S. M. Nystoriak's Writer's Block

A place for writer's and readers to meet!

Writerly Advice: The Benefits of Writing Short Stories

Several November’s ago, I embarked on a grand adventure.  I had an idea for an amazing story, and when I learned what NaNoWriMo was all about, I had to jump in with both feet.  Thirty days later, I had a complete (rough!) first draft of a novel.  Between the thrill of having the idea for the novel and the exhileration of completing it, I knew I had tapped into a part of me that I would never be able to let go of.

Since that time, I have learned a lot about myself and my writing. For one thing, the idea of writing a 50-80 K novel excites me with every glimmer of inspiration I get.

I have learned a lot about time management (even though, let’s face it, it’s tough to balance everything sometimes).  I am now a definite plotter when I can, or care to be, and I have mastered the art of productive pantsing.  Yes, I love the process of creating a full length novel.

But something affected me recently.  I was asked by a writer friend to do a beta read of one of his short stories for a competition.  I will freely admit that short stories have never been something that I would choose to read.  But something in the way that a diminutive word can convey a full story, beginning-middle-and end, enlightened something in me.

Around the same time as this enlightenment, a short story submission announcement showed up in my inbox.  So, I did the only thing I could.  I dusted off an old story idea which had been tucked away somewhere in my laptop, waiting for its day in the sun.  I looked at the strange words I had written about it, and then freaked out a little.

But with the help of a couple of my writer friends, who I consider “Short Story Enthusiasts”, I managed to transform a focus-less plot into a short story that I am proud of.

Working on this short story has taught me several things.

  1. I don’t need a multitude of chapters to tell a good, complete story.
  2. The small word count allotted for a short story makes me use much better words.  I have to be very picky!
  3. There is nothing to fear about pacing a short story plot.
  4. I don’t need to devote hundreds of words to backstory when I can use more effective word-choices to infer the same information.
  5. I have learned to be far less “tell-y”, because there simply isn’t time in a short story.

I still love writing novels.  I love how they are constructed, and I love how a novel paces out the plot over time, allowing me to live with the characters for a while.  But having worked on this short story, I have better perspective as a writer.  The techniques of using language in a concise, descriptive way can only help me as a novelist.

Readers, I am curious.  How many of you novelists have delved into the realm of the short story?  How does writing short stories impact your novel writing?

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Writerly Advice: Making Time For Our Characters and Stories

The Spring season is finally arriving in Northern New York. It’s not just the temperature that tells me, either.  I can smell the thawing of earth in the air, and I can hear the birds in the trees, having returned from wherever it is that they travel to for the winter months.  The rushing water from the stream six acres behind my house, which has been frozen for months, echoes through the forest.

Along with all of these lovely Spring happenings, another sign of Spring has made it’s entrance:  A completely busy calendar.  And with that comes the inevitable guilt for my diminution of writing time.

Who’s with me?

Anyone else feel it, too?

I doubt I am alone here.  As writers, we are wired to see everyday occurrences as opportunities to create a story.  We make mental notes, and written ones, so that we do not forget the marvelous ideas that pop into our heads, just waiting to come alive in a story.

But now that my calendar is brimming, so incredibly full, that all of these wonderful ideas sometimes never make it to paper or my computer.  And that is nothing to speak of my previously written works in progress–when will I get to sit down with them for meaningful blocks of time again, to hang out with them in their world?

Their world.  That’s what I need, time in someone else’s world.

But seriously, who can do that at this point of the year?

I have decided to formulate an action plan to get through this busy time.  The first part of my plan comes from advice from other authors, which is to write a little every day, without fail.  In the past, especially during these busy times, I might go several days without writing or even thinking about my writing.  Historically, that hasn’t really worked so well, which brings me to the next part of my action plan.

The second part of my plan includes thinkingYes, that’s right.  I am committed to thinking about my works in progress daily.  I have this feeling that if I think about my characters in their world, it’ll be fresh in my mind when I am finally able to get to my laptop.

The third part of my action plan involves shedding the guilt.  We are writers.  We believe in our characters and stories.  We feel for them.  We nurture them until they are able to get out into the world.

Like children.

And when we can’t spend meaningful time with our children we feel guilty.  But as writers, we forget that those characters are forgiving, and will be patient as they wait for us to return to them.  It’s the thought that counts, right (part two of my action plan)?

Here’s hoping!

Do you have any writerly advice on this topic?  How do you get through the busy times when life gets in the way of writing?  please comment below!

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An Interview With My Readers!

On this very blog, I interview a lot of writers and people involved in the publishing process.  But today I’m going to try something different!  Hang onto your hats :)

As I work on writing a manuscript, I find that the characters and scenes play out like a movie in my mind.  I’m not sure that is particularly unique to me, but I do think it’s an interesting phenomenon.  As the scenes and conversations go by, not only do I have the visual in mind, but also the soundtrack and sometimes even the score.  Again, not sure if other people experience this, but I suspect they do.  You might think that my being a musician and having all of these ideas, musical and non-musical, in my head as I write, my prose would contain amazing detail and imagery.

It doesn’t.  In fact, I struggle with it sometimes (But I’ll save that for another post!).

For today, though, I’d like to interview you, my readers, about you novel’s soundtrack.  Your novel can be published or not, complete or not.  Those silly details don’t matter for this!   If you would like to take part, and I’d love it if you did, please write your responses to my questions in the comment section.  Include some links, if you want!  Here are the questions:

1.  Does the music you personally listen to influence the books/stories that you write?  If so, can you give us an example?

2.  When you think about your latest completed novel or work in progress, what music comes to mind?  Have you put together a playlist for it?

3.  Do you use specific music to help you “get in the zone” for a writing session?

 

I’ll go ahead and answer first.

