Monday, December 11, 2017

If You Don’t Understand the Publishing Process, Do NOT Publish

If You Don’t Understand the Publishing Process, Do NOT Publish

Impatience is a virtue.

Like most flaws and bad experiences, there are benefits to the negatives. College was the worst time of my life, but it taught me great strategies in dealing with passive-aggression and social politics. My hypersensitivity makes me emotional, but have an extremely high interpersonal intelligence. My fear makes exhausts and limits me, but it forces me to learn and understand patterns quickly.

Patient authors are likely to never publish at all. I personally have been writing for 15 years now and am actively submitting a manuscript to agents for the first time this year. In my writers groups, the ones who have map out a reasonable allotted set of months to finish never do. The ones who want to publish, “This year,” are those who get it done.

Impatience is the strongest motivator in finishing. It’ll inspire the writers to take risks, not over think things, and get their work out there. Actually submitting is the name of the game, and few people are ever going to be certain if their work really is ready.

So why wait to publish?

The criticisms of impatience authors are not without merit. Most self-published books have quality errors due to haste; not just typos, but rushed pacing, no real ending, non-atmospheric summation, and just sound like the writer was trying to get something out as fast as humanly possible. It’s not just the prolific authors who have a fanbase to appease—who often learn how to write quickly through practice—but many beginning writers intentionally and arbitrarily decide to write a low wordcount from the jump because it seems less daunting.

I don’t agree that the worst thing a writer can do is publish before she’s ready. I believe it is far, far worse to hang onto something out of fear. Never submit something you know is half-assed, but persistence and putting yourself out there are the foundations to success in any situation. In some cases, it’s better to take a chance and get rejected than not.

But, that being said, there are definitely ramifications to publishing far too soon, and the biggest one is when contracts are actually involved: in other words, the scam.

Some weeks ago, a woman excitedly posted a Facebook status about her book being picked up. Immediately, red flags were sprung. Something about the way she said it, “A publisher has picked up my book for their self-publishing package!”

“Picked up… self-publishing package”?

That’s not how self-publishing works.

I went to their website—a Facebook page, their website was a broken link—and it became immediately obvious that this was not a good deal. A scam? Maybe not, in that I believe scams have to be intentionally malicious. It seemed more like a small start-up of people who probably didn’t want to work with big publishers and thought they could do it themselves without really understanding how the process works.

But even if it wasn’t about stealing money, it was not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination. No ability to buy books online, cost of books was much greater than market value, authors paid for editing and brought in their own covers. They were looking for editors on Facebook. The one book they were promoting’s deadline was being pushed back for “editing reasons.”

In truth, anyone who calls themselves a “Hybrid Publisher” is offering a bad deal; the hybrid is always the worst of both worlds for the writer. The writer pays while losing creative control, and as of yet, no hybrid publisher has a good enough reputation to ease writers into getting in bookstores. Unless they can offer buy-back, they have a proven record of quality control, and they can offer the books at competitive prices, the self-publisher will have the same amount of difficulty getting her books in on her own.

I nervously messaged the author my concerns, not sure I was overstepping my boundaries. She was grateful for the heads up and, luckily, we parted ways on good terms.

Not long after, I came across a discussion on Two tech-based individuals decided to change the ways of publishing by creating an algorithm and a contest in order to maximize writers’ chances of success without having to deal with “gatekeepers.” There was a great deal of controversy because it involved putting your book up online, which loses you First English Language Rights, because they didn’t seem to be having a great deal of success getting their books out there, and because they just didn’t seem to know how the publishing process worked period.

But! One of their writers, Erin Swan, has been picked up by Tor, a publisher of some of the best speculative fiction writers in North America.

Problem is, publishing is evolving, and it’s possible that a company that doesn’t work like the others is really being innovative and might be the best for you. I remember some years ago being at a writers conference that disparaged self-publishing which then embraced it the following summer. I don’t particularly recommend Inkitt for a myriad of reasons, but is it a scam?

Which brings me to yesterday. A young woman posted an (almost illegible) rant about a publishing company taking her for a ride. No contact, leaving her in the dark, making her pay for editing and cover art, trading her editors, and now threatening to sue her over 200 dollars she owes them.

I’ve previously worked as a paralegal; my boss, a humanitarian and court-appointed criminal lawyer, charged the court 180 dollars AN HOUR. When she took on cases that weren’t being paid for by the government? More like 600. Here we had three young English majors in charge of a “publishing company” threatening to bring the author to court despite multiple breaches in contract by subverting deadlines over 200 dollars.

