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Archives | Sylvia McNicoll

Typing “THE END” and the self-edit process

A lot of writers don’t type “THE END” after finishing a first draft. Ah, but it’s so nice and dramatic. So Hollywood. And so I do, in all caps with spaces between the letters. Some old school writers perhaps type – 30 -, a signal to the imagined printing staff that the machine has actually finished spewing out the book, that the printer has rolled out the last page. But whatever the writer does, we all know it’s just the beginning of a different process.

Lately we’ve all been rushing to Facebook to proclaim, hurray, just finished writing the first draft. That’s a new step in the process. And then all our writing friends offer some congratulatory remarks which are great and needed to steel ourselves for the next stages which may involve “critiquing” or really telling the writer where she went wrong which can be a bit of a downer.

I left the book for the weekend. Today, step one was to reread the last chapter because I tend to rush the dramatic scenes much in the same way as I read: I gulp the passages. My first bitsy edit was to paint in more details to slow it down a bit.

Next, something new, I’m going to get Tara, the South African voice, to read the first chapter and last together.

In the past I’ve always read those chapters silently to myself. I want to make sure I end the same book that I started, that somehow the beginning and end provide a good frame for a strong story.

After that, I reread the whole book, hopefully in as close to one sitting as life allows me. After another week or so of fidgeting with the manuscript, when I’m satisfied that there is consistency and continuity in character details and plot, and when I’m happy with my second coat of details, I need to forward it to a writing partner. Usually Gisela Sherman (Grave Danger) or Lynda Simmons (Island Girl). Depending on their response I rewrite and forward it the partner who hasn’t read the first draft.

There are times when a book goes totally wrong along the way. Then I rewrite and ask all kinds of different people to look at it. I try to save young test readers for last.

So I guess I should really write:

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T H E B E G I N N I N G

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When do you find time to write? Joanne Levy’s Small Medium at Large Launch

Saturday, instead of writing, I enjoyed lunch with Wendy Whittingham, illustrator of Miss Wondergem’s Dreadfully Dreadful Pie by Valerie Sherrard and then together we headed off to Joanne Levy’s launch of Small Medium at Large at Bryan Prince’s Book Store in Hamilton.

Try to spot all the famous writers in this audience. I see Gillian Chan and Patricia Storms. Somewhere else milling about is Jocelyn Shipley and Lynda Simmons.

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Wendy Whittingham’s the one in the white shirt and long brown hair. After the reading she wanted to ask Joanne some questions. One of the most interesting was “When do you find time to write?”

Now the answer should be easy. If you’re a full time writer, no outside job to take you away, you just get up and write all day.

But the real truth is the person who stays at home inherits most of the household tasks, waiting for the repairman who doesn’t show when he/she’s supposed to and interrupts every two minutes when he/she does. Looking after the sick child or spouse or parent. Feeding the family. Cleaning up after the feed. Walking the dog. Putting the laundry away. Keeping the house in order. Getting the car serviced.

Add to that your own personal maintenance program: exercise, hygiene, doctor and dentist appointments.

But let’s face it, most people even if they don’t write or work from home have to find away to do all this too. So writers claim to struggle with all these time demands when they’re off galavanting to their friends’ book launches.

What writers really need to do if to find a solitude in which to write. If you need total quiet, then you need to pack yourself off to the library where there’s usually even free wireless. If you need white noise, a hubbub that doesn’t involve you, you can go to the coffee shop. A friend of mine likes to hide herself at her cottage for a few weeks to work full throttle near about the middle of a project.

My secret is that I’m an opportunist. (Oh yeah and I can ignore any of the afore mentioned time suckers,
house cleaning especially.) I have the good fortune and focus to be able to write on planes, in cars and in short snatches of time, for example while waiting for supper to go up in flames.

So my advice to Wendy and all creators: steal the time. Make a list of all the things you have to do and pick out which ones you will ignore until you have a couple of hours to write. Switch this list around a bit so that if Monday you ignore your spouse, Tuesday you should ignore your kids or your mother, Wednesday you should forget about showering, dressing and your trip to the gym. Thursday don’t clean the kitchen or make your bed (easily an hour there), Friday don’t cook, that can be your diet day since you neglected exercise on Wednesday. Saturday head for your friend’s book launch. Sunday–that’s your day of rest–you can fulfill all the other demands of your life and forget writing.

Good luck.

