Monday, May 30, 2016

The Vanishing Act of the Smug Female Character

seemed like the tofu of speculative television. To be fair, I’m slow on the uptake of any popular show, and even my true love, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, took a great deal of convincing before I could be forced to lay eyes on it.

I avoided Supernatural—a show about two brothers fighting… well, what you might expect—for years now. I never liked the character of “Dean” on Gilmore Girls, and this same actor in the new roll didn’t interest me much either. I was afraid I would watch it with high hopes and be disappointed. Also, the opposite, being that I was a speculative fiction purist, and it seemed to have all the makings of a formula.

But now I’ve succumb, at least in giving it a chance. So far it is what I expected—takes some dedication, but enjoying it for the most part.

I learned a few things watching it: all black guys are antagonists, Dean’s an asshole, and there are too many similarities between my Stories of the Wyrd series for comfort. Not that the similarities were that unique in the first place, but I can see some problems in the future. Have to think what I’ll do about it.

I’m on season three which apparently was victim to the Writers’ Strike, and when a strange episode that seemed to feature people outside of the protagonists came on, I went to the internet to be certain that it wasn’t going to be a bunch of non-plot related episodes and found that two characters introduced that season, Bela Talbot and a demon named Ruby, were not well received.

And the truth is, I understood it. They were exactly the kind of characters I’ve had a problem with in most fantasy fiction.

Supernatural is unique in that shows like it—Buffy, Charmed, True Blood, Lost Girl, and even The Brothers Grimm—all have lead females imperative to the plot. It’s hard to find character-based paranormal stories that are targeted predominantly to men. But Supernatural lacked a major female character for the majority of episodes. The women who do come in… well, they have so far been lacking on the likability scale.

Do women need to be likable? It’s a pretty hotly discussed topic. Personally, I am enamored with intentionally horrible females—or at least their stories—like Gone Girl and the musical, Chicago. Yet there’s a difference when you bring in a woman to play side by side with the boys and she comes off as more like a competitive buzz kill.

The problem with both Bela and Ruby is that they’re smug. They are friendless, goal driven, and meta-capable: the writer obviously has their back, endowing them with the ability to one up the boys at every turn, and yet we never get to see them lose or embarrassed.

Both are disliked by the boys, both prove the boys wrong. There is this false animosity between these women and the protagonists. With Bela, they play up her sexuality, giving her even more of an unfair advantage, one that doesn’t impress anyone.

Seeing a guy go gaga over a sexy lady isn’t appealing to people of either gender. Women don’t like to see some idiot fall for a beautiful girl with the personality of an omniscient mop. Superficial flaws—Hollywood “flaws” that are usually fairly cool—don’t count. Men don’t like to see their cool avatar become a blubbering moron at a girl who one-ups them every step of the way.

As I read it, Bela was cut from the show due to negative fan reaction. Makes sense.

Can women be smug and be successful characters?

I don’t think it’s a gender issue, really. If she abided by the rules of any other character, smug females would be an accurate representation of reality. But if we were to be true to the character-audience connection, she needed to follow the same fate of any smug character: an embarrassing, satisfying, schadenfreuden fall.

It was too obvious that the writers wanted us to like her and too obvious that she would never get her payback. She is expected to be Dean’s match, but she needs to suffer a few losses, needs that superiority wiped right off her face. She needs to be more sadistic or more empathetic. She needs to have real goals, not just money that she obviously doesn’t need. She needs a few weaknesses, not just one strong kryptonite that knocks her completely vulnerable. She needs to actual amuse the audience, scare us, bewilder us, or inspire us, something a character can never do as long as their entire existence in the story is to show off.

Can’t say I’m sorry for the loss of Bela or any of the other few females in the series so far, but I will say one thing I like about the show is that the bond of the brothers isn’t superseded or upstaged by anyone else. It really conveys the loneliness—intentionally or not—this kind of work might have.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Cheerleaders for Writers

Being a writer can sometimes mean crossing hurdles that no one understands. Don’t worry. As I say that, I tried to find my Linkin Park CD before remembering that I don’t actually have any form of CD player. Even my laptop is more mature than me. But writers don’t get girls in short skirts and men in short-shorts cheering them on for every point they make. We’re lucky if we realize we’ve even scored. It’s an isolated field and even when you do have friends and family way too close for comfort, you can feel alone.

It’s not as though people are unsupportive, it’s just hard to explain an abstract of “No, I’m not finished with my book, but I’m done with cutting it!”

Done-ish anyway. As of this week I finally got my massive manuscript down to a more traditional size. Took me almost two years. The first 40,000 words were easy, the last 30,000, not so much, especially considering the thousands I’ve added with new scenes and clarifications.

When I finally got to the epilogue at 109,000 words, I felt a huge surge of excitement, a huge wave of relief. I had been slicing out little words, changing phrasing, and cutting all the excess lines since March 2014. I’d been editing since March 2013.

Yet, as emotions flooded over me, when I looked up from my computer to find someone to tell, I realized it would take a lot of explaining before they’d be excited.

There are only a few people you can brag to without looking like a total asshat.

Then there are the friends and family who have never attempted to edit and, while logically get it’s hard, see the celebration as a bit premature.

Moreover, even the ones who understand the difficulty won’t agree with your choice. Granted, word count is a fairly controversial issue. It’s the one numerical method of measuring effort and yet not necessarily quality. So, it’s easy to judge, but doesn’t necessarily mean the judgment is accurate. It is also easy to brag about, but doesn’t mean your workload was worthwhile.

But without a bigotry on which size is better, size is something that should be always be questioned around the draft two. Even if your book falls into the average size of a novel (80,000-100,000 words), it might be too long or too short to successfully tell the story it wants to be. Most first drafts need tweaking on pacing, tension, and atmosphere which both are highly influenced by the time taken and the number of words used to explain an idea.

Admittedly, the main reasons that having a book between 70,000-100,000 words (60,000 to 120,000 for certain genres) have more to do with expectation and cost than storytelling, but those things matter, even if you don’t consider them a priority. And arbitrary guidelines can be extremely useful for pushing yourself. When I first decided to try and cut the 180,000-word giant, I told myself that I would stop when I felt like the integrity of the book was in question. I figured that if I couldn’t get it down to a reasonable size, I could submit it anyway, and if I got rejected, I could put it aside and try again if I found success with other manuscripts.

