Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do You Have a Permission Slip?

A writer spends hours, weeks, and sometimes years bending over the keyboard or typewriter, suffering over sentences, scenes, and characters, creating his or masterpiece. One day, this writer reaches the end of the story. The draft is complete, the hard work is done.

Not so fast.
If you intend to get this tome published, the work has only begun, you foolish, silly writer.  There are steps they don't tell you in writer school.

First, this mass of pages is not a book. It's a draft, and if it's the first draft, likely a grainy one. But here is your chance to revisit your characters and sharpen the focus. Here you will delete scenes, correct typos, supplant repeated use verbs and phrases, and make it readable.

Next you will need to find a trusted reader or readers who will truthfully tell you what works, what doesn't, and why. Find at least one reader who writes well and is willing to be brutally honest.

You will revise and edit. If you are a typo queen, as am I, you will be smart to hire an editor before you submit or pitch this novel. This is money well spent, because this editor can also offer critical advice.

You are now ready to sell it.
You've go through the revision and the dreaded submission process. You form a band called Query Street and the Screaming Synopsis… no wait, you don’t have time to perform in a rock band.
You get a book contract (yay, ego boost) and are working with an editor who loves your book and has great plans for you. You have a due date for your final mss and a publication date.
Now is not the time to lie on the beach, dreaming of the Yacht you plan to buy with your millions…..Okay, advances aren’t what they used to be unless you’re James Patterson. But still, the hard part is over now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

It is up to the author to secure Permissions. Unlike writing a research paper or master’s thesis where supplying a bibliography will suffice, if you quote from another work, say a song, a poem or a novel, you must have written permission from whoever holds the rights to the work.

This can be tricky, because sometimes the publisher holds the rights, but there are caveats as to how works can be used. Even though the Nobel Laureate died in 1973, he left no heirs, so the Neruda foundation in Barcelona, Spain handles this negotiation.

Permissions aren’t always free. The foundation asked for a thousand dollars to use one poem, and two lines from two of Neruda’s poems. My book is called Breakfast with Neruda, so I need at least some quotes, so we settled on a much smaller amount to use two lines from two separate poems. My original draft opened every chapter with a Neruda quote, which in retrospect would have cost me more than my condo. (Luckily an early reader said, while she loved the poems, she felt opening each chapter like that was heavy handed.)

Permissions can be a wild sheep chase. I quoted another author, and the publisher told me to contact the agency, so I wrote to him, and he told to contact the publisher. I ended up deleting this quote.

I had planned to use an excerpt from a song, but the record company doesn't own the rights, and had no idea who did. Scratch that. I just name the song.

The author of a poem I planned to use in the final chapter died three years ago, and I had no idea where to contact her heirs. I sent a condolence note on the funeral home page, but I’m not sure people check those after the first few months of the loved one’s passing. I didn’t after my brother and father passed.

Working on permissions isn't as soul wrenching as writing a query and opening the flurry of rejections, but it keeps me from writing, so it feels like work.

The benefit of permissions. Obviously getting permission protects you from lawsuits and possible scandal, but it also helped me reconsider some of my decisions. Rejecting some of my content opened me up to look at alternatives.

I’ve gone through revision and editing, and I have approved the cover art, (smaller houses sometimes give authors input on their covers. Big houses don't.) The next step is the dreaded author photo. I stumbled upon a photographer who claims she can make me look twenty years younger...

Writing the novel was the easy part.

Happy Writing.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Latest Writing Adventure

Anyone who knows me well knows I don’t have much sense, so it’s no surprise I signed up for an eight week course where I hope to have completed a draft of another novel. The final manuscript of Breakfast With Neruda is submitted, the draft of its sequel is tweaked, and book three is begging to be written. So why not?

How Writers Write Fiction is an annual event sponsored by the University of Iowa, known for producing noted writers such as Robert Olen Butler, Flannery O’Connor, and Rita Dove. The class is being led by poet and essayist Christopher Merrill and novelist Angela Flourney. Best of all, the class is free. (There’s an option to take it for a certificate of completion for $50.00.)

For the past seven days I’ve set up my account, joined a discussion group called Readers Writers, formed a discussion group I titled Not Your First Rodeo, and completed some of the short pre-writing assignments.  The course doesn't officially commence until Oct 1, but the organizers devised a series of Welcome Week activities which include instructional videos, readings, and writing exercises designed to establish writing communities and familiarize us with the course components.

. I like that the course has options for beginning and advanced writers. In both cases, peer feedback is part of the attraction. My recent move has left me bereft of my writing peeps. I have one local friend with whom I write, yet I’ve also been getting to know writers in my two discussion groups.

I chose Readers Writers because the level of discussion revealed participants who read at a deeper level than most book discussion groups. Also, the group was small. In a free course offered worldwide, it’s important to find a niche group. There are teaching moderators, but since I’ve not taken the class before I’m not sure this works. I imagine feedback won’t be live.

I also sponsor a group I called Not Your First Rodeo for experienced writers. I hope to find one or two people here with whom I can exchange meaningful dialogue and criticism.

In addition to readings and writing assignments, there will be quizzes. Only certificate seekers are required to take them, but I plan to participate. I may find I know nothing about writing fiction.

I’ll keep you posted.
Happy Writing.