1.  I do think that the music I listen to can influence what I write.  For instance, before writing my first novel, Muse’s song Citizen Erased was on constant repeat.  That novel has a definite “Musey” vibe.  A little dark, and introspective.  Here is the lyric video for that tune:

 

 

 

2.  My latest novel is quite different from my first.  I wouldn’t say that I have a full playlist for it, but Bruce Springsteen’s Fire would definitely be on it!

 

 

 

 

3.  I definitely use music for “getting in the zone”.  If I know I only have a certain amount of time to write, I may prep myself by listening to the music that I know can get me ready, mentally, so I can maximize my time.  And sometimes, like I mentioned about my first novel, a song can literally throw me into the zone!

 

So, now it’s your turn!  Tell us about your soundtrack!  I love connecting with my readers :)

Thanks for playing along!

 

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Let’s Talk Revision!

While waiting to hear back on submissions, one of the best things to do is to envelop yourself in other writing projects. Today, I sit at my laptop, ready to begin the in-depth revisions of my latest novel. For the first time ever, I began this particular novelling journey by composing a Query Letter, then I mapped out the entire novel using Scrivener’s Cork Board. I write about my discovery and first impressions of that software, here. This manuscript, which began as an exercise in how to use the famed software, has developed into a really fun adventure about Misty Dawn and Violet, two college girls whose attempts to beef up their social statuses end them up at a ranch in Wyoming for Spring Break.

Through the years, I have learned that I am a very lean writer. Drafting a novel, for me, always ends in low word counts, with just the skeleton of the story, start to finish, played out. I am known for including phrases like “(scene about a car chase will go here)” and “(scene with their first date details will go here)” into my first drafts, because, well, when a story comes to me, I need to get the thing sketched out. Good, bad, or otherwise, my plan is to go back and fill in the details later. I guess that you could say that my first drafts are merely embellished sketches of the blueprint.

In the past, I have edited my manuscripts in phases, and saving each phase of revision as a new draft. If you are interested, here is the process I follow to edit my draft:

Phase 1-Plot Holes: Print out one copy of the draft. Read through it in its entirety, looking for large plot-holes or gaps in the story. Flag them with a sticky. After the reading is complete and flagged, go through and fill in the gaps, as best as you can. Save it as a new draft. This part goes pretty quick for me.

Phase 2-Main Character Validity and Plot:  Print out one copy of the draft. Read through it looking at the character arc of your main characters, reviewing for plot along the way. Use sticky flags to mark problem plot areas. With pen, directly on the printout, make notes about your character’s progression through the novel. Go back through and make necessary changes. Save it as a new draft.

Phase 3- Supporting Characters, Main Characters, and Plot: Print out a copy of the draft. Read through it to see how the supporting characters enhance the story arc and main characters. Make changes as necessary. Eliminate anything that doesn’t work. I sometimes revisit my original outline at this point to see if there is anything I missed and want to use. Save it as a new draft.

Phase 4-Spelling/Grammer: I don’t usually use a hard copy for this part. Go through the latest draft in Word looking for these errors.

Once I have gone through these four phases, I feel like I can send it to beta readers, either in chunks of chapters or as an entire document, depending on the reader. This year, though, with my Misty Dawn draft, I took part in SC Author’s “Become An Agent” contest, mostly because I had the QL already finished, and I felt I could get the first 250 words in order for it as well. Here is a link to my entry.

So now, here I sit, with the amazing suggestions from the other contest entrants about my early novel, poised and ready to begin Phase 1 of my editing process.

Please share how you approach editing your novels below. And if you don’t follow me on Twitter, please do! I love to learn about this crazy writing process by connecting with other writers.

 

 

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Completing the Trifecta: A Publishing Chat with Summer Wier, Marketing Director with REUTS Publishing

Summer Wier

All this month, I have been fortunate enough to feature REUTs Publishing’s Behind-The-Scenes talent. Beginning with Editorial Director, Kisa Whipkey, and then with Cover Artist and REUT’s founder, Ashley Ruggirello, we all got an  inside look at the inner workings of a small publisher, following the process from acquisitions to print.

Kisa’s interview can be found here.

Ashley’s interview can be found here.

I highly recommend checking those out, whether you are looking for a publisher or if you’re just plain curious about the process of publishing, like I am.

 

But today is a big day, as I complete my mini-series trifecta interviewing

Summer Wier, Marketing Director for REUTS Publishing!

Susan: It’s so nice to have you with us on my Writer’s Block, Summer! Welcome! Let’s start off by having you tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background? Do you have a degree in marketing? If not, how did your path lead you to where you are today, career-wise? How did you end up as the Marketing Director at REUTS Publishing?

Summer: Hi, Susan! Thanks for having me. Let’s see, where to start. I have a wide variety of experience under my belt and consider myself a jack-of-all-trades. My educational background includes an accounting degree and an MBA. So while I don’t have marketing degree specifically, it was a focus of both my undergrad and grad degrees. Over the years (I won’t tell you how longs it’s been since I graduated), I’ve had the opportunity to work in various capacities contributing to experience in marketing, graphic design, web development, SEO, sales, contract drafting…you name it. I’m one of those people who isn’t content doing just one thing or specializing in one trade, I want to know how every “part” works and contributes to an organization as a whole. As the Finance and Marketing Director for a chain of retail stores in the DFW area, I’ve had a chance to really understand how essential it is for departments to coordinate efforts in pursuit of success. It’s this perspective and experience that we incorporate at REUTS. We all wear many hats.

I started at REUTS as a Jr. Editor and acquisitions assistant in an effort to gain some experience in the publishing industry. When Founder Ashley Ruggirello put out a call for a Marketing Guru, I responded “I’m your gal!” And the rest is history.

 

Susan: During the acquisitions process at REUTS, I have learned that the four directors chime in on each manuscript. What are the things you look for in a manuscript? On the other hand, are there things that would be red flags to you as the Marketing Director?