It did change things. I found that the majority of sentences weren’t better or worse, just different. Some were much improved, others not so much. I lost some voice, but gained some tension. The characters grew more bossy, less empathetic. The protagonists fought more, the good times removed. Some of my stumbling voice disappeared, and I found more precise phrasing. Also, by examining each and every sentence at the word level, I understood my choices a great deal more, the pros and cons of deleting "excess."

Over time, I’d mentioned to others what I’m doing. Some authors recommend against this, for obvious reasons, but when you write a lot, especially when discussing it online as I do, especially in crowded houses, it’s going to come up. People will naturally ask what you’re doing, how it’s going—and even though some writers consider these lines of questions insulting, usually I perceive it as making small talk, or even being genuinely curious.

But the responses were always the same:

“Why do you need to cut it down?”

“Just cut a chapter or two.”

“Hemingway would be proud.”

And now, as I sent out a message reading, “Done!” I already knew what my friends would say:

“You’re sending it out?” they ask.

“Well, no, there’s at least two actual drafts left,” I say.

“Of course,” they scoff.

Kind of deflating.

Writing, especially in the beginning, is filled with little joys, little accomplishments that you rarely are able to share with anyone. There’s a reason why those who write for solely themselves still want readers, still want someone to care about these feats and characters just as much as you do.

I’ve had some major breakthroughs with this manuscript this last month, and I’m hoping its all downhill from here.

But probably not.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Why that Writer is in Starbucks

Some time ago, in a park far, far away, a hipster sat down with a typewriter in a public sphere and someone snapped a picture. 

The Internet loved it, ate it up, smirking at the man who went out of his way to show off, “I AM A WRITER.”

But what those amused voyeurs were not told was that a sign had been cropped from the image, reading, “Short stories for a dollar.”

He was writing in a public place for a reason. He was using a typewriter for a reason. Then someone, for a less clear reason, came along and felt a malicious amusement in presenting him in a deliberately poor light.

Now, you may say, “It’s still silly,” and it’s a valid opinion. Personally, I like the idea, and feel he should be admired for his confidence, but I can see how his choice to write like that instead of a more traditional route could be a decision of ego. Maybe he was showing off to some extent. Probably, in fact.

But what his intention was is less of the point. My big question is why did people, the original cropper especially, gain so much joy from the idea that he was “showing off” being a writer?

Anyone who has written for a long time understands why you’d want to work in public, and anyone who has ever written in public knows damn well that you’re not impressing anyone. Are there writers who go to Starbucks with the intention of showing everyone that they write? Sure. But you learn within the first ten minutes that no one really cares what you’re doing, and the only one who will know you’re writing a book is the person who is already obsessed with your business—the person who wants to judge you for it.

There is a massive amount of judgment for the Starbucks writer, so why is it they still keep coming? Why does the Starbucks writer exist if not to tell the world what he is?

- They have a full house.

Whether it’s the incurable plague of children or the in-laws for Christmas, writing in a house full of people is difficult. For one thing, no one thinks you’re doing any actual work. If you don’t have an office to lock yourself in, you will find people asking you to help them left and right. Even if you do hide away in a separate room with more “KEEP OUT” signs than any self-respecting teenager, you’re still going to get those knocks on the door.

When you make your own schedule, people expect you to be on theirs. It’s not always easy to convince people you really mean, “Blood or fuck off.”

- You have taxes or dishes or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The problem of working from home is that there’s a lot of distractions; there’s always something that needs to be done.

Part of the issue is it stresses you out. You can look around and be so overwhelmed with what needs to be done that you lose all creative drive.

What’s worse though is when those distractions are welcome. You don’t need to ask how the writing is going, just look at my house.

Your home has a million interruptions and to-do items that weigh down on you. Getting out where there is nothing else to be done and no one asking for your help is invaluable.

- It’s clean, quiet, and well lit.

This is the part that gets me. When I hear someone, a fellow writer especially, state that they see no reason for someone to work in Starbucks, I have to think, “Really? You can’t even imagine what the appeal would be?”

My house gets this stagnant air. Even when it is clean, there’s just something about it that leads to grimy sensation of hanging out in a shut off room in your house.

Starbucks coffee shops—or the library or public places in general—are pleasant to be in. You don’t have to clean up your own mess of pencils and drafts and soda cans, there are plenty of large windows, and a recycling of fresh air coming in and out with the customers.

- Cabin Fever

Beyond that, even when you do set up a place with a comfy seat and big windows with the curtain drawn, a place you keep clean and is nice and conducive to the writing process, sometimes novelty is key.

I recommend to any writer suffering from writer’s block to try changing it up a little. That may be anywhere from altering the font to writing long-hand to carrying your computer outside—quite the photo-op if you have a desktop.

I have also found that I work better when I have plans to leave the house for the day. Getting up and heading out can be inspiring in itself. If someone is a full time writer (or a stay at home mom), you will feel a compulsion to get the hell out of dodge.

- A small break.

Most writers get their work done in between things. Sometimes it’s a ten-minute break, sometimes it’s an hour-long lunch.

For various reasons, I have been in situations where going home wasn’t an option, but I had an hour or so to kill. Libraries are often closed at five or on Sundays, and trying to find a desk where you can put your computer—I don’t work nearly as well off my lap—is difficult. So what do you do?

You go to Starbucks for an hour, just like anyone with a break and nowhere to go, except you make the best of it.

- The Internet

This may sound contrary to what you’d think, but having access to the web can be an important part of writing. Google tends to be much better at spell check—figuring out what you really meant to say better than Word—plus helps you answer any grammar questions, definitions, or if that phrase really is what you thought it was. It allows you to do research, like looking up baby names, finding out what the effects of metal poisoning looks like, etc.

The Internet can be a huge distraction, to be certain, but when I’m working on an important draft, it is also invaluable.

Many authors are broke and don’t have access to the web at home, so the overpriced coffee really is granting them an hour or so of space and Internet.

So if you are a writer considering going to Starbucks…

Go ahead and do it. Yes, people will judge you. Yes, there will sometimes be that person who asks what you’re doing with a smirk on his face and a malicious glee in his heart. But all writers who have written more than three pages on sixteen different books know what it’s like to want to get out of the house for a minute, and there is nothing wrong with ignoring what people think.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Back in America, Land of the Panic Attack

Recently in The Story of an Adult Headcase: The True Life of Charley Daveler, I left my home country of America to another continent to be with my Australian boyfriend. That was in November, and since then—Well, since forever really, but exacerbated ten-fold since then—I’ve been in a state of high stress in attempts to figure out what I want with my life.

