All About Web Sites: Day 3 of 6

The web site series continues:
* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

(REMINDER: I’m discussing for the first time ever, my real-life Creative Brief I send to all potential clients. This is proprietary information, so please don’t copy anything I say without asking and/or providing credit.)

The next section on the Creative Brief questionnaire is USER INTERACTION & CONTENT.

Get out your pen and paper!

1. What is the one initial action you wish your target user to take from the home page of your web site?

The key here is two fold. First, whatever the whole point of the web site is, the user should be able easily follow through. Secondly, easy means easy for the user! Put that action right on the home page. The least amount of clicking the visitor has to do to get where you want them, the better.

Examples of desired visitor actions: click to view site map, read a story excerpt, view a trailer, comment on a blog post, email, call, sign guest book, purchase newest release, etc.

2. What is the primary action you wish your target user to take before leaving your web site? Is this the same action? Why or why not?

Perhaps the one thing you want them to do when they come to your home page is read all the awesome five star reviews you’ve been getting for your new release. Then, once they’re suitably wowed, you want them to buy the book before they continue surfing elsewhere.

So guess what? “Buy now” capabilities better be within clicking distance of all your new release marketing content!

Or maybe you’ve got a blog, not a traditional web site. The number one thing you want the visitor to do when the visit might be to read that day’s post. And the number one thing you want them to do before leaving might be to comment on that post.

So what do you do? You not only make commenting easy (most blog programs put a link right below or beside the post–make sure you don’t obfuscate the purpose of the link with overly clever re-wording!) but also give the reader a call to action at the end of your post, such as, “What do YOU think about circus carnies with dreadlocks and great teeth?”

3. List key elements or information you wish to have available on every page or section.

I’m going to put on my autocratic dictatorship hat and tell you a few I think are important.

Number one, you should have links to (at the very least) all the main sections of your web site present throughout. The reder should be able to get to anywhere, from anywhere. If you visit Amazon.com, for example, they’ve got access to all 42 primary shopping categories on every single page.

Number two, don’t hide your contact info. If you’re the regional Pampered Chef coordinator, consider having your phone number on the top of every page. Perhaps your email link is to the side or bottom of every page. If you prefer a contact form, make sure the link to that form is present on every page. Do not make the visitor hunt to find a way to interact with you or they will not interact with you.

Number three, if you have a large site with too much content to be able to link to every page from every other page, then create a comprehensive site map and link to that on every page.

Number four, if the primary actions you listed in questions 1 and 2 are not related to contacting you or navigating the web site, consider putting a method of acheiving those goals on every page. At the very least, every page should have a link to whichever page does let the visitor achieve those goals.

4. How many pages or sections (approximately) will your completed web site contain? Please list them below, and be sure to indicate which will be static, plain text pages and which will be dynamic, database-driven pages or shopping cart pages. Please indicate whether the emphasis on each page is high, medium, or low.

This is where you’d say something like, “I want six web pages. The home page will be of highest importance, with database-driven content displaying a different book cover each time the page is loaded, along with the appropriate reviews and buy now button. The contact page will have a form to email me, a form to email my agent, and a form to sign up for my newsletter. All three forms will allow the user to opt in to my reader database. The Books page will have 3 sub-pages for each of my 3 continuity series. Those pages will be static, containing unchanging book plates and back-cover blurbs.”

Or whatever. But you get the idea!

5. If this site will contain e-commerce, will you be using a free service such as PayPal? Do you have a merchant account through your bank instead? Do you have an online credit card processor? Please explain.

Let’s say you want to sell your books from your web site. How are you going to do so? Maybe you’ll link directly to Amazon or straight to your e-publisher. Or maybe you have a stack of them at home next to your dresser and you literally want to sell them yourself.

You might use a free or low-cost service like PayPal. You might set up a merchant account with your bank for true real-time credit card processing. Either way, you must know this in advance so your web programmer can develop the site accordingly.

6. What is the basic structure of the content, and how is it organized? Is there a content flowchart? If so, please provide.

While you do not need to have a graphical representation of your web site’s content structure, you should be able to provide the web developer with the detailed page hierarchy so your navigational system can be developed accordingly and all your pages link correctly.

Here is an example of what a flow chart might look like:

simple flowchart

7. Will the web site use existing content? If so, what is the source and who is responsible for approval?

This means, will you be writing your content yourself? Do you need a copywriter to create the text for you or tweak your existing content? Do you have an intern, assistant, or helper monkey who will be writing and updating the content?

However you decide to do it and whomever is in charge, the web developer will need to work closely with that person to understand the amount, content, and layout of the text for your web pages.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever been to a web site where it was difficult to locate contact information or hard to find a way to do whatever brought you to the web site in the first place? Or web sites where there really wasn’t much to do there at all, especially if you’ve already visited once? What are some ways typical visitor tasks could be made easier, more accessible, and more intuitive? What are some examples of content that would keep a visitor coming back?

All About Web Sites: Day 2 of 6

The web site series continues:

* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

(REMINDER: I’m discussing for the first time ever, my real-life Creative Brief I send to all potential clients. This is proprietary information, so please don’t copy anything I say without asking and/or providing credit.)

The next section on the Creative Brief questionnaire is MARKETING.

Get out your pen and paper!

Oh, and remember–Marketing is an entire college major and a high-demand career, so there’s no way I can be anything resembling comprehensive in a single blog post, much less one page of a questionnaire. =)

Without further ado:

1. What position/image would you like your company/service/brand to hold in the minds of consumers? Are there resource, budget, or time limitations that may affect this goal?

Image we discussed on Monday. Position means “Global leader in collegiate helper-monkey sales.” or “Best place in Tampa for Cuban sandwiches.”

As a writer, your ideal position could be anything from “Consistent number one best-seller of robot cowboy love stories” to “Fresh new voice in contemporary literary fiction.”

Resource constraints mean how much time you have to market appropriately. Will you have time to send out newsletters or update your website daily or go on extended book tours or give radio and TV interviews etc etc? Only you can know how much personal time for marketing your schedule will allow.

Budget constraints means how much money you can throw at the project. Even if you have to free time to spare, cold hard cash can get your links plastered all over the Internet, your web site as number one in the search engines, your promo postcard in every mailbox, your book trailer on every TV station, your book cover wallpapering every bus, train and metro around the globe, etc.

Time limitations means what kind of time frame you’re dealing with to make all this happen. If you wrote a text book that’ll be available in multiple editions for the next ten years, then you’ve got a maximum of ten years, depending on your goals. If you wrote a category romance that will be on the shelves from February 1 through February 28, end of story, then you have exactly four weeks once your release day hits.

And depending on your goals, you may very well want all or most of the marketing done prior to release day. So look at the calendar and determine exactly how much time you truly have.

2. Briefly describe your short-term marketing strategy. How will this web site help to meet your goals? How will you determine the success of this web site? Please indicate benchmarks.

