Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Not So Great Divide

Let me apologize in advance for this post. How’s that for a convincing way to start? I’m pretty sure this is going to be too long, and I’m almost positive it will offend some people. Any better? I do okay in front of a room full of people, and I think I can hold my own writing fiction. But when it comes to writing what’s in my heart, I stumble, stray and stutter with great regularity. There you go. Proceed at your risk.

The thing is, there’s an important issue that I experience almost every day lately, and yet I haven’t seen it addressed to the extent I think it should be. There is a huge divide in this country right now. And it seems to be getting bigger all the time. It separates friends, family, and strangers.

Nope it’s not politics. And it’s not religion. But it is becoming almost as divisive. It’s controversial enough that it’s not something you can bring up at a party without fear of starting a fight. The divide I’m talking about is between self-published and traditionally published authors. The very fact that already I’m going to have people tell me self-published should be indy and traditional should be legacy tells you how far this separation has already gone. It’s creating it’s own PC language.

First, let me give you a little background. Just over ten years ago, I published my first book. It was with what was than called an independent publisher. Small, Utah-based, they were lucky if they sold 10,000 copies of a book. At the time there were no e-books, no print on demand, and audio books were generally stored on cassettes, Self-publishing was almost unheard of because you had to put up $10,000 or more and live with a garage full of books. People like Richard Paul Evans pulled it off, but they were the huge exception.

I also entered a world full of people I never knew about before. People who liked to write as much as I did. It was great. We did signings together, brainstormed marketing plans together, blogged together. Learned together.I also met lots of aspiring authors. I didn’t know half as much as they thought I did and probably 20% of what I thought I did. But I was happy to give them advice and learn from them as well.

Fast forward ten years. I’ve written a little over a million words of prose since then. Probably closer to two million if you include blog posts, articles, etc. I’ve had two agents. I’ve published eight books and have another three coming out by various publishers. I’ve taught about 100 classes.

And man how the publishing world has changed. When was the last time you bought an audio book on cassette. And $10k to print a book? Try nothing at all. E-books, blogs, podcasts, MP3 audiobooks. All of these things have come about since I published my first book. Really one of the only things that hasn’t changed is writing a good story.

During that time, I’ve made hundreds of great new writer and reader friends. But in the last year or so, something changed. I don’t want to single anyone out, but this is the perfect example of what’s happening around us.

A couple of months ago, a woman who I’ve considered a friend for years wrote a blog post about a series of books she e-published. It was a great post. She explained how she decided to self-publish, how she had gone about it, and how much she was making. It was a great post. Although I had recently signed with a great agent and was about to announce my deal with Harper, I was still very interested in self-publishing and had a couple of titles I was considering releasing or rereleasing myself.

So I replied with a comment that was something like, “Fantastic post! Sounds like you’ve found a great fit!” That was all I said. It seemed like a straight forward comment. Except a couple of days later, I got an e-mail from her. She was furious with me, accusing me of being patronizing and rude. I was seriously so shocked, I wondered if someone had hacked my e-mail account.

It turns out that she had misinterpreted my comment in a way I could never have imagined. She thought I was putting her down for self-publishing—saying that was where she belonged. The good news is that I think we managed to patch fences. The bad news is that our relationship was not the only one to suffer from the self-publishing/traditional-publishing chasm. And from what I can see it’s only getting worse.

Hopefully without offending anyone too badly let me try and explain what I am seeing. Being an author and having author friends has always been a little dicey. Someone always has it a little or a lot better than you do. They get released in hardback while you get released in paperback. They have an agent and you don’t. They get a bigger advance or sell more books or make it on a list or get an award.

Many of you know that James Dashner and I have been good friends for many years. When he got a big name agent, signed a big contract, and ultimately hit the NYT list, it just about killed me. I used to joke that it was a good thing we were such close friends or I couldn’t stand hanging out with him. A close friend of mine worded it best when I told her about my Harper deal. “I couldn’t be happier about this . . . unless it was me.”

We’d get jealous of each other’s successes and console each other when we were down. And don’t get me wrong, there were divides even then. I remember doing a signing with a big-six published author who heard about what house I was with and asked in a totally innocent way, “But those authors aren’t very good are they?” Ouch!

The thing was though, we were all on the same path. If we were mad at someone, it wasn’t because we thought they were wrong, but because they’d gotten there before we had. We were all on the same path, we were all climbing up the same mountain.

