Tag Archives: rejection

WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I? PART TWO

I received many comments on the last post regarding prequels and back-story. Many authors express the belief that prequels tend to be an author’s saved up back-story. If that is the case, it is unlikely that a compelling prequel will follow. There is a quite a bit to consider as we discuss prequels.

THE BACK-STORY ON BACK-STORY

As the authors, we know what happened before our published work; where our characters came from, what makes them do the things they do, why this one is afraid of the dark or that one has an aversion to apples…we created these personality quirks and the reasons behind them. A prequel does not have to be the “why” of the already published work. Honestly, just because one reader wants to know why John Doe flinches every time the doorbell rings, does not meant that EVERY reader wants to know the story behind that quirk. We need to ask ourselves, is our story idea compelling enough to interest a reader in spending his or her hard earned cash on a book? A prequel should be a standalone story that just happens to be inhabited by one or two (or maybe all) of the characters from our current novel. It’s not there to explain the entire back story; it can, however, support character traits or give deeper insight into certain characters. So what’s all the fuss about prequels?

THE PROBLEM OF THE CART COMING BEFORE THE HORSE

Problem number one, as I see it, is the story map. We have a perfectly good published novel with a sequence of events that is set in stone. Now, here we are later, writing a novel that leads up to that sequence of events – we have to make sure we don’t contradict ourselves or send our characters so way off the beaten path that it’s just not a plausible story to bring them back. The sequence of events in the prequel must logically lead up to the sequence of events in the published work, even if the prequel takes place many years earlier when the main character is just a child (or in the case of Star Wars, before the main characters are born). For example, if in the already published story, our main character mentions that she lost her parents in a fire when she was 20, we can’t possibly have her ask her mother for advice in a prequel that takes place when she is 25. The story map must be consistent and lead the main characters to the path of the already published novel, or at least to a path that the readers can believe will put them upon the path they will travel in the published novel.

CHECK YOUR FACTS MA’AM

Facts must be checked and double checked; even the most seemingly innocuous comment made by a minor character in the first book must coordinate with the storyline in the prequel. If there is an inconsistency in even the minutest detail, we can be sure that a reader will notice it and it will become a thorn in that reader’s side. Every character counts; we need to make sure a minor character doesn’t push a main character off track. If the story line of the prequel is gleaned from an event the main character mentions in the published work, we need to make sure that any character mentioned in the existing work now exists in the prequel. For example, if our MC mentioned in passing that she had a college roommate named Donna at the time her parents perished in that fire and our story takes place during that time frame, we need to make sure Donna exists. No Donna – no continuity. Worse yet, we need to make sure we don’t call the MC’s roommate Rachel. Check the facts, check the facts, check the facts! Did I mention we need to check the facts?

DON’T TOUCH THAT ROCK!

As authors we must make sure that nothing in our prequel negates the novels that are already published—character traits and motivation must be consistent. However, in my opinion, in order to be a successful prequel, the story should be about our characters at an earlier time– a separate stand alone story that will captivate readers not just a pre-shadow of our other novels. When we are writing a prequel, we need to travel back and forth between the published work and the work in progress; making sure that the events occurring in the prequel do not deter the events of the already published work. Some may liken this to time travel stories where the characters are warned to not alter anything in the past because one little stone out of place can set a chain of events that changes the already established present and future. There is a lot of backtracking and double checking to be done when attempting a prequel; the webs must be woven carefully and delicately in order to create a consistent and believable storyline.

What other issues stand out when you think about prequels?

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WRITING A PREQUEL – SHOULD I OR SHOULDN’T I?

WHY, OH WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO WRITE A PREQUEL AND WHY IS HOLLYWOOD NOW LOOKING FOR COMPELLING PREQUELS?

