Monday, October 28, 2013


I don’t know how many times in our lives we get to peer over the guardrail back at our lives, but I just recently I crossed a big milestone—well, a big milestone to me, at least.

Sometime in September, I wrote my one millionth word of fiction (a specific designation because I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of non-fic, too). One Million words. That’s a lot. Like if I were to ask someone how many words is a lot, they’d say “A hundred thousand is a ton of words!” and I’ve written ten times that. If I printed out all those words in Times New Roman 12 point and put them in a line, you’d have to walk 10 kilometers to read them all.  


So what does a milestone like 1 million words mean? I don’t know, but I can tell you what it doesn’t mean. Volume of words does not equate to quality or competency. Sure I’ve written a ton, but that doesn’t mean any of it is good. And volume is no guarantee of publication. I know people who have ten times (this is literal, not figurative) more words and still haven’t landed that all coveted publishing contract. On the flip side, I know someone who published her first novel (YOWZAH), so a million words is meaningless.

For me, a million words is four laptops (okay, the kid killed two of them), and more than a decade of writing off and on. A million words is having to write the letters onto the keyboard because I’ve polished them off from all the typing. A million words means I’m here to stay. I never imagined I could write that much, so for me it’s something of a badge of honor. What makes me the most happy, is that of those million words, over a quarter of them were in the last year.

I’m just warming up. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Wait Game, or LEARN from my FAIL

I’m sure many of you unagented writer types are like me right now: biting my nails hoping to get into a couple of contests.  Turns out I’ve done this contest thing once or twice, and I have some advice for you if you make it to the agent round.  It’s really simple advice:


After you get a request from an agent, wait. I know this sounds really simple, but trust me, wait a day. Read through your submission, and then hit send.

But Rena, aren’t the agents all hot to trot? They just requested material!!!! I might die if I wait another second!!!!

Oh hyperactive me from the past*, I know how that feels, but let me just say, you will hate yourself tomorrow morning if you hit send tonight.  Shoot, you might hate yourself in thirty seconds if you hit send right now.

Story time:

There I was twitter pitching my little heart out when LO AND BEHOLD an agent favorited my pitch. I almost died. I jumped up and down like a fool, I did the happy dance. I ran a quick research run on the agent. It was someone I wanted to query (reps a couple of super awesome writers I love), and I was over the moon.  The agent wanted to see my work. MINE! I mean how could that even be possible. I could almost see myself floating up out of the slush pile masses to join the luminaries of the writing community: agented writers.

In the thirty minutes of research, my heart thumped and thumped in my chest. My adrenaline made my fingers shake, but I felt like I was taking too long to ship off the requested material. I read faster, I went to the agency website and read up on all of the agents and who they repped and what kind of agency they were. And then I hit send.

Only to realize that there were two agents with names that started with the same letter and I’d just sent it to the WRONG ONE!!!!

AND THEN! Like a complete idiot who has taken a vacation from what little senses I might have had, I tweeted to the agent.

That’s right, I was so nervous I tweeted to the WORLD how I’d screwed up submitting the requested materials and addressed it all to the wrong agent.

It’s unlikely that this really killed my submission (it just wasn’t quite ready, close but no cigar), but it sure didn’t help. I’d kick myself more, but like I said, the project wasn’t quite ready. I tried not to feel like such a fool for the rest of the month, but every time it came up, I just wanted to crawl into a hole.

My point is that if you get a request, sit on it overnight if at all possible. It was such a simple mistake, and I could have avoided it by not jumping the gun. Learn from my fail. Patience. Wait. Think about contests a little bit more like when you get a guy or girl’s number. You don’t call them the morning after the party, you wait (until at least noon).

Good luck out there, and I mean it, wait. You can do it. You’ve already waited a week or more to find out if you made the agent round, what’s another day?

*This is totally paying homage to CrashCourse History because John Green is awesome. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shoot the mop

This is just my own frustration at this point, but I'm mopping the floors every other day at this point. Now, I'm much more of a once a week, maybe once every two weeks if things are too hectic, but not now. Selling a house is like saying "I didn't have a deep enough appreciation of house cleaning, I think I shall immerse myself in a zen like process of finding my inner house cleaner." Hint, I haven't found her yet.

