Monday, March 9, 2015

Form vs. Function: A Fitness & Fiction Metaphor

So I've been thinking a lot about literary and commercial lately. Part of this is due to my friendship with Brent Taylor (he's a new agent at TriadaUS--query him!), whose taste is decidedly literary, especially compared to mine. We rarely fight the literary-vs-commercial fight, but I've been thinking about it nonetheless.

Because--and here's the fitness metaphor!--there's a similar one in fitness.

This is powerlifter Caitlyn Trout. She's a world record holder in the 123 and 132 lb weight classes. She taught me how to deadlift a few months ago.

In fitness, there are bodybuilders and powerlifters. One trains for aesthetics. One trains for strength. I emphasize "trains for" because they're both working hard toward a goal.

This is Leanna Carr, a figure pro competitor. She helped me PR my squat.

(Sidenote: girls, if you pick up a weight, you're not gonna accidentally Hulk. This takes YEARS of focused diet & training. Also sidenote: bodybuilders only look like this for competitions. Their oompa-loompa skin is not a daily thing, and out of season, they aren't quite so cut.)

In the same manner, a literary writer and a commercial writer have different goals. The literary writer doesn't sit down to create a heart-pounding page-turner. The commercial writer doesn't sit down to explore the depths of the human condition.

In a lot of cases, bodybuilders end up strong and powerlifters end up cut (particularly in the lower weight classes). There is a lot of crossover. Both Leanna and Caitlyn above dabble in the opposite sport. In fiction, most books aren't 100% literary or 100% commercial.

Yet there's still a lot of cattiness between powerlifters and bodybuilders. I typed "powerlifters" into Google, and "powerlifters vs bodybuilders" was the second result.

That's because people have trouble understanding that other people can have different goals, no matter the medium. Here are some of the key differences between literary and commercial writers:

Literary writers:
1. More carefully craft the prose itself--its flow and overall sound
2. Include lots of symbolism; what's actually happening isn't necessarily the #1 important take away
3. Make the reader think

Commercial writers:
1. Prioritize the plot with strong goals, motivations, and conflicts--including generally high stakes
2. Want the reader to keep turning pages, as opposed to setting the book down to think
3. Use accessible themes to appeal to a broad audience

But I think we can all agree that these similarities are far more important:

Both literary and commercial writers:

1. Have goals.
2. Write a story with an eye to achieving those goals.
3. Work hard to revise that story to eliminate weaknesses.
4. Play up the strongest part of their manuscripts.
5. Appeal to the audience who will appreciate their manuscripts the most.

Both sides are putting in the work. The "work" just happens to mean something different. So stop turning up your nose at commercial writing or groaning with boredom at literary writing. They're both valuable and both take work.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Girl with the Green Pen: REVISED! & Query Reincarnation Contest


1. Email your query, as a word document, to between 7 and 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, January 20th. Use "Query Reincarnation Contest" as your subject line.

2. Your query will be critiqued and returned to you within 7 days.

3. You will be entered into a drawing for a Reaction manuscript report. Details on my editing services page here. Manuscript does not need to be complete at this time; if chosen, you may redeem the prize until June 2015 or pass it to a deserving writer friend.

4. If you already have an agent, you may enter with your manuscript's first page.

Interested in booking a discounted service this week? Visit The Girl with the Green Pen and fill out the Submit form, or email directly.

Amazing art courtesy of client Whitney Gardner.


What else is new at The Girl with the Green Pen?

Exciting new manuscript report services! From a basic Reaction package, to a detailed Rehab service, together we can find the perfect partnership to give your manuscript the makeover it deserves.

Why the Revision?

Now that I'm officially graduated from college, I'm ready to make freelance editing my full-time job. Working with my creative clients through the process of publication is my passion, and I'm ready to devote even more time and energy to you and your dreams.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Revision Road Map

One of my clients, Alison Whipp, writes zany MG with wonderful, whacky science and high stakes. I love reading her books, I love chatting with her about anything and everything, but one of my favorite things about Alison is her revision process.  The second time I worked with Alison—the first time I worked with her on a full manuscript—she replied to my notes with a thoughtful, detailed excel spreadsheet listing my note, her comments on it, and how she planned to improve the element.