Then along came easy, free, self-publishing. Within 24 months, we went from everyone wants an agent and a six-figure contract to who needs agents and publishers. In general, I’d have to say I’ve been thrilled with the idea of e-books. Who wouldn’t like a reader to be able to buy your book anywhere anytime with the click of a button? Who wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of telling the agents and editors who have controlled your fate for years, “Hasta la vista, baby. I don’t need you anymore?”

I once told my children that the advances that have taken place in my lifetime: personal computers, the internet, cell phones, digital music and movies, GPS, etc. have changed our culture as much or more than cars, trains, and plains did previous generations. I think e-books are doing the same thing to publishing. Things could change in ways we can’t even imagine as authors right now.

Along with all the good news though, is something I never anticipated. Now there are two paths to publication. Instead of authors marching side-by-side, encouraging one another, we seem to be forming opposing forces. And the two forces aren’t getting along very well.

On the one hand, you have traditionally published authors. We worked our butts off to get agents. We went through dozens or even hundreds of rejections. We wrote and rewrote query letters. We studied our copies of Writer’s Market. we sent out so many partials and got so many not-right-for-me letters we dreaded going to the mailbox. And when we finally got that first offer, we usually cried from all the years of rejection and frustration. We were proud of the fact that after so many years of trying we finally succeeded in achieving our dreams.

On the other hand, you have the self-published authors. Most of them went through exactly the same thing. Queries, rejections, form letters. They got so sick of having to answer to a faceless entity that seemed totally arbitrary, that when the opportunity came, they happily said, “Screw you,” to the people who made their lives a living hell and published their own books. Maybe they’d sell a handful of books, maybe they’d sell millions. But either way, they wouldn’t have to rely on anyone but themselves to say what they could and couldn’t do.

They problem is that these groups speak a different language from each other. And both of them have chips on their shoulders.

The self-publishing group talks about changing price points, hiring cover designers and editors, and churning out two, three, or four books a year. They gloat over the fact that they can sell their books for less than a dollar if they want and still make money. They love the fact that they can publish whenever they are ready instead of waiting years for a release slot. They predict that very soon behemoth publishers and outdated agents will be as extinct as dinosaurs. They hate the stigma of self-published and assume all traditionally published authors look down on them. They hate that it’s almost impossible for them to get into most bookstores. They would like nothing better than to have a big six editor come begging them to publish their books and to tell them, “No thanks. You missed your chance.” They may not say it out loud, but they are afraid inside that they never got a book deal because they weren’t good enough.

The traditionally published authors talk about agents, contracts, and release dates. They get to see their books on bookstore shelves, in libraries, and advertising slicks. They have free editors, free artwork, and often have marketing budgets, They have an easier time getting reviewed by larger publications. They believe that because they have made it past the guards that protect the grounds of the traditionally published—agents, editors, proofreaders, and committees—that their books are generally better than self-published books.They hate how long it takes for their books to be released, but they love the support, advances, and royalty checks that they receive. They may not say it out loud, but the fact that they finally got a publisher helps erase their fears that they aren’t good enough, that they aren’t legit. And they are desperately afraid of that being taken away.

So there we are. Instead of two groups working together toward a common goal. We have two groups of people snarling at each other on blogs. Talking behind each other’s backs. Predicting doom and gloom for the other group. Even though the truth is that both of them have exactly the same goal. They want readers to approve of what they have written to tell them they are good enough. They want to be “real” authors.

A big part of the problem is that whether you are self-publishing or going the traditional route, the publishing world isn’t fair. How many people do you know who complain that they aren’t NBA basketball players? I don’t know any. The reason is that the people playing in the NBA are generally the best players in the world. If you dream of playing basketball, you can get tested from a pretty early age. By the time you have made it to college you know whether you have elite skills or not. And, for the most part, the NBA doesn’t judge you on anything more than how good you are at the game.

Imagine if the writing world was like that. Imagine if you could be judged solely on your talent. If you could know that your book didn’t succeed as well as the one above it because that book was written just a little better. Wouldn’t that make it a little easier? Wouldn’t that motivate you to strive to be better and work harder? Wouldn’t that seem more . . . fair?

But the writing world isn’t like that. regardless of which publishing path you choose, there are books that sell better than you even though your book is better. Publishers choose books for reasons that have nothing to do with quality. Great books get rejected by agents because they don’t like that genre, or don’t know any editor who would like it, or because they had a lousy lunch, or hurried through their query letters. Self-published books get lost in the crowd for no better reason than the author didn’t know how to self-promote well enough.