Well, now that I’m out of money and my visitor’s visa is up, I’m returning home today (as I’m writing this kind of “today”) and the emotional havoc my stomach is playing on me is not enjoyable.

I miss my boyfriend, I am lugging all my earthy possessions in two heavy-ass bags from the domestic airport to the international, I could not find a pen for love nor money, (Literally. No attempts at prostitution or regular old barter got me anything.) I have a thirteen-hour flight ahead of me, going off of four hours of sleep, where I will then proceed to move back in with my parents, examine emigration options, get an actual job—the horror—and I just put two and two together and realized my plans to go with my mom are inhibited by the aforementioned bags that I’ve already spent around 300 extra dollars getting to the States in the first place.

Having decided last minute that I would stay the whole summer and earn some money, I also put down around 500 (borrowed) dollars on the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. The experience has always been great, and I’m excited to do it in general, but I felt a strange sensation upon clicking send.

After the rewrite of my first couple chapters, I’ve finally felt confident and excited for my book again. The last time I felt like this was in the earlier stages in which I went to the conference and received a very painful criticism from a woman who will be there again this year. She had a combination of some really great points with some really bad ones, and a whole lot of ambiguous, simplified advice stated fairly rudely - “WHY ARE YOU DOING IT THIS WAY. JUST DO THIS.” – making it incredibly hard to be objective. She was a likeable person while being closed-minded, and had very different tastes than me in general.

I wish I could say that the experience benefited me, but as I look over the ninth draft and see of how it has improved, especially thinking back to the changes that I initially braced against, I realize her feedback held me back and didn’t contribute much to the end result. Her condescension made it harder to accept not only what she had to say, but anytime anyone else mentioned something similar, the negative association was already there.

Right after I heard what she had to say, I left a little stunned—partially because I had met with her before her critique and she pointed out she said, “The manuscripts this year are really good!” So, I entered thinking she liked it, but when it actually came time for the critique, she sounded like she hated it. Not even tore it to shreds; every suggestion seemed to have this undertone of “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? WHY THE HELL DID YOU THINK THIS WOULD BE INTERESTING?” She also criticized my very intentional attempt to describe a dangerous world through the na├»ve perspective by saying, “YOU’RE TELLING A STORY. NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT STUFF.”  She was right in that it was dull, but wrong in that I was just talking about stuff. Her hostility (and yes she wrote in all caps) was alarming and discouraged me.

You can see why when I found a few of her comments to be, for lack of a better word, dumb, and others to be absolutely dead on, the way she phrased it made it very hard for me to know if my distaste for her comment was simple offense or actually my gut.

When I was disheartened, seeing the people around me bragging about how an agent wanted them to send something and how much a writer loved their work, I finally admitted my shock to a peer, who pointed out to me that my reader does not like science-fiction what-so-ever. That was, funnily enough, the first time I ever realized the problem of getting feedback from someone who isn’t your target audience.

The second time I went to the conference with this same manuscript, I was now on a fourth complete draft, having reworked the beginning many times over, and had my whole little prologue problem.

This time I did see a much improved reaction. The agent and writer who I got to read it weren’t as stoke as, say, people were for another manuscript I was working on, but after months of receiving vague, overly simplified, and inconsistent advice from others, they had a lot of praise and only a few, consistent critiques about world-building. The agent told me really enjoyed it even though she didn’t represent the genre, and suggested I send it her coworker, using her name. (Which I never did because reasons.)

The third woman told me it was obviously a first draft. Did I finish it? It’s your first book. You haven’t written science fiction before. You don’t read science fiction. You read satirical science fiction—She’s there again this year too.

And another author is a woman I worked with in a writers’ group, someone I consider to be dedicated and moderately knowledgeable, but condescending, pedantic, and competitive. She’s the sort who instructs you to explain everything to your readers because they are too dumb to understand much of anything, the kind of writer who, upon being informed that her opinion is inconsistent with the other advice you’re getting, claims everyone else is an idiot and just trust her.

She’s reading this year too.

There’s also a man who told my peer, upon hearing what his story was about, that he “wished you hadn’t told me that because there are so many good true stories to be written.” He also sat in front of me in a play criticizing it loudly.

Then there’s the guy who’s married to the first girl, and another author who has seems to cause drama where ever she goes.

Having paid 175 dollars for critiques alone, I have no desire to re-experience criticism with these specific individuals, and while I am sure, knowing the people in charge and their accommodating attitudes, I can reasonably be asked not to be paired with most of them on the grounds they’ve already given me their feedback, the thought still stresses me out.

Thoughts of rejection haven’t really made me nervous in a long time. I suppose it is the potential of this new beginning more than anything else that worries me. Mainly, I don’t want to lose the excitement again. I felt as though my last beginning got less and less “world-building” comments, was successful in solving their complaints, and now I’m not sure how well this new one does with establishing the norm at all. I have no idea what the reader knows. I enjoy it myself, I have high hopes for the piece, but I’m afraid that I’ll go in there, see the disenchanted faces, and fall back into the, “Well, I’m doing it anyway,” slog.

I think seeing all of these people in one place make me question why I have so many poor experiences. Even though I realize that four out of six people in these conferences gave me good advice, that five out of seven in my writers’ group I highly enjoy working with, to not want to deal with so many people, I feel like an especially hostile individual. Now, I logically believe that it has more to do with the human instinct of focusing on the negative over the positive, that most of these people I encountered there, so of course I’d run into them again. Yet why aren’t those who gave me really excellent critiques to be found again? I believe in honesty in any critique and won’t claim to be the humblest or least sensitive person, but I also have worked hard on developing diplomacy and making constructive criticisms effective. I would wager to guess that none of these people are aware of the negativity I associate with them. They may think I’m an idiot, but I doubt they realize how agitated I get in their presence.

But most importantly, it also reminds me off how a bad criticism can affect me. I’m not so much afraid of them not liking it. As I said, I don’t expect to be read by most. Besides, not one of them likes or has much respect for my genre anyway, so their rejection means very little on a logical scale. (Which is of course is the only thing any normal human being cares about, right?) It’s more so a fear that I will hear something I don’t understand, get a reaction that I don’t know how to fix, and just lose this feeling of hope once again. I like the exuberance I feel when I am happy with my work, and it’s hard to lose that, even if it is for the greater good down the road. Especially when I am so close to finally submitting.