Summer:I assess marketability based on things like genre, voice, originality, and complementary titles from our current library and outside sources. Of course a manuscript has to have “that special something” whether in spades or as a glimmer of potential; it really is all about the manuscript. We realize that very few authors have experience doing marketing, or knowing what that really entails, and that’s also where I come in.

As far as red flags go, unoriginal first pages top my list. You’ve probably seen the list of don’ts: waking up from a dream or starting off in a dream, getting ready for school, describing characters using a mirror. I am immediately turned off by those things (unless the execution has original elements or is spectacular). It also makes me wonder if the rest of the manuscript has anything new or unique to offer. Publishing is a tough industry; you have to create something that sets you apart from everyone else. Another red flag can come from the query or even a person’s behavior on social media. I think Ashley mentioned this in her interview, but we stalk people. (YES! We look you up.) It’s hard to visualize working with someone who is less than professional or down-right jerky, no matter how fabulous their work may be.

 

Susan: I asked a similar question to this next one to Ashley Ruggirello recently, but I am curious about your response. When reading a full submission, can you tell early on about its marketability? Are you able to begin formulating a plan for its release strategy from the get-go, or does the “master plan” reveal itself later on?

Summer: First off, I always have a master plan. It includes everything under the sun, but it usually tweaked and honed to each author based on their strengths, time, and budget. But in the early stages, when reading a submission, there are definitely times when I visualize a favorite quote as a teaser or think about how the story would translate into a trailer (more on this later). Bottom line, I definitely have a strategy from the get-go, but nothing is set in stone until I’ve had a heart-to-heart with the author.

 

Susan: That’s awesome about the teaser quotes! I am very interested in this next question. Can you tell us about the path a book takes from the time it is acquired by a publisher until it can be found on the virtual and physical bookstore shelves?

Summer: This is quite the loaded question as it could be answered from many different angles, but since I’m here to talk about marketing, that’s what I’ll focus on. Once we sign an author, each of the departments sends out an initial letter. I put together a “master plan” marketing document that outlines everything an author could do from the very first moments of their contract through release and beyond. From that list we target efforts that the author feels comfortable with and move forward from there. So while an author is simultaneously working with staff on cover design and editing, they’re also laying their part of the groundwork for marketing and promotion. Behind the scenes, I work on promotional materials and press releases, initiate social media strategy, with the help of the extremely talented Tiffany Rose who distributes ARCs, coordinates blog tours, helps with teasers and trailers etc. We start rolling everything out a few weeks before release, and when pub day hits, there’s no holds barred.

 

Susan: During the process of getting a book out into the world, what is the best part, from your perspective?

Summer: Release day is hands-down the most exciting day, and I love seeing an author’s words come to life via teasers and a trailer. It’s great to see all of our efforts come together, and the resulting support and praise for an author’s work on his or her big day is phenomenal!

 

Susan: When I think of marketing a book, I think about all of the things that an author would be doing from their end. What types of things can a Marketing Director do from the publisher’s side to help an author’s manuscript have a successful release?

Summer: Well in the case of many debut authors, I coach and guide author’s efforts from behind-the-scenes. As you can imagine, there’s a wide range of experience (or lack thereof) between authors. Some need a little coddling, others just run with it. But aside from that, and some of this was mentioned above (pushing press releases, distributing ARCs, coordinating blog tours), I coordinate post-release promos, social media content, swag design, potential event outreach, online and print advertisement, and Ashley and I work together fielding film inquiries and vetting other subsidiary rights opportunities. Multiply that by umpteen authors…yea, you get the picture.

 

Susan: What, in your estimation, are the three most important things an author can do to promote their brand and their books? How can an author best prepare for that, especially if the novel is a debut?

Summer: You know the saying, “What goes around, comes around”? That. I truly believe in karma. If you help others in a constructive way, without ulterior motives, without expecting anything in return, others will help you right back. But let’s see…you asked for three things and here are my professional answers: Be organized. Be consistent. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. (And I’m adding a fourth.) Be resilient. Whether debut or not, an author needs to be organized. Keep track of reviewers, fans who reach out to you, guest posts, etc., etc. Reach out as much as possible to those who are interested in being in touch with you. Maintain a routine schedule, whether it’s 30 min twice a week, or 15 min a day. Be willing to try new things. It’s no surprise that many authors are less than excited about doing in-person events, we’re introverts by nature (a lot of us are anyway), but there is no substitute for making personal connections. And lastly, you have to bounce back. Writers deal with negative reviews, poor turnout for an event, pirated materials, and the list goes on and on. It’s okay to be disappointed, sad, angry, but when the sting wears off, you have to get back out there and try again. Just keep swimming.

 

Susan: On the REUTS webpage, there is mention of something called a “street team”. If you could, please tell my readers what that is, and how it can help the author.

Summer: A street team consists of individuals who want to show support and help promote an author’s books, or in our case books from a publisher’s library! They can get behind-the-scenes info or a first peek at news, but really it’s just a group of people who are excited about a book (or books) and want to help get the word out!

 

Susan: You have touched on this a little bit earlier. I have seen some amazingly intriguing book trailers. Is that something that you would do as a Marketing Director? If not, do you feel that creating a book trailer is something that is necessary for a book’s success?

Summer: It makes me so happy to hear you say that! And yes this is something we provide our authors. They can, of course, choose to do something on their own, but we want to make sure that everyone at least has the choice to have a professional trailer for promotion. The fabulous Tiffany Rose and I collaborate and create each trailer, then send it to the author and Sr. Editor Kisa Whipkey and Ashley Ruggirello for feedback. If you haven’t noticed by now, REUTS’ success is highly attributed to teamwork. We’re a well-oiled machine, if I do say so myself. Now is a trailer required? Is it necessary for success? No. There are those who say they aren’t worth the time or expense to create, but from our perspective a good-looking trailer can’t hurt!