Short-term marketing strategy might mean, “I will post announcements on my blog, web site, newsletter, and email loops.” Or it might mean, “I have a direct mail piece going out on Monday with links to the new web site.” Or it might mean, “I’ve scheduled a Super Bowl ad.” Whatever. But if you want the web site to coordinate and complement those efforts, share the details with the designer.

Also share how you envision the web site helping meet your goals. This hearkens back to Monday’s discussion on determining the number one point of the web site. If your primary goal is to collect email addresses, then the newsletter (and ease of sign up) should be promoted heavily. If your primary goal is to spread news of a new release, then that book cover and title and so on should be prominently featured. Etc.

“Benchmarks” are frozen moments in time used to determine the relative success or failure of a particular marketing endeavor. For example, if your web site gets 50 unique visitors per day prior to creating a MySpace account and 100 unique visitors per day after linking to your web site from your brand new MySpace account, then it’s a fair bet that your MySpace account brought you about 50 new faces. If you keep an eye on the numbers, benchmarking every Monday, and discover by the end of the month that your visitors once again hover around 50, then it’s a fair bet that although your MySpace account brought initial traffic, it did not significantly increase repeat web visitors over time. (This could be due to the quality of your MySpace “friends”, the quality of your web site content, the fickle nature of the gods, etc. Topic of another blog. *g)

3. Are you interested in additional services of website statistics and monitoring, as well as search engine submission and help with optimizing search engine ranking?

Statistics software and web conversion tools help to analyze traffic patterns, visitor interaction on the web site, and which marketing efforts are paying off. I highly, highly, highly recommend using at least the most basic of tracking software. StatCounter has a free version that tracks a limited amount of data.

4. What is the single primary focus of this campaign? Are there specific objectives corresponding with this goal?

In other words, you’re creating/redesigning a web site. Why?

Possible answers: to establish a web presence, to increase legitimacy, to disseminate information, new product introduction (new book), increase sales, retain existing customers, improve author image, improve brand images, increase web site patronage, garner reader feedback, increase book/blog buzz, or attract new readers.

5. Are there any other planned or implemented marketing campaigns intended to integrate with this one?

Often times, a single web site isn’t the only marketing tool.

In the corporate world, there may be other web sites, brochures, direct mail pieces, commercial advertising, promotional gifts, event sponsorship, sales, coupons, sampling, contests, rebates, press releases corresponding to launch, endorsements, loyalty/frequency programs, etc.

Many of those possibilities apply to writers as well. Authors may also do book signings, interviews, workshops, keynote speeches, conference panels, guest blogs, and so on.

6. Do you have an existing or planned marketing strategy to coordinate with and/or promote this new web site or re-design? If so, please describe.

This is a different question than the above, in that it refers to promotion of the new web site, rather than promotion of the specific product/book/author/etc.

The web site address may be listed on business cards, stationery, letterhead, pens, radio, TV commercials, banner ads, book trailers, email signatures, blog posts, media kits, etc.

7. What are your readers’ current perceptions of and attitudes toward the author, book(s) or brand? What factors influence the decision making process?

For example, say you’re Stephen King. Readers’ current perception might be “contemporary horror writer”. If this is the sort of story they enjoy, your books might well be auto-buys. But lets say you’re still Stephen King, but you’ve decided to write a romance. Suddenly, your novel no longer fits with reader perceptions, and you will need to acknowledge and address this issue.

Okay, now say you’re not Stephen King, and as far as you know, nobody other than your mother auto-buys your books. You need to carefully consider what particular factors would cause a potential reader to decide “I’ll take it” over “Ehh, not for me.” And then capitalize on those attributes by highlighting and promoting them.

Do you have a killer cover blurb? Five star reviews from respected sources? A cover to die for? A tantalizing excerpt? Whatever it is, make it prominent. Give readers a reason to buy!

YOUR TURN: I know my above explanations waffled between assuming you had a book to promote and assuming you were simply promoting the web site itself. If you have any questions on the marketing items mentioned or how they can better apply to you, please ask. And if you’ve done promotion of any kind for any reason, please share some anecdotes on what did or didn’t work for you!

Good Karma Tuesday + Web sites

First, a shout-out to last week’s winners: Send me your addresses! This is the first time in the history of Good Karma Tuesday that I didn’t hear from the winner all week, and I can’t believe I wouldn’t hear from six winners, so maybe my spam filter had a psychotic break last Tuesday. Who knows. (It lets in plenty of cialis and stock crap, though. Grrr.)

Anyhoodles, if your name is Isabel Sotelo, AngryMan, A Paperback Writer, Karen Lingefelt, Michele, or Katie Alender, email me and let me know where to send your prize!

Today’s winner is: JOSI

Josi, come on down! Or rather, email me your address. Extra credit if I get yours before last week’s slackers winners. *g

(Kidding, last week’s winners! Love you too!)

Am still out of town and off to take a family member to the hospital for x-rays (isn’t that how everyone loves to start their morning?) and I thought I’d pull out a couple Q&As from yesterday’s comment thread just to make sure they don’t get lost.

* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

Message & Image Follow-Up Questions

Note: Some of these have little to do with Message & Image and will be covered in more detail in later posts.

Q:
Is there anything you think does or does not work for slogans?

A:
The most important thing for slogans is to make them memorable and relevant. (Note: IF you choose to have one. As with a web site itself, you are not obligated to have one. Only maybe half of my corporate clients have slogans.)

Memorable means short (ie the Debbie Macomber example is stretching the limits) and relevant meaning that even if the only thing they know about you is your slogan, they know about your books.

Q:
Any colors you think are overdone?

A:
I would worry less about so-called overdone colors and more about finding that happy medium between legibility and complementary branding. (Note: Complementary Branding refers to matching your web site to your blog or your book covers or your tone/genre etc. You do not have to make your web site look anything like your book covers if you don’t want to, but you also don’t want the reader to think they’ve found the wrong place.)

If you’re going for a dark tone, make sure it’s not so dark that visitors can’t easily read your content or figure out what’s going on. Easy is the name of the game.

If you’re avoiding, say, “black”, simply because you’re afraid too many other urban fantasy writers are using black, then that’s not a good enough reason. First and foremost, you have to do what’s right for your brand. And secondly, you have to keep reader expectation in mind.

Be creative, but choose your aesthetics based on that goal.

Q:
Cost. Tell us about cost. There are a lot of less than optimal people in your business, I suspect, but they probably charge the same as or more than you do (whatever that may be). How is a person to avoid getting took?

A:
Cost. Okay. This is a tricky subject. It’s like saying, how much does laser eye surgery cost? Well, there’s some licensed doctors who do it for $400 per eye. And there’s others who do it for $4,000 per eye. And of course, there’s all the space in between.

The best way not to get taken is to make sure of two things:

1) That you get multiple proposals from multiple sources, for comparative purposes.