I’m normally not the type to get annoyed at the victim, but I was astounded with her naivety.

“It looked like a contract you would get from a lawyer too!” she insisted when I suggested that maybe their threats weren’t anything more than idle.

Don’t ever sign something if you don’t understand it.

The author had no idea what the job of the publishing house was supposed to be. She had no idea she would be charged over a thousand dollars when signing, and she had no idea that wasn’t typical.

Going to their website, there were red flags everywhere. Typos and spelling areas, a lack of focus in what they actually did, no online store, poorly crafted covers, only three books in their portfolio.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re looking for. If you don’t have a strong understanding of proper syntax and punctuation, it’s difficult to recognize that someone else doesn’t either. If you don’t know much about how books reach stores, you don’t know when you’re being taken for a ride or if it’s pretty standard.

So learn. Do your research. Understand the difference between self-publishing, traditional publishing, vanity presses, and scams. Understand what a small press is expected to do for you. Understand what an agent is. When interested in a publisher, find out more about it. Look at their website, Google search them. Be clear on what the expectations are, what it’s offering, and what you get out of the contract. Research options even if you know you aren’t interested in them because it will help you protect yourself in the long run.

If you have a manuscript, and you’re ready to publish, here’s the things you should consider…

What does an agent do, and do I need or want one?

Your experience with each agent will vary, but typically your agent will make suggestions to your manuscript for quality and marketability. After alterations have been made, she will then query editors she thinks will be interested. If your book is picked up, she will then negotiate the terms—her experience in the market will make her better equipped to recognize good and bad deals—and read through your contract to protect you.

Publishers who are inundated with manuscript submissions will work solely through agents to cut out some of the poor quality. Agents also, typically, have working relationships with editors and understand their interests as well as have a foot up due to familiarity.

If you are self-publishing, there are some agents who will take on your work as an advisory role and may be able to help with strategy and promotion, though that is a fairly uncommon choice, especially because there’s not a lot of money for the agent in that route, so it begs the question of their credibility.

If you are interested in working with the big publishers and/or as a career writer (in traditional avenues), working with an agent is just about a requirement and will protect you in the long run.

If you are self-publishing or interested in a small or localized printing—such as you have a memoir that would only interest a small area—you may consider forgoing the agent.

How much do agents charge?

An agent will NEVER charge a fee or any upfront costs. Any attempt to do so is a scam. Sometimes they may charge for reimbursement fees, but that will be spelled out in a contract. They make a percentage of the author’s sales, usually 15%. Publishers pay money to the agent, the agent deducts her commission and forwards it to the writer.

How do I terminate a contract with an agent?

Both parties should have the right to terminate a contract at any time. Prior to having made a sale, this can be as simple as sending an email, however some contracts do state the specific procedures. Some ask for a certain amount of notice or for it to be a physical letter. Also, it’s important to remember it’s a small world and not to burn bridges.

In the publishing industry, a lot of contracts are book-by-book, and that’s a good thing. Some are you work together until you decide otherwise, some have a time limit. The only real one to be cautious about is if the agent wants first rights to the next book, or all proceeding books.

What does a publisher do?

This also varies, and has changed a great deal over the last decade.

Typically, a publisher…
                -Financially finances the project, including editing, design, the author, and some of the marketing. (Yes, the publisher pays you.)
                -Has experienced, in-house professionals who have been vetted through years of work.
                -Has one or more editors work with the author to improve and polish the manuscript.
                -Creates a cover design, formats the interior.
                -Offers promotional strategy and budgeting (this has shrunk in the recent years.)
                -Pays printing costs.
                -Has connections with brick-and-mortar bookstores.
                -Is able to buy back unsold books from bookstores.

Some publishers are ebook only nowadays. Some are start-ups and you’re taking a chance on their reliability and experience. Some try for a “hybrid” of sorts, which is usually in the worst interest of the writer.

The important thing is to understand why you’re pursuing a publisher in the first place, if they actually offer what you’re seeking. Don’t let attention blind you just because you feel wanted. Is the contract what you’re actually after?

Small press or large press?

It’s not wise to tell an agent you’ll only accept offers from the Big 5, and many people don’t really have a choice; they get offers from who they get offers from. However, it is still portion of the decision making, and even if you’ll gladly go with whoever you can—or maybe especially—you should still understand the difference, predominantly…


Truth is, some small presses are nothing more than self-publishers promoting other’s books. The important thing to realize is that small presses have limitations, but they might still be valid options if they will do certain things for you. If you know they produce quality work (by checking out what they’ve made), with good editors and designers, it may be worth selling your first book through them for both financial and reputable reasons. Or it might you might decide that having a print version is most important to you and know to pass on the offer.