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Ten+ Tips for a Successful Signing (YA Children’s books)

I know what you’re thinking, I’m not signing a board game. It’s Crush. Candy. Corpse plus my other backlist.

Let’s first establish what a successful signing is. Some bookstore managers tell me sales of 20 is what they hope for, some say 30. Assuming a 10% royalty of retail price and a $15 book for ease of math, that means you would earn about $45 for a four hour appearance. So we know success can’t be measured in those numbers, it must be defined by the people you meet during the signing, hopefully kids who will love you forever. Yes they will grow out of your books but they’ll buy them for their kids. Or perhaps for nostalgia sake. Or because their house burnt down. Teachers replace books because they’ve gone mouldy. I’ve lived long enough to enjoy all of these kinds of repeat sales. Educators, librarians and engaged parent and grandparents are also wonderful contacts to make. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What kind of things do I do, and therefor you can too, to make sure you get at least those numbers the bookstore aims for? Here’s my ten top tips:

1)Engage in the new S & M for writers. No not reading Shades of Grey, I mean posting on Facebook, Twitter and emailing all your friends who live in the area of the store you’re signing at.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Andrea Wayne Von Koningslow, picture book illustrator and writer extraordinaire of How Do You Read to a Rabbit? and many more. She showed up and bought books for herself and her daughters at my pre Canada Day signing in Yorkdale Mall. Also she called out to passing eye-averting strangers. “I’m buying three books of hers. This is a fabulous writer.”

2)Get your hair and nails done, buy a new outfit. (Yes Arthur, Shane, Eric, Ken, John even you) Gives you the confidence to approach those complete eye-averting strangers ducking around you. This may also help counter the pre anxiety levels you experience thinking no one will even be in the store never mind anyone ducking around your table. I wish I’d tried nail decals. They’re a vaguely new and give you something to discuss with kids, besides your stories, so they can fall in like with you enough to buy the book.

Amazingly I can sign with no pen or hands!

3) Make or buy some treats. No peanuts obviously. My current favourite is the Mars Bars Square, The recipe is on my Pinterest site. While they are chocolatey and messy and, call for eight chocolate bars thereby denting that $45 profit, they help me get into shout out mode. So instead of calling “Books for sale, signed by the author,” I can say, “Would you like to try a Mars Bars Square?” Once I’m warmed up I can add, “They’re to promote my latest book. Would you like me to tell you about it?”

4) Bring stuff to hand out, autographable stuff. Preferably with the image of one of your books but it could be a book mark from backlist, could be your business card with a white space to sign. Those are good, actually, ’cause the reader can contact you after. I bring literacy and writing talk tip sheets. When your Mars Bars Squares run out you can call out to parents, “Would you like some tips to get your kids to read?”

5) Confirm with the bookstore contact several times that you are indeed coming along with the date and time. Nothing funny about them totally forgetting. Must have been hard on that one Chapters Store manager when I didn’t show on the date they thought they had asked me. Calling me on the day didn’t help when I was in Vancouver.

6) Arrive early so you can check out the location of the latest reading must haves, either the stacks of Hunger Games or the various Shades of Grey. The bathroom, you want to

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know where it is but so do all the eye-averting strangers.

7) Make sure you know the instore specials so you can promote your book with the “On Sale” feature of the day. “If you buy a Canada Day mug, chocolate, card, etc, you get 20% off my book.”

8) Parents love to defer purchases. “Lets just look around and then come back later.”
“You bought the Hunger Games trilogy today, we can should come back another time for this book” Develop a strategy to incur a sense of urgency in them, real estate agents are fabulous at this, and let me know when you’ve perfected it. “If you buy one today, you’ll get my autograph. Teachers love when your kids do a book report on a Canadian author, and if they have a signed copy…well, guaranteed A+.” As I said, let me know if you find a better one.

9) Get someone to take lots of photographs. You can offer to email photos to the potential buyer, if

Jan Slerpe created this sketch from one of his wonderful photos. His picture taking seemed to attract crowds too.

they sign a sheet with their email.

10) Believe that your book offers the best story for your target audience. That tween carrying the

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Hunger Games or sadly the Shades of Grey trilogy can also read your novel and love it. You just need to coax them into buying it. And that’s why you’re there.

And the +plus tip? Find a way to enjoy yourself. Bring your laptop and write–you know everyone loves to interrupt you while you’re creating.

Good luck, we all need it.

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