Sunday, June 30, 2019

Your Book Won't Get Revised Unless You Revise It

This post is the sequel to my earlier post, "Your Book Won't Get Written Unless You Write It."

Three weeks ago I finished the full manuscript of my third-grade-level chapter book set in an after-school coding camp: Lucy Lopez, Coding Star. I am pleased to say I finished it by my deadline and promptly sent it off to my brilliant editor and brilliant writing group.

They gave me comments right away. Guess what? Just like every book I have ever written throughout my long career, this one NEEDS MORE WORK!!

The big surprise for me was that the part that is looking good is . . . almost all the bits about coding! The parts I was most worried about were pronounced clear and engaging. Whew!

The parts that aren't looking so good are . . . the character arcs for the protagonist and her sister (it's a sister story), and how they drive the plot. These are not small or inconsequential elements of a book.

At first I panicked. Well, first I sulked, then I panicked. Even though this will be my 60th published book for children, I had suddenly forgotten exactly how one goes about revising a book. The scenes that were already written seemed, well, the way it actually happened. How could I change them so things happened some other way? How on earth would I even begin?

Then it came back back to me. You begin. . . by beginning. As Arnold Bennett writes in his delightful 1910 self-help book, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day: "Dear sir, you simply begin. There is no magic method of beginning. If a man standing on the edge of a swimming-bath and wanting to jump into the cold water should ask you, 'How do I begin to jump?' you would merely reply, 'Just jump. Take hold of your nerves, and jump.'"

So I took hold of my nerves and went through the page-by-page comments from my editor and writing group friends and inserted them into my master copy of the manuscript, adding them with ALL CAPS so they would stand out. I also added ALL CAPS notes of my own. There were all the things that needed to be addressed in the course of the revision.

Then I made seven handwritten pages of responses to these comments, starting with the question, "What IS Lucy's character arc?" and moving on to "How does the tension BUILD?" and "Other things to do. . . 1) Differentiate Mom and Dad more - how? 2) Foreshadow the end-of-book Coding Expo; 3) Clarify the teachers' role; 4) Simplify the camp logistics...."  and more... and more...

Then. . . I began. I just began. I changed a bunch of things in Chapter 1 that affected the shape of the rest of the story, and then I started to work on the rest of the story. Each time I sit down to work more on the revisions, I read over what I've already revised to gather confidence. Look how much better Chapter 1 is now! Look how much better Chapter 2 is, too! Surely I can find a way to deal with the problems in Chapter 3...

So, just as my book won't get written in the first place unless I write it, it won't get revised unless I revise it.

And the best way to revise it, dear sir, dear madam, dear anybody, is simply to begin.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

More Fun with Book Promotion

As many readers know, I am currently trying harder to promote my books. In fact, I'm trying harder to promote this brand-new sweet little book:
I'm not sure that any of my strategies are paying off, but I'm certainly having fun with them, and there is no downside to having fun.

I did my blog tour - fun!

I ordered bookmarks - fun!

I did an "Instagram takeover" arranged by my publisher, Holiday House, for Nixie's launch day- fun! My own favorite of my posts for the "takeover" was where I shared photos of my first failed attempt at making the homemade dog biscuits the kids make in the book, side by side with photos of the second, much more successful attempt.

I have worn my new CHEF COSTUME several times in public, including at a delightful launch party for the book at the delightful Denver children's bookstore, Second Star to the Right.
I looked mildly ridiculous, but undeniably jolly. I gave out starry prizes for my cooking-themed trivia questions and served extremely delicious cookies, including my signature ginger snaps. (And if you say you don't like ginger snaps, then you have never tasted mine.) So that was VERY FUN.

Finally, I had a chance to do an interview for the podcast Beyond the Trope, and it turns out that doing interviews is fun, too. I sound smarter and better than I thought I would, so I've listened to it several times today, thinking, ooh, this person sounds smarter and better than I thought she would! So here's a link to it, in case you want to hear me talking about the big, deep philosophical questions I explore in Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, and the forthcoming Vera Vance, Comics Star.

It was ALL fun. Maybe I'll sell three more copies of the book through all my efforts. I bet I will!

But in any case, I had fun.

