Tuesday, December 12, 2017

How to Get Your Books into Libraries

Guest post by Steve Rzasa
Reposted from his blog

The title’s misleading. Any author can get his or her books into a library. Simply walk through the door, offer them a free copy, and say, “I’d like to donate this to your collection.”

Librarians like free books. Especially good ones.

What I want to talk about, though, is what indie authors have a greater concern for—convincing libraries to buy their books. There’s several factors to take into account. As a guy who’s both a published author—traditionally and indie—as well as a librarian, I’ll lay them out.

Budgets
This is the biggest issue. Libraries are mostly public funded. When times get tough, and they have to make budget cuts, acquisition for collections suffers first. Most libraries I know of (in the state of Wyoming, where I work, anyway) don’t want to cut staff. If you can determine whether or not your library is fiscally stable, then you’ve already got a better chance than offering your book for purchase by a library facing tight financial times.

Audience
This one’s trickier, and it helps if you have a relationship with a librarian who has a good handle on what the patrons of that institution like to read. Granted, sci-fi and fantasy have small readership, generally speaking. But does your local library have a core of readers who like one or the other? If so, that gives you an in. Librarians are more likely to spend money on a book and put it on their shelves if they know of people who want to read what you’ve written.

Reviews
Yes, librarians read reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, especially younger staff. However, if you can get into a journal like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal, you’ve got an even better chance of being considered for purchase.

(Susan here: Speaking of reviews, go check out the one on Steve's book, Man Behind the Wheel, on the Wyoming State Library blog.)

Patron Recommendation
This is one of the best ways. If you have even one or two people ask the library to buy your book to stock on your shelves, they will likely do it—especially if it’s people who put their name on a list to check out the book once it is processed into the collection.

Of course, it’s better to have a librarian ask the bosses to buy one of your books.

Year of Publication
This one was mentioned in one of the comments in the Realm Makers Consortium, as one library only takes books published within the last six months. Why? Well, without speaking to the staff at that library, I can only guess, but I’ll make a few educated ones.

It is likely a simple space issue. Our building has about 40,000 items in it. Every year, I process between 900 and 1,000 novels, both YA and adult fiction. The vast majority were published that year. Our bookshelves fit 20 to 25 books on each one, and there’s six shelves per unit. Math that one out: 120 books per shelf unit means we add nearly ten shelf units to the building each year. Have you tried to add ten bookcases to your house? You’d run out of space quick. So libraries weed older books, damaged books, and those that don’t circulate in order to find room.

Bottom line, a newer book is more likely to get onto the shelves—unless you’re local, then convincing the library to buy your book is easier. Our library in particular loves to have local authors added. It’s part of our mission, and our director even waives room rental fees when writers have book signings.

Silver Lining
I don’t mean this to sound hopeless or hard. Your best bet is to aim local. If you can find champions of your book among hometown librarians, they’ll recommend your book to readers – and better yet, to other librarians. I’d also suggest banding together to do a vendor table at library conferences. Those tables aren’t cheap, but if a bunch of people can do something like the Realm Makers Mobile Bookstore at library conferences, that gets you seen by the people who decide purchasing.

Questions?
I’m an author, and a librarian. Feel free to ask me questions anytime about what goes on behind those bookshelves!

------

By day, Steve Rzasa works as your local technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming. By night, he dons his spacesuit and authors speculative fiction. (We asked, but he wouldn't send a spacesuit author photo.) Steve has written eleven novels, including Broken Sight, which won in American Christian Fiction Writers’ Best Speculative Fiction award in 2012. He’s a fan of all things sci-fi and superhero, and a student of history. His most recent book is Man Behind the Wheel. Find him online at www.steverzasa.com.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Making the Most of Your Manuscript Analysis

Guest post by Dallas Jones

To formally start the assessment and revision process for my first novel, Meet the Boys of Casper, I hired a professional to perform a manuscript analysis. The insights gained from this effort not only provided tangible suggestions to improve the quality of my writing—which I was expecting, but they also unexpectedly forced me to consider why and to whom I was writing my book.

