they would be useful for academic writing.

The various Editor views is very interesting. I love the cork board view: see all your scene synopses so you can focus in on the scene you need. And if you use sub-documents (either folders or documents) you can easily read an entire chapter to make sure your scenes flow smoothly - and move those scenes around if necessary (or search and replace throughout a chapter).

This cork board is going to be cool. You can apply labels and status to each document. So, for example, if you are done writing a scene you can assign it a status of "finished." Then if you display the cork board and show stamps, you will quickly see which of your scenes need work and which ones are done. Very nice.

I'm not an outliner, but I know people who are, and Scrivener easily lets you see the outline for your entire project or just a sub-section - and you can reorder within the outline.

Collections would be nice to find all scenes related to a particular sub-plot or character, or maybe find all of your scenes that still "need work."

The Compile feature is cool. You can choose the Novel format and compile for print - and it spits out a product that is Courier 12pt double-space. This is awesome for writers who don't like working in Courier (me). You don't have to change your working font and still be sure your are exporting your final product according to a publisher's specs.

There are templates for character sheets, location sheets - you know, all those "who is the character again?" or "what street is the courthouse on?" questions that writers ask - and that trip me up every time (I once started my novel with a character named Konrad and halfway through he became Kurt - what a mess).

The tutorial took about two hours to complete - and I'm sure that was because I was at swim practice. I skipped a lot and I'm sure I won't use everything at once. But I can see that this is going to be a very powerful tool (and I'm really digging the whole "export as a standard novel/short story manuscript thing).

Tomorrow: Starting a new project

Expanding the Toolbox

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

There are many tools in a writer's toolbox, but none quite like the applications we use for our craft (unless you still write long-hand, in which case God bless you). Like many writers, I have always used just a word processing application to do my writing. I use Microsoft Word, some people may use Word Perfect, but same concept: open application and type. That means you have to find another way to keep track of all those pesky things that writers of fiction must have: character notes, plot synopses, scene descriptions, etc. I used Evernote. Some writers use Microsoft Excel, some just use a separate Word file.

This all works, but it's a bit clunky. After all, when your novel manuscript is 90,000 words and 47 chapters, finding one particular scene - the one you have to move - can be a little tricky.

For a couple years now, I've heard about this alternate application - Scrivener. Break your manuscript into scenes. Easily move them around. Keep your character notes right there. Pin things to your virtual cork board. I have friends who swear by this application.

I've always been intrigued by the web site description, but have been afraid to try it. What if I don't like it? How much time am I going to invest in learning a new tool (I've used Word for almost two decades, I'm pretty good with it)? But I saw Scrivener and got to touch it with my friend on our research field trip last weekend (more on that in another post). And I liked it. Or I was at least intrigued by it.

So I'm taking the plunge. I've downloaded and installed Scrivener. I'll be blogging about my initial experiences - say the first week or so - for anyone who is similarly interested and wants a first-hand account.

Here goes nothing.

Note: I'll be using the Mac version of Scrivener for this experiment. If you are using the Windows version, please allow for slight differences.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Navigating Social Media

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

So, most of my day today was spent revising, but I stumbled across this gem of a post from Jungle Red Writers - the ins and outs of social media.

If you're like me, things like Facebook and Twitter can be a total time sink, taking valuable time away from your primary goal - for me, writing fiction. For you it might be something else.

But if you're trying to sell something - yourself, a product, a service, or a book - what do you get told? "Have a social media presence."

For a writer, this is daunting (believe me). I mean, you wouldn't think writing a blog would be difficult - but it is. What's the difference between a Facebook fan page and a personal page? Why do I care? Should I be on Twitter or not? What about Pinterest? I have no idea what to do with Google+ - is that a problem?

It's enough to drive one mad, I tell you.

And that's if you're a published writer with, you know, actual books and stuff. What about poor, little old me? Just an unpublished gal hoping to break into the big leagues (or even the minor leagues) some day. Write a newsletter? Why would anyone care what I have to say?

But I have to break that train of thought because if I'm hoping to sell my stories, I must believe that someone wants to read my words. And words are just words. They are all stories in some way, shape or form. So if I can't see a story in a newsletter, how do I sell it as a novelette?

So for the first time, I think I have a plan. I'm concentrating, for now, on Facebook and this blog. Yeah, I'll still be on Twitter, but I find that more useful for making professional connections, not selling things. And look for a newsletter soon - just as soon as I figure out what to say and how to say it.

For now, if you haven't, toodle off to my Facebook author page and give me a "like" - pretty please with sugar on it?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dangers of Character Love

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

I'm in love. Not just with my husband - with Trooper First Class Jim Duncan.

Don't worry, he's not a real person. He's a character - my character, my protagonist from a series of short stories. In my mind's eye, he looks a bit like a younger Mark Harmon.

I love Sally Castle too. She's another character, Duncan's sidekick. Or maybe a secondary protagonist. Not really sure what you want to call her. And, she looks a little like Angie Harmon, one of my favorite TV attorneys (maybe that says something about me and the name Harmon).

I've written a story about these two. Actually, I've written several. And they are giving me heartburn as a writer right now.

Recently, someone suggested that maybe I just need to "give up" on these characters and find some new ones. But I can't. See Jim and Sally are begging, no demanding, that I write their stories. I started a project for this fall fully intending to create some new characters. But I just couldn't get going on it. The voice was all wrong. And in my writer's ear, I heard Jim and Sally talking to me. In an outraged tone, they said, "Why are you trying to give away our story?"

(This is where you start thinking of calling the men in white coats. Unless you're a writer, in which case you completely understand.)

I gave Jim and Sally the story. It flew out of my fingers. It's still a shitty first draft, but it's a good story (I think). So is the one I'm working on - their first story. Even my editor said I've got something good here, with good characters. Jim Duncan is a hard-working, divorced man just trying to do a good job as a Pennsylvania State Trooper.

And there's the rub.

See, once you write from the POV of someone in law enforcement, you've gone into the genre of "police procedural." I so did not want to go into this genre. Procedurals are hard. You have to get the details right. It's a lot of research, a lot of work to make your character not only likable (which I've done according to the editor), but realistic. And thus the heartburn.

Yeah, I could walk away and tell Duncan that I just can't write his story. That I'm not good enough. That I don't want to be in his world. Some would say just take him out of that world, but I can't do that either. He'd be a fish out of water - and I can't do that to him.

And somehow, I think Jim and Sally would find a way to exact their revenge if I did.

Have you ever fallen in love with one of your characters?