Filtering Out the Bad

Halloween 018

Filter words. I think they’re one of my biggest pet peeves when editing other people’s work. Turns out, they’re also my kryptonite. When I started editing my YA WIP, I couldn’t believe how many I saw had slipped their way into my ms. I looked at them cluttering up my draft like spider webs in an unused room. I felt sick. I’d heard writing experts advise against them so many times, and yet here I was using them.

Okay, now let’s try that again without them:

Filter words. They’re one of my biggest pet peeves when editing other people’s work. Turns out, they’re also my kryptonite. When I started editing my YA WIP, the number of them that had slipped their way into my ms amazed me. They cluttered up my draft like spider webs in an unused room. They sickened me. Writing experts always advise against them, and yet here I was using them.

Better, right?

Those sneaky little words: saw, heard, watched, knew, felt, believed, etc, they all get between the reader and the action, “filtering” it through the character’s view, and inflating your word count. Even worse, in a first person POV they add an extra “I” – which is the last thing you want.

So how do you fix it? For the most part, all it takes is removing the filter words (and their subject) and turning the object of the sentence (whatever your character was seeing, hearing, watching, etc) into the subject.

For instance, “I heard the door slam, and I knew mom was finally home” becomes “The door slammed. Mom was finally home.” See how much more immediate that is? You’re inside your character’s head, hearing what they hear, knowing what they know.

I bet some of you are thinking, “But what if the character seeing or hearing something is the action? For instance, if they’re seeing something shocking, or eavesdropping?” It’s okay to use these words occasionally, especially if you want to emphasize their action – which is why you need to remove all the extraneous uses, so that when you do use them, they stand out.

What about you? Do you find yourself using filter words? Or have you managed to scrub them completely from you writing? Let me know in the comments.





I Wrote a Book, Now What? (Part 2)

Cake made for my grandmother-in-law's book club.
Cake made for my grandmother-in-law’s book club.

Last week I talked about the first steps to take after writing a book – cooling off, revising, and finding crit partners. This week I’m focussing on what to do once you’ve got a shiny, polished, revised-with-the-help-of-critique-partners manuscript.

First off, you’re going to have to make some decisions: Self-Publishing, or the more Traditional route through a publisher?

There are Pros and Cons to both, and I’m not going to take sides. Nathan Brantsford (who’s been through both systems) wrote a great post about Traditional vs. Self-Publishing here, and Jane Friedman wrote one here, dispelling some myths about transitioning between the two. It’s up to you to make your own decision.

I decided to go the Traditional route, so I’m going to focus on it.

Your next step is to decide whether you want to go through an agent or go straight to a publisher. Nowadays most big publishers won’t take unagented submissions – which means if you want to get into one of the big publishing houses, you need to get an agent first.

Now, some of this will depend on where you live: here in Canada there are a number of smaller publishers who take unagented submissions, and not a lot of agents. About half the published writers (with more than one book) that I’ve met at Canadian SCBWI conferences, don’t have agents.

For more about whether or not you need to have an agent, check out this super-helpful post from Harold Underdown.

The point is, you should make a choice. Trying to find an agent and publisher simultaneously is generally considered bad form – after all, what if an agent signs you, but your work was already rejected by the publishers they had in mind for it? Or, what if a publisher wants to sign you, so you contact an agent? Some agents will sign you and broker the deal, but others will feel their hands are tied – they can’t send out the ms to other publishers and get you a better deal with one already on the table.

Ok, so you’ve made your decision.

Whether you’re looking for an agent or a publisher, your next step is to write a query letter. I’ve written posts about them here and here where I link to my favorite query sources.

Once you’ve got your query letter written (and checked by your crit partners), the next step is research. The internet is your friend. Use it to research the agents or publishers you think would be a good fit for your book. Don’t waste their time (and yours) by sending out queries to people who don’t represent or publish the kind of books you write.

Not sure where to start researching? Literary Rambles is a great site for information on agents for children’s literature. The posts go back a fair ways, though, so always double check an agency’s website for up to date information. And when in doubt, just Google: “children’s book publishers,” “literary agents,” or whatever it is you’re looking for. Most websites will have a “Submissions” tab to click on to find out how to send in your work. Also, for those on Twitter, follow the hashtag #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) to see what agents (and occasionally editors) are looking for.

Unfortunately, not all agents (or editors) want what’s best for you. Some of them are just in it for the money. So, part of your research needs to go into not just making sure the agent/editor is a good fit for your book, but making sure they’re a legit agent/editor. Preditors and Editors is a great site to check out who is established in their field, and who is looking to rip you off. The forums at Absolute Write are also a good spot to check – if you think someone’s sketchy, there’s probably a thread about them there.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that none of these people should ask you for money. If they want to charge you a reading fee, or recommend an editing service, run in the opposite direction.

Once you’ve done your research, send out a small test batch of queries (5-10), including some of your top picks, as well as a few less-than-dream agents (that way if they all turn down your project, you haven’t lost your chance with all your top picks at once). If you end up with a fistful of form rejections (or the dreaded No Response), take another look at your query and first pages before sending out more. If you get a couple of partial requests, send them, but keep sending out more queries, too.

While you’re querying, keep an eye out for online contests, like the ones MSFV, Brenda Drake, and Michelle Hauck run, are great ways to make connections and get your work seen. Even if you don’t win the ultimate prize of representation, you can learn a lot from participating.

Most of all, grab some chocolate and prepare yourself for a long and bumpy ride. Publishing moves at glacial speed. Remember, anyone who does turn down your project is rejecting your work, not you, and this truly is a subjective business. For tips on what to do while you’re waiting, check out this post I wrote a few weeks ago.

