Self-publishing Thoughts

I keep flip flopping between these two thoughts:

“I definitely want to go the traditional publishing route. Working with an agent and a publisher would be so much fun!”

and

“I am definitely going to self-publish because it’s such a viable option now and I could have control over every part of the process. It would be exciting to do it all myself.”

Right now I’m on the second part of the flip flop. What changed my mind?

I was making a writing schedule for the next two years to plan out when my book(s) would be finished and when I could reasonably expect them to be ready for publication if I put myself on deadlines. This is something I’m always doing and redoing. It’s a way to procrastinate from writing, actually. Even though it usually ends up getting me to think “Oh wow. I better get to it, then.”

When I got to the part where I submit my finished and polished and edited novel to an agent, I started writing up all kinds of schedules for when to start writing my next book and when I would do each round of submissions. And then I hit a problem. I couldn’t determine with any certainty when, or if ever, I would land an agent and a publishing deal. And it made me stop to think about all the rejection letters I’ve gotten on my previous project, and what that whole thing felt like.

I was never very disappointed with any particular rejection letter that I can recall. I expected to get at least some rejections. That wasn’t what made me stop and cringe at the idea of going through the process again. It was the idea that I would put lots and lots of work into seeking out a traditional publishing route, and not be guaranteed any results. For my last project, I spent hundreds of hours writing and tweaking queries, personalizing them after researching each agent I was submitting to. I felt really good about having done everything I could to put my best foot forward, including writing a really good novel. But it just never worked out.

Now I am a mom of a toddler, with another one on the way, and I can see my writing time slipping away as I make writing schedules and have to completely block off two months because of giving birth and recovering. So the thought of putting the precious hours I manage to carve out for writing towards marketing and the fact that they may not even pay off makes me kind of sick to my stomach. And not because of the pregnancy either.

Part of the reason I wanted an agent so badly is because I am obsessed with the business side of writing. I think I would actually enjoy being an agent much more than being a writer. (But there’s no way for me to get an internship with an agency while living in Minnesota. Grrrr.) So I really wanted to work closely with one, see them in action, be fascinated by all the wonderful strings they pull and things they do to make writer’s dreams come true.

Well, if I can’t become a literary agent, what better way to satisfy my desire to get in on the nitty gritty of publishing than to self-publish? Plus, in the end, I am guaranteed a result of being published. No promises on how well the book will sell or how many road blocks I will come up against that I will have to solve on my own. But even with traditional publishing, there are no promises.

So that’s where I’m headed, as of today. There may be something along the line in the next few months that makes me want to go back to traditional publishing. Maybe I spot a new agent who is directly looking for what I am writing. Or I start to doubt myself and my abilities to get my own work out there. Or the thought of writing a query letter and sending it off to lots of agents suddenly sounds appealing again.

I know I said I don’t have much time to write. Who does with kids? And that may prove to be the deciding factor since self-publishing takes a lot more time on the author’s part than traditional publishing (or so I’ve been told). But…I still think I can do it. I would rather put in three times the amount of hours than it takes to go the traditional publishing route and know I’ll have something to show for it than put in less time and have nothing.

If anyone has any ideas on how someone from Minnesota could become a literary agent, I’m all ears. Why are there no agencies in Minnesota and why are they all still in New York (and other major cities not near me) when we have such a thing as telecommuting?

(The obvious answer is that one can become a literary agent simply by saying “I am a literary agent” and putting together a website and then waiting for clients. But the thought of doing that scares me because…I would be in charge of people’s dreams and I know what it’s like to be the writer with a dream, hoping they put their trust in the right person. I’m pretty sure I would need an internship or some equivalent to be able to do it right.)

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That weird dream that follows you the rest of the day

By Franz Schrotzberg (Own work, Robertsan1, 2009-11-24) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last night I had a dream that I was fumbling around in college, not remembering where my classes were or getting homework done. And I felt panic because there was this big, wide world full of possibilities that was going to pass me by if I didn’t get my life together. I rushed to my dorm (because apparently my dream forgot that I never lived in a dorm during college), grabbed a pen and some sticky notes, and wrote down three lines of something to organize my life. As soon as I did that, the dream-me had a sense of peace, purpose, and excitement. Then I woke up.

