Monday, November 11, 2013

When A Seed of An Idea Grows into a Book

     Ideas come from a variety of places. What we read, where we go, who we interact with all come together into a eclectic alphabet soup of experiences. When we write, we draw from our own personal well of these experiences. This summer, nineteen lucky writers from the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles (CBW-LA) group attended a one-day workshop led by Nutschell Anne Windsor. Stories, essays, and poetry grew from these writing exercises, and were polished into pieces that became the group's very own anthology titled, Story Sprouts.
    Edited by Nutschell Anne Windsor and Alana Garrigues, the anthology is a mixture of writing exercises and tips, poetry, flash fiction, picture book-length fiction, and essays. Each writer submitted two pieces: one piece on a writing-related topic, and the other as an essay, poem, flash fiction or picture book piece of their choosing. Windsor and Garrigues agreed to tell me a little more about how a day of writing turned into a book-length project:

So Story Sprouts grew from the exercises presented at a one-day workshop. Can you tell me more about that? 

Alana: Absolutely! So, Story Sprouts grew from the exercises presented at a one-day workshop, but for our authors, their entire contribution (two pieces per author) was written and revised, start to finish, during a six-hour workshop. 

Nutschell: I had previously facilitated creative writing workshops for CBW-LA in order to give our members a chance to improve their writing skills. The exercises were designed to spark their creative minds, and also to hone their use of the language. Participants enjoyed the workshop, saying the exercises rejuvenated their love for writing and inspired them to come up with their own pieces afterward. I thought I would take this challenge to the next level and allow our members not only to let their creative muses run free and improve their writing skills, but also give them the chance to earn some publishing credits. 

Did the participants go into the workshop with the idea that their work would eventually be published in an anthology?

Alana: Yes. The workshop was publicized as a single Writing Day complete with exercises (and food!) in which all participants would produce two pieces for publication. They knew their pieces would be edited to produce a quality anthology. We asked people not to come with ideas about what they would write and allow the exercises to guide them, which was challenging for some. But, we wanted the pieces to be created in the moment. Partially because it is so honest and raw and beautiful and partially because we know that our best work should be saved for our own personal publishing glory. We didn't want people to bring their manuscripts that they've been writing and editing for months - we wanted to give them some time away from their "babies" to revisit the passion of new story ideas. 

Nutschell: The workshop’s main goal was to give our members their first taste of publication.  First time writers often dread writing queries because they feel that they lack the credentials to make their author bios stand out. Some writers even shy away from identifying themselves as writers because they lack confidence in their abilities. Through this workshop, participants not only gained publishing credits, but the confidence to pursue their writing careers with vigor and determination. Story Sprouts is the first of their many achievements –something that will inspire them to keep on reaching for their writing dreams. 

How did the revision process work for the stories? 

Alana: During the workshop, authors went through a voice revision and a point-of-view revision for their second piece. Once they settled on the right voice and POV for their pieces, they had an hour to revise and submit. Nutschell can share more about the revision process for the morning piece, which started as a free write and ended as a piece of poetry or prose "On Writing." 
      After the workshop, I did both content and copy editing for all pieces. I paid very close attention to the author's voice and the essence of the story, but I did some structural changes here and there - moving a paragraph or two around or adding subheadings, and tightened some stories up. The pieces were very strong - we are fortunate to have extremely talented and diverse writers - but of course there were areas to edit, especially after only working on a piece for such a short time. I hope that all of the authors feel the edits improved their pieces.
     Once I was done, I sent it to Erin Elizabeth Long with Biblio/Tech and she did a final copy edit. She also looked at the structure of the anthology as a whole to make sure it flowed between exercise, narrative and submission.
     Then it was off to the book formatter and uploaded to print! Surprisingly (for me), there are still some tiny typos in the manuscript. I've definitely learned that nothing works to catch a typo better than sitting with a printed copy of the book in hand. Computers and print-outs just don't quite cut it! (Can I admit that?)

Nutschell:  The “On Writing” pieces were born out of a guided freewriting exercise. Participants focused on the question “how do you feel about writing?” and used it as a guide to write continuously for a few minutes. Afterwards, I asked participants to read through what they had written, and to underline words or phrases that call out to them—either because of their beautiful sound, or because of the meaning they impart. Choosing one of the short literary forms (poetry, flash fiction, essay) participants then used these words/phrases to come up with their first piece on writing. In the second half of the workshop, participants were given writing prompts to spark story ideas. Writing exercises on Point of View and Voice helped them figure out the best format for these Story Sparker pieces. They were given an hour to review and revise both On Writing and Story Sparker pieces before submitting them at the end of the workshop.  

What was the timeline from idea for Story Sprouts to the final product?

