Dramaquill's All Things Writing

April 29, 2011

Your play: published or produced?

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As the resident playwright for Slightly off Broadway triple threat studio, I create 6-8 new scripts every school year.  There was a time when I believed that I really hadn’t done justice to my plays unless I managed to get them published or in an anthology collection.

As the years went by, I realized that the greatest pleasure I get from writing my plays and musicals is watching them unfold during the rehearsal process and then seeing the final product up on the stage during the performances.  After all, plays are meant to be seen and heard, not just read.  This is what makes plays different from all other forms of fiction writing.

I know several playwrights who have developed their own publishing companies solely for the purpose of self-publishing their plays.  That way, they don’t have to share royalties when they sell copies to schools and drama clubs. 

Over the years I’ve ordered sample copies of plays from several different publishers.  Some produce a fine product but many others create an amateur looking cardstock cover folded over and stapled to the printed sheets.  I can make copies that look better by doing it myself.  Also, if I have them published with someone else, then I have to share revenue on each sale.  So I understand why so many playwrights choose to create their own company and their own product.

But for me, publication isn’t the forerunner for my plays.  It’s the productions that I crave.  Besides the Slightly off Broadway performances, I have sold copies of my plays to school drama clubs and organizers of summer drama camps.  Knowing that something I have created can be shared with performers and audiences all over the globe is far more satisfying to me than having my play listed in a catalogue.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to be listed with the likes of someone like Samuel French – who wouldn’t? 

So how do I get the word out that I have plays available?

I advertise on the Slightly off Broadway website.  I read ezines and forums that pertain to playwriting.  I talk to teachers who are looking for new material.  I do my own networking.

Am I getting rich selling copies of my plays for productions?

Nope.

Am I satisfied knowing that every single one I have written to date has had at least one production?

Absolutely.

Publication or Production…you decide.

http://www.slightlyoffbroadway.com

http://www.samuelfrench.com

http://www.stageplays.com

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January 12, 2010

To be a successful writer, you must possess these qualities Part 1

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2009 was a great writing year for me!

I had two poems come out in Hopscotch for Girls magazine (“Marsupials” in the June 2009 issue and” The Language of Tap” in the December 2009 issue).

Writer’s Digest bought an article of mine and published it in their new writer’s market series book, “Screenwriter’s and Playwright’s Markets” 2009 and are also including it as a reprint in their 2010 version of the same market book.

I’ve had some very successful productions of several of my kids/teens’ plays this past season.

I’m more than half-way through the sequel to my adult suspense novel with a goal of finishing it by June of 2010.

And the biggest news of all…

I was offered a contract for my adult suspense novel (more details on that soon).

So as I segue into 2010, I’m jazzed about all that this new year has to offer and all the projects that I’m stoked to begin.  But I also remember, just a few short years ago, wondering if this writing thing, the term used to refer to my creative habit by many family and friends, would ever amount to much more than a verbal pastime. 

Looking back throughout my life so far, I’ve noticed that I’ve really been writing/creating stories since my childhood days, when I’d invent characters and scenerios to help us while away the sunny afternoon boredom.  I wrote stories throughout all my school years.  Alone in my bedroom, I pretended to be an assortment of different characters.  I wrote my first play during a high school summer vacation.

I believe that true writers can’t help but write and create.  And maybe, for some, just the act of putting words to paper fulfills them.

So what propels some writers, like me, to overcome the leagues of rejections, never once losing sight of the ultimate goal:  getting published?
(and by getting published I mean traditional markets that pay).

I truly believe there are certain qualities every writer who is serious about writing professionally must aquire.

Do you have these qualities?

Do you agree or disagree?

In Part 2 of this series of blogposts, I’ll address the first of what I believe are the top five qualities every writer, serious about the writing biz, should possess.

December 4, 2009

Contracts and negotiating

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So the most amazing thing has happened and a publisher has offered you a contract on your book.  Suddenly, you are presented with pages and pages of legalese, fondly known as your contract.

Many new writers might be so filled with the excitement of having finally scored a book deal that they rush to sign and return their contract.  No matter how tempted you are to do this, always go over every clause and know what you are signing before you jumpt to return your contract.