A manuscript analysis is a high-level review of a prospective book. Rather than addressing detailed considerations such as sentence structure, its purpose is to assess the general flow of the story. Does the plot make sense, and is it well executed? Are the characters developed? In my mind, the manuscript analysis is an advance critique prior to starting the back and forth interaction with an editor. In fact, adjustments in your story as a result of feedback from a manuscript analysis might make the difference between being accepted or rejected by a publisher.

In my case, I had already decided to self-publish; however, I had reached the point where I needed some other eyes to review my work. After taking a few passes at my manuscript and bringing it to what I believed was a semi-polished state, I solicited feedback. Earlier in the effort, I ran my work by family, friends and some independent publishers. Their reactions tended to be positive, but no one offered any substantial type of constructive analysis, so I searched online for some help and ran across an indie publisher/author who offered a manuscript analysis for $125. I thought her price was reasonable, so I pursued an engagement. Within two weeks after submitting my work, my reviewer delivered a thorough and candid analysis.

She carefully described my writing style and assessed the story’s content. Specifically, she observed that I wrote from an omniscient point of view in an expository manner. Having never taken a creative writing course, these terms were new to me. I’d never really thought about my particular style—only that if felt natural to me—and appreciated the fact it had a formal definition. She also accurately described my book as a set of character studies. Finally, she provided a sample edit for the first few pages of my manuscript and pointed out some weaknesses.

In her summary, she identified the problems she perceived with my manuscript. First, she indicated though my prose was good, my type of writing style is out of date and would not grab/maintain readers’ attention (especially young adult readers). Then, she noted my work was long on detailed character descriptions and devoid of plot. Again, she stated I would lose the readers’ attention because the story lacked tension that is created from a conventional protagonist/antagonist conflict. Further, she indicated my characters had no connection with one another and their existence and events were haphazard. She concluded by saying the manuscript needed a major amount of rework before it would be attractive to a publisher. Then to her credit, she provided some constructive tips and resources for novel writing.

After roughly a year’s worth of sweat, this was not the analysis I was hoping to hear. I stepped away for a few days and then began thinking about her comments. Finally, I decided to perform my own analysis of her review, and in doing so used this feedback vehicle as more than just mere guidance on writing mechanics. This exercise forced me to revisit the most basic questions in my effort—How did I write this story, why did I write this story, and for whom did I write this story?

In one of her summary statements, my reviewer noted while I might enjoy writing character studies readers wouldn’t enjoy reading them. Her observation consisted of two parts: 1) I enjoy writing character studies, but 2) readers wouldn’t. She was spot on regarding the first part. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but I do enjoy writing character studies. It’s my style and my voice. Instead of changing to a different style, I decided to own it and move forward.

When I thought about part 2, readers’ reactions to my story, I was conflicted. It was apparent from her detailed comments that she did not enjoy the story; however, when I had previously run my material by others, several liked it including another indie publisher. The thought of readers rejecting your book is terrifying, but that image of rejection forced me to honestly address why I was writing it in the first place. And then I realized my “Eureka” moment. I wrote my story because I wanted to create a tribute to my teenage friends that said, “Once upon a time, we roamed this land, and this is how we rolled.”

Along with this realization, came clarity about my target audience. I decided my primary audience consisted of my old classmates. I would declare my effort a success if my peers concurred my novel accurately captured the spirit of our teenage years (and I could put a few smiles on their faces). However, that cluster of friends represented a tiny audience. Was my novel commercially viable as written? The reviewer didn’t think so, and she was a publisher. I believed her take on the young adult market was accurate. This story was too slow for them, but still I believed my potential audience was greater than just my friends. The key was to identify readers with whom I shared something in common.

I had tried to write a story I would enjoy reading, so I speculated that people with similar experiences or reading tastes to mine could fit into my potential audience category. I am a male who grew up in Wyoming during the ‘70s, and the following novels influenced me: The World According to Garp, Catch 22, and Lamb. Perhaps my novel might resonate with the following subcategories: men, anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, someone having familiarity with Wyoming, or readers who enjoy literary fiction with a splash of humor.

