You’re always moving forward, unless you give up

There is nothing quick about being a writer. Writing a book takes a long time. Editing a book can be just as long or longer. Publishing takes forever. Making money… I think you get the point.

In this very long process, it is easy to get discouraged. In fact, it’s pretty much standard. When you finish writing a novel and realize how much work it needs, when you spend years editing and it’s still not right, when you can’t find an agent, a publisher, when your self published work languishes, literally at every step you are going to be discouraged because it feels like after all this work and all this time you are stagnant.

This is only emphasized by the fast furious flurries of activity, writing and editing binges, critiques, contracts, launch parties, that seem to consume everything while they are going on.

With these big exciting milestones, it’s not always easy to see the little steps in between. They are frequently eclipsed by the waiting game that plays such a prevalent role in the path to becoming published author. But if you find yourself discouraged while you wait for these big things, it’s time to scale back and look at all the little things that you have been ignoring, because that is where the real progress is made. Even if it doesn’t seem like progress.

Because another reason we get discouraged is that these little steps can feel like they’re going backwards. A bad critique, a failure to impress with your novel, a query rejection.

But they are all pushing you toward what you want, as long as you keep going. Each failure is an experience to learn.

If you join a new crit group that tears apart a manuscript that your last crit group was praising, it’s not a back slide. You just leveled up. You’re going to learn things you never would have learned in the last group.

Your query’s been rejected again? Now you know that query isn’t working for you. Write a new one!

A reader doesn’t like your book? Find out why and determine if it’s something you can and want to fix. Maybe they are seeing something you missed. Maybe it’s not for them.

There are also little steps you take every day, cutting a few words, writing a new chapter, reading articles on writing, signing up for classes and seminars that are pretty mundane but all provide the potential of that final piece to make your work click into place.

And don’t forget the way you help other writers. Reading and critiquing the work of other authors can not only give them the benefit of your knowledge but also help you to zero in on your own strengths and flaws. Supporting other writers gives you a community to support you, people to bounce ideas off of and to commiserate with.

The milestones are huge. They tend to overshadow our little steps, but they cannot be accomplished without them.

You are not stuck, no matter how long it’s been since your last milestone. You are never stuck unless you throw in the towel forever.

 

Keep writing, friends.

 

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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.

How to find the right crit group

It is daunting joining a group of strangers and sharing your work. If you are an introvert writer like I am, it is completely terrifying, and the worst part is that it could end up being all for nothing. Not all crit groups are good crit groups. Not all crit groups are the right fit.

Fortunately you can get a pretty decent fix on whether you got a good group for you withing the first two or three sessions and avoid wasting your time and energy on a group that is not going to help you or your writing.

Here are five things to look for:

1. They welcome new members

By welcome I don’t just mean they allow them to sit in, I mean they are open, friendly and willing to allow new members to submit their work. Too often established groups will develop a dynamic of exclusion. It’s not intentional, but it also is nothing you need to waste your time with. If you join a group that treats you like an intruder, don’t come back.

2. They  are familiar with your kind of writing

You can be part of the greatest crit group ever, but if you are the only romance novelist in a group of journalists, you won’t get the most out of the group.

3. They are familiar with your genre

Even if the whole group consists of fiction writers, it is important that at least a few members understand the genre you write in. Style and technique can change drastically between genres and the best horror novel might be hard for someone who focuses exclusively on historical fiction to understand or critique.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a very productive group even if a few people don’t get your genre, but you need somebody to get your genre or you will end up needlessly feeling bad about your work.

4. They are focused on improvement

This seems obvious right? Except it’s not so much. Giving and receiving constructive criticism is actually really really hard. In order to spare feelings some writing groups fall into a pattern of praise. It’s lovely to have your work praised and to give it to others, but the reason you are there isn’t to stroke each others egos. It is to get better. If no one ever has any solid advice for improvement, you are not doing yourself any favors sticking around.

5. They look for the good

On the other side of the coin, sometimes crit groups can become too harsh. Especially in a group where the writers are ultra competitive or have been doing this kind of work for a while. A crit group should always look for the good in a piece, no matter what level of writing is presented. This isn’t just to be nice, a writer needs to know where their strengths lie in order to improve their work.