Some things to look for:

What rights are you signing away? 
Try never to give up all rights.  It’s your work, afterall.  Check out all the different types of rights online by googling “writer’s rights” or “publication rights”.  Here are a couple of comprehensive articles on the subject:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/226598/writers_rights_know_what_rights_youre.html?cat=31

http://freelancewrite.about.com/od/legalissues/a/rights.htm

Check out the publisher and see if you can find out how they rate in the business community of writing and publishing.  Make sure there aren’t complaints posted about not paying etc.  One place to check is the preditors and editors website:

http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/

As a new writer, don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek clarification on anything presented in the contract.  Publishers are more than willing to answer your questions as long as you remain professional in your communications with them.

Don’t take the deal if you don’t like the terms.  It’s tempting to just snatch up the first offer but you may regret it later if you aren’t 100% happy with the terms.

If at all possible, have a lawyer experienced in the publishing business look over your contract.  The lawyer will be able to explain things to you that you might not otherwise understand before you contact the publisher.

Be happy that you got an offer, whether or not you decide to take it.  You’re well on your way to more offers and acceptances once you’ve conquered your first hurdle.

June 16, 2009

Publication – the waiting game

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Writers write for many different reasons.  I’m guessing that one of the most common, however, is to see their work in print…published.

The road to publication is often a long one, filled with many bumps and detours along the way.  But let’s say you’ve finally polished that manuscript and started subbing it out.  You’re now playing The Waiting Game.

I just received my complimentary copy of Hopscotch for Girls, a U.S. magazine.   In it, is a non-fiction poem I wrote called “The Marsupial Family”. 

Now here’s where you’ll see what I mean by The Waiting Game.

I subbed the poem in October of 2005.  It was accepted for publication in November of 2005.  (Actually a quick response) But alas, it took nearly four years before I got the thrill of seeing one of my pieces published.

The publishing business works very far into the future.  Having a turnaround of three or four years between an acceptance and publication is the norm.  In fact, right now, the Bluffton Group, who publishes Hopscotch for Girls, Boys Quest and Fun for Kidz is looking at obtaining suitable material for themes all the way to 2014.

So that’s why, as a writer, it’s important for you to get those subs out there.  And nowadays, most publications understand that you are likely going to sub your piece to simultaneous markets.  As long as you inform everyone that your submission is a simultaneous one, usually they do not need exclusivitiy.  The publishers only ask that you inform them if your piece is accepted by someone else.

A writing friend has a book coming out this year.  She got her acceptance three years ago.  Again, it;s The Waiting Game.  But had she not subbed out her piece, the day of seeing her first book in print would never have come.

So, rather than be discouraged by the long turnaround times in the publishing business, get writing…get revision…and get subbing.

May 5, 2009

Critique groups-online or face to face

 

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Are you a writer?  Whether an aspiring newbee or a seasoned professional, I firmly believe that belonging to a critique group (at least for certain projects), is invaluable.

Where else can you find a group of likeminded individuals, all striving toward the same types of goals, with knowledge and expertise in a wide variety of different areas?

Currently, I belong to two online critique groups.  One is a group that writes everything in rhyme, called “Rhyming Critters 2”.  The group got together years ago on MSN and has become an independant group of ten.  Yes members come and go, but a consistent group has remained.  Most of the members are published and many did not pursue this avenue until they had actively participated in the group. 

My second critique group, “The Blue Quills”, formed on the old BOOST for writers site.  Eventually, the six of us moved to a private group and the same six members have been together since that time.  This group focuses on novels (MG/YA/adult) and non-fiction.  We do, from time to time, also focus on PBs or articles in the kidlit markets as well as playwriting.  One of our members secured a book deal for her MG novel, set to come out in 2009.  Many others have published in recognized children’s magazines and the SCBWI bulletin.  All of us are very actively writing, submitting and publishing.

I have made amazing friends in both of my online critique groups, but I do sometimes feel that being able to get together in person would offer other experiences that I can’t get online, like reading my work aloud and engaging in discussions (although the latter can be achieved through emails quite sufficiently).