The problem with small presses is telling which options are valid and which ones are scams. With big publishers, you can check the name and history, know their works offhand, and easily require standard expectations. When dealing with a small, it’s extra important to do your homework. There are little things you can do like check their website for ease of sales, prices of book should be on par with the market, and real businesses will be filed with the government for tax purposes, which is viewable online.

Is self-publishing actually an option?

Self-publishing is hard. I would argue harder than the traditional route, but it also depends more on what you like to do and what you’re good at.

But yes, it’s an option. People have been successful with self-publishing, and a successful self-published book can be later picked up by a traditional publisher. However, if you are considering this route, you must understand why the self-publisher was successful, and what happens if your book flops.

There are still stigmas against badly selling indie books. It suggests some naivety and arrogance, plus you’re showing the results of what your capabilities. Poorly selling traditional books aren’t a good thing either, but it’s just not the same kind of black mark.

If you’re thinking about self-publishing, think long term. What are your goals, and how are you planning on going about them?

Self-publishing is not an easier way into traditional publishing. If your endgame is to be picked up by a trad. publisher, the easiest method is through persistence, education, and networking via the standard means.

The works that do best in self-publishing tend to be more commercial.

You will make more money off each sale, but you will have to sell your book for less. Even if you sell on par with trads, their costs are lower.

You won’t get (and don’t want) extra credit for being an indie. Your book still will need to be at the same level of quality. Writing with poor execution because your story “is good enough,” just ends up burning readers.

You can, theoretically, do it for free, but you need to be diversely talented, sociable, and dedicated.

Don’t bank on being the exception or the Chosen One Penguin is going to happen across and mentor. Make a game plan.

Don’t just trust what you read on the internet.

That includes this post. This is just an overview of what I have learned about the process through years of discussion, workshops, conferences, and reading, but I’m no expert. Things change, misinformation is past on, misunderstandings and Chinese Whispers occur. People outright lie on the internet. Post a question about any binary grammar rule on Facebook and see an acute split of opinions. One half with be adamantly supporting the wrong answer.

Think about your sources. Use your best knowledge and instinct. If something seems wrong, ask more questions. Keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t let anyone bully you just because you don’t inherently trust them. Be diplomatic, but cautious.

Find people who have done what you want and learn about their history.

Think about whose career you’d like to have. Next Stephen King? Read his autobiography, On Writing. Read his interviews. Read articles about him.

Inspired by the success of The Martian? Think about how much he charged, how much he spent, how he promoted, and his history as a writer.

Be careful about hand picking and choosing tactics. Too many writers shoot themselves in the foot by feeling entitled to certain luxuries without regard to context.

Before you publish, know what it means. 

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Friday, December 8, 2017

If the Solution Seems Simple, the Problem Isn’t

Well, probably.

The more I overhear writing criticism, the more I see problematic trends in how we respond to each other, how we answer questions, and why advice is often unhelpful.

Let’s be honest, how many times have we read a “how-to” guide online to have it do nothing for us? How often do we ask a writing question while truly anticipating leaving with a good answer? With better understanding? With an epiphany?

Part of it is the nature of the biz. It’s not uncommon for us to just be asking, “Is there any way that this can be made easy?” And the answer is no. Often we know that before we even speak.

But I also find that we are more likely to dismiss the questions as impossible without really analyzing them. Ask about writer’s block and you will be told it doesn’t exist. As how to make money as a writer and you will be told you shouldn’t be writing for that reason. Ask if you should do A or B and you will be told, “It’s your book. Do whatever you want!”

A personal peeve of mine is when someone states, completely rhetorically, “Why don’t you just…” as though whatever it is they are going to say is easy and obvious. Actually, it combines all of my irritation in one. I find criticism works best when the speaker acknowledges that there isn’t one way to do something, just that this choice will achieve… and then explains it.

Which is one of the reasons we don’t do that. We stick to vague and dismissive comments like, “it’s unnecessary,” and “why don’t you just…” and “QUESTION MARK?!” because the second we bring up reasons to make a change, it gives them room to argue. But that’s the point. Enabling them to discuss the pros and cons of any given situation helps them to better understand the benefit. Arguing, civilly discussing what you’re thinking, is a key ingredient to successfully processing new information.

