Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Archive for August, 2014

Author Collaboration, For Better or Worse

Author collaboration 2NorLightsPress has published several books as collaborations between two authors and/or artists. In most cases this is a win-win-win situation, but not always. A few of our authors have ended up hating each other. A book partnership can quickly turn dysfunctional when the partners fail to work out certain things in advance.  Then they find themselves squabbling over a book that binds them together, for better or worse. Consider these possible scenarios:

You write the entire book and then your partner decides it shouldn’t be published, for whatever reason.

Your partner decides she wants cash up front from you (a buyout) instead of half the royalties.

Your partner doesn’t meet deadlines and you end up doing most of the work, yet she still wants her name on the book and half the royalties.

You and your partner can’t agree whether to self- publish or seek a traditional publisher.

Your partner is obsessive about details and you’re the opposite. You drive each other nuts.

Your partner turns out to be crazy. (This happens more often than you’d believe).

At NorLightsPress, we suffer along with the authors when personal feuds erupt. If a publisher senses there will be legal issues over royalties, negative comments in social media, and overall bad feelings about a book—they will cancel your book contract in a heartbeat.

How can authors avoid collaboration hell? The post below from Helen Sedwick is the best advice I’ve seen for working with other writers, artists, and editors.

21 Tips for Creating a Successful Writing Collaboration

Author collaboration 1 By Helen Sedwick for TheBookDesigner.com (Joel Friedlander’s excellent web page)

When a writing collaboration works, partners inspire and complement one other. The creative process is less lonely. But when collaborations fail, the drama may be as ugly as a Hollywood divorce.

For every successful writing partnership, there are dozens of failed ones despite the best of intentions. Not everyone is a team player, and not every team is a winner.

To improve the odds of a successful writing partnership take the time to put the collaboration agreement in writing. Most people resist this idea. Like a prenuptial agreement, it kills the romance. They don’t realize the process of preparing an agreement may be more valuable than the result. If writers do a good job discussing issues at the start, they are less likely to have misunderstandings later.

Making Decisions

So before you jump into a co-writing project, discuss and write out the following:

  1. Describe the Project
    Fiction, nonfiction, memoir? Try to craft your elevator speech. Even better, create an outline.
  2. Draw a Creations Box
    I mean this literally. Draw a box and write down what creations are inside the box (and project) and what creations are outside the box and may be used by the partners separately. Sequels, prequels, and competitive works? What about rejected ideas, characters, and scenes?
  3. Discuss Personal Goals
    The most successful partners share common goals. If one partner’s objective is to make money with a genre piece and the other dreams of creating literature, expect friction. I suppose the partners might agree that their diverging goals will be complementary, but head-butting may be unavoidable.
  4. Describe the Writing Process
    Will one partner write out the story in narrative form, and the other flesh out scenes and dialogue? Will you draft chapters and trade them for comments? Some writers work well brainstorming together; others prefer a silent room. How often and how will you meet?
  5. Set Ground Rules for Critiques
    How will you give and receive criticism and comments? Some partners handle bluntness and sarcasm without missing a beat, but most require a gentler touch. The longer you work together, the easier it gets. Remember your partner’s criticism may be a gift; she cares enough to help make the work better.
  6. Set Realistic Deadlines
    Expect the project to take at least twice as long as planned.
  7. Specify Ownership
    Unless you agree otherwise, all partners own equal shares in jointly-created work. Plus each partner has the power to sell or license the work without the other partner’s consent (although income must be shared). Yes, a partner who contributes 5% gets an equal share UNLESS you agree otherwise. Put your ownership percentages in writing. Agree that no partner may sell, license, or transfer any interest in the project without the consent of the other partner. Register the copyright under all names, or the pen name, or all of the above.
  8. Allocate Income
    I recommend the partner who had the original idea own the majority interest, even if it is a token amount (51%/49% split). That little bit saves resentment later. If one partner handles readings and conferences that partner should keep a larger portion of sales made at the events.
  9. Decide on Credits
    Will both names appear on the work and in what order? Will credits be listed as A and B, A with B, or A as told to B? Will you use a pen name?
  10. Deal With Expenses
    If one partner pays for research, editing, design, and marketing, does that partner recoup expenses before income is shared? If income never covers expenses, does the other partner kick in his share?
  11. Assign Non-Writing Tasks
    Who will engage editors and designers, negotiate contracts, handle interviews, and manage social media? Assign tasks. Don’t take the shortcut of saying responsibilities will be shared equally. It never happens. People gravitate to the tasks they do better, and unpleasant work will be left undone.
  12. Plan for Conflict
    You will have disagreements. View them as a sign that something is not working in the manuscript. Listen to each other. Let go of your ego, and look at the problem a new way, your partner’s way. If you cannot agree, decide up front who gets the final say. If the project was one partner’s idea, typically that partner decides. Or pick a third party trusted by both sides.
  13. No Door Slamming
    Agree that neither of you will quit without giving the other party notice of what’s not working and a chance to fix it. Respect requests for cooling-off periods.
  14. Address Legal Responsibilities
    Each partner should promise that all work contributed will be original, will not be defamatory or infringing, and will not invade privacy or other rights. If the partner breaches, that partner should cover costs and liabilities. Don’t be foolish about this. If your partner introduces material you suspect is problematic, rewrite it or reject it. No matter what your agreement says, both of you may be responsible to third parties.
  15. Call it a Collaboration
    Although I have referred to writing partners, the agreement should state that the parties are collaborating for a specified project and are not creating a general partnership.
  16. Face Death or Disability
    What if one of you gets hit by the proverbial bus? Does the other have the right to finish the project with an equitable adjustment in ownership and income? Does all decision-making authority transfer to the surviving partner, or will the heirs or representatives of the deceased or disabled partner have a say?
  17. Deal with Termination
    If the partnership terminates, who owns the work? Who has the right to complete the project? There are no right answers here. The partners need to talk this out.

