Framing One’s Expertise

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This past month, I’ve been subtly thinking about how things are framed – from looking at paratext in It’s Up to Charlie Hardin to looking at internet comments to see if a whole story was being told. (I don’t know that the latter will always turn into a fruitful exercise…)

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a session of The OpEd Project, where we talked about how to frame ourselves as experts in our fields. While most people in the room were initially uncomfortable with the term “expert” (and were much more comfortable with the term “resource”), it was interesting to draw out from one another the true depth of experience that we all had.

Honestly, it was a pretty amazing group in the room – from the first female Editor-in-Chief at a Saudi newspaper, to academics who sought to have their work put into practice on a larger scale, to those that had formed foundations to solve various problems in their communities.

At one point, we had sixty seconds to frame ourselves as the expert in the room, using the following formula:

“Hi, my name is [blank]. I’m an expert in [blank] because [blank].”

Ultimately, I ended with:

“Hi, my name is Tracy. I’m an expert in writing for children because I’ve been writing and working in children’s literature for 17 years, including at a Manhattan literary agency, as a children’s book reviewer, and a freelance copywriter for Scholastic.

As a freelance editor, my clients have secured representation, sold books to traditional publishing houses and become bestsellers in the UK.

As a children’s writer, I’m an Amazon bestseller that’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and have won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. I have an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College.”

Ding! Time was up.

The most interesting thing for me was to think about the time. I am naturally somebody that’s a little obsessed with my own personal timeline, and so to think about the date of my first picture book submission (1997) to now, was a bit mind-blowing. And like any writer, there are times where I look back at my work and think “Ahhh, it’s good.” and other times where I think “Ahhhh, this is terrible! Why am I not farther?!”

Tell me below – what are you an expert in, and why? What are you going to do with that expertise?


More personally…
My latest book, Effie’s Senior Year: The Complete Effie Stories is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can also download Effie at the Wedding free for a limited time on Amazon US (UK), Barnes and NobleiTunesKoboScribdSmashwords, and the Sony eReader Store.

New subscribers can receive two free short stories by signing up for updates about my books or editorial work here, and you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Goodreads.

The Clear Sky Files – Part 1

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The place: Chicago
The year: 1943
The culprit: At large

It was a day like any other. No – wait. That’s not a promising start for a detective tale.

It was a day unlike any other. My shoes hadn’t been shined. My fedora didn’t quite sit right on my head. And someone had eaten my croissant, even though the bag was clearly marked “Charlie.”

That dirty rat.

But, no. This isn’t a good start either.

Let’s just skip to the good part, shall we? Sometime after an egg salad lunch and before a turkey dinner, there was a knock at my door. I could tell by the perpetual pounding that it was urgent. So urgent that one might have offered the key to the restroom, if my office handled such a thing.

Point is, I knew that whatever was coming, was big. Really big.

I opened the door, and there was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Which my police chief brother would tell you ain’t much of a prize, on account of me not seeing many women. But this woman was beautiful enough even for my brother.

“Frank sent me over here,” she said. “He needs a favor.”

“And my brother can’t see me himself?” I asked. “Is that what it’s come to?”

She shut the door. “It’s not like that. You see, he went out to investigate a theft, and he never came back.”

“Didn’t come back to you, perhaps,” I said. It wouldn’t have been the first time a dame came into my office looking for Frankie.

“I don’t care who your brother is palling around with. I care about the investigation. And before he
went missing, he said that if he couldn’t handle it, maybe you could.”

Didn’t seem like a lie. But it doesn’t sound like Frankie, either.

“What went missing?” I asked.

I moved towards the young woman, eyeing her box hat, her lapel pin, her small clutch. Any one of those items could be hiding a wire. If she was a set-up, it’d pay to say as little as possible.

You see, I’m not entirely licensed as a detective. And I have made a few enemies, by being good at what I do. Too good, some might say.

“My clouds,” she said. “They’re missing.”

I spit my coffee – which I forgot to tell you I was holding – right back into the cup.

“Is this a code word, ma’am? I’m not in the mood for games.” I pulled out my handkerchief and rubbed the coffee off my chin in the most manly way I could.

“It’s not a game. There are no clouds above my house. Haven’t been for weeks.” She leaned closer. “I think it’s part of a top-secret military operation. But I don’t know why. Or how.”

Ah, so she’s beautiful. And crazy.

“Ma’am, I’m sure the clouds will come back. And my brother, you know. He’s just not the family man type. So if he doesn’t come back, I’m sure you’re better off without him-”

She smacked me. Plain, straight, hit me across the face slapped me.

“I’m not trying to go steady with your brother, you flat-footed fool! I’m telling you, something is not right in this town. And if you’re not going to help me find your brother and stop whatever is going on in the sky, then I’ll find someone who is.”

She clutched that clutch and walked right out the door.

Frankie says it never pays to follow some crazy dame. I rubbed my cheek, the sting of her hand still fresh.

