Survive—and Thrive!

I’m starting to dig out of my Black Hole of Lost Work. Meaning I have a little bit of me left over at the end of the day to think about my personal writing, and have begun making notes. And writing. A little. While I work on more articles, I’ve got some lovely loaners. Here’s one that’s just tailor-made for my situation from my friend, author Cynthia Herron.

How to Thrive Despite the Odds

I love beautiful plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs. I’m in awe of the people who grow them. My mama is one of those people. She could transplant a brick and bring it back to life. (Well—she can raise a stick from the dead.) Despite the odds, green things thrive under her watchful eye.

As I surveyed our still motley-colored lawn this week, I gazed at the nine pine trees we planted fourteen years ago. (The tenth one was uprooted by the last tornado that came through.) Those trees have been through everything (two tornadoes, buckets of hail, multiple ice storms, frigid winters, and dry-as-a-bone summers) since we transplanted them from small twigs only a foot or so high in 1999. The tallest pine in our back field is now about twenty feet tall! Go figure.

I’ve wished countless times we’d purchased more of those scraggly white pines (like maybe a hundred—because we could have used them as a wind break around our property), but at the time, my husband and I had our reservations whether the little buggers would really grow. We paid $1.50 per tree. But other than some preliminary care and nurturing the first year, and some occasional mulching and pruning, those trees have continued to thrive despite everything Mother Nature’s thrown at them.

I’ve learned that to thrive, plants, flowers, and trees, need that initial care and nurturing. It will enhance growth and likely determine survival. And like our pines they’ll survive and adapt despite the odds.

But how do people thrive and flourish in spite of hardship, turmoil, or unforeseen life events? You may know someone who’s going through a rough patch. Illness. Divorce. Job loss. Relationship issues. It could be you.

If you’re a writer or a creative, perhaps, you’re disillusioned with the process. Possibly, you’ve had some hard knocks. Maybe you feel that the odds are against you. That life’s out of control.

While I don’t have the perfect answer, here are some practical tips. Things you can do to maintain some semblance of balance and not only survive but thrive—despite the odds.

1. Pick a new pot.
If your current location inhibits you, move! Okay, maybe you can’t relocate to a new home, but if your creativity is stymied by where you’re at in life–physically or emotionally (a specific room, a naysayer’s company, an uninspiring place)–go somewhere else. The library, a coffee shop, that shade tree out back. Someplace that’s bright, cheery, and loaded with positivity.

2. Choose sunlight.
There’s nothing worse than dreary, down-in-the-mouth folks. I once worked in a profession that was anything but positive. Because of the nature of my job, I dealt with sad situations and unhappy people. Worked in an office with some pretty miserable individuals too. The odds of burn-out were great. I endured my time in the desert for a season, but I soon developed a plan, and when the time was right, I chose a different path. A sunnier one. I found you can do anything for a season—and even thrive—when you know an end is in sight. But you can’t be lazy about it. You must be proactive.

3. Use the right fertilizer.
To thrive despite the odds, proper nutrition’s important. What works for someone else won’t be the right thing for you. A dozen “experts” will attempt to sell you the moon. Generally, there’s a reason for that, and it may not be what’s best for you. Try different methods. Sources of (healthy) energy that make a difference. If you notice marked improvement, odds are you’re onto something. Some things that work for me: protein bars (not the super-charged ones loaded with bad stuff), peanut butter, granola, and cheese sticks (in moderation unless they’re low-fat). Also—a word about skipping meals. Don’t! You’ll just end up eating more later. Oh, and my personal philosophy: If bad ingredients (in addition, negativity) are the only things on the menu that day, I opt for the least unhealthy choice OR a different alternative. I rarely eat hot dogs, processed lunchmeats, or fried, greasy foods that shout “heart attack!” And if given the choice, I prefer eating with upbeat people because atmosphere is huge for me.