2) That the proposals detail exactly what you’re going to get for your money; what you have to provide, and what you’ll own when the contract is over.

EX: If the proposal says, “Website: $3000”, I have no idea if this is a gyp or a steal. If it’s for a basic no-frills design and half a dozen HTML pages, you’re getting taken. If it’s for an interactive, database-driven web site with user login features, dynamic feature-filled content and web-enabled content administration, buy buy buy! =)

So it’s hard to say. The best example I can give is if you go to a builder and say, “Hey, I’ve got this empty lot. How much will you charge to build me a house?”

The first thing the builder will (probably) say is, “Depends on what you want!”

Web sites are like that, too. You could probably find a college kid to whip up something basic for $500, or you could go to an ad agency and get one with all the bells and whistles for over $50k.

A small business or an ex-corporate freelancer would be in the middle. More experience than the college kid, and lower prices because of no physical overhead.

Q:
Do reputable designers charge by the project or by the hour?

A:
Charging by the project or by the hour depends on multiple variables, but no matter which way your contract is written, you should have a darn good idea of both before the first check exchanges hands. So, if Designer X charges $100/hr and says your web site will take 10 hours (obviously these numbers are for ease of math *g) then your estimated total is $1000.

If the contract is a flat $1000 and something goes wrong that’s not the designer’s fault, they better have those circumstances written into the contract or they’re taking all the risk. Conversely, if it’s an hourly project and the designer doesn’t stipulate which elements are their responsibility (not charged) and which are yours (charged), you might end up paying a lot more.

For example, in all my contracts, it says I will never charge for extra work necessary due to bugs/typos/etc on the part of myself or my employees. However, if rework is necessary due to the actions of the client or the client’s emissaries (web host, etc) then I would have to charge for that.

Q:
What is a fair hourly wage for a guru such as yourself (OK, OK, we all know you are boyond price, above rubies, and all that, so let’s talk about gurus in general, not you in particular)?

A:
Guru hourly wages can range from $50/hr to $150/hr, with some being above or below that, depending on many variables, not the least of which is what you’re contracting them for.

Q:
Also timeframe: should a good guru get you up and running in a week? A month? The twelfth of never? (Assuming you’ve done your part by filling out the survey questions.)

A:
Timeframe totally depends, much like the “building a house” metaphor. How big is the house? Is there a basement? Will you request blueprint changes after construction has started or design changes after the wallpaper is up? Etc.

Q:
Tweaking – that fuchsia that looked so good in theory looks like hell onscreen…how much time/money should one allot for necessary improvements?

Ongoing review: should a good guru be in touch with you every so often to meet your changing/expanded/newfound needs? How often? Is this type of service a la carte or part of an ongoing arrangement?

Self-service: since most of us pump our own gas, can we also fiddle with our own websites? Or is this just a sure-fire way to throw more business to the guru when the whole thing crashes and burns?

A:
Tweaking and maintenance should also be dealt with in advance, in the contract. Same with self-service. The programmer needs to know ahead of time if you plan to futz with the HTML (they can design accordingly) or if you need them to build a content editing wizard, or if you plan to just email them when you need updates.

Q:
I assume distance makes little or no difference, right? Does it matter if the designer lives in the same state?

A:
Logistics don’t matter. For example, half my business comes from out-of-state, and I’ve worked on web sites while halfway around the world. The designer just needs a decent Internet connection. Well, and time, talent, skill, responsibility, responsiveness, etc. Point being, don’t choose your designer based on location, choose based on what you need, what they can offer you, and the value/ROI of contracting with her.

YOUR TURN: While we’re on the topic of web site message and image, what are some web sites you can think of that it’s obvious right from the home page what the point of the site is and the one key thing they want the visitor to do? What are some web sites you can think of that you can’t do much of anything from the home page, or have to hunt around to figure out what to do?

All About Web Sites: Day 1 of 6

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of this week and next week, I’ll be running a six-part series on web sites–what to know, how to make your web presence successful, and other points to consider. In case you didn’t already know, I’ve been professionally designing and developing web sites for about ten years, and I’ve been programming computers since the mid-eighties when they didn’t even come with hard drives. (Ah, my Commodore 64 days… *g)

Today, I posted a massive essay on web sites over on the Manuscript Mavens blog, detailing:
* How to determine whether you even need a web site
* Determining the purpose of your web site
* Who should create your web site, and how
* What your web site should do and how your visitors should act

Here, I’d like to go into greater detail on these points, and will be discussing for the first time ever, my real-life Creative Brief I send to all potential clients. (This is proprietary information, so please don’t copy anything I say without providing credit. K?)

A Creative Brief is a document consisting of a series of questions that help the client–and, subsequently, me–figure out the precise goals of the web site and how best to achieve them. The six main sections are:

1) Message and Image
2) Marketing and Promotion
3) User Interaction and Content
4) Aesthetics and Competition
5) Technology and Hosting
6) Content Administration

* All About Web Sites (MM blog)
* Website Series, Day 1: Message & Image
* Website Series, Day 1: Follow-Up Q & A
* Website Series, Day 2: Marketing
* Website Series, Day 3: User Interaction & Content
* Website Series, Day 4: Aesthetics & Usability
* Website Series, Day 5: Hosting & Technology
* Website Series, Day 6: Administration

So, get out your pen and paper, and let’s start with today’s topic:

MESSAGE & IMAGE

1. What is the message you wish to convey to your target audience through your web site?

If you were a bar, the message might be: “We are a fun, cowboy-themed club where y’all can come get your line-dancing on.” If you were a hospital, the message might be: “We are a safe, respected environment filled with caring professionals ready and able to help your child fight leukemia.”

But you’re not–you’re a writer. Doesn’t matter. You still need to know what message you want your web visitors to take away when they visit your web site. (If you don’t know, chances are good their overall/first impression will be something entirely different!)

2. Define the overall goals/purpose of your web site.

To provide information? To collect contact emails? To promote your upcoming book signing? To sell your new release?

Know all your goals. Put them in a list. Arrange them in order of importance.

3. Is there an active positioning statement for the product/brand? If so, what?

The product is not your book. The product is you. And the brand is what describes you.

A “positioning statement” is a marketing term for a single sentence describing what you do, for whom, and why (what need you address/solve.)

Ex: I write wacky paranormal romances for commercial fiction readers in order to entertain, cheer, and amuse them.

What do you write? Who for? Why? (Why from the reader’s perspective, not yours.)

Now, you need one for your web site. (The above was a Career Plan bonus. *g)

Ex: EricaRidley.com provides authors with contact information, story excerpts, and writing tips.

Remember, this step is for YOU, and will not be printed on your web site.

4. What is the core benefit of your company/product to the consumer?

In the writing world, why should the reader plunk down $8 for your book? Or check it out from the library? Or even bother flipping through if a friend foists it upon them?

