Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why I don't tweet that much

I have a twitter account. I’ve been on twitter for years now, and I only recently broke the 1000 tweet threshold. At this rate, I’ll be tweeting for a couple of decades before I smash into the next set of digits. I’m a complete loud mouth, so why don’t I tweet more?

Fear of making an ass out of myself.

One of the big problems with being a writer is that our work is glacially slow. We spend so much time too close to our work, and then we want some satisfaction when we finally manage to put that work out there, but Surprise! (or not a surprise if this isn’t your first rodeo) Publishing takes a long time. Example: I’m currently working on a draft that I wrote a year ago. I’m juggling it with a book I wrote two years ago, just before I got my twitter account. Yeah. And with writing, there’s so much of the process that you’re JUST NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT.

Are you querying? Yeah, don’t mention it on your blog.

Did you just send a manuscript to a publisher? Don’t mention that either.

Are you on submission and got an R&R with super awesome Editor of Your Favorite Big Five Imprint???? Yeah, you’d better keep that under wraps, too.

The idea is to keep your electron trail good and clean. Make sure that you don’t seem like the crazy writer, but I’m going to tell you a secret: if you write, you are crazy. It’s a good crazy, but really the act of putting words to paper is complete madness.

My problem with twitter is that writing forums are usually filled with, well, writers. Sure, a google alerts might pop up if someone were to mention something specific (I queried agent X with my novel AWESOME TITLE; she said I smelled like elderberries so I’m never querying her again!), but for the most part, they are filled with writers who know what it’s like to have your query called elderberry fertilizer.

That’s just not the case with twitter.

In a forum, if you make a mistake (post too often due to profound OMG HAVE THEY READ IT disorder, otherwise known as OIRX) most of the other people are writers. So even though they look at you like you’re the annoying one, they know: what goes around comes around—they’ll be in the crazy seat someday, too.

On Twitter?


If it’s on a forum, it’s sort of like yelling it to a crowded room, maybe someone will notice, or care enough to acknowledge you, but likely, the conversation will just keep going right over your head. But in twitter, if you had a joke or a cute cat picture and you @ someone? That’s like having it hand delivered to their house (maybe put directly on their pillow—CREEPY). (And yes, I've done this and regretted it later--too many times to count.)

Sure, I thought my joke was funny, or witty, or whatever, but when your tweet is put into the “I’m a writer, and you’re a publishing professional” context, it’s really hard to see the witty over the subtext of the tweet. Right, so you’re all about to yell at me for making assumptions, but I’m trying to save you pain. I’m worried that all tweets from aspiring writers to publishing professionals also have the subtext “pretty pretty please just love my work and be my bestie for the rest of my writing days because publishing is scary.”

So yeah, I feel like twitter just makes it too easy to make a fool of myself. Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

IWSG—But will they love it??

It's that time again, the time when we release our fears and insecurities out into the wilds (I sometimes worry that we are releasing them into the wilds so they can go and breed more fears and insecurities, like there's a colony of fears and insecurities just preying on the wayward writer now...). If you haven't seen this before, be sure to thank our founder Ninja Captain Alex, and check out the co-hosts Hart Johnson, Chemist Ken, Candilynn Fite, Terri Rochenski, Clare Dugmore, and Lilica Blake.
I haven’t been that insecure lately. I mean sure, it hurts when I don’t make the final round of a contest (Why pitchmadness, why?), but I’ve not made enough contests that it doesn’t really crush my heart—I’ll admit to that tummy turning did-I-make-it feeling this last time through pitchmadness—but something that is almost as adrenaline inducing is seeing someone who is reading your work.

I have a bunch of well read, non writer betas. No, I mean a TON. And when I hand them new manuscripts, all I can think is “Do they love it?” (also, I wonder if they’re just being nice—well, I guess I used to wonder that, my betas universally didn’t like one particular story and they let me know in no uncertain terms, so at least I know they aren’t “just nice”).

I can only imagine how magnified this feeling is going to be when it’s people I don’t know. When my work is out with publishing professionals—you know, agents—I find myself constantly mumbling a mantra “Please like my work, please like my work.” It’s so silly. I don’t need them to like my work, (say it with me now) I need them to LOVE my work. One nice thing about querying taking so long, is that the part of me that obsesses wears out. It’s inefficient. So I spend about a week being a basket case, and then I MOVE ON. But the one thing that sticks with me even after months and years (yes, I’ve gotten query letters back after a full year) is the hope that people love my work. I guess it’s selfish of me to want to be the pleasant surprise in the slush pile, but it’s the thing I can’t control.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

And the magic number is...