Respect and Communicationauthor collaboration 3

A writing partnership is like any other relationship; it thrives on respect and communication. As you work on the project, keep the following in mind:

  1. Nip Resentment in the Bud
    If you are feeling unfairly burdened, take the chance of bringing it up. The sooner the better.
  2. Let the little stuff slide
    Entering into a collaboration involves giving up some control. Your partner may have a different approach to a scene, character, or problem. Consider that a good thing. This is why you are working as a team. Laugh together, especially when everything is going wrong.
  3. Reward Yourselves
    When you finish each chapter, share a bottle of champagne. When you complete the first draft, take yourselves out to dinner.
  4. Keep Communicating
    Years ago, a friend told me the motto of a happy marriage: “I can’t read your f**king mind!” The same is true in writing collaborations.

Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014. She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

A great investment for writers

A great investment for writers

New review of Dialogue for Writers

This is a wonderful little book. I’ve published five books — three medical books and two literary books — and I thought I had figured it all out,until I ran into this little treasure titled: Dialogue For Writers. Like Justesen, I too learned that clumsy substitutes for the verb “said” interrupt the flow, but that became even more clear when I read this comprehensive book — an absolutely must-have tool for every would-be author. This book can transform a writer into an author, so every writer must have this precious book on their desk. The book reminded me of another essential book every author must have: Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style– yes, that’s where this book fits in terms of utility.

I was surprised at the fluidity of this how-to book.  That’s because Justesen sounds like an admonishing, warm teacher; as if she is talking to you, saying “Oh,c’mon! you can do better than that !” No I’ll always remember that my character’s words are the most important elements of their personalities–without lengthy taglines or repetitive adverbs.

Justesen makes convincing arguments and cites apropos examples to convince readers about following book-saving, story-salvaging points:

1.First person lends itself well to internal monologue, but don’t fall in love with the character’s lengthy internal thoughts.
2.Use Silence. Sometime it reveals more than what could be said by a plethora of words (What? this comes from an author of the book on dialogue? Correct! It shows Sammie’s honesty and forthrightness).
3.It’s okay to use disjointed, broken sentences because that’s how people normally talk.
4.Make sure character’s speech sounds natural and reflects his/her personality, background and circumstances.
5. And finally, use dialects and slang sparingly, because alittle goes a long way.

Reading this book was a delight. It does not have the plot of a thriller or mystery but it is so funny, so convincing and at the same time so educating. It was an enjoyable, rewarding experience. I recommend this book to writers as well as non-writers, or to anyone who wants to effectively communicate by using just the right word at the right time with just the right emphasis.

Kudos to Sanmie Justesen.     –Sattar Memon, M.D.

Villains: The People we Love to Hate

Villain 1In fiction, the second most important character (after you create a hero or heroine) is the villain. This person forms a contrast to all the good people in your book. The stronger he is, the better they look and the harder they must work to defeat him.

Your villain. . .