Good luck, and remember my favorite inspirational quote: What do you call a writer who never gives up? Published.


I Wrote a Book. Now What? (Part 1)

Cake made for my grandmother-in-law's book club.
Cake made for my grandmother-in-law’s book club.

In the last few weeks I’ve come across a number of message board posts from new writers wondering how to go about getting published. And some of the advice they’ve been getting scares me. It ranges from the self-serving: “you need to get it professionally edited – I charge $x/pg,” to the disheartening: “you don’t need a pro editor, if you can’t make your book perfect all by yourself, you have no business being a writer.”

So, I thought I’d use today’s post to go back to the basics. After all, it wasn’t that long ago I was that newbie writer wondering what to do with my manuscript.

*NB, this post details the process for fiction manuscripts – non-fiction is a whole different process.*

So, here goes:

“I wrote a book. Now what?”

First, congratulations. You’ve done what lots of people dream of doing, but never manage to find the time for. You should give yourself a big pat on the back, and maybe celebrate with cake.

However, if you want to get that book published, you’re not done yet. Your first step is to get some distance. Take a break. Walk away, and don’t look at what you’ve written for at least a month (more if you can). This cooling off period can help you feel less attached to your precious words and more able to fix the flaws (I promise you, there will be flaws).

While you’re getting some distance, you can use your time to learn a bit more about the process of revising. There are lots of good books on writing and revising (Second Sight, by Cheryl Klein, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, by Mary Kole, On Writing, by Stephen King, Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass – are just the first few that come to mind.) Most are available at public libraries. There are also a ton of blogs devoted to writing advice Writability by Ava Jae, kidlit, by Mary Kole, and y’know, this one – to name a few.)

Once you’ve cooled off and learned a bit more about crafting a story, get in there and make it as good as possible. This means revising. And revising some more. And, maybe one more time for good luck.

All right, you’ve made that bad boy as good as you possibly can. Time to send it out in the world, right?


The next step is to get someone else to look over your work. And I’m not talking your spouse, parental unit, or BFF. Why? Because if they value your love/friendship, they probably won’t give you an honest opinion. (And, trust me, if they do speak honestly, you aren’t going to like them very much afterwards.) But really, you want someone who knows about writing, who can comment intelligently about plot development, adverb overuse, and/or dreaded clichés (among other things).

So, you need to find some other writers – preferably those writing in the same or similar genre to you (If you’re writing a Picture Book, find other PB writers, Adult Mystery, other Adult Mystery writers – or at least suspense, etc, writers). How do you do that?

Well, The Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) organizes critique groups for members. They also have message boards that anyone can join – you could try finding a critique group through them. Absolute Write (another message board) has boards to help you find critique partners (for children’s and adult writers). And, though I’m not an expert in these, most Adult genres have some kind of association (eg. RWA – The Romance Writers of America) which may offer message boards or critique groups (I don’t know for sure, since I don’t write those genres).

Now, if you are anything like I was at this stage, you’re probably thinking one of the following things:

  1. But, my book is good, I don’t need help.
  2. I’m not ready to show it to other people
  3. I don’t want anyone to know I’m doing this writing-thing until I have a published book to announce

Let me just say: 1. No, it’s not, and yes, you do. 2. What do you think editors/agents are? and 3. hahahahahaha (Sorry, that last one was a bit mean). Seriously, though, it’s often difficult to separate yourself from your work. It’s kind of like having kids – you pretty much always think your kid is the cutest/best-behaved/smartest kid ever, and it takes another parent pointing out to you that, actually, most 9-year-olds don’t still wear diapers to realize that maybe they’re not so perfect after all. Every writer has different strengths and weaknesses, and critique partners can help point these out to you.

Plus there’s the extra bonus of critiquing – learning. Seeing something that’s not working in someone else’s manuscript can help you avoid making the same mistakes in your own.

Okay. This is post is getting long, so I’m going to split it in two. Tune in next week to PART 2 to find out what to do once you have a polished (by critique partners) manuscript.


September Check-In

Fondant picnic blanket
Fondant picnic blanket

All right, the summer is (almost) over, so I thought I’d check in on my public to-do list and see how I fared.

(Making my goals public is a great way of forcing me to actually, you know, *do* them.)

  1. One blog post a week – If you’ve been following the blog, then you know I managed this – even finding time to run the super-successful Logline Critique (thank you again to everyone who participated and made it such a great event). Not only that, but I already have my post topics for the next few weeks. Yay!
  2.  Rejoin my online crit group – Sadly, I did not get around to this. Summer filled up fast, and entertaining the kids took more work than expected. But I’m hoping to get back in the critiquing swing after Halloween – even better, I’ll get to meet a few of my online crit group members at the CANSCAIP PYI conference in November!
  3. Expand my social media presence – Another yes! I was pretty regular on Twitter over the summer, and exceeded my goal by about 90 followers. (Woohoo! Big thanks if you’re one of my new followers – if not, what are you waiting for? Come join the fun at @k_callard.) I’m also pretty sure I managed at least one post a week on other people’s blogs (although I didn’t keep precise track).
  4. Start revising my YA – I managed to get about one third of the way through the ms with the major crits I’ve been working on, but then another project jumped in and took over, so the rest is going to have to wait until after Halloween.
  5. Write at least 1 new PB – Believe it or not, I actually managed this one right at the stat of the summer (thanks to my awesome mother-in-law’s child-entertaining services). Of course I haven’t had a chance to tackle revisions, or write (or even come up) any others, but I *did* get the one done…

So, four out of five isn’t too shabby. What about you? Did you manage to complete your summer goals? Let me know in the comments.