6. The writers in the group are of all different levels of experience

You may think you want to work with the people who have been doing this the longest. Or people who are of the same writing level as you. You are wrong. Reviewing the work of someone who is just starting out can give you a fresh perspective and allow you to clearly see your own writing flaws in their work. It also gives you the opportunity to impart your knowledge to help them improve, which, believe it or not, can lead to huge progress in your own work.

On the other hand, working with much more experienced writers sets a standard to work toward and also helps develop a discernment in you that will allow you to find weaker points in even the strongest writing. And writers on all levels will have unique perspectives to give your work.

 

Do you belong to a writing crit group? What are some things you have found to be an important part of the dynamic?

 

When you decide you can’t fail

Writers are notoriously pessimistic, and for good reason. It is effing hard to publish a book, no matter which route you take. First you spend months, years, decades even writing a novel, than you edit the hell out of it for more months, years, decades. Then you pick a publishing path and go down it and that, unfortunately can be and often is the most crushing of all.

If it’s your first novel or your second novel or sometimes even your twelfth, well shit, you might have to swallow a nasty big pill that it’s just not that good. And how discouraging is that when you’ve bleed your creative blood into that book for so long?

I did it. I gave up. After I realized the novel I had been writing and editing since college was just not going to get cleaned up like I wanted it to, I had too much other responsibility, I didn’t have any more energy to give it, I puttered around with my plans of being a novelist an obscure dream that might never happen.

I thought about what I would do with my life when my kids went to school. Should I go back to get my Masters? Should I become a family therapist?

Then one day I was riding with my husband, talking about this subject and something came to me. I had a lovely, short, YA fairy tale fantasy that would be perfect for the market right now. And I didn’t have a strong investment in it that would stop me from cutting it to pieces to edit. Then I could self publish and let the card fall where they may.

And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. And the more I wanted it, the more excited I got about it. And the more excited I got, the more I realized that I could finally put aside the things that discouraged me before. I could see this as a learning experience. I could accept all that came with it as a learning experience.

Well, that novel never quite made it to kindle. (or you would see it heavily advertised on this site) but I did learn. I started this blog, which gave me a place to write about writing, which also made me realize I know alot about writing. It also made me realize how much I had to learn and then I went out and learned more.

It connected me to other writers here and on twitter. It gave me access to books and authors I never would have thought to read before. And it strengthened my resolve.

I don’t want to settle. And I will not. Maybe I will go back to school and get my masters. Maybe all the work I’ve done for the current novel I’m pitching will not pay off for a long time. Maybe I need more edits.

But none of that is failure.

A book can survive an infinite number of edits. A story can survive anything. And I have more books in me. Hell I have just waiting to be edited right now.

You can’t fail unless you give up. The options are limitless in the publishing world right now and every writer should ditch their ego and embrace their eventual, inevitable success.

Prologue hate, what to do?

To be totally honest, when I first heard that many agents HATE prologues I kinda rolled my eyes. Oh great, something else to nitpick over. But when I read up on it a little more I got it, sorta. Agents and editors  must be incredibly discerning and prologues, unfortunately, are often done wrong.

This is terrible news because the book I am currently trying to pitch has a prologue that there is no way I can cut and is completely out of format with the rest of my book if I just make it into a chapter.

So what is a prologue supposed to do? Done correctly it sets the tone, gives a little insight on the story that is to come, outside of the general flow and format of the rest of the book.

Why do people in the publishing industry hate it? Incorrectly used, it acts as an info dump. All the backstory in a chapter that isn’t good enough to be a chapter. I have read there is a general consensus that people don’t even read prologues (I always do).

So if you’re trying to decide if you should keep your prologue, make it chapter one or cut it completely here are some things to consider.

-Is it an excuse for backstory dump? Cut it and incorporate the info into the rest of the story.

– Does it fit with the timeline of the rest of the story? If most of the story takes place in 1989 but the prologue is in 1488 keep it.

– Does it contain your hook? Make it chapter one.