Maybe it’s the dream or maybe it was the nice relaxing weekend I had. But today seems filled with a sense of purpose. On my drive into work today, all I could think about was how much stuff I was going to get done, and how it was going to be the right stuff. I figured it couldn’t hurt to do what I did in the dream, so I wrote down three lines of whatever came to my head:

Today I am feeling a sense of purpose.

Today I am supposed to be working on my to do list.

Today I am going to write.

I’ve felt a sense of something negative dogging my thoughts anytime I sit down to write lately. Whether it’s a sense of guilt, or of missing the mark, or of trying to be fake I don’t know. At CONvergence, one writer confessed that he has nightmares every now and then that his publishing company will call him up and say “We’ve discovered you’re not a real writer and we would like all our money back please.” (This is someone who’s published over 20 novels.)

I’m aware that writer’s tend to be hard on themselves. That there are often voices of doubt and weary where there shouldn’t be. To be honest, it kind of amuses me because that is something you don’t often see in the world. Writers are very sweet and at their core, humble. Because we’re all afraid that we’re just faking it, so we’re afraid to be pompous.

Anyways, I just want to say to any writers out there who might feel that cloud of writerly woe hanging over them: tell that cloud “not today”. Today, you are a writer, and today, you get to do what you do best.

May a sense of hearty purpose and peaceful perspective follow you throughout today.

One thing I learned from CONvergence 2015

By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands ([370/365] Ghost fight) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sander van der Wel, Ghost fight, via Wikimedia Commons

I have a whole list of notes that I hope to get around posting here at some point. And this is by no means the only thing I learned at CONvergence. But it’s the one thing that has made the most immediate difference in my writing.

I attended the usual panel of “What I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Started Writing”. This was the first year that I realized, after three years attending, that they do this panel every year, and I’d managed to attend it every time.

This year, someone new to me was on the panel: Wesley Chu, author of The Lives of Tao. He’s not only a successful writer, but a kung fu master. Needless to say his books have plenty of action sequences in them.

And here’s the quote that keeps echoing in my brain whenever I sit down to write: “Fight scenes are just conversations with fists.”

He said that a fight scene isn’t about the choreography, but about what the fight is going to accomplish. Who stands to loose/gain what. Sounds simple enough.

But as I’ve been sitting down to write since the con, I’ve thought about it with scenes that have no action in them at all and realized I need to take the same approach. It’s all about the tension. Who is trying to accomplish what, and what is in their way. I knew this was true on a broader scale with the whole plot of a book, but I hadn’t yet applied it to the chapter level, the paragraph level, and even the sentence level.

More nuggets to come from both agents and authors alike.

Keep some secrets for yourself

François_Moreau_La_jeune_cuisinière

I’ve put everything but the kitchen sink in here.

I took some time this past week to look up one of my early novels. Partly to see how far I’ve come and partly to get a smile out of the totally-enthusiastic-but-deprived-of-anything-mature writing style.

It was set in England in the 1600s. I remember trying so hard to not include dragons in it, because it was supposed to be a historical novel, not a fantasy one. But then there were dragons. And then there were spies. And then there were secret passages, underground tunnels, cults, electronic technology, and a biohazard threatening to wipe out Earth’s population.

Yeah.

It was my first serious novel (I refuse to count the first two that shall not be named or ever let out of their obisdian prisons in the netherworld) and I was determined that it was going to be published someday. What I never really considered is that it wouldn’t be my only novel. So I tried to write about everything I ever wanted to write about in one book.

Smirking at my younger self, I remembered how small a view I had of the publishing world back then. I thought that a writer was someone who wrote one book, got it published easily, then sat back on their laurels raking in money as people absorbed their work and created fandoms about it. I definitely suffered from a case of trying to fabricate epicness in my work.

Today, of course, I know that the publishing world is very different from what I first imagined. And I’ve learned something about world-building for a novel: keep most of it hidden. Not everything has to make it into the book. There can be other novels that include the things you want to write about.

There was also a novel (one of the ones that shall not be named) in which I had no clue what was happening. I didn’t know where the antagonist was for three chapters and basically had him standing in a room for three months not doing anything. The flip side of the idea that the reader doesn’t need to know everything is that you, as a writer, do.

This is starting to border on writing advice, so I’ll pull back. Just let me leave you with this one bit of encouragement: You, as a writer, have every excuse to indulge your world-building tendencies and create a rich and wonderful realm with all the details your heart desires. So go to it! (Just make sure you keep that iceberg well-hidden and only show off what you need to in your novel.)