Having considered my own traits, I thought again about my reviewer and what, if anything, we shared in common. The answer was not much. She was female and a citizen of another country who liked stories packed with conflict and tension. At best, she represented a tangential member of my target market. At this point, I realized not everyone will enjoy my book, and I had better mentally prepare for those instances when someone does not.

Now at peace with my purpose for writing and an understanding of my target audience, I read through the reviewer’s analysis again. She had made two excellent points that I wanted to incorporate into my revision. First, I had established little, if any, connection among my characters early in my narration. This absence left readers confused throughout the story. I would address this issue by adding a chapter to the beginning of the book. Second, the narration was too passive in too many places. I would revisit each chapter and look for opportunities to apply a “showing” vs. “telling” technique.

In summary, the small investment I made in a manuscript analysis paid off handsomely. It not only identified areas in need of improvement but also forced me to understand my purpose and expectations in writing a novel.

-----



Dallas Jones was born and raised in Casper and is a graduate of the University of Wyoming and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Though currently residing in Colorado, he still loves everything about Wyoming except the wind. Dallas has written professionally about travel, education, and fantasy baseball. MEET THE BOYS OF CASPER is his first novel. Find him on Facebook.
 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Countdown Days to Contest and Christmas

Guest post by Myra Peak

Count down the number of days until Christmas or the number of days until the WyoPoets Eugene V. Shea National Poetry Contest deadline (December 15).

When you count down days are you wasting or using the days?

My grandmother accused my mother of wasting my grandmother's life by counting the days until any big event. As with many relationships, you'd have to know those two to appreciate the solemnity of it all. I, on the other hand, prefer to look at what I've gained or achieved in the ensuing counted down days.

Use the 21 days to Christmas to find ways to be kind to others. Open a door for someone, find a dollar bill on a store floor for someone who looks like they need chocolate, sweep snow off a neighbor's sidewalk, or offer cookies to a stranger or a friend walking by your house. The surprise could be that you get new material for the poems you will write in the next 11 days before the deadline for the Shea Contest. 

A member of WyoPoets has challenged his writing friends to enter the Shea Contest, touting the ease and low cost of entering. His encouragement has been tempered by his caveat that he expects to win as many prizes as possible so he has shared his condolences to us early on.

I challenge each of you to make him work harder for his poetry. He and we will appreciate it.

Entry guidelines can be found at http://www.wyopoets.org/contests.html.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A LETTER TO MYSELF

guest post by Rebekah Cayzer

Lynn here:

This fall I teamed up with Kristin Abraham, who teaches at Laramie County Community College, to create some new bloggers. I attended a session of Kristin's Creative Nonfiction and Poetry class and talked about what blog posts are, what they aren't and what topics a blogger might take on.

The students were assigned the task of writing a blog post, targeted to an audience of writers. The results were impressive, and under duress (so many good ones to choose from!) I selected four posts to share on the Writing Wyoming blog. Today's post is the first up--three more will be shared in the coming months. 

I think you'll agree--there's some serious talent coming out of our community colleges!




A Letter to Myself
by Rebekah Cayzer

Dear Younger Self, 
The me that was shy and trying to find a place to call her own, thank you. 
You picked up the pencil and began to write. 
You wrote late into the night, and early in the morning. You never gave up when the critics came. 
You were creative, and different. You found your place. 

At first it was small, and only consisted of the notebooks and diaries, but then it grew. 
You wrote bravely for the Young Author’s contest your school had every year. 
Your first character was a part of yourself, placing your heart in her hands. 
Each piece you wrote, you created a personality that shined, taking the time to think and plan. 
You put in a lot of effort and time into each one, pouring out your heart. 

Thank you younger self. 
Your choice to write shaped me into who I am. 
I became confident, and the pen never left my hand. 
Each piece becomes a part of who I am, and you helped me with that. 
Thank you for finding a place to call home, it became a home to me too. 
I’m thankful you found something to call your own.





About Rebekah:

Currently a Psychology major at Laramie County Community College, Rebekah Cayzer enjoys her job working as a tutor in the LCCC student success center. She's been writing since she was old enough to make complete sentences.