4. Hydrate.
If you know a drought’s coming, don’t rely on Neighbor Nelly to share her well. Stockpile water, Powerade, juice—smart choices to quench your thirst. I’m a firm believer in drinking (no pun intended). My energy lags when my system’s depleted. My pines have survived hot-as-blue-blazes weather and water-deprived days. There’s no way we could physically water them all. Not enough buckets with drainage holes, no in-ground sprinkler system, and our hoses don’t stretch that far. Somehow, those trees have beaten the odds. I’d like to think it was because we gave them a good start. Sometimes we must work with what we’ve got. And if that’s not much, we pray. And adapt. And soak up the downpour of blessing as it comes. And give thanks.Remaining in a thankful mode during seasons of drought is crucial. It combats fear and unleashes hope.

5. Pay attention to detail.
Sometimes, to encourage new growth and ensure survival, it’s necessary to do a little pruning. I think my little pine trees survived (and thrived) over the years because of the preliminary measures we took when we transplanted them. We estimated a good location, dug the correct size holes, fertilized, watered often (when they were little trees they required less), and sprayed for pests. Now that those trees are ginormous, about the only thing we’ve done in recent years is prune back some of the lower branches and trim undergrowth.

Over the years, I’ve learned in order to thrive details are important. I can’t adjust the big picture until I fix a couple of the small details first. When I re-center my thinking, I’m more likely to succeed.

In the grand scheme of things, thriving despite the odds isn’t so much about the circumstance as it is about mind-set.

It requires effort.

Sometimes patience.

Resilience.

Tenacity.

Prayer.

Thriving despite the odds makes the conscious decision to refuse defeat.

Cynthia Herron writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the foothills of the beautiful Missouri Ozarks. She has a degree in psychology with a background in social work. She’s a member and vice president of ACFW MozArks, a member of ACFW and RWA, and is represented by Mary G. Keeley/Books and Such Literary Management. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple! Cynthia would be delighted to visit with you at her cyber home where she blogs MWF.

Tweet: Survive and thrive: sometimes we must work with what we’ve got.
Tweet: How you can thrive when the odds are against you.
Tweet: How do people thrive & flourish in spite of hardship, turmoil, unforeseen life events?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Guest Posts, Miscellany | Tagged as: ,

The Comparison Devil

I’m still catching up, y’all, but my friends are helping me out with new and recycled posts of their own. Today? A great post from YA author N. K. Traver, which ran on her own blog earlier this year.

The Comparison Devil

I read an article some time ago wherein the author said she knew she wouldn’t be a best seller as soon as the offer came in on her first novel. Because it wasn’t a six-figure advance and she wasn’t going to auction.

This bothered me a lot.

First, let’s roll back to a not-so-happy place in my past, last spring. To be as brief and honest as possible, I’d let some things get out of control in my life and had lost all focus of the good things going on. I realized I was in a bad place. I sought the help of a counselor at work. And he tricked me.

In the best way, of course. During one session, he targeted my writing dream and made me list everything that was bothering me. Every fear. Every rejection. Every disappointment. Then he made me write down the good things that had happened. Actual words from people who had read and responded positively to my work. I tried to counter with, “Yeah, but if I was any good this wouldn’t be so hard.” He pointed to my fears, which were things like I’ll never get published. I’m not good enough. I don’t know if I’m even supposed to be doing this. Then back to the Good Things list. “Which of these has actually happened?” he asked.

(See? Tricky.)

Which brings me back to the article about trying to read into your publishing future based on what’s happening to other people. We always want to compare our experiences to try and figure out what’s normal. Is it supposed to take this long? What if I don’t get multiple offers from agents? What does it mean if I didn’t get a three-book deal? And I’m telling you (and also telling me): 
STOP.

There is no magic formula. There is only one example I need to give here to prove it: J. K. Rowling received a £1500 advance (or about $2400) for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Couple that with her own editor’s advice that she get a day job because she “had little chance of making money in children’s books,”* I think you’ll start to get my point. And for heaven’s sake, if you’re sitting there worrying your five/six-figure advance means they’re overconfident and you’re doomed not to sell because how could anyone really know what the bestsellers will be, I’m shaking your shoulders right now. SHAKING THEM.

I don’t know the future. But if you’re in that place right now where the comparison devil is whispering in your ear, using your “failures” and “shortcomings” to bury all sense of hope, trick yourself like my counselor tricked me. There are two sides to every story, and you are not allowed to block the good side out.