House work is such a waste of my precious writing time.

So if you don't see me around, just know that I'd much rather be hopping around blogs and leaving comments. 

I will shoot the mop.

OH wait, I'll use it as a target for fencing. Yeah, that mop had better watch out or it's gonna get an epee to the steam button. Hitting something with a sword--even a practice one--makes a girl feel better.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marketing and Kites

I see a ton of people releasing their books or gearing up to release books (congratulations!), and so I thought I’d talk a touch about marketing. I haven't released a book, but I'm related to a person or two with business and marketing degrees.

Let’s start with some facts:
Marketing sells things. Marketing even sells books.
Marketing is an unsustainable effort.
Marketing is not the only way to have your book take off.
You will have no control of whether your book “takes off” or not.

It’s time for an analogy. Releasing a book is a lot like flying a kite (from the selling and marketing side, at least). There are factors out of your control, weather, for instance. There are factors in your control: the build of the kite, the length of the string, etc. You might be able to change your location, but without going to extremes, you’re probably stuck with your weather.

Sometimes when you go kite flying, everything is perfect, and your kite just leaps into the air with hardly any effort from you. Sometimes when you go kite flying, there isn’t enough wind to move a quark. On days with no wind, you might try running to make a breeze for your kite. So you run and run and run. Your kite has a sort of wobbly flight, but it's up.  This is the marketing. The running is marketing.  It’s fake wind. Remember, even if it is fake wind, it still sells books. Sometimes it sell thousands of books. But remember the running? You probably can't keep that up forever.

Sometimes, you run long enough and hard enough, and you can get your kite into the magical upper winds where it can then remain high sailing with little to no effort. Sometimes, no amount of running will get your kite into those upper winds, and it is destined to come back to Earth.

This is why some books flop and some books take off (seriously, who could have predicted the super mega hit of 50 shades???), and why plenty of completely wonderful books die in obscurity. There are factors out of your control. You cannot change the wind, though you can run for a little while. Sometimes the marketing really does work. Sometimes it really taps into a bigger audience. Sometimes, the audience is hiding. 

These are factors beyond the control of any author, so if you’re smack dab in the middle of running to help your kite fly, I feel for you. If you’re still putting your kite together, make sure you pick where you try to fly it.

Good luck out there writers, and I hope it’s breezy in your markets.

(still building my kite)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Those who can afford it least

I live in the desert.

As such, water is a precious commodity. Right?
broken sprinkler this morning

You'd think they would carefully guard all of their water lines. No sprinkler would remain busted, etc. etc.
same busted sprinkler last week

In fact you'd think that in a place where it rains less than ten inches in a year, they'd be awfully miffed about water loss.
same sprinkler busted three weeks ago

And yet, here in Albuquerque, there's a broken sprinkler head I pass on my way to work practically every day. 

 Writers are like this too. Well, to be fair everyone is, but in general, those who can least afford to do so are always the ones doing it. It's like those PayDay loans at 30%, cause that'll help someone out financially. And yet they are everywhere. I never see rich people using those...

Writers go through a long period of time finding their voice and making their craft work. It's one of the hardest times in a writers life (oh wait. Nope, it's ALL HARD) because they are so riddled with insecurity. It's similar to being a teenager again. Am I any good? Will anyone ever love me/my work?

The problem with this attitude is that no one gives out acknowledgement in the early days. If you're writing and you're looking for outside validation, it's a long ways off. What writers need to be doing in the early days is fearlessly writing and experimenting; exploring the ways words can be tied to together to find that magical place where their voice shines through the muck of homonym failure.

But most early writers stick to the tried and true. They write stories that are common. We say our stories are different, but trust me, there really are only seven plots. Once you know them, everything else is just a twist. So yes, your early stories are not as unique as you want.

But in the early days, you are more afraid. You follow rules and you hunt down advice from all the experts. I hate to say it, but there's a tiny percent of people who are talented enough to really write well straight out of the gates (and often they've had a lot of other writing training that they just didn't recognize) so a lot of us spend a lot of time turning our wheels in the place where we aren't that good but we want to be awesome.