And there is nothing more fun than having fun.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Better Half-Baked by the Deadline than Over-Baked Too Late

One of my tasks for this month was to complete a chapter I had been invited to contribute to an edited philosophy collection. This, of course, involved starting the chapter, writing the chapter, revising the chapter, and then submitting the chapter. As the deadline approached, I hadn't actually done ANY of these things. I had MEANT to do them, but of course that's not the same thing at all.

I had comforted myself with the thought that academic deadlines are often largely fictitious and fanciful. I know many academics who submit book chapters MONTHS past the deadline, with impunity. There are always stragglers. Maybe this time I would be one of them. I wouldn't miss the deadline by a huge amount, just a week or two. How terrible would that be? Not terrible at all, I told myself.

But then, a week before the deadline, I learned that it would indeed be VERY terrible. The co-editors were traveling to be together in person to meet and go over our chapters together, so they could send timely feedback to all of us, so we could revise in a timely way to meet the press's apparently NON-fictitious and NON-fanciful deadline.


Well, there would surely still be SOME stragglers, I told myself. Would this really be the first project in the history of academia with no stragglers at all? I started composing my heartfelt apology in my head. And believe me, I could put enough of my real-life hideous heartbreak and unbearable stress into the apology to cause any editor to weep on my behalf and excuse me from all deadlines, forever.

But then I thought . . . what if . . . what if instead . . .  I actually sat down and WROTE THE CHAPTER and sent it in on time???


I had indeed given the chapter plenty of thought. It was only supposed to be a maximum of 5000 words. That isn't SO long. The editors had encouraged us to write in a conversational and engaging style, and that's precisely what I'm good at doing. I still had a week, even though most of that week would be spent visiting my sister in Indiana before attending the annual conference of the Children's Literature Association, held this year in Indianapolis. But I love writing in other places.

So I started writing here at home at my desk. I kept on writing while sitting on the world's comfiest couch in the world's coziest living room at my sister's house. I allowed myself to miss one conference session each day to lie on my luxurious hotel-room bed, writing. And I sent the paper off by the deadline.

The editors responded within a day. They were "very happy" with it - and I'm sure they were extremely happy to have it on time rather than late. They noted the paucity of citations, which I had noticed as well, since I didn't have any of my books with me on my trip. If I wanted to add any, they'd be glad to give me another week to do so. And yes, indeed, I would!

Now, my tastes may differ from yours, but I much prefer under-baked cookies to over-baked ones and even prefer burnt cookies to no cookies at all. If I set the oven timer for less time than needed, I can always add more time, but if I set the timer for more time than needed, I end up scraping blackened cookie bits from the tray.

So now I'm off to add some citations to a paper submitted on time in an ALMOST-finished form rather than a perfect paper submitted too late. And then I may bake some slightly oozy, gooey cookies as a reward.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

An Unexpected Boon of My Book Promotion Efforts

My new publisher, Holiday House, is giving my books more love than I'm used to, with impressive publicity strategies on every front. One reason I'm trying harder than usual to promote my books these days is to match their heroic efforts by making (mildly) heroic efforts of my own.

So, thanks to Holiday House, I spent last weekend at the ginormous Pop Culture Con at the Colorado Convention Center: participating on three author panels, giving three presentations for kids and their families, and signing books provided by the famed Tattered Cover Bookstore.

Did I sign very many books? No. Was this my ticket to fame and fortune? No.

But there was considerable downtime for the featured authors in between our various speaking and signing obligations. And I love writing in unusual places. If what I have to write is at all daunting, it helps me to face the challenge in a new and even wacky environment. Then, ever after, I fondly remember exactly where I was when I wrote those scenes.

Here I am, writing Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 of Lucy Lopez, Coding Star in the company of the Big Blue Bear peering through the Colorado Convention Center's tall windows.

I sat cross-legged on the floor there for hours, scribbling away, happy as could be, while costumed convention attendees posed for photos in front of the bear; one of them kindly took this photo for me. By the end of my three days at the convention, I had solved previously insoluble plot problems and brought Lucy's central dilemma to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is slated for publication in Fall 2020. If you read it, when you get to those last two chapters, know that a Big Blue Bear gave them his blessing.

Book promotion is important, I'm sure. But most important of all is WRITING THE BOOKS: writing the best books we can, with the most joy in the process. And if we can do our best and most joyous writing while off at a huge promotion event, all the better.