201604 minutes Sunday April 17th
Nearly twenty people gave up two hours of a sunny Sunday afternoon to attend April’s Writers’ Mill meeting and hear the talk from Steve Theme. Of those, many were able to buy copies of his book, and we hope you’ll remember to post reviews when you’ve read it. Steve would like you to know he’s happy to be contacted with questions at any time via the “contact form” on his website: http://stevetheme.com/contact/
Steve Theme last spoke to us about a year ago, and his novel, Asphalt Asylum, has been released (very successfully) since them. So, with several new and recently new members present, we started by introducing ourselves and saying how our writing worlds have changed over the last year. Answers ranged through:
- Writing has become fun – YAY!
- Learning to say no – please will someone teach me
- Learning about formatting – novels, poetry books, short stories etc.
- Discovering the need to get our writing “out there” when we, as writers, are often so private – Steve Theme touched on this one as it applies to memoir – see below.
- Life intervened, writing got put on hold – but please keep coming to meetings where we can always encourage each other
- Self-published books – HURRAY! As long as one copy is donated to the library, we are free to sell books to each other too.
- And much much more. Sheila’s latest venture is she may even start editing for other authors! And Joe’s is that he’d like to get a Writers’ Mill Inspirational Journal (think Chicken Soup) together while others work on the regular journal – more details later.
Steve Theme, unlike many of us, made a living as a writer (though not a novelist) for 30 years. He’s been published in many places:
- The Timberline Review, from Willamette Writers’ is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, as it’s local. If you’re published there, you get to attend local readings; you get seen as a real live author!
- Alaska Magazine, Seattle Times, etc – always good to get something published in a place that has a connection to the novel you’re writing.
- Writing emails for insurance – it’s not literature, but it pays.
He has a degree in technical communications, and has worked in marketing, advertising, web copy… even speechwriting (where the author gets to write in someone else’s voice)!
Steve spoke to us about his writing process – pre and post publication; what services he usedl “Published – Now What?” and more. Notes from his talk are included below.
After snacks, provided by Joe…
Judy handed out prices for the contest. It was cool to see so many poems in this month’s contest!
- First place, Karin with Airport Temptation
- Second place, Lauri with Enticing Adventure
- Third place, Catherin with Eve
Our next contest is “Switching Places” – as in two CHARACTERS changes places with each other – child caring for ailing parent, victim turns the tables on bully, zookeeper becomes an elephant… Word limit: 2,000. Deadline: end of Sunday May 1st. Entries to: firstname.lastname@example.org Find out more at http://portlandwritersmill.org/contests/current-contest-may-2016/
June’s contest theme is home (1,200 words) and July’s is Postcards from the Edge (750 words – after all, how many words can you fit on a postcard?)
Robin provided an excellent personal essay for this month’s critique, complete with a link to the submission guidelines – a nice reminder to us all about how to write for journals and magazines. Sheila led a critique which touched on topics such as:
- To submit to a journal:
- Know your audience
- Know the deadlines
- read at least one copy of the journal you’re submitting to (perhaps in the library)
- remember, you don’t have to add words to meet the wordcount, but you might want to subtract them to tighten your writing.
- take note of how illustrations will be treated by the journal – will they help or hinder your acceptance
- enjoy the thought that you might actually get paid!
- What does the editor see first?
- Titles matter – they have to attract attention and fit the story. (Robin’s did beautifully)
- Opening sentences matter – they’re what determine if the editor will read on. (Robin’s was great)
- Opening paragraphs matter – they should give some idea of where you’re going. (Again, great job Robin)
- What to add or avoid
- Cliché’s are certainly something to avoid, but a believable writing voice matters more
- Natural details bring the reader into the story
- Natural dialog keeps them there
- Make sure your readers will understand the words you use.
- Make sure your beta-readers or critiquers tell you where/when they get confused, especially in personal writing where authors know exactly what we mean, but readers may not follow.
- Try to avoid awkward sentences that can be too easily misunderstood.
- Other stuff
- Avoid “ing” words
- Choice of present tense makes the story/essay very immediate and effective
- Tying the end to the beginning, and the title, is invaluable. (Great job Robin)
We discussed illustration possibilities for Robin, including asking school students for help, and we all hope Robin will send her story in, in time for the deadline.
Short discussion at the end of the meeting covered topics such as:
- Is everyone receiving the emails? You should have got ones announcing the contest deadline, one including the critique piece, and a meeting reminder.
- Does everyone know how to contact each other? First name plus last initial @portlandwritersmill.org will forward to whatever address you gave us. So, for example, if you want to contact someone who left a comment on your contest entry, perhaps to learn more or see if they can advise you where they think you could send it… just use the email address.
- Does everyone know how to get to the website and how to use the password. The new password will be in your email. You don’t need to log in to the site. Just type the password in the box, and be aware, the password changes every month.
- Don’t forget we’re planning to publish another journal. If we stick to the same timeline as last year, the deadline for entries will be August’s meeting. Sections will correspond to contests as much as possible, so anything you’ve entered for a contest will be eligible to be submitted to the journal. You can submit other things too, once we’ve given you the section titles.
- Joe would like us to create an inspirational journal as well as our usual one. We’ll discuss this more later, but for now, please be thinking about how you could help.
- Journal help will be needed:
- To select entries. We’ve try to accept everything in the past, but we’re open to change.
- To edit entries. Time is limited, so we aim to provide only minimal editing, expecting entries will already have been polished before submission. Minimal edits might include:
- standardizing format for internal dialog, use of ellipses, etc.
- correcting typos
- inserting appropriate paragraph breaks
- fixing small inconsistencies, grammatical errors, etc.
- Create the master document. This takes a lot of time and includes
- organizing entries into sections
- ordering entries within sections
- deciding which illustration goes where
- Formatting the document for print and ebook – this can be a slow process too.
- Contacting authors for final approval—this is where authors get to approve the (small) edits we’ve made.
- Ordering print copies, because a large order at the author price cuts down the cost per book of postage.
We ended with a “writers’ block” exercise – or maybe that should be writers’ dice. Rolling three “story cubes” gave us three illustrations from which to construct a plot. Images rolled included clouds, sheep, smiley faces, arrows and more. The theory is that connecting unconnected items uses the same imaginative part of the brain that we use for writing, thus helping us feel inspired. So roll some dice and see who’s changing places for your contest entry.
Next month’s speaker is Jim Stewart, author of “Ochoco Reach,” a suspenseful thriller with a quirky PI as its central character. Adventure, a love story, and memorable characters all wrapped around with a thread of magic realism. He’ll be talking about editing poetry, the importance of having a “good ear,” and other great things. The meeting takes place on May 15th.
And on May 21st, Karen Alexander-Brown is hosting a concert for a musician who has played all around the world, whose wife is an author. We’re all invited.
Notes from Steve Theme’s Talk
How did he create his book?
- It was a 5-year project. He was unemployed and wanted to write. He ended up telling the memoir of a 7,000 miles hike undertaken during 2 months.
- It started with the thought – write a memoir, but “not about me.”
- It progressed to recognizing you can’t hide yourself as a writer.
- Even if your writing will affect other people (be it fictional or real) you still have to be honest.
- Your memories will never be the same as your siblings. That doesn’t make them less valid or true. It’s your book.
- You don’t always have to ask for permission.
- If it’s worth going for, go for it.
- It grew into about 40 chapters, 2,000 words each. 85,000 words total is a standard novel size – around 350 pages.
- His technical writing skills encouraged short chapters, incisive prologue, and clear writing. Brevity entices readers.
- The epilogue is a 4-line poem. Poetic writing entices readers too.
- To improve his writing, he used J.I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder: http://www.amazon.com/Synonym-Finder-J-I-Rodale/dp/0446370290/
What was his writing process like?
- 1st, just write. Ignore typos, sentence structure, grammar etc. Just write. And definitely don’t agonize over your first paragraph because it will change. Everything changes. Just write. Have fun. Create the bones of your story.
- 2nd, put meat on the bones. Add, subtract, edit, move, etc.
- 3rd, put skin on it. Clear up the typos and grammar. Take it to a critique group – preferably more than one. Without a critique group you’re doomed. We are poor judges of our own work – if you’re writing for others, you need the input of others! But find a critique group that’s a good fit for you – one that’s at your comfort level.
- Now hire a professional editor, or your book will be released filled with errors and you’ll look silly. An editor will tell you what’s weak and what’s strong in your work.
- A developmental editor—mostly non-fiction, structural, what to expand or remove, where to place sections—will cost $1,200-$1,800
- A line editor—looking for consistent voice, consistent information and details etc—will cost around $1,000
- A copy editor—looking for typos and punctuation—might cost 2-3 cents per word.
- He recommends Ali McCart from Indigo Editing.
- A critique group is not an editor. Critiques are invaluable, but you don’t have to agree with every comment. Sometimes they’re invaluable at telling you what not to listen to.
- You’re doomed if you just write your book and send it out.
- And now either send it out, or self-publish
- If self-publishing, buy your own ISBN and make your own company. Serious wine is sold in bottles, not boxes, and serious books aren’t published by Createspace.
- Being a publisher as well as a write takes lots of time – it’s a good hobby J
- Remember, if you’re a writer you’ll have homework every day for the rest of your life!
Published? Now What?
- Steve was a marketing director in the publication industry, so this is his field.
- Start with a book launch party – his was at the Multnomah Arts Center
- Send a copy of the book and cover letter to papers – if a town is featured in the book, the book might be featured in the town newspaper.
- Every review leads to more sales, so get reviews.
- Book groups buy and read books. Get your book into their hands and offer to visit them – though it is scary to walk into a room where everyone knows lots about you and you know nothing about them!
- If you can get a reading – if you can get a story into the Timberline Review for example – go to it. Read from your book. But bring your own audience!
- Go to small bookstores. Another Read Through on Mississippi http://mississippiave.com/what-youll-find/another-read-through/ has regular readings.
- Use social media to make friends and invite your friends to your readings. Invite them to buy and review the book too!
- Find a hook that will help you promote. E.g. a book about Portland bathrooms can be sold at all the featured hotels. A book about breakfasts can be sold at all the featured restaurants.
- If you take a week off from promotion, your sales will take a dip for that week.
So, is there a fun part to all this?
- Who did you write it for? If your children know you better after you’ve written, you’ve won!
- Get a review from a stranger on Amazon! Wow!
- Get a review that compares your book to Wild. That’s serious validation!
- Somebody gives you stars – they like what you’ve done.
- You hand-sell some copies – Steve Theme sold quite a few to us!
- You get to talk at a book group – contact Steve if you’d like him to talk to yours!
Our thanks to Steve for talking to us again. And don’t forget to visit his website and contact him with any questions: http://stevetheme.com/contact/