All posts in the Comics category


Published April 23, 2018 by swankivy

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I promise, your backstory is probably fascinating! But it is not reasonable to ask your reader to sit there and let you explain it to them before it’s relevant to any characters or plot elements that they care about. Blaming the reader for impatience isn’t practical. It’s not their job to humor you, and you shouldn’t want to be humored. You’re writing this story for them, to bring them into a world you made and to make them care about the people in your world. Don’t reject feedback like “You infodumped and I zoned out.” It’s not that your information isn’t important. It’s that the way you’re giving it to us is inaccessible.


New Edition

Published March 30, 2018 by swankivy

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So here’s the thing, querying authors. Number 1, if you’re still messing with the manuscript, wait until you’re NOT doing that before you query. Querying is for manuscripts you think are as ready as you can make them.

Number 2, notice I said “as ready as you can make them.” Keep in mind that many agents are hands-on with manuscripts they’re considering, and they will likely suggest changes if they’re interested in representing your idea. You can incorporate any small changes you’ve made at that time if you find yourself there. Small changes are not going to be what tips a rejection over into an acceptance.

And if you’re still making big changes at this stage . . . see #1.

The exception might be if you’ve gotten some intense feedback from a professional and your work has changed significantly as a result, AND an agent currently considering your work has a long response time. If you get to the point where you need to nudge the agent and ask if they’re still considering your work, you may also want to mention that they may want to review the latest copy if they’re still interested.

What you want to avoid is pestering agents with “the latest,” because truly, they don’t care. You need to learn how to put a project down and stop messing with it. I understand that feeling very well, seeing things you want to change, but at some point it’s finished and you have to be content with that.

Be patient and wait until you’re ready to keep your hands off it for a while before you start querying. Your job is to write a book, and you shouldn’t interact with agents to ask for their representation if you’re still treating your book like an active draft.


Published February 27, 2018 by swankivy

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“But Ms. Teacher,” say the students, “if those words exist, why aren’t we supposed to use them?”

I’m not saying you can’t.

What I AM saying is that the labels for who’s talking are not the part of the writing that’s supposed to be colorful.

When you write, the job of the words is to get out of the way of the story. Be as invisible as possible. Tell the reader what they need to know without individually trying to get attention. If you need a special speech tag to identify, specifically, how something is being said, then you should use it. But most of the time, you should be able to write well enough that we know HOW the character spoke based on WHAT they spoke.

No need to say “‘But I don’t want to go,’ they protested.” The words themselves are a protest. No need to say “‘Sorry,’ he apologized.” The word is an apology by itself. In rare cases, dialogue will be enhanced by dressing up a speech tag or adding an adverb. But in nearly all cases? It’s a distraction. Enhance the dialogue, not the words that come after the dialogue to tell us how we should have read it. Let us hear it by braiding the intent into the context of the lines, into the lines themselves. Write them so there’s no other way we can interpret them.

“I know you can do it,” she assured you confidently.


Published January 30, 2018 by swankivy

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Just to clarify, y’all, being afraid of doing it wrong and being a marginalized person afraid mainstream authors will do it wrong/take your spot is pretty legit. In the broadening awareness that diversity is important and representation helps people, some people whose hearts are in the right place are still going about it wrong, and it’s common to worry you’ll mess it up. And for those of us from a marginalized population, you know that twinge you get when you hear someone’s writing a book about your group but the author’s not in it? Yeah. The best you’re hoping for is for them to not put a terrible stereotype or misleading narrative in the story.

Fortunately, properly representing people from different populations from you isn’t as hard as you might think. It’s like any other aspect of a story that isn’t taken entirely from your own life: you have to think it through, research it sometimes, and when you’ve written it, ask others what they think. DiversifYA is a site that can help; people from various backgrounds volunteer certain aspects of their experience as resources for writers, and when you gather a critique circle, actively look for people who can make your work more authentic.

It is sometimes tough to get the balance right between “writing a marginalized person as if they’re someone from your background with one small change” and “writing a marginalized person as if their marginalized identity is their entire being.” Their identities should be incorporated into who they are to the extent that that makes sense, but no one is asking you to start spitting out books that have a Diversity Message. We just want authors and readers to stop thinking of certain traits as the standard, with other traits as deviations from that standard, and we want populations in books to reflect the reality of living in a diverse world. It’s true that not every book will have certain kinds of diversity, and no one is asking you to cram it in there no matter what. But think about why your characters are the sexes, genders, races, religions, etc. that they are. After all, if “white straight able-bodied man” is code for “everyman,” couldn’t they be anyone?


Published December 31, 2017 by swankivy

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We get a little sucked in sometimes when we’re absorbed into a project.

Try not to nag us to get back to it if we’re coming up for air, ‘kay?