-Does it tell a slightly related story that never comes up again? Cut it

-Is it a different format than the rest of your story but is very relevant to the rest of the book? Keep it.

So what’s the solution to that hate in the publishing world? How do you prevent your manuscript from being tossed before it’s even given a chance?

Well, in my case I know my prologue is needed. But it could well be that when it gets to an editor they decide to make it into chapter one. I’m not comfortable making that decision as the first part of my story follows a specific format with POV of characters and the character in the prologue isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean when I submit a sample with a query I have to label the prologue as the prologue. With only 10-25 pages submitted, the format isn’t established yet.

What are your opinions of prologues? Do you read them? Do you write them? Do you hate them?

 

Publishing: The third option

When I started this blog last year I didn’t know much about indie publishing. I’ve learned a great deal since I started. Enough to really intimidate me to be honest. I knew a little more about traditional publishing, but still have learned quite a bit (primarily that it is still as hard to get an agent for a polished manuscript as it is with a unpolished manuscript).

What  I didn’t know anything about when I started is the third publishing option.

Small presses

The hybrid of indie and traditional publishing, small presses are publishers that accept unsolicited material and have a bit more wiggle room that traditional publishers to work in niche markets.

Their common features are: Small or no advances, higher royalty percentages, strong digital presence, faster turn around from signing to publication, narrowed, targeted niche audience.

Benefits? Depends on the publisher and on you.

Just like any other aspect of publishing, not all small publishers are as good to their authors as others.

But generally with a small publisher you have some of the freedom of indie publishing without the overhead costs. The small press will set you up with a professional editor and cover artist. They will format your book for digital print and sent out ARC and press releases, organize a blog tour and consult with you on how you can boost your sales. They will take greater risks with more creative and unique niches and ideas that are harder to get published traditionally and tend to do better in the indie market.

Also, with the way the industry is set up currently, you will qualify to enter certain competitions and be eligible for certain awards that indie authors cannot enter.

The Downside? Depends on the publisher and you.

Any advance you get will not pay for you to live while you finish this book or write your next book (the entire point of advances) and small publishers frequently lack the resources to promote on a wide scale (or their niche books can’t be promotes as such) so royalties come in slowly. Some small publishers provide their writers with work editing and/or scouting new writers and writers most definitely need to heavily promote themselves (and frequently other authors with the publisher)

While there is more freedom than with a big publisher, it’s certainly not as much as doing it yourself. You are not hiring the editor or cover artist you will be working with. You are not determining what platforms you will publish with or how it will be marketed.

A small publisher might push your book for longer than a traditional publisher. A small publisher will stop pushing your book before you would if you self published. If you choose the wrong publisher, and they don’t sell your book, they still own the rights. It’s gone to you forever (there are exceptions. I just encounter a small publisher that will give you the rights back if they don’t sell a certain amount in royalties).

There are ups and downs. There are alot of factors to think about. But this is a viable option. If you have a good book but no capital for editing, cover art, formatting, marketing and do not feel confident doing those things yourself you might want to try a small publisher.

If you write niche work (S&M werewolf mysteries, extreme gore horror, fetish romance) that is not currently an industry trend, this is a great option.

I’d love to hear more information and the experiences of other authors. What do you know about small publishers? Do you think they are a good option? Tell me more!

Bring on the rejections!

It’s been three months since I started querying. Do you know how many rejections I’ve received since then before this week?

One.

and it was a knee jerk, immediate rejection that came a half day after I sent the query so it hardly counted.

I’ve been sending out queries in regular increments. I have enough out there in the world to believe it reasonable to hear something. I finally started using Query Tracker a few weeks ago and was able to look up the average response time for each of the agents I sent out to. (FYI, if you aren’t using this site, stop. This makes the process so much easier).

My oldest query was 92 days old, and I hadn’t received a word from anyone. You know what’s more discouraging that a slew of rejections? Absolutely nothing. It makes it feel like you’re just floating in oblivion, not even worth a form response. Like the agent saw your subject header and was like “Eff this query, I ain’t got time for stupid titles.”

