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Writerly Roundup – April 2017

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Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don't want you to miss.

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Photo by Jena Schwartz

Publishing with a University Press: A Fiction Writer’s Perspective, Heather Adams, Women Writers, Women's Books

When it comes to publishing, writers have options. Some self-publish, others look for an indie press, and some brave the gauntlet of New York publishing houses. A fourth option, one that falls somewhere in the middle, is the university press. In this essay, author Heather Adams gives us a look at what we can expect if we choose to go this route by sharing what she learned from her own publishing journey.

Although university presses focus on scholarly works, some also publish books meant for a more general audience—poetry, essays, memoirs, short story collections, and, in certain cases, novels. These titles tend to fall on the literary, rather than commercial, side of the spectrum.

Adams’ own path to publication led her to Vandalia Press, the creative imprint of West Virginia University Press. But it wasn’t a matter of waiting for a simple yes or no; university presses scrutinize each manuscript in a process akin to scholarly peer review. It takes time, and each reader offers their input for the author. Adams goes on to share the advantages of going with a university press and offers helpful suggestions for authors who are about to begin the process.

If you’re interested in pursuing publication with a university press, research is key. To increase your chance of success, you’ll want to submit to presses that publish works similar to yours. Be sure to submit what the press requests. For example, Louisiana State University Press asks for a one-page summary plus a brief sample from the manuscript. Indiana University Press requires a prospectus, including information about the potential audience and suggestions for appropriate reviewers.

For any writer who may be considering this route, the piece sheds a little light on the process and, hopefully, a good outcome.

 

Precautions for Small Press Authors, Victoria Strauss, Writer Beware

It pays to root around in dusty corners of the internet, even in small, older blogs. To continue with the publishing theme, I dug up this interesting piece about the dangers writers may face when dealing with a small press. While you shouldn’t be deterred from publishing, it’s important to educate yourself about potential difficulties. For example, Strauss reminds us that publishers may go out of business.

Publisher closures can be a nightmare for authors. While some presses do the right thing and formally release rights before shutting down, others simply vanish, yanking their websites, abandoning their email addresses, refusing to respond to letters and phone calls--and failing to terminate their contracts. Having your rights encumbered by a still-existing contract may make it extremely difficult to interest a new publisher in your book, even if the original publisher is clearly out of business. Writer Beware has gotten hundreds of complaints over the years from writers left in this kind of limbo by collapsing small publishers and micropresses.

So how do you protect yourself and your hard work from disaster? It’s not always possible, but there are steps you can take to be certain you’ve chosen wisely. Strauss provides tips on what to look for and how to begin, and of course she advises us to research our brains out, offering some helpful links for vetting presses. Additionally, we get some advice on the contract itself, an aspect of publishing that always intimidates me.

Make sure the contract is time-limited. That way, if the publisher vanishes without returning your rights, you won't have to wait forever to be released. Life-of-copyright contracts make things much more difficult. If the contract is time-limited, make sure the term is reasonable. Ten years is not reasonable. Nor is seven. In my opinion, five years is the longest term you should consider. Three years is better.

Though it’s not a new piece of writing, I think this blog is worth bookmarking.

 

The Most Common Entry-Level Mistake in the Writing Game, Larry Brooks (@storyfix), JaneFriedman.com

From publishing, we move on to craft. Author Larry Brooks is here to tell us about overwriting. We’ve probably all made the mistake of using a big, showy voice, or tossing in far too many adjectives and trying to sound like a writer that we are not. It never sounds good, but there’s no shame in the mistake if we learn from it.

The mailrooms of the big publishing houses are full of these manuscripts created by writers who try to trick up their sentences, who reach for contrived eloquence, who attempt to liberate their inner poet, who overtly imitate someone famous who writes that way (J.D. Salinger has inspired more rejected manuscripts than any writer in history), and generally stinking up the place with strings of words that detract instead of enhance.

So how do we avoid overwriting? We remember Brooks’ advice: Less is more. Don’t barf up every flowery sentence you can think of. Don’t try to sound like someone else. You want to sound like you, and you want it to be natural.

The personality and voice of your writing should be natural, not something contrived. Because only when you are writing naturally, without forcing it and without abusing adjectives will the scent of your narrative be as subtle and functional as it needs to be to attract a buyer.

Nobody learns to write overnight. It takes time to develop a voice and to find confidence in that voice. This is a nice reminder to use what we already have to our advantage.

 

Dynamic Character: How to write a compelling protagonist, Reedsy

For you fiction writers, Reedsy has some advice (and an infographic for visual learners) about how to create a character with emotional depth. Although this might seem like a no-brainer, the how of it—developing your character into a dynamic individual—may take some practice and effort.

A common criticism of fiction — be it in film, television, or novels — is often laid against characters seen as “flat” or “two-dimensional.” Modern audiences know when a protagonist or supporting character isn’t interesting, based on their own lack of emotional investment in that character’s journey. Rightfully fearing this criticism, a lot of new authors are compelled to ensure that their protagonist is a dynamic character. However, as many editors will attest (and as some authors will admit), there is often confusion between “well-written characters” and “dynamic characters” — which are not always one and the same.

How do you create this character, though? Reedsy’s article provides a list of questions to help flesh out your character. What is her relationship to her parents? What are her bad habits? Similarly, there are questions that address your character’s wants and desires. And let’s not forget character flaws. (After all, who would Harry Potter be if not for his brashness or Mr. Darcy without his stuffiness?) But what happens when your characters don’t want to grow and change?

When your protagonist grapples with their personal flaws but fails to adapt — when their world refuses to change for them, and they don’t bend — they are almost always punished, and that is Tragedy.

Using well-known literary and cinematic examples, the article dissects characters like Han Solo, Jay Gatsby, and Katniss Everdeen so we can get a necessary peek inside their internal struggles and, ultimately, use this technique on our own literary creations.

 

10 Books That Will Make You a Better Writer (and Why), Shaunta Grimes (@shauntagrimes), Medium.com

I often like to include a list in the monthly roundup. This time it’s a list of craft books. I think the title is self-explanatory, and at least some of these titles (Indie Author Survival Guide, Write. Publish. Repeat., Zen in the Art of Writing) belong on every writer’s shelf. Check them out or review them in the comments!

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Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we'd love to hear your input!


Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer living with her husband and their young sons in West Virginia. She holds an MFA from Chatham University and writes nonfiction and humor. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child MagazineVandaleer, Animal: A Beast of  Literary Magazine, Defenestration, and The Higgs Weldon.


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Excellent information.