Reading as a Writer: Today I learned something I do NOT want to know!

Writing in a nice outdoor setting.Recently, while reading a manuscript, I came across some dialogue that looked to be punctuated incorrectly, so I made a note about it that I intended to give to the author. This morning, I got online to find reputable sources that would back my claim. To my surprise, honestly horror, I found seven different sources that said: the rule for quotation marks in dialogue, if one person is speaking continuously over multiple paragraphs, is to start the speech with quotation marks and continue to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, until finally putting closing quotation marks at the conclusion of the speech. Only one source agreed with me, that if a single person is speaking, no matter how long their speech, the writer puts quotation marks at the beginning and closing quotation marks at the end.

I looked over the pages of dialogue in the manuscript again, since the overwhelming majority of style informants told me I was wrong, and I still couldn’t stomach it. Each time I saw the quotation marks at the beginning of a paragraph, it triggered new speaker in my reader’s brain. I tried to recall any memory of seeing this form of monologue before. I started tearing through the books on my shelves looking for just one other example, but didn’t find one. It looked like the characters in the books on my shelves didn’t give speeches–especially not the kind that would have separate paragraphs.

I wondered if this was an evolution of style, something new that I missed, but that wasn’t the answer: I’ve been reading a lot of current fiction lately. Those extra quotation marks just looked so wrong.

Another thing that bothered me about “the rule” was the reasoning. In all of the informative posts I read on the subject, the reason for the extra quotation marks was so the “lazy reader” wouldn’t forget that someone was talking. Honestly?  I’m supposed to put weird, out of place quotation marks within one character’s monologue–as a rule– because someone thought my readers would forget someone was talking? I’m going to go with rules, once learned, are meant to be broken.

I can’t imagine what it would take for me to put those distracting, confusing marks in my dialogue, but I now know better than to tell someone else that it’s wrong. At the moment I don’t see any of my characters giving long-winded speeches, but if they do, I’ll make sure they won’t speak in paragraphs. I do not foresee my readers ever being described as “lazy”.

Have any of you come across writing “rules” that you can’t abide? I’d love to hear about it.

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How To Make Each Query Letter Personal

tulips on tableYou’ve written a hook to draw in the reader. You’ve summarized your story in a paragraph or two. You’ve ended the letter with a bio that makes it clear you are the only person to write your book. You received great feedback from online forums. Your critique group loves it. So it’s time to send your query letter off to all of the agents you selected, right?

Not quite yet.

First, make sure you know the agent’s name and spell it correctly. From everything I’ve read this is every agent’s pet peeve.

Second, you need to find a way to let each agent know why you would like them to represent you.

As you look through your list of agents you are going to query, think about why you chose them and make some notes (For tips on how to choose agents for your short list type Agent Query in the search bar above for previous posts on the subject). You may have chosen some of the agents on your list over another agent in the same agency. What was the deciding factor?

One important way to learn about agents is to read the books they represent. While researching in this way, you may discover that an agent represents an author you admire. If so, this is a great way to personalize your query letter. If you get really lucky, you may find a book the agent represents that is similar to yours in some way. A one to two sentence compare and contrast is the perfect way to show you’ve done your homework.

Another thing to add to your query is how your book fits with what the agent is looking for. Look at the agent’s blog, look for interviews, look for videos from conferences on youtube.com, look at their page on agentquery.com and publishersmarketplace.com to find the kinds of books they want. Mention their specific requests that pertain to your book and then offer your book for consideration.

Finding the right agent is all about patience. You not only want to sell your book and get it into the hands of readers, but you want to create a long-term business relationship with someone who will champion your work. Once you’ve put in the time to decide on the agents you want to query, let them know why you think they are right for you and your book.

Like the rest of us, an agent doesn’t want a bunch of form letters in the mail (email). Let her know that you’ve chosen her based on her merit and your belief that she will find the right home for your book based on her past sales, and you are much more likely to get a response.

Marketing: Societies, Associations, Meetups and Clubs

A tiny shiny hummingbird on a branch

Like this tiny hummingbird, our books need to shine to be seen.

I apologize for neglecting you last week, dear readers. I received the fully copy-edited version of my chapter book and dove into choosing agents to query and revising my query letter. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, querying is a nerve-wracking full time job. Today, I posted my second revision, after many helpful critiques, on Agent Query Connect and hope I am getting closer. But that is for tomorrow’s topic.

In the past I’ve looked at writing societies and associations and didn’t see past the expense to the value. Now that I have two self-published books to promote and another that I’m trying to get agented, I joined both the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’m also really enjoying a biweekly writer’s social meet-up and many online clubs.

So, what are the benefits?

SCBWI: SCBWI is an international society with local chapters. Once a member, you have access to current information in every aspect of children’s book writing, illustrating and publishing. That alone is worth the membership price.They also offer many tools to promote your work and connect with other professionals. They have conferences and an online members’ bookstore.