Plus, I paid 125 dollars for an extended critique, and if, hypothetically I paid that much to get the same feedback from these people, I would have been very upset. I’m concerned I’ll get another person who fixates on whether or not I should use “lightly” or “slightly” and misses the fact that a gun disappeared mid-scene.

My worries of the future have been causing me physical pain, and I realize there’s not much I can do about it. My plans are, for now, to live a day at a time, focus on one problem to the next, rather than trying to prevent future pain by antagonizing over it constantly.

Right now, I’ll focus on finding a bathroom. I won’t think about how the shuttles work, how I’m going to get my heavy bags to them, what I’m going to do with them as I fly with my mother to New Orleans, where I want to work, if my beginning is really as exciting as I think it is. I will solve one problem at a time, and maybe it will help me chill the hell out.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

And I Had Forgotten about the Synopsis

A synopsis, for those of you who don’t know, is what happens to unchristian authors when they die of alcohol poisoning.

Or, for the nondramatic, an intriguing summation of the entire plot of your book.

I’ve spent a year now making six different versions of a query letter to only decide that I should’ve stuck with the third. I have long been compiling and researching agents, I’ve been through at least nine drafts of the manuscript itself, rewritten the beginning who knows how many times, and I started to feel a sense of relief. All of the big picture things were accomplished, all I needed were a few touch ups here and there, just to fix the small things, just to polish…

There are some select agents I consider my good potential fits based on what they represent, enjoy, and say in their social media/interviews. These are the ones who seem to have the same opinions on what constitutes good writing, don’t cut corners with their literary judgement, and are located in New York with agencies that have some connections with the Big Five publishers.

As I’m continuing the final drafts of my manuscript, I decided to look into some of those agents’ requirements to better gauge what their experience would be—Where they would stop, what they would have seen, etc. And I realized there was something I had forgotten.

Just when I finally had a clean and crisp query that doesn’t embarrass the living hell out of me, just when I made a beginning that I could read over and over again, just when finally everything came together…

Here’s the good news: As I started to write down the summary of events, I began to see the effect that nine drafts had on my plot. The pain caused by my uncertainty about transforming the setting from a beautiful backdrop into a full blown storyline, the side-character who demanded more stage time, the cutting of 70,000 words, all of it had a positive, tighter influence on the actual story.

I have to reread the book again. Over the last few months I’d been continually cutting excess words—a slow and tedious process, one that doesn’t really allow for actually experiencing the story, and I’ve forgotten some elements and have to remember where events came to play.

But while I can sum up the storyline in a fairly brief manner, easily cuing in on the important scenes as I have spent so much time figuring out what was actual essential, I have to find how much stylistic choices I should be making. And I’m not talking about cute sentences or clever phrasing, but ambiance. Normally, a summary contains none. My query feels to have the right mood as well as clarity, but that took me a long time to do.

When I see commercials for a horror film that make me curious but I don’t actually want to watch because gore and terror are too indecent for my fragile little psyche? I go on Wikipedia and read the summation. One of the top reasons they say, “Show don’t tell,” is because editorializing doesn’t chill your bones, raise your hairs, or gouge deep into your heart the same way having events unfold before you will.

I wish, in all honesty, it could be as simple as “Summaries don’t have atmosphere, period, so why worry about it?” but truth is, I know better. Even if I could get away with it, there is no reason to outside of laziness.

So I have a story, it seems. I’m just not sure how to tell it.

I’m going to put this off, I think.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Too Many Drafts, Too Much Feedback

It is irrational the effect someone standing over your shoulder can have on your ability to be natural, much worse if you know the person is a judgmental ass. I can’t count the number of times someone has slapped her hands on the keyboard and glared at me until I’ve walked away.

Sometimes I think, wrongly so, that if I could stomach it, going out and getting massive amounts of criticism would be best, that if it wasn’t an issue of being demoralized, why not listen to the opinions of everyone who’s willing to offer a word?

Except that I’ve done that before—been bombarded with different ideas from every which way—and it’s not just the issue of negativity, or being overwhelmed. It can actually be counterproductive to take too much time tearing your work apart.

Case in point, as I near the final drafts of my manuscript, I realized I needed to change the beginning yet again. I’m writing a complete overhaul of setting and events. It’s already been through probably five renditions now: first, an illustrative pace but boring exploration of the “norm,” switching to another more electric but less world-building hook, adding a broader sense of history, clarifying the time jumps, cutting the time jumps, writing something gruesome, writing a better gruesome, writing a scene that would be moved to later in the book, and then finally cutting and tweaking into what I thought would be the final version. Then I added a scene. Then I tried to add in a character sooner. Then I hated that. Then I cut down on the word count to more than a third of what it once was.

At the end, I was pretty stoked about the atmosphere and had enhanced the world-building a bit by bit and really thought I was just about there.

As I continued to cut down the rest of it, satisfied with the beginning, I didn’t read through it in one straight shot again. For the best, really. I knew that people weren’t reacting as excited as I would have liked, but I didn’t know what else to do, and I was genuinely happy with it.

A few days ago, I read through at full speed with very little revision or halts or even typographical errors slowing me up. Now on its ninth draft, I was able to see it at the pace an actual reader would… and something didn’t sit right with me.

In all those drafts and cuts and rewrites and adds, the growth of events—which is one of my better skills—wasn’t there. I liked each scene individually, but together they were too fast. I knew that we didn’t get time to settle down and see what kind of world it was, but I couldn’t logically understand why that needed to happen. Someone once told me that he didn’t yet care about the relationship when the inciting incident occurred, and I—a person who already had a long lasting bond with these people—couldn’t quite grasp what he was saying. I didn’t disagree, but he was on a “page” I couldn’t get to, figuratively speaking.

After reading it, however, I got the same vibe. One of my few complaints about having the passive purge of word count (the original draft being around 180K words, the new one 110K) was that the protagonists’ love story faced only conflict and lost many of its more positive and cute moments, especially in the first half. Those scenes slowed the story down a great deal, so it’s not all bad, but it occurred to me that showing the norm of their world required showing the norm of their relationship.

I have always struggled with the story starting in the “exception” to the world, the first four chapters featuring a place unlike the general tone and setting the majority of the book would take place. The characters there thought so little about the life outside their safe zone that it was hard to make it come up in conversation. The main character’s backstory and how he arrived there in the first place was interesting and somewhat important—at least I knew the readers would want to know—hence my issue with time jumps and confusing flashbacks. When I finally reached a point that effectively discussed those things in a quick and informative manner, I lost the sense of place.