Is it scary? Hilarious? Riveting? Literary? Entertaining? Educational? Thought-provoking?

What does the reader get out of your stories?

And now ask yourself: what does your web visitor get out of your web site? Is it the same thing, or something different? Why or why not?

5. Who is your target audience? What are their online preferences and connection speed? Why do (potential) customers choose your books/blog/website?

Ann B. Ross has a different target audience than Christopher Paolini. The former has adult readers who may prefer larger type and might have slower internet connection speeds. The latter has younger readers who may be using fast school computers and appreciate a more graphic-intensive web site.

Who reads your books? Who comes to your web site? Are they the same people? What are their demographics (age, income, gender, location)? What are their psychographics (values, lifestyles)? What are their web-browsing behaviors (brand loyalty, purchasing patterns, bookmarking and revisiting habits)?

6. What kind of image do you want to portray?

Remember, if you don’t decide this in advance and purposefully execute a plan to achieve it, web visitors will make their own interpretations. Determine your image carefully.

Ex: professional, formal, light-hearted, expert, conservative, imaginative, creative, humorous, caring, fun, silly, hip, girly, manly, childlike, progressive, friendly, casual, serious, trustworthy, knowledgeable, dark, mysterious, inspirational

7. Do you currently have any logos, slogans, or graphic design elements that you wish to incorporate into your web site? Are there any other graphic or photographic considerations you have before creating a web site?

If you decide to create a slogan, list your idea(s).

EX: “Stephen King: The Master of Horror”, “Debbie Macomber: Wherever you are, Debbie takes you home”, “Sherrilyn Kenyon: Mad, Bad, and Immortal”

Remember, you do not need a slogan, but if you choose to have one, please make sure it is both relevant and memorable.

Graphic considerations for my web clients often include custom photography and corporate colors. In your case, you might want hand-drawn elf artwork to complement your fantasy series or soft pastels to better reflect your flowery romance, etc, etc, etc.

Decide, and add it to your list!

Also, don’t forget to visit my detailed web site essay on the Manuscript Mavens blog!

YOUR TURN: Any questions or comments so far? I will check the comments frequently today and respond to anything you ask. Confess: Did you really make a list and work through the questions? If you feel comfortable, please share!

All About Story Boards

First and foremost, there are no rules in writing OR plotting. You are not required to create a storyboard if you do not wish to. (But if you haven’t found your method yet, it’s not a bad idea to try new things.)

Secondly, there are as many ways to create a storyboard as there are authors. Diana has one way, Julie has another, Robin and Laura have another, and so on.

This post is about mine.

So, what’s a story board? (Or plotting board)

A storyboard is a visual representation of your novel/screenplay/sitcom/whatever.

You can use the 3-for-$1 posterboard from the Dollar Tree or Story Board Notepads or color coded cells in a spreadsheet–whatever you wanna do.

Mine are on large, thick, tri-fold display boards.

The first thing I do is grab a Sharpie and a metal yardstick and grid out the board. Some people plot in pages. Some people plot in chapters. I’m in the middle–I plot by scenes. So, knowing I write approximately 75 scenes to a 400 page book, I create a grid 10 columns wide and 8 columns tall.

In my mind, I decide that each row signifies approximately 50 pages, and that the last square in every second row should be a turning point. (A tweaked version of 4 Act Structure, the only part of which I use being the turning points.)

If this is a first draft, I embark on this incredibly anal process by which I type up all my ideas for potential scenes (or snippets of dialogue/emotion/action/etc to go inside unknown potential scenes), print ’em out (column-style, so they’re skinny), cut ’em up with my Fiskars trimmer (a scrapbooking tool that makes cutting easy and fast), run ’em through my Xyron (yet another a scrapbooker tool that covers the backside of paper with adhesive) and slap them onto multi-colored sticky notes.

Feel free to avoid all of that.

The important thing for me at this stage, is to have a vague idea of the scenes to come (at least up until the first major turning point) and to know what sort of disaster will go down for the black moment, climax, and resolution.

For this first-round story board, I typically use a different color to symbolize each POV character, so I can see at a glance if the hero/heroine screen-time is balanced how I want, or if my villain drops off the face of the Earth for 200 pages.

Here’s an example for DATD (still in first-draft mode):

DATD Storyboard: Erica Ridley

Above, pink=Dorinda, blue=Gabe, yellow=Villain. I’ve heard people knock color-coding this way (by saying it’s “like a baby” etc) but I personally find pink=girl and blue=boy intuitive. You may color however you like.

A few things to point out about this story board:

– Some rows have more sticky notes than others
Yes. That’s okay. It’s because some scenes are longer than others. The first and third sets of 100 pages apparently have shorter scenes overall, compared to the second and fourth sets of 100 pages. That’s not on purpose, it’s just how it worked out.

– Some sticky notes have little round stickers
Ah. These were added later, once I got about halfway through the story. You may not be able to tell in the photo, but some of the stickers are pink and some are purple. The colors themselves mean nothing, but the pink ones stand for major events in one subplot and the purple ones stand for major events in another subplot. This is just so I tell at a glance whether I’m dwelling on a subplot or whether I forgot about it completely.

– Some sticky notes have handwriting on them
This would be because I tend to diverge widely from my original typed ideas. And just because typed sticky notes still remain does not necessarily mean I followed them. At this point, I am writing forward through a first draft, not worrying about the 100% accuracy of each individual sticky note. That said, if a scene in no way resembles what I thought would happen, I remove it, and put up a new sticky note with a handwritten summary, or I jot a note at the bottom of the existing Post It.

So. Draw a grid. Attach sticky notes. How you color code them and what you write on their surface is completely up to you. Some people (especially those writing first person POV) are not served by the POV character color coding system, because there is only one POV character. This is fine.

There are plenty of other ways to color code. You could do so on the basis of the Hero’s Journey, with a different color for each step of the way. (Or any plotting structure, not just the Hero’s Journey.) Or you could color code based on plotlines and subplotlines.

Which brings me to: the Revision Storyboard

TATTF Storyboard: Erica Ridley

Looks a bit different than the first-draft one, doesn’t it? Here’s why.

At the polishing point of the writing process, I’ve got the story down. I know which POV the scenes go in and which scenes go where. I’m not changing big chunks of the plot. I’m just making sure all the threads tie together.

So, on with the Sharpie and the gridmaking. And then out with a stack of yellow sticky notes and a pile of colored markers.

I keep my blue=boy and pink=girl philosophy for this one (although my villain for this board is green, not yellow) and the top line of each sticky note is the scene goal for the POV character. In other words, the point of the scene. In all caps.

Following that, each with their own assigned color, are notes indicating sub plot turning points or key events.

Click to Pop Up Sample: (WARNING! SPOILERS!)

DAISY GETS TOOTH
ENCYCLOPEDIA
BERRYMELLOW
HIMALAYAN L.C.