“I’m getting a lot of rejections … but I know so much more than last year.”

“A top-choice agent just told me my book made her cringe** but another just requested the full.”

Capisce?
If you’re going to do any comparing, that should be it.

* These quotes/numbers pulled from Wikipedia.
** Yes, this was an actual rejection I received.

 

N. K. Traver—Nat—pursued an information technology degree in college because she wasn’t sure she could get a job with an English degree. Then she started writing books. And in short order she got an agent and a contract and her first book, Duplicity, releases on 3 March 2015 with St. Martin’s Press. You can find her at her website and on Twitter.

Tweet: The Comparison Devil—don’t listen to it!
Tweet: We always want to compare our experiences to figure out what’s normal.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , ,

Location, Location, Location

In this week’s guest post (’cause I’m still struggling with that pesky computer failure), author Norma Horton covers two topics dear to my heart: writing and exploring foreign countries. If you can call it research and write it off, so much the better!

Location, Location, Location

Today, I walked through Rome. Not in my mind (which I’ve been known to do), but in real life. Down the Spanish Steps, along the via Condotti, around the obelisk in the middle of the Piazza del Popolo. Whereas I used to stroll these streets as a tourist, I now walk as an author. Which means I walk with all my senses.

Fall is mushroom, truffle, and zucchini season. These aromas—especially the mighty truffle!—hang in the air from 2:00 p.m. until long after a late Italian supper. Coffee is in season year-round, so my morning cappuccino is inhaled as well as ingested. These scents are inextricably woven into the fabric of my days in Rome.

And the tastes! Yesterday, under awnings at a spot on the Via Bocca di Leone, I split a plate of fettuccine laced with freshly foraged mushrooms in a light cream sauce, generously topped with thinly sliced black truffle. The earthiness of the truffle, saltiness of the Pecorino cheese in the heavy cream, and mellow mushrooms were a culinary triumvirate. This wasn’t just a plate of pasta, it was a plate of details my readers would love.

Despite a reputation to the contrary, car horns aren’t the dominant sound in Rome. It’s bells. Church bells. They chime and peal throughout the day, and I’ve spent more than one serenade standing at the terrace door, smiling. Children race up and down the streets and alleyways, their footsteps and laughter humanizing this big city. Plates clatter and scooters zoom, tangling into the Roman symphony.

I feel rough square cobbles under my shoe soles, so unlike the rounded ones in Paris and Prague. I see the setting sun brightly illuminate “the wedding cake” (the Victor Emmanuel Monument) in a way so unlike the gray tones of a Parisian sunset on the Eiffel Tower.

The point is, good writing is about the characteristics that enable a reader to recreate a place in his or her mind. I argue that it’s an in-person experience for the writer, who can then sketch in shadows from Internet research. To be fair to my readers, I have to have “been there, done that” before I can accurately portray the Middle East or Western Europe or Peru. (I draw the line at shooting someone like my protagonist, archaeologist Grace Madison, did in When Camels Fly.)

The bond between writer and reader is one of trust. I trust them to buy my books, and they trust me to entertain them. I cede to Hemingway when he said to write about what you know, and write one true sentence, the truest you know. The intimacy I owe a reader starts here, in Rome.

NLB Horton returned to writing fiction after an award-winning career in journalism and marketing as well as earning her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. From her home in the Rocky Mountains, she writes, cross-country skis, gardens, and researches ideas for her next novel.

Tweet: Traveling with my author’s hat on, I notice things that will show up in my novel.
Tweet: This wasn’t just a plate of pasta, it was a plate of details my readers would love.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Guest Posts, Miscellany, The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , , , , ,

The Author-Editor Relationship: Newbie Author’s POV

While I am catching up after losing several days of work to a hard drive crash (and just because you can see I am able to get on the Interwebs and all doesn’t mean I’m anywhere near out of the woods), my friends are helping me out with new and recycled posts of their own. Today author Michelle Ule writes about how we met, in a piece that’s made me blush.

The Author-Editor Relationship: Newbie Author’s POV

The relationship between an author and her editor can be exciting, horrifying, enlightening, good or bad.

It’s based on one thing only: the quality of the manuscript at the end of the process.

