Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing About What One Knows

This afternoon I read an e-mail on one of my lists from a budding writer of children's books. She mentioned that she had always heard that one should write about what one knows. I've always heard that, too, but is the idea a good one?

It depends.

For some people, it's probably not a bad idea, especially if one is just getting started. But personally, I feel it's limited and limiting. My first book was about Nigeria. Frankly, I didn't know much about Nigeria when I started. By the time I finished, I knew enough about the country that I do fairly well when Nigeria turns up as a subject on Jeopardy. If I had turned down the assignment because I didn't know anything about Nigeria, I'd likely never had the opportunity to become an author.

Perhaps it's different when it comes to fiction. I've only written a small amount of fiction, and I must admit that it dealt with a subject I'm familiar with--weight issues. I've just started a novel for tweens (female), and again something I'm very well versed in--knitting--plays a part in the storyline.

Does that mean I can only write fiction about things I know? Sheez, I hope not. And what about people who write science fiction or horror stories? Is it necessary to be an alien (or at least abducted by one) or to have encountered a ghost or vampire to write about them?

As I said before, writing about what you know may be a good idea for beginning writers. But for the author who wants to spread her wings--and who is willing to do some research--throw out the rule. Fly little bird fly!!!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Some things to keep in mind

I recently posted an ad on an online group looking to hire authors for a 16-book series. Of course I received responses for many more than I needed, but I was able to hire those I needed.

For the same series, I posted ads on two online groups looking for an editorial proofer. Again I was deluged with responses, which was fine. But, I could not believe the errors I found in the e-mail and even on the resumes. People, people, if you're applying for such a position, check, check, and check again before hitting that send button. Needless to say that those applications with errors were tossed.

Two other things came to my attention during this process. First, please put your name (or at least your initials) in the resume file name. Many just put dates or what kind of resume it is (proof, edit, etc.). This means the reviewer has to rename the file in order to aid in access. Though we're not talking about hours of work, it's time that the individual could spend doing other things.

Also, be professional in the e-mail. I know that might sound petty, but many of the e-mail applications were quite chatty rather than professional. You never know if the e-mail is going to be forwarded to someone else. Also, some people hesitate to hire individuals they know. It can be an awkward situation, especially if things do not go well. As the person doing the hiring, I need to know that the individual will take the position seriously and will not take advantage of a personal relationship.

Just things to keep in mind.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cats and Freelancing

I belong to several freelance editing and writing lists. I must admit that I am amazed at the number of freelancers who work with a cat by their side. And, I must admit that I fall into that category as well.

I have seven cats: Herman, Eddie, Clarence, Marlin, Purrl, Phoebe, and Norman. Another cat, my darling Lily, died almost a year ago. At the time, I had a full-time in-house job, but I also freelanced a great deal. Lily loved to sit behind my laptop and nap while I worked. After she died, Clarence took over, relishing in the heat being thrown out by the laptop.

When my laptop crashed a month or so ago and I had to get a new one, Clarence decided that it wasn't nearly as warm behind my new computer, so he found a new place to snooze while I worked. Then it was Marlin's turn to keep me close company. He wasn't happy sleeping behind the computer--or anywhere else on the desk for that matter. No, Marlin likes to sleep across my arms. I can still type, but forget trying to write or read a note on paper beside the computer. Apparently I've made him move often enough that he's not quite so inclined to assume the position as he had been.

Then there's Purrl. Purrl was given to me by my vet after her parents brought her in for spaying then refused to come and get her. She's always been quite fond of me, but content to spend her days sleeping on my bed. Of late she's become a lot more outgoing--including out going to my desk. Right now, as I write this and then go on to work on a book about the death penalty, Purrl is snoozing on my notes. She's jumped on my desk for a pet or two, but this is the first time that she's taken a stand--or a laydown anyway--on my desk.

So what is the attraction between cats and freelance publishing careers? Beats me. But there's certainly nothing wrong with it. Except, of course, when their big butts are on my notes. But I'll get over it. Who knows, maybe Purrl is telling me I need a break.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Now I Know

I've often read that writing is a solitary profession. That's fine with me; I'm not very sociable when you get right down to it. I do well quite on my own, thank you.

But this week, I have learned another reason why writing is a solitary profession--project managers who drive you insane. I'm working on a series of books for whom a designer is serving as a project manager. He has determined how many words are to be covered in a chapter based on his ability to get cheap photos. This means that some important material gets briefly mentioned while other chapters may turn into basically a chronology because he can get photos of concerts, appearances, whatever. He's done nothing but complain about what I have or have not included in my books--not how they were written, just whether the text as submitted fits his design.

Yesterday, the guy drove me to tears with his complaints--mostly unjustified. If I had been with people, I would probably have scared them I was so hurt--and angry. Fortunately, I won't have to deal with him anymore. The person with whom I am contracted is going to deal with him. At least she realizes she's not paying me enough to put up with his garbage.

There is some solace in knowing that I am not the only author incurring his abuse. That doesn't make what he's doing right, it just helps me to realize that it might not be personal.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why Me? But not in a bad way

I've finished the book about the Boston Tea Party (well, I still have a couple of revisions to make)! Yee Haw! The publisher offered me contracts for two more books, one about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and one about the Death Penalty. I took them, of course. My former boss offered me contracts to write books in her popular rock, poker, and tobacco and smoking series. I took them, but boy do I wish I could give back the poker ones! I'm also editing all of the books in those series.

Editing. I love editing. I never really knew how much I loved editing until I started getting offers for writing. I like writing, but would rather not do so much of it. At least the Boston Tea Party publisher offers me interesting subjects. They are so good to work for.

When I contact publishing companies and packagers about freelance opportunities, I almost always ask for editing assignments. Lately, all I'm getting are writing offers. I guess I'm not complaining. I know there are several freelancers practically begging for business; I've been there. There's one whose difficulty baffles me. She has written far more books than I have, but she can't seem to get any assignments. To be honest, she's probably a better writer than I am.

I guess there's something to be said for being in the right place at the right time--and for networking, especially for networking. A member of an e-mail list recommended me to the publisher, who offered me the Tea Party contract, then contracts to fact-check three books, and the two new writing contracts. Yea networking.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why I got into this field in the first place

From my early childhood I have loved old movies. It never mattered to me if they were in black and white or if the subject was dated. There was just something about them that attracted me.

On Sunday, I watched one of my favorite old movies, The Best of Everything I can't tell you how many times I've seen that movie, or when I saw it for the first time. Though it is in color, it was an old movie when I first saw it. The clothing, hairstyles, and situations were dated even then. When I watched it on Sunday, the "datedness" of the film seemed even more apparent--especially the room full of typists slugging away at their typewriters. But, I still love that film.

Hope Lange plays a recent college grad whose come to NYC. She takes a typist job at Fabian Publishing. Of course most of the women working in the typing pool are only doing so until they get married. Lange's character proves herself to be a capable typist and an even more capable reader. So, to the chagrin of her boss (played by Joan Crawford), she becomes a reader. When Crawford's character leaves to get married, Lange becomes an editor. The coworker she's seeing doesn't like how the job has made her "masculine, hard." When Crawford returns--"It was too late for me"--Lange gives her back her job, though she is allowed to remain an editor, but with a smaller author base. And, of course, she comes around and gets the guy in the end--hey, I said it was an old movie.

I think this was the first film I saw that gave any kind of indication about how the books I loved so much actually became books. I had no way of knowing if publishing houses worked the way they were shown to in the film, but it didn't matter. What I cared about was the process--reader, editor, book. I wanted part of that action.

And I've gotten part of that action. Oh, none of my jobs mirror the situations presented in the film, but I am still fascinated by the publishing process. Though my career has been frustrated and frustrating of late, I still feel it's the right one, though I may not be working for the right publisher. It's a learning process that will go on as long as I work with publishing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Review: Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Team Moon purports to tell the story of "How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon." It does that, but I never truly felt drawn into the story--and I recall the landing vividly.

Text is reversed out--white text on black pages. I find that difficult to read, especially when the author uses italics to indicate conversations. Judicious use of space around the quotes would have been more effective--and easier to read. The images are beautiful. I was more inclined to look at the photos and read the captions than to read the text.

The backmatter is extensive, but put together is a somewhat unorthodox order. The inclusion of a glossary will be helpful to a younger reader, or to anyone who might not be up to date on their space lingo.

Review: Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine

I'm planning to use this book myself! Some of the exercises are directed toward younger writers, but hey, I can live with that.

I wish I had had this book when I was a teen. I wanted to write, but there really wasn't anyone around for guidance. This book breaks down the writing process into doable sections, with a call for Writing Time and an exercise at the end of the chapters. The suggestions require some reflection, not just routine situations. One of my particular favorites asks the budding author to construct the conversation of a brother and sister plopped down on an unfamiliar street corner.

Teens--and others--who are interested in writing should enjoy this book.

Review: One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals by Noyes

I love animals, so I looked forward to reading this book. The cover says the book is about the human-animal bond in myth, history, science, and story, and it does do that. The text is interesting, but I wasn't really captivated. In a few places, I felt as though she was being somewhat judgmental.

I liked the sidebars and wish more books aimed at this market used them. However, the font used in them is very light, and I found it difficult to read. Perhaps younger eyes wouldn't have the same problem.

The book includes a bibliography and an index, something I am glad to see.