Most criticism focuses short term. I once found myself in an argument with a large, aggressive lawyer after he belittled all the members of a writers’ group. I believe, to this day, he just wanted everyone to tell him he was right. The argument snapped off abruptly when I said, “Even if you are God’s gift to writing, you’re not always going to be around to tell everyone how to do it! Show us your thought process!”

Today an author was discussing how members of his workshop told him not to say, “He made a disgusted face,” but to describe it. His point was much more about the emphasis people put on showing over telling than the actual example, however someone asked him, “Why don’t you just say, ‘He scowled’?”

If you have ever written anything remotely long, you probably understand why these kinds of statements are short term and possibly overly simplified.

Do you know how many times you can use the words, “He scowled,” in just one book? Let alone over an entire career?

Then there’s the other problem of “scowl” being only one portion of conveying disgust. In certain contexts, an audience member might think that he was angry, confused, or even jealous. A big epiphany for me was when I heard the phrase, “Don’t use a twenty-five cent word when a one cent one would do,” and realized the emphasis is on “would do.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that the smallest word (or phrasing) to correctly convey something is actually a small word.

I suppose the bigger issue is this “fixing the trees without seeing the forest,” mentality. As a writer, you’re constantly stepping away from the project and then walking closer, all the while having people shout at you their perspectives and angles. A writer might be told something is “wrong,” and when he goes over to double check, he’s trying to understand where the critic was standing, what the critique meant by “wrong,” how to fix it, how the entire big picture looks when he makes a change, and if it needs fixing at all. It’s even possible that the flaws of the trees were what made the forest so beautiful. Meanwhile, someone else strolls along and sees the author fixated on this one piece of damage. He thinks, “Just cut it down!” not realizing of course that the writer is still going to have to deal with a multitude of other trees and comments, and he can’t just cut them all down, especially when their absence could negatively impact the entire wood.

You can’t just delete something every time someone complains about it, or you’d have nothing left.

When you see an author obsessing over a little thing, the most useful action is to acknowledge that obsession isn’t just foolishness. Sometimes rehashing a conflict in a critique is a means to understand it. Sometimes the problem and solution are much bigger and more complicated than strictly about that one specific word. Maybe that word is a symptom? Maybe that complaint comes up again and again? Maybe the writer’s perspective is conflicting with what the critic claims and he’s not sure if it’s ego, different tastes, or the critic being controlling?

Whenever someone comes to you with a problem, they’ve probably already thought of the simplest answer. For whatever reason, they rejected it, and even if their rationale was flawed, dismissing them flat out isn’t going to solve anything. Start by understanding where they’re coming from, figuring out why they care, what the actual details are, and then explain your own perspective and thought processes, make arguments for your case, and always remember that if they’re freaking out about something so seemingly small, it’s probably not about just that.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

If I Were Told I’m Going to Die Soon, I’d Write Short Stories

Started watching House again. It’s one of those shows that I watched every episode before the very last season came out, never finished, and now have to watch it from the beginning because I remember jack.

The show, a medical drama, often features characters who are told they will die soon. I think the worst of it is when they only have a few days or a few hours. Even if, hypothetically, I was fully mobile and felt good enough to leave the hospital during that time, what would I do with myself? How could I have any enjoyment? I’d probably end up spending the rest of it taking care of my friends and family.

What would I do if I was going to die soon?

The first thought that comes to my mind is what would happen with my writing. I have something like sixteen finished manuscripts of varying degrees of editing. Most of them are not in the shape I would want the public to see them. When I edit, I edit sloppy. I don’t change chapter numbers even after I reorganize (easier to take notes on), and I will jam something into a place then smooth it over through slow full-read throughs.

If I only had a few hours to live, I would give my books over to someone else and ask them, for my dying wish, to finish the edits and send them out into the world. Who would it be? The friend who I know to be reliable and dependable, who I know I can count on, but doesn’t have a lot of assertion, ambition, and doesn’t like to think critically? Do I give it to the friend who has the upmost love for my writing, who understands it better than anyone yet tends to procrastinate and blow off things even when it’s her own ambition? Do I give it to the friend who knows the most about working in the art world, but whose philosophies drastically differ than mine, who has simultaneously supported me lovingly while we let some competitive conflict get in the way? Do I give them to my mother?

I would spend my last few hours frantically making a list of things to be done and how to do them. I spent so much time learning about the publishing process, so much time avoiding actually taking the leap, I could possibly hand over the materials with a step-by-step process and make it easy for them. That makes it all the sadder; if everything is so close to being ready, why haven’t I done it yet?