That’s the goal.

That’s the point.

That’s the most some people look for, and certainly a fine finished project should be one in which both author and editor are content. No matter how fraught with drama the experience may be along the way.

Some author-editor experiences begin well. Others have a hiccup or two. Take my first experience, for example.

I’d never published anything before my 2011 release “The Dogtrot Christmas.” Thrilled to have been part of a project, I turned in my manuscript early. I then forgot about it in the press of other things happening in my life.

Like traveling to Budapest with relatives.

Like my Facebook account getting hacked and forgetting I had lied about my birthday (what day was that again?) because I don’t believe FB needs to know everything about me—thus I couldn’t clear up the mess for nearly a week.

And having to change all my account passwords. (By the way, should you be doing that right now?)

Like forgetting my email address needed updating.

Then I got this email at my business email address:

Hello!
I haven’t heard from Michelle regarding the email below. Since then, I’ve also done the edit on her manuscript and sent that last night. I’m mostly concerned because the turnaround time here is very short. I’ve contacted Barbour and they gave me your email … and say they don’t have a phone number. So … I’m stumped! Can you help?

Yikes! I was mortified to discover my editor (the thrill of those words my editor) had been trying to find me for a week and we had a tight deadline.

Deadline?

For what?

Oh, no! I completely forgot my manuscript would be edited and galley-proofed and marketed and my services were still called for! (Pity the brand new author.)

I was leaving for Budapest in three weeks! Have much time did we have?

Three weeks.

But my editor (oh, the thrill!) had never worked with me before. Perhaps she knew I was a novice, how much work would this take and what she would have to do with my manuscript?

Jamie Clarke Chavez is a professional.

So, in my newbie way, was I.

My heart was racing. I’d do anything to look like a professional. So what did we need to do? Her response:

This editing business is a collaborative process. I need you. :) So let’s do this: You look at my notes. In spite of the fact that they’re 3 pages long for just 16K words, I think you’ll see that I’m just going round and round the mulberry bush. The tweaks are simple. So this may be something you can literally knock out over the weekend. (Or whatever.) Let me know what you think. I’m fine with finishing it early.

I read through the notes immediately. What had I done? What would require so much rewriting? The first comment (using track changes) appeared on the first word in the manuscript:

Regarding this indent, Chicago Manual of Style says we don’t indent the first line of a chapter or after a hiatus break. So that’s what’s going on here. :)

Nice, friendly, not too scary; but the first word? What more could happen? I responded politely, but to explain my feelings—I wanted her to understand where I was coming from. I’m a firstborn; I tremble at possibly making an error.

I’m not alarmed, but thanks for the warning. :-) I’d like to note that in writing this story, I was very conscious of the 16K-word limit, and thus more sparing than I might have been otherwise.

She came right back with a reply:

I checked with Barbour, and we can use up to 20K words! I’M SO PLEASED THAT WE HAVE WIGGLE ROOM! I HOPE THIS MADE DOING YOUR TWEAKS A PLEASURE. As a side note, I don’t think having a word limit—especially a tight one—is a bad thing. It makes you really conscious of Every. Single. Word. And that’s a good thing.

Can you see why it was love at first track changes? :-)

For me, working through edits with Jamie (five times now), has been pure joy. We debate word choices, explain historical challenges, poke fun at each other, condense some sections, expand others … and always count the number of words. It’s like putting together a puzzle—and Jamie and I are both jigsaw puzzle workers—where you have the completed picture, but it just needs to be sorted a little different. (Not sure that metaphor worked, but Jamie can’t track change this blog post! Ha!)

Not worried about edits in Budapest!

Not worried about edits in Budapest!

She’s the only editor I’ve had so far, and this author is perfectly content with that.

And that first little gem we worked on—it took two nights, total, to edit—“The Dogtrot Christmas”? Part of Barbour Publishing’s A Log Cabin Christmas Collection? It made the New York Times best sellers list!

Thanks, Jamie!

Former navy wife Michelle Ule is a writer, genealogist, and Bible study leader. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in English literature and married a submarine officer whom she followed all over the world with their four children. Currently she and her husband live in northern California, where they often enjoy visiting with their five adorable grandchildren.