Goals are good.

Deadlines are better—well, at least for me.

It’s not that I can’t motivate myself to do things on the slow and steady, but there is nothing like a looming deadline to really bring out the manic work habits in me. Admittedly, I work just fine without deadlines, but boy-howdy, there is something about that ticking clock that lights a fire under me.

Last year I learned how to fold origami cranes. It was kind of fun. It took just enough concentration that I had to pay attention, but not so much that I couldn’t think about things like plot holes. I decided to start folding a thousand, I could always quit later. I figured out how many I’d have to fold a day and all of it.

I learned that deadlines in a distant, nebulous future always lose to deadlines breathing down my neck (didn’t fold many cranes while packing my house). Deadlines with a tangible product as you work closer are very satisfying (that’s a lot of cranes, boxes and boxes).

And then, I realized how many I needed to fold before I got to the end of the year. It was enough to be daunting, but not so many to be impossible. I spent more time folding than I meant to, but then I reached The End. Just like writing a novel, I hung up my last crane and rattled around the house wondering what I was supposed to do with my time.

Basically, it feels just like writing The End on a book (I did that recently too, but you know me, that novel just went to the data version of a trunk to think about what it did). So now I’m in that place where I have that “Yay, I finished… what next?” feeling that permeates the time between projects.

 How do you handle that time? Mostly, I’ve been watching TV and trying not to eat all the chocolate.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Warped Perspective: An IWSG Post

Insecure writer’s support group is the brainchild of Ninja Captain Alex. I recommend that you go visit him at his blog, and then sign up on the linky or visit the IWSG website. Good stuff. This month's cohosts are Tina Downey, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman, and Julie Flanders.

Today isn’t so much an insecurity as a cautionary story about perspective, and this one might frighten you.

There’s a little house not far from where I grew up. It’s a small house, quaint and set in some of the most beautiful land on earth. Every year, daffodils bloom in the yard despite no one watering it for decades. The bushes grow, bloom and go dormant. Every year, the world ticks by, but that house, that hundred-year-old house waits for something to change. In that house lives a person whose dreams have been crushed. The great wheel of publishing has destroyed her spirit. She is broken.

She is a writer.

No, that’s unfair. To be a writer, you have to write. She was a writer, and once upon a time, she wrote a novel.

Once upon a time was twenty years ago, and twenty years ago, she queried that novel. Today, she keeps a copy of that novel and the query letter on her desk. From what I could cobble together from the broken remains, she queried for a while before deciding to self publish.

Now, as many of you know, self publishing is not the vanity insanity it used to be, but she was sucked up by the biggest of them all. She was taken for a ride. She bought the biggest package, with the biggest advertising. She spent many thousands of dollars.

Twenty years later, she still has boxes and boxes of her novel with a paid-for blurb on the cover and boxes of promotional gear (bookmarks, and postcards, mostly, but hundreds of them, never seen by her target audience).

My guess is that she sold copies to her friends and family. Twenty years ago, it was hard to reach an audience. But she got hung up on that one novel. She got stuck there, and for the last twenty years she hasn’t written a thing.

I opened the book and found typos on the first page.

This woman scares me. She is like that crazy funhouse mirror for me, except I see myself in the future, not warped and lumpy in the present. I have my ideas and my dreams and my stubbornness, but she was destroyed by something she could not control: and she could never move on, surrounded by her unsold copies of a book riddled with typos.

I have, on more than one occasion, said that there is a particular novel that I have every intention of self publishing should more traditional routes not work out. This would be the red flag everyone says means that I’m not right for self publishing, that I’m just a jaded writer, too stupid to see that my work is flawed. I understand why people say that, but there’s a reason that so many people try traditional publishing before going with self publishing. It doesn’t always make for jaded crazy writers, and truthfully, if you’re on the fence between the two venues, trying to go traditional makes sense because you don’t screw up your chances at self pubbing if things don’t work out. If you self pub first, however, you can kiss traditional publishing good bye. This is just an issue of practicality, unless you let yourself become one of those jaded writers. To succeed in publishing, you must first accept the possibility of failure.

I can accept that. Hell, I should be the president of fail club.