Where does that leave us? Do we all start wearing buttons that say, “Can’t we all just get along?” It would be nice if it was that easy. I don’t have a pat answer, but I do have a few ideas. I think there are some things we can all recognize.

1) No process guarantees a great book—however you define it. The concept of a perfect democracy where all books are all available online and the best naturally work their way to the top isn’t happening now and it’s unlikely to happen ever. Yes word of mouth helps sell a book. But starting that word-of-mouth snowball requires a ton of marketing or extraordinary luck. Even awards only represent the judgment of a fairly small group of people. The one thing we can take a little comfort in is that really crappy books don’t generally occupy top spots or win awards unless they have a celebrity’s name on them.

2) Price alone is not going to be the ultimate differentiator. I’m sorry, you can price crap at $0.99 and eventually people will stop buying it. And regardless of how good a book is, if you price it high enough most people won’t buy it. Yes, if two equally good books are priced at $1 and $20, more people will buy the $1. But I think that readers care more about how good a book is than if one is $5 more than the other. Low price may get you looked at if you are unknown, but it’s not going to keep people coming back the way a great story is.

3) Someone will always have a better deal than you. Either they will sell more books, get a higher advance, win an award you didn’t, get their name in a famous magazine, have their book turned into a movie. Whatever. If you judge your success on other people you will always end up unhappy. (Unless you make sure to always judge your success by people who are doing worse than you. Hmm. Something to think about.) It’s hard, but you have to find a way to enjoy your own journey. Because really, nothing sucks more than hating a really successful author.only to meet them and discover they are a super nice person.

4) Neither side is completely right. Yes, letting everyone and anyone publish whatever they want with no filter or control is going to generate a lot of garbage, just like YouTube generates a lot of really dumb videos. But there are some amazing authors who, through no fault of their own, never got published through the old methods. E-books have given them a chance to shine and despite having none of the benefits of traditionally-published authors, they have kicked butt. And publishers have kicked themselves and paid big advances for not recognizing that talent earlier.

And much as the indy crowd would like to see it, big publishers are not going away anytime soon. Yes, I know. They have made mistakes. They have been too slow to make changes at times. They publish lame books sometimes and they don’t always recognize great authors. But they are more than willing to change. They already have and they will continue to. They have great editors, awesome art departments, big budgets, and great connections. You can make it without them, but man it’s nice to have them in your corner as an author.

Lastly, we really do need to get along. (Sorry, it just forced its way out of me.) For all our differences, we have much more in common. We love a great read. We crave approval. We’re thrilled when we capture the worlds in our heads and describe them so well that everyone else can see them too. We’d all love to make a million dollars, but we can’t help beaming when even one reader tells us our story kept them up all night, or one parent tells us we hooked their kid on books.

We’re already seeing our worlds begin to blend. Traditionally published authors are self-publishing. Self-published authors are signing with traditional publishers. The big six are selling tons of e-books. Indy authors are selling print books. In another ten years the world may change in ways we can’t imagine yet. But hopefully we’ll all be right there trying to write an awesome story and catch lightning in a bottle.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Easiest is Almost Always Wrong

It’s been over three years since I wrote about how and how not to begin your book, which certainly seems like enough time that I could get away with writing about it again. Unfortunately I reread my most from 2008 and realized and don’t have a lot to add. The things I wrote about back then still suck the life out of a story and will almost definitely get you thrown out of the slush pile quicker than getting the agent’s name wrong. So go back and read that post if you haven’t.

Instead I’m going to write today about why doing the things that lots of beginning authors tend to do is almost always wrong.

First, as thinking beings, we tend to take the path of least resistance. We take the quickest route to the grocery store, buy the easiest foods to prepare, and look for the shortest line at the check out.

There’s nothing wrong with this at all. It makes sense to do what is easiest, quickest, and well known . . . most of the time. But what if the easiest and quickest—the thing we are naturally drawn to—is not as good? Maybe the food that is quick and easy to prepare tastes bland. Or the shortest route to the store is unsafe or depressing to drive through. Then you have to weigh ease against result.

The problem with following your first instinct in writing is that there is almost always a better way to do it that is harder.Let’s take waking up for example. It’s really easy to start a story with your MC waking up. That’s when the day starts. It’s a natural beginning. As a result, it has become a cliché. Starting your book with a character waking up is nearly as bad as starting with “It was a dark and stormy night.” It’s been done so much and with so many variations that it’s impossible to sound fresh.

