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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

They're Talking About You (and Me)

When I first began my journey of writing and publishing my book, I read quite a few blogs, articles and books on the process.  They all had a few things in common:  the authors said that no manuscript is ready for review as soon as it is written.  They suggested multiple edits, critiques and revisions.  They talked about the process being long and difficult.  They reminded us that very few writers become published, and out of those, even fewer experience success with their work.

I read those words, and although I wouldn't have admitted it at the time, deep inside I was thinking, "That doesn't apply to me. I edit as I write.  My manuscript is perfect as it is written."  I loved my story so much that I couldn't imagine changing even one word.

Three years later, I can only look back and laugh.  My book has grown and evolved so much from that first version, and while there is part of me that mourns what was, I understand that its present form is better. . and I recognize that there is always room for improvement. 

As writers, we so identify with our work that it can be tough to recognize what that work needs.  And after we've poured our blood, sweat and tears into months or years of tender care, hearing that it's still not quite good enough is extremely painful. . so we decide that that advice isn't meant for us.

Guess what?  It is.  There is no writer or written work so perfect that it cannot be improved.  There is no story so complete that it cannot be tweaked.  When those in the know give advice. . they're talking about you.  And me, as it turns out.

As I've mentioned, I work with a terrific group of writers who support each other, offer encouragement and perform monthly critiques on each others' work.  Our core group has learned through trial and error what the others want to hear, how tough we can be, and where we need to pull back.  More than once, we've had authors join us and leave after a single critique cycle.  A few have told me that they didn't expect the level of criticism they received; they came to the group looking only for accolades, not for constructive help. 

I get that.  Hey, I'd love it if every month, my fellow writers told me that the chapter I submitted was so perfect that they couldn't suggest changing one iota.  Well, I'd love it if it were true.  But I am happier that they instead tell me the truth:  they point out a redundant word, question the actions of a character, ask me about motivation or continuity.  Pats on the back are nice, but they aren't going to help me in the long run.

If you're just beginning the road to writing book, don't be discouraged by those in the know.  But don't think you're the exception to the rule.  Know that even authors who routinely see their books on the New York Times best-sellers list admit that their work could have been improved. So can yours, and so can mine.

We writers are a fragile bunch, but we need thick skins to be out there in the world.  So pull up your big girl panties and get on with it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It's the Reading, Stupid!

Remember back in the 90's, when Bill Clinton was running for president, and the catchphrase became "It's the economy, stupid!" as a way to sum up the most important issue in the nation?  Well, this came to mind recently while I was reading my Nook and thinking about the sweeping changes in the world of publishing.  Everyone is talking about how bookstore closings, skyrocketing e-publishing figures and the decline of the printed word is affecting literature.  Within my own home there are factions:  two daughters who are fiercely clinging to traditional books and refusing to read e-books, and one daughter, one son-in-law and one husband (plus me!) who own e-readers and enjoy the easy access to our favorite books.

But in the midst of all of this posturing, let's not forget the point:  it's the reading, stupid.

Right now I'm enjoying the first book in Nora Roberts' latest trilogy on my Nook.  I loved the fact that I could download this book at midnight on November 1st; I didn't have to go to the bookstore, wait for a package to arrive or be the first one at the library when it opened that morning.  The book was there, waiting for me to enjoy it.

The fact that I am reading it in a non-print format doesn't remove any of the romance, mystery or magic from the book.

We can argue all day long about quality, paper versus download, but when it comes down to it, e-books have as much potential as traditional books. Yes, there is a lot of garbage still being "published" as electronic books, but there are also some really poor work out there in print, as well.

I am concentrating on publishing my first book electronically by the end of the year, but it doesn't mean that I have eschewed traditional publishing.  If the opportunity, I would love to see my work in print, on a page made of paper.


But it's more important to me to get my 'baby' out there, no matter how it's done.  I want other people to read it. 


Because after all, it's the reading, stupid.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Filing the Pieces

Re-writing segments of a book are like taking a large chunk of a puzzle and retooling those pieces in such a way that they make the puzzle even better. . .but still fit the original picture. 

It's not easy.