 

Susan: As expected, you have provided us with some amazing information. Thank you so much for being here today, Summer!   The answers to these questions are so helpful to aspiring authors, like me. I am grateful to the REUTS family of directors for being so candid with me and my readers! Is there anything else you think my readers would appreciate knowing about marketing their brand or book?

Summer: Thanks for having me! The biggest advice I can give authors is: Don’t think you have to do everything. There are many, many platforms, online and offline options, events, blogs, ad sites etc., etc. Figure out what you can do (without stressing or over-extending yourself) and make it work for you. Mix it up. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. Every effort is an opportunity to learn something. And keep writing!

 

Summer Wier is an MBA toting accountant, undercover writer, and all around jack-of-all-trades. Link is her debut novel and the first in The Shadow of Light series. She has short stories appearing in Fairly Twisted Tales For A Horribly Ever After and co-authors the Splinter web serial. Summer is the Marketing Director and a member of the acquisitions team at REUTS Publications. When she’s not digging through spreadsheets or playing mom, you can find her reading/writing, cooking, or dreaming of the mountains in Montana.

Connect with Summer on Twitter @summerwier or visit her website at http://www.summerwier.com.

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Artistically Speaking: With Cover Artist Ashley Ruggirello

ashley ruggerillo
Ashley Ruggirello is an author, designer and doting wife living in beer and cheese land, WI.
When not lost in the fictional world of Skyrim, she can be found exploring typography, manipulating responsive DIVS, or with pen & paper in hand (figuratively though, as she uses Google Docs much more often), writing her New Adult novels.
She considers herself a designer by nature and writing at heart, though she always wanted to make video game walk-throughs as a child.
Ashley’s favorite color is chartreuse, and she has an undeniable attraction to moss (not of the Kate variety).
For my blog today, I’m thrilled to introduce Ashley Ruggirello.  As founder of REUTS Publications as well as a freelance cover artist, Ashley has enthusiastically agreed to hang out on my Writer’s Block for a bit to talk about her roles in the publishing realm.  Welcome, Ashley!

Ashley Ruggirello: Thank you so much for having me, Susan! I’m excited to share an inside look at what I do, why I do it, and how REUTS differs from others, so thank you for the opportunity :) I hope my ramblings make sense…

Susan: Tell us about your background, and what brought you to become a cover artist and founder of REUTS Publications.

Ashley Ruggirello: To be honest, my educational background is in web design and IT. After I completed my education I entered the advertising industry working for one of the top 25 largest independent advertising agencies, located in Wisconsin. All my design experience is self-taught, if you’d believe it! I’ve been going at it for over ten years now, learning and adapting to the changes in design and business as I go. Being a writer for even longer, starting REUTS in 2012 just seemed like the perfect coupling of my two passions: writing and design.

Susan: I read in another interview you did recently, that you started REUTS Publications out of a personal desire to build a publishing company that filled the gaps of what you felt was missing in the industry.   Have there been any surprises along the way, good, bad or otherwise?

Ashley Ruggirello: There have been a lot of positive surprises and learning lessons throughout the two years of REUTS’s existence, though I have a feeling the negative will be a little more insightful. I think what’s hardest to realize–and avoid–is becoming cynical and jaded toward the publishing industry and author expectations. That’s not to say I hate, or even strongly dislike either, being an author myself I could never, but it’s the conscious effort to–in light of negativity, delays, pestering, etc…–to stay positive. The whole point of REUTS was to be a beacon of light, an escape, if you will, from all the iron clad, locked-tight companies who make up the publishing industry. There’s a lot of talent out there, on both sides of the book, but sometimes it’s easy to forget where you started, and where you’ve come from. That’s something I hope I never lose, no matter how the industry changes. It’s an important part of REUTS, and an important part of who I am.

360: a few positives–the way the community has embraced such a unique, young boutique publishing company such as REUTS has been overwhelming. I still have to pinch myself (or request the pinching be done by our Editorial Director, and one of my best friends, Kisa) because all the love and support is incredible.

It’s also very cool to see a book from start-to-finish. When it’s your own book it’s exciting, but when it’s someone elses and the excitement just seems to jump off your computer screen, it’s nearly impossible to not be happy and excited.

Susan: As a cover artist for REUTS, what is your conceptual process? Do you automatically begin to visualize a cover concept as you read a manuscript for the first time, or do you wait until the end of the manuscript to make a plan?

Ashley Ruggirello: I can’t say I really have one. Each cover design project is unique in its own way, with unique challenges and creative opportunities. To put each book into a boxed process and try to make it work wouldn’t be fair to the author, my inspiration or the book itself. Although I approach each cover design the same way (which I’ll mention more in the next question), the process to follow is completely dependent on the creative direction we agree upon.

To answer your second question, yes! I gather ideas as soon as I start reading, sometimes from the title alone (which I know isn’t fair, but I just can’t help it!) There are many times when discussing a manuscript I’m quick to announce “I CAN’T WAIT TO DESIGN FOR THIS,” usually in all caps, too. That’s one of the factors I judge a manuscript based-upon, though I’ll get to that, later ;)

Susan: How involved can the author be in the cover design process?

Ashley Ruggirello: I’m sure it’s different for other pubs, big or small, but when it comes to REUTS’s cover design process the authors have a say from the get-go. When an author is working with me, each cover design process begins with one simple (albeit broad as all heck) question: What would your ideal cover look like? See; one sentence, only seven words, and it’s meant to encompass so much. How are you supposed to fit–let alone describe–a complete story in one image? That’s the most exciting and most terrifying challenge to cover art and, to be honest, I put that on the author, first. Before I share any of my own ideas I like to see what an author would like, and then further discussing what’s best both for the book and the intended marketing, I work directly with an author to tweak and perfect their brand. That’s what it really is–a brand. Given my background in advertising I’m able to treat it as such and create the author’s best first impression for both themselves and their story.