(I tried to abbreviate as non-spoilerific as possible. If you know what any of these items mean, please don’t give spoilers in the comments or I will delete the comment and then kill you. I’m a ninja.)

First item: Daisy Gets Tooth
This is the entire point of this scene, and a turning point in the tooth sub plot. She’s been after the tooth since page one. Before, she didn’t have it. Now she does.

Second item: Encyclopedia
This is a note-to-self about something I wanted to layer into this scene. It has nothing to do with the plot per se, and is more a characterization item. I put it on the sticky note so I wouldn’t forget to include it.

Third idem: Berrymellow
This is a sub plot event. Technically, where two subplots converge into one. The interesting thing (to me) is that these subplots converge for someone other than the POV character, but it is clear based on dialogue what conclusions Trevor draws (and that the other scene characters made their own, completely different, leaps in logic.)

Fourth item: Himalayan L.C.
This is the Scene Disaster, the event that turns the scene upside down and sends the plot–and characters–spiralling in a new direction.

Once again, I can see at a glance what’s going on with the story.

My agent mentioned the heroine’s best friend disappearing for 200 pages. Since she was not a POV character, I didn’t notice this by looking at my first-draft story board. But when I assigned her a color (Mauve for Maeve, ha!) and jotted a one line note on every scene she took part in, I noticed that she did in fact disappear for 200 pages. Oops.

Naturally, I had to fix this snafu. And since I could see my entire story at once and glance at all the other color-coded plot threads very quickly, I was able to determine right away where Maeve’s presence would really augment other scenes. And now it’s much more even!

In conclusion, (thank heavens, right? how freaking long is this post?) there are three main takeaways I want to impress upon you regarding storyboards.
1) They are an excellent visual tool to help you see your story as one cohesive unit made up of related parts
2) You do NOT need to plot in advance to use a storyboard. You can add to it as you go along and move stuff around however you please. That’s why everything is on sticky notes!
3) You can create your story board however you want. There is no One Method. Whatever works for YOU is the right way. K?

YOUR TURN: Have you (or someone you loved *g) ever used a story board? What do you think about utilizing visualization tools to physically “see” your story? What other spatial organizational methods have you tried?

TATTF, Prizes & a Storyboard

Side note: Don’t forget to add your creative juices to the Renaming “Trevor & the Tooth Fairy” Title Contest–you can win fun prizes!

It’s been *forever* since I did a Thursday Thirteen. I keep meaning to, and keep forgetting they exist. (Much like Poetry Monday. I must remember to rejoin the poetry train!) So, today I remember, but I’m still not doing one. Can’t think of thirteen anythings off the top of my head.

Instead… lets talk about revision. Mostly because I’m getting ready to revise and really can’t think of anything else right now, ’cause I’m super-excited about that.

But I’m not going to rehash all revision posts elsewhere on this blog or on the Manuscript Mavens blog. I want to talk about what we do before revision.

Yes, we. You and me. I’ll show you mine first, and then you show me yours in the comments, okay?

So, as you may or may not know, I’ve written 4 complete manuscripts. (I’d say 4.7, since DATD is almost done, but I don’t think 0.7 of a manuscript counts as “complete”. *g)

How did I revise Novel 1?
* Start writing first draft
* Receive crit group feedback before finishing first draft
* Immediately address criticism, even if that meant rewriting from scratch before continuing on with the new writing
* Repeat

This was a Bad Plan. Do not try this at home. I got so, so, so sick of that story…

Everyone’s process is different. Some people like to revise multiple times. Some people are ready to ship it off to their agent/editor by the time they hit The End.

I’m the sort of person who needs to hit The End before rewriting page 1. I’ve learned that about myself finally, and so glad I did. So, moving on to:

How did I revise Novel 2?
* Write complete first draft
* Send off requested full (from conference pitch)
* Receive single CP feedback
* Realize story needs serious help, and shelve entire project

Yet another Bad Idea.

The problem here wasn’t that I shelved this story. I’m so glad I did. It’s not even a genre I wish to pursue anymore.

The problem is the order of bulleted items 2 and 3, especially since this story was aimed at pretty much the sole category house. I’d killed this story’s chances.

I learned to complete the first draft before starting major reconstructive surgery, which was good, and I’d quit virtually all the eight billion online critique groups I’d joined during Story 1 (which was another terrible idea–never write a story by committee!) but I was so eager to get the requested MS off in a timely fashion that I sent it off before I got my CP’s feedback. Which was stupid. So, moving on:

How did I revise Novel 3?
* Write complete manuscript
* Shelve it

Say it with me: yet another Bad Idea. How was it going to go anywhere, with that method?

The upside is that if I had not shelved that story when I did, I wouldn’t’ve been sitting around with nothing better to do when the crapometer rolled around. So I definitely don’t regret it in that sense.

Plus, having given that manuscript so much space–and having written 1.7 stories since then–has afforded me perspective and objectivity I didn’t have before, not to mention better skill at my craft. So, when I go back to revise this story (and I will, right after TATTF) I’ll actually do a much better job of it than if I’d sat down to revise it right after I finished it in the first place.

So, not completely a bad thing!

I mentioned I was actually learning during this process, so on to:

How did I revise Novel 4?
* Write complete first draft, sending CPs chunks at a time
* Read and file their crits while finishing draft
* Make a To Do list of big things to change (while finishing draft)
* Plotstorm with CPs after finishing draft
* Make all the big To Do changes first
* Make all the line-crit feedback second
* Layer and polish last
* Send off requested full (this time, via slush pile request)

This, as it turns out, was a Good Idea. One I highly recommend, if you haven’t found your process yet. (If you have found your process, then by all means, stick to your process!)

So, now that I did all that, is novel number four perfect? Hell no.

I got a fabulous edit memo from my agent–some points of which eerily echoed story feedback I’d received the week before, from a non-writer beta reader–and I now have a Plan of Attack.

Here, I’ll prove it to you:

TATTF Storyboard: Erica Ridley

That monstrosity, my friends, is the brand spanking new TATTF storyboard, the methodology of which is cobbled together between a workshop my pal Diana once gave, a concept my pal Julie shared on her blog, and an index card system I’ve been using since the very first story. (In many ways, I transferred the index cards to sticky notes. Much better this way. If you’re interested, I’ll tell you all about it.)

Now my plan is to create a To Do List and a Things To Keep In Mind List (the latter of which is to prevent me from forgetting plot elements or entire characters for whole acts at a time *g) later this evening, and finally get my feet wet with the revision first thing in the morning.

Look to the right–I even added a handy dandy Revise-O-Meter! Isn’t it just lovely? (Er… it will be lovely, once it doesn’t say 0 out of 100,000 accomplished. *g)

YOUR TURN: Now I want to hear all about YOU! If you’ve written at least one complete story, please share the different approaches to revision you’ve tried, and what so far (if anything) has worked best for you. If you’re currently at work on your first story, please share whether you’re revising as you go or waiting to The End. Either way, I’d love to know what made you choose the methods you chose, and what elements did or did not prove effective. Share!