I'm nearly finished the final edit on the first part of my first book.  I'm excited about the changes; I think they only make the final story tighter and better.  At the same time, I do miss what was cut from the opening chapters.  I like a lot of background when I read or when I write; while I don't think what I took away hurts the story, it wasn't easy to see it go.

Since I am getting closer to my e-pub date, I am also working on book promotion.  My website is up and under construction.  A wonderful and kind writer friend is going to do a cyber promotion tour for me. I'm finalizing the cover design. I am working on blurbs for the press releases.  So much to do!!

It's not unlike the final months of pregnancy (which means I've been expecting for almost three years. . well, that's not unlike my other four pregnancies!!).  While I need to concentrate on the most important thing--finishing the book edit/growing the baby--I also need to have everything ready for the birth and the baby--uh, I mean the book! Instead of setting up the nursery and putting together the stroller, I'm checking out publicity sites and working on promotion.

I can't wait for you all to meet Tasmyn and Michael, and even Nell.  I think you'll enjoy these characters, and I hope you love their story.

Stay tuned for more info in the coming days!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Edit! Oh, please edit!

Last week I reviewed an e-published book.  It was a fairly good story; some of the characters were strong and well-written, and the basic idea was a good one (if not highly original). 

Unfortunately, although the author's notes indicated that she had used an editor, there were piles of grammar and punctuation errors as well as some pretty glaring word usage problems. 

What could have been a decent book fell several notches short of acceptable.  It's always frustrating to see potential that isn't reached, and in this case, it was doubly so as a good proofreading and editing really isn't that difficult to accomplish.

As we venture into the brave new world of e-publishing, there is always going to be a conflict between speed and accessibility versus quality and preparation. 

I'm dealing with that issue right now.  My first book is written, has been completed for several years.  I could easily pop it onto Amazon or Barnes and Noble and get to work on promoting it.  However, in the last few years, I've gotten good advice from agents, editors and other writers about how to make my book even better.  I'm in the midst of implementing all that advice right now, and consequently it's taking some time. 

Am I wasting time in not putting my work out right away?  Some might say yes.  I can't in good conscience justify publishing--even e-publishing--any work that is less than my best.

So yes, I am going to continue working on my book, editing and polishing it.  When it does go before the world, I want it to be at its very best.

It may not be undergoing scrutiny by agents and editors, but I hope it looks as though it could.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

To E-Pub or Not to E-Pub?

If you've been following my blog with any regularity. . well, God bless you, because I've been so erratic in my posts lately. . .but anyway. . .

You'll know that the idea of e-publishing has been in my peripheral for some time now.  I can't think of an aspiring-to-be-published writer who doesn't at least consider the idea, even if he/she won't admit it.  Even those of us who loudly proclaim that WE are going to hold out for the elusive validation of traditional publication have our own dark nights of doubts when we accept that eventually we might have to cave and do it 'that' way.   (NOTE:  When I refer to e-publishing in this blog entry, I mean books that are self-published ONLY in an electronic format.  I don't include books that are available in both traditional format and electronic form.)

Why would a writer want to avoid e-publishing?  Well, here are a few of my own top reservations:

1)  The glut.  Since the advent of what is essentially free e-publishing on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble (among other sites), millions of books have been published that way. Compare that to the very small number of books that are traditionally published each year; the competition in the world of e-books is much fiercer.

2)  The quality.  I have found very few self-published e-books that entice me to read beyond the first few pages.  Whether or not you agree with the agent/editor system in traditional publishing, the evidence in support of their value cannot be denied.  Agents and editors are the gatekeepers of the printed word, and although sometimes I resent their selectiveness, when I read self-published e-books, I have to admit to a certain amount of gratitude for their discernment.  I refer to both quality of writing and plot and to the editing or lack thereof. When anyone can be published, does the value of each book plummet? Possibly.

3)  Publicity and promotion.  I know that the days of the book tour for every author are over.  I know that publishing houses are very chary with their promotion of new authors anymore.  But the idea of being completely responsible for publicizing and promoting my book is a little scary.  I can do it; I know about social media.  Though this is probably the least of my e-pub worries, it's still a concern.

