Monday, January 31, 2011

Fourth Time's a Charm?

Four years ago, Amazon teamed up with publishing giant Penguin Putnam to create the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  The gist of the contest is to give a new and unpublished author a nominal cash prize along with a publishing contract.  Last year, they added an additional prize and now give two grand prizes, one for a general fiction author and one for a young adult author.

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled on this, but I've been entering this contest every year since its inception.  Not only does it provide a valuable opportunity to get exposure for your work, but it's one of the few contests that's free. That is to say there's no monetary cost.  There is a great deal of emotions that authors invest in this.  I confess I'm one of them.

Last year, for the first time they not only offered two grand prizes but they also opened it up for self-published works to be entered.  Though I've been self-publishing for some time, I've never entered any of my self-published works in this particular contest.  I've always gone with the new entries.

Having been told my latest book, After All These Years, is my best work yet, I decided to take the plunge.  I've entered it in the Amazon contest.  Now, I just sit back and wait until February 24, 2011 to find out if my concept is good enough to move me to round two. That's right. They won't even be looking at the story unless the three-hundred word pitch I sent them was enough to convince them I have a good story.  This layer, known as the pitch, was added to the contest in the second year.  I have to admit it's my least favorite. I'm not a fan of having the merit of an entire novel based on three-hundred words.  Be that as it may, I don't make the rules.  I just follow them.

I will say I'm a lot more confident in my entry this year.  I know the work is polished and well thought out and initial reviews have been good. So it's time to put everyone's words to the test and see if Amazon thinks After All These Years really is my best work yet and if that's even good enough to move me on.  Here's to hoping the fourth time is a charm!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Power of Social Networking

I think I've mentioned this before, but I'm somewhat phobic when it comes to new technology. That's not to say I'm completely inept at using the computer.  I just tend to balk when it comes to upgrading or trying the latest new fangled gadgets. Like I said before, it took me forever to let go of using floppy disks and get a thumb drive.

Though I got on the email train pretty fast, that was about the only piece of social networking I liked. Of course, it does bring rejection at the speed of light! While I was also willing to start a web site, I waited three years to start this blog and open a Twitter account.  And I must confess, it was only at the urging of a friend and fellow author that I broke down and did it. As long as I'm confessing things, I'm not afraid to say that I entered into both with a great deal of skepticism.

I'm here today so admit I'm ready to change my view. While I still haven't broken the double digits on Twitter followers, I've got this feeling that will soon change. I owe this change of heart to a Twitter connection.  In my early days of Twitter, I tended to follow anyone who followed me. I didn't go searching for followers, and I couldn't believe it when I got emails saying I'd added another follower. One of those followers who found me was Nanci Arvizu of Page Readers. Nanci runs a great site for writers that helps them get exposure for their books and does a weekly radio show.  In one of her posts, she called for guests and I responded to the call.  A family emergency preempted my radio interview, but Nanci graciously posted the interview on her web site and even offered to review my novel. The review that followed a few months later was quite glowing and reaffirmed my sometimes waning faith in myself as a writer. Not only did she post that review on her web site, but she posted it on Amazon as well.

I now have a new follower, and a new fan, and I owe it all to the power of social networking.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Disaster Averted- Sort Of

Even if you've never read my blog before, you know one thing about me. The title gives it away. I'm a writer. What you don't know is how I feel about my stories. I live, eat, sleep and breathe my work. When I begin a new story, I have to confess that I become a tad obsessed with it. I feel compelled to finish the story for my character's sake. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I'm not one of those writers that maps the story out before I start. Generally speaking, when I begin a story I have no idea how it will end. That's one of the reasons I push so hard to finish. I also happen to love writing. I feel a sense of joy as well as a touch of power in that creative process.

Having said that, you'd think I lived on my computer and knew all of its ins and outs. Guess what? I don't. I'm fairly adept at navigating the web and have a pretty good feel for MS Word. The rest of it is like a foreign language to me, and I'm a bit technologically impaired. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I gave up the beloved floppy discs I was holding on so hard to and got myself a thumb drive. Since getting that thumb drive, I carry it everywhere. It hangs from my neck and contains every draft of every story I've ever written. In some instances, it contains the only copies of those drafts. I know, believe me when I say the lesson was learned. 

