Carol Brennan King December 9, 2020
Assignments for both classes: continue projects of your choice, any of the assignments from this session. Remember, this next class, December 16, will be our last until further notice, probably until the first Wednesday of February.
Creative Writing: Today we talked about going from Draft 0 or Draft 1 to moving it toward publication, a journey that may take months. That said, this period of polishing and prepping your manuscript is well-worth the time and expense if you do want to get published. Note: even if you want to self-publish, you want your work to be at its best.
So here are some things you need to take note of.
- Accept that you need feedback, if only because your own brain will fix things as you read them to make sense of them. But that does not fix the words on the paper. So accept the reality that every published writer have had their work go through many hands.
- Get it feed back ready. Read it out loud and slowly, paying attention to what you are seeing on the paper. Do your own check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and phrasing. NEVER trust a spell-check or Grammarly to get it all. Sometimes words are real words, just not the ones you want there. Make sure your manuscript is double-spaced with room for comments when you give it to someone to comment on.
- If you are serious about getting helpful feedback, don’t ask loved ones. You know why. But if your spouse was an English teacher and you can take criticism from that person, give it a shot. But be ready to hear that you need to make some changes.
- Understand the difference between Reader and Professional Feedback. The pros know what you need. The Reader doesn’t. From a general reader or BETA reader, you want to know the following, so tell them. You might even put it on a separate paper so they can think about these things as they read.
- Did the story interest them?
- What did they like or not like?
- Did their attention wane?
- Were they confused about anything, and what was it?
- What’s working well?
- What changes would you recommend for another draft?
5. Develop a thick skin for those who offer feedback that is not helpful .
6. Be polite, not defensive about the feedback.
7. Just listen to it without your answer running or explaining anything or you might miss something important. Write down what is said.
8. Get a second or third opinion. Just don’t keep looking until you find someone who agrees totally with you.
9. Give the person a deadline for when you need the manuscript back – if you are giving them the manuscript to them and not reading it to them. Give them a reminder a day or two before your due date. You might say, “I have worked out for Wednesday to be my manuscript workday, so I would appreciate what you have been able to do for me before Wednesday.
10. Recognize that you may get painful but necessary feed-back which would require you to alter or eliminate a scene or character that you really love – this is called “killing your darlings.”
11. Watch for consistent recommendations from those you have trusted with your manuscript. If they all make similar recommendations, pay attention to that.
- Remember: this is your work, your story. You do not have to take their advice, but you should give it some thought. I have even told (whispered into the air over my manuscript to Grammarly) Grammarly that I like it the way I wrote it.
Memoir Class: We talked about what makes a memoir, or any book generally, appetizing to an agent or publisher, and most important, to a reader.
What characteristics can make a memoir from an unknown writer marketable?
First of all, it needs a solid concept for the book that invites the reader’s concerns into the experience of reading it, instead of just saying, “Let me tell you all about wonderful me.”
It also needs great writing, which means
- an identifiable narrative voice,
- a tone that is appropriate to the subject, no one wants to read preachy, know-it-all writing. They would rather hear how you overcame challenges, perhaps similar challenges to their own.
- an awareness of the need and the know-how to keep a reader turning pages,
- and a thorough demonstration of spelling, grammar and syntax.
No. 1: Voice. More and more these days, the writer’s voice—its memorability, the distinctiveness with which the author describes scenes, characters, events—really can make it stand apart. There are lots of potential factors that can make a memoir unputdownable (and therefore marketable), but these days that voice seems absolutely critical.
No. 2: Premise. Books need to be able to distinguish themselves from the others. It’s really tough—for an agent, editor or bookseller—to sell a book that sounds like one more of the same, or formulaic, the kind of book that makes the reader think, “Yeah, I’ve read that kind of book before.” So having a unique, compelling premise can make an enormous difference.
No. 3: The author’s platform. The author may be “unknown,” but having published materials in well-known, preferably national, forums can provide a useful link to the buyer: I may not know who this writer is, but I know the paper she writes for, and I love/like/trust it, is what you want your buyer thinking. Remember, you should not dismiss local markets for publishing credits or anthologies. The point creating name recognition.
Platform is more important than ever when it comes to previously unpublished authors. If you can bring a readership with you—perhaps because of your huge following on Facebook, Twitter or other social media—that helps. Anything you have published says something about you as a writer. Of course, any broadcast media appearances help prove that your story is marketable and appealing to a wide audience. You might be surprised what local TV or radio might provide.
The easy answer is of course the writing. But if the story doesn’t sound extremely interesting and/or unique, the writer is pretty much going to have to be Faulkner to get editors excited.
The steps of a memoir submission.
Usually, an agent and author will work for months to put together a 30–50 page proposal that lays the book out in detail.
The agent will then get on the phone and call a carefully assembled list of editors (the submission list you and the agent compile) and will describe (sell) each one over the phone on the strengths of this particular memoir.
For me, this is usually going to involve some combination of the following:
- the strength or power of the narrative, the emotional impact it creates, and then the potential audience—because these are all the things that draw me to a good memoir in the first place.
- Basically, if you’re unknown, you need a great story, and then you need to hit a 450-foot home run with your proposal that blows editors out of their chairs and has them visualizing tens or even hundreds of thousands of sales.
Remember: The experts say this:
- It’s all about a fresh story, told in a unique voice. I want the writer’s personality to ooze through the pages. I expect the writing to come to life. I especially enjoy a story that has the same page-turning momentum I look for in compelling fiction.
- Aggressive, confident, well-written prose that immediately finds a way to show the reader this is a book that is book is going to take them on a great journey—a story that they are going to enjoy every minute of.
- Premise—above all, the premise. I read that one- or two-sentence description of what the book is about and I think, “Wow, what an amazing story!” That almost never happens, but when it does, it really makes me pay attention.
Then the agent can get a sense, immediately, from the query and/or opening pages, whether he or she is in the hands of a master craftsman—a writer who really can describe, entertain, absorb the reader into her world. So many times agents read an intriguing premise and then are disappointed in its execution. The writing just doesn’t hold up: Descriptions are trite, dialogue seems invented or clumsy, characters don’t come alive on the page
Some questions that might help you sort out whether your memoir is viable for traditional publication include:
1. If the reader doesn’t know you, would they care? Why?
2. Is there a universal story/theme? What is it? (Is it a transformation story? An inspirational tale? A cautionary tale? Coming of age?)
3. If you summed up your story in one to two sentences, would my response be, “Wow!”?
4. How truly different is your story—and is it different enough to warrant publishing yet another book on the topic?
For more on this, go to