My biggest problem, until now, has been that the local writing group meets at a time that I cannot attend, due to my work. 

But an exciting proposition has come my way, through the website, Kijiji.com.  It seems that a new, local writer’s group is about to form, with its first meeting scheduled for the last Sunday of May.  And as luck would have it, Sundays are a great day for me to indulge in such an activity.

How many of you are involved in critique groups? 

Do you prefer “face to face” encounters with local writers or do you find “online” groups your preference?

I’ll keep you posted on my experiences.

June 19, 2008

I owe it all to Mary Higgins Clark

As you all know, I’m furiously working on my final (I say this “tongue-in-cheek”) revision of my adult suspense novel, “When Love Won’t Die”.  It’s been a lengthy project for a couple of reasons.  After writing and rewriting, I decided to put my novel through a critique group and professional critique, adding more time to the year or so I had previously spent writing my first draft.

Sometimes as I sit in front of my computer screen, wading through all the critiques and weighing in on the suggestions from my peers, I wonder why I continue to plod along on this project.  Look at the odds.  It’s harder than ever for a first-time author to get a book deal these days.  More and more publishers are closing their houses to unsolicited subs.  And then there’s the catch-22 of needing an agent to get published vs. being published to get an agent.

Sometimes, when I’m stuck (usually doing research), I enjoy a trip to a local bookstore.  Seeing all the books lining the shelves reminds me that each of those authors had to start somewhere and hey, if they can do it, why not me?  And then I meandor over to the fiction section where the suspense/mystery/thrillers are kept and see the plethora of titles by Mary Higgins Clark.

I’ve read Mary’s books for longer than I can remember and I continue to enjoy how she interweaves her characters and plot twists into stories that keep me guessing until the last pages.  She has twenty-six suspense novels to her credit and her next one, “Where are you now?” comes out later this year.

But Mary Higgins Clark didn’t have an easy time of things.  She grew up in a one parent family (after her father passed away) and sought out a more prolific career in an ad agency before trying her hand at her passion, writing.  In 1956, she sold her first short story.  Even after marrying, Mary faced a huge challenge when her husband died, leaving her alone to raise five children.

Every time I think about not having enough time to write or how life is getting in the way of my creativity, I immediately see this young woman, getting up at 5 a.m. every day so that she would have 2 hours to write before her children woke up and had to get ready for school. 

I guess I’d have to say that I owe it all to my inspiration, Mary Higgins Clark.  Her story, her books and her accomplishments are what help keep me motivated when it would be easier to give up.

For more news on Mary Higgins Clark, check out this site:

http://www.simonsays.com/content/destination.cfm?sid=33&pid=352932

So thank-you, Mary Higgins Clark. 

Who or what keeps you going?

June 10, 2008

Pros and Cons of Critique Groups

Being a writer can be a very lonely profession. For some, this isolation becomes a real deterrent; preventing them from achieving any real kind of success.  Critique groups

provide a wonderful lifeline, especially for the newer writer.  But what exactly is a

critique group?

 

Before the internet, critique groups consisted of individuals living in similar geographic locations who desired to connect with others for support, networking and feedback.  Geographically, the internet has opened the door for writers from all around the globe. Online critique groups enjoy membership from a wide variety of places.

 

When making the decision to join a critique group, whether online or in your local community, writers should consider the following in their research:

 

1.  What do you want to get out of belonging to the group?

 

2.  How much time will participation take?

 

3.  What are the goals of the group?

 

4.  Is the group genre-specific or general writing?  (Know which you’re looking for

     when investigating potential critique groups.)

 

5.  How big is the group?  (More than 10 participants is often too large a group.)

 

Obviously newer writers can receive great benefits from participation, but many seasoned professionals consider critique groups a continuously useful tool as they prepare and submit manuscripts.

 

As with anything, there are always pros and cons. Let’s take a look at these as they apply to critique groups.

 

PROS:

 

1.  Receive feedback on everything from grammar and style to character, plot, tone, 

     POV and much more.  Critique groups are a great place to test out new works and

     first drafts as well as fine tuning a manuscript before sending it out.