I often joke if this was the last day on Earth, the only thing that would change is I’d write a short story that day.

That’s true. I probably would focus on shorter fiction during that time

If I was told I had a few months to live, things would be different. Things would be very, very different. I analyze how, believing I will live for another, what? Fifty to seventy years? I think I have all the time on my hands, so I have procrastinated on trying, truly trying, for publication of my novels.

But I realized something else as I considered what my actions would be if I was told I only have months to live. The path, knowing that I not only didn’t have time, but wouldn’t have to deal with the ramifications of my actions as long, would take a drastic turn.

I’d self-publish. People ask why I don’t do it now, and I think the answer is pretty obvious; self-publishing is harder. It’s harder and garners disrespect until you can be successful at it, which I doubt that I can. It requires good business sense and charm, neither of which I have a lot of.

I like money. I love money. Money’s great. I’d like to do a Scrooge McDuck dive into it. But I never manage to prioritize it in anything I do, and I don’t like thinking about it. It’s certainly not my main focus when I think about my career, but this lack of financial savvy is important because sales, money, and number of readers are often achieved by the same means and thought processes, and as many know, the amount that you value your book at is important. Too cheap and people think it’s not going to be great, too expensive and you look like a na├»ve egomaniac. If you aren’t good at being a salesman—whether your main concern is fans or if it’s money—you need someone who is.

But not only that, it doesn’t appeal to me in the long run. Many self-publish for the hope of control, but I see control for its responsibility. I am good at negotiating, and even bulldozing people when I want something, but I am not good at being decisive. As I’ve said in prior posts, I like having someone there to tell me when I’m going too far. It allows me to take greater risks if I know I’ll have someone going, “Don’t, idiot.”

In fact, there once was a study in which they watched a group of children playing in a huge, endless field—the children all clumped together in the middle. Yet when they were placed in a fenced in yard, they went everywhere. I am that child.

When living in L.A., I produced small time theatre, and I found myself with complete say and complete responsibility for everything. I’ve always been a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, master of none, and it became incredibly apparent to me about how imprecise I am. Most of my internet activity, like my web comic LINK is more for fun because professionalism is not my strong suit, especially in the visual arts. Graphic design is unique to itself, so while I have some artistic ability, many of my images online I’m insecure about.

In any case, having to do everything myself, and/or dealing with hires of a wide diversity in skills and dedication, I knew damn well that I would much prefer working with a team of vetted professionals, that I don’t want to do the vetting myself, and I don’t have the financing to pay them what they need or what is deserved. I like working with others, and I’ve done enough projects to not only have lost the need for complete control, but prefer working with others.

Sure, I may end up self-publishing one day, for various reasons, but traditional publication has always been my target.

So what would a limited time change?

While having sold a good number of books as a self-published author might help you get into the traditional path if you change your mind later on, if that book is unsuccessful, it can be detrimental. As I found when I produced a local literary journal for authors in my hometown, it can be hard to remove it from the internet or a Google search of your name. I also experienced, even as the mere editor of the journal, the judgmental reaction people can have when they find out about your project being self-published.

It is not uncommon for books in the traditional path to take two years before reaching shelves. I’ve been quoted up to five months for an agent to get back to you, and it is well-known that a main benefit of self-publishing is the short period of time it takes to get something out there.

It’s more than that though. The original belief that I would turn to independent publication if I have a time stamp on my life was logistical. It wasn’t just an issue of never seeing the book in print, but it’s possible I couldn’t even get it accepted in that time—if it was accepted at all.

However, the deeper I got into my reflection, the more I realized there were other things that worried me about the process—the stigma of a failed self-published book, dealing with competitors who use the choice as proof of laziness or insecurity, the potential embarrassment of putting yourself out there to only receive rejection.

None of that mattered if I didn’t have much time left.

After having all of these thoughts, I began to understand that I was banking too much on time being my mistress, and wasn’t making the best choices. I need to finish editing the damn manuscript, I need to turn in the damn manuscript, and I need to get moving. I once told a man, an aspiring writer much older than me who claimed I didn’t need to be writing now, “Not if I get hit by a truck tomorrow.” And yet, even being fully aware of the limitation of morality and my procrastination, here I am, a decade and a half after finishing my first novel and still afraid of readers.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Herman Melville Quilt Giveaway!

December 15-21

Please bookmark this page to return when the giveaway opens on the 15th.