Good Cop, Bad Cop of Query Writing

By James Campbell (1828 - 1893), via Wikimedia Commons

By James Campbell (1828 – 1893), via Wikimedia Commons

Queries are really hard. Good queries are even harder.
Writing a query is the stage of the writing process that requires you to hack your beautifully honed story down into three paragraphs and sell your soul. Or is it hacking your soul into three pieces and selling your story? I’m not sure. Could be either.
If you are having a bad query writing day, I have two things for you. One will make you feel like you can do no wrong and the other will make you feel like you can do nothing right but it will actually help you improve things.

Here are my go-to blogs for when I need a boost to my query writing process.

Good Cop
For those of us in a sensitive mood who need a boost to our ego, check out Slush Pile Hell. Every time I read the queries on there, I am both horrified that such things exist and pleased that mine sounds nothing like them. I mean, sure, these query letters are all for non-fiction, and I write fiction, so it’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges. But still. If you want to see some truly atrocious writing, go there. But try not to spend more than ten minutes on it, otherwise you start to fear for the future of books and the cynicism kicks in.

Bad Cop
For anyone with really thick skin, (and I mean it. You need skin as thick as an alligator), take a gander at Janet Reid’s blog: The Query Shark. She has posted query after query with critiques, and most of them are ripped to shreds. Harsh but truthful. If you know you need a good shot of honesty, or if you don’t care about your feelings and you just want some direction in how to make your query better, then definitely read Query Shark.
Reid insists that anyone who wants to submit their query to her for critique read through the entire archives of her blog. And that’s 269 queries to date. I’ve started on it. I have to say, I wish I would have done this sooner. I can tell it’s going to take a few months before everything she teaches about query writing finally sinks in. (Pun not originally intended, but then recognized and left in anyway.)

So if you feel rather unmotivated to write a query letter, maybe playing good cop, bad cop on yourself will help. Go read some slush pile, then go get bitten by a shark, and then sit down to write. The world needs your story because you are the only one who can tell it. Please don’t let a little thing like a query deprive us of your voice.

The Hidden Blog Every Writer Should Know About

I call it hidden because it is no longer being updated, and thus, you probably won’t be able to stumble upon it easily. If you do, you probably won’t know what you have found. If you’re anything like me, finding another writing blog but then seeing that the last post was in 2011 and is called “Hiatus” would make me close that browser tab as quickly as I unfollow people who post political debates on Facebook.

But it’s jam packed full of writerly goodness. Pimp My Novel was written by a guy, Eric, on the inside of the publishing business. He gives the dirty (& clean) details of what happens after a book is acquired.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.07.44 AM

An oldie but a goodie

I kept seeing Eric appear in the comments of Nathan Bransford’s blog, who was an agent at the time, and thought “wow. He knows a lot. I wish I could get his perspective.” Then Eric started PMN and Nathan proudly announced it on his own blog. The two were an unstoppable team that felt like a college course in how to get published. I wish, I WISH there was a PMN equivalent that was still live, and I WISH Nathan was still an agent. (Though Nathan’s blog still has many posts worth checking out. He still keeps his eye on the industry.)

If you read nothing else over at PMN, read the Profit & Loss 4-part series. Want to know about the spreadsheet publishers use to determine sales projections and whether or not they should offer you a book contract? You can read about it there.

PMN may be outdated in some of its posts (like the analysis of genre sales and which trends are happening in publishing), but I prefer to think of it more as a time capsule.

It was written when eBooks were newer and we weren’t sure how they were going to affect the publishing industry. (Well, ok, we’re still not sure but we’re a lot less worried about it….I think.) His blog posts didn’t even have pictures! That wasn’t part of blogger 101 back then. Pictures were optional and he didn’t need them because his content is so meaty.

Also? The community that the blog created is still a treasure trove. The comments on some of the posts are as informative as the posts themselves. The guest posts are written by great people who have gone on to shape the publishing industry in their own ways. And it makes a great story. I kind of want PMN to be put into children’s book form so that someday I can read it to my children/budding writers: the story of publishing.

It will help you understand the publishing world’s recent history. Knowing where it came from can help you when you feel lost and don’t know where it’s going.

