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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Crabby Cows and "knowing" an editor

I recently took up a challenge. I made my first attempt at a 500-word flash fiction piece.

How and why did I do this? I am, after all, a novelist, not a flash fiction author. I don't do short fiction. I can't do short fiction. Well, that's what I though when I started.

You see, I tried this because of those Crabby Cows. Their blog is more addictive than Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Therapy. Even though I don't post often, I find myself going over there reading...and laughing hysterically...and then reading more. And then the cows posted a message about The Challenge. This game would supposedly tell an author how far on the writer's journey they'd traveled...and how far they had yet to go. GULP!

I'd read the posts based on the first writing prompt and started to wonder if I could write anything but crap in less than a half hour. And write anything but crap in less than 500 words.

Wow, it was TOUGH!

Since I wanted to give myself the best shot at writing something that wouldn't be torn to shreds--or worse, yawned at--I read over all the entries from the first prompt. Then I looked at the comments. From those, I got a "feel" for Crabby #1's likes and dislikes. Crabby #2 is harder. She hasn't liked much.

Then I opened my Word file and read the second prompt.

I knew I didn't want to write something ho-hum and ordinary, so I immediately threw away the first five concepts that came to mind. I figured if an idea came to me too easily, it would probably come to a half dozen others as well. Also, since it seemed the Crabby Cows were not fans of chick lit or my brand of romantic comedy, I knew I needed to write something different. Something deeper and darker. I wrote the scene, which was over 500 words, of course. Then I cut and cut and cut until it was within the wordcount limit, closed my eyes, and sent it off.

It did surprisingly well, at least with Crabby #1. I've yet to see what Crabby #2 and Grouchy Goat will do with it, if anything. (Curious? It's Flash 500 Entry #20)

What did I learn from this? Plenty.

1. That even though I've set about establishing myself as an author of sassy, sexy paranormal romances, it's good to try something new and different every now and then.

2. That it pays to "know" an editor before submitting. I think this applies to all submissions, whether you're sending a story to a magazine or mailing a novel to Harlequin. Reading multiple examples of work the editor has found worthy of publishing will help you get a feel for their likes and dislikes. What tone does the work have? What is the pace like? What is the subject matter, plot and theme? It's a little more difficult to get a handle on editors from NY houses. You really have to dig to discover who their authors are, which books they've acquired. But IMO the effort is worth it.

This brings me to another thought. I hear plenty of authors who say they don't read once they start writing. They can't enjoy reading because their "inner editor" ruins it for them. Or they're afraid of copying another author's voice or style. I think this is tragic. More than ever, it's important to read when you're building your craft. If you read widely enough, you'll absorb something from every author and work. Over time, you'll find our voice. IMO, the more you read, the faster this will happen for you.

3. I still have A LOT to learn about the craft of writing.

Thank you Crabby Cows, for a fabulous opportunity! Looking forward to the next challenge you throw before your cowlets. Raising glass of Wild Turkey Here's to the day when "Crabby Cows" are on the Acknowledgments pages of published novels.

posted by Tawny Taylor at 8:34 AM |


Commented by Blogger Jen:

I don't remember which one yours was. I'll have to go back and look. I finally get to comment. Darn Blogger.
I think knowing a genre is important, but I wonder if aiming for "what a certain editor might like" will create cookie cutter stories. How does the innovative and new get published? I've been wondering lately if writing for a particular category line isn't keeping me from unique and different ideas. It's something to think about.

7:49 AM 
Commented by Blogger Tawny Taylor:

Did you read Crabby #2's thoughts on this? She's with me, to a certain extent. You wouldn't want to become fixated on one particular editor, let's say Brenda Chin, and write book after book after book for ten years, trying to get in with her.

There are ways to tell when it's time to move on.

Here's a personal example: I tried submitting a few pieces to a particular agent. She kept asking to see whatever new project I queried, but eventually rejected it. After the third, I sent her a thank you email and she gave me a little glimpse into the why. She likes dark erotica. My voice doesn't do it for her.

Once I learned that, I knew it would do no good to go back with another project, at least not if it was going to be another Tawny sexy but funny story. She would reject it like she had all the others. I needed to find an agent who loved my voice and would support my strengths.

It is wise to get a feel for the editors/agents you are submitting to. By looking at what they've purchased in the past, you can get a Big Picture idea of what they like. If you're writing a snarky chick lit, you wouldn't want to submit it to an editor/agent who's bought/repped nothing but dark urban fantasies. You see?

And you CAN write to target a particular publisher without getting cookie cutter by incorporating the more vital elements and then putting a fresh spin on things.

9:03 AM 
Commented by Blogger Babe King:

I almost never read romance these dayys. Category makes me want to puke. It didn't worry me this much before I started writing but now, ugh. Mostly because it is bad/cliche writing. I do however read poetry and non fiction and crime stories. And an occ. romance if someone I know well recommends something.

10:09 AM 

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