4)  Closing the door.  Agents and editors have been declaring it to the heavens for over a year: don't bother querying a book that has already been e-published.  Therefore, once I e-publish my book, I am effectively deciding that it will never be published in a traditional format.   While I have no delusions of grandeur, making that decision isn't easy and can't be made lightly.  It kind of feels like giving up.  Maybe it's not. . .but I have to make peace with it.

After reading the reasons above, you may be wondering why on earth I would ever WANT to e-publish.  Well, there are some good points.  First of all, I would retain complete creative control of my work.  I would determine the price.  I would have the ability to promote it as much or as little as I wished. I wouldn't have to query an agent and then sell my work to a publishing house before I see it more widely read.  I could possibly gain enough of a following that an agent might be interested in representing my subsequent work.  And I would have the potential of making a little money on this book before I begin collecting Social Security.

I'm not quite there, but I'm almost sold.  I've comforted myself that I do have other books in the works, and just because I 'cave' (sorry, that's still how I see it right now!) on this book doesn't mean traditional publishing is out of the question for those books.

In preparation for taking this step, I'm setting some concrete goals.  I'll be establishing an author page soon (look for the link here).  I'm working on the final editing and re-write of FEARLESS.  And I'm planning to become a more aggressive promoter.

I'm interested; what would YOU do?  

Saturday, July 23, 2011

When or Where?

I have some questions for all of you writers out there. . .don't worry, your answers will remain anonymous!

When do you write?  By asking this question, I'm assuming that like me, you're a part-time writer; you probably have to squeeze in a few pages around a so-called real job or while the kids are napping. Or maybe you get up two hours early every day in order to pound out a chapter. . or you stay up until midnight, sacrificing those precious hours of shut-eye on the alter of your craft.

I am not a morning person.  Most of my books were written in the wee small hours of the morning.  I found that I could actually begin earlier in the evening, sitting with the family and watching a movie or a TV show, laptop on my knees.  I used that time, when there was still commotion and noise, to re-read what I had previously written or edit an earlier chapter. And then once everyone was safely in bed, I could really get into it.

When I went on my writing retreat last summer, I wrote almost around the clock, only taking breaks for stretching, yoga and a few quick jogs to the fridge for whatever might be lurking there. That was very cool and some of my most productive time.

How about where?  Do you have a desk in your room or den where you bring your stories to life?  Do you sit at the kitchen table? Do you write on the train to or from work?

I wrote a good part of my first book in bed.  I love my bed. . .it is without doubt the most comfortable bed I have EVER had in my entire life, and really, I hate to be away from it ever.  So I just propped the laptop on a pillow and away I went. 

When I began writing late at night, I needed different plan; my husband didn't so much care for the tap tap of computer keys when he was trying to sleep.  So I began sitting in my comfy green chair.  It's a recliner that sits in my family room, and it's MY chair.  For a short time before she passed, it was my mom's chair, and so I feel especially close to her there. I would set myself up in the chair during family TV time and just keep on working through the night.

Unfortunately, we made some changes in our living room seating situation, and now MY green chair has been appropriated by anyone who wants a real seat.  (That usually means my husband or my son in law.) I don't begrudge them the seat, but I have been surprised to find that I don't write as well anywhere else.

We'll be moving furniture around shortly, and before long, there will be a sofa for the rest of the populace and I will reclaim my chair. Until then, I am enjoying stolen moments in my recliner after my husband goes to bed!

Does having the right time and right set up affect your writing?  I think it does.  I don't think I write as well when I'm making do.  Things flow at the right time and in the right setting. At least that's how it works for me.

What about you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The itch is back

I'm hearing the voices again.

No, the insanity isn't back.  I haven't lost my mind or gained an alter personality.  I'm hearing my characters speak again.

It happens at odd times, usually when I'm doing something like drying my hair or putting on makeup.  I hear Tasmyn tell me about something that is happening with her and Michael on their college campus.  She's ready to see her story resume, I guess.

I can't complain.  My fictional friends have been considerately quiet while the wedding mania has been at its height, and while I've had twinges of anxiety about my lack of writing--will I ever write again??--it's been a relief to have one thing off my daily list.