At the same time, I had another issue. I had worked the beginning so much that I was finally satisfied, excited even, with the prose of it. That was horrible. It was somewhat like when you are drawing two characters, and each come out beautifully, but realize the proportion is off. One is way bigger than the other. Now you have to erase everything you’ve done and you damn well know it will not be easy to repeat.

The other part of it, and this is where we get to the nub of it, was that even though I’d long learned not to be precious about a line or two, it was hard to shake off some of the compliments I’d gotten.

Many people had high, enthusiastic praise for the first line of my manuscript. I do too.

I’d recognized, as a teacher, how harmful compliments can be in that aspect. Once you’ve said someone has done a good job on something specific, they struggle with ever changing it. I’ve felt it happen to me before on several occasions.

It’s a part of the whole, “kill your darlings” ideology, at least if you interpret it as a willingness to kill your darlings. On the whole, I don’t think it’s necessary to get rid of something that you’re particularly fond of. Some would disagree, with a bit of validity, because a “darling” can often be “showing off” more than it is actually good. There are those who think that if you are precious about something, it’s a sign that it’s not as great as you think it is. And I’ve seen that happen too, many times. But overall, I consider that a separate issue, and when it comes to the things that I like, I find the bigger issue isn’t the fact that I like them, but the lengths I have gone to to avoid removing them. Like now.

Of course, sometimes going out of my way to save something inane has ended magically for me—I’m at my most creative in problem-solving mode. Other times, though, it’s a big waste of energy.

So, combining these three things—people’s compliments of my first line, my desire to keep the backstory I’d added and painstakingly groomed after various responses, and my hope to demonstrate the characters’ relationship prior to the upheaval—the obvious solution popped into my head.

I quit editing and opened a new document, saved as “Alt Beginning May 5,” having lost track of the number of the numerous alternative beginnings already in existence. Cutting and pasting lines from the original, I turned the description into a dialogue.

And yet as I did so, another thought popped into my head.

A friend of mine, a talented author, randomly once made the complaint about starting a scene with dialogue, laughing about it. This meant little to me at the time. I assumed it was a reaction to what I had heard—the ardent insistence to start a scene with a quote. However, when I said so, he gave me a puzzled look and replied, “Someone actually suggested it?”

Like my prologue, this kind of commentary didn’t affect me when I heard it. I had my own opinions, stored it away for future consideration, and went on with my life. That is, until I got to this stage of writing.

Now that I’m close to actually submitting it somewhere, all of my high ideals of “do what works until it doesn’t,” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” went straight out the window. Suddenly I panicked over each and every adjective, “was,” amount of dialogue, possible purple prose, and pretty much everything a writer is told not to do.

Do I try and retain the first line as dialogue? Kill your darlings, someone said. Don’t start with a conversation, someone else said. Have a hook. Don’t start with the weather. No info dumps.

In my life, there’s been “don’ts” that later needed to be done, like more background information in the early pages. There were “don’ts” dictated by people who couldn’t write a well worded scene after sixteen drafts. There were “don’ts” that screwed over an entire passage. There were “don’ts” that I wasted so much time bracing against and would’ve found myself improving quicker if I had just listened. “Don’ts” have always been a problem because “don’ts” don’t mean “never” but don’t say “when.”

My own advice to someone in this predicament is always that rules are better as tools to solve an issue. An issue is when a reader has a reaction they didn’t think they were supposed to have. So, if there is no undesirable reaction, there is no reason to apply a rule.

So what is it? Did starting with my dialogue make it so they couldn’t envision the scene? If I started by giving a visual, I’d be starting with a description. Also a don’t.

Plus, why restrict myself from doing something that I didn’t have a problem with?

As I wrote the scene out, I knew my narrator’s voice did not match up with my main character’s, and so wording would need to be changed. It also seemed a little juvenile to me—though optimism always does—and what I considered to be the successful excitement and atmosphere of the original did not carry over to the conversation.

Though I did get to keep the lines I’d been perfecting for so long.

When I contemplated, late at night, what to do about this, I realized that the dialogue wasn’t enough, the location of it wasn’t as interesting, and they needed to be doing something relevant at the same time. So, I changed the scene yet again, and soon the entire question of whether or not it was “okay” to start the first line of a book with dialogue became completely moot.

Good thing I agonized over that.

Normally, I’m a fairly chill and organic writer, never to be confused for a perfectionist when externally perceived quality isn’t on my mind. Now that I’m reading it from the perspective of a hypothetical agent, wondering what decisions will cause them to shut down before they even start, every single thing anyone has ever said to me comes rushing back in one huge, uncontrollable flood.

I first realized I might be obsessing when my drafts started to look more like sequels.

There is such a thing as too many drafts, too much criticism. You can develop a hyperawareness to every little thing, unable to gauge what fits or let go of the inevitable judgment. I started Stories of the Wyrd because of this growing tendency to wonder, “BUT WHAT WILL THE AGENTS THINK!?” every time I wrote. It’s not healthy. It’s not useful. But it’s there, and I need to figure out what to do about it.

Maybe write “CHILL OUT,” on my computer screen.

In any case, fair warning to all writers out there. I suspect being crazy is a pretty normal part of the process.

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Rationalizing Piracy

This last week writing circles exploded when an author received an email from a fan explaining that after reading all her books—and they were awesome, she should be proud—the reader had to return them because they ranged from 99 cents to $2.99 and that was “just too much for me to spend on an ebook. Can you make your books free from now on please?”

People were not happy.

I think what shocked writers wasn’t that someone had taken advantage of the return policy—most indies have experience with constant returns, abuse of electronic giveaways and being asked for free books—but to hear someone who seemed to have no shame in doing so, in fact feel entitled to her work, shook our understanding on who was pirating literature and for what reasons.

Surely they knew they were doing something wrong?

After blocking the reader, a new account was made to send her a hate-filled message telling her the reader was hurt that, after complimenting the series, she found herself blocked and called a liar, thief, and bitch. When she went to Amazon to return a book, she had to call in due to the investigation suspending her account. After a long lecture about how the author needed to learn how to properly speak with her readers and until she learned how to treat people she would never be a bestseller, the reader insisted we should not have to “pay for the stories in your head.”