Susan: I’ve said this before, but REUTS covers are amazing, and in the world of books, the cover can be the most important aspect. For example, I am more likely to pick up a book in a store if the cover grabs me from the shelf. What do you do to keep your cover ideas fresh?

Ashley Ruggirello: Thank you so much :) There’s a lot of self-doubt when creative a new cover, so the positive feedback is always appreciated and is absorbed to my core. I always feel like my designs look like they’ve been designed by me–as if they carry my “signature style” or something–so I’m not sure how fresh they might be considered in the grand scheme of things. I guess if you were to check out the REUTS book page, no two covers look identical, huh? So I must be doing something right ;) I think it all comes down to spending all day, every day on the computer, and looking at pretty pictures. That’s sort of the broad way to put it, but it’s essentially true; I’m on the computer about fourteen hours of my day, and that leaves me with a lot of time to browse for inspiration. I frequent websites like DeviantArt.com (for all around artistic inspriation), WebCreme.com (for website-based inspration) and Goodreads.com (for book cover inspiration). There are so many different styles and options and directions, it’s easy to get lost in the world of pretty pictures (I know I do on a daily basis).

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is to constantly evolve to something new–don’t do the same thing you did last time, but instead push outside of the box and just see what happens. I’ve found that some of the best experiences/designs/etc… come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. I try to do that as much as possible, even when it comes to cover art.

Susan: Kisa Whipkey, REUTS Editorial Director, commented in our recent interview that when a submission comes in, the editor, marketing specialist and cover artist, chime in to determine the manuscript’s fate. What makes a good submission, from the point of view of the cover artist?

Ashley Ruggirello: I started mentioning it above, and it’s if, while reading, I can visualize a book in my mind’s eye. There’s a level of intuition that comes with working in both acquisitions and the creative department. If I’m struggling to find a central image, or even the beginnings of what might be the cover art, it sets off my Spidey Senses and may not be the best fit in my perspective. In publishing a book there are so many pieces of the puzzle that need to come together–editorial, marketing, cover art, etc…–and if one piece of the puzzle doesn’t fit, you can’t force it.

Susan: You also work as a freelance cover artist. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Does that role differ from your role at REUTS?

Ashley Ruggirello: They don’t differ much, though what I’ve found to be the most challenging is designing for a book I’ve never read. Because I’m a part of the Acquisitions Team at REUTS I read every book we eventually sign. Most of the time I’m designing while I’m reading; picking out scenes, symbols, imagery I can eventually use when it comes to the cover art phase. That’s different as a freelance cover artist because I simply don’t have time to read another full manuscript, so I’m left to design off of a synopsis and the author’s interpretation. Sometimes it’s great! I can create exactly what the author requests. Other times it’s a bit more difficult because we can’t seem to line up the images in both our mind’s eye.

Susan: Do your cover designs have their genesis with pencil and paper, or mouse and screen?   Does it depend on the book?

Ashley Ruggirello: I know a lot of artists begin with a sketch. For web design (my educational background) it’s with a website wireframe. Of course I tend to go against the grain when it comes to design and I absolutely have to just jump right into the creation process. I’ve never been one to sketch, outline, etc… You could say I’m a panster opposed to a planner, in all aspects of life. So after I have even a loose idea of what a cover might look at, I have to just get started messing around in Photoshop. To channel a little bit of Bob Ross, a lot of my designs end up being “happy little accidents;” just me, tinkering in Photoshop to see if something will look good. Most of the time it doesn’t, as any guess-and-check process goes, but when the pieces do come together–it’s magic!

Susan: Is there anything else you would like my readers to know, either about the acquisitions process at REUTS, or about your experiences as a cover artist in general?

Ashley Ruggirello: We try to break free of the industry norm, but in all the good ways. Sure, it takes a lot of time, but dedicating time to each manuscript, to treat each author as a human being, not just the shell that created something, is really important to me, and to REUTS. And it does. It takes a lot of time responding to emails individually, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The moment you become a robot, which is essentially what a form response turns you into, you lose a little bit of your humanity, your compassion, and that’s very hard to gain back.

And then, I think if there’s one thing I could tell someone entering the cover art phase with their artist, it’s to not sweat the small stuff. Most of the time a piece will be rough for many, MANY rounds. If something looks off in round one, and it’s still there by round three, know that your artist is aware of it, and is waiting to put the final polishing touches on once they have your design approval. The reason designers don’t get the polishing done at the start is simple: things change. A lot. It’s more important to get the BIG idea down and then fine tune the details, than create a print-ready cover for each version. It just makes sense! So have no fear, your cover artist is looking out for your best interest. Always. :)

 

Thank you so much for having me, Susan! You may not think much of it, but you’re really awesome at interviews, and your questions are inspirational! I appreciate the space to let me go on and on and on about what I do, and I hope others found it useful :)

If anyone wants to keep the conversation flowing, I can be found on Twitter (@amRuggs) and like to tweet about memes, cats and booze, sometimes all at once!

Susan: This was a real pleasure, Ashley. I appreciate the time, and I’m sure my readers do, too!

 
Ashley Ruggirello can be found on:

As Ashley suggested, let’s keep the conversation going! Are there other aspects of the publishing world or writing in general that you would like to see here on S.M. Nystoriak’s Writer’s Block? Let me know in the comment section!

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Monday Musings: The Waiting Game

smnystoriak:

This has some great tips. The waiting game is so tough when you are querying or out on submission. Thanks, Amy Trueblood!

Originally posted on chasingthecrazies:

I have a confession to make: I suck at waiting.  No matter how hard I try to have patience, I’ve realized over the years I wasn’t built for it.  When I was young, I hated waiting for the swings on the playground. My little feet trudged back and forth in and out of the sand, eyeing each playful student until someone finally got tired of my laser-like stares and gave me their swing.