Like, ask how it’s going if you want! But we could do without the judgy faces and the opinions on how we should balance our writing time. It’s probably not all that balanced and may even be unhealthy sometimes, but I think everyone does temporarily unhealthy things when they’re focused on something important to them. It’s okay guys. We’ll be fine.


Published October 28, 2017 by swankivy

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I write about writing a lot more than I actually write these days, and I know it’s become a problem.

You know, sometimes you just have to take some time off and be a person. Writers need to absorb, too, and consume and learn, and they really can’t ALWAYS be on. (Of course, I’m always writing about something. I’m just . . . not exactly working actively on any fiction writing projects right now.)

Sometimes you realize how long it’s been and recognize you really need to butt-in-chair yourself.

I’m gonna. You’ll see.

Not Up to Me

Published September 30, 2017 by swankivy

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Oh man! I love that some people are so giving when it comes to getting involved with a book they like or support. It’s so encouraging sometimes when people want to request copies of the book for an event or want to do something to help spread its message. There are so many well-meaning people out there.

But . . . authors of mainstream-published books are not able to make these decisions, nor do they have the right to do stuff like authorize third parties to create translations or accept alternate cover art. Yes, even if you’re doing it for free. When it comes to adapting my intellectual property in the case of translations, that’s actually against the law because my publisher has the right to make those arrangements.

One of the things that surprised me most about getting published was how many readers think I’m directly involved with the marketing or distribution of the book. They’ll contact me to ask what happened to their order, or ask me to get their local bookstore/library to carry it, or ask me to change the price. When you get published, part of what you get paid for is selling certain rights. This is why authors don’t have control over certain marketing decisions. My publisher owns those rights.

One thing I can do, though . . . is sign your copy. Heh.


Published August 27, 2017 by swankivy

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Regarding copyright on a book:

a) If you’re trying to get an agent, DON’T PUT THE COPYRIGHT SYMBOL OR THE WORD COPYRIGHT ON YOUR TITLE PAGE. It makes you look like an amateur, because

b) You automatically own the copyright to your work as soon as you put it in a fixed form. You do not have to announce that it is yours for it to really be yours.

c) Also? Nobody wants to steal your ideas. It is very hard to execute an idea, and a lazy person would not be up for the task of making a good book out of your idea and trying to sell it. If you’re really worried that literary agents are out to reject your book but secretly sell it for themselves, you are a conspiracy theorist.

d) Yes, theft occasionally happens. Generally not at that level and not by agents, though. But if it is going to happen, slapping “copyright” on your work is not going to stop it.

e) Registered copyrights exist so you can pay money to prove via an outside source that the copyright belongs to you. You have a copyright even if you don’t register it, but you should not register a copyright for a book in your name if you are trying to sell it to a publisher. They will copyright the book.

f) If you really are truly unable to stop worrying that someone is going to swipe your idea because it’s just that good (even though an agent is hoping to collect part of your paycheck for selling it for you), buy some peace of mind by sending the manuscript to yourself through the mail in a sealed envelope so you can prove, due to the postage stamp date, that it has been yours since at least that date. (The process is affectionately called “the poor man’s copyright.”) This doesn’t necessarily hold up in court, but at least it’s evidence of some sort that you wrote this thing and put it in a package that’s been sealed at least X long.

g) I don’t mean to shame anyone for worrying that your precious hard work might be taken from you, but ideas are cheap and selling them/fleshing them out is hard. Agents, especially, are in a business that helps connect writers to publishing opportunities. They want you to write the book and succeed. They have nothing to gain as an agent by sneaking off with your work, and if you’ve done your research on agents, you should know which ones are reputable. Don’t submit to anyone disreputable and you’ll be fine.

Mary Sue

Published July 28, 2017 by swankivy

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I mean, this doesn’t always happen, but it’s peculiar how often the same things that make a male fantasy character badass, dark, and fascinating are interpreted as fake deep, annoying, and “Mary Sue” if they’re applied to a female character.

And if I may extend the concept a bit, some people judge others’ stories as overwritten, melodramatic, or heavy-handed when they aren’t able to see the same qualities in their own work.

I have a fairy tale retelling in which the main character is practically a poster child for Mary Sue syndrome–but she’s basically SUPPOSED to be because she’s invoking an archetype that’s super popular in fairy tales. Some will appreciate how it fits together, and others will turn their noses up at the same thing and think it’s cheesy. It’s a risk you run when you write something deliberately derivative. Not to mention that writing about someone unusual, special, and extraordinary does not automatically make them a “Mary Sue”–it’s become such an overused term, wantonly slapped on lady characters every time they’re the most interesting character in the room.

When their perfect warriors with painful pasts and hearts of gold make me yawn, I just don’t read them. Let ’em write what makes them happy.