Obviously we all know someone who has thought like this, but to actually state it, completely indignant that anyone else would suspect otherwise? For anyone who is written, it’s hard to understand that rationale. Is it because she thinks writing’s easy? Because we like doing the work we shouldn’t get paid? Because real authors shouldn’t write for the money?

I remember back when CDs started switching over to mp3s and the first time electronic piracy came into conversation. As a pre-teen in a small town, my choices were to go to the few stores that sold albums in town, hope they had it, pay fifteen dollars for one song and bank on liking more of them I had an allowance of twenty dollars a month, and spent the majority of my first few teenage years with only three different CDs. Music theft opened doors for me, and I rationalized it like anyone else. It gets your name out there. They make money off the concerts!

My brother got an iPod before me, and he, of course, filled it with the music of his friends. That wasn’t theft, really. How was it any different than borrowing CDs?

Plus, combined with the laughable severity that the big corporations treated piracy, it felt as though they were just being money grubbing. It’s not like mugging. It’s victimless.

I was a good girl, still am, so I didn’t do anything in the way of shoplifting—cigarettes, underage drinking, talking to strangers or anyone else for that matter—and was astounded to find when my friends admitted to having taken stuff from Kmart. But from the way they spoke about it, it was clear they didn’t see it in the same light as stealing from a friend or individual. Why?

The cost a company got on wholesale is less, to be accurate, and when you’re dealing with a megacorporation it can seem like ten bucks isn’t a big deal to them. It’s not like there was any sentimental value, and it will be naturally be restocked anyway.

Most crimes occur via dehumanizing the victim. Businesses aren’t people. They’re the man. Empathy for the owner of the local Walmart is non-existent. And hey, they don’t have empathy for their employees either so…

Yet somehow it still happens to the Ma and Pa stores, the local craftsman, and even the lone artist.

Indie authors genuinely do most of their promotion by working face to face, getting their name out there, and networking, but I suppose we’ve long put authors on pedestals, and it wasn’t until the internet that we became so familiar with the actual face and Tweets of those we know and love. Even to this day the average reader doesn’t take notice of names, let alone being able to pick his favorite author out of a line up. We still don’t see writers as the same as us, and if we do, it’s usually because we don’t really consider them authors. Perhaps that’s where the reader was coming from.

In the case of any petty theft, we feel like those we are stealing from can afford to lose it, or that our desire is more than their loss. This makes electronic piracy even more tempting because the owner isn’t actually out anything. The gain of the taker did not detract from the holdings of the proprietor.

Yet still, you can assume that even after someone rationalizes downloading something off a pirated website as not hurting anyone, they’d still have the sense to have the sense they aren’t entitled to it? To be aware that the writer has the right to value herself and her work worthy of a trade?

In her reply, the reader claimed that normally writers responded to this kind of letter by making her a beta-reader. I suppose, and hope, that maybe it wasn’t because she legitimately believed the author should be offering her books for free, just that it was a means of becoming a beta.

Even still, her end sentence was telling: People shouldn’t have to pay for the stories in your head.

Is that true? Now that ebook publication can be done virtually for free, is it arguable that artists should give away their work?

I understand the logic—to some extent. People demote materialism and commercialism every time you go out in public. From where I’m sitting, we’re not a Kardashian world; we’re a world who loves to hate them. Selling out has been the greatest sin for artists since we stopped having patrons. Ask any aspiring writer and you’ll hear them go on about how they’re not in it for the money.

In response to the author’s post this week, many people pointed out how spending less than what it costs for a cup of coffee could help independent authors pay their electricity bills. Which is true. A lot of the writers I know are struggling financially and use their writing as a supplement to keep their heads above water. Plus, career authors, those who have quit their day job, can produce and polish work faster than those who still have to make their end’s meet elsewhere. So there is direct a benefit to readers to pay authors in that aspect.

Writers put forward a huge amount of time, invested their own money, and set their own terms for trade—many way below standard in fact. It’s a business. It’s a job, and in any other circumstance no one would be shocked to say, “You want me to pay you for your time?” Yet I didn’t feel that argument would hold much water.

Writing is a luxury, people think. It is our choice. It is someone playing pretend and charging others to be a voyeur to our sick little pleasures.

And the sad thing is, it’s kind of true. All of us started our first manuscript without being sure we’d ever see a dime for it. A good portion of us started the next without having the first go anywhere. Many of us would continue to write long after we realized we would never get paid in our entire lifetimes.

It’s something like when my brother got his driver’s license and we started to argue how much I should pay for gas when I hitched a ride with him to school. Should I pay half because I’m using it just as much? Should I pay nothing because he’s going to use the same amount whether I’m in the car or not? I felt entitled to the free ride because it didn’t change his cost. If you’re a real writer, the logic goes, you should be writing whether you get paid or not, so what does it matter if I read for free?

It’s hard enough for writers to get past this mentality of, “You’re doing me a favor,” when anyone has interest in their work, probably a part of the reason why the fan thought complimenting the author on a job well done would compensate for the ridiculous request. It seemed to work well enough in the past.

When I was in Los Angeles, my biggest mistake was when I convinced a director, and friend of mine, to commission a script from me. We worked together to suit his—and his repertory company’s—needs and create something he was interested in but matched up with the required size of the cast. The end results were excellent, but it was harrowing, mainly because it was my first commission and by a friend; I worked so hard to please him rather than take a strong, professional stance. On the few occasions that I did argue with him, like when he wanted to plagiarize, he paid no attention to my consideration and insisted I was being stubborn and argumentative. He later apologized and I learned a great deal about the importance of valuing your own time and opinions, but it was still an error on my part to not see that I was doing him just as much of a favor as he was me.

As for the idea that it’s not really work because we choose to do it, it reminds me of when people approach writers stating, “I have an idea, will you write it for me?” and seem to have no inclination of what kind of effort that would actually be: the pain, the suffering, and the amount of time that goes into it. Of course, when the writer suggests “you do it,” they seem to think that there is some magical difference between the two of you, like you just have more time on your hands, or are simply more driven.

No, we writers aren’t meta-humans without urge to procrastinate or sit on our asses watching T.V. In the odd cases that we do get to write full-time, it’s not like we have a day off. We work just like everyone else. Most writers have this real career as a secondary job. Instead of coming home and playing video games, we spend another two hours actively forcing ourselves to keep going, despite not getting paid.