 

Tweet: The joy of the author-editor relationship!
Tweet: How a flailing newbie & an experienced editor made the NYT best seller list.
Tweet: The relationship between an author & her editor can be exciting, horrifying, enlightening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Authors & Other Writers, Guest Posts | Tagged as: , , , ,

A Temporary Change of Plans

Two days ago my computer died intestate. I did all the things the troubleshooting booklet said to do and still couldn’t raise the dead, so I texted I’M SCARED to the brilliant fixit consultant who has taken care of my computer issues for years.

He called me immediately.

I drove the corpse to him later that day and he spent several hours working on it. When he called me—“It’s bad news”—I cried. In Cracker Barrel, y’all. The waitress didn’t know what to do with me.

My consultant referred me to a data recovery expert, one of those places that put your hard drive in a sterile cleanroom and go over it, line by line, to see if anything can be saved. It’s expensive. I hope to be able to avail myself of this before the end of the year, but at the moment it’s not in progress, and I am … well, in the early stages of grief.

What this means for this blog:

• I had several posts (about a month’s worth) written. They’re gone. So there is nothing ready to go, not even for a Short Saturday post yesterday.

• I had a few hundred pages of notes (ideas) for posts, and a list of items for Short Saturday posts, and they’re gone. I’m still in shock, and when I try to think about it, I just draw a blank.

• I’ve lost some editorial work, too, so I need to play catch-up.

I’m going to drop back to one post per week (Mondays) for a while—perhaps until the new year—while I work on crafting the sort of posts I like to write. (You know I write for myself, don’t you? That you like them is a happy byproduct.)

It’s going to take some time—the kind of relaxed, unstructured creative time I don’t currently have—to replenish the well, kids. Fortunately, many of my friends—authors, editors, other publishing industry professionals—have volunteered to write guest posts. You’re going to love them. I am so very blessed.

Thank you for sticking around during the rebuilding process. I promise it will be worth the wait.

Tweet: It’s going to take some time to rebuild. And a little help from my friends.
Tweet: A hard drive crash necessitates a slow-down. But it’ll be worth it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Miscellany | Tagged as: , ,

These Dreams Go On When I Close My Eyes

A while back I had to talk an author out of using dreams as a method of solving his story-worthy problem—in this case, a murder. The protagonist saw it all, including whodunit—in a dream. But the trouble with this is it’s just too coincidental. I mean, I’ve never solved any murders in my sleep, and I’m betting you haven’t either. Murders are solved—facts are gathered—with good old-fashioned shoe leather.

Which is not to say it can’t happen. Every time—truly: every single time—I have ever said “I don’t believe this plot point” to an author, the reply has been “But it happened to me.” No joke. But I’m still not convinced of the efficacy of dreams as a plot device. Use them, perhaps, to show character’s state of mind rather than to advance the plot.

The author liked it because his dreamer could see things omnisciently. But there is no omniscient narrator in readers’ lives. In the real world, one still has the burden of proof. (I mean, that’s what we see on CSI, right?) So we need to keep it simple so that things ring true. We want the plot to have an appearance, at least, of reality.

And that includes refraining from resolving plot problems with unusual viewpoints—like seeing everything in a dream. Think about our rule of thumb for coincidences: a coincidence is OK to get a protagonist into trouble, but it’s not OK to get him out of one. Don’t use an unusual viewpoint to get out of trouble with the plot.

But can you use one to set things up, to draw us in? Oh, I definitely think so!

Take Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series. These are lovely first-person mysteries set in rural England in the 1950s and written from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl. This means what Flavia sees isn’t always interpreted correctly, but she still manages to solve mysteries—and make us believe it. Who would have thought to pick that place and time for a series of books, especially when the protagonist is twelve? And yet they are pitch-freaking-perfect. Not a detail out of place. They’re a good read, too, of course, but for a student of the writing craft, they are a treat.

See? The unusual viewpoint gets us into the story, but it doesn’t solve any plot problems. When you find yourself stuck and tempted to take an easy (but unbelievable) way out, think again.