If Frankie doesn’t listen to his own advice, then why should I?

***
From the reader prompt, “What if the clouds fell out of the sky?”

Submit your own reader prompt here, or read more pieces of fiction inspired by reader prompts.


More personally…
My latest book, Effie’s Senior Year: The Complete Effie Stories is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can also download Effie at the Wedding free for a limited time on Amazon US (UK), Barnes and NobleiTunesKoboScribdSmashwords, and the Sony eReader Store.

New subscribers can receive two free short stories by signing up for updates about my books or editorial work here, and you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Goodreads.

Fact Checking the Internet: Royalties of 18 pence on 5.99

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Today the Guardian published You think writing’s a dream job? It’s more like a horror film.

But I couldn’t help noticing this comment:

my daughter has two books published my a major publisher which sell for 5.99 each. The publisher pays her 18 pence for each sale, of which her agent tales 15%. Unless you are a best selling author the pay is abysmal.

My gut reaction was – this author needs a new agent.

.18 over 5.99 is a royalty rate of 3% list, far below traditional royalty rates for a hardcover, trade paperback or ebook.

But then I thought, Wait a minute! This is the internet. Is there any way this could be both true and reasonable?

Yes! But here’s how:

If this is for a story in an anthology.
If these are for anthologies, in which there are multiple authors and the rate covers that author’s portion for one story, this would be reasonable. (Though I have seen better.)

If this was a work-for-hire.
If this is for a work-for-hire project, wherein the publisher or packager developed the plot and characters, and paid a flat fee for the work and is offering 3% list on top of that flat fee — well then, this is actually pretty good, depending on the initial payment. (Also pretty uncommon.)

If these are for book club sales.
Book club royalties are very low because they make up for it in sheer volume.

If these are for remaindered copies.
This still feels a tad low, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable if we were talking remainder sales.

But what if it’s none of the above?

If the author is actually receiving 3% list on regular trade paperback or ebook sales, then a couple things may have happened:

They’re working with a small press.
It’s my understanding that royalty rates are supposed to be an even split between the publisher and author, once the cost of production and distribution has been covered.

In other words, if an author receives $1.89 per book, then theoretically after the publisher has paid for the physical cost of the book, their editorial, marketing, publicity staff, the lights in the building, the distributors cut, taxes, etc. etc., that publisher would also have left approximately $1.89. (If this has changed, please let me know!)

I’m no expert in UK publishing, but if a small press is making 18 pence per book, then this sounds like an unsustainable business model. So I still wonder – where is the rest of the money going?

They have a bad agent.
An agent has to present all offers to their client, but they are also supposed to advise. If this offer was presented as a standard contract, then it’s possible this author needs to have a serious conversation with their agent and/or potentially terminate the relationship.

They took the deal against their agent’s advice.
If this is the case, then that would make me question the agent-author relationship if I was their agent. Sometimes, the smart thing to do is to walk away from a bad deal. And this might have been one of those times.

If a client is willing to take any deal, no matter how terrible, then you wonder if they’re really a client worth having.

Getting ready for Saturday’s Write to Change the World Seminar

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This coming Saturday, I’ve been given the opportunity to attend the OpEd Project Write to Change the World Seminar.

I’m very excited to go through the seminar, and to share some of what I’ve learned on the blog.

It also had me thinking about how many writers are already working to change the world – through their words or using more concrete actions.

This morning in my feed, I read that the Minimalists are fundraising to build a school in Laos. Courtney Carver is also one of many minimalists bloggers that have donated their birthday to Charity: Water.

The kidlit community has been particularly awesome at rallying in times of crisis, donating editorial services and mentoring to raise money during national disasters in Japan, Haiti, and elsewhere.

In literature, every Banned Books Week is an opportunity to say that books matter.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day (my posts here) and We Need Diverse Books are voices that remind us that representation matters.

Who else is using their words to change the world? What are you trying to say with yours?


More personally…
My latest book, Effie’s Senior Year: The Complete Effie Stories is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can also download Effie at the Wedding free for a limited time on Amazon US (UK), Barnes and NobleiTunesKoboScribdSmashwords, and the Sony eReader Store.

New subscribers can receive two free short stories by signing up for updates about my books or editorial work here, and you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Goodreads.

Thinking About “It’s Up To Charlie Hardin” by Dean Ing

Today’s post takes a look at Dean Ing’s It’s Up to Charlie Hardin, which publishes today from Baen Books.

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It’s Up to Charlie Hardin
Author: Dean Ing
Publisher: Baen Books
Pub Date: February 3, 2015
Review copy received: Netgalley
Format: eARC

My summary:
It’s Up To Charlie Hardin follows second grader Charlie Hardin through World War II era boyhood exploits with his friends. Charlie discovers what happens to jam when it’s left to ferment, how to make a glider and why hiding your treasure in a drainage pipe is (probably) a bad idea. When their sometimes playmate (and sometimes bully) Jackie Rhett comes face to face with a pair of counterfeiters, saving the day is up to Charlie Hardin.