More than that, though, it’s just not as good as other options. The goal of the first page is to grab the reader’s interest and attention. It’s hard to do that by waking up. Waking up beginnings trend to lend themselves to backstory. MC wakes up, groans, thinks about what a terrible day today is going to be, flashes back to what happened the night before that makes this day so terrible.

Notice that none of this is gripping. It’s the internal narrator in our head saying, “Before I actually get to the story, let me fill you in on where we are.”

Anyone who knows me very well, knows I am not a big proponent of prologues. It’s not that prologues can’t be done well. I’ve read some wonderful prologues. But the vast majority of the time writers use prologues because they are lazy. First chapter starts off slowly? Add an exciting prologue. Need to give a bunch of backstory, but know that’s not the way to begin chapter 1? Prologue to the rescue.

Before you write a prologue ask yourself if your beginning is gripping without it. If not, fix that first. Next ask if you are providing backstory that could be included in the actual story instead. If so, do that. A prologue should be like that awesome filling they put inside cupcakes sometimes. The cupcake is great without it. But it adds a little something fun without taking away from the dessert itself.

Let’s take another example. Character looks in the mirror and describes what they look like.

Mike stared into the water-stained mirror and ran a hand across his stubbly cheek. He was a decent-looking guy. In his late forties. Hair starting to gray, but still full. Women tended to be attracted to his strong jaw—that could actually bench press more than most other men’s arms.

If you haven’t read at least one book with this kind of scene in the first few pages, you aren’t trying hard enough. It’s a cliché. Tons of authors have done it. Why? Because it’s an easy way to tell the reader what your MC looks like. That’s reason enough to avoid it.

But again, there is a better reason. It’s heavy-handed. It stops the story and says, “Let’s pause here for a moment while I describe what my character looks like.”

In programming they talk about “elegant” coding. You could write 200 lines of code that accomplish what you want. But a good programmer realizes that by working a little harder, he can cut the lines to 100 and maybe even create a subroutine that can be reused later in the program. He spends a little more time, and creates elegant code that will make the program run that much faster and more efficiently.

You can do the same thing with your writing. Instead of stopping the story to look in the mirror, have the MC pull on her queen-size panty hose or realize his double X shirt is straining at the buttons. Have her stand on her tippy toes to reach the cereal bowl cupboard or brush a strand of white hair from her wrinkled cheek. You can tell us what the MC looks like, how old they are, how tall, how much they weigh, without ever stopping the story. It’s cleaner, more elegant, writing.

I could go on and on with examples, but the key is to remember that in writing, nine time out of ten, the first option you think of or the easiest option is almost always not the best one. That doesn’t mean to always try to use big words or create complex sentences. Elegant writing can be very utilitarian. But don’t go with your first story idea. Play with it awhile. Don’t stick with a single storyline. Spice up your book with several stories interwoven. Instead of having your MC and her love interest fight because they just don’t get along. Come up with some background, some motives, some twists.

Hamburger Helper can work fine at home. My kids still love it. But in your writing, work from scratch.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Obligatory Contract Signing Picture

You know that little part inside of every author that is sure even the best things will end up falling through?

No? Me neither. Which is why I wasn’t relived at all to get my Harper Collins contract in the mail. The Good Night Gorilla grin? I always smile like that when I sign book contracts. Really!

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Voice

Last Monday, over on the Wordplay podcast, Nathan, James, and I talked about YA and Middle Grade voice. I think we did a decent job of defining what voice is, but I’d like to take another stab at drilling down a little because voice is one of those things like “high concept” that you hear a lot about, but everyone has a slightly different answer for what it means.

Let’s start with what voice isn’t. Voice is not how your character talks. Or at least it’s not just how your character talks. It’s also not how the narrator talks, although that can be part of it. I almost think that personality would be a better word for it, because voice is a lot like the personality of your book.

Let’s play a game for a minute. I’ll take my turn here and you take your turn there. Think of three very different people you know or have known. When I say different, I don’t necessarily mean strange, but rather different from each other. In fact one of them can be very ordinary.

I’ll start with a boy named John I knew in elementary school, a girl I knew in high school and still know, and a guy I know now. Got your three? Great, let’s continue.

Think of three defining characteristics of each of these people. It could be something about their looks, how they interacted with other people, a driving motivation, someone or something they remind you of. Just think of three things and write them down.

John was the proverbial nerd before the word was even really popular. He couldn’t answer a question without sounding like he’d just run it by the periodical table of elements. He refused to do anything other than read at recess unless forced to, and he was socially awkward. He was extremely smart, but had the whole thick black glasses, weird clothes and slicked back hair thing going on.

