Monday, December 17, 2012

Holy Sh*! It's Christmas

You might not know it, but the title of this blog shares it's name with a lesser known Christmas song. The song is of course a parody, but I had this exact feeling yesterday when I realized the holiday is next week and I haven't wrapped a single one of those presents piled in my closet.

Thinking about the fast approaching holiday also got me thinking about the fact that it's about time for me to sing my standard refrain of All I Want for Christmas. No, I'm not talking about the song. Thankfully, my two front teeth are intact. Instead, I'm talking about making my annual Christmas plea for the one present I have yet to get.

That's right. It's an offer of publication. You know me so well. What can I say? Being a writer means being a dreamer. I still have this glimmer of hope that I'm going to get that Christmas Eve call from my agent in which he tells me that he's heard from a publisher wanting to snap up my next young adult novel. See, what I'd tell you, a dreamer.

I asked for this last year and quite probably the year before that as well. So far I have yet to get my wish. Too bad I can't pull a  Ralphie from A Christmas Story and ask Santa for this gift the same way he asked Santa for his Red Ryder bee-bee gun. If you love this movie as much as I do, you know that Ralphie got his Christmas wish by way of his father playing Santa.

With any luck, my agent can be my Santa Claus and this can finally be the year I get that present of my dreams. Until then, all I have to say is holy sh*! it's Christmas.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

That Old Familiar Sting

Earlier this year I signed with a new agent in the hopes of finding a home for my latest young adult novel, a paranormal offering. For those of you who know me or have read any of my work, you know this is a stretch beyond my norm. However, the agent and his reader really seemed to like it and both felt it could find a place in the market.

The market though is such a fickle thing. Having been a writer for so many years, I know all about the ups and downs and turns in trends. When I wrote my paranormal young adult novel, I wasn’t trying to follow an industry trend hoping to ride the coat tails of those before me. I don’t write with that objective, nor do I like to pigeonhole myself into one genre. While it’s true I lean more toward romantic realism, I’ve been known to pen other genres too. I write the story that comes to me.

Even if I was trying to capitalize on an industry trend, it seems I’m too late. The gist of the feedback my agent has been getting is that paranormal is out. Publishers want realism. I couldn’t have been more delighted to hear that since realism is smack dab in the center of my comfort zone.  I sent my agent a summary of some of the realistic novels I’d written and he asked for two of them, which he promptly sent back telling me to polish them up a bit.

After spending weeks chained to my computer doing round after round of tireless editing, I sent off the final product of the first book with my confidence riding high. Last night, my confidence came crashing to the ground in grand fashion in the form of an email from the agency. I won’t go into the gory details, but the summary is that most of my characters lack definition and seem superficial while my protagonist is too insightful with no apparent reason to be so.

This isn’t the first time my work wasn’t received in the way I’d hoped. For some reason, this time bothered me more than others before it. Maybe because I’ve been at this for so long or maybe because I felt so strongly about the story. I realize writing is a subjective business, but I think this story is better than its being given credit for. I’m also not the only one who thinks so. When I shared this news with my fans, many of them rallied behind me to beg me to disregard what the agent said and self publish this book in print so they could have a paper copy to accompany their digital copy. One even said she was a beta reader for a time and of the thousands of books she’s read, mine was one that stuck out in her mind because it was so well written.

So, here I am a day later, still feeling the effects of the old familiar sting of rejection and feeling it more than I have before. Is there anything I can do to temper that feeling? You bet there is, but don’t ask me what that is. I still haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Monday, December 3, 2012

He Said/She Said

For the past few weeks, I’ve spent every free moment I have at my laptop. I wish I could say I was consumed with the fire of creating a new novel. I wish I could, but the truth is I’ve been doing my least favorite part of my job as a writer. I’ve been doing the thing that makes writing feel like a job; editing.

Believe it or not, writing the novel is the easy part. With enough motivation and the time to go with it, I can produce a halfway decent novel in fairly short order. That might sound like an impressive accomplishment, but the luster fades when you realize that rough draft is very rough.

Writing a novel is about more than telling the story. It’s about telling it well and making the readers feel as if they’re a part of the story. The only way to give readers the story they deserve is to edit that story, and editing is so much more than making sure there aren’t any grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes. It’s about character and plot development and a story that flows well with good scene transitions. It’s about being entertaining and finding a way to give the readers enough for them to understand and empathize but not too much to lose their interest.

Like writing a story, editing a story can be somewhat subjective. Case in point; the said tag debate. The said tag is what writers use to identify the speakers in a conversation. For example, “I don’t like beets,” John said. “Why not?” Mary asked. And so on and so forth.

There are some editors who will tell you not to use the said tags when only two characters are speaking. Not only do too many said tags get to be tedious, but they demean the readers who are smart enough to know which character is speaking. Conversely, some editors will tell writers to use those said tags often so as not to confuse the readers. This very thing happened to me. The last editor I worked with insisted I minimize the use of the pesky said tags so that I could improve the appearance and flow of the story. I applied this model to subsequent stories only to be told by my newest agent that I wasn’t using them enough which was creating confusion in my novel. Color me surprised!

As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, it was also recently suggested to me that I needed to confine my said tag identifiers to the words said, asked and whispered. If you haven’t guessed, the said tag identifier is the word that tells readers what type of dialogue has been spoken. John said he doesn’t like beets. Said is the identifier. Mary asked why he didn’t like them. Asked is the identifier.

When I first started out as a writer, these were the most common identifiers I used. Then I started to get feedback from editors who said I needed to show readers how the characters were interacting. To do that, I needed to expand on my said tag identifiers. Instead of saying John asked where Mary was, I could say that John demanded to know where she