Change the way you look at pursuing a career in writing

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe while you pursue publication of your novel you completely own it. Maybe the time and energy and hard work you put in without getting paid is something your friends and relatives and acquaintances completely accept as what must be done to reach your goal career. (if the last one is true, wow, good for you).

But while I admit I have support from many people in my life, the most important people in my life, I would say the majority of people who know what I do to attain my goal see me as a dreamer.

And while we, as a society, admire dreamers once they have achieved, on the path to their dream we collectively roll our eyes and nod slowly and tell them not to quit their day jobs for their little hobbies.

So, as writers, pursuing an actual job writing books, many of us tend to me a little more humble about our work. After all, we’ve yet to get the advances, the royalty checks, the writing engagements, the book on the shelf at the book store. What do we have to show for the hours we’ve put in, the years?

Would you ask someone who was going back to school to pursue an engineering degree why they were wasting their time chasing their dreams?

Knowledge. Refinement of our craft. Connections. Industry understanding. We writers collect all these necessary things as we pursue writing as a job, and most of us don’t wrack up 50 grand in debt doing it.

Writing books, editing books, participating crit groups, hiring editors, going to writing conference, submitting for publication, these are part of a real world classroom that is no less worthy than a college tuition for a “practical” job.

Publishing a novel, establishing a career takes time and work and energy. It doesn’t happen overnight any more than becoming a doctor does. You have to put in the work, and you have to acknowledge that, in doing so, you are preparing yourself for the career you want.

For some reason, many people think it’s a matter of writing a book, getting it published. They think the writing part is the hard part, and if you can get it done, that first book should sell if it’s worth anything and you will be on your way.

You know that’s not true. I know that’s not true. There is no reason to be humble about having to strive toward what you want.

Guest Bloggers coming up!

Hello All! I hope the holidays aren’t driving you crazy and your writing is going well. I am excited to announce that in the upcoming weeks I have several guest bloggers lined up with their unique perspectives on this twisty path we call writing.

Members of my super awesome wicked cool writing group will be sharing their brilliant thoughts with us on a variety of topics and some published friends might be stopping by to tell us about their books.

Stay tuned!

How to own being an author, no matter what stage you are at.

Once upon a time I told a guy I was dating that I wanted to be an author. At the time I was in journalism school and  I had already completed three novels, and while I knew I had a ways to go and didn’t dare to presume myself already an author, I knew it was the path I planned to pursue.

“You write novels?” he laughed. “I just can’t imagine you sitting at your little computer typing away little stories..

Yeah. We never went out again after that.

But this kinda reaction is one that a lot of novelists encounter, no matter what stage in their career they’re at.

If you are working toward publication you get condescending smiles and things like “Well that’s a nice dream to have.” or “What is your real job?” and the general sense that people think you are sweet and delusional.

If you are self published you hear things like “Oh, so it’s not really published” or “Yeah, people can publish anything they want these days!” Insinuating that your work, no matter how professional and successful is somehow worthless because you chose a different route.

And it even extends out to traditionally published writers. “Has anyone actually read it?” “I’ve never heard of that book.” and “Do you actually get paid anything for it?” Because if it’s not a well known bestseller, it apparently doesn’t exist.

So for many years now, when people have asked me what I do, I shrug and say, “Oh I’m a stay at home mom.” suggesting my days are spent cleaning boogers, cleaning house, and and wiping butts (to be fair, the boogers and butts are a large part of my days).

Certain friends and family have given me the raised brow, smile and nod and move onto the next subject when I have had the delusional optimism to mention that I am spending my time querying, editing, social media-ing on behalf of my writing career.

But I am done hiding. I may not be on the bestseller list this year. I may not even be published for a while yet. But this is my career, just like an actor, an artist, musician or a director. I am working my way into it. I am learning. This is the arts and it is an industry I am working hard at it as I refine my product, make connections and learn the market.

A few months ago, a friend I hadn’t seen for a long time asked me what I was doing with myself besides being a mom. I told him, a little sheepishly, I’m working on getting my first novel published. His eyes lit up and he responded with, “That’s AWESOME!”

Wow. That felt good. Because it is awesome. It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, sometimes it’s completely depressing, but it is awesome and I am proud of the work I am doing.

So I decided to stop acting like it wasn’t awesome. I am pursuing a career I love and, while I know there is a stereotype of the wannabe writer who is always talking about writing and never actually getting their work out there, that isn’t me. Is it you? If it is, that’s okay too. You will get there.

The holidays are coming up and I am owning my career path. And if are in a position like me, whether you are working on your first publication or preparing to release your eighth book, here is how to handle the skeptics you encounter.

