A Writer’s Responsibilities

Present word count of WIP:  47,402

While each writer is unique and works in a unique setting and situation, we all share certain responsibilities as I see it:

1. We have to do our best to show the truth through our fiction.

2. We have to work at it regularly, hopefully on a daily basis.

3. We have to support our fellow writers.

4. We have to honor our contracts with publishers and agents.

5. We have to recognize when it’s time to take off our writer’s hat and be a mom, a dad, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a teacher, or a friend.

I could have written a lot more today, but instead I spent my morning working on a Power Point Presentation on Asperger’s that I’ll be giving to a pack of about 20 Cub Scouts. Sure, I could have counted it as writing, but I didn’t. Instead, I took off my writer’s hat to prepare to teach. Why? Because I have a son who’s grown up with Asperger’s Syndrome and I know how important it is for these young 8-10-year-olds to understand better so that they might be more inclusive of those around them they might see as “different.”

Then, this afternoon, as I prepared to put my writing hat back on and make more headway on my WIP, I got a call from a friend–a fellow writer–who needed help with her new WordPress blog. The hat stayed off.

As much as I love writing–and I do–there are things that are more important.

Originally posted 2012-03-19 21:53:40.

I Have a Book Deal!

Present word count of WIP:  47,161 (I know…no increase, but I did finish outlining the entire book!)

I am very excited to announce that Walnut Springs Press will be publishing my second novel, Laps (though the title will likely be different), later this year…probably late summer or early fall! I promise more details as they develop.

I believe I have the recent ANWA Conference to thank for helping to seal this deal. While there, I was able to meet with their editor, Linda Mulleneaux, and I’m sure that my winning a couple of awards in their BOB (Beginning of Book) Contest made a favorable impression, as well. Thanks so much, ANWA!

Here’s a taste of the book (taken from my first chapter) to whet your appetite:

Budding writers could be so defensive, Daphne thought, not for the first time. The women she taught in her graduate tutorial bruised like teenagers, pouting and suffering in silence. Most of the men argued with their jaws clenched—none more so than Reuben. She picked up his short story anyway, drew in a breath, and read aloud his opening sentence.

“Merrick languished in the lazy afternoon sun.” She paused and looked up at the clock on the back wall. Five minutes to go. “To be honest, this opening takes the reader nowhere. Yes, it may tell us Merrick is lazy . . . or it may not.”

Reuben raised his hand, the muscles in his face already working, and began to squabble with her assertion. Guy, the only truly talented writer in the class, wasn’t there to take her side. So she chewed on the inside of her cheek as Reuben went on and on about the visual quality of “languished.”

When he finished, she said, “I suppose you don’t care about getting published then,” and dismissed the class. As he passed her desk, she heard him call her “narcissistic” under his breath along with another unflattering term. He was wrong. She hadn’t found the right word for herself yet, but she was definitely not narcissistic.

Still stressed when she pulled into her garage a half hour later, Daphne headed straight for her pool. She checked the desert sky. No moon. She’d swim without a suit, then, shielded by the wall of palms, hibiscus, and oleander surrounding her backyard. Since the death of her parents, she’d used moonless nights to such advantage.

As she started to unbutton her blouse, she noticed that one of the four dark shapes she knew to be her patio chairs had been moved back several inches from the circular glass table with the umbrella. A sense of foreboding crept up the back of her neck like a spindly-legged spider, and she shivered. She never left a chair out of place.

For a moment, Daphne considered changing her routine. But she couldn’t. The swim in total blackness wouldn’t soothe if she varied the pattern, and though she didn’t understand the reason, she knew that patterns smoothed out the wrinkles in her life like lotion applied to rough, cracked skin.

She pushed the chair back in and undressed quickly, leaving her folded slacks and blouse on the deck. After stretching out the kinks in her back and running her fingers through her cropped hair, Daphne took her usual starting place at the far side of the pool and sliced into the dark water. Six quick strokes, and she flipped to push off the wall for the return. Ninety-nine laps to go.

She pulled at the water, deconstructing Reuben’s opening line in her mind with each lap.

Merrick languished in the lazy afternoon sun. Flip turn.