I’ve found it always helps to see what other authors are doing about a particular writing issue. So here are some great novels that feature interesting or unusual POVs:

–Watership Down (Richard Adams) • anthropomorphized rabbits
–The Mezzanine (Nicholson Baker) • a man’s thoughts
–A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) • a sociopathic teenager
–Room (Emma Donoghue) • a five-year-old held captive in a small room
–Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn) • epistolary with a lipogrammatic twist
–The Floatplane Notebooks (Clyde Edgerton) • various narrators, including a wisteria vine
–As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner) • one POV character is a corpse
–The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner) • among others, a mentally disabled man
–Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) • two unreliable narrators
–Ellen Foster (Kaye Gibbons) • a ten-year-old, uneducated girl
–The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon) • an autistic teenager
–One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey) • a psychiatric patient
–The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) • a human, a vampire
–Atonement (Ian McEwan) • the character who creates the inciting incident
–War Horse (Michael Morpurgo) • horse
–An Instance of the Fingerpost (Iain Pears) • four unreliable narrators
–The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) • a murdered girl
–Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Maria Semple) • part epistolary, part eighth-grader
–The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein) • a dog
–Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Tom Stoppard) • 2 minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet
–Filth (Irvine Welsh) • a tapeworm inside a man’s intestines
–Blitzcat (Robert Westall) • a cat (not anthropomorphized)
–Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White) • a pig and a spider
–The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski) • dogs
–The Book Thief (Markus Zusak) • Death

Enjoy!

Tweet: Don’t use an unusual viewpoint to get out of trouble with the plot.
Tweet: Refrain from resolving plot problems with unusual viewpoints—like seeing everything in a dream.
Tweet: Every time I say “I don’t believe this” the author replies “But it happened to me.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , ,

Nothing Matters But the Words

Last week I got the tweaks back from an author new to me. We’d had some great email and Facebook conversations, and she’d been very calm and professional. But until the tweaks arrived, I didn’t realize she’d been doing some homework: she’d read my post on how to format your manuscript.

Don’t insert space (returns or otherwise) to bring the beginning of your chapter halfway down the page, one of the entries reads. The typesetter will take care of that later. We’re editing now, not prettifying.

A lot of people seem to miss that one. Or don’t believe me. Or something. After all, open any novel and you’ll see with your own eyes that the chapter begins in the middle of a right-hand page, yes?

My author left me a note in the margin of the first chapter, right under the deletion of twelve or fifteen returns: So does this look right now? Starting at the top? You can’t imagine how many books/blogs/seminars have told me to start every chapter in the middle of the page. Think of all the time I’ve wasted.

This, friends, is a woman after my own heart. Yes! Think of all the time I’ve wasted, scrolling through all those stinkin’ returns in all those manuscripts. So let me tell you again: to a manuscript in the editorial process, nothing matters but the words. Making this manuscript look like a book is someone else’s job, and that happens during the production process. Later. When we’re done.

I can’t imagine why “they”—the people writing those how-to books and blogs or presiding over those how-to seminars—would say such a thing. Because, you know, they’re wrong. But I have a theory. I think the people who are telling you to start your chapter in the middle of a page have never actually been involved in the production of an actual book. They’re just makin’ it up to “add value” to whatever they’re selling you. Those of us who do work on books before they go to the typesetter know—repeat after me—nothing matters but the words.

Choose your experts wisely, kids.

Now, shall we review? I see manuscripts with all sorts of fancy typefaces, with underlining and different sized fonts. I see boxes drawn around call-outs, and space inserted after Every. Single. Paragraph. Don’t do that stuff.

Instead, use Times or Times New Roman in twelve-point type. You can use bold, italics, and roman, and nothing else. Use page breaks to separate chapters. Learn how to use tabs and indents. And save us both some time and don’t add extra space before you begin a chapter. Because right now, nothing matters but the words.

Tweet: When we’re editing, nothing matters but the words. Honest.
Tweet: Making the manuscript look like a book is someone else’s job; it happens in production.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , ,

Short Saturday: It’s Not All Bad News

In case—after reading this week’s posts—you think I’m all gloom and doom, I’ve got a treat for you from my friend, author Judy Christie. She recently released her eighth novel, and she’s got something to smile about: readers.

