Bonnie Hearn Hill is a full-time writer and former editor for a large daily newspaper. She is the author of INTERN and five other adult thriller novels, and she teaches online and leads a successful writers' workshop in Fresno, California. She also mentors writers and speaks at many writing conferences. Bonnie has been on tour this month for her newest book, Aries Rising, the first in her Star Crossed Series, from Running Press/Perseus Books. She agreed to stop by here at The Writing Vein for a talk and some Q&A. At the end of the discussion are instructions about how you can win a free copy of her newest book.
Without further ado, here is Bonnie Hearn Hill :
That’s what Dot asked me to discuss on this post. I like the question because when I speak at conferences, I always say that true writers, regardless as that indefinable something we call talent, are finishers. You can’t see your writing in print if you don’t finish, and you’ll never see it in print if you rewrite for the rest of your life. I’ve known writers who got so attached to their manuscripts that they became best friends with them. The writers continued revising for 10, 15 years. No way were they going to send their literary best friends out into the cold, cruel world.
Okay. Let’s say you have finished a manuscript. You have the baby in your hands. First of all, congratulate yourself for being a finisher. Most people who begin novels don’t make it through to the last page. They can complete class assignments and prompts. They might even be able to finish a short story. But a novel? Yikes.
I always remember the advice Archibald MacLeish gave to poets. Leave the poems in the drawer. Like apples, they’ll either ripen or rot, but, either way, they need time away from you. So, yes. Give the novel a week or so to rest, and give yourself some well-deserved time off.
When you open that drawer, you need to look at your poem, story, essay or novel with the cold, critical left-brain eye of an editor. If possible, read it aloud where no one can hear you.
Does your novel have a clear genre, and does the word count match that? Are you showing and not telling? Do your scenes contain conflict—organic, not sock-em-in-the-face conflict?
Now, ask yourself if this is a big story or a little story. Is it regional (my first novel was), or would it appeal to a large readership? Don’t be modest. To paraphrase my grandmother’s advice on a different subject, it’s as easy to love a rich book as a poor book. Still, you have to love the book you’ve written, and you have to know your market.
By now you should know if you need to approach small and regional presses directly, or if you need to find an agent.
Okay, Dot. Let’s hear your questions about the next step.
Q: The question about the scene having conflict fits with my "next step" questions. I've had a discussion with a couple of the writers in my writing group about what constitutes a "scene." We discussed the order of scenes and what defines a scene. And that sometimes information needs to move around from the order in which it was written and may or may not need to be chronological. How to keep that organic conflict in scenes.
A: Someone wants something. Someone else opposes it. You need goal, opposition, dialogue, action, conflict, resolution. If you don't understand this, you'll write dreaded events instead of scenes. If someone asks you scene goal, and you say, "I wanted to show the reader..." you aren't writing scenes. You need to be able to say, "My character wants A, and the antagonist in this scene wants B."
Q: Bonnie, your question, "Does your novel have a clear genre, and does the word count match that?" leads me to another question: What are the guidelines for word count / genre equivalence?
A: It depends on what you're writing--and, as a writer, you must know that, preferably before you begin. I went from 80,000-plus thrillers to 50,000-60,000-word YA books. Weird how I can pack so much into the latter.
Q: Once I know the target word count for my story, how much flexibility should I allow in the editing process from the rough draft to the version submitted? (Example: am I still within range if my first draft has 10k more than the target?)
A: Great question, but don't allow for editing. Write it the way you write it, complete with proper word count. If they cut you down, they will give you suggestions for building up.
Q: You also asked, "Are you showing and not telling?" -- This is a common topic in many writing workshops. But I'm wondering if there are any key phrases or other hints that would alert a writer that she is relying too heavily on narrative? And is there a "too much" in terms of showing - or does that also vary by genre?
A: Somewhat, but most books are scene-driven. If you see large hunks of gray with no dialogue or conflict, you probably need to back and restructure.Q: (a) By approaching small and regional presses directly, does that imply self-publishing?
A: Absolutely not. It just means you'll probably take less money to reach a smaller audience.
.......(b) Or simply smaller, limited runs and the PR, sales, and so on being done by the author and her friends?
.......(c) And, speaking of self-publishing: any thoughts on whether that is a good idea for the regional stories?
A: Not for fiction.
Q: There are also different types of self-publishing and are there any recommendations of how to (1) choose a self-publishing type (POD, electronic, local small press, regional publisher, etc), and (2) choose the best fit within the type (example: how do I know if a small local press or printer is right for me?).
A: You're writing fiction. Try to stay away from this. Some nonfiction books may succeed by way of self (not vanity) publishing. For fiction, you need either a small regional press or a literary agent working for you. Don't pay anyone money to publish your book. That's vanity publishing.
Q: If I choose to go the agent and big press route, when do I start looking for an agent?
A: As soon as you know your book is close to perfect. See my comments about the apples in the drawer.
Q: Where do I look for an agent?
A: Publishers Lunch is a great place to start. Also consider visiting a writing conference. You should consider author referrals if you know published authors, and as of today, you know at least one. Let's discuss more in depth once I've gotten through the rest of your questions.
Q: Does the formatting of a manuscript vary by publisher or are there common guidelines I should follow in preparing it for submission?
A: Most use Chicago Style. Double space. Indent paragraphs. Times New Roman, 12 p, no widows or orphans.
Q: If I decide to go the agent and big press route, what is a realistic timeline from my final draft completion to publication?
A: Finish the book first. You could see it in print as soon as six months later or as long as a year or more. Aries Rising just published, yet I sold it in June of 2008.
BONNIE: Thanks for letting me hang out with you today. Hope everyone enters to win the book and iPod Touch.
DOT: Thank you, Bonnie, for stopping by and sharing your experience and wisdom. This has been fun and informative. And I look forward to the rest of this series. I'll be posting a review of Aries Rising as soon as I complete the book (very soon!). It has been a delight so far and I'm looking forward to more adventures of Logan and her friends.
The book giveaway: Post a comment in response to this discussion below by April 2nd. We will select one person who responds to receive a copy of Star Crossed: Aries Rising. Even if you're not a writer, you can enter the contest and join in the discussion - or simply leave a comment with your Sun sign.
For the iPod contest, you need to link to a review you've written or a fan badge page, which you need to do at email@example.com.
Coming in May 2010, Star Crossed: Taurus Eyes
Star Crossed: ARIES RISING
Love is in the Stars!
Aquarius Logan McRae is a high school sophomore in Terra Bella Beach, CA and has been working all semester to impress her teachers in order to get into the summer writing camp she desperately wants to attend. But when this ordinary girl finds an extraordinary book, Fearless Astrology, her life is changed forever. Applying what she's learned about the zodiac, she lands her own column in the school paper and a date with the hottest guy in school!
But when Logan threatens to catch the members of a secret society called The Gears, who have been vandalizing school property by reading the stars, she quickly learns that she is in over her head. Will Logan be able to catch The Gears, save her love life, keep her newspaper column, and get into the writing camp of her dreams all through the use of astrology?
Genre: Young Adult
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Running Press Kids (March 2010)