Nutschell: The seeds of the Writing Day workshop came out of a board meeting on October 27th, 2012, when we were discussing possible fundraising activities.  Tiffani suggested a Write In day, in which we got all members together in one room to just sit down and write. Lucy and Angie jumped in with suggestions on how to make the Write In day more fun—with activities ranging from games to massage tables! Alana suggested creating an anthology that would feature works by members. I suggested tying the anthology in to a creative writing workshop, much like the ones we previously had, so that members who attended the workshop could have their work published in the anthology as well. Somehow all of these suggestions got combined together and in January of this year, we decided to host the Writing Day Anthology Workshop. 
The workshop was held on June 22nd, 2013 and four months later Story Sprouts was born.

AlanaNutschell and I then took about four months to publish the book. One of the CBW-LA board members, Tiffani, transcribed the entries written by hand into .doc form, while I edited the submissions for grammar and (some minor) content and wrote the narrative surrounding the anthology pieces. Nutschell, who had organized the workshop, threw herself full-throttle into the business side of things, securing the ISBNs, managing the publishing timeline, contacting our book formatter and making sure we dotted all our i's and crossed all our t's with the cover design, blurb, copy edit, and so many minute details! 

How will you be using the profits from the book? 

Alana: Well, interesting thing about publishing ... it costs money! We went into this looking at it as a fundraiser, but everything costs money, from the ISBN to the professionals who design and format the book. So, we'll first use profits to pull ourselves out of the red on the project, and then all of the money will be reinvested in the club. We have monthly fees for website hosting and membership, and we don't have our own facilities, so we pay to meet at a local library or meeting room every time we host an event. This will help pay for those expenses, plus some marketing and promotional material.
If we do end up making a profit, it will all go into improving and expanding our programs!

I can see other writer's groups being very enthusiastic about putting together something similar to Story Sprouts. Do you have any advice? 

Nutschell: Do your research on independent publishing and make a plan. And work as a unified team. This anthology was born out of many meetings and thousands of emails between board members. Be open to suggestions and be prepared for surprises along the way. 

Alana: This was a WONDERFUL project. It was a true team effort and a labor of love. My advice would be to have fun with it, and decide from the start who will be responsible for what. You also want to figure out who your market is. If the focus is on a group project, you could probably put together a nice PDF file and share with the group and save on a lot of costs. If the focus is on both creating an education and support handbook for writers and promoting your authors, sit down and make a budget. And make sure you utilize all of your volunteers' talents!  All five of us on the board have our own unique talents - Nutschell is a visionary who is ridiculously organized and efficient. I am full of ideas, a decisive editor, and a strong nonfiction writer. Angie is a genius at soliciting community and business support. Tiffani and Lucy encourage us to look at ideas from several angles, and know how to prepare a party like no other! We knew that anytime we needed an errand or a task completed, Angie, Tiffani and Lucy would be there in an instant, allowing Nutschell and I to focus on the writing details and the bigger picture.
     Anyone interested in doing something similar is welcome to first look through the book, and then get in touch with us. I think a lot of the format and information can be gleaned from reading the book, but we would be happy to talk to people about our experience! And - we're also happy to come visit your group if you're in the L.A. area and talk about the book and the Writing Day workshop!

Finally, you held your launch for Story Sprouts two weekends ago in LA. How did you celebrate?

Alana: We had a party! A "launch" party at the airport. (Get it?!) Lots of food, mocktails named for our favorite authors.

Nutschell: We also invited past speakers who facilitated this year’s workshops for CBW-LA, along with family and friends. Everyone had the chance to pile their plates up with delicious food, and to make their own mocktails. We also created a program to celebrate our authors’ achievements. We presented each newly published author with a certificate, asked them to sign a big Story Sprouts poster and to sign many book copies, in their first ever book signing session. There were many awesome giveaways (like a $75 salon gift basket, gift cards from Olive Garden, etc) thanks to Angie’s solicitation powers, and almost everyone went home with something. We ended our program by cutting a yummy Story Sprouts cake and lifting our (plastic) wineglasses in a toast to this year’s achievements and to future achievements. 

Congratulations, ladies! It sounds like CBW-LA had a wonderful experience publishing Story Sprouts. Tell us where we can find a copy. 

Alana: Right now it's only available on Amazon for print and Kindle. We do have an .epub version ready to go, but we're testing the waters with the Kindle Select program for a few months before we jump on the iBook bandwagon. Then we'll see what works best. We will try to get the book into some local bookstores as well!

Nutschell:  And of course members and anyone attending our workshops also have the opportunity to buy the books from us directly at our events. 

Alana: I would just add that this is the first of an annual tradition. Our next Writing Day Anthology Workshop is slated for May 2014, and we'd love as much participation as possible! 

Alana and Nutschell, thanks so much for sharing the truly inspiring process of creating Story Sprouts! I loved learning about your experience, and I'm sure writing groups all over will enjoy this innovative approach to supporting and celebrating our fellow writers as well. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ready, Set…Write!

   Some of you started the day early, geared up for NaNoWriMo, fingers itching, and ready to write. I'm already a little more than 700 words into the day, but taking a short break to announce the winner of the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, so:

Congratulations, Megan McGowan Parsons!

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