PNWA: They have a member library to show off members’ work. As a member, you get a discount to their convention (which I’m thinking I might attend this summer). You can attend meetings from home on a conference call when you don’t have the time to drive out to a meeting.

Meetups and Clubs: These are great places to make personal relationships with other authors. I’m hoping the aforementioned are too, but I personally have found meetups and clubs to be a good place to ask questions and get feedback. You can also see what topics are important to other authors and learn from their experiences.

An important part of marketing is getting your book into people’s hands to create word of mouth. Meeting people through local associations, societies, meetups and clubs can help you get the word out.

Exploring: Writing on the Go!

fisheye view of trees and sun

Happy 2015 to everyone! This feels like an exciting year. I  like the sci-fi-ness of 2015.

This morning I woke up and did a nice morning stretch and a little strength training. While in the shower, I pondered how to be more active in my daily life without taking away from my writing time and I had a very interesting idea. My laptop sometimes tells me its Bluetooth is ready (which made no sense to me because I hadn’t ever thought about using Bluetooth with anything but a cellphone while driving) and I have a Bluetooth ear piece for my old cell phone.

Could I connect my Bluetooth ear piece to my computer and dictate stories to my laptop while I walked around the house? If so, I could write while cleaning; I could write while pacing; I could write while jumping up and down!

After my shower I found my earpiece and . . . had to charge it. But once it was charged, I searched Bluetooth under all programs in the start-up menu,clicked it and my laptop recognized my device. I was happily surprised. So far, so good. Then, I went to the control panel on my laptop and clicked  speech recognition. When setting it up, I selected other for my microphone and my Bluetooth earpiece was now my microphone. I continued to follow the steps for setting up Microsoft’s voice recognition software that came free with my computer.

The tutorial was thorough and kept my attention. I received instant gratification by saying “Next” and seeing the tutorial move to the next screen. After the tutorial, I went through two sessions of reading to the computer to train it to my voice. I probably should have done more, but I was running out of time before my writing group meeting. I wanted to write a short piece for group using my exciting new dictation technique.

I talked to my computer a lot this morning. I used every correction command from the tutorial and obviously need to learn some more, but ended up with an interesting paragraph and a half. It didn’t feel like I was talking to myself until the first member of my writing group arrived and I was still talking to the computer. He didn’t say anything, but he probably thinks I talk to myself, strangely, when no one’s around.

I was very excited to share my new (to me) writing idea with the group. It turned out the person I thought would be most interested already bought Dragon (speech recognition software), but gave up on training it. She said she found the headset cumbersome and hadn’t wanted to buy any further microphones. This made me even more excited about my Bluetooth idea. She also said she felt more focused at the keyboard and didn’t feel like the words came as freely when speaking into the microphone. She presented the different natures of storytelling I’m hoping I’ll capture. The oral story teller vs. the written word.

I’m hoping, once I get my computer and I trained, I’ll be able to capture my voice as an oral story teller and see if it is different than my typing and/or handwritten voice. I imagine that I might say things that I would hesitate to write; even avoid writing because I would think about it too much.

So, here we go on a new adventure, using available tools in new and exciting ways. Wish me luck!

Have any of you had success using your Bluetooth to get your computer to type what you say? Any tips?

My first interview as a children’s book author!

I planned on re-posting the fun interview Andy Mulberry did with me, but that’s not working, so I’ll link to it instead.

Here are the first few lines from Andy’s post:

Welcome Maria L. Berg, Children’s Book Author | Guest Post

It’s Sunday! Which means, it’s time for a fun Q&A with a children’s book author! I’d like to welcome Maria L. Berg to my blog! She’s a fellow Goodreads author and recently released a photography picture book, called… 434 more words

Thank you, Andy, for taking the time to support your fellow authors. What a treat!

Exploring: “If You Want to Be Great, Think of Ways to Do Things Differently than Everybody Else”–Gene Ho

I found a great video that inspired me today.

I love finding things I’ve never seen, or even imagined before. Something so simple as trusting yourself enough to not look through the lens while taking a picture was exciting enough, but then when he grabbed a camera in each hand to show how you can take pictures behind your back while taking the shot in front of you, well I was delighted.

Revision: The Plan and then What Really Happened

Heron in the reflection of Mt. Rainier

Reflection

Today’s revision was inspired by two things. One, last weekend at writers meet-up we were each challenged to come up with a goal to accomplish during the two weeks before our next meet-up. I announced to the group that I would have a re-write of my first chapter done. This felt like a reasonable goal as I had already presented the first page to my critique group. Two, I read a chapter in The Road to Somewhere (second edition) on reflection that inspired me to read through my first chapter and write a reflection piece.

The plan–To read through the first chapter of my novel and journal on some of these prompts:

Why did I want to write this piece in the first place? Where did it come from?

Has the original idea Changed? In what ways?

What problems have occurred in writing it? How have I resolved them? What problems remain?

What really happened–I forced myself to read through the whole chapter which was only nine pages but took a while because I couldn’t stop myself from making changes as I went. I became overwhelmed by the issues I had with it, but after some deep breathing went back and cut large chunks that didn’t move the story along and weren’t insight into the character’s motivations. I made sure to paste these chunks into a file of removed sections in case I want them later. Then I went back and rewrote page two and three of the chapter.

While rewriting, I wanted to revisit the idea of starting with chapter two, so I jumped ahead. I decided my original starting point is the correct place to start the story, but started editing the second chapter until my brain hurt. So, as with most of my writing, reflection and revision are non-linear processes. A goal of rewriting the first chapter before next meet-up may be more difficult than expected, but a good goal none the less.

New Book! Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly!!

Front Cover Herman Learns to Fly

Front Cover of new book Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly

Back Cover Herman Learns to Fly

Back Cover of new book Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly

Now that the second book is finished and available in both paperback and kindle, I will be back to my regular blogging schedule, finishing up my free guide to self publishing children’s books and exploring guest posts (activities that went to the back burner to simmer while I finished my book).

So, today being Monday Marketing, I am happy to report that my marketing efforts with Gator McBumpypants, specifically with facebook and a targeted email list, resulted in first day sales. Because knowing what works is the only way to wade through all the money traps for self promoters, I am glad I found some freebies that actually work. Be careful with both facebook and email lists to make sure you target to trusted friends and family, then groups specifically interested in your genre — your target audience, then (hopefully) fans, and people who truly want to work with you.

I noticed early in my marketing, my responses came from other marketers who weren’t marketing anything to help me and would have loved to have my money for no reason whatsoever. This almost turned me away from blogging and self publishing, but then I started finding good blogs with my interests. I also focused  my reason for marketing which is selling my Gator McBumpypants books to support my writing and photography obsessions.

I hope my readers will find what they need here on this blog and my other sites as I continue to focus my time on publishing all of my projects. Next steps: An agent for my middle grade fiction book and revising my adult fiction novel while writing the novel all of this has been practice for: Within the Lahar.

Revision: Ask for Help and Listen

Gator McBumpypants offers to help Herman

When you ask for help, you have to listen.

Today I finished the second book in the Gator McBumpypants picture book series, Gator McBumpypants in Herman Learns to Fly. I thought it would come together more quickly and easily than the first book since I was ready for the formatting, but it ended up being about equally difficult because I was much more critical. Once I had the pdf ready to send off to createspace, I stopped myself: Since I was too impatient to step back for the time it would take to come at it with fresh eyes, I sent it off to two people I knew would give me the honest feedback I needed, a writer (who my writing group lovingly calls the comma police) and an artist (who sees the shapes in the empty space).

I admit I wasn’t completely surprised when I was told that the word angries isn’t a word. I like to make up words or use words in unexpected ways and we had already discussed it in writing group. I was a little surprised that it was the Artist who told me it stopped the flow of the writing and needed to be changed. The same artist who made an eight foot portrait of me called “Maria fights the Robot Spiders” (an obvious representation of my inner two-headed boob dinosaur), told me I needed to stay within the norms of word usage. So, after being only so slightly disappointed, I listened.

Then the feedback from The Writer: I believe I’ve mentioned I am the luckiest girl in the world. I called her worried that she plainly didn’t like it and didn’t want to tell me. No, she was coming up with wonderful changes for every other page by paragraph and sentence. One would think I might be disappointed by my imperfections, but I’m not: I’m  excited to know someone as mindful of good writing as I am that I can trust to find my flaws and be honest with me.

That is the main issue of wanting to share your work with the world; you have to be willing to ask for feedback AND listen to it, if you want to make your best work.

Exploring: Book treasure at the local thrift store

Stephen King Pop-up bookI often stop by the local Goodwill to peruse the books. I recently found a hardback of Eco’s Foucalt’s Pendulum in excellent condition and a Complete works of Poe. This week, I found an extra special treasure: A Stephen King Pop-up book! For those of you that haven’t read the story (originally published in 1999), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is about a girl who gets lost in the woods. Because she is a big Red Sox fan and her favorite player is Tom Gordon, she pictures Tom Gordon guiding her through her ordeal. Following the baseball theme, the story is broken into innings. The pop-up features are very creative.

Pop-up carinterior page three panelThis will be the perfect gift for the biggest Stephen King fan in my family. I had no idea Stephen King had a pop-up book. What a great treasure. The copy even has a signature on the back.

DSC05853Anyone have any idea who’s signature that is? I couldn’t find anything on the internet. A treasure and a mystery.

Exploring the thrift store can be great for special gifts. I found three nice books to check off my shopping list.

Happy Hunting!

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