We usually dream about publishing and agents and contracts, and--I know telling people not to do it is ridiculous, but the craft of writing is only learned through excruciating trial and error. And until you've experimented--say eff-you to publishing and write the book you NEED--you'll never find your voice. There's a reason it takes years to hone craft and learn to write. It's because it's hard. But it takes longer if you only go the safe route, telling the safe stories.

You need to fly. But until you jump off the cliff, how do you know if you'll fly or fall?

Failure is part of the game. Hey, I have failed books, ideas that crashed and burned. I have a trunk of fan fic that will NEVER see the light of day. I have poems and blog posts, song lyrics, novels, novellas, short stories, you name it. And I have flash fiction for contests and fun.  I've written stories in 35 words because that was the challenge.

In short, write everything. You wouldn't go to a store and try on the first dress you saw for prom? What if it didn't fit right? or clashed with your skin? What if it poked you in all the wrong places? Or you were allergic to the fabric (this is starting to be a real problem for me, as it turns out)?

So go out into the world and write everything. You have no time to hesitate about the what and the who. You cannot afford to be paralyzed by fear. I get it, fear is hard to conquer (I'm a coward, FYI). There are no fearless people, but there are people who can swallow their fear and jump despite the shaking knees. 

They Fly.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dream agents, or how things are bigger in your head

We've all heard people talking about the dream agent.

Being a querying writer is a unique form of hell (somewhere near the one for people who talk in theaters). First you're throwing yourself out there, trying to catch the attention of the rare literary agent in their natural habitat: the slush pile.

You're elbowing around with all the other people who have stars in their eyes, and you have spent your whole life working on getting published. So you research the agents you're going to query. Turns out one of them plays hockey.

You play hockey.

The agent also loves Sci Fi art.

You love sci fi art!

The agent is funny on twitter.

You LOVE funny on Twitter!

So you send to this person to whom you now feel strongly connected (hey, it's hard to find an LA Kings fan in NYC, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth). They must be your dream agent. But despite being into Sci Fi, hockey, and funny on twitter, you really have NO IDEA what kind of AGENT they are.

This is a wake up call people. Being funny on twitter doesn't mean an agent is good at being an agent, and here's the problem I see with people talking about their dream agents: until you've worked with (or at least talked to) that agent, there is no way to tell if they are a good agent. Yes you can look them up on predators and editors, and Of Course you looked them up on absolute write and AgentQueryConnect, but that's all second hand information.

It's the difference between seeing something and hearing something.

Your eyes believe what they see.

Your ears believe what someone else says.

Until you've worked with that person, you have no idea how the two of you will work together.

So I'm sure you're all wondering, do I have a dream agent? Well, if you mean an agent I fantasize about having fall in love with my manuscript, well, yes, I have more than one dream agent. For me, my dream agent is the one who loves my books and wants to help me in my bid to take over the world (with great stories).
Helpful qualifications*: an excellent editorial eye, straight talking, professional connections, an abundance of humor (preferably black like my heart), the ability to play halo a plus but not a deal breaker.  But truthfully, I don't know enough about publishing to know what I should want in an agent (other than previous sales in my genre). I suspect that most of us unagented writers are sitting in the same boat.

But Rena, some of those qualifications perfectly match my one and true dream agent. How can you say there's no such thing until I meet them over the phone and then work with them? What about my psychic powers of intuition?

Ah, my sweetlings, let me tell you about that intuition.

For some people it is very right. For others it is very, very wrong. And now it's story time.

There was this actor. I won't say his name because I'm sure the experience was a complete fluke, but let's just say he played  a popular character on a popular television show.

It would be silly to say that he changed my life with his role, but he did. I based many of my dreams off of things I saw him do on TV (wow, where was my guidance counselor in all of this?? ). I spent thousands of dollars chasing a dream life molded by the character he played. I had spent so much time thinking about him and the character that he had played that it was hard to separate the two.

And then I got to meet him.