TATTF: A Journey in Karmic Coincidence

Before we begin, don’t forget to add your creative juices to the Renaming “Trevor & the Tooth Fairy” Title Contest–you can win fun prizes!

Okay, on with the show…

Some of you know this story. For those who do not, here’s the true tale.

Once upon a time, there was an author–let’s call her “Erica”–who loved to procrastinate by surfing the Internet. One of her favorite sites to hit was Miss Snark’s blog because it was entertaining and educational, which meant Erica could rationalize the hours spent there as “productive” writerly time. Ahem.

From time to time, the anonymous agent Miss Snark would run feedback series called “Crapometers”, in which X number of readers would email her something specific, such as a story synopsis, for her to publicly snark on her blog.

These pithy flayings were hugely entertaining, and Erica cursed herself every time she missed one. (Then, as now, she tended to visit her blog roll in spurts, and the open window for submissions tended to be just a few hours long.)

In December of 2006, Miss Snark held the Happy Hooker Crapometer and dared her readers to try and hook the notoriously snarky, unhookable agent.

Erica thought that was a pretty good plan.

Unfortunately, Erica did not have a hook, because she did not have a WIP. (Because she’d been too busy procrastinating instead of writing–see paragraph #1.)

Not one to let opportunity pass her by if she could help it, Erica decided to invent a hook off the top of her head. After all, she was sitting at a departure gate in the Tampa Airport with nothing better to do while waiting for her flight to roll in.

What would make a good hook? Well, conflict makes a good hook, right? The Sesame Street skit “Fred Takes a Drink of Water” is hilarious because of its tongue-in-cheek conflictlessness, sure. But Miss Snark is more discriminating than that.

So, Erica kept in mind the old conflict adage about the fireman and the arsonist (aka, pit your hero and heroine against each other) and tried to dream up character types with inherent conflict.

Some people might’ve thought of the determined bachelor and the woman set on marrying him (possibly with a secret baby in her arsenal), or the hardened detective and the waiflike victim he must protect from the vicious killer at all costs, or the virile vampire and the ivory-skinned mortal who cannot help but succumb to his thrall.

Not Erica. She thought of the tooth fairy.

Now, some people might think the tooth fairy has no natural enemies with whom to have inherent conflict. If so, you’re not using your imagination! Erica decided to invent some antagonists.

It made no sense for a small child to fight for her tooth rather than take a shiny silver dollar, so Erica pitted the hapless tooth fairy against an archeologist who needs to hold onto the skeleton tooth he’s just found, in order to keep his job. And then, just for fun, gave the poor apprentice tooth fairy (we can’t have her being an omnipotent, uber tooth fairy!) a villain working behind the scenes to help bring her down.

Thus satisfied, Erica zipped off an email with her 250 word hook to the venerable Miss Snark and headed off to her family’s annual early Christmas a thousand miles away.

Much to her surprise, when she finally got around to checking her email again, there was a message from Miss Snark. The message said that the hook was good and funny. Erica had passed into the second (and final) round, and should please send the first five pages.

Five pages? Of a story she’d made up in an airport terminal? Crap!

Erica did what any self-respecting procrastinator would do–she waited around until it was almost too late to send anything in at all. During this waiting-around period, she read the submissions of the few people whose hooks Miss Snark had actually liked, and winced in sympathy at the brutal snarking most of them achieved.

She even checked with a few of her friends and chaptermates to get their opinion on the situation. Virtually all said something along the lines of, “Wow, I can’t believe you hooked Miss Snark! But a tooth fairy? Are you serious? No way can you make a full length adult romance out of that.”

But, not wishing for opportunity to pass her by, Erica spent the hours before a different return flight knocking out five pages. Okay, six. Which she then trimmed down to five. Or closer to four and a half.

In any case, Miss Snark posted the excerpt (ha! she thought it was the excerpt, but it was the entire manuscript! bet I was the only one who got my entire manuscript posted!) and wonder of wonders… actually liked it!

Erica thought to herself, “Well, if Miss Snark thinks it’s got potential–and she’s not only a stiletto-wearing crotchety gin addict, she doesn’t even represent romance–it can’t be that stupid of an idea.”

And so she sat down and wrote.

Between January 15 and March 6, 2007, she knocked out 99,936 words. As soon as she was done with that, she cleaned up the partial (with the help of her CPs) and started querying agents. While waiting to hear back from the dozen or so agents, she entered a couple contests and managed to triple-final in one of them (no word yet on the other). She sent all the agents who’d requested material a nice email mentioning said triple-final and waited some more. And then in July of 2007, one of the interested agents said she loved Trevor & the Tooth Fairy and offered representation.

Now Erica just received her very first revision letter and is busy polishing up the story so her agent can send it on its merry way to NYC.

Whether or not this is the book that makes that first sale, the whole experience has been amazing, emotional (lots of interest, rejections, and waiting!), and self-affirming.

*raises glass*

To tooth fairies… and Miss Snark! =)

YOUR TURN: If this is the first time you heard the tale of how TATTF came to be, what do you think? (Well, you can tell me even if you already knew about it. *g) I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions about any step of the process along the way–just ask! (Oh, and please suggest some new title possibilities!)

Good Karma Tuesday + Special Request

Happy Tuesday!

Today’s Good Karma Tuesday winner is: HEATHER

Remember, all you have to do to win is comment anywhere on this blog! I even check and respond to comments on old, archived posts, so leave your input wherever you’d like. Oh, and send me your address when you win, so I can send you a prize! =)

I sent out a giant stack of prizes last week. Vicki Lane, B.E. Sanderson and Alyssa Goodnight were the first to tell me they’d received theirs. Hopefully the rest of the prizes start showing up for everyone else very soon!

Hope you all join me tomorrow for story time, as I present a true life fairy tale called TATTF: A Journey in Karmic Coincidence. But first! The “Special Request” portion of today’s post comes into play.

Please help me think up potential titles for TMFKATATTF!
(The Manuscript Formerly Known as Trevor & the Tooth Fairy)

Next week’s Good Karma Tuesday winner(s) will be randomly chosen from anyone who posts a comment with title suggestions.

PARAMETERS

Length: Any
Just because TATTF is a long title doesn’t mean YOUR suggestion has to be!

Content: Evocative of Genre
Ideally, the title will imply “funny”, “paranormal”, and “romance”
(I’m willing to settle for a subset, but perfect-world would have all three)

Example: Stephanie Rowe
Her novels “Sex & the Immortal Bad Boy” (Bad Boy=funny, Immortal=paranormal, Sex=romance) and “Must Love Dragons” (singles-ad style title, Love=romance, Dragons=paranormal) both have all three elements.