When you’re a writer, there’s no one more important. Sure, agents, editors, publishers—they’re important too. But at the end of the day, a book is nothing without a reader. Judy says,

As a novelist and book columnist for the local newspaper, I experience every day a zest for books from readers of varied ages and professions and geography, ordinary folks who appreciate books, who yearn for good stories, who are generous with their time and money and encouragement. Who love to talk about books. Who feel passionately about what they like—and don’t like—to read.

Want to know what makes a good book? Ask a reader.

… and she goes on to list ten (ten!) really good reasons authors should turn that frown upside down in her recent blog post, “10 Reasons This Novelist Is Smiling.” Read it, and you will too.

Tweet: When you’re a writer, there’s no one more important than a reader. Get it?
Tweet: 10 really good reasons authors should turn that frown upside down from Judy Christie.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in Authors & Other Writers, The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , ,

We Can’t Go On Together With Suspicious Minds (2/2)

The Hachette/Amazon standoff seems to have fanned the flames of the traditional vs. self-publishing discussion. Actually, it’s not much of a discussion any more. As I noted recently, publishing journalist Porter Anderson reported abuse—in the form of comments on a post—for something he’d written. Similarly, publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin notes,

I don’t see the “Amazon versus the publishing establishment” battle as a moral choice, just a tug of war between competing business interests. (There are societal questions at stake, which some might see as moral choices, but the companies involved are doing what is best for them and then arguing afterwards that it is also better for society.) When I wrote what I intended to be a balanced piece about the Amazon-Hachette battle, it brought out the troops from the indie author militia in the comment string to call me to task and accuse me of many things … I expect this post will do the same, which I find an unpleasant prospect.

I worry about this lack of civility directed at people like Anderson and Shatzkin, who are both routinely fair and balanced in their reportage, but that’s a subject for another post.

What concerns me here is the discussion about the Great Self-Publishing Money Tree. To wit: You shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you hear about it. Data is hard to come by. Remember that books with ISBNs (all traditionally published books and some self-published books) can be tracked and counted and sales figures and profits extrapolated; books without ISBNs (a great many self-published books) cannot be tracked in any way. Even if a self-pubbed book does have an ISBN, Amazon doesn’t share sales numbers. And private citizens are not required to divulge their income-tax returns, even if they are claiming in their blogs and elsewhere to be making money hand over fist selling self-published novels. (I’m not naming names, but I’m sure you know who some of the very vocal self-publishing evangelists are.)

Some of them are (making money hand over fist). But—as we discussed earlier this week and as Bob Mayer points out in his commentary “Successful Authors Are Outliers, Not Statistics”—they are outliers. The rest are employing what we might call the Facebook Phenomenon: they are putting a good face on things (their sales figures, say).

Shatzkin makes a similar point in another post (one I highlighted recently):

So far, the commercially successful self-published authors overwhelmingly, if not entirely, fall into two categories. There are authors who have reclaimed a backlist of previously published titles and self-published them. And there are authors of original genre fiction who write prolifically, putting many titles into the marketplace quickly. Successful self-publishing authors are often in both categories but very few are in neither. Those two categories are nearly 100% of the self-publishing success stories but a minority of the books from publishers. (Emphasis mine.)

I don’t write this with the intention to discourage anyone from self-publishing. (Although you know I’m opposed to bad—that is, unprofessional—self-publishing. I’ve written about that quite a bit.) It would be helpful to pay attention to Mayer’s comment—

I know very, very few traditionally published authors whose first manuscript was accepted for publication. But how many indie authors are not publishing their first manuscript?

—and apply it to your own career trajectory. How many times have you heard the story of a new author with a runaway best seller who has one or two or three earlier manuscripts gathering dust in a drawer? Those were the author’s practice novels.

Instead, I write this to encourage you to filter what you hear on the interwebs, kids. Investigate. Look at the data and know what you’re getting into. People can be biased, whether it’s intentional or unintentional. They can be so excited about their good fortune—like Hugh Howey (mentioned in the Shatzkin article linked above)—that they become evangelists for the Great Self-Publishing Money Tree. Remember that Howey is an outlier.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the road is long and the way is hard, but the rewards—though maybe not the financial ones—can be very satisfying. It’s important to remember that building a career as an author takes an investment of time and, if you’re self-publishing, money. If you get a handle on your expectations, do good work, and exercise patience, you may find your dreams fulfilled.