   

2.  Provides a place for encouragement and interaction with other writers. 

   

3.  Critiquing the work of others is a great way to become a better editor of your own

     work.

 

4.   Writers are exposed to each other’s styles and unique voices.

 

5.  Although the critiques are the focus of the group, network opportunities also exist

    in everything from leads on contests to information about publishers and agents as

    well as wisdom from those with experience in different areas of the business.

   

6.  The submission deadline, usually once per week, is often the nudge many writers

     need to continue to produce new work or stay with a longer project (like a novel).

 

7.  Writers can easily miss small errors in their editing but the critique group offers

     several pairs of eyes who can spot these mistakes.

 

Critique groups, then, can be a great place to test out new works or give final drafts one last tweak before sending them out.

 

CONS:

 

1.  Is it safe to show your work to strangers?  (Although this can be of concern, the

     many writers surveyed for this post agree that critique groups are quite safe.)

    

2.  Harsh critiques can be discouraging.  (Remember, you must decide if the

     criticism is constructive and whether or not you choose to use the advice given is

    is always up to you.)

 

3.  The time it takes to critique the work of others can become time away from your

     own writing.           

 

It is apparent that the pros definitely outweigh the cons when it comes to critique groups.

Do your research.  Before you join any group, make sure that they meet your needs so that belonging to a critique group can be a helpful tool in your ongoing quest to become a better writer. 

March 27, 2008

The Power of Chocolate

With Easter just behind us and several chocolate eggs still sitting on my counter, I am reminded of the many comments I’ve read over the years on writers’ forums and listserves.

A writer posts the sad news of yet another rejection.  His/her fellow writers chime in with supportive comments and one common suggestion:   Eat some chocolate.

Another writer posts the jubilant news of an acceptance or even better, a payment from a publication.  His/her fellow writers chime in with congratulatory comments and one common suggestion:  Eat some chocolate.

As I stare at a small pile of brightly wrapped chocolate eggs, I begin to wonder why chocolate seems to be the treat of choice, whether it’s to console the rejected writer or help the published writer celebrate a success. 

What exactly is the power of chocolate?

One site online suggests that chocolate effects the same parts of the human brain as marijuana, however, it would likely take 25 lbs. of the yummy confection to create the same buzz as smoking one joint.

Another website tells of a study where the results suggested eating chocolate might actually enhance cognitive performance, including verbal and visual memory.

And I’m sure we’ve all heard that dark chocolate, in small doses (like the equivalent of 2 Hershey kisses/day) is actually good for our hearts.

There are even studies debating the positive and negative effects of chocolate on our moods. 

But as writers, does any of this apply to our reasons for eating chocolate as we are subjected to the ups and downs of the writing biz?
I don’t think so!

The power of chocolate is that it makes us feel good – at least temporarily. 

Now put down that chocolate easter egg and get back to the business of writing.

December 30, 2007

Subbing out your writing

Congratulations – you have completed several manuscripts.  These could include a couple of NF articles, a childrens’ PB, a couple of kids’ poems and your first novel.

So your first thought is to send them out to all the publishers you can think of, right?

Not a good idea.

Many new writers make this same mistake, resulting in unnecessary rejections.  (That isn’t to say that polished pieces by seasoned writers always get accepted.  They don’t.)

If these are first drafts, don’t even think of sending them out yet.  No matter how brilliant you believe them to be, they aren’t ready for the keen eyes of an editor.

So what do you do?

Here’s my list of the steps you should take before subbing.  It still isn’t easy to get published and I consider myself fortunate to have cracked the magazine market with several paid pieces as well as the anthology market.  I’m still working on PBs and my adult novel.  But I’m convinced that by following the list below, I increase my chances for acceptance sometime in the near future.

1.    Put the piece away after you finish it.  Leave it for at least a week.
       A month is even better.  Look at it with fresh eyes.  Did you find
       anything you wanted to change?