Rebekah lives in a family of five girls, so growing up she wanted something that made her stand out and be different, which writing became. When she's not at LCCC, usually she's curled up in bed watching NCIS reruns, writing different stories, or listening to music.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teens Take Their Poetry Out Loud




(assembled) by Susan*

As anyone who's ever participated in a reading might know, poetry is both a written and a spoken tradition. Poetry takes on a different dimension when performed rather than read.

Across the nation, teens experience poetry as an oral art form in Poetry Out Loud, and right now, the Wyoming Arts Council is inviting 9th-12th teachers and students to take part. There's still time to get involved -- the application deadline is December 22.

Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation and memorization contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. The program encourages teens to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. Students can work on mastering comprehension, public speaking, acting, performance, drama and English skills while building self-confidence and internalizing our rich literary heritage. (You can see performances on the POL YouTube Channel.)

Learn more and register. But if you're not convinced yet, keep reading...

Lauren Haiar, 2017 Wyoming Poetry Out Loud winner, spoke of her experience competing in the national round in Washington D.C.:

"I’ve enjoyed poetry my entire life, and so I immediately loved the idea of Poetry Out Loud ... I knew that [national competition] was an amazing opportunity and would be a great experience, but little did I know how much it would shape my life afterwards. My experiences there have played a part in many of the decisions that I’m making today, in and out of the classroom ... Coming from a small school where not many people share my love of literature, to be in a group setting with peers of the same interests was absolutely thrilling. I felt like I became a part of a family of like-minded people. However, like-minded as we may me, the amount of diversity that I was exposed to from interacting with high school students from all over America and our territories was so eye-opening. Through the influence of poetry and the power that our words have, we learned together, and learned from each other."

Mason Neiman, educator
"In the rural Midwest, where arts opportunities for students are few and far between, Poetry Out Loud allows for my often unrepresented students to shine ... excitement in our community has grown steadily, especially since we made it to nationals last year. Poetry is steadily emerging from the shadows here in Sundance, as the town show becomes more of an event every year. Last year, we were privileged to compete at Nationals in Washington D.C. ... to see my young poet, from a town of a thousand in “flyover country”, stand alongside and cultivate lasting friendships with other young lovers of poetry from across the country, made this teacher smile wide. The opportunity for my students to identify with the triumphs and trials common to us all through the art of the spoken word and other poets has time and again transformed wallflowers into performers and bubbly extroverts into thoughtful mystics ... I wouldn't trade POL for anything and will keep my students involved so long as the program exists."
Here at Writing Wyoming, we're way into anything that encourages young people to appreciate poetry and literature. Appreciation of words is often the first step to writing.

Finalists in Wyoming’s 2017 Poetry Out Loud
state finals prepare to compete.
Photo courtesy of Wyoming Arts Council
Teachers and home school groups can learn full program details and register on the Wyoming Arts Council site. Registered schools and groups will receive a free multi-media toolkit that includes a teacher’s guide complete with lesson plans, guidance on classroom contests, evaluation criteria, posters, and a customizable contest announcement poster.

Registration deadline for this year's Poetry Out Loud is December 22. Participating teachers and homeschoolers use the POL  toolkit to teach poetry performance and run classroom competitions. Following a pyramid structure, classroom winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to the state competition in March, with the state winner awarded an all-expense-paid trip to the national competition in Washington, D.C., April 23-25.

In addition to the wonderful learning experience this program offers, students have the opportunity to win cash prizes and money for their school library to purchase poetry books.

If a school is interested in participating in Wyoming’s Poetry Out Loud competition, needs further information, or needs a packet of printed program materials, contact Tara Pappas at tara.pappas@wyo.gov, 307-777-7109.

So get involved and encourage a teen's love of poetry. Good luck to our Wyoming competitors!

*Most of this info came straight from the Wyoming Arts Council, so I can't claim to have written this, other than an editorial comment interspersed here and there.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HOW DO WRITING GROUPS ACTUALLY WORK? [PART ONE]

Writing can be like folding a banquet-sized tablecloth; you can do it yourself, but it's a lot easier when you can find somebody to help.