Merrick languished in the lazy afternoon. Flip turn.

Merrick languished in the lazy. Flip turn.

By the tenth lap, the classroom began to recede from her mind. By the fifteenth, the last memory of the evening’s unpleasantness sank below her consciousness. Buoyed by the night-cooled water, Daphne relished the pungency of chlorine and the familiar numbness spreading through her arms and legs.

If Daphne bowed to any god, it was the god of water—the pool his holy sanctuary, the daily swim her prayer. Water freed her, saved her from a society in which she felt ill at ease. In its liquid cold and calm, her oddities were masked or erased.

At age three, when she’d first ballooned her cheeks to slip beneath its glimmering surface, Daphne had opened her eyes underwater and discovered a world of muted sounds, bluish vision and slower motion. Here, no fly could dart around. The yapping of the neighbor’s dog hushed. Her feet and hands, often so clumsy on land, worked together in water and found a rhythm previously unknown. Stroke after stroke. Lap after lap. A coordination so practiced over the decades that now, at forty-one, she slashed through the water without thinking.

Swimming saved her in the dry heat of Phoenix where pools freckled the landscape. No matter Daphne’s schedule at the university, her morning swim came first. It steeled her for a college classroom full of opinionated writing students. And if a day’s teaching drained her, as this had, she swam again in the afternoon or night.

Switching to the breaststroke for her twenty-sixth lap, her right hand brushed against something mid-stroke. She jerked upright, surprised. Had she imagined it? Daphne strained to see in the blackness of the pool, but she could make out nothing. She swept her arm across the dark water. Still not a thing. She inched further and propelled her arm underneath the liquid surface. Contact. Wet cloth over a hard object. When she poked it, it moved away, but only slightly. She reached again. Feathery strands tickled her fingers. She lurched back and gasped. 

 

Originally posted 2012-03-16 13:36:26.

The Book Business

Present word count in WIP:  47,161

(That doesn’t count the fact that I did write today…I wrote a 999-word personal essay to be posted on Danyelle Fergusen’s blog some time in April–Autism Awareness Month. I’ll let you know when it’s up and link to it. She asked for those who’ve dealt with autistic spectrum disorders up close and personal to share some positive, uplifting stories, so I complied.)

And now for Seth Godin’s last three pieces of Advice for Authors:

17. Publishing a book is not the same as printing a book. Publishing is about marketing and sales and distribution and risk. If you don’t want to be in that business, don’t! Printing a book is trivially easy. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You’ll find plenty of printers who can match the look and feel of the bestselling book of your choice for just a few dollars a copy. That’s not the hard part.

18. Bookstores, in general, are run by absolutely terrific people. Bookstores, in general, are really lousy businesses. They are often where books go to die. While some readers will discover your book in a store, it’s way more likely they will discover the book before they get to the store, and the store is just there hoping to have the right book for the right person at the time she wants it. If the match isn’t made, no sale.

19. Writing a book is a tremendous experience. It pays off intellectually. It clarifies your thinking. It builds credibility. It is a living engine of marketing and idea spreading, working every day to deliver your message with authority. You should write one.

I love how he covers all three aspects of the business in these last three tips–publishing, marketing, and writing.

Publishing isn’t easy and that’s why it’s so difficult for writers to break into it. They have to build up their writing muscles over time so that the content they offer is worth the publishers’ risk. They have to build up their fan base over time so that, again, the publisher will be tempted to take a chance on them. And then, once they’re in, from all I can observe it becomes like a long-distance race. Either they’re in it for the long haul–all the signings, appearances, marketing, and, most importantly, more writing–or they get left by the wayside.

Bookstores are becoming more and more obsolete because now the reader can go directly to their chosen writer via Amazon.com or another online bookstore. And with the advent of the ebook, who needs shelves? Of course, this is not news. But more and more, I foresee bookstores using their personal touch to compete online with the big elephant. Check out Just the Right Book, for example. Here is a bookseller who got smart, moved her bookstore online and is offering the kind of service Amazon is too big and impersonal to give. If you doubt me, check out the Just the Right Book Facebook page. This is one bookstore, in my opinion, that is not a lousy business. They have vision.