The girl was one of my best friends in high school. Physically, she was cute but not drop dead gorgeous. She wasn’t fat, but she was built big. Those things don’t play into how I remember her though. Whenever I picture her, what I think of is the energizer bunny. She was always up. She had this kind of high-pitched voice that didn’t quite fit with how she looked, and she was always giggling, talking, cracking jokes. If you were around her, you couldn’t help but be in a good mood. My one word description for her would be on. Everybody liked her.

The third person reads this blog and will recognize himself right away. He is the kind of person that is usually described as a character. He has slightly longish black going on gray hair, a beard, and in the winter he likes to wear a long leather coat. He is usually driving either a beater car or a motorcycle. He is always telling stories that are very interesting because he has quite a storied background. But even though the stories would be good by themselves, he likes to embellish them. He always has twenty projects going on and another twenty in his head. If he were a TV character, he would be Kramer from Seinfeld.

Now, obviously there is a lot more to each of these people. In fact, you could even say they are stereotypes to one degree or another. I haven’t talked at all about what makes them act they way they do, what their backgrounds are, what they want out of life. But just in those little snapshots, you can probably imagine the people I am talking about. You have a feel for them and understand how they might fit into your life.

Now think of three different books. Let’s take To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Just like each of the people I described had a unique personality, each of these books does. The feeling of each book wasn’t random either. Of course, each of them were very different stories. But that doesn’t explain the differences. You could write a story about a goofy kid starting junior high and have it read like Mockingbird or HP. And it’s not that the authors could only write in one way. I firmly believe that JK Rowling could write a book in a Wimpy Kid voice or a Mockingbird voice.

So what does all this mean? Well for one thing it means you not only need to consider your plot and characters, but also the personality of your story. I’ve read some great stories that I believe never got published because they had no personality, no voice. There was nothing about the writing that was bad. But it didn’t grab you by the throat and make you want to read more.

Just like all three of the people I described are people you could drop into a book (and I have on more than one occasion), each of the three books I mentioned make you want to read more, but in very different ways. We are in a great place for writers now, with more opportunity than ever. But we are also in a world where there are more books competing against you for readers’ attention. If you want to stand out you have to understand voice and decide what will make your book’s voice unique.

Three quick examples from books I have written. Read the paragraphs and see how much of the book’s personality you can grasp from just a paragraph or two.

One:

Carter jumped to his feet, pressed one hand to his lower back, and shuffled across the room. “Come give your Granny Goulash a big wet smackerooni and I’ll let you have one of my stale oatmeal toffee bars. Or is this something I scooped out of Fluffy’s litter box? Can’t really seem to remember.”

Two:

Welcome to Hell, all ye damned and demented. Please keep moving. Welcome to Hell, all ye damned and demented. Please keep moving . . .

The repeating message begins moments after I reach the top of the red stone platform, hammering the morning air and making me jump even though I knew it was coming. The tips of my fingers tingle where sharp claws try to poke through and I taste blood in my mouth as my fangs momentarily slide over my teeth—the normal Dae’ Ungu reaction to surprise or anger.

Three:

“Bobby has been what?” Brooklyn’s voice sounded sleep-fuzzy and far away. I didn’t know if the static in my head was the phone line or the insistent buzzing I’d been hearing since the moment I found my best friend lying on the floor of my apartment in a puddle of his own blood.

In the first example example I am targeting a MG audience. I want lots of emotion: fright, laughter, tension. It’s all about bigger is better. I’d like this book to feel like watching ET.

The second example is from a paranormal YA. The story mostly takes place in Hell through the eyes of a female teenage demon. It needs to feel dark and a little edgy. I want you to feel like your hands are slightly grimy when you finish reading. It has a kind of graphic novel aura to it.

The third example is from an adult mystery written from the first person POV of a reporter in her mid twenties. As you can see, this book begins with her best friend/romantic interest in the hospital with a life threatening injury. That buzzing in her head is how I want the entire book to feel. She is constantly off balance in this story.

Not saying that any of these are great. Or that you need to emulate them. But hopefully this gives you a feel of what voice means in your story and it gives you a tool you can use when trying to make your book stand out from the crowd.