-- Ted Kooser & Steve Cox, in Writing Brave and Free: Encouraging Words for People Who Want to Start Writing



Lynn here: I'm a big fan of the concept of getting help with your writing--been doing it for years. That's why I put out a call to various writers to ask them to share with us how the writing groups they belong to work. Katie Smith graciously complied with the following information on Bearlodge Writers in Sundance and Prairie Pens in Gillette. In future posts, I'll share more contributions about this crucial tool for Wyoming writers.

Note: some of the information on Bearlodge Writers was previously published in an article by Writer's Digest Online that you can access here. Read it and you'll also learn about how groups in Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, California and Montana operate.

guest post by Kathleen Smith

Writing is a solitary endeavor until you have written an essay, a poem, nonfiction or fiction piece and want to make your craft better. Then you must share your words laid so carefully on the page from your heart. The easiest way to improve your craft is find a source of writers for companionship and critique.

In Wyoming because of the miles between communities some writers utilize on line writing groups. Others like me drive miles to be in the company of good writers with the desire to make the writing better for everyone at the table.

Let me share how Bearlodge Writers work.

THE BEARLODGE WRITERS (BLW) group has been active since 1979. BLW is open to any writer, new or experienced, seeking a welcoming, safe place to present work for praise and for constructive, sensitive critique. The group works with writers from first draft to last revision prior to publication. While BLW’s main mission is to offer assistance and support to one another, it has also sponsored writers’ residencies and scholarships and participated in writers conferences.

WRITING FROM: Sundance, Wyo.

SIZE: Currently, we have 20 members on our active email list. Members have ranged in age from 15 to 82.

FORMAT: BLW’s format is simple and effective. We sit around a large table located in a conference room at a very supportive local library, read the work, and garner both praise and critique from the other writers present at the table.

At one time, we did not bring copies of the work to pass around, but simply read the work while listeners made notes. Now, writers bring copies of the material to pass around the table. The writer reads while listeners write notes on the pages or suggest comments, and marks any corrections.

Sometimes, a writer will ask another writer to read the material. After critique, all copies are signed and returned to the writer. It cannot be stressed enough that we value kindness and respect for each writer’s work above criticism.

MEET UP: BLW gathers at the Sundance Library on the first Tuesday of every month, at 11:00 a.m., and on the third Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.

One member travels more than 150 miles, round trip, for meetings. Others come from neighboring South Dakota, a round-trip drive of about 60 miles. Those arriving first start the coffee and set out snacks—including lots of chocolate.

Before the reading and critique session, BLW spends about 30 minutes discussing any business, sharing information about writing successes and publishing opportunities, and answering general questions.

Those present needn’t have a piece of writing on a given day. Those who have brought work to be critiqued draw from a bag of dominoes that is passed around the table. Work is read in order from the smallest domino number to the largest.

Each writer brings a unique and valued skill set to the table. We have writers who envision the story arc, ferret out the thread of the writer’s intent and give advice on overall structure. Others are “grammar police,” able to determine proper word usage and phrasing. Members often comment about how the piece affects them emotionally and/or intellectually.

SUPPORTING EACH OTHER: Most importantly, it is about respect for the writer and the work. We are earnest about sharing a deep level of trust. What is read or said at BLW stays at the table until such time as the author chooses to share it. We offer consistent and sincere encouragement. As one member recently stated, “Bearlodge Writers is a safe place to be vulnerable.”

LESSONS LEARNED: Our individual successes help perpetuate and encourage the success of everyone in the group. The consistency of the format offers stability, and although members have come and gone—we recently lost one irreplaceable and beloved founding member—the heart and the purpose of the group remains the same: To encourage, respect and nurture writers, honor their processes, and celebrate their victories, whether that victory involves finishing a first draft or achieving publication.

Welcoming new members keeps the group vibrant, while long-time members offer an historical and experienced perspective.

I am the writer referenced in the above article that travels 150 miles. I choose to make that drive because I always know the words I share at the Bearlodge critique table will be improved.

After years of attending this writing group I have come to realize one person’s dedication and sacrifice of time has made group possible for all. Through the years, others have assumed small responsibilities for tasks to assist the group’s goals. There must be someone to arrange the meeting time with the library and maintain a current contact list for the multi-genre group of beginners and advanced writers.