I'm actually pretty excited to report that I'm feeling a little impatient to get back to my story.  I know a little bit of what needs to be told in book 4, and I'm getting glimpses what is going to make book 1 tighter and better.  I just need the time to actually get it onto the computer!

It'll come.  Until then, I just have to ignore the itch a little longer.

Oh, and ask Tasmyn to simmer down for just about another month.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Finding Inspiration

Since I've re-ignited my writing career (read:  since I've been writing again seriously), I haven't suffered from writer's block or from a lack of motivation.  And even in the last few months, inspiration hasn't been my enemy as much a lack of time and opportunity has been. 

But I have to admit, lately I've been worried.  When I think about writing, about my books, I haven't been getting that sense of impatience to get back to it that I've had for the last three years.  Instead, I've been feeling more than a little ambivalent.  And that's scary to a writer, because we have to be completely enthusiastic about our own work, our talent and our career all of the time.  After all, if we're not, who will be?

Ambivalence means that maybe writing isn't what I'm meant to do.  Maybe it was just a phase.  Maybe I won't be able to write another word.  If I had any talent, wouldn't some agent or editor have taken notice by now?  Who am I kidding?

I've been pushing these fears to the back of my mind as much as possible.  It's been pretty easy to do that, to justify my lack of motivation; I've been busy planning my daughter's wedding, raising kids, helping my husband through his last semester of seminary. . .no one can deny I've had legitimate distractions. 

Tonight, for some reason, I found a new glimmer of hope.  For the first time in quite a while, I felt that old longing to climb back into my story, to re-claim my characters and their fates. 

Circumstances still aren't making writing easy, but at least I have some hope that the desire will come back.

Who knows?  Maybe I'll be inspired to write a new story. . about wedding planning.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Microwave or Fridge?

Sometime in the early 1970's, my father bought my mother our first microwave oven. I can still remember the excitement in our family: we weren't the type to buy every new gadget that came down the pike, but my dad was convinced that microwaves were going to revolutionize cooking and change our lives.

My mom's birthday fell not too long after we got the microwave, and my father announced that this year, he was going to make my mom a birthday cake.  Himself.  In the microwave.

If you've never tried to make a cake in the microwave. . .well, don't.  Yes, it was faster, but it was also burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.  Made for some great family folklore, but not very good eating.

Now take on the other hand the introduction of the refrigerator into American culture. Once we had the ability to keep foods cold without depending on blocks of ice, our options for cooking flew wide open. We didn't have to worry about keeping milk, butter, eggs or milk fresh in the heat.  The fridge really did change lives.

 While the microwave was undoubtedly an important tool, it didn't really change the culinary world long-term the way the refrigerator did. We couldn't see that in the early 1970's, but now we can.

I look at the e-publishing revolution in the same way.  Right now, it's (relatively) new and shiny, and we can see its potential.  It could open up avenues to more authors who are hungering for publication and it could also shift some of the power in the publishing world from the editors and agents to the authors themselves. It could be the fridge of publishing in the 21st century.

But the pivotal word is 'could'. 

Because e-publishing could also be the microwave oven of the publishing world. It could become a tool instead of a revolution, something useful for boiling water fast, melting butter or heating up leftovers, but not so great for cooking a chicken or baking a cake.

I'd love to embrace e-publishing wholeheartedly, without reservation, but it's still early days. It's going to take years before we can fully understand and see clearly what the ramifications will be.  Meanwhile, all the people who are declaring traditional publishing dead would be wise to bide their time.

After all, while I do have a microwave built into my wall in the kitchen, I also still have a regular oven.  And that's how I bake my cakes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Quest Goes On. . .

If anyone might be checking his calendar. . .yes, it's been nearly two months since I last updated this blog.  For hard-core bloggers, this is a sin of great magnitude.  For me, it's just been life.

The last few months have been more about getting through life and wedding planning than about writing or publishing.  I've been participating in my writers support group, reading and critiquing others' work, and I've been submitting along with them.  But that's pretty much all the writing I've been doing.

Do I feel guilty about this?  Well. . .yes.  I do, because writing is important to me, and I don't have any intention of giving up on it.  I've been trying to keep it all in perspective, being grateful that I can choose to put it on the back burner for the time being while other things take my attention; I'm not on a deadline. 