Hope that helps a bit! You probably could have stumbled across PMN by trolling the archives of Nathan Bransford’s blog (which you do, right? ‘Cause you need to), but I figured it couldn’t hurt to point it out.

Writing Space Inspiration

By Matt @ PEK from Taipei, Taiwan via Wikimedia Commons

By Matt @ PEK from Taipei, Taiwan, via Wikimedia Commons

This has been on my mind a lot lately so I might as well write a post and get it out. And not just because we recently moved and all my stuff is … not where it usually is. My desk isn’t even set up yet. This makes me kind of sad, but what better time to think about how to reinvent my writing space?

The practical part of me wants to say “Bogarts! You don’t need a dedicated writing space! That’s what a portable, laptop computer is for. You can write anywhere!”

And then there’s the creative sensitive genius inside of me that sighs. Because it believes that somewhere out there is the perfect desk, the perfect chair, the perfect Warehouse 13-like artifact that could turn my writing sessions into moments of magical perfection. It wonders if lighting does play a roll. Or if it really does matter whether I can see out a window or not. Or if I actually do need a tiny plant named Alfred sitting next to my computer. (This is how I’ve always imagined I would be as a professional writer: shiny laptop, shabby chic desk, and an Alfred plant. No idea why.)

So I turned to the internet and looked up famous writer’s writerly abodes. As should have been expected, that was not conclusive. Jane Austen wrote at a tiny cafe-like desk with no drawers. E.B. White wrote out of a corner in a sparse wooden building on a hard wooden bench. Others surrounded themselves with books and clutter while some kept everything meticulously clean and boring. Then there’s the question of light or no light, seclusion or in the midst of others, comfortable or uncomfortable.

Laptops have changed how a lot of people write by making the writing space no longer about a physical container to hold the tools of the trade. Now, it’s all about how the writer feels, both in their head space and in their physical comfort. I suddenly realized this past week that how I feel when I write my best does not coincide with feeling my best. Sometimes I need discomfort to keep me alert or focused.

Maybe take a look at your writing space today and ask yourself some honest questions. Do you write better when you are uncomfortable? Is your mind focused more when you have other people’s creative juices sloshing around, or do you need a sterile space that is kind of boring?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then just enjoy perusing the internet for pictures of famous writer’s desks. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon and it may help you realize that there is no right or wrong way to arrange your space. Just make sure you are carving out both the time, space, and effort in your life that you need to in order to get that creative work done.

This blog post from Avoiding Apathy not only helped me to think about where I write, but I think it’s also a great example of voice. Wish I could write blog posts like that.

Anyways, go check it out and you can probably find some good inspiration over there. (And yes, I hope to find space in my living room for a Norden because of that post.)

Other links to try for good writing space ideas:

Writerly Life talks briefly about the Writer’s Room of Boston.

Apartment Therapy has a post about spaces people created specifically for writing.

The Write Life has some wonderful pictures of famous writer’s spaces.

Come here for writerly things

I’ve debated with myself about what I want this blog to be for a long time now. I’m sure you’ve noticed the waffling back and forth between geeky posts, personal posts, writing posts, and totally random subjects that almost pulled the entire blog into the realm of “not a niche blog”.

But it recently dawned on me: I want to write about writing.

I used to think that was a bad idea. It was too meta, too cliche. I didn’t want to be one of those people that writes about writing and makes money off it, but doesn’t actually ever write anything else. So I’ve tried to keep a cap on it and shush my inner writing-geek.

During the last 6 years I’ve consumed tons of blog posts and scoured forums for any information about writing. I just love to hear others talk about writing because it bolsters my writer’s soul. There are many times when I’ll start listening to a podcast and within minutes I’ve abandoned it because I suddenly feel compelled to write.

Yes, it’s meta. Yes, it can end up sounding self-indulgent. But at the end of the day, there are writers out there who need to hear about writing stuff. Conversations with others about writing have been some of the most fulfilling interactions I’ve ever had.

So I hope to make this blog a space where writers can come and be inspired. I don’t want it to be a writing advice blog. When writers are feeling the weight of writer’s block, or know they should get to it instead of going on Facebook, I want to provide a blog where they can come and just start reading about their craft. This is a place to come when you are feeling lazy and your brain doesn’t want to work but you still want to feel like you made some kind of progress in developing your craft.