Exceptions: Not juvenile or gay
While there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality or childhood, this book is about neither subject. So, titles such as “A Visit From the Tooth Fairy” and “The Fairy and the Bone Lover” should be avoided at all costs. *g

Current list of suggested titles:
(Updated regularly from the comments section)
* A Brush with Love
* A Chance for Magic
* A Charming Young Lady
* A Fairy Huge Bone
* A Handful of Glitter
* A Hint of Magic
* A Man for the Fairy Lover
* A Pixie for Trevor
* A Toothsome Tale
* A Touch of Magic
* All’s Fairy in Love
* Ain’t That the Tooth
* As You Wish
* Beaver in the Woods
* Beneath His Pillow
* Between Two Worlds
* Brace Yourself
* Charmed to the Teeth
* Charming the Tooth Fairy
* Come Back Here with that Tooth
* Daisy and the Digger
* Daisy & the Winged Horse She Rode in On
* Daisy and Trevor’s Teeth
* Daisy Chain
* Daisy In Love
* Daisy Le Fay, Apprentice Tooth Fairy
* Daisy Undercovers
* Daisy’s Teeth
* Dating for the Magically Challenged
* Dig that Pixie
* Diggin’ for the Tooth
* Digging For Love
* Digging On You
* Digs Fangs and Fey
* Dirty Daisy
* Dr. Forceps and Nurse Tweezer
* Earning Her Wings
* Fairies Need Love Too
* Fairy Carpet Ride
* Fairy Eye for a Bone Guy
* Fairy Fairy Quite Contrary
* Fairy in Love
* Fairy in My Closet
* Fairy Love
* Fairy Lust
* Fairy Me
* Fairy Tail
* Fairy Thee Well
* Fairy Well
* Fight for Tooth
* Fighting Tooth Fairy and Nail
* Focus Pocus
* ForgetMe (Not)
* Fossils and Fairies
* Gimme That Tooth, Handsome!
* Giving my Eyeteeth for Love
* His Fairy Lady
* His Magic Wand
* Hot Fairy Sex and the Mortal Archaeologist
* How Trevor Met Daisy
* How Trevor Won Tenure
* I Like You Fairy Much
* In the Teeth of Love
* Jurassic Pixie
* Like Magic
* Love & the Magically Challenged
* Love & the Single Fairy
* Love and Wishes
* Love Dig
* Lovelives of the Magically Challenged
* Magical and True
* Magical Mystery Tooth
* Magically Challenged
* Midwest Magic
* Mismatched
* Miss Snark and the Tooth Fairy
* Miss Snark Loved This..and Killer Yapp Too
* Molar Express
* Move over Fairy Godmother, here comes the Tooth Fairy
* Must Love Magic
* My Fair Fairy
* My Fairy Lady
* My Sweet Tooth
* No Pillow Needed
* Not the Right Pillow
* Nothin’ but the Tooth
* [Of] Teeth and Tenure
* [Of] Teeth and True Love
* [Of] Wings and Bones
* One Fae too many
* On the Wings of a Bone
* Opposites Attract
* Pillow Sham
* Pillow Slip
* Pillow Talk
* Pillow Talk with a Pixie
* Pinning Her Wings
* Pixie Dig
* Pixie Love
* Pixie Lust
* Pixie Talk
* Professors & Pixie Dust
* Pumpkins & Pixie Dust
* Right Tooth, Wrong Pillow
* Saving Apprentice Daisy
* School of Rocks
* Screwed Up
* Sex and the Single Fairy
* Sex and the Single Pixie
* Sexy Daisy
* She Took More Than Teeth
* Spreading Her Wings
* Stop, Or I’ll Steal Your Teeth
* Strange Hands in my Sleeping Bag
* Sweet Tooth
* Tenure Through Teeth
* The Anthropologist’s Tooth Fairy
* The Book Formerly Known as TMFKATATTF
* The Bone Beneath My Wings
* The Cap and the Crown
* The Case of the Malevolent Molar
* The Drill and the Floss
* The Eyeteeth of Love
* The Fairy & Her Odd Parents
* The Fairy & the Bone Lover
* The Fairy In Trevor’s Closet
* The Fairy with the Magic Wand
* The Molar of the Story
* The Naked Tooth
* The Night of the Tooth Fairy’s Apprentice
* The Night the Tooth Fairy Earned Her Wings
* The Pillow Case
* The Practical Fairy
* The Prof and the Peri
* The Sexy Pixie
* The Teeth of Love
* The Tooth About Daisy
* The Tooth About Fairies
* The Tooth About Love
* The Tooth About Trevor
* The Tooth Fairy’s Apprentice
* The Tooth Fairy’s Lover
* The Tooth Shall Set You Free
* The Trouble with the Tooth Fairy
* The Trouble with Trevor
* The Truth About the Tooth Fairy
* The Whole Tooth
* The Wrong Pillow
* Through the Eyeteeth of Love
* To Daisy with Love
* To Tell the Tooth
* To the Fairy with Love
* Tooth and Bone
* Tooth and Nail
* Tooth be Told
* Tooth Fairy Tales
* Tooth Lover
* Tooth Magic
* Tooth or Consequences
* Tooth or Dare
* Toothfully Trevor’s
* Toothsome
* Totally Toothful
* Trevor and the Tooth Fairy
* Trevor’s Teeth
* Under the Pillow
* Unmatched
* [Unpronounceable Symbol]
* What You Wish For
* When Trevor Met Daisy
* Wherefores and Wherefrogs
* Wing It
* Winging It
* Wingman
* Winning Her Wings
* Wishbone
* Wrong Tooth, Right Pillow

A blurb for the story as well as the entire first chapter can be found here on my web site.

YOUR TURN: Bring on the creativity! Anything goes. Use plays on dating quotes or love truisms, words relating to love/dating/magic/etc. Surprise me!

Goals, Wishes, & a Reality Check

Today I posted a giant essay on GOALS (how to make good ones and how to achieve them) over on the Manuscript Mavens blog. I won’t regurgitate myself here, but I’ll wait for you if you want to go read it.

(No really–go take a peek)

Back? OK. (Did you really go? I hope you left a comment over there. I’ve got my eye on you. *g)

I wanted to do a New Year’s Resolution reality check at the halfway point through the year, but with one thing or another, I ended up a month behind. Better late then never, though, so here we go.

The Top 10 Goals for 2007 I posted on January 1 are as follows:

10) Attend the national conference in August
09) Attend all local monthly chapter meetings
08) Meet with my local CPs at least once a month
07) Be more active (and interactive) with my online CPs
06) Query and/or pitch at least 5 agents
05) Query and/or pitch at least 3 editors/publishers
04) Enter at least 4 contests
03) Blog at least once a week
02) Write two novel-length stories
01) Do something writing-related every single day

Now, to be good goals, they must be specific, quantifiable, realistic, and attainable. Let’s see.