It’s hard to explain to someone what the experience is like if you’ve never done it, but let me try to put it into perspective.

My record word count in one day is 23,000 words. Keep in mind I’ve hit that once in the last fifteen years. My average is closer to 2,500.

But let’s give me the benefit of the doubt.

Say I write an 80,000 word manuscript, which is actually on the thinner side for something you’d find in a book store. (Hunger Games is about 100K, for example.) If I wrote 20,000 words a day, it would take me four days to complete draft one. My top writing speed is around 2,000 words an hour (that’s half my usual speed), so, let’s say that I put in a forty-hour work week.

Now let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that I just slapped that baby up online, no editing, no revision, no discussion with beta-readers, no proofreading, just right up there. First I would have to format it (or hire someone to format it) for it to not turn into ugly gibberish as an ebook, and that might take me several hours—if I know what I’m doing. Then there’s the question of the cover. If I make it myself that’s more time invested, or I could pay someone to do it. I suppose I could put up a solid color with text over it and call it a day, but most people take time. Even those taking images off the internet (both legally and illegally), require a long search to get the right ones.

It’s not unreasonable for an author doing it all herself could tack on at least another ten hours to get it ready for publication, and again, I’m rounding down.

So, if I grossly underestimate the time taken (skipping several steps and endowing the hypothetical author with the stamina of a sex god), that’s fifty hours of work to create a book.

If we were to pay the author the average American minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, we’d need to make 362.50 dollars to make it financially viable.

An electronic book selling for 99 cents on Amazon yields the author somewhere around 30 cents per book. In order for her to make a minimum wage on all of the time she’d put into it, she’d have to sell 1,209 copies.

Most self-published writers never make more than 500 dollars their entire careers.

Now then, for actual comparison, I’m a pretty prolific writer, but it actually takes me anywhere from 40 days to 3 months to finish a first draft, working two to three hours daily. On my current work in progress, I’ve done nine major drafts, attended hours and hours of writing classes, writers’ groups and conferences, took betas out to lunch to discuss changes—excluding the number of hours that they put in reading it—and often gave them gifts for their time, read up on writing, and written literally millions of words of outside “practice” words up until now.

It is reasonable to say that I have clocked in over 300 hours on one manuscript. That means I would have to sell 7,250 books to make back a minimum wage selling it for a buck a piece. Good news though! If readers are willing to spend up to 2.99, the self-published author would receive more around the lines of 70%, meaning I’d be getting around 2.00 (rounding down) each book. I’d only have to sell 1,087 books if I were to consider my artistic talents being financially equal to any other low paying job. (Before thinking that’s not so bad, go to the dollar store and take a gander at what 1,000 paperclips looks like.)

So, it’s easy to prove that a buck a piece is not asking too much, even if the writer had no cost. But that doesn’t solve the bigger question of is their time worthy of reimbursement?

I mean, the argument authors deserve money just because they worked hard doesn’t actually hold any water for me personally, but by that I mean I am not obligated to buy or read a book just because it was written. It does not mean that I am entitled to it for free. Considering how many hours a writer has to put into a manuscript and how much time it has taken away from actual money-making areas, that alone makes sense why they should charge for their books in my mind. But, devil’s advocate, let’s just say that you still think of it as a hobby. Everyone has things they like to do instead of working. Why should a stranger pay for it? You, random stranger, don’t owe me money just because I spend a lot of time fishing over work.

But don’t I have a right to charge you for my fish? If you wanted it, you’d pay for it no question. Why? Because you get something out of it. Truth is, it stops being a hobby the moment it creates something desirable to an outside party. So, do others get anything out of our writing?

Currently I read about fifty pages a day. We’ll say it takes me about two hours to do so, so if we were to guess a book is around 350 pages, that is 14 hours worth of entertainment.

As the saying goes, you drink a cup of coffee for five bucks and it takes you less than ten minutes. You go to a movie for ten bucks in two hours. You play a video game for anywhere up to seventy dollars and get seventy-two hours of it.

Asking three dollars for a full-day of fantasy? Three dollars for something that took someone 300+ hours to create?

But, okay. A cup of coffee is a physical item. They had to pay money for those beans and milk. What’s wrong with a pirating a virtual copy?

Just because we don’t pay for the materials doesn’t mean it’s free to the creator.

Here’s some pricing I’ve seen spent and offered for self-publishing:

-$35 for a copyright.
-Anywhere from $500 to $3,000 dollars for professional editing. (Depending on size, type of editing, number of edits, and reputation of editor.)
-$50 to $800 for cover design. (Higher range for customized and hand drawn covers.)
-$40-$60 for formatting.
-$10/year for domain name of website.
-$5-$10/month for hosting services.
-Price of any pre-ordered print books for signings, to sell to book stores, or to pitch face to face.

And that’s not considering promotion:

-Cost of giveaways, if any. (My quilt giveaways range from $60 to $80 for materials alone, and that’s not including shipping.)
-Travel costs (hotels, gas, airfare) for signings and book fairs.
-$300 table cost for events.
-$50 for 500 bookmarks.
-Any outside advertising.
-ARCs and any books (or loot) given away.
-Any graphics needed for website, Facebook page, bookmarks, and all advertising in which the cover art needs to be redesigned and/or altered.

Let’s not discuss the joys of possible lawsuits.

Now, many of these things aren’t “necessary,” and there are ways for us to self-promote and create professional books without breaking the bank—as long as we’re willing to put in the time to do so. But the truth is that if you’re hearing about this author, it’s because she put in a lot of effort and money into making her book good, her work professional, and getting the word out there.

Are we doing this for fun? Sometimes. Sometimes we’re doing it despite the immense tedium, anger, frustration, and desire to just sit around throwing Doritos at our cats. This is work. It is work we love, it is work we’d do without pay, and yes it comes from day dreaming, but the damn truth is that for us to get these silly stories from our heads into your hands requires a great deal of extra work. If you value an author’s creation, if you got even just five minutes of entertainment out of her, then throw her a couple of dollars and help her spend more time with the art both of you love.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Making Up Details about Successful Authors

There are a few trigger words to never say to an aspiring writer: successful, hits, audience, sales, and anything referencing numbers and marketing. These words aren’t negative in their official definition, but to many new authors business words are the promotion of soulless enterprising, an enemy to creativity and truth.