  1. Your book is a product. You are working in an industry. Refer to them as such. In fact, throw some industry jargon in there. Suddenly the slow nods and the “oh, that’s nice” will turn into “oh, that’s impressive.” Because you are doing something they can’t do and you know things they don’t know.
  2. Be proud of your work, whether it’s a serious historical character study or a wildly unique take on YA paranormal romance. You wrote an effing book and you’ve had the work ethic and maturity to refine it, to kill your darlings, to cut out large sections that you loved because they weren’t working. No non-author is going to understand the blood sweat and tears you put into your work, so don’t expect them to. Just don’t let that discourage you from beaming with pride over what you have accomplished.
  3. Don’t downplay the work. You know how long it took you to write the damned thing, Researching, editing. Editing again. You know how much time you have spent learning the industry, going to writers conferences, pouring over articles, researching agents, editors, publishers, marketing, writing blogs, creating an online presence. Non-writers don’t know this. Many people think you just wrote down some sloppy thoughts for a couple hours and want all the glory of Stephen King. Tell them. People put value on hard work and you have worked hard.
  4. Mention the professionals you have worked with, whether it’s editors, published writers, bloggers, reviewers, designers, whatever. It lets people know you are serious about your product and about not only getting it out there but calling on established professionals to get it right.
  5. Give a realistic projection of your timeline. Realistic doesn’t mean bleak. Don’t say “I don’t know if I’ll ever make it.” or “It’s so hard to make any money in this industry.” Realistic means, “It might take some time, but I’ll get there.” or “My newest self published book brought in twice as much revenue as my last. I think the third one will be my best sales yet.” You are putting in the work. It is only going to get better. Will you be a millionaire next year? I don’t know but I don’t suggest you tell people that as a certainty. It might be years before you can quit your day job. But realistically, you will get better with each novel you write. Your novel will get better with each draft. Your chances of getting an agent get better with each query you put out, and so on and so on.
  6. Don’t let it get to you. When your date still insists on making little digs about your “little stories” accept that he’s just a bag of horse crap and file him away for future villains. Many people wish they had the courage to pursue a career in the arts and are going to project resentment out at anyone who does.

Of course we all know that we have to make the distinction to ourselves first that we are awesome because we are authors. Other people will catch on eventually, but don’t let them deter you in the meantime.

You are an author. That means you are a salesperson, a researcher, an online personality, a professional reader, a marketing director, and a creative genius. Own it. You deserve the title.

Am I just imagining this?

The last time something unbelievable but very tangible happened to you, you might have come at it with some skepticism. You might have wondered what the catch was. But did you actually pinch yourself and later insist you must have been imagining it?

I am currently having a hard time reading a good book. It’s a fantasy, along the magical realism end by a very successful author and I keep putting it down because although the protagonist knows there is magic and knows she has it and knows she doesn’t know much about it, she keeps insisting she is imagining a very visceral, real magic experience that keeps happening to her instead of investigating it. Oh Em Gee lady! Just effing accept it already. We are halfway through the book and there are still lengthy sections about how sad she is because she can’t accept it is anything more than her imagination.

I see this so much in stories, specifically horror and fantasy. It’s like the author is worried the reader is going to think the protagonist is crazy if they accept what they are seeing right in front of them, feeling what is actually touching them, smelling actual smells, even though they are “not supposed to be there”.

Stephen King is a master at getting past this stage of disbelief in his characters quickly. They might be seeing or hearing or sensing something strange but quickly they come to accept it and move on, but other authors draw it out or even, in the case of my current read, manufacture it.

Why?

More drama? Oh please. If you need to add drama to your story it is not strong enough. To make the character sympathetic? Well, by the 18th time they blame their imagination, I am ready to kick them to the curb.

When writing, think about yourself. How would you react?

If you saw a ghost walk through your living room, how would your react the first time? If it happened again and again, how would that reaction change?

If you dabbled in a magic spell and it worked, how would your react? What if you kept going and the spells kept working?

Of course skepticism plays into all these things, especially after the fact. Maybe I nodded off and dreamed it. Maybe I just got lucky. But in that moment that you are looking at a ghost, really seeing a ghost, do you think you would really think, “Too bad this is just my imagination.”

Keep your characters real, always. Please!

And please share your thoughts!

How do I know I want to do this?

Let’s face it, being a writer can be brutal. The time, the rejections, the criticism, the skepticism from friends and family when you tell them you are working on getting published. Writers, and all artists really, spend alot of time feeling very vulnerable and suffer alot of heartbreaks due to their work.