Prequels have been dealt a bad hand. For many writers, they are considered taboo – bad luck, the death of your series; other writers calmly advise avoiding them when possible. So what’s the “plague of the prequel” all about? For one thing, they can be boring filler if we are not careful; who wants to read something that is just background fluff about our characters? Prequels can throw our entire published series off track; if the actions of the characters don’t lead them to the path they are on at the beginning of our already published novel, then the already existing novel won’t make any sense. Prequels can render our already established characters unbelievable. Now that I have completely discouraged the writing of prequels, here’s a good reason to write one: the readers want one; they want to know what happened before our novel took place. Our readers are curious as to WHY our main character behaves the way s/he does; they want to know more about her/him; where s/he came from; who s/he is; what her/his life was like before the book they just read. If our characters are compelling enough and we are very, very careful, we can create a prequel that will knock our readers’ socks off.  So how careful should we be and what should we be so careful of?

USE THE FORCE, BUT DON’T FORCE IT

Since hearing from my readers that they want to know more about my characters lives before my first novel, Webs of Power, I felt compelled to write a prequel; but I was also determined to avoid dumping a boatload of back-story on them. I wanted to know all the pros and cons of writing a prequel so I did a little research online.  I have never read so much about Star Wars in my life! It seems the inconsistencies in the back-story are a huge disappointment to the fans; apparently Star Wars fans are extremely knowledgeable about the characters in the series and the inconsistencies they found in the characters and in the stories of the three prequels are a huge source of distress and complaint. Now granted, I am talking about a movie here, but the issues movie prequels face are closely related to the issues book prequels face:

  1. The sequence of events must logically lead from the prequel to the established story and must be consistent with the already established story
  2. The characters must stay true to who they are to become
  3. The audience already knows where the character is going to end up, so the prequel not only needs to lead to this path, it has to make the journey interesting in itself

I want to address each of these issues separately, so the next several blogs will deal with the issues of writing a prequel as I see them.

 

What do you see as the problem with prequels?

 

The Fate of Webs of Fate – Waiting for Reader Reviews

Many of you may have noticed requests for reviewers for my upcoming novel, Webs of Fate. The response has been phenomenal. My thanks go out to all of you who have joined our team. We now have reviewers across the US and Canada, even some out of the country who are reviewing the PDF file. They include Gibraltar, England, Australia, and Paris.  The Advanced Readers Copies have been shipped to the reviewers that have already come aboard, and now I wait to see how this novel will be received.

Patience may be a virtue, but  is often nerve wracking. While I am not pacing a worn paths in the carpet or experiencing sleepless nights, like most of us I have a certain degree of insecurity. The fact that Webs of Power and Twisted Webs have been winners of the Indie National Excellence Awards and finalists in the USA National Best Books and Twisted Webs was recently named winner of the 2011 International Book Award for fiction and literature was thrilling, but it has raised the bar since I strive to make each novel better than the one before. The big question is have I met that goal?

I have yet to meet an author, even a famous one, who did not admit to occasional bouts of insecurity.  It is human nature to be concerned with how others view us, and let’s face it; our work is a part of us. It is our heart, our soul, our very being which we pour out onto paper and then parade out for others to assess. As authors it is our job to drop the filters and write from the heart; to give our readers a glimpse into the inner workings of our minds and imaginations. Few other jobs have this requirement. And yet as authors, we ask for reviews, knowing we must reach our intended reader. For non-fiction the contentmust fill the needs of the intended readers. In the case of novels, the key element is story. Have we reached our readers? Have we touched their hearts? Have we kept them turning the pages? And most of all have we provided entertainment?

No matter how good we think our work may be, it can always be better. There is a small, lingering doubt that maybe; just maybe it is not good enough. When Webs of Power won its first award, I was pleasantly surprised–most award winning books I have found to be somewhat dark–mine are not.. When I put Twisted Webs out for reviews, I worried that it wouldn’t live up to Webs of Power.  Now it’s time to see if my reviewers feel that Webs of Fate lives up to standard set by the previous novels in the series. It is now in the hands of the reviewers, and I hope that it fares well. In the meantime, I will continue work on Unpredictable Webs and continue to take my daily walk on the beach and enjoy the company of my wonderful husband, Jack. Yet in the back of my mind, Webs of Fate and its fate will be ever-present.