2.    Run what you believe to be the revised copy of your piece through
       a critique group.  It doesn’t matter whether the group is one you
       meet with in person or an online group.  If it’s a good group, that’s
       all that matters.

3.    Consider the comments made by your critique group and decide
       which comments you want to use and which you don’t.  Revise
       accordingly.

4.    Research publishers thoroughly.  Read guidelines and follow them
       to the letter.  If they only accept stories of 800 words or less, don’t
       send even the most brilliant 1000 word story.  If they say email
       subs only, don’t snail mail. 

5.   Create your most professional sub.  Learn how to write a cover
       letter, how to format your piece and whenever possible, sub to a
       person’s name as listed in the guidelines.  Send an SASE only if
       the company uses them. 

6.    Now let it go!

Get busy writing your next piece while you wait.  Most publishers, editors and agents give an approximate time line for responses and most are 6 weeks or more. 

Be patient and expect to get rejected.  Most of the famous writers will tell you their horror stories of rejection before they made their first sale.  It comes with the territory.

Just remember:  If you want to be a professional writer, act like a professional.

November 27, 2007

Critique Groups: Every writer should belong to at least one

Where I live, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to gather together with other writers.  There is a group that meets at our local library, however, due to the nature of my business, I cannot make the meetings. 

I used to think I was alone – isolated in a place geographically removed from the big city life of the publishing business. 

But with the internet, I’m only a click away from connecting with writers all over the world, in any genre, and at every level from raw beginner to professionally published.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re a writer.  Of course everything you write is good – you wrote it.  And yes, for the most part, we writers do realize our first drafts aren’t polished enough to sub out so we accept the task of revising.

But…we only have our own close relationship with our ideas, words, characters and scenerios from which to draw.  Every writer needs feedback from fresh eyes.

Relatives, friends, neighbors and co-workers may want to read your prose, but often their feedback isn’t entirely honest.  Either they love everything you do (and who wouldn’t find that encouraging, right?) or they suggest, based on a complete lack of any knowledge of the writing world, what they think you should do to improve your manuscript.  Although at times their perspectives can be helpful, more often you need to connect with other writers.

So naturally, as a writer, you consider joining a critique group.  There are those groups that meet face to face and those that meet online.  I’m sure I could start a healthy debate on which of the two are the better scenerio but instead I think I’ll leave that up to the individual writer. 

Personally, I’ve gone the online route, out of necessity, and find it to be a wonderful forum.  I think it could be easier to be totally honest when critiquing the writing of a fellow critique group member when you aren’t sitting, looking into their disappointed face as you endeavour to offer your suggestions, changes and heaven forbid, criticisms.

I’ve been extremely lucky to find two very diverse critique groups, one for my kidlit rhyming PBs and the other for my novels. 

My rhyming group, originally posted on MSN, has gone private and contains 10 members, several of whom have belonged to the group now for many years.  Every single person in this rhyming crit group has seen at least one of their pieces published in a paying market.  A couple have broken into the PB market although most have had more success with shorter rhyming pieces published in magazines.  Nonetheless, the level of writing in each individual has grown and matured.  We’re friends on one level, co-workers on another, and brutally honest critiquers when necessary. 

My prose critique group formed through a now defunct writing site.  We migrated away from the site and the same six writers have been together for several years now.  We have developed close, online friendships.  One of our group has an MG novel coming out in 2008 and it’s an amazing fantasy that will easily compete with some of the most sold and read rivals in this genre.  Others in the group have been paid for articles and illustrations.  Several have had requests from agents for full manuscripts and are waiting for representation. 

Without them, my suspense thriller novel wouldn’t be where it is today. 

The writers in both of these groups represent a cross section of business knowledge, writing styles, and the opinions of those readers we hope to snag into buying our books for years to come.

If you want a shot at getting published, do these things:

1.   Familiarize yourself with the markets and the publishing biz.

2.   Write your best work and don’t be satisfied with anything less.

3.   Join a critique group and let them give your manuscript the
      onceover.

4.  Attend writing workshops whenever possible.

5.  Use the internet to network with other writers, editors, agents,
     and publishers on the many forums available.

6.  And most important of all…never ever give up!

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