Tag Archives: Manuscript

The Life of a Book

The Life of a Book

The Life of a BookI have always been curious about the birthing process of a novel, especially when I finish one that I adore. How did this bundle of joy come into the world? What is the life of a book?

It starts with a gleam in the author’s eye, of course. What inspires her? How does she take a nugget of an idea and flesh it out? What sparks her imagination when she creates characters and a fictional world that draws us in?

Let’s say she completes the book and is lucky enough to find an agent who loves it and sells it. What happens next? As a novel travels through its own bookish birth canal, from conception through delivery, all kinds of things are happening behind the scenes that most of us are unaware of.

I’ve always been drawn to interviews in which authors can talk about their journey. And now, thanks to Penguin Random House, we can hear from selected authors about just that — as well as the book doctors and nurses critical to the book’s success.

The Life of a Book

Penguin Random House has a fascinating new interview series on its website called The Life of a Book that gives you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the publishing process from start to finish.

If you read my blog last week, you know that I was smitten with Celeste Ng’s latest novel, Little Fires Everywhere. With its absorbing plot, unique and multi-dimensional characters, and modern-day look at complicated issues, Little Fires Everywhere stood out as an exceptionally good read.

So I was delighted to find out that Ng is one of the authors interviewed in a podcast for The Life of a Book series.

I listened to Ng’s interview, and if you’ve read the book (or even if you haven’t) I think you’ll enjoy hearing her musings on different aspects of her writing process. For instance, you’ll find out …

  • Is she a planner or a pantser? (Pantser means a writer who doesn’t rely on an outline but lets her characters lead the way in the story development)
  • Why she chose photography as the artistic persuasion of one of her characters.
  • What she felt the hardest part was to write.

It Takes a Village

I moved on to the interview with Virginia Smith, Senior Editor at Penguin Press, who spoke about the value of a team. Contributions from editors, cover designers, publicists, marketing experts all add up to make the book shine in every way.

Assistant Director of Publicity Juliana Kiyan explained how the publicity strategy for a sophomore novel differs from that of a debut. Her job is to spread book love among a targeted but widespread audience: readers, booksellers, the media and, of course, fans of Ng’s first novel. Sales Manager Megan Sullivan described the fun of getting to read galleys (uncorrected proofs) months in advance so she can start creating a buzz long before the novel is published.

Jaya Miceli, the cover designer, shared what she looks for in cover art; how it must relate to and capture the mood of the writing.

You can find all this on Penguin Random House’s blog, The Perch, along with interviews of other authors and publishing professionals.

Happy reading!

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Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

Eight Things NaNoWriMo Writers Should Do Now

It is November 30. And that  means …

Congratulations, NaNoWriMo participants!

You made it!

Before I go any further, let me set the record straight for anyone not familiar with the term NaNoWriMo.

Here is what it is not.

It is not the ghost of Robin Williams invoking Mork from Ork language.

It is not baby talk for I Don’t Want To.

It is not a term of endearment for a grandmother.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which thousands of determined writers attempt to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November.

To all my writer friends partaking in the challenge this year, I hope you found it to be rewarding. It is no easy task to write that much in one month.

I know from whence I speak since I was a NaNoWriMo participant last year and hit my 50,000 words. It took a lot of time … and a lot of discipline.

But in the process, I realized that you don’t have to hit 50,000 words to be successful. Even 1,000 should count as a success.

If you wrote more in November than you have in any other month, give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulations!

Last year, the day after I completed NaNoWriMo, I shared 10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers based on my experience. But as the days unfolded into weeks, I felt a little lost now that the structure of the writing challenge had ended and I was once again on my own.

With NaNoWriMo now over, what’s the next step? When I was in your place last year, I asked for advice. Of course, you will decide what works best for you. But here are some tips that were shared with me.

And whether or not you participated in NaNoWriMo, these are good tips for all writers.

NaNoWriMo is over. Walk away.

Put your manuscript to bed for a bit of hibernation. You’ve written a lot and you’ve been consumed for a month. You can’t be objective about it right now. Walk away and let it marinate for a couple of weeks or even longer. In the meantime …

Work on a different project.

Don’t let your writing chops languish while your manuscript does. Keep the energy going with something else.