As for his last tip, I readily agree. I always learn more about a topic (and myself) when I have to write about it. Once I can encapsulate my thoughts or the pictures in my head in a well-described scene, complete with realistic dialogue (both inner and outer), I am enriched…and, if I’ve done my job right as a writer, my words will likewise enrich the reader. The most fascinating thing about the writing process, besides the splashes of insight and inspiration, is that no two readers will read the same words with exactly the same result. Why? Because the reader brings his/her own life experience to meld with the author’s. That’s why the author-reader relationship is so valuable.

If you’ve ever been tempted to write your own book, do it!

 

 

Originally posted 2012-03-12 21:22:00.

Do Free PDFs Work?

Present word count of WIP:  43,781

I’m almost over my cold and hoping my chapped nose (I knew I was blowing my nose too much!) will have recovered by Sunday. Oh, and if anyone out there can tell me why, all of a sudden, I lost all my Google Followers, I would appreciate it greatly. I don’t think it was because they were afraid I was contagious. Seriously, what’s up with Google (besides that whole privacy issue)?

In the meantime, here’s Seth Godin’s next piece of Advice for Authors:

14. Consider the free PDF alternative. Some have gotten millions of downloads. No hassles, no time wasted, no trying to make a living on it. All the joy, in other words, without debating whether you should quit your day job (you shouldn’t!)

I don’t know about you, but offering free PDFs of my stories would be problematic for me. While I got on the Kindle bandwagon early, offering THE RECKONING on Kindle shortly after it came out as a paperback on Amazon, I didn’t do the actual formatting. I paid the people at BookSurge (now CreateSpace) to do it for me. As a result, I don’t have a PDF version of the final manuscript, formatted for print with all the chapter headings and fancy images.

If any of you know how I might get hold of such a PDF version, I might be interested. But then, you come to the question of the value of your work. How many readers value that which they get for free?

Personally, I’ve purchased some 200-300 books on my Kindle and I’m having a tough enough time getting them read, let alone any free books I may come across. Which books do you imagine I’m going to value more and read first? You got it. The ones that cost me money.

In my opinion, money earned from a book is a lot more meaningful, in terms of gauging your fan base, than the number of downloads. While the idea of no hassles and no time wasted is appealing, it’s not very realistic. True professional authors have to work hard to make a living at what they do…but the reason they continue to do it is because they love the writing.

I stopped myself today in the middle of writing a scene that ended up taking me in a whole new direction and thought, “This is just too fun! I am so glad I can do this!”

Sometimes, Godin thinks too much about the money/marketing end and not enough about the joy of writing.

Originally posted 2012-03-02 13:47:31.

The Effectiveness of Signings and Book Club Appearances

Present word count of WIP: 39,556

Okay, when I blogged yesterday about trying to begin today to make up for my lack of writing over the weekend, I didn’t count on waking up with a full-blown head cold. While I didn’t make any progress on SOG, I did get my full of “Laps” sent in to Jane Dystel (and received a prompt reply from her confirming she’d received it). I also helped edit a friend’s query letter, critiqued another friend’s chapter, and am now writing this post…so, while it doesn’t change the word count of my WIP, it certainly counts as writing!

Now, for Seth Godin’s next piece of Advice for Authors:

13. If you’ve got the patience, bookstore signings and talking to book clubs by phone are the two lowest-paid but most guaranteed to work methods you have for promoting a really really good book. If you do it 200 times a year, it will pay.

Is it just me, or was he being facetious when he wrote this one? Just kidding…I know he was because of his next piece of advice, which I’ll blog about on Friday.

I can’t imagine using almost two-thirds of every year for signings and book club appearances. When would you have time to write? And any good writer needs to be a good reader, so when would you have time to read?

Since my first book was self-published, I’ve only done a couple of bookstore signings (both local) and they accounted for maybe 10 sales total. I fared far better when it came to visiting book clubs (one here, one in Utah, and two in Southern California), but still only netted sales of perhaps 50-75 books total.

Whether you’re a reader or an author, which do you prefer? Bookstore signings or book club appearances (either by phone, Internet, or in person)?