In high school when I tried out for teams, I wore  a hole in the dirty blue carpet, pacing in front of the coaches office waiting for them to post the junior varsity or varsity list.

There’s an irony in all of this –  that I chose writing as a career – the most notorious of job paths for waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

I wish I could say I’ve gotten better over the years. Matured enough to let the impatience…

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Calling all Authors: Chime in with your story!

Recently, I posted an interview here concerning the process of acquisitions as it pertained to a small publisher.  Kisa Whipkey, managing editor at REUTS shared their process here:  http://wp.me/p35Mk4-gn.  I will be interviewing their cover artist and owner soon, so be sure not to miss that!  It’s been wonderful and enlightening, to say the least.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed yet is this:  As the author, what comes next?

Imagine this scenario (many of you won’t have to dig too deeply because you have lived this!):  You’ve been in the query trenches for a really long time, and finally your beauty of a submission gets picked up by a publisher.  I’m sure there is a lot of excitement.  But when all the confetti finally lands on the floor, what was your next step?  As the author, I’m sure contracts needed to be signed, more edits needed to be made, etc.  until eventually your book baby found its way to the public.

Here is where you come in.  I’d love to hear your stories!  Once accepted by a publisher, whichever publisher it was, what were/are your next steps?  Were there any obstacles during this phase?  Everybody’s path to publication is different, and hearing these stories is not only interesting, but very inspiring.

So bring it on, authors!  Share your literary success stories with my readers!  The comment section is ready and waiting to hear from you.

Thanks a million!

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Acquisitions and Publishing: Demystified! An Interview with Editor Kisa Whipkey

KisaWhipkeyAccording to Kisa Whipkey’s Twitter blurb, she is a “Fantasy Author | Artist | Freelance Editor | Martial Arts Demo Team Expert | Editorial Director for REUTS Publications”.

As the editorial director for REUTS Publications, she has the opportunity to seek out new books and authors, as well as discover them in her slush pile inbox.

Today I have the pleasure to talk to her about the many hats she wears, and in the process, perhaps we can unravel some of the mystery surrounding what it is like on the “other” side of publishing, from the point of view of an editor.

 

Susan: Welcome, Kisa! First off, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your extremely busy schedule to chat with me on my blog. Following you on Twitter, it is clear how busy you actually are! In my opening, I mentioned all of the hats you wear. It’s quite an interesting array!   Please tell us a little bit about those hats, and how wearing them during your life has led you to be the professional person you are today. Do you layer your hats simultaneously, or does each hat have a specific purpose in your professional life?

Kisa Whipkey: Thanks, Susan! And thank you so much for having me.

Hmm, hats. I suppose it does look like I wear a bunch, but really, I view it as only one, regardless of the medium I choose to work in—storytelling. In fact, when people ask me what I am (writer, artist, editor, etc.), I generally say I’m a storyteller. All of my passions, from art and animation, to writing, to martial arts demos (which are choreographed, costumed routines similar to dance) revolve around one simple mission: to tell a good story. So, on the surface, it may seem like I lead an eclectic and varied life, but really, only the creative forum changes. The foundational skill set stays the same.

How does that culminate into the person I am today? Well, if I’ve learned anything from my various pursuits, it’s that storytelling is definitely my calling. And I think that pursuing it through so many different formats has given me an advantage, an ability to see stories from many different angles, not just the presentation in front of me. I’m sure natural talent plays into it too (or so I’ve been told), but I think my background often helps me figure out the solutions to some of the toughest storytelling problems.

Susan: One of the reasons I began planning this interview stems from a Tweet you posted, about being nervous taking live pitches at a conference. Tell us a little bit about that. Was that conference the first time you had the opportunity to take live pitches? Did anything surprise you during the process? I’d love to know what that was like!

Kisa Whipkey: It was the first time I’ve done that, so it was incredibly nerve-racking. You described me as professional above, but honestly, I feel like the world’s biggest goober in person! (-5 professional points right there for using the word “goober,” haha.) I’m also not keen on crowds usually, so it was terrifying. I felt bad for the authors meeting me, because I think I was just as nervous as they were. But overall, the entire experience was pretty cool. I’m naturally enthusiastic about books and all things storytelling, so it made it easier for me to connect with people and put them at ease. I don’t pretend to be anything special; I’m just me.

I think that was the part that maybe surprised me the most—the way authors regard agents and editors. Like we’re these mystical beings up on our podiums passing judgment. The “us vs. them” mentality. I don’t see myself that way. I’m a person (and a book nerd), just like they are. Am I going to love every pitch that comes my way? No, probably not, but that doesn’t invalidate their work. It just means I’m not the right editor for it.

Susan: This next question reminds me of the old Schoolhouse Rock song about how a bill becomes a law! Many querying writers are mystified by “the slush pile”. What actually happens to queries once they arrive at REUTS Publications? Describe the process a query goes through en route to acceptance for publication. What happens to submissions that don’t automatically make the cut?

Kisa Whipkey: REUTS does things a little differently than other presses, I think. We do our acquisitions via a panel comprised of the four directors, rather than having dedicated (and solo) acquisitions editors. So when we receive a query, it actually goes to all four of us and is read by all. Each of us assesses it from our area of expertise—for example, I weigh in on behalf of the editorial department, outlining the editorial strategy and assessing the amount of work needed prior to publication, the Marketing Director assesses it for its viability in the market, the Creative Director assesses it from a design standpoint, etc. Each of us will cast our vote, and the final decision is based on a majority ruling. That’s why it takes us longer than some places to get through them all—that, and we actually make a point to read every query in its entirety.

Depending on the outcome of that panel decision, we’ll either request the full (and the process starts over again—all four of us read the full manuscripts as well), or we’ll send a rejection. We actually just did a blog post that outlines this process (as well as why it takes so long). You can find it here.