-Cheers, Charley.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Vernacular in Another World

I’m not sure what topical word you’d have to use today to get an editor to remove it, now that Mark Twain’s suggestion of subbing “damn” for every “very” doesn’t seem to have the same punch. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a swear word out there that will automatically get cut anymore. Maybe we have to be more clever with something like “literally.” Perhaps “ironically.” Not “irregardless” simply because your editor would lose all faith in you.

Mark Twain, ironically, was the king of incorporating vernacular into his stories. He is referenced as one of swaying forces in the literary world, writing right at the beginning that dense reads and poetic prose was going out of fashion and more common slang was becoming popular. Despite his hatred of the word “very,” which you might think a man who liked simple conversation would appreciate, his characters spoke without the artistic license and romantic flourish of the successful authors around him.

His dialogue often incorporated heavy accents and utilized apostrophes and uncommon contractions. He wrote about people who weren’t the aristocracy and tried to replicate them in authentic ways. Today, “real” speech is very in vogue (damn in vogue?), and, tied in with an illustration of real life personalities, you have the makings of a critically acclaimed novel. (If you have the advertising budget behind you, of course.) Not with accents, obviously - we all know how bloggers despise those - but simple and to the point with no coloration is key. No longer do we have the Oscar Wildes of the world, but we all must follow in the footprints of Hemingway or Stephanie Meyer and keep our prose at a fifth-grade reading level—at least according to all college creative writing professors.

I am a speculative fiction author, which is a 25 cent way to say ALL the geek. Science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, folklore… any sort of writing that is spawned out of human imagination and speculation versus typical rules of science. People who use ‘speculative fiction’ do so, not to sound smart (for once), but to avoid people making assumptions about their work. Fantasy and sci-fi, even paranormal tends to illicit specific images and books, and if your story doesn’t have the elves of Tolkien or the aliens of Star Trek, your reader might end up very disappointed.

My serial short stories, Stories of the Wyrd, might be better put into the category of paranormal, the human characters often encountering more ghost-like supernatural beasts than, say, dwarves. However, it is not urban fantasy, like most would assume if you were to talk about a paranormal book where the characters are from “our” world, just our world with vampires and demons. In that vein, my work is closer to high fantasy with a completely made up setting.

Only a handful of my manuscripts take place in modern day America. In those, my choice in how to portray characters’ vernacular is obvious and easy. I have a general understanding of the way that conversation has changed over the years without too much imagination. I have a few real life examples of how a sixty year old man would talk, even one in the body of a twenty-year-old human.

I don't get stuck on conversation. Sometimes I go through and have to tweak their words, realizing he is too passive, she’s too submissive, he’s too stupid, she needs to just stop talking all together, but it’s not something I consciously have to sludge through, making my brain hurt as I force it to think hard about how to write.

But lately I’ve reconsidered.

Stories of the Wyrd is set in an industrial age, the world a mixture between turn of the century Russia, the American west, and medieval Europe as well as pieces all my own. They do not have the technology we do, though they surpass us in others. The evolution of their language would be very different than ours, their vernacular new and foreign.

They should not be using current slang, right?

It’s a common complaint about fantasy novels—the overly formal, proper, and even poetic dialogues that roam prevalent through those types of books. Personally, I don’t dislike it, and can even get excited about it at times. Having characters speak in a way that we don’t adds a foreign air to the scene, gives it ambiance, removes the readers from it just a smidge, and often fits for the world at hand.

That being said, I agree with some of the criticism in that, one, it doesn’t always work, and two, it is overdone. Considering Stories of the Wyrd, is an attempt to play around with my writing, have fun, and not be restricted by what I think an audience or agent will want, plus my belief that all fantasy books don’t need to be formal, I have to question if developing an entirely new vernacular is necessary or even beneficial. Especially when you consider the fact that they’re not speaking English at all.

In my mind, Stories is being told by a narrator from our world relating it to our audience. The narrator is a foreigner to the Wyrd and their lands, following Kaia and Rasmus and retelling the events to people who have never heard of the place before. This narrator is completely invisible, meaning he has never show a sign of humanity, personality, or existence in the stories and probably won’t ever, but it helps me motivate and understand why each description and detail is depicted when, where, and how it is. The narrator, while not born there, is an expert, and has translated Kaia and Rasmus’s words so that we can understand him. No, Kaia and Rasmus do not know about his existence. They have no idea they’re being watched. It's not a story point, simply how I naturally view the scene. It took some self-reflection to understand, despite my brother arguing, "WHY ARE YOU MAKING IT SO COMPLICATED?"