Start to craft an elevator speech.

This will be important down the road as you pitch your book to agents and publishers. The value of doing it now is it helps you evaluate the components of your story. Is the plot strong enough? Are the characters multi-faceted? Does their motivation make sense?

Work on a second draft but understand this won’t be your last draft.

The cognoscenti advise NaNoWriMo-ers to write, not edit, and hopefully this is what you have done. The idea is to let the 50,000 words flow without worrying about how good they are. I was fairly appalled at how bad my first draft was and I think many NaNoWriMo’ers feel the same. That’s OK. Your second draft will be better, but not as good as the third.

Broaden your characters.

You may have done character development before you even started to write. That is what is recommended. I did not do that. My characters threw some curve balls my way and that helped me better define their personalities. I think even if you have planned out the wazoo, your characters will still evolve over the course of writing.

Think as a reader.

As you go through the editing process, try to think as a reader, not a writer. Do your chapters end with a cliffhanger or at least an incentive for you to continue reading? Is there enough action, pathos, drama or mystery? Is there extraneous jibber jabber that can go away?

Keep writing.

Don’t stop now! You won the race but the marathon is not over yet. The speed at which you progress is up to you, but don’t give up. A year later, my manuscript is now at 70,000 words. I am still on the second draft.

Talk about your work.

I haven’t shared my manuscript with anyone except for an editor yet, but I do talk about it if people ask. I can gauge the general interest in my story with their response. It also keeps me accountable.

So writers, carry on. You should be proud of your effort and commitment. Good luck with the next phase of your writing!

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How to Bake a Novel

Baking and writing have some similarities, it occurs to me as I plug away at my manuscript.

I bake, I write.

For me, both have been passions and creative outlets since as far back as I can remember. After all, I did proclaim “books is wonderful” at the tender age of four, and years later would make that the name of my blog.

And baking? To this day, each time I bake bread I am transported to my childhood and my maternal grandmother.

How to Bake a Novel

Nana lived clear across the state, so her visits to our house were infrequent and highly anticipated. After giving us big hugs at the door, she wasted no time in changing out of her travel dress to her “house dress” and, on top of that, an apron that she tied around her waist.

And then she got to work.

Her mission? To supply us with enough baked goods to last until her next visit. Clearly, there was nothing commercial that could compare to her bagels, onion rolls, coffee cakes and mandel bread. We shouldn’t have to be deprived. And did we protest? Of course not.

Her week-long bake-a-thons filled the house with continuous sweetness and and yielded enough goodies to take up most of the room in our full-size freezer.

Watching her in action was awesome, but I wanted to be part of the production line. “Let me help,” I begged, and she obligingly gave me a turn at kneading the bread dough until my arms got tired. When the dough had risen and was ready to be formed into loaves, she tore off a glob for me.

Together we would bake “gingerbread” man – ginger-less, of course – plucking off pieces of dough that I rolled out with my little rolling pin. I smoothed them out, gave them symmetry, rolled and re-rolled and pinched and prodded, poking in raisins for eyes and buttons. After the gingerbread men had baked and cooled, Nana made a thin icing out of confectioner’s sugar and water that we piped on for a final flourish.

This is pretty much what I’m doing now with the novel I started during NaNoWriMo last November.

The NaNoWriMo sages tell you that you shouldn’t worry about creating a masterpiece during the 30 days of writing. Rather, the goal is to “get it down.” That is, get 50,000 words in your manuscript. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

In the end, like a glob of bread dough, you will have something to work with.

And that is what happened. I made my bread dough.

Indeed, my 50,000 words did not have the smoothness, the elasticity of a well-kneaded hunk of dough, the perfection needed to move onto the next step. It needed a little of this, a bit of that, and then another bit of this.

As I wade through the morass now, I am smoothing out the phrases that didn’t make sense, prodding and prompting a better description of my settings and characters, garnishing a scene with a gloss that makes it shine.

It can be both frustrating and exhilarating, depending on the quality of my ingredients. So each step of the way I have to inspect. Be critical. Make changes to get it as perfect as it can possibly be.

And when I know I’ve hit on something just right– just like when my bread dough rises perfectly — it is immensely satisfying.

How to Bake a Novel

I know that Nana would understand exactly what I  mean.

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