Susan: REUTS is beginning to have quite the collection of authors! Tell us about what kind of timeframe it took for those authors to get from query to publication.

Kisa Whipkey: It varies, honestly. There are so many factors that go into an acquisitions decision that there’s no cut and dry formula for how long it takes. I would love to say that it always takes X amount of weeks or months, but it’s much more fluid than that. Similarly, the time it takes from acceptance to release differs depending on the project and what it needs before publication. We try to keep that process under a year, but it really just depends.

Our stance is that we’d rather do the book justice and invest the time it takes to release a quality product than rush things out the door half-finished. The industry average for traditional publishing is about 2-3 years from the time you sign a contract to the day you see your book on a shelf. We’re faster than that, but it still takes anywhere from 6 months to a year and half.

Susan: Another mystery: What happens to a novel once it is accepted for publication? How does the road to publication continue? Is there another team that takes over? Do you, as editorial director, continue to work with the manuscript?

Kisa Whipkey: We’re still a fairly small staff, so the directors involved in the acquisitions decision are the people who will ultimately work on the books. Summer, our Marketing Director, is the one who works with the author on the marketing strategy, along with her amazing assistant, Tiffany. Ashley handles the cover design herself, and I do actually work on a select number of manuscripts, taking them through all the phases of editorial—structural editing, line editing, and final proofreading. We have four other talented editors as well, though, so I don’t handle all the projects. But I am in charge of making those assignments and overseeing them, so I suppose I’m involved at least a little.

Anyway, you asked what happens once a manuscript is accepted. Well, essentially, we divide and conquer. Editorial usually happens first, since it takes the longest, but while I work on that front, Ashley and Summer work on their sides of the project as well, so that, by the time the release rolls around, everything converges. The departments are autonomous, but we all work closely together to move a project toward release. It’s definitely a team effort.

Susan: REUTS’ books have beautiful covers! Do you personally have a hand in that, or does REUTS have a cover specialist? How does the design of the cover get decided?

Kisa Whipkey: Aren’t they amazing? I love our covers! The brilliant Ashley Ruggirello, REUTS founder and Creative Director, is responsible for all of them, so the credit goes entirely to her. I have very little to do with that process, other than to act as a sounding board if she needs one.

We pride ourselves on being author inclusive, so the cover designs are created with heavy input from the authors themselves. Ashley works closely with them to come up with the best vision for their book and then from there, she crafts the gorgeous gems you see on our digital shelves. You’d have to ask her for more ins and outs of the actual process, but that’s the simplified version. The author hands her a vision, and brilliance ensues.

Susan: Is there anything else you can think of that my readers might find interesting to know about what it’s like on the “other” side of publishing?

Kisa Whipkey: Oh, boy. Let’s see. It’s hard? And not nearly as glamorous as people think? Editors have one of the highest burn-out rates of any profession—if you survive longer than two years, you’re considered hard core. And I can see why. Publishing is hectic, and stressful, and you rarely ever feel like you’re on top of anything. Society tells us that editors sit around reading all day. They don’t; in fact, reading is at the bottom of the list most of the time. What we actually do all day is this: answer the incessant deluge of emails, juggle as many as 6-8 projects in various stages of completion (and yes, that’s simultaneously), answer more queries and questions and status update requests via social media, participate in writing events and give back to the writing community, edit some more, and then maybe, maybe read before we pass out from exhaustion.

So I suppose, what I’m trying to say is this: don’t believe the image society paints of what it’s like to be an editor. It’s not like that at all. And the best thing writers can do to engender better relationships with editors and publishers is to understand that, remember that we’re human too, and show us some consideration. Most of us do this because we love it. It’s not a job that pays exceedingly well, nor is it especially full of glory (most editors are lucky to even get a mention in an acknowledgements page). So why do we do it? Because we love books, we love the people who write books, and we genuinely want to help you bring those books into the world. It’s a job of passion. But even passion has its limits. Respect and appreciation go a long way on either side of the publishing fence. Which is a message you’ll hear from me a lot. Haha.

Susan: Before we end our interview today, I’d love it if you could tell us about some exciting things on the horizon for REUTS Publications.

Kisa Whipkey: It seems like there’s always something exciting in the works for REUTS. We’ve had some fantastic releases recently—Dare to Dream by Carys Jones and Sachael Dreams by Melody Winter—as well as some fabulous ones coming out this month too—Golden by Melinda Michaels and Gambit by C. L. Denault.

We also recently announced a three book deal with author J.M. Frey via Laurie McLean and Fuse Literary that we’re super excited about, along with a two book deal with bestselling author Katie Hamstead, and the sequel to everyone’s favorite uninteresting vampire, Fred (The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes, for those who haven’t met him yet.)

We’re also being featured all month long on Katie Hamstead’s blog, so everyone should go check that out—there will be giveaways and lots of interesting tidbits about the staff and authors. And we’ll be hosting our annual Project REUTSway short story contest later in the year. So yeah, we’re always up to something. Our website is the best place to find out exactly what we’ve got up our sleeves, but we’re also on Twitter and Facebook, so feel free to swing by and say hello. We love interacting with people, and I promise we don’t bite. ;)

 

Susan:  Thank you so much for stopping by my Writer’s Block!  Okay, readers, chime in with comments below!  I’d love to hear from you!

Kisa France 2009_2

Kisa Whipkey is a dark fantasy author, a martial arts demo team expert, and a complete sucker for Cadbury Mini-eggs. She’s also the Editorial Director for YA/NA publisher, REUTS Publications. She developed a passion for storytelling at a young age and has pursued that love through animation, writing, video game design and demo teams until finally finding her home in editing. She believes in good storytelling, regardless of medium, and applauds anything featuring a snarky lead character, a complicated narrative structure, and brilliant/uncommon analogies. Currently, she lives in the soggy Pacific Northwest with her husband and plethora of electronics.