But it's also been just a tad worrisome.  These past months have been the only time since I returned to it full-time that I haven't felt the pressing need to write.  Like most writers, the fear that that inspiration will leave me always lurks somewhere in the back of my mind, haunting me.  I believe that we all have seasons of life; could writing be only that for me?

I don't think so.  I think that we all have limited time and attention, and that perhaps in these days when I need all the time and brainpower I can muster, my sometimes-pushy characters have kindly agreed to take a temporary backseat.  They're not gone forever; they've popped up now and again to remind me that the story isn't over. 

One of the other obstacles standing in my way is the need to re-vamp my first story, to make it more streamlined and tighter.  Like most writers, I would far rather be writing new material than trying to improve my clearly-already-perfect-because-it's-done story (my tongue is firmly in cheek here!).  But it's got to happen, and the priority princess in me says it should be finished and in serious query mode before I tackle the fourth and final book.

So that's my world these days.  Circumstances are working toward me having more downtime at home these days, and I expect to be back in the saddle and galloping along. 

Which means that I'll be blogging more regularly, too.  And I hope I'll be sharing some good news sooner rather than later.

Thanks for sticking with me.  As always, stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wheels for Noah!!

I am pre-empting my regular blogging on all sites this week to bring you this important message.

Some of you already know about Noah Estes.  For those who aren't familiar with him, he is a four year old boy, the seventh of eight children born to Kate and Jeff Estes.  Noah has a very serious illness, mitochondrial encephalomyopathy.  It's a rare disease that affects several of his organ systems.

Noah is getting a brand new wonderful wheelchair that is going to make his life so much easier.  But the new wheelchair won't fit into the family's van, so they have found a sort of bus that will fit them all and allow Noah to travel with them. 

As you can imagine, this is good news.  As you can also guess, buses like this don't come cheap.  So the Estes are holding a fundraiser to help them raise the money. 

Please visit http://www.wheelsfornoah.com/ to help, donate and spread the word.  Add the link to your own blogs, put it on Facebook or Twitter, share the site via email.  Whatever you can do will help! If you can contribute an item for the silent auction or participate in another way, it will be a tremendous blessing to this family.

To read more about Noah's full story, please visit http://www.prayingfornoah.com/.

Thanks!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

. . .and Reality Check. . .

Just in case you might still have on your rose-colored glasses when it comes to the query and submission process, here are a few hard numbers that came from Sara Megibow of the Nelson Agency during her recent webinar:

            --In 2010, Nelson received 36,000 queries.

            --They requested 839 first pages. (That means there were 35,161 form rejections.)

            --From those 839 first page requests, they requested 98 full manuscripts.

            --Out of those 98 fulls, they signed 9 new clients.

Those are some really sobering numbers. 

Reality?

I do my best to keep up with all the publishing scuttlebutt through Twitter, agent and editor blogs and writers' websites.  This is something that I recommend to all writers who intend to pursue publication, and something I wish I had done while I was writing my first books.

Why?  Because it makes an author smarter about the business end of the dream.  Full disclosure time: when I was writing my first book, I thought I was doing the hard part. Really.  I thought that crafting the plot, unraveling the characters onto a page and creating a setting was going to be the most challenging thing about the whole process.  Boy, was I wrong.

A few weeks ago, I 'attended' a webinar on opening pages presented by Writer's Digest.  The main speaker, Sara Megibow, clearly delineated the difference between the artistic and business processes, and it was the first time I'd really heard it described so perfectly.  She spoke of the actual writing as a time of sunshine and butterflies, with the author inhabiting a world completely of her own making.  I found myself nodding in agreement--yes, that's it, totally.  And in some ways, it would be far easier to stay in that world and never venture into the business end of writing.

But I wanted to see my books published, and so with what was really very little research (I see this in retrospect), I tripped blithely into querying.  I wrote a very rudimentary query letter and sent it off to the agents that seemed to most closely match my needs.  And of course, I received basic form rejections.