Gaydell Collier was that dedicated person for Bearlodge and was a charter member of Wyoming Writers. She wrote the following in February 2007:
So what makes a good writers’ group? If we had to answer in one word, we would say, respect, and that includes trust
Respect for the writer. The writer comes as a pilgrim, bearing an offering. Whether the writer be prince (experience/published) or pauper (brand new beginner), he is granted the respect of willing attention and receipt of the critique he desires, whether it be “Does this work? Are the characters believable?” or a complete pre-pub edit. This includes respect for the writer’s emotions—a willingness to laugh or cry along with him. 
Respect for the piece. To place the offering on the table requires an act of faith by the writer. This is met by the respect of serious consideration and gentle but honest critique, focusing on the merits of the piece itself, the type of critique desired, and the intent of the writer. It is never the group’s purpose to change the intent, but to clarify, to suggest, and to encourage. 
Respect for the group. Each writer brings to the group his respect for its function and for the other members, making sure each one has time for his work to be discussed, is willing to give his thoughtful critique or expertise, and holds sacred within the group whatever revelations might be shared. Because of the mutal trust within the group, there is no “competition.” Everyone has the same goal—to make each other’s work the best it can be.
In my mind, the most important aspect of a writing group is to make the writing better without changing the voice of the author.

Our trust and respect is built by sharing an annual Christmas party, working together to bring guest speakers to our writers and others in the area, but most of all is developed by sharing lives in essays, poems, bios for submissions, and by being present at the table.


Prairie Pens 
By Kathleen Smith

PRAIRIE PENS writing group has been active since October 2004 in Gillette, Wyoming. Our group has undergone important milestones as we’ve moved forward through the years, and after experiencing the loss of Midge Farmer, the anchoring individual who gave unselfishly of her time to establish the group and was a Charter Member of Wyoming Writers.

Prairie Pens leadership has passed to Kathleen Smith and Donna Robbins, who continue to invite and encourage new writers.

Another milestone was the hosting of the Wyoming Writers Conference in Gillette in June 2017. We worked together as a group to host the catered conference in the Camplex Events Center, utilizing a hotel within easy walking distance. We learned about conference mechanics.

Our third milestone is the comaradarie and trust developed among our group from working together on this literary event. This event tied our writers in friendship and writing to others from Wyoming and other states.

WRITING FROM: Gillette, Wyoming

FORMAT: Our writers bring copies of double spaced, one inch margin, formatted writing to share with those in attendance. Writers read their work and request criticial input, as well as praise, from the group as they look to improve their efforts. Members record their comments on the critique copy, then sign, and return the piece to the writer.


MEET UP: Prairie Pens meet at the Campbell County Library on the third Saturday of each month at 1:00 p.m. in Pioneer Room 1. We are a multi-genre group welcoming writers and writing of all kinds and of all levels who wish to participate or observe.

SUPPORT OF THE WRITER: We have governing guidelines based on those used by the Sheridan Range Writers and Bearlodge Writers. Over the years we have modified these guidelines to better fit our local writers.

LESSONS LEARNED: We host in-depth work days on specific pieces to take critique to a deeper level. We share mini lessons on topics specific to the craft of writing. Prairie Pens serves and encourages talented writers in our community.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

OUR CRAZY, CRANKY TRIBE

photo by Lynn Carlson
repost by Lynn

I collect quotes, especially quotes by writers. As I read through the notebook where I scribble or cut-and-tape these quotes, I am struck by what a colorful, irascible bunch of human beings we writers are.

The quotes makes me laugh, and also leave me thinking that even on my most disgruntled days—it's not a problem, because I am in such excellent company!

You think I’m making this up? Here’s a sampling:





“A story is not a carrier pigeon with a message clamped to its leg.” 
- David Madden 









"There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts."
- Charles Dickens





“You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.” 
-Warren Ellis







“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into a bouillon cube.”          - John Le Carre


“If I had to give young writers advice, I’d say don’t listen to writers talking about writing.”             - Lillian Hellman







“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
 - H.G. Wells 







So if today is a day you find yourself frustrated, grumpy, sharp-tongued or short-tempered…

Welcome to the tribe!