In thinking about It’s Up To Charlie Hardin, two things stuck out to me immediately:

1.) The censoring in the dialogue and text of curse words. The text will use substitutes like, “D Word” and “jay Word-cee Word” instead of the actual curse.

2.) The paratext.

Let’s tackle point number one first.

Cursing in Children’s Literature

Honestly, seeing “D word” and “jay Word-cee Word” confused me during the opening chapters, and I was pulled out so that I could think about what the offending word might be. This was especially true in dialogue, where I initially assumed the characters were vocalizing the words exactly as written.

For the reasons above, most advice concerning cursing in children’s literature would suggest the following:

Only do it if it’s necessary.
This covers everything from an overabundance of curse words to the right word at the right time. If Jane never curses, then one well-timed “Holy. Shit.” is going to have much more impact than one from a character that curses in almost every line of dialogue.

Like most jokes, cursing loses its impact the more frequently it’s done.

If the word feels inappropriate for the age range, use a realistic substitute.
For example, I use “crapple” in Hot Ticket, as both slang that Juliet and her friend created and also as a less harsh alternative for “crap” or “shit,” since Juliet uses it more than once.

This also helps me do a little character building, because it shows the friendship between Juliet and Lucy — only they use this term. It’s part of their secret language as friends.

Don’t self-censor.
In other words, lines like, “What the *****, Jason?” pull the reader out of the story, because they can see the author in the work. When we read something like the above, what we see is the author’s discomfort with the word they want to use and the age they’re writing for.

While I was eventually able to stop thinking so hard about what the “D” and “JC” words were, I eventually also started to wonder:

– Did the author not trust the reader to understand a historically accurate substitute in context?

– Would the replacement words have been worse than a couple of “damns?” In other words, would all these D words really have been slurs against the Japanese, Germans and Italians? And in avoiding that, are we losing both an opportunity for a discussion of the ‘othering’ of war, and also an opportunity for world-building?

Paratext

In literary theory, a book’s paratext is the printed (or digital) material that surrounds the actual narrative. This includes front matter like forwards and title pages, and back matter like acknowledgements and jacket copy. For some theorists, who wrote the paratext is irrelevant to the discussion of what that means in the analysis of the work.

Okay, so. Paratext.

At the beginning of It’s Up To Charlie Hardin, a preface notes:

“This is the sort of confession a man may indulge in if he is too lazy to commit the autobiography his grandkids asked for, and too self-absorbed to scribble the books his publishers wanted more of. It is also naked homage to Mark Twain, who in 1875 half-fictionalized the lively times he had enjoyed in his Missouri village thirty years earlier.

So Charlie Hardin is my Tom Sawyer, infesting my small Southwestern city during World War II.”

In an Afterward, Ing gives more explanation about what characters in the book were inspired by his childhood, and what became of them later in life. Ing notes:

“Although the Nazis did try to sabotage the U.S. economy with schemes to counterfeit our money, I don’t know if they did it with scoundrels like Bridger and Pinero. I had to invent them because I never knew anyone like them.”

For me, the preface and afterward illuminated much about the narrative structure and voice in the novel. There were times where I wondered how a particular incident – like bombing the neighbor’s house with gourds – was going to come back to the main plot. In truth, it didn’t.

But the paratext tells us here that it wasn’t supposed to. The main plot may have been the counterfeit money and the danger of dealing with Bridger and Pinero, but Hardin doesn’t actually have an overwhelming drive to stop the counterfeiters. He simply wants to understand if the money is exchangeable for real goods.

The afterward tells us that the counterfeiting plot was invented in order to form a cohesive thread in what would otherwise be a series of boyhood vignettes.

Similarly, the narrator’s voice purposefully creates a distance between himself and the child reader.

“The Hardin telephone was normally reserved for adults because in 1944 the telephone company had not yet added signals that let a user know, while he is talking, that someone else is trying to call.”

(Location 2472)

Passages like the above remind us in the text that an adult is looking back on their boyhood. There’s also subtle nods to other adults, such as:

“Anyone who wonders what boys were created for might be directed to situations like this.”

(Location 2018)

We hear Dean Ing in the narrator’s voice much more than we might in say, a contemporary middle grade.

Putting it all together…

Writers should keep in mind the following:

– While paratext can either give further clarification or set the stage for the main narrative, a writer has to make sure the narrative stands on its own.

– Word choice (be it cursing or otherwise) can be used to distance oneself from the reader, or to keep the reader close. Consider the distance you need to keep your reader at in order to achieve your narrative goals.


More personally…
My latest book, Effie’s Senior Year: The Complete Effie Stories is available for pre-order on Amazon.

You can also download Effie at the Wedding free for a limited time on Amazon US (UK), Barnes and NobleiTunesKoboScribdSmashwords, and the Sony eReader Store.

New subscribers can receive two free short stories by signing up for updates about my books or editorial work here, and you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Goodreads.