  1. Should be smarter and craftier than the average person—maybe even smarter than the main character.  She is definitely capable of overcoming your protagonist.
  2. Can be lucky.  The main character has nothing but bad luck, but things go well for the villain until the end, when he’s defeated.
  3. Should be significantly bad. No one wants a lackluster villain.
  4. Can be anyone who has the potential to do serious harm to your hero. Sometimes the best villains are the ones we least expect.
  5. Must have believable motivation for his actions. Evil and greed aren’t good enough. You must dig deeper into the psyche.
  6. Feels his actions are completely justified.
  7. Shouldn’t be all bad. The best villains show a human side that almost makes us feel sorry for them. At the very least, we understand why they’re so bad. Consider Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
  8.  Should not be a cliché. The wicked stepmother, the other woman, a crazy ex-husband, the psychotic who moves in next door—you can probably name half a dozen candidates. If you decide to use these tried-and-true villains, find ways to make them different and believable.
  9. Needs a distinct voice.
  10. Needs closure, just as your hero does. By the end of the story your villain should accept defeat, see the error of his ways, or be  killed. Unless you’re doing a sequel, of course.

But what if your story doesn’t have a human antagonist? Perhaps you’re writing a disaster tale where the “evil” force is a tornado, the sea itself, a meteor, a shark (think JAWS), or killer lions (The Ghost and the Darkness).You have two options: 1) give your dark forces human qualities, and 2) develop a secondary antagonist to work against your hero. This secondary person will add to your hero’s problems and make the story more harrowing.

Even if you don’t use dark forces or villains, in order to shine, your characters need obstacles to overcome and things working against them. The dark force may be within your hero’s mind or part of his history, but it can still be powerful and disabling. Your hero will be much more interesting with personal issues to overcome.

Writing Tips

Make a list of your favorite villains and consider what made them memorable for you. Your story may not have room for an arch villain like Darth Vadar—he would overwhelm the other characters—but you need people who Villain 2act in villainous ways.

Give your villain chances to compromise, be reasonable, or change. In spite of this, she will continue to obstruct the heroine and cause problems, and your readers will feel sympathy for the heroine.

Instead of weighing down the villain with backstory (a bad childhood, abuse, and other clichés), show him interacting with people in an ordinary way. Maybe he loves animals or children. Perhaps he’s afraid of the dark. Give him interesting traits.

No matter who you choose for a villain, this person (or thing) is your catalyst of external conflict  who stands between your heroine and her ultimate goal. This villain must carry a heavy load in your story, because he’s the one who raises the stakes and creates a sense of dread, danger, and suspense. Where would you be without him?

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

A great investment for writers

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

New review of Dialogue for Writers

This is a wonderful little book. I’ve published five books — three medical books and two literary books — and I thought I had figured it all out,until I ran into this little treasure titled: Dialogue For Writers. Like Justesen, I too learned that clumsy substitutes for the verb “said” interrupt the flow, but that became even more clear when I read this comprehensive book — an absolutely must-have tool for every would-be author. This book can transform a writer into an author, so every writer must have this precious book on their desk. The book reminded me of another essential book every author must have: Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style— yes, that’s where this book fits in terms of utility.

I was surprised at the fluidity of this how-to book.  That’s because Justesen sounds like an admonishing, warm teacher; as if she is talking to you, saying “Oh,c’mon! you can do better than that !” No I’ll always remember that my character’s words are the most important elements of their personalities–without lengthy taglines or repetitive adverbs.

Justesen makes convincing arguments and cites apropos examples to convince readers about following book-saving, story-salvaging points:

1.First person lends itself well to internal monologue, but don’t fall in love with the character’s lengthy internal thoughts.
2.Use Silence. Sometime it reveals more than what could be said by a plethora of words (What? this comes from an author of the book on dialogue? Correct! It shows Sammie’s honesty and forthrightness).
3.It’s okay to use disjointed, broken sentences because that’s how people normally talk.
4.Make sure character’s speech sounds natural and reflects his/her personality, background and circumstances.
5. And finally, use dialects and slang sparingly, because alittle goes a long way.

Reading this book was a delight. It does not have the plot of a thriller or mystery but it is so funny, so convincing and at the same time so educating. It was an enjoyable, rewarding experience. I recommend this book to writers as well as non-writers, or to anyone who wants to effectively communicate by using just the right word at the right time with just the right emphasis.

Kudos to Sanmie Justesen.     –Sattar Memon, M.D.

I’m Still NOT Sorry!

sorryIn my last blog entry, I made a public vow to stop apologizing so often. Saying “I’m sorry” half a dozen times a day had become a habit for me—and for millions of other people, according to media reports.

Avoiding the sorry words has been cathartic. Over the past week I didn’t apologize to any of my friends or family, in writing or in person, for much of anything. I didn’t even apologize when I was wrong.  Did the world collapse? Did I lose friends and gain enemies?