 

How do you deal with the waiting game while waiting for feedback on your work?

Confident or Cocky: Which do you want to be?

We all know it’s important to have confidence in ourselves and confidence in our work.  If we don’t love our story, why should anyone else? Along that same line, if our story needs work, shouldn’t we be willing to accept that without being insulted? There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness.

Let’s take a look at the difference between these two attitudes. Cockiness first (since cocky people think they SHOULD go first – it’s their right, after all). What exactly does it mean to be cocky?  To be cocky is to be arrogant, overly proud; Webster’s defines cocky /arrogant as “making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud.” Words like “pretension”, “overbearing” and “insolent” – are they words we really want used to describe us?  A cocky author might brush off the suggestions of editors and agents, because he truly believes he knows the business and his story better than they do. He might shred that letter from the publisher who took the time to make suggestions for improvement and be insulted that his story is not being lauded as the next best-seller.

How about confident? Webster’s defines confident as “having strong belief or full assurance; sure of oneself; having no uncertainty about one’s own abilities, correctness, successfulness”. That sounds much better to me. Words like “belief”, “certain”, “success” – those are words that should make us proud. A confident author is open to constructive criticism from people who she respects and whose opinions she has sought out.  She listens to her friends and colleagues when they give their well thought out opinions on how they feel she can improve her story and takes them into consideration without anger or resentment.

There is something to being sure that we have talent; to believing in our work and pushing ourselves to get out there and be read.  Most authors would agree that there is no such thing as NO uncertainty in one’s abilities. We all have insecurities and doubts; we’re human, after all. Even the most famous writers have had doubts about their work at one time or another. The key to having the confidence to put our work out there, in my opinion, is having the willingness to hone our craft and work on our story until it is the best it can be.

If we receive the same comments on our story from many different sources, doesn’t it follow that we should consider the advice of people we respect? When we send out our manuscript, we don’t send it to just anybody; we do research and find just the right person, the one we are sure will love our work and who’s opinion matters to us. When we work that hard to find the right person, it just makes sense to listen to and think about what that person has to say about our work. I’m not saying that the agents and publishers are always right (sorry Lynn), but if we hear the same advice over and over from people we respect, isn’t it a bit cocky to not look at it and consider that they just might be right?

Think about the tone of a query letter; is it better to come off as sure and confident or overbearing and cocky?  I’m going to hedge a guess that we all agree on the former over the latter. When we interview for a job, we don’t go barging in announcing we are the best person for the job, we walk in with confidence in our abilities and come armed with examples of why we are the right person for the job. There is a huge difference between cocky and confident; which would you rather be?

Publishing Options

We labor over our books, our stories; our fertile imaginations sowing the seeds deep within our subconscious, and we labor to bring forth our characters so they can tell their stories. Once we have given birth to this masterpiece and raised it to be the best story it can be, it is time to send it off into the world. The burning question at this point is…to whom should we send it? Should we send it to one of the big six traditional publishers, where we will definitely need an agent?  How about a smaller, Independent Publisher, which may or may not require an agent? Here, our book may or may not be wanted or could get lost in the slush pile. An agent or publisher must love (not just like) our book in order to sell it. Maybe we should send it to a small, vanity printer, which may cost more money than perhaps we can afford? How about sending it to a POD publisher where we know it will not be rejected; where it is definitely wanted since POD publishers make their money by publishing rather than selling books.  Or, worst case scenario – we lock it up in the attic to mold and mildew in the hopes that some future relative of ours might discover it and read it and actually enjoy it.  So my question to you is….what ARE you going to do with the fruit of your hard labor?

The traditional publisher route is an arduous journey for any writer. The big publishing houses seldom accept unsolicited manuscripts.  On the off occasion that they do, unless we have made a personal connection, the manuscript will be among the masses and masses of those being flung onto the desks of the assistants to the editors whose job it is to wade through the slush pile and pluck out what they feel the editor would want to see.  That is not to say that it is not possible for a story to make it through to the correct editor who will read it and be completely blown away by the brilliance of the author; but those are tough odds. In a traditional publishing setting, the manuscript you labored over may sit in the slush pile for months waiting to see the light of day. Once the first assistant has read it and loved it, it goes to an editor, who must get fellow editors to read it, love it, and support it for publication at an editorial meeting.  On the more positive side, without new material and new voices publishers would cease to exist. They are always on the lookout for a good story.  If this is your goal: Don’t give up.  Go for it!

Another route to go is to send your work to an Independent Publishing house.  Independent Publishing houses are smaller than traditional houses and may accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, most prefer agented material. When an author sends a manuscript to an Independent house, it is much more likely to be read by an editor and it is more likely that the response will be more than a form letter. The difficulty with a smaller house is that the number of manuscripts accepted is much smaller and most have limited funds for author promotion. However, since the larger publishers spend 90% of their PR dollars on 10% of their bestselling authors, a new author must do most of their own promotion. On the plus side, small publishers generally are more nurturing with their authors. The competition is just as fierce, but there will always be a market for a great story.

A Subsidy Press or Vanity Publisher is yet another choice. With a Vanity Publisher, an author can expect to pay for services such as editing and cover design, and is unlikely to receive any help with marketing or promotion. This is an expensive alternative but can be worth the expense depending on your purpose. This also includes a subset of Print On Demand Publishers who will only print a copy of the book if it is ordered. The price is generally higher than printed books.  These alternatives will not lead to a spot for your book in a large bookstore such as Borders or Barnes and Nobel, since booksellers do not stock book that are not returnable. Many POD companies offer a paid returnability option. However, I have found (particularly in this economy) booksellers still fail to order these books. Not only have they have gone through no selection process; they must be paid for up-front.  It is wise to research any publisher well, but when it comes to the above it is imperative. Do not be taken advantage through lack of knowledge or research. There are several with excellent reputations but it takes some research to find them.

A Partnership Publisher shares the expense of publishing the book with the author and receives a piece of the profit in return. They may pay for services such as editing and cover design as well as distribution, marketing and promotion. Usually there will be a creative director who will help assess what services are needed most and how much money needs to be allocated to which service.  This type of publisher also tends to be an expensive alternative with up front, out of pocket costs, but again, it is worth it depending on your purpose and your financial situation.  Reputable partnership publishers who produce quality books are highly selective~they publish only what they feel they can sell since their major revenue is derived through the sale of books not the printing of them.  Because of this selectivity, they have an excellent reputation with booksellers and their bookstore distribution is excellent.

Self-Publishing is fast becoming a popular choice as competition in the big publishing houses gets more intense. With Self-Publishing, the author does everything him/ herself. The author must find a professional editor and cover designer. They must develop a marketing plan, get their books input into the on-line bookseller locations, and find a distributor if they want their books in the book stores – it is all in the hands of the author.  If your do not desire to be a publisher as well as an author, there is an alternative to going it all alone. You can hire a book shepherd.  A book shepherd has experience with the publishing industry and can help guide our courageous, creative genius through the details that he/she doesn’t really know about or want to get involved with.  A reputable book shepherd can save an author time, money and frustration by guiding him/her through the publishing process. However, these services do not come without a cost.

There is also a lot to be said for the new opportunities available for E-Book publishing, but that is a whole different subject. Jerry Simmons covers this type of publishing in depth at  http://www.writersreaders.com/

As the saying goes: “different strokes for different folks”. There is no sure-fire road to success when it comes to the publishing industry. The best bet for any author is to be knowledgeable about the process and to surround yourself with supportive, helpful people who have a desire to see you succeed. Go to writers conferences and join writers’ organizations. There is a lot of help out there, and I have found writers to be a generous group who do their best to help each other. Don’t let rejections get you down; most of our bestselling authors have a drawer full of them. If their story was compelling, their manuscript well edited and still they were rejected, it may have been that they hit the reader on a bad day, it was not that readers cup of tea, they had read or published something similar recently–a whole host or reasons. Few authors succeed the first time around. However, the only way to fail is to not try or to give up.