So why do it? I mean, okay, you like writing. So write. And then tuck it away and maybe read it to yourself from time to time. But why put it out there? Why harden yourself enough to withstand group critiques and agent and publisher rejections, bad reviews and just plain old failure?

There are many paths ahead of me in my life right now. I have many great and beautiful things going on. How do i know I want to take this path, do this thing when there are so many pitfalls and so few guarantees?

I’ve written before about why we write, why we create. I solidly believe its because we have to. It is a compulsion. But the reason I WANT to do it?

Because it feels amazing.

Yes. Even with the rejections and criticism and the skepticism about my life goals, it feels so good to see a story, your story unfold in front of your eyes, to see loose ends tie themselves together. It feels so good to go to bed after writing an amazing revaluation. It feels so good to write the end.

And it continues! It feels good to have a reader, any reader respond to your work, to ask the questions you wanted them to ask, to gasp of the revelations you have revealed. It feels so good to have them feel what you felt about your characters, or even something totally unique. It feels good to have your story take on a life of it’s own in the hearts and minds of readers in your crit group, your friends, and on goodreads. When another author tells me her or she likes your work, oh hell yes.

It can hurt. It can really devastate you but so much of it feels wonderful, puts your on the top of the world, and as you continue to work it, to move forward the potential for the feeling only increases.

I write because I have to. I want to do this as my life’s work because at it’s best, it is the best thing in the world.

 

Writing my Biography… uuuggggh!

I have my BA in Journalism. I’ve published freelance articles over the years for local and online publications while working as a graphic artist and occasional content writer. I enjoy macrame, reading and long walks on the beach.

Gag!

I can write any manner of things but my biography is not one of them. Whenever I read other people’s I suffer from a bad case of writers envy. Holy Crap! That person’s biography is so cool! Why can’t I write a cool biography like them?!

Mine always come out dry or forced. There is no in between.

Why? Well, it’s not that there isn’t anything interesting about me. I actually find myself quite interesting, but all those interesting things are so scattered they have a hard time finding a place in a biography for the same thing. When is it relevant to mention I work with crystals, change my own tires, and really really like red wine? Should I mention these things before or after I talk about the LP I recorded ten years ago and my kids knowing all the words to “The Last Unicorn”?

I also have very few official certifications and awards as an adult. Like none really. People don’t give you a certificate for working three graphic design jobs in five years. And the one they give you for having babies is kinda a given. I have a bunch from when i was young but I’m not so sure it appropriate to mention I won second place in the “City of the Future” coloring contest when I was seven or shared the title of “Most Musical” in my high school yearbook with seven other people.

Alot of what I see is about what people like. That’s cool. They make it work. They make it funny. I have a problem. I like everything (except for stuff I dislike so strongly it’s best I don’t bring it up) and when i try to be funny I fail miserably.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hilarious. I crack myself up on a daily basis. But it has to be on the spot. I can’t try to be funny or its obvious I’m trying. And there are few things worse than someone trying and failing to be funny. Also, I only want to talk about myself in conversation. Otherwise my mind goes blank on everything and anything anyone would want to know.

So now here’s a call to arms. Tell me how to write a good bio! Tell me how to pull off funny and professional as effectively as I could manage it on the fly. Post your bio. Tell me what you would want to know about me, if you wanted to to know about me.
Help!

Twitter for writers

If you haven’t joined twitter with a writing account, you are missing out. While twitter can seem intimidating and difficult to navigate initially, it is invaluable for writers in all stages of their career.

Here are a few things twitter can offer:

GIANT writing community

Indie writers, unpublished writers, bloggers, traditionally published writers, pretty much everyone is on twitter supporting each others. Under hashtags #amwriting, #amediting, #amquerying you can connect with other writers in the same stage as you. There are also weekly challenges such as #1linewed where you share a line from your work in progress and #Sundayblogshare where bloggers share their work. The more you explore, the more you will find to connect you with others who support share your passions.

Pitch Contests

Run by editors, agencies, and other writers (Shout out to Brenda Drake) pitch contests give writers an opportunity to connect with agents and editors who are interested in their 140 character pitch of their story. Some pitch contests connect you to mentors who will help you clean up your manuscript, some win you prizes like edits or agent reviews. Keep an eye open for any and all pitch contests to see which ones will be best for you.

Manuscript Wish List

Now with a new website to back it up manuscriptwishlist.com, the hashtag #MSWL is where agents and editors post the book they would really love to find in their inbox. Some are very specific, “Latin Fairies plot space mission to escape from ghosts”, and some very broad “Really scary horror!” but going through the post can help you see what the industry is looking for and narrow down your search for agents.

