Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Exciting World of Juxtaposition

I think juxtaposition is not just a luxury, it is essential.

I love juxtaposition. I love a million things going on at once. Perhaps that is why I have three children and a crazy husband, a house and a job and.... is it any wonder I collapse at the end of every day? I love it.

I'm reading a book right now, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, that is full of juxtaposition. Every chapter so far is a different time period, place, person's point of view... it's wonderful. The plot is moving along, slow like, but at the same time it feels fast, because I'm getting snippets of it from so many different places.

I love juxtaposition because it's not straight forward. It's not "he went from point A to point B." It's, "as he was going to point A, something else was happening over here which will most likely affect how he gets to point B, but you aren't sure how quite yet."

It really throws a wrench into things. But then, isn't that how life is? It's not straight forward. It's not one sided. It's not point A to point B. There are so many factors, people, choices, events... everything affects our lives and makes it all the more worthwhile.

There are several methods of juxtaposition: themes, characters, situations, etc.

I think the most used juxtaposition technique is character driven, as it is fairly simple to do and seems to capture readers the best. Think of the most popular shows and books... anything about several people who are all different, and how their lives are going. We compare and contrast as the story goes along. But somehow they are all intertwining with each other. The plot comes together as all of the characters come together, and magically things are worked out.

A situation juxtaposition would be more like a war, where separate battles are taking place. So many things are going on at once, and if this works, and that works, and so on, then the good guys will have a chance at winning. It seems that everything is hanging in the balance, until finally all of the situations work out, usually at the same time. I'm actually editing a manuscript right now that has just had two groups of men separate in order to surround a castle for battle. As I read, I get to see the switch between each group, and it is getting more exciting as each gets closer to battle. I wonder, how will the two groups turn out? How are they different? How are they the same? How do they depend on each other? It creates a whole new dynamic.

As essential as I believe juxtaposition to be, it can be difficult for some to incorporate. It is like telling several stories at once.

I think probably the most classic example of juxtaposition can be found in The Lord of the Rings. It uses all of it... we follow several characters, some of which get separated and so we switch around finding out what happens to them, but there are also battles going on, and everything hinges on everything else. On top of that, the theme of good vs. evil is obvious, but there is also the theme of life as a journey. In addition, there are personal struggles that I think become excellent themes, and they play out all at once. But that's ok, because the juxtaposition of several things at once can be an exciting adventure.

Sam: This is it. 
Frodo: This is what? 
Sam: If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been. 
Frodo: Come on, Sam. Remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Monday, May 9, 2011

How to Pick a Publishing Company, Part 1

I am an editor for a book publishing company, and one of the most frequently asked questions I get from people is, "How do I pick a publishing company?" The answer is very involved, so I'm breaking it down into a series.

In this installment, I'd like to cover what you need to know as you begin your search. You must know this:

There are lots and lots and LOTS of publishing companies out there.
Each publishing company is different.
Some are big and some are small.
Some require you to submit your manuscript via an agent, some do not.
Some take longer to respond than others.
Most publishing companies are taking a financial risk if they sign on a new author, as you don't have a publishing history and they don't know your commitment level or if your book will resonate with readers.
They want to publish the next biggest hit! But they don't know what that is yet.
Some are upfront and honest, and some are not.
And on and on....

If you have already tried Googling publishing companies, you may already know that the number of companies is overwhelming. How do you wade through all of them? Here are a few ideas.

What is your genre?
Some companies specialize in certain genres. If you look at a publishing company's website, it'll probably list which genres they prefer, though some will take all.

What books in your genre do you already own/read?
Check out the copyright page and see who published them. That can give you some ideas.

Do you want a traditional or vanity publishing company?
This is a much bigger question than can be answered in this post. I urge you to read this article: How Can You Tell the Difference Between a Traditional and Vanity Publisher? It explains some great pros and cons to each. Basically, for most traditional publishers you will need to submit via an agent, so consider if you are able and willing to do so. If are thinking about vanity, it's important to know that they typically don't edit your material and there can be a bad stigma with being publishing via vanity. Spend time figuring out which type is right for you and your book.

Does the company have a high BBB rating?
It's true, there are some publishing companies out there trying to scam would-be authors. But there are also good companies out there that have been tainted by false information online. It's quite a mess. The best way to tell if a publishing company is what it says it is? Go to the Better Business Bureau and look up its rating. Pay attention to the particulars. How long has the company been in business? How many complaints has it had? Does the company address those complaints? Remember that every complaint is two sided, and that every company has its fair share of wacky customers. But also be careful and protect yourself.

What does its published authors think?
Some companies put its author feedback right on their website. If it includes the full name, book title, etc along with the comment, and you can look up and see the book is in fact real, then it is a credible comment.

What else do you want to know about how to pick a publishing company?