I nerded out. Here’s why I loved it and what you can learn from Alison’s detailed approach:

  1. Feedback is often detailed so you can best understand the problem. What Alison did in the first box was simplify the problem into one sentence. I may have spent a paragraph in my notes explaining why and where a character was out of character and the pros and cons of making said character one way or another. Your head is swimming. Taking that paragraph and simplifying it to “John Smith is inconsistent” makes it easier for you to swallow.
  2. Alison did not just make a laundry list of things to fix and dive into her manuscript. In the second box, Alison analyzed my feedback and reacted. This section involved things like “I included that scene because X, but clearly X isn’t working” or “Yeah, I thought Character Y would have to go but I was hoping I was wrong.”
  3. But in this section, Alison didn’t blindly listen to me. If I suggested she cut Character Z and she didn’t agree, she would say so. “I really love Character Z because A B C and don’t want to get rid of him. I see that you think he’s a problem and will brainstorm how to fix the problem without getting rid of him.”
  4. The key to this section, the interpretation section, was that Alison did not just say “Well, here’s why I did this.” She understood that if I spotted a weakness, then the story element, no matter how amazingly clever, was not portrayed on the paper the way she thought of it in her head. In a few cases, this section showed me what she was trying to do, and allowed me to get on board and offer a few thoughts on how to make that intention shine in the story.
  5. The third section was the section where she detailed her ideas for fixing the problems. Sometimes they were in line with suggestions in my notes. Sometimes, as mentioned in point 3, she wanted to go another direction. Either way, demonstrating her intentions in this manner, before folding them into the story, allowed me to give feedback on potential problem spots before she invested in a whole new draft.
  6. The advantage to writing up a Revision Road Map that incorporates your feedback is vast. It allows you to have a thoughtful, thorough, rational discussion of your story with whoever gave you notes, as well as make sure that you interpreted their thoughts correctly. This is something you can do with CPs, not just me or your agent or another freelance editor.

There you have it! One way to analyze feedback that can be a huge boon to your revision process. Have you done anything similar to this?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Recent Client Releases - Add them to your TBR!

HENGE by Realm Lovejoy

I worked on Realm's previous YA, a sci-fi titled CLAN, a couple years back, so when she came to me with a modern-day Arthurian-legend-inspired fantasy, I knew I was in for a treat. HENGE was one of my favorite client books of 2014, and if you have any sort of interest in Camelot, I know you'll love it too.

Modern-day Camelot. Where knights no longer carry swords. Magic is dangerous. And those who seek control are not to be trusted.

Sixteen-year-old Morgan le Fay is a fire user. An ordinary girl with an extraordinary skill, she has the ability to create and command fire at will. Her dream is to become the Maven—the right hand of the future King Arthur. In the chance of a lifetime, Morgan is selected to join Arthur’s Round, an elite group of young magic users from which the new Maven will be chosen.

Along with the other fire, water, and wind users in Arthur’s Round, Morgan is rigorously trained and tested. The handsome Merlin, a brilliant water user, takes a particular interest in her. Is his friendship to be trusted, or is Merlin simply trying to win the position of Maven for himself? Among the many rivals Morgan faces is the current Maven, Mordred, who seems determined to see her fail.

But Morgan has a secret—years ago, her mother was executed for using fire magic, and Morgan’s desire for justice makes her more than ready to take on the challenge before her. Can she prevail in Camelot’s tests of survival and magic? Only time—and Morgan’s powerful fire—will tell.



Janine came to me during NaNo about a weird book she had that was half premise and half heart. I was skeptical. I mean, come on. A magic iPhone? But I'd worked with Janine enough in the past that I knew she had the talent to make weirdness work. And CRACKED more than works. It shines.

What can your phone do for you?

This is the story of a girl and her iPhone. No, that’s not quite right. This is the story of a middle-aged statistician and her best friend. Though she didn’t consider herself middle-aged. And the best friend was more of a roommate-with-whom-she’d-developed-a-friendship. And this description completely ignores the 6,000-year-old elf with whom the woman and her best friend enjoyed story gaming.

So let’s try this again.

This is the story of a woman who wished to find love, but who would rather play story games than actively look for it. Especially in the wake of a horrid break-up six months before from a man had who never sent her a single gift.

Until this Valentine’s Day, when she received a brand new iPhone in a box with his name on it.

Between story gaming and succumbing to the phone’s insidious sleekness, she learns that friendship trumps romance.

In Cracked! A Magic iPhone Story, award-winning author Janine A. Southard (a Seattle denizen) shows you how the geeks of Seattle live, provides a running and often-hilarious social commentary on today’s world, and reminds you that, so long as you have friends, you are never alone.



In the fall of 2012, Amber first brought PERFECTLY BROKEN to me. This was a story that struck me in a different way than most client books because it was Amber's story--Amber's powerful, beautiful, joyful story. Over the past two years, I've seen PERFECTLY BROKEN grow and change to become even stronger without ever losing its essence--Amber's essence. It's more than a rape story, more than a religion story, and even if you're hesitant about either of those things, you'll fall in love with Amber's strength.