Agent Twitter accounts

Some agents provide a wealth of knowledge to those who follow them. They participate in organized open discussions with writers, they post things like #tenqueries where they address what is good or bad about queries in their inbox. They link articles that they feel are important and relevant to the industry.

In short they tell you exactly what they are looking for and exactly what will discourage them from choosing you. Every agent is different, but you can learn a lot about who to query and when from following feeds.

What have I missed? What do you find most valuable on twitter for writers?

 

Featured Author: Lucas Mangum

It’s been years since Lucas Mangum’s metal band would share a show with my punk band at the smoky local dive bar. When I recently reconnected with Lucas and found out he was an author now, I wasn’t even remotely surprised. Especially when I saw he wrote horror.

And I immediately got his info to feature him here.

FB_IMG_1438259184003Lucas Mangum is an author living in Austin, Texas. He enjoys wrestling, cats, wrestling with cats, and drinking craft beer while crafting weird stories. Visit him at lucasmangum.com or follow him on Twitter @LMangumFiction.

FB_IMG_1458050347934

Flesh and Fire: Todd left the love of his life to die, for the life he thought he wanted. Now in the midst of a midlife crisis, he is haunted by her memory. When Chloe escapes Hell in search of the peaceful rest that has eluded her, a demon named Samael is on her trail and she needs Todd’s help. While on the run Todd and Chloe face demons real and personal, soul-threatening danger, and their long-buried feelings for each other.

 

Get it at Amazon

 

Check back for an interview with Lucas on his writing process and his publishing stories.

 

The Classic writers see your writing rules…

I read in spurts. I go months without a book and then read four or five in a short period of time. There is a reason for this. I have kids to take care of, dinner to cook, a house to clean. And when I’m reading I don’t really want to do any of it. A good book sees me on the couch, on the porch, at the dining room table with my eyebrows knitted together as I pour over the story. I can’t put it down.

Recently I’ve been in need of the retreat of reading. Writing is on hold until real life allows for a little more focus, but I still don’t really want to be in real life. Not all the time.

Because I’m a sporadic reader, I frequently forget what’s out and what has looking intriguing over the months between books. I’ll also admit that I’ve never been great at picking books. Growing up (and even now) my mom has acted as my reading agent. She picks up stacks of books from the library and passes her favorites onto me. Often I’ve forgotten to even note the author’s name because I open the book and just go.

So when it’s reading time and I want something new, I tend to fall back on classics, new and old that I haven’t read.

In this recent spurt I’ve been on, I noticed something I’ve always known. The great authors don’t give a crap about your writing rules. Not even a little bit. It explains alot of my bad writing habits because I learned how to write by reading more than anything else.

Show Don’t Tell!

You know who tells alot? Freaking everyone who wrote books before 2000. Okay, not everyone but the writing trend among many great authors was to go through lines and lines of lengthy explanation of the social, political, and personal climate of the story and characters. I’m looking at you Frank Herbert.

But then again, Dune was such an expansive  and alien universe, telling the reader about it allowed the story to proceed, eventually. And it’s a great story.

Don’t change Point of View in the same passage!

Orson Scott Keys, who has just found himself firmly on my list of favorites, author of “Ender’s Game”, keeps his primary character as his primary point of view. But then he arbitrarily jumps to the POV of any other characters around him as well.

Pulling it off.

Start your story with a bang!

One of the great American novels, the one the caused such a stir that they made a movie about the author writing the book, starts with 72 pages of set up. And then when the big event finally happens, you know what, the reader only sees the aftermath through the eyes and POV of multiple witnesses. Frankly, I’m not sure I loved this method. The blunt foreshadowing was just enough to keep me on the hook, but it was also paired with over the top vocabulary and info dumps.

With “In Cold Blood” Truman Capote set out to paint a portrait with words, a portrait of a small Kansas town, a portrait of a perfect American family. A portrait of a gruesome American crime.

Just like an artist he started with the foundation and not the subject itself and the effect is a creeping tale that profoundly disturbed the country and the world.

No Backstory dumps, especially in the beginning

You know who tells us his life story in the first chapters of the book? Victor Frankenstein. In fact, he tells his parents’ life story too, and that of his siblings. The inklings of where the story is going start to reveal themselves, but amidst flowering language, pondering of the narrator and info dumps, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” gets it all out of the way before the story picks up.

 

Now I’m not saying that because these great authors have ignored the rules, you can too. Not even a little bit. As a reader, I appreciate the beginning hook, the clarity of single POV, the slow revealing of setting and backstory. BUT, is something maybe not lost when we adhere too tightly to the new writing rules?