I am not published. I used to hate writing blogs that were written by people who had never been published because I thought they were just trying to build their platform and be a good little social media junkie. (And there are some out there who scrape the bottom of the barrel to eek out blog posts about subject matter they don’t know a whole lot about, but there are also good ones out there.)

That is why I don’t want this to be an advice blog. I may point you in the direction of other blogs who have good advice. I might suggest things to look into. But I don’t want to ever say “Write your query this way” unless I’ve actually submitted a query that’s gotten me a publishing contract.

Too long didn’t read: Basically, it’s time I got geeky about writing. Enthusiasm shared here for your inspiration.

Posting over at HerStoryArc.com

Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, A Game of Piquet

Hey all,

My first post just went up over at www.herstoryarc.com, a website that celebrates girls and women in media and entertainment. I decided to write about what it’s like to attend a Magic: The Gathering tournament for the first time, especially as a woman. Hope you find it interesting! Check out the rest of the site too, as some of my friends are on there and are writing awesome articles.

I’ll still be posting here from time to time on stuff other than what I write for Her Story Arc, so don’t worry: the same inconsistent and tremulous writing you’ve come to know and love isn’t going away. But I am making more of an effort to post regularly at HSA.

Actually, I take that back. I hope that when I do post on this blog, that it will not be the same voice you’ve read in previous posts. I should be getting better at finding my writing voice with all the extra blog posts at HSA, so theoretically, if you check back here in a couple months, there will be something more orotund and polished.

Have a good week!

Discussing Books

A Group of Artists By Jules-Alexandre Grün (1868 - 1934) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Group of Artists By Jules-Alexandre Grün (1868 – 1934) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I finally got to a book club. It only took me 30 years. With only half the assigned book read, I debated even going. Memories of college classes with teachers struggling to make us pull valuable conversations out of thin air about a book we didn’t actually read and most of us never even bought made me debate about going even more. But I had already invested several hours into reading the book and I wasn’t going to let that go to waste. I’m glad I went.

5 things I learned:

1. Not having read the entire book is a lame excuse for not coming.

There were many people who didn’t show up because they had not finished the book on time. Of those who did show up, only one had read the entire book. We still had an interesting discussion.

2. Unlike college, book club people are there because they want to be, and because they want to read that specific book. So discussions are more vibrant.

I’ll admit, I expected the leader of the group to read discussion questions from a can, followed by a determination of us all to listen to crickets chirping in awkwardness. Instead, the people there were genuinely interested in discussing the book. Or at least in discussing something. There were no crickets.

3. It’s very easy for the conversation to get de-railed.

We started out discussing the book, and ended up discussing our interests. And that was ok. I came to the book club to enjoy bookish people’s company, not to rigidly stick to a list of discussion questions. But I can see how this might bug me if we had been reading a book I was absolutely thrilled and confused about and had things I needed to ask the group. So, yay for making new friends. But I can see I’ll have to be more determined to stay on task next time.

4. It helps to come with questions ahead of time, and I don’t mean “discussion questions”. What do you legitimately want to know from others about this book?

My instinct is to answer this question by saying “I don’t need to know anything from others about this book. I read it. I’m an expert by now.” But finding out that someone else feels differently about the book than I do is valuable. For instance, when I read the first chapter of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman, I thought it was really sad. But when I heard him read it live, it was funny. Obviously, there are many different ways to see a book.

My top tip for coming up with questions that don’t sound like boring discussion questions: Use specifics. Instead of asking “How did you feel about the beginning of the book?” try to make the question specific to the book so that it couldn’t possibly be asked about any other book. Example: “What was your first thought about the Dursley’s when you read the first line about how proud they are to be normal?”

5. Don’t be afraid to disagree.

It’s the differences in how people experienced the book that are more valuable to me. If someone thinks the ending was awesome and so do I, we may be able to squee about it for a minute or two, but then we move on. Whereas, if someone else didn’t like the ending, I get to ask why. Getting to ask why is one of my favorite things to do and probably the most magical word in the English language.

Finally, I can’t end a post about reading without reminding you how good reading is in general. Because reading is amazing, essential, thrilling, and good for both your brain and your soul.

Get to it!

Largest Book in the World, Photo By Frank H. Nowell , via Wikimedia Commons

Largest Book in the World, Photo By Frank H. Nowell , via Wikimedia Commons