Perfectly Broken is a riveting story of my life after my rape. Fear and rage were my closest companions, and I teeter-tottered between the two. Even with my rapist in prison and awaiting the trial, I couldn't come to grips with my life as a victim. Spiraling out of control, knowing this was more than I could handle, I handed my situation over to God. I found peace in the stories from the Bible but still struggled with that nagging question of "why me, God?" A summer foreign exchange program to Spain came at the perfect time. With the court date months away, a chance to be something more than "the raped girl" was an answered prayer. The walls I had spent all year building came crashing down as I learned to laugh again, live again, and dance again. I realized it wasn't my situation I needed God to fix. Instead, I was the one who was broken. Piece by piece, He rebuilt me in His image.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Learning to Write Queries without Writing Queries

My job as a show writer for Disney is amazing. I work with an incredibly creative group of people, making some of the world’s most beloved stories come to life. We do this through hundreds of events every year. Each event has an entertainment concept which must be presented to the powers that be for approval. For most of the medium and large events, we present multiple concepts. Honestly, writing these concepts is one of my favorite parts of my job. I’m taking a few hours of entertainment—sounds, sights, foods, d├ęcor—and condensing it into a 200-500 word picture.

It’s exactly like writing a query.

Just like in query-writing, I have three goals when it comes to concept-writing:
  1. Use compelling, colorful, specific writing to show the uniqueness of this event/story.
  2. Accurately emphasize and portray the most important parts of the event/story.
  3. Make the powers-that-be (the producers or the agents/editors) eager to see more.
“That’s great, Taryn, but I don’t have your job, so I can’t really practice query-writing like this.”

You’re right! But here’s the thing. Literally everything you’re doing can be written this way. Seriously. Try it. I’m in an airplane right now. Let me tell you about it.

Taryn Albright has thirty long minutes until Alaska flight 513 lands in Seattle. Half an hour of keeping her elbows in her too-small airplane seat, writing blog posts on her awkwardly-positioned laptop, and pretending she doesn’t have to pee so she won’t disturb the sleeping grandmother beside her. (Compelling, colorful, specific writing that sets up a unique-yet-relatable story. Kinda a boring one, but hey. If it were super interesting, then you wouldn’t be able to do this all the time. Notice how I’m giving you a character and a premise, as well as hints of conflict.)

But when the airplane hits turbulence as they begin their descent, the baby behind her starts screaming. Taryn now has less than thirty minutes to write her blog post or risk never finishing it at all. Worse yet, the turbulence is making the bathroom situation more dire. Surrounded by the gray plastic and navy blue seat cushions, Taryn isn’t sure she’ll make it. And when she catches the eye of the cute boy on the other side of the sleeping grandmother, she isn’t sure she wants to. (Feel free to dramatize this paragraph. There is no screaming baby or cute boy. There is a need for the restroom, a sleeping grandma, and a time crunch because—oh no, time to turn off the laptop!)

Ahem, I’ve now landed in Seattle and am home. You may think that “query” was ridiculous, and it sorta was. But if you can learn how to make even the most mundane thing you’re doing sound like it has a bit of story to it, then you can improve writing a query for your super awesome, action-packed MS. Good luck!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Weirdest Metaphor You’ve Heard Yet

I gained 40 pounds over the four years of college. Sounds like a lot, right? But when you think about it, that’s less than a pound a month. It’s easy to see 140 on the scale one month, then 141 the next and not think it’s a big deal. Then the next month, you remember 141 and see 142 and shrug. I was never fluctuating more than a pound, after all. What was the big deal?

What we don’t realize when we’re justifying one pound is how quickly things add up and just how important that one pound can be. When I started losing weight 4 months ago, I expected to see the pounds melt off overnight. I’d had a hard workout—how was I only .5 down? But just like gaining weight, losing weight is a slow process. I’m 26ish (I stopped caring 5 pounds ago) pounds down. That’s a HUGE number, especially in less than 4 months. But at the beginning, it felt like nothing. It felt like I would never get there.

And then I started thinking about the writing process, because everything I do in my life gets tied back to the writing process.

When you’re writing, you can pour your heart and soul into a paragraph, then check your word count and see you’re only 250 words past where you were. 250 words is half a percent of a 50K novel. It feels unnoticeable. It feels like you’ve done no work. Similarly, when you’re 175 pounds and you lose one pound, or half a pound, it seems like nothing.

But these, both pounds and words, are the building blocks toward your goal. (Note: I’m not trying to say you should lose weight. I’m just giving a metaphor here that a lot of people can relate to.) They can only build so fast. There is no “right way” to stack them up.

The only important part is that you stick to your plan. That you keep putting word after word on the page. Because then 250 words will turn into 500, then 1000, then 2000. And before you know it, you’re halfway through the story, and if you did it once, you can do it again.

Then you can look back to when the word count said 250 and see that it now says 25,000. Because those baby steps do add up. Just keep going. The results, however small, are there.