It is completely possible that, as I’ve noted before, I’m untalented and unaware. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I think the real reason people talk about not self publishing when you’ve failed to publish traditionally is that everyone is thinking about the cautionary tale in the quiet house. One book, thousands of dollars and a handful of sales. Much of which could have been avoided if someone had just pointed out some typos.

When I say that I want to pursue traditional publishing first, it’s not an either or scenario. I think that traditional publishing has a lot to offer. I think that self publishing has a lot to offer as well (Like I’d get to design my cover!!! I know that scares some people, but I did some time as a graphic artist—paid even!). Clearly, selfpubbing didn’t offer much to writer in Quiet House. That trip into self publishing killed her dream. She couldn’t get published through a traditional publisher, didn’t do her research, and had her coffers drained. She got stuck in the moment, convinced that everyone would see her genius once her words were published.

This is a sticky situation because there are lots of self pubbed novels where the writer tried to go the traditional route, got stymied due to strength of pages (or lack thereof), and THEN had the rug yanked out when the rest of the world told them the same thing. Ouch.

Let’s be frank, I have no such delusions (I can barely manage to sustain delusions of mediocrity let alone grandeur!). People aren’t going to read my work to be wooed into the beauty and poise of my words (heh, I used the word poise like I owned it!). When the time comes, people will read my work for the explosions, the laughs, and probably the chase scenes. There might be some other bits that spark interest here or there, but I’m not holding my breath. Awards? Hell, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want them (I still blush when I get blog awards, people), but I’m old enough to know that they sent two thousand athletes to the Olympics, and they only handed out 98 medals. And by publishing standards those are really great odds.

What broke the writer who lives in the quiet house is a lack of perspective. She bought into the machine that raises hopes. They told her that her work would sell thousands of copies. They told her she’d need a small fortune just to have her fan mail read. They skewed her perspective. They built her up. They told her that her work would rival the greats. The blurb even compared her novel to great literary classics.

When my book is published (because seriously, if I know one thing, I can out stubborn a mule), I know that it’s possible I’ll sell a few handfuls. Even if I make a “big publisher” it’s always possible that the book will sell so poorly that a few handfuls would be considered a generous accounting.

That’s why writers must never stop the one, fundamental thing that makes us writers: we write.

If you self pub, and your heart is broken, there are pen names. If you traditionally pub and you get dropped, well, there’s a way to recover from that too. If you’re just starting out, railing against how long it takes to hear back on a query, I got news for you: publishers take longer than agents, so get your waiting boots shined up.

There are lots of reasons to be frustrated in this journey, but there is only one way to be a writer today: write.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What I should be doing

As a writer, there are things that people love to tell us to do. I think this partly stems from one of two ideas: writing is easy, and writers are robots, methodically turning out words in perfect order (ha! I just had to wipe away a tear that made me laugh so hard). I’m only seeing this side of it so much because my family can’t quite pick up on the idea that I finished a novel and it wasn’t published the next day (or week or year), and why do I need to start writing another one. While I do devote many hours to writing, often missing sleep, or skipping tv shows or even time in the hot tub, I am not a machine.

In fact, I’m pretty human with all the silly problems that come with being human. Yes, I’d love to be able to work at a 6K a day pace, or revise faster than I draft, or—for the sweet love of chocolate—give a polish read that is faster than 15 pages a day (I shake my fists at thee, oh great slower of my productivity).

So what I should be doing? I should be writing. It’s what we should all be doing.

What have I been doing? Well, I’ve been writing. I’ve also been obsessively checking twitter and query tracker and watching some of my favorite tv shows (how did I go so long without knowing about Idol!!!!). I’m dancing. I’m practicing dancing. I’m drooling over shoes for dancing. And I’m going to tumblr. Then, after being well marinated in procrastination, I write. Sometimes the writing goes well, sometimes it’s crap. Sometimes I land 6K in a day, and sometimes I’m pleased with six words (okay, reality check: I’m never, EVER, pleased with six words. I find that sort of pace torturously slow, and I have no patience for it. Those writers who do and can? Saints, pure and simple, and I’m not a saint).

What are your thoughts? Do you procrastinate much? Do you obsessively follow something that if you could give it up, you’d suddenly have a bazillion more hours in the day to do everything else (you know, like fold laundry and write books?).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Writer links and stuff you should be following

I've been researching agents and publishing for a long time. I'm not saying that to brag (I mean, really, it would be bragging to say "I tripped over this awesome agent and contract without knowing anything!" but that hasn't been my path). When I first started out, I didn't really think I had a chance, so I really did everything by the seat of my pants. I queried the first agent who came up in my google search for a literary agent.