Tweet: What concerns me here is the discussion about the Great Self-Publishing Money Tree.
Tweet: Some folks claim to be making money hand over fist selling self-published novels—but are they?
Tweet: Building a career as an author takes an investment of time &, if you’re self-publishing, money.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , ,

Getting Good Advice (1/2)

When the Boy was a sophomore in high school, he announced he wanted to major in music when he got to college. Naturally, lots of people had lots of opinions on this topic. (Go to a conservatory. No, go to a liberal arts school. Be sure you go to a prestigious university. No, go to a state school and save some money; go to the prestigious school for your graduate work. Follow your passion! Are you kidding? Unless you’re Joshua Bell, you won’t make much money in the arts. And so on.)

But the best advice he got—and the advice he followed—was this: Don’t major in music unless you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life.

The same might be said for the writing life. The New York Times recently published an op-ed (“Why Writers Are Opening Up About Money [or the Lack Thereof”]) in which a literary agent is quoted saying “the financial landscape for writers has always been really difficult.” She goes on to say it’s particularly unpredictable during the current financial climate.

I’m not sure hopeful writers fully understand this. It’s not wise to look at J. K. Rowling or John Grisham and think theirs are career paths you will likely follow. Like superstar violinist Joshua Bell, Rowling and Grisham are not the norm; they are anomalies. Outliers is the popular term.

One hears (or thinks in one’s heart of hearts) “I’m going to write a best seller and make a lot of money” but from a statistical viewpoint it’s just not bloody likely. One can revel in the work, grow intellectually and as a human being, meet interesting people, and leave behind a body of work that others will appreciate. But the vast majority of those who feel called to write—because they can’t imagine doing anything else—are finding it harder and harder to make a living.

This spring the Guardian published this moving article, which points out in black and white how the publishing landscape has changed:

Ever since the credit crunch of 2008 writers have been tightening belts, cutting back and, in extreme cases, staring into an abyss of penury. “Last year,” said novelist Paul Bailey, speaking to the Observer in 2010, “was sheer hell”. Off the record, other writers will freely confide their fears for the future, wondering aloud about how they will make ends meet.

And if that’s not enough for you, this piece—about an author giving up the literary life because he can’t afford it anymore—will break your heart.

I myself have had similar conversations in the last few years: with an author who was without a contract for the first time in twenty years, with another who says it helps to have a personal patron of the arts (a spouse with a good job), with yet another who has ten successful books in print but still has to get up and go to a job (not writing) every day. Advances just aren’t what they use to be. Neither are sales, except for those outliers.

It’s a bit of a perfect storm, as the Guardian article points out.

The years 2007–2010 are pivotal: first, as Thomson has described, came the credit crunch. And it occurred at the very moment that the IT revolution was wrecking the livelihoods of those creative classes—film-makers, musicians and writers of all sorts—who had previously lived on their copyrights.

And let’s not forget the sheer competition for readers made possible by digital self-publishing. (That said, there are success stories, such as the one recounted here by Mark Edwards. You should note, though, that this self-publishing success follows on the heels of a not unsuccessful traditional publishing career trajectory, which I’ll discuss again in the next post.)

Well, the Boy took his music major. Today he teaches and performs and is happy doing the work he couldn’t imagine living his life without. It’s not always an easy life and it wasn’t without struggle to get it up and running—there was a point at which we were both reading and discussing Seth Godin’s book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)—but he’s happy. (And this makes his mother happy.)

The road is long and the way is hard, they say, but it’s not without its rewards. I’ve been living inside some version of publishing for twenty years, and I can tell you a career in writing isn’t easy. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would pursue it … except those who can’t imagine doing anything else.

Tweet: Writing for a living: don’t do it unless you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Tweet: It’s not wise to look at Rowling or Grisham & think theirs are career paths you will follow.
Tweet: Write a best seller & make a lot of money? From a statistical view it’s not bloody likely.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , ,