Scriva Scribblings: A Book in the Works and The Blog on Hiatus

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 7, 2016
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As 2016 begins, the Scrivas always take time to reflect upon the past year and set writing goals for the new one.

We have a retreat in a few weeks during which we’ll talk about what’s working and what’s not in our writing lives. We’ll think on the strengths we have as a group and as individuals, and of course, we’ll eat chocolate and stare at the mountains and even do some writing.

In the last year, we’ve been talking about our blog presence. Is it reaching the people that we want to reach? Is it filling a need for writers who don’t have a critique group or want to make the one they have function at higher and higher levels? Do we have more to say?

We started the Scriva blog in 2011 in response to the frequently asked question: Do you have room in your group? Since then, we have had a lot to say about critique and the writing process! As a group we have written 339 posts. That is pretty crazy!

 

But 2016 will bring something new! The Scrivas are going to take a break from blogging for awhile. We’ve decided to comb through our posts, pick the best and brightest, write some more content, jazz it up, and publish an e-book!

We are all really excited about this new project. If you have topics you want us to address or if you are interested in hiring a Scriva to critique your manuscript, send us a note through the contact page. We always love to hear from you!

Big hugs and huge thanks for joining us on the journey,

The Scrivas

A challenge: putting yourself in the shoes of ALL readers

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 12, 2015
Categories: Challenges
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Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 1.03.38 PMAt the beginning of any new project, one of the things I need to figure out is who I am writing for. Is my audience four to six-year-olds or fourteen to eighteen-year-olds? Who will be doing the actual reading—Parents? A developing reader? A word ninja?

Having a clear sense of who the book is meant for will direct the many choices I have to make along the way. I have to decide on format—Picture book, graphic novel, something longer? Do the words need to leave space for illustrations or will the words do all the heavy-lifting? My reader will influence everything from story structure to word choice.

Now that I’ve been writing for as long as I have, many of the decisions come easily. I know from long practice the kind of language I can employ for different readers. I know the shape of the stories that they might need.

But I am not done.

Not by a long shot.

I have been carefully following the conversations surrounding the picture book A FINE DESSERT, and its depiction of slave children. This book was crafted with care by an author and an illustrator at the top of their game. Both do top-notch work for children and approach their work with the absolutely best intentions.

But they failed readers.

I urge you to read the summary of this conversation here and also to listen to Daniel Jose Older’s panel discussion on the topic. Additionally, please read his article in the Guardian about how children’s literature can and should reinforce #BlackLivesMatter. (Also follow the work of We Need Diverse Books.)

The thing about white privilege is that it allows white writers (and reviewers) to define the “ideal reader,” however unconsciously, as a white reader. I suspect this is why the creators of A FINE DESSERT made the choices they did.

In order to perceive the problems with the book, they would have needed to put themselves in the shoes of a black child reading the book and in the shoes of the parents reading this book aloud. As Older says in the video, “Slavery is an open wound in America.” And I will add that the horrors of this open wound are not equally shared. Calling slavery “case closed” is easy for white people, impossible for people of color.

So this is my challenge to myself and to each of you… Let us consider our readers—all of our readers—as we embark on new projects. I want to do everything in my power to consider the impact of my words on the child holding the book. Not just one child but the multitude of children (especially ones who differ from me in significant ways) who will bring their own life experiences and world view to the story. I want each and every one of them to find a place among my words.

To do this requires listening—to children, to people of color, to people who challenge me out of my comfort zone. It requires vulnerability—to make mistakes, to be corrected, to admit my failures. It requires empathy—to the open wounds, to the traumas, to the need to be heard.

I want to be that kind of writer.

I will try.

Writer Wanted—A Job Description

by Amber Keyser
Published on: October 16, 2015
Categories: Challenges, Creativity, Humor
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Requirements of the position:

  1. Navigate social media with authentic (non-threatening) mastery
  2. Engage constantly (except during twice weekly showers)
  3. Market yourself and your work with love (not slime)
  4. Advance causes without being didactic or confrontational (use hashtags)
  5. Teach at every opportunity (schools, libraries, conferences, bus stops, laundromats)
  6. Juggle everything (deadlines, family, second jobs, fire, occasional small carnivores)
  7. Manage complicated projects (including life) on extremely limited funds (the reward is the doing)
  8. Be a role model for everything (all the time)

waldorf_and_statler

Snark aside, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a working writer. There are many expectations (see above). Some of them (maybe not juggling fire) do seem to be required of the position. But what does it really mean to do this job? What are my “responsibilities”?

Only this… to think hard about what makes people tick, to open myself to deep emotions, to tell stories that move me, and to wrestle with words until a world is born anew on the page.

This is my job.

And it is good.

irvine-welsh

Pushing Beyond What We Think We Can Do

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 12, 2015
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Writing–at least Scriva-style writing–is NOT about playing it safe. We push each other to go deeper, to cross boundaries, and to trust in the story to carry its own weight. Pushing beyond is about offering encouragement and being a kind listener, but its also about thinking of the reader and what he or she may need.

As I worked on THE V-WORD, an anthology of essays about first time sexual experiences, the Scrivas and I had many conversations about what readers needed from the collection–good experiences and bad ones, unplanned and planned, and even stories of waiting to have sex.

The Scrivas supported me as I worked with contributors to meet those needs. As the editor of THE V-WORD, I was frequently in the position of having to push the writers to go deeper, to reveal more, to find the right words.

It was hard for me and even harder for them. Contributor Karen Jensen says this about the process:

If I’m being honest, this was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. On this blog I have shared about my history of sexual abuse, I have shared about my economic woes, and I have even shared about my struggles with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. But writing about having sex for the first time was hands down the hardest writing I have ever done. It’s so personal. Sex is something that is still so taboo to talk about…

Read the rest of her blog post here.

But I think all of us would agree that pushing beyond was worth it. We grew as people and writers. The book is far better because of it. And it is what readers (at least some readers) will need. Look for THE V-WORD on February 2, 2016. It is full of brave writers and honest writing.

 

The V-Word Cover

What You Get from the Analysis of First Pages

by Amber Keyser
Published on: July 10, 2015
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When I was first getting started in this business, I thought it was terribly unfair to get a conference critique or agent feedback on just a chapter or two. After all, how could they know what I’ve done with the rest of the story?

Now, I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that issues which occur early in the story are almost always carried throughout. That’s why it is possible to give feedback on a few chapters. If the author can carry the changes throughout, they are usually end up with a much much better product at the end.

Most of these large scale issues are things like narrative voice, consistent POV, realistic dialogue, and showing vs. telling. When the Scrivas do critiques (for each other or through our paid critique services), we point out issues and try to offer ways to strengthen the manuscript. Ideally, these suggestions are things that the writer can implement on their own in the rest of the manuscript.

After a few thorough revisions, we Scrivas turn our eyes and little red pens to line edits, parsing through each sentence for word choice and phrasing. This is the stage at which the writer has the opportunity to make every line sing.

And when the book sells, launches, finds readers… when the book itself soars… then we celebrate this amazing process that begins, as all true stories do, with a blank page and ends with the creation of a new world we can all inhabit.

It turns out that it is true: first pages are the key to everything!

Shut up? Keep talking? Delilah Dawson’s straight talk to authors about social media

by Amber Keyser
Published on: June 11, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
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Book-LoveIt’s magical when you find a book that you love. You finish the last page and want to fall on your knees and propose. Be mine forever! I will never forsake you!

As an author, I want this relationship for my books. I want them to find their way into the arms of readers who will love them.

But how does this magic happen?

When it comes to which books make it big and which go out-of-print sad and alone, there is serious black magic involved.

Recently author Delilah Dawson wrote a series of blogs on book promotion. She talked about what works and what doesn’t, offering sound advice for authors everywhere.

In a nutshell, her black magic answer is “time + hard work + great books + luck.” I recommend you read further. Here are links to her posts.

Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work

Wait, Keep Talking: Author self-promo that actually works

I also think you should follow her on Twitter (@DelilahSDawson) and check out her website.

Needs Updates

by Amber Keyser
Published on: May 11, 2015
Comments: 2 Comments
Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness Scotland

Needs updates

I am in the process of moving. Putting my current house on the market is turning out to be way more stressful than I anticipated.

First, I had a bunch of workers fixing all the little things that I should have fixed for myself long ago. Then the stagers rushed through, moving furniture and rehanging art. I get kicked out of my home with a one-hour notice as strangers walk through my home, poking and peering at all of my stuff. Shortly after each showing, my realtor sends the “feedback” and I get to to hear how the driveway is all wrong or the kitchen needs updating.

I feel homeless and violated and judged all at once.

I am also in the process of sending my debut novel, THE WAY BACK FROM BROKEN, into the world. It releases October 1st, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the experience is going to be much like moving. In some ways it already is. Selling a book to a publisher is the first step into a wider world. Editors and designers, publicists and marketers all get into the mix. They move things around. They re-envision the way the book will look and feel. They change things.

Unlike the home selling process, I have enjoyed the collaboration with the team at my publishing house. I know it is a better book because of their expertise. I also have valued the distance it has created between me and the book. Just as my house doesn’t feel like my home anymore, the book doesn’t feel like as much a part of me, of my very sinews and bones, as it did before.

I am hoping that this helps.

Because soon, terrifyingly soon, readers will make their way through my book. They will examine its rooms, poke in its dusty corners, and lift the sheets. And they will decide, just as the strangers walking through my house will decide, if they like it or not, if they want to live here.

I try to remind myself that tastes differ and that this is a good thing, but I anticipate it will be hard when the reviews start coming in. I may wish I had updated the kitchen after all.

 

Do I have to blog? The curse of the writer’s platform

by Amber Keyser
Published on: March 12, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
Comments: No Comments

1188800347_z1One piece of advice that many, many pre-published writers hear is that they need to develop their online presence. They need a platform.

Ugh.

Most of us hate that.

But we love books, right? The logical first stab at blogging is often to review books that we read. Before you jump on this bandwagon, I offer a few words of caution.

First, this weird, wild world of interwebs that we inhabit has dissolved the traditional boundaries of publishing. There used to be a clear demarcation between readers and writers and reviewers, between editors and agents, between publishers and the rest of us. These lines have blurred. Many agents are “editorial.” Many editors also write. Some agencies have set up their own in-house publishing wings.

And this brings me to book reviews.

I don’t write them. Ever. I will tell you when I love a book. I will beg you to run out a buy a book that I adore (like OKAY FOR NOW by Gary Schmidt). But I don’t give stars and I don’t review. Let me tell you why.

Writing useful, constructive, intelligent reviews that analyze the craft within the pages is HARD. It takes skill, experience, and time. The reviewers who do this well are GOLDEN. If I were going to review, I would be compelled to be that kind of reviewer. But that would take immense time and energy away from writing my actual books.

Many reviews that you will stumble upon are of a different sort. They are a reader’s opinion, based not so much on analysis but on feelings and impressions and person connections. This is cool too. I love it when a reader connects with something I’ve written, but it’s different from a literary review. And there are so many of these blogs out there, that you will find it hard to make your voice heard among them. If you are doing this as a writer trying to build a platform, it probably won’t get you very far.

The other reason I don’t review books is that the book community is small and these people are my friends. I want to support them as artists more than I want to publicly critique their work.

But back to platform… do you have to blog?

No.

I blog very infrequently on my main website, usually about experiences or thoughts that get lodged in my brain and require a little noodling on my part. I don’t have the illusion that this will win me millions of followers, but it will give the interested few a peek into my weird head.

We blog here because we saw a need. So many people over the years have asked us if we had room in our group (Sadly, we don’t) that we decided to lift the veil on our process so that other writers could look inside. This isn’t a platform for any of us. It’s a service. We’re trying to meet a need that we observed.

As you are thinking about building your base as as writer, think about what you have share, what need you could fill, and what would be fun for you to explore. Being online as a writer is about building relationships. There’s no need to force it.

And find me — on Twitter, on Goodreads, or on my author FB page! I love to connect with other story-tellers and other readers!

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin, an occasional series

by Amber Keyser
Published on: February 12, 2015
Categories: Creativity
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The creative process is endlessly fascinating. Get a bunch of writers together and they end up talking about how it works for them. I was lucky enough to become partners in midnight, low-tide wanderings with the Mudflat Heathens, a group of writers in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to editor Andrew Karre’s inspiration, we got to talking about the flesh and bones from which we work.

We’ve launched this occasional series to give you a peek into our secret stash of inspiration–our Wonder Cupboards. May I present to you Amy Baskin:

The Wonder Cupboard of Amy Baskin

view from a caveAmy Baskin’s Wonder Cupboard includes a rickety fire escape balcony, the view from inside of a cave, moss, heart-shaped rocks, Tuck Everlasting, Gilead, The Snow Child, mustard seeds, sock monkeys, and a quote from Lyle Lovett: “Well God does, but I don’t. God will, but I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.”

Amy reads to escape or help interpret reality. She writes for the same reasons. Her limited concept of home decorating involves stacks of books- in corners, on tables, where the TV used to be. Her work has appeared in various publications including Stories for Children Magazine and Reading Local: Portland. In September, she won the Pacific Northwest Plein Air Writers People’s Choice award for her poem, Snowbound: Day 6, Imagined. She enjoys collaborating, particularly with Jason Baskin, her husband and in-house illustrator.

Talking Money

by Amber Keyser
Published on: January 29, 2015
Categories: Business of Writing
Comments: No Comments

There has been an interesting discussion on the interwebs lately about how much authors make and especially, what it means when a writer says that he or she “writes full time.” This implies that all of us who “write full time” are also making enough money to support our families on writing money. In fact, many of us (like me) can write full time because our awesome spouses have jobs that include health insurance and 401k and reliable income all that good stuff. (See the Salon article that spawned the talk here.) This is the first year I have made a non-negligable income, but it is not yet enough to support us. Many working writers–i.e. those making money–say that it takes between five and ten years of steady sales plus the slowly accumulating royalty stream to either justify quitting their day jobs or getting their spouse off the hook.

There has been a call for transparency and honesty among writers about money. Many an innocent soul has been sucked into the allure of becoming an overnight millionaire a la Fifty Shades. Everyone’s Great Aunt Hilda thinks that as soon as we sell a book it means we are rich, rich, rich. And many more of us are thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Am I the only one with multi-book deals who is still eating ramen noodles every night?”

So what do the economics of writing really look like? The 2015 Author Survey by Digital Book World sheds some fascinating light on the money issue.

2015 Author Income copy

 

For traditional book deals, 65% of all authors are making less than $10,000 a year. For indie authors (supposedly the holy grail of money printing), 75% are making less than $10,000. In general, authors who can work both sides–indie and trad–the so-called hybrid authors are doing the best. 50% of them are making more than $10,000 a year. (I’ll argue that this is because well-known, traditionally published authors move to indie publishing where they can make more profit and take their fan base with them.)

As for what to tell Great Aunt Hilda, reaching the $100,000+ mark is accomplished by very few authors–about 7% of traditional authors, 6% of indie authors, and about 84% of hybrid authors (see above).

So thems the stats… Does knowing them change anything for you?

 

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