Originally posted 2012-02-27 21:54:33.

ANWA Writers Conference and Blogging

Present word count of WIP: 39,556

The one place it’s difficult to get any writing done is at (believe it or not) a writers conference. No matter. This has already been a success for me and it’s only been the first day! I sold all my books (of course, I only brought three since I was flying Allegiant and was trying to avoid any extra charges), had two successful pitches (Jane Dystel wants the full of Laps and Lisa Mangum wants me to send her the full of School of Guardians when it’s finished), and…most exciting…Linda Mulleneaux stopped by my book signing to tell me she had started reading “Laps” the other night and LOVED it! I’ve got an appointment tomorrow with her, so I think I may have some more news to share soon (hopefully). I also have a pitch appointment tomorrow with April Mumm for SOG. Wish me more luck!

Now on to Seth Godin’s next piece of Advice for Authors:

12. Blog mentions, on the other hand, matter a lot.

That’s certainly been attested to at this conference. An author’s online presence is very important to agents and publishers on everything from social media to blogs. If you can luck out and get a great review or even a mention from a blog that gets a lot of traffic, your name (and your work) becomes that much better known.

So, I’m on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, LinkedIn, and I have another blog along with this one on my website. The trick is learning to manage it all without cutting too much into your writing time.

I blog Mondays and Fridays, post to FB maybe 3-4 times a week, tweet a few times a week, and try to update on Goodreads once a week. I’m honestly not doing much with LinkedIn…yet.

How do you manage balancing online presence with your writing?

Originally posted 2012-02-24 21:09:12.

Worthy Investments

Present word count of WIP:  36,232

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

9. If you have a ‘real’ publisher (see #7), it’s worth investing in a few things to help them do a better job for you. Like pre-editing the book before you submit it. Like putting the right to work on the cover with them in the contract. And most of all, getting the ability to buy hundreds of books at cost that you can use as samples and promotional pieces.

I couldn’t agree with this more, particularly the pre-edit suggestion. Editors at publishing houses these days do not have the luxury of time they once had to spend on their authors’ manuscripts, trying to get them polished just so. For a while now, that job has fallen to agents (many of whom are former editors). Perhaps even agents don’t have the time or willingness to do it all that much anymore, because I’ve come across a number of published books that could have used a good edit! It’s far easier for an agent to drop your manuscript for the one that’s already polished to a sheen.

Some writers are funny about editing. It’s as if this masterpiece they have created will no longer be theirs if they allow someone to read it, make suggestions, and point out things that don’t work. To these writers, I simply say: There is no such thing as a perfect novel. Even if all (or at least some of) the edits are incorporated, it won’t be perfect…but it will generally be better.

That’s why I have no fear about submitting my finished manuscript to an editor, such as someone from the Precision Editing Group, which is headed up by a friend of mine. I want my manuscript to be the best it can be before submitting it to a publisher. And, no, someone with a Master’s degree in English will not necessarily do. I want someone who reads a lot of books for a living, someone who knows what sells and what doesn’t, someone who understands the pace and thrust of story and plot.

As for Godin’s other two suggestions (getting the right to provide input on the cover and obtaining an option to buy lots of copies of your book at cost), both are answered best by getting a good agent. And getting a good agent doesn’t cost money, only time.

So, hold out for what you really want and be patient while you keep writing.

Originally posted 2012-02-17 17:14:13.

Stars Who Burn Too Bright

Present word count of WIP:  32,767

I am so sad over Whitney Houston’s passing…yes, we will never hear that magnificent voice again except in recordings. But it isn’t so much the fact that she is gone as it is the sad, sad decline that led to her departure. The waste of a beautiful soul in the grip of addiction.

So many bright, talented stars in this world (and I’m not speaking of Hollywood or the Music Industry here, but artists of all kinds) burn out all too soon before any of us would wish them to depart the scene. Most tragic of all are those who lose all control over their lives, almost giving life away as if it were too much to bear. I hope her daughter can heal from the loss.

I can’t segue from these thoughts to something so practical as steps you can take to make certain your book gets the kind of launch it needs. I’ll continue Godin’s advice on Friday.