But while these “sales” terms can be connected with money, they do not necessarily have to be. “Success” can be in the eye of the beholder, meaning anywhere from actual sales to being a household name to having a lot of devoted fans to even having effectively informed society of an ongoing problem. If you did what you set out to do, you are successful.

Despite all that, there are still some authors people call successful in a derisive way. If they made money, gained fans, became household names, but did not write in the way that the speaker appreciates or wrote on a topic the speaker doesn’t like, there can be a great deal of venom behind the word “success.”

Recently a post has been going around about the book Fifty Shades of Grey.

“His pointer finger circled my puckered love cave. ‘Are you ready for this?’ he mewled, smirking at me like a mother hamster about to eat her young,” the post quoted. “Next time you feel bad about your work, remember this shit got published.”

Except that it didn’t. I hadn’t read much of Fifty Shades—I devoured the one-star reviews and hence read the sample chapters—but even from the little I saw, this didn’t sound like her voice to me. Looking it up, it turned out this quote came from a fan fiction piece posted online in which a character is reading this out loud from Fifty Shades of Grey; it’s a parody.

I felt frustrated for E.L. James having a mockery of her writing being taken for her own, and to see the number of people jump on board simply because it confirms what they want to hear is hard to swallow. I’m not even a reader of the series and this kind of behavior is cringe worthy.

What’s worse, however, was the comments that included the gossip mongering. People started to claim things like she was self-published first, she had connections, and other typical stories to discredit her work and give good reason why they weren’t where she was.

Now, I’m not praising E.L. James here, nor do I mean to be implying that criticism of authors is inherently rude behavior. It would be hypocritical in fact, considering I just admitted loving reading the passionate reviews by people who hated her. This kind of talk can help continue the motivation to keep writing, it is basic human nature to gossip, and while it frustrates me to see people spreading false claims about what actually happened, that is to be expected with fame.

The reason I bring it up now is because of who had posted the original comment.

The gentlemen in question is an older individual, retired military who has decided to take up writing for the last few years. He has crafted long, Christian historical fiction manuscripts and claims to have been rejected many times. I’ve followed his posts for a while, and his biggest problem? He doesn’t do his research.

He claims that agents only want celebrities. When an author told him she was pulled out of the slush pile, he replied, “Well, of course you have connections! You went to college!

The author told him that she wasn’t sure her agent even knew she’d gone to college at all.

He claimed, “I do not believe you didn’t tell her. She cares. That’s querying 101!”

It’s not, really. In fact, I’ve heard more agents admit that MFAs can be off putting because they tend to be more theoretical than practiced. (I’m not saying to not include it in your query, but I know of no one who said they took on a client because they had a degree.)

He decided to self-publish initially because agents didn’t want the manuscript. Then afterwards he decided he was doing it because they would take him more seriously if it was out there, though he didn’t plan on selling very well. He does little to no advertising or promotion, is selling his ebook for twenty dollars, and yet is using The Martian as his standard for success as an indie. Instead of emulating this book's rise to fame, he merely accepts that it can be done before making decisions that weren't involved in that success. He charges a ridiculous amount because he believes his work, taking "more than two weeks to write" and professionally edited by a retired school teacher who only found 14 errors in a 400 page manuscript, is worth more than all the other terrible self-publishers. Instead of reading independent ebooks, genuinely checking out the competition and researching what he's up against, he assumes all his competition is terrible, half-assed, and his book is worth more than a traditionally published print book.

Most days he posts something about why he’s not successful, very similar to the comments on the Fifty Shades parody quote. They staunchly assert something that may have a basis in truth, but that’s simplicity makes it inaccurate.

Fifty Shades of Gray was originally a Twilight fan fiction posted online. It began to gather many excited readers. Later, James would rewrite and submit it to a small Australian publisher who accepted it for epublication and print-on-demand.

Due to her already existent following from the fan fiction sites and excited word of mouth, the books sold extremely well and would be picked up by Vintage Books—an imprint of Random House—in the states.

Why is any of this important?

The gentlemen on Facebook sabotages himself by banking on beliefs that make him feel better, not questioning those beliefs by doing basic research, and thereby not only making bad choices, but ignoring what he can learn from the real story.

I wrote of the Jonathan Jones debacle in which an art critic wrote a complaint about Terry Pratchett. He started by saying he’d never read one of Pratchett’s books and never would before going off on how Pratchett was highly overrated.

The comment section blew up with hatred, but one statement of note was when an individual asked, rhetorically, why someone had to read Fifty Shades of Grey to know it’s bad? Couldn’t we just trust what other people say?

No, is the short and short of it. The hatred of Fifty Shades and Twilight for that matter go much deeper than just bad prose. The infamous movie, The Room, was an overly funded, terribly written, horribly acted independent film, and yet it’s become something of a cult classic. Part of the reason? Because not all people are saying agree that Fifty Shades is bad. If we “trust what other people say,” we can’t just trust those who are already confirming what we want to hear. You have to listen to the ones who enjoy the story as well. The hatred of it comes from the irritation of having some people disagree with just how bad the book is.

I’ve promoted the artistic reasons for questioning why popular books you hate are popular—understanding why someone could fundamentally view a book differently than you, or more likely, what they prioritize over what you think is important—gives the author power over his audience’s perspective. He may not want to use the knowledge that people will accept cringe worthy writing as long as its sensual, but at least understanding the importance of sensuality (i.e. mood) may help him overcome the complaints of his own “purple prose” and learn to better combine atmosphere with a good turn-of-phrase.

But it’s more than that. Listening to these rumors about E.L. James’ “dumb luck” removes agency from yourself. Truth is, James’ success was not attributed to “knowing the right people” which most of us never will be able to. It was not because she stuck a self-published book out there and it happened to go viral without effort. She found an audience, maintained that audience, and that audience obliged her by word of mouth.

She was successful because she had a book that affected people emotionally and she had a pre-existing platform.

Again, I’m not saying her route is right for you, or for me even, but you don’t have to have “gone to college” and you don’t have to rub elbows with the higher ups. In fact, E.L. James’ route is far more obtainable. Shouldn’t that make us feel better? Shouldn’t the trackable knowledge of what events lead to her success, despite any distaste for her work, re-empower us?

Gossip can relieve fear, but research can overcome it. Most writers make the mistake of not fully informing themselves on what publishing is like, what to expect, and how they plan on overcoming pretty basic obstacles before getting demoralized. So, instead of accepting insults as facts, sometimes pulling up a cursory Google search will yield a more positive experience.

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