No really. I'm lucky that it was an agent who popped up on my list, but it could have just as easily been a scammer. After sacrificing that novel on the altar of naivety, I got wise and started doing my research. I realize that many people already know about these resources, but I never know when someone is going to stumble across my blog. So if you're looking for information on agents and some bits of publishing, check out these links.

Shipping & Handling, a podcast by two agents. You can download their episodes here. Why do I think it's important? These two agents (Bridget Smith and Jennifer Udden) talk about books, publishing and craft. You can send in questions, and they might just answer those questions. I love that they talk about what they love about books, and it really gives us writers a glimpse into the agenting world.

Query Tracker is one of those great places where writers can comment on agents. It's not as good as some places with an iron clad moderation, but with a bit of common sense, you can probably figure out which agents have trouble. Admittedly, some times a writer is bitter and the comments go south fast. I suggest that you use your discretion when posting and believing others on open forums.

Michelle Hauck runs a set of interviews called query questions where she asks agents about some of the most commonly fretted over issues in querying. I find these interviews particularly useful because she straight up asks them about the questions that every writer has gone insane over.

Krista Van Dolzer has a whole slew of agent interviews, but these ones you should be careful with. Some of the interviews are pretty dated. They make an excellent starting point, but in some cases, the agents have moved or left the business. Be careful and always do a separate search on agents to find where they are now!

I feel like I can't have a link post without mentioning Absolute Write. I like absolute write, but in the comments on agents section, there tends to be a lot of meanies and trolls. I don't really know why, but the trolls are particularly vigorous around the agent threads. In other parts of Absolute Write, the writers are really great and super supportive--some of my favorite forums!--but like any city, there are parts of town that you should carry a flashlight when you go into.

And lastly, you should always check Preditors and Editors. Some of their stuff might not be up to date with the newer agents, but the newer agents should be from agencies listed and rated at P&E.

I think I'm going to call it there. There are tons and tons of resources, but those are a great set to get a writer started. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments (yes, even you totally published and successful people of awesome!).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Care to dance? (hint, the answer is always YES!)

So I’ve been learning to dance with my Mom (you know the woman who has read every book in the store—okay, not anymore, but for a long time sci fi and fantasy didn’t produce enough books for her reading enjoyment, so she read out the mystery section as well). She’s been dancing for a while and I’m the n00b. And it’s a blast. The first two weeks were pretty nerve wracking, but after I started to know people’s names, and it’s been a blast.

Whenever you first learn something, you’re just in a panic. For me, that panic was trying to decode what the leaders were trying to tell me to do. The biggest problem when you start out is that if you have any sense of rhythm, people assume you know how to dance, so they try their moves on you. For many people, this was a disaster. I just didn’t know the language.

But for some leaders, they could just spin me out and do a whip and—by pure magic—I followed! I mean they were doing things I just didn’t know how to do, but the cues they gave were so perfect that there was nothing other than the right move as an option.

As you can imagine, this was confusing that sometimes dancing was easy (and awesome!), and sometimes I was completely toe tied. After a few more lessons, I was able to figure more of it out and do more with the leads that weren’t as obvious (note, I didn’t say as good, I said not as obvious). That’s when it hit me that dancing is like writing. Ever read that book where you thought you understood it, but there was doubt? Yeah, that was a book that either you didn’t come to it with the right background, or the writer didn’t give you a good enough lead to follow them through the story.

Oh, and the other rule of dancing: It’s the leader’s fault. Something goes wrong? Leader’s fault. Miss a turn? Yeah, the leader didn’t lead it right. (hint, if you’re the writer, you’re the leader: it’s your fault when the reader doesn’t follow you)

In some styles of dance, the lead is in close contact the whole time. The contact is so constant and close, that the follower has no option but to do as directed by the leader (it is a partnership and they wouldn’t want to do anything else anyways). In other dances, the lead is with a couple of fingers, and that’s because everything is so fast that anymore contact would get in the way.

And that’s where the trouble comes. I definitely write like a two fingered lead. I’ve always known this, but there are moments in the dance where I could pause, and my followers (the readers) could catch a breath and know they were on steady ground before spinning off into the action.

What are your thoughts on letting the reader catch their breath?