Now, go write!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Edits Are Not of the Devil

I was talking with another author recently who was complaining about how much they hated edits. I just bit my lip and smiled. I totally get the rewrite hating. Who likes someone telling them their artistic endeavor is less than perfect? I think it hails back to our time in school. Remember when you turned in a paper, hoping for the vaunted gold star, and got back something that looked like the teacher had tapped an artery and bled all over it?

red ink

So, yeah, discovering your gold star story is actually more of a tin star story can be pretty depressing. So much so, that I would literally rather go in for major dental surgery than read a manuscript for someone other than my critique group or a really close personal friend. It’s just so hard to decide what they want back. Are they looking for a real here’s-everything-you-need-to-fix response? Or a hey-good-job-really-like-what-you’ve-got-going-there response?

The thing is, I love edits. I mean LOVE in all all caps, with bold text, and maybe even a heart instead of the O. I was beyond thrilled when my edit letter for Grimville came in the mail. It’s not that I’m a glutton for punishment, or even that I love the smell of red ink. (Okay, now I have to go test that at some point. Does red ink smell different from blue or black? I always imagined the pink ink in the Dr. Seuss book smelled kind of like peppermint.)

I crave praise every bit as much as the next author. I want people to tell me they adore my characters, that they stayed up all night, enthralled with my intricately woven plot, that they laughed so hard at my jokes they cried.

But . . . and this is a big but . . . I want all that praise after my book has hit store shelves. Before it goes out, I want the harshest feedback possible. I want to know every flaw, foible, and fix.

Back when I was in high school I had a friend who was restoring a 64 Mustang fastback. It was a really cool car. But it was completely hammered—rust holes, oil leaks, broken glass, torn upholstery. Every time I looked at that car, I wondered how he could possibly not just pour gasoline over it and send it up in a flaming pyre to car heaven.

image

And yet, every week there he was. Sanding away some rust. Pulling out a dent. Painting on primer. Little by little, I began to see what had been in his head the whole time. By our senior year, he had one of the baddest (which meant goodest back then) cars in school.

Now I’m not saying your story is in as bad a shape as my friend’s car. Hopefully you have something that reads pretty well before you start sending it out for feedback. But these days there is so much competition out there—whether you are self-pubbing or going through the agent-editor route—that you can’t afford to have anything other than your very best work going out the door. The days when an editor said, “I love the story and we can work on the lousy writing,” are almost completely a thing of the past. You absolutely must view your novel as a work in progress.

The reason I love edits so much is because in my mind every change is clearing away a little more rust, or pulling out a dent. Even better, some of the edits aren’t just fixing the bad things, they’re adding things to make the story badder (again meaning gooder.) I’m putting on a spoiler and installing heated leather seats.

By the time I sent Grimville to publishers, it had gone through multiple edits from my critique group, my agent, my beta readers, my friends. And no matter how personally invested I was with the story, I asked them to be brutal. That way, when my editor sent me his suggested changes most of them were high end audio upgrades and fewer of them were, “Um, didn’t you forget to put in the carburetor?”

So what can you do when you are looking to get feedback?

1) View your book as a fixer-upper on blocks, not a showroom demo. It’s much easier to use feedback if you are expecting lots of work than if you are looking for pats on the back for a job well done.

2) As much as possible, let your readers know what kind of feedback you want. Sometimes it’s tough for family members to say anything more than “I liked it,” or “I didn’t.” But if you put together a form they can fill out, that is much easier.

3) Consider things like having them describe characters to see if their view matches your intent. Ask them to list anything that was confusing. Tell them to list three things they didn’t like. Get feedback on both individual scenes and overall story. Ask them what they view as major themes.

4) This is going to sound really weird at first. But, go to sites like Goodreads and Amazon and read negative reviews of books that are similar to yours. This will do two things. One, it will help you recognize problems with your book. “Oh yeah, I did that too.” And, two, it will prepare you for negative feedback.

5) Don’t let anything in your story become sacred. Again, this sounds counterintuitive, but things that you see as the very best of your work, are often the biggest weaknesses. Go into your editing with the resolution that anything in your book can be improved and nothing is untouchable.

So, yeah, that’s pretty much it. You should try and learn to love edits and if you can’t do that at least learn to accept them. Speaking of which, I better to back to work on Grimville. I’ve got these really bad mag rims to install.

Speaking of writing advice. If you haven’t checked out the new Wordplay podcast I am doing with James Dashner and Nathan Bransford, you definitely need to. It posts every Monday and the next two weeks we have Ally Condie, the incredible NYT bestselling author of Matched and Crossed, and my super agent Michael Bourret as guests.

You can go to the site, add it on iTunes, or listen to it right now by clicking on the player below.