Instead of being a literal translator, he depicts intent. He removes their colloquialisms and adds in some of our own. He says what the characters meant, not what they said, which is especially necessary considering he is going off of memory and wouldn’t be able to repeat their words verbatim anyway.

This is always what I’ve assumed, and it wasn’t until I started to pick holes in my writing and question it that I wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I develop a new vernacular that adds to the strangeness of their world and situation, or do I leave in everyday vernacular that makes them more relatable and funnier?

Because these stories are predominantly a relaxer for me and because I have no one yet commenting on their language of their own volition, it’s not something I am too concerned about when it comes to Kaia and Rasmus. But it has started to be questioned on other manuscripts, and I wonder if I shouldn’t be challenging myself to really develop the world passed what it is.

I’ll probably try it at least.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Quitting Your Job to Write Full Time

A few years ago I wrote a blog called, “Why I Will Probably Never Be a Full Time Writer,”  Before you jump to conclusions, let me say it had nothing to do with sucking.

The realization came to me that when I had a routine, and somewhat of a “morning deadline,” I would be far more motivated to get things done. When I knew that I had all day, I’d have greater tendency to procrastinate, dink around, and wait until I got too tired to do it. Moreover, forcing myself into social settings is a lot of work into itself, and having a place where I am obligated to get out of the house and talk to be people saves me from being stir crazy and talking to myself.

Even if I did have the time and money to be a full time writer, would I really want it?

Well, yeah.

But I bring this up due to the interesting dependence being a writer has on being full-time. Many beginning authors want to know, “When can I quit my day job?”

I overheard a girl complaining about her boyfriend quitting his job (without telling her) to write his novel, claiming that he would sell it and be in the big bucks soon. Her bigger concern seemed to be how he stole all his ideas from her and then coldly reply with, “Writers draw from life!” whenever she pointed it out. She bemoaned how he would lie about her being the source at times, how he copied a character she’d proudly written in college, and even if he did admit it to her, he’d lie to his friends. He demanded that she read through it for content and copy editing, so it made it impossible for her to just ignore it.

When she threatened to break it off with him, he yelled at the that he was SO CLOSE to the big time.

Online, I had a discussion with someone who wanted to know how to find an editor. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into self-publishing or traditional publishing, but the truth was he just “simply didn’t have the time” to edit it himself. He wanted to get the book out there so he could make some money to quit his job and therefore write more.

When I pointed out that self-publishing takes a lot of effort and money and traditional publication requires you to do a lot of edits yourself (outside of the ones you should be doing before you get accepted) he said, “I didn’t know that!” He ended up deciding on hiring an editor and going the traditional route.

Back when Dean Koontz was first starting out, he and his wife made a deal. She gave him a deadline in which she would support him financially giving him time to make a career out of writing. He did it.

A friend of mine complains when her aspiring writer of a husband asks for alone time to go write, sticking her with the baby for an extra hour after her shift. When she approaches him, he’s online looking at Youtube. I said, “Well, to be fair, that’s what writing looks like for me too.”

Authors are approached by hordes of people claiming, “You know, I want to be a writer, but I just don’t have the time. When I retire, I’ll get around to it!” and then find ourselves in writers groups with sixty-year-olds who will only offer the same first three pages every meeting.

How much of us actually need the time to write? Most of us don’t need more of it, we need to use what we have better. We need dedication. We need will power, motivation, diligence.

I try to write five pages a day. If I don’t get it done, I have to make up for it later. My own caveat, however, is that if I genuinely did not have any time to do it, I can exempt myself from the daily dose. I have only exempted myself on four occasions in the last six years. One was for a holiday because I told myself to ease up more. Another was when I lost a day when I moved to Australia. Another was an entire day dedicated to collaborating with a musician for a musical with only one lunch break out of the waking hours.

I don’t recommend being this strict on yourself. Sometimes it is more detrimental than good (other days, it works very well) and I think forgiveness and flexibility is key to achieving your goals. My point is, more so, that when I have a day that I didn’t write, there were a lot of times I could have been writing.

I know people who have several children, a full time job, and still manage to get in some work. I know times where I had all the hours of the day assigned to nothing… and nothing is exactly what I did.

Quitting our jobs to write full time is a great castle in the sky. Sometimes it’s just an excuse. Sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Sometimes it’s the goal the continues you forward even when you’re more interested in sending the manuscript and the computer it’s attached to through the window.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

My Erroneous Goal of Being Left Alone

Do I like attention? Well I like my ‘Likes,’ if that counts?