Her personal blog–featuring sarcastic commentary on all things storytelling–is located at www.kisawhipkey.com. Or connect with her via Twitter: @kisawhipkey. And, of course, to learn more about REUTS Publications, please visit www.reuts.com.

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Step Right Up! Jonathan Dunne’s THE NOBODY SHOW

Jonathan Dunne is back!  As many of my readers know, I have been following the irony, humor and writing process of Jonathan Dunne through the years, and it has been a privilege to be along for the ride.  Please help me in welcoming him back to my Writer’s Block!

LDL photo                          The nobody show 2

Susan: As an aspiring writer myself, I would first like to congratulate you on the publication of your third novel, The Nobody Show!  That’s quite an accomplishment.

Jonathan: Thanks Susan, another year – the years are passing too fast for my liking.

Susan: I’d love to start off this interview having you share a little blurb about The Nobody Show.

Jonathan: The Nobody Show is about a man with a dream and a dream is a dream

Susan: One of the things I enjoy about your writing is how your “Narrator” includes “The Reader” in discussions.  You have done this in both Living Dead Lovers and The Nobody Show.  What inspired you to do that?

Jonathan: It just felt natural, Susan. I thought it might make the Reader feel a little closer to the action and narrator. For me, writing is a very personal thing and the story involves the reader so ‘Pull up a chair by the fire and let me tell you something…’

Susan: A great image. I would agree that your style does indeed bring the reader very close to the action! Another bit of interest I find in your books is how you seem to tie them all together, either with current characters mentioning your own previous books, mentioning characters from previous books which just so happen to live in the locale of your current story, or even tie-ins to the locations themselves, almost like a soap opera!  I know that your novels are not really a series, but in some ways, they could be!  What are your thoughts on that?

Jonathan: This is an interesting question and I’d like to address it by quoting a recent The Nobody Show review on Goodreads where the reviewer mentions: “Not sure how I feel about this level of self-promotion. It’s kind of cute and clever, but also kind of annoying…” To a degree, the reviewer is correct – I am an Indie writer after all and who else is going to promote my books? However, my first goal was to give a sense of place. All my stories occur, at some level, in the fictional town of Old Castle where the weird and wonderful happens. It just gives me a platform to work on and where I feel comfortable and I do mention this because everybody knows everybody in small towns and stories do overlap.

Susan: Brilliant! As I pointed out earlier, The Nobody Show is your third novel.  Did you follow the same writing process you followed for Balloon Animals and Living Dead Lovers?  If not, how was it different this time around?

Jonathan: Same process…writing 1 or 2 hours as early in the morning as I can, 7 days a week.

Susan: During the writing process of The Nobody Show, you took to YouTube for some candor about it.  Here is a link to your channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbUM1w1Jt7j1dFhtrJha9vQ/videos I liked that!  As a fan, it made the wait time seem to go more quickly.  What prompted you to share those short on-screen chats on the internet?  Is it something you will continue?

Jonathan: I’m not too sure about this YouTube thing. I just felt that it was an extra tool at the time to get the word out. Now and again, I like to upload a short video explaining (trying to) some aspects of my writing process. Don’t know if it’s of interest to anybody, but sometimes it helps me think when speaking aloud (and to myself). I know that I would like ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff from a writer I like because it always helps understand the writer and the book a little better.

Susan: Absolutely. The Nobody Show adheres to the comedic quality that we all have known and loved from your previous works.  However, it is noticeably longer.  Was that change intentional, or did the story just present itself that way to you?

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s too long! I get it! J It wasn’t intentional but I didn’t know how to wrap it up. It finished at its natural ending, I feel. If anything, I think I cut short some characters which deserved more page-time.

Susan: In my review of The Nobody Show, here http://www.amazon.com/review/R1Y1Q1ZPMZAGRD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm I mention the depth of storyline.  Nice job on that!   Was Arthur Lawless a character you connected with on a deeper level than other characters of your previous novels?

Jonathan: I connected with Arthur as I have connected with Cabbage in LDL and Jonny Rowe in BA. All these characters are idealists and trying to make sense of the world they find themselves in. They are genuine and honest in their struggle and I think that comes across in the writing – how many times have I read, ‘it’s a crazy story but strangely believable’ in a review of one of my books.

Susan: In the last interview we had together, http://www.amazon.com/review/R10F3FSXFTU5LM/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00H881V14 I asked if you had a favorite character.  In your response, you mentioned that it was like parenthood, in that you simply couldn’t have a favorite among your children.  But The Nobody Show has such a unique cast!  Would you still answer my question about favorites the same way?

Jonathan: Yep! But maybe you get to know some children better than others…

Susan: Lastly, do you have another novel in the works?  If so, could you possibly spare a tiny hint for me and my readers?

Jonathan: I am answering this question at a cross-roads in my writing endeavors. I am playing with an idea for a new book that would be in keeping with what you’ve read previously. On the other hand, I’d love to write a book for kids but it just doesn’t seem to happen for me, maybe it just isn’t me. I do tend to look at the world through a child’s eyes (I think) but writing for children seems to evade me and it doesn’t feel organic. I suppose my books to date do have an off-kilter, even child-like absurdity to them – I’ve read ‘immature’ in reviews so let’s see. Whatever it is will have to be from the heart because I’ll drop it if it feels fake to me.

Thank you so much, Jonathan! As always, it’s been a pleasure. Good luck to you and your writing, whatever form the books happen to take, novel or otherwise.

Let’s Connect!  I’d love to know if any of my readers connect to one of their characters more than others.  If so or if not, leave a comment below :)

 

Jonathan can be found in the following locations:

Goodreads:

http://www.goodreads.com/JonathanDunne

 

Website:

http://jonathanwdunne.wordpress.com/

 

Twitter:

@WriterJDunne

Jonathan’s Amazon Page:

http://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Dunne/… Jonathan’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jonath…

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