For now, I can only be grateful for the life I have…away from the glare of lights and cameras and media, where my artistic struggles are performed in private, my poor attempts to capture truth on the page not spread out for the world to trample on…until I am ready. And even then, a very slight portion of the world takes notice. That’s a good thing. I am thus ensured years, during which I can perfect my art. Years that every now and then (like yesterday and today) I do not take for granted.

Originally posted 2012-02-13 17:48:09.

Whether to go “big” or “small”

Present word count:  28,073

Husband’s home, cat’s healthy, I’m writing. YAY!

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

7. Think really hard before you spend a year trying to please one person in New York to get your book published by a ‘real’ publisher. You give up a lot of time. You give up a lot of the upside. You give up control over what your book reads like and feels like and how it’s promoted. Of course, a contract from Knopf and a seat on Jon Stewart’s couch are great things, but so is being the Queen of England. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to you. Far more likely is that you discover how to efficiently publish (either electronically or using POD or a small run press) a brilliant book that spreads like wildfire among a select group of people.

Okay, I actually have to quibble with a lot of this, although I kind of agree with the gist of what he’s saying.

Actually, given such online sites as QueryTracker, you’re spending a year trying to please A LOT of different people in New York (and some in Colorado or the West Coast), hoping that AT LEAST ONE will want to represent you and get you a traditional contract. Besides, if you’re doing things right, you’re not spending ALL of that year trying to achieve that…you’re also continuing to write more stories.

I don’t think, if you do it right, you give up a lot of time. Let’s say you’ll devote a couple of hours each Friday afternoon to queries. That’s not a lot of time.

As for giving up control over what your book reads or feels like, that may be a good thing! You may really need an editor. Hopefully not, but you may. I’m just saying.

And the promotion point is kind of moot, unless you’re going to be the next J.K Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, etc. Why? Because big publishers don’t really do much promotion anymore unless they think you’re going to be that big a success. So, in 99% of the cases, the promotion’s pretty much up to you, anyway. You’re controlling it (hopefully).

I guess Jon Stewart is the new Oprah (and Godin told us not to bother with her in his last point), but, yeah, I’d take a seat in his studio any time. He is sooo funny (except when he swears or is a bit vulgar). But who says it’s great being the Queen of England? I’d rather be Oprah. Kate Middleton can have all those garden parties and laying of wreaths. I’d rather write, thank you very much.

Finally, if he means my family and close friends when he’s talking about my book spreading “like wildfire among a select group of people,” well…I can’t quibble with that.

My conclusion: if I think I have a “big” concept, I’ll go “big.” Otherwise, I’ll probably be content with a smaller press.

Originally posted 2012-02-06 17:14:24.

Cat-tastrophe Averted

Present word count: 25,772

Husband out of town on business. Cat deathly ill. Result: 35 words written. At least, Peach is on the mend (I know he’s a sensitive cat, but only an hour after we had seriously considered putting him down, he began to finally eat again without vomiting)…and my husband returns tomorrow. It’s been a long, unproductive week. Some weeks are like that.

Seth Godin’s Advice for Authors:

6. Resist with all your might the temptation to hire a publicist to get you on Oprah. First, you won’t get on Oprah (if you do, drop me a note and I’ll mention you as the exception). Second, it’s expensive. You’re way better off spending the time and money to do #5 instead, going after the little micromarkets. There are some very talented publicists out there…, but in general, see #1.

First of all, Oprah’s no longer an option (not that it ever really was). Secondly, I’m convinced that after all the hard work we do as writers, hitting the big time really does come down to luck: having the right concept in front of the right eyes at the right time. The stars align and…Voilá! You get waves of recognition and publicity.

Once more, we need to ask ourselves why we write. Are we in it for fame or success? I believe there’s a difference. Success means you regularly produce fiction that you find personally satisfying and that attracts its own gradually expanding pool of readers. Fame is a whole other stratosphere, generally beyond one’s control.

So, who really needs a publicist? What we really need to do is learn to force ourselves to write, even when our personal lives get stressful…like, say, when one’s cat looks to be on death’s door.

Originally posted 2012-02-03 19:46:33.