Whenever a gentleman asks advice on how to gain a lady’s affections, typically the suggestions are in the same vein: Say her name a lot. Ask her questions about herself. Pay attention to her and her interests. But what about the most important parts? What about distraction? What about changing the subject from her unending inner monologue about every puzzle she can’t solve, every worry she has, and just generally helping her break free from the prison that is her on self-involvement?

The vast majority of men I’ve dated could stand to talk a lot more about themselves. Although, according to my friends, I might be on my own there.

Isolation has made me physically ill in the past. It can cause fatigue, issues with appetite, headaches, and other generalized aches and pains. Not that I feel too great in most cases. But socializing, I find, bumps up energy and releases stress. Just like petting a cat or hugging a dog, the mere act of interacting with another living creature can help release frustration that you might otherwise have pent up. So, yes, with that in mind, I desire a connection with those in the outside world.

Yet attention itself? It seems to be more problematic than anything.

When people ask me why I want to be a writer, I say, “ALL the reasons!” Which is true. However, in recent weeks, I’ve really sat down and pinpointed what I am looking for in my career, and while money and glamour would be nice, my top two desires are actually to have a good amount of people connect deeply with my characters, along with enough notoriety that people will leave me alone to my own creative devices without constant criticism.

Except that I’ve come to find the better I’m doing, the more others want to get in my business.

Makes sense, really. Obvious now that I write it out.

About a month or two ago I picked up a book on marketing and realized that my biggest limitation was my blind spots. I had a general idea of who my audience was, but I didn’t know the specifics. Where do I honestly want my book to be located in a bookstore? What reputation and feelings do I want associated with me? I asked those questions before, but never was detailed in my answers. I admitted to myself that what I really wanted to do was combine the beautiful and whimsical elements of young adult fantasy with the more severe and serious of traditional fantasy, writing for women, like me, who have grown a bit too old for the Young Male Virgin Stud pining over Plain Special Female trope.

The guide made me realize that I needed to understand my ‘competition’ and ‘influencers’ better. Who else are my readers going to be interested in? What are their buying habits? How will they find me? I started reading bestsellers’ lists and going into bookstores to examine the layout and my perception of each section. This, however, backfired in some ways because the more I learned about those I’d be compared to, the more I realized how much being a successful writer gets you hassled.

My criticism, I’ve accepted, tends to originate for two reasons. One is that I’m a complainer/analyzer. In some cases, I’m not actually bitching about my poor life—in some cases, I very much am and the ensuing reproach makes sense—I’m brainstorming. I’m trying to connect with others by telling funny problems, or am genuinely looking for solutions to be thrown about. What some people don’t realize is that there’s a difference between solutions and criticism, a difference brainstorming and belittling. Complaining tends to garner blame and I’m trying to be more careful about how I express my jokes or musing. Also, when you ask for help, don’t be surprised when you actually get it.

Two, worse, is when you’re doing something that actually excites people. This is what you want, no? For people to start being fascinated, to want to get involved, to be inspired with “what ifs?”

I didn’t see what was happening at first. I, like most, would assume if you’re telling me to change something it means you aren’t all too enthralled by it. But sometimes it really is the opposite; when people are inspired what you’re doing, they want to have a hand in it. They want to express their ideas, get in on your projects, and be the dog to your Little Red Hen. You’ve already done the hard part! Now’s the fun of the ideas!

“I have a plot for a story you should write.”

Writing is a strange beast. Many authors tend to be unsocial, preferring to stay indoors at a computer with imaginary people over going out and dancing in the limelight of people’s adoration (because adoration is fickle, let’s be honest). Except we also want the respect of many, and even if we don’t actually want all eyes on us, we want the benefits of having all eyes on us. We want to be read. We want people to care. So can you ignore the man behind the curtain please?

While I tend to shy away from any stranger who approaches me, most of them breaking the ice by “life coaching” me into what I should be wearing or how I should be doing something, the more that I try to socialize, I recognize my own tendency to offer so-called advice as a means to further the conversation. It’s hard not to. What do you have to say about something if not possible actions? In some ways, holding back my own tongue and changing the dialogue to something supportive has helped me empathize with those who walk up to me with unsolicited ideas on how to properly life my life.

I have to accept that attention is necessary, and with attention will come negativity. Success might help me be achieve more creative freedom, but it doesn’t remove me from reproach, and it’s possible that now’s the time to just get over it.

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