10) Attend the national conference in August

Check. I did in fact achieve this goal. Although I achieved it in July, since that’s when the national conference was. Next year I’ll add “learn how to read a calendar” to the list.

09) Attend all local monthly chapter meetings

Fail. I missed a couple meetings due to being out of the country. Although this goal was specific and quantifiable, in retrospect it may not have been particularly realistic or even attainable, given my schedule. I will reword this when I update. This item belongs on an ideal-world Wish List, not a checklist of goals.

08) Meet with my local CPs at least once a month

Fail. Being out of the country for six weeks at a stretch kind of killed this one for the same reasons as above, but also my local CPs had their own life issues tangle up our potential together-time. Therefore, this goal was neither realistic nor attainable, right from the start. Again, this is an ideal-world Wish List item, not an achievable goal.

07) Be more active (and interactive) with my online CPs

Check. We met up at the National conference, started the Manuscript Mavens blog, and email almost daily.

06) Query and/or pitch at least 5 agents

Check. This is a good goal. It’s specific, quantifiable, realistic, and attainable. “Get an agent” is not a good goal, because getting an agent is as much a function of luck and perseverance as it is skill and talent. I pitched a total of three agents and queried a good dozen before I ended up signing with Lauren Abramo of the Dystel & Goderich literary agency.

05) Query and/or pitch at least 3 editors/publishers

Fail. For multiple reasons. I did pitch one editor at National, but did not otherwise pursue this goal. I decided it was much smarter to get an agent, instead, and let her submit proposals to editors at publishing houses. If that process happens this year, I guess I will indirectly achieve this goal.

04) Enter at least 4 contests

Check. Jury’s still out on one contest I entered, but I ended up triple-finaling in the TARA Contest. Which, I’d like to point out, is a nice accolade, but did not lead to the agent, directly or indirectly. Goal #6 led to the agent.

03) Blog at least once a week

*maniacal laughter* Er, check. Clearly, I have an addiction. I blog here at least once per weekday, even when I’m not in the country. I blog over in Mavenland every Monday. And I have the non-guest Friday slot over on Romantic Inks. So, yeah. At least once a week.

02) Write two novel-length stories

Not yet. I wrote and got agent representation for one story, and am 2/3 through the second Nether-Netherland book, although I may revise a previous story before finishing that one. I am still hoping to make this goal this year.

01) Do something writing-related every single day

Fail. Like #s 9 and 8, this goal simply isn’t realistic or attainable given a) my erratic schedule and b) life.

So.

It’s time to revamp the goals for the rest of the year. They are now:

10) Schedule a writing retreat for sometime within the next 6 months
09) Attend all local monthly chapter meetings if in town to do so
08) Attend weekly Maven chats if Internet access is available
07) Polish TATTF and send to agent
06) Finish first draft of DATD
05) Revise Touched
04) Read an average of 1 book per week
03) Blog at least once per weekday
02) Visit my blogroll at least once per week
01) Do something writing-related every workday with Internet access

What changes did I make?

Well, some of the goals are completely different, as I removed those I’d already achieved and those that were impossible. And some of the goals now have more sense-making caveats, such as attending all chapter meetings if I’m in town, as it’s dreadfully difficult to make them from out of the country.

Some of the goals are harder than others and some are more time consuming than others, but writing is a profession, and success isn’t for the lazy.

If I want to be an author, I have to work at being an author.

That said, all goals are not created equal! You have to make the goals that are right for you. You do not need to attend retreats or conferences or chapter meetings in order to be an author. You do not need to blog or enter conferences or even get an agent in order to be an author. Only you can determine the goals that are right for you.

YOUR TURN: I hope you *have* determined the goals that are right for you! Care to share any of them with me? Are you a goal maker or a goal breaker? If you made New Year’s resolutions back in January, how’s that going for you?

A Friendly Revision Letter + UPDATE

Friends don’t let friends write sucky stories.

So, while I’m biding my time before I receive my agent revision letter for TATTF*, my pal Maven Darcy sends me a CP revision letter for the story I wrote immediately before that. I had already subjected Maven Lacey to it months earlier and received revision info from her as well.

Unsurprisingly, they both had many of the same things to say regarding areas of room for improvement. (Which probably means they’re, uh, right. *g)

Despite my well-documented allergy to mass rewrites, I am actually excited to get back to this project for several reasons.

One might be because it’s a Regency-set historical, which, although not the genre I first fell in love with reading (as a child, I inhaled a mad mix of Roald Dahl, Madeline l’Engle, Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, and Stephen King) Regency romances were the genre that I immediately chose when, as an adult, I decided to try my hand at that writing thing again.

Another big reason why I’m excited to go back to Touched is because I’ve long felt it was my abandoned-stepchild novel.

My first two stories weren’t perfect but didn’t totally suck (they garnered requested fulls but no offers of publication, they finalled in contests but never won, etc) and had been relegated to that magical mulch pile under my bed.

Touched was my third story.

The plot bloomed to life one afternoon last August while noshing on free cookie samples at a Panera with CP Kel and CP ‘Manda. I wrote the first word on August 29 and word 85,221 (er, the last word) on September 24. Meaning, the entire thing spewed forth in less than a month.

And then I never looked at it again. Like, ever.

I left immediately after that for a month in Europe, and when I came home from that I had to play catch-up with client work and whatnot, and then it was Thanksgiving and suddenly December, which brought about Miss Snark’s final crapometer and the snowball of karma that produced (I’ll blog about that next week by request *g) and then the next thing I knew, it was August again, and Touched never had a chance.

Well, now it does!

I plan to force myself (yes, force myself!) to be optimistic and cheerful about the revision process, and here’s why:

* Attitude is everything! And it’s something you have complete control over. (Ask Maven Lacey about her iPod trick sometime)

* I’m a much better writer today, in August 2007, than I was then, in August 2006.

I think the reason I held fast to my anti-rewriting stance was that I knew those first stories I wrote were practice novels. I could rewrite them, sure, but they’d never be as good as something I wrote new.

Touched, while imperfect, doesn’t have fatal flaws to the point where the story is irredeemable. And I’m finally confident enough in my abilities as a writer to actually believe rewriting it wouldn’t be a waste of my time, that I can revise it and make it good.

And that’s so exciting for me!

True, chances are excellent it’ll take me exponentially longer to rewrite than it did to write in the first place. But that’s okay. The story is what matters.

*
UPDATE!
I just received my agent’s revision letter for Trevor & the Tooth Fairy! Yay! Hurray! Squee!
*runs off to start revising*

YOUR TURN: Have you ever permanently shelved a book, as I did with my first two stories? If not, why not? If so, how do you decide which books are better off dormant and which books deserve the time it takes to revise them into perfection? What makes you excited to do a mass rewrite (if ever)?