So this week I suddenly received two form rejections and you know what? It was kinda exciting. It feels like my project has become unstuck. It’s moving. It’s being seen. Sure, no one wants it yet, but that’s just a matter of time. At least it’s not floating anymore.

So bring on the rejections, and maybe just maybe within them there will be some solid advice, some recommendation for a change, and even a request for more.

In the mean time, I am bedridden and forcing myself to start edits on “Summer’s Circle”.

Because nothing will inspire me to heal like being stuck with edits.

How to publish a children’s book?

butterfly

I am sure I am being naive. I know what is involved in publishing an adult novel (and how very very hard it can be) but yesterday, while playing with my daughter I got a flash of inspiration and wrote a first draft for a children’s book.

It’s pretty cute. It’s about dragons. It’s exactly the kind of story my kids would love and I would love to read them.

My minimal research in the children’s book industry said not to get the illustrations done yourself but as soon as I wrote the first draft, I knew I wanted to collaborate with my mother Patricia Allingham Carlson.

Her vivid colors and fantastic style is all I can see for this book. So I know if I pursue publication I may need to go a non-traditional route.

But aside from that, nope. I don’t know a thing. Can anyone help out?

Don’t waste your valuable time while you wait

You finished, you edited, you polished, you submitted your first manuscript. Now all your eggs are in a big basket while you wait weeks or months to hear from an agent. You refresh your email every minute for a few weeks before you start to get discouraged.

Maybe some requests for partials come in. Maybe some kindly worded rejections with suggestions for improvement. More often form rejections or nothing at all.

Most published writers will tell you that as much as they loved and believed in their first novels, in retrospect, they were not publishable. Well doesn’t that just blow? How many novels did they have to write? Four to six until they had something good.

Instead of getting discouraged, consider how much you want to be a published writer. Enough to put in the work? Enough to consider the above process a necessary learning period? Self imposed schooling for novelists?

If the answer is yes, than here is the most important, best piece of advice I can give anyone.

Don’t put all your eggs in one slush pile basket. As soon as you click send on that first query, start writing your next novel. Instead of focusing all your energy, hopes and fears on whatever you sent out into the world, focus it on something new. That first manuscript will either come back to you with achievements or it will come back to you needing more work, but if you have something else in the works, you are not only continuing to improve your craft, you are also building up your inventory.

No one, in any profession is at their best when they first start their job. Every project is an opportunity for growth, so keep taking on projects. Set challenges for yourself. Read! You will find with each novel that you are more aware of your writing, that it comes easier for you to finish the first draft, that you are becoming an expert.

Don’t waste your time waiting or worrying. Keep writing. Always.

Every writer sings a sad sad song

You know what sucks? Rejection. You know what else sucks? Rejection never actually stops sucking. And the third suck? You never stop getting rejected in one way or another. This is true in life, but it is particularly true in artistic endeavors.

I got two rejections last week. And they both sucked.

They weren’t my first, and they won’t be my last. But I’m gonna stop using the word suck now, because I think I made my point.

Writing is a unique industry within the arts. It requires a writer to repeatedly attempt to sell the idea of their art without presenting the entire thing, at least up front. An artist will bring their portfolio of their best pieces. A musician, their best songs. A writer just has to write more words, but in the form of a sales pitch, and hope those words woven together to create interest, be it a query, pitch or blurb, do justice to their art they are trying to sell.

And they do it alot. Like a hella lot. In this industry we all know we need to thicken up our skins and not take rejection personally, but receiving form rejections, or bad reviews, or no reviews or no sales and all the rest of them over and over and over again can slowly eat at the patience and confidence of even the most assured writer.

There’s a hint of self deprecating cynicism you will find in many writers. Whether they write YA romance and believe in unicorns and rainbows or they write fiendish horror and think the world is going down the toilet, there is a sad streak in all of us. You toughen up or you drop out. But even when your skin is as thick as a leather bound hardback, it still sucks.(okay, just that last one).

But you know what’s awesome? Wine. Or Fresh juice if that’s your preference. So if your feeling the blues, pour yourself a glass and draft your next pitch. Because the pen is mightier, so if you wield it, you are a warrior.