Suggestions: A wonderful  gift for any aspiring writer this Christmas could be  Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published, in which Maralys Wills gives a candid view of the road to publication with her  multi-gene books.  She brings writers in the picture and suggests what to do and things to avoid.

Dealing with rejection

No thank you; not interested at this time; it’s just not for us…how many of us fear this reaction to our writing when we send out a query letter or manuscript? If you are one of the intimidated, the terrified, the petrified who don’t send out queries or manuscripts because of fear of rejection, you should know that you are in very good company. Come join the club, pull up a seat and get comfortable. Let me introduce you around. Over there, by the fireplace – that’s H.G. Wells. That man over there, by the bar – George Orwell. The man over there, clowning around – Dr. Seuss.  Even the Diary of Anne Frank was rejected; some poor, misguided publisher said “the girl didn’t have a special perception of feeling”.  In response to the manuscript for Lord of the Flies, one flabbergasted publisher wrote “Good God, I can’t publish that!” So what’s the difference between you and these famous authors? They kept trying.

Having a manuscript rejected is the bane of a writer’s existence; it is the blight on the joy of our flight into imagination. Yet it happens to EVERYONE; no one is immune. Not every story is for everyone. The idea is to remember that it’s not personal. WE are not being rejected, just OUR manuscripts. Are they rejecting it because it stinks? Hopefully, not. Most reasons for rejection are that the manuscript is just not ready yet, or it’s at the wrong publishing house, or the publisher just published something a little too similar, the list of reasons can go on and on. Notice here that none of them said – you stink. It is highly unlikely that a writer will receive a rejection letter on a manuscript that is a personal attack. If that is what you are worried about, I would suggest you lay that fear to rest. Publishers receive many, many manuscripts and queries, they are bogged down with new authors and scores of unpublished material, and they don’t have the time to get personal with you.

Most of the time, a rejection letter is just a standard form letter; if you are one of the lucky ones who actually gets a personalized response, it might be smart to take the constructive criticism to heart.  So, before throwing it out, filing it or wiping your tears with it, it might be a good idea to take a look and see if there is a recurring theme, something that most of the publishers are pointing to.  Is the plot predictable, are the characters two dimensional, is the world you created unbelievable? If we are getting messages like this, then it may be that we have some work to do on the manuscript before we send it back out. Does this mean we should throw away all our hard work? Absolutely not! It just means we have a little editing to do.

It all boils down to attitude. We can look at a rejection letter as an attack, a criticism, a put-down, or we can look at it as a badge of honor, an acceptance into an elite club of soon to be famous authors. Paper your walls with them, burn them if you like, but don’t let them stop you.  If every author stopped writing because someone didn’t like their work, there would be no books. If you are a story teller, tell your story; if you are a historian, educate us; if you are a travel writer, take us to new and exciting places; just don’t stop, don’t let one letter, two letters, or even three hundred letters get you down.  There are only two directions to go when receiving a rejection letter, forward or dead stop; keep moving forward.

Just for a quick laugh, here is something I picked up at a writer’s conference in England:

Dear Editor:

Thank you very much for your recent rejection slip.  As it does not quite fit my present requirements, I am returning it.  This in no way reflects upon its merits. Don’t be discouraged.  I read your rejection slip with great interest, and I hope you’ll continue reading my work.

I appreciate your thinking of me and wish you the best of luck in placing your rejection slip elsewhere.

Literally

Just Another Writer

P.S.  Please forgive me for this printed note.  I’d like to comment on each rejection slip, but the large number I receive makes it impossible to answer each one personally.