I was so nervous standing in line to meet the guy who had literally changed the shape of my life.

He was a robot. An autograph signing machine. I think he wrote something like Peace on the picture. He misspelled my name--well, maybe, it's illegible.

My whole life I thought I would have some deep connection with this person whose life choices (to act and be an activist) had changed my life so profoundly. But there was nothing. I was just another fan in a long line of fans, paying my money for an autograph. I got the same I-can't-believe-you-people-are-still-here-the-show-ended-years-ago-get-on-with-your-life-so-I-can-get-on-with-mine smile that he gave the lady in front of me.

I won't say that it broke my heart. I'd experienced something similar with Stephen Hawking (I don't think he's mean on purpose, I think he's mean because life is a lot harder for him than for able bodied people) (and oh yeah, it's hard for me to really hate people so I often make up excuses for them to be hateful).

My point is, the person in my head was much bigger than the one signing autographs, probably desperate for a break (can you imagine how his hand must have hurt, and the barrage of people "I'm your biggest fan!!!!"). Don't do this to yourself with an agent.

When you get an agent, you have to become partners in the whole publishing gig (and you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy--okay, it's nicer than that, but it's not shooting womp rats back home). Partnerships don't work out if you start on uneven ground. So don't go all moon-eyed in the query trenches. It's a dangerous place.

Also, you might want to go see Fizzy about oversharing. Zang, you don't want that problem. 

*helpful qualifications may change without notice as writer gains experience

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Bitter Taste of Ash: An Insecure Writer’s Support Group post

Welcome to the October edition of IWSG. If you haven’t already seen it, jump on over to Ninja Captain Alex’s blog, hop on the Linky, and release your fears and troubles into the world. Be sure to drop by the cohosts Julie Luek, Rachna Chabria, Beverly Fox, and Ilima Todd and thank them for volunteering for this month’s duties.

And now for a public service announcement:

Failure is the risk of living.

Yeah, I know, it sucks. It’s a gift, a second chance. It’s all the clich├ęs and none of them wrapped in a stinking pile of nostalgia, regret, and bitter ash. (Maybe I should ease into topics, but sometimes the band-aid approach works best: yank and get it over with.)

When I was in high school and I told people I wanted to be a writer, they’d ask things like “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll wake up in your forties one day, and you’ll have accomplished nothing with your life? Don’t you worry about squandering your life for a pile of broken dreams? What happens if you never get published and you die having failed at everything you've ever tried?” It was very similar to the events described by Elizabeth Gilbert (see her amazing Ted talk).

This fear, this standing on the brink of something as sacred as your dreams is filled with everything that can go wrong. When people remind you how fragile this dream is, they make it sound hallowed. Don’t fly too close to the sun Icarus.

News flash: the heap of broken dreams with the bitter taste of ash in your mouth? You can get there by taking the safe path too. No one warns you that you can take the safe path, the sure thing, the "right" choice and still land in a ruined heap trying to figure out how to start your life over after a decade of hard work and heartache.

I know, way to really lift everyone’s spirits today, Rena, but I have something to say: The risk of absolute failure lies down EVERY path. So much of life is completely out of your control, why would you let the fear of failure stop you from pursuing your dreams.

I see a lot of writers these days hesitating on books or ideas. How do I know which one is right? You don’t. Worse, you could pick the perfect book, and it could still go nowhere. Imagine a book, similar to Twilight, but this one starring dragons instead of vampires. It snagged an agent. It sold to a publisher for wads of cash, and guess what? It flopped. (I only know this because an agent told me a previous book of mine reminded her of that book). And by flop, I mean the bookstore owner groaned when I asked her about it. Groaned. Then she smiled and said they’d returned all their unsold copies—which was all the copies they’d ordered—last week. Perfect book, poised to take advantage of a craze, and it got nada. 

And it can happen in any profession. Safe jobs, dull jobs, wild jobs, dangerous jobs, everywhere.

There might be a pile of bitter ash at the end of every road, so why not walk the one you want? And you never know, the rainbow has to end somewhere, why not down that path? (that’s why there are so many songs about rainbows).