Now, as much as I love to write, I can't always get to it right away. Besides having a day job that I'm very committed to being successful at, I also have a husband, two kids in all kinds of extra curricular activities and three dogs I have to manage.  That means I get in a few hours here and there when I can. I try to write every night and most weekends if I can, but sometimes real life calls. Last week was one of those times. I worked on my newest story during lunch on Thursday and then didn't pop it open again until Saturday afternoon.

Imagine my shock and horror to find it was gone. It was there when I opened the drive. Then my computer popped up with a message that said I should scan my drive so I clicked okay. A few moments later the file was nothing more than a memory. I had a brief flicker of panic and then rushed to my very computer savvy husband to explain what happened and beg him to help me. The longer he sat at my computer, the more trouble I knew I was in. Still, I remained in denial mode for nearly a half an hour until he gave me a most grave look and told me he couldn't find the file. How could that be? All I could think about was the hours, days, weeks, months and nights I'd spent on the story. Twenty-five chapters and five hundred twenty-five pages were all gone. I'm not ashamed to say I had a hysterical meltdown that sent my kids scrambling to pick flowers to make me feel better. Though he wasn't sure what he could do, my husband took my thumb drive to his computer and began the file recovery process. Nearly two hours later, he was able to salvage 470 pages of my newest creation. That left me just two chapters short which wasn't as awful as where I started. I did have to spend two days reformatting those 470 pages. I worked night and day and ended up with blood shot eyes and a raging headache.

Of course, this was a small price to pay for my stupidity. I should've known better than to have only one copy of my work saved. I should've been more diligent about backing it up, but I got lazy. I adopted that attitude of it'll never happen to me. Guess what? It did, and it could've been a lot worse.

Disaster averted and lesson learned.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Comes a little late This Year… And so does this blog entry!

I suppose the first thing I should warn you is that the title of this entry is misleading.  With Christmas and the New Year having just passed, it’s inaccurate to say Christmas comes late this year.  Actually, it came late last year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’ve learned anything about me since I started this blog it’s that I’m a writer still trying to break through the glass ceiling of the publishing world.  In my last post, I alternately pined for a writer’s pipe dream of publication and Hollywood movie rights and the like and longed for the simpler goal of an offer of representation.  One or both of these, with the latter being a more realistic option, was the only thing I really wanted for my 2010 Christmas gift.

Let me first make sure I clarify that I had a wonderful holiday. My family and I enjoyed the pleasure of each other’s company and were fortunate enough to be able to exchange gifts. There was good food, good fun, and a lot of laughter when a few gag gifts made the rounds. While the day came and went without that email or phone call from an agent to say my latest work was the greatest literary find of the decade, I still felt happy and satisfied and enjoyed a much needed break from what can sometimes be the grind of this career I’ve chosen.

Once the Christmas holiday passed, it became time for New Year’s resolutions. I made a few but only one that matters here.  I resolved that 2011 would be the year I took another step forward with my writing career. Let me digress for a moment and say that for the most part I’ve had an upwardly mobile and enjoyable writing career. No, I’m not making money hand over fist and I’m not a nationally recognized name, but I’ve had my own version of success. I’ve seen my name in writing and had the honor of being told my writing has changed people’s lives. I’ve reached new fans and met great people and gained a greater respect and admiration for this nation’s military. Still, I can’t break that deep rooted desire to take my writing to the next and highest level.

I’m certain I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve queried dozens if not hundreds of literary agents in the past year. Though I’ve had a few nibbles of initial interest, I haven’t been able to get the fish to bite. That changed on December 31, 2010.  I received an email from a literary agent that included an offer of representation for a young adult novel that I’m particularly passionate about. This offer came from an agent just starting out who’s managed to develop a client list and make a few sales already. The decision that was mine to weigh was whether or not I wanted to enter into the contract with her. It was a standard contact and nothing raised any red flags. The issue I needed to consider was whether or not I was willing to take a chance on a new agent who deals primarily in small publishing houses. Was working with this agent going to land me the dream of a six figure book deal? Anything’s possible, but the answer is more likely to be no. Did that mean I shouldn’t give her a chance? After all, aren’t I a new writer asking agents to take a chance on me? Why shouldn’t it be a two way street?

After some careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that I’m going to accept this offer. I don’t know where it will take me. Landing an agent doesn’t guarantee publication. This is a lesson I learned the hard way some time back. It does, however, increase your chances and get your foot in doors you might not otherwise be able to get in. I told myself 2011 would be the year I took the next step forward with my writing. I’d have to say this is a pretty good indicator I’m doing it.  Wouldn’t you?