None of the above. To my surprise, no one seemed to notice. When I simply admitted my mistakes and accepted responsibility without apologizing or groveling, I felt better about myself.  And the energy I gained by not feeling guilty allowed me to reflect on apologies in general:

Bad Behavior: The more times you say you’re sorry, the less it means—especially if you don’t alter the offending behavior. Apologizing for minor transgressions can become a way of excusing yourself for continuing bad behavior. For example, a certain person in my life sends emails and text messages that begin with “I’m so sorry,” and end with –

  •  “I’m running late” (again).
  • “Can we postpone until next week” (again)?
  • “I forgot to call you” (again).
  • “I didn’t check my messages” (again).
  • “I’ll mail your gift tomorrow” (not).

These apologies are annoying because I know the underlying behavior won’t change. This is manipulative apologizing. I feel angry about the empty apology, but if I refuse to accept it, I seem unreasonable. So sorryIf you’re writing a novel and want to create an exasperating character, try using this person as your model.

Avoiding Conflict: I dislike conflict and sometimes find myself apologizing quickly to avoid an argument. I know this is a short term solution that glosses over underlying issues and may lead to an unbalanced relationship. Instead, I should try and identify the real problem. I truly hope I’ll never again say, “I’m sorry. Are you mad at me?”

Fight the need to apologize first because you want to be the good guy. Let people take responsibility for their actions.

And that leads to another point: By apologizing, you can make an issue out of something people don’t care about. Did anyone notice when you slipped into the meeting ten minutes late? Was the waitress upset when you asked for extra napkins? Is the person sitting beside you on the subway even aware of your large bags?

Things I don’t want to ever say again:

  • I’m sorry you have a headache.
  • I’m sorry you bumped into me.
  • I’m sorry my coughing (which I can’t help) disturbs your sleep.

Quotes about Apologizing:  

sorry “It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”  — P.G. Wodehouse, The Man Upstairs and Other Stories

“Why do women say “I’m sorry” so much? One of my favorite self-love sermons is this: Resist saying ‘I’m sorry’ so often. You are not “sorry.” You are magnificent beyond measure, perfect in your imperfections, and wonderfully made.”  –Abioloa Abrams, The Sacred Bombshell Handbook of Self-Love

“Saying sorry too much is an anchor on your upward mobility.” –Aimee Cohen, Woman Up! Overcome the 7 Deadly Sins That Sabotage Your Success

I’ve decided to continue boycotting the words “I’m sorry” and reserve them for appropriate situations. A true apology calls for more than words; it should include genuine feelings of remorse, accepting responsibility, willingness to make amends, and an explanation that doesn’t include lame excuses.  An excellent article in Psychology Today by Juliana Breines offers suggestions for keeping apologies in check:

sorry 3

1. Say “thank you” instead. When your roommate or significant other does the dishes, rather than apologizing for not having done them yourself (which just burdens them with the need to reassure you), express your gratitude (which makes them feel happy and appreciated, and probably more apt to voluntarily do the dishes again later). This only applies, of course, when you generally do your share of the chores–if your roommate is in a huff because your never help out, thanking them for what they really should not have had to do may only annoy them further.

2. Save it. Saying sorry too much can trivialize the act of apology, making the important ones carry less weight. Don’t cry wolf–save it for when you really need it, and mean it.

3. Try not to mess up in the first place. Easier said than done, of course. But if you know you have a (preventable) bad habit that negatively affects other people, better to try to avoid doing it in the first place, or at least avoid repeating it, rather than just apologizing after the fact.

4. Know where to draw the line. Apologize for your role in a negative event, but leave it at that. If you’re someone who likes to make amends and resolve conflict right away, it may be tempting to apologize for more than your share just to smooth everything over. But doing this can lead you to feel resentful and can let others off the hook too easily.

5. Embrace your imperfections. You don’t have to apologize for having a bad hair day, for spilling on your shirt, or for needing three attempts to parallel park.

Sammie Justesen is a publisher and the author of Dialogue for Writers, released in May, 2014.

A great investment for writers

She is also an artist and president of the Lawrence County Art Association.

New reviews of Dialogue for Writers

Starting with a comfortable and clear introduction, Dialogue for Writers is great book for anyone wanting to learn, ramp up, or revisit dialogue in their writing. Well-written, organized, and filled with examples, there’s tips and techniques for every major genre of writing – from memoirs to graphic novels.

Dialogue for Writers covers the basic how-to information for writing dialogue, and then the author expands the topic. She discuss other aspects of writing, such as “show, don’t tell,” the temptation to over-use adverbs, and how to find the best dialogue tags. My favorite section covers dialogue for different genres, including journalism, family history, memoir, and even poetry. This is a book I’ll keep nearby and use often.

 

 

 

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