What was I doing wrong?  Well, quite a few things actually.  First, my query letter was in no way ready to be sent out into the world.  I had read a couple of books about writing the letters, but I hadn't polished it to perfection (I'm still not sure I've done that).  Second, when I sent my opening pages, I was making some very amateurish mistakes, such as including the prologue (a rule that should almost never be broken:  do NOT include a prologue in opening pages.  It won't grab the agent's or editor's attention and it will almost always result in a form rejection). 

I burned through some of my most promising agent options by querying them before I had my optimal product prepared.  And the rule of the business is that you never re-query an agent with the same material unless you have completely rewritten it since your initial query--and even then, only if the agent has offered you advice on said re-writing which you have taken to heart.  Only then is it considered 'okay' to send another letter, explaining what you've done and how grateful you are for that agent's advice. . .

But most of the time, queries result in form rejections, which cannot be redeemed at all.  Once you've received a form rejection, you cannot re-query that agent with the same material. 

And after a few such rejections and some more research, I was teetering on the edge of bitterness.  As I've written here before, it's frustrating to hear conflicting advice from different agents.  It can make you crazy to the point of paralysis:  you're fearful to send out anything in case this particular letter doesn't match the needs of that specific agent. 

But it all boils down to one conclusion.  All agents agree on one thing:  the rules can be broken IF the letter and/or opening pages have an amazing voice or if the writing is simply spectacular, or if the concept is so unique and well-developed that the agent just can't resist.

As Sara Megibow pointed out in her webinar, while agents appreciate the artistic end of the writing/publishing process, their job is the business end.  They can't sign authors whose work won't sell to the publishing houses. 

I'm in a querying lull right now, largely because I don't want to waste any more agent opportunities.  I'm stepping fully out of that artistic fantasy land and facing facts.  Not sure where that's going to lead, but I think it's a good thing, whether I end up e-publishing or continuing along the traditional route. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reconceiving the Dream

Sometimes it's necessary to take another look at the dream.

I love to write, and as I've said, while I enjoy having a few people read my work, of course I would love to have it reach a broader audience.  The traditional route for accomplishing this goal goes through a literary agent to a publisher who transforms the manuscript into a book that is distributed to book stores.  And that's the route I've been seeking.

But what if that's not my path?

Of course, we've talked about self-publishing before on this blog.  It's not what it used to be; it no longer holds quite the stigma that it did years ago.  But there are still some inherent issues involved in self-publishing.  It requires a relatively significant outlay of cash with a very uncertain return.  Most authors who self-publish understand that their books will reach a much more limited audience than they would through a traditional publisher.  There is simply not the PR or marketing help available in self-publishing.

It's not a wrong path; it's a just a different one.

However, there is another option out there, and it's garnering a great deal of interest among authors.  It's e-publishing.

E-publishing is attractive to authors because it is inexpensive--sometimes even completely free.  (Barnes and Noble offers PubIt free of charge.)  It only requires the uploading of a manuscript, and then the book is available in the company's e-book store for downloading on any number of e-readers.  The author can do as much or as little marketing for his book.

One of the newest heroines of the indie publishing world is Amanda Hocking.  She is 26 years old, and last April she e-published eight of her books.  Since then, she has sold over 185,000 books through Barnes and Noble and Amazon's e-book sites.  That is not a misprint.

Hocking was a virtual unknown.  She didn't have a platform or a following; she had not been previously published through traditional means.  (If you'd like to read more about her, check out the interview by clicking here .)

This idea has given me food for thought.  Am I better served by continuing to pursue a literary agent by constantly re-writing my query, finding new agents to whom I can submit, hoping that I might land it in the hands of an agent who's interested?  Or should I consider giving my work a last polish and editing,  e-publishing it, and then working on marketing the books on the e-book sites?

It doesn't seem like that much a decision, does it?  The more I learn about agents, editors and the publishing world, the longer a shot it seems.  I don't doubt that it's possible, but I also don't think it would hurt me to be able to prove that my work has merit by standing on platform of books sold.

What do you think?  Would you consider buying an e-book from an unknown author?  Do you think the publishing world is changing enough that this kind of shift is inevitable?

It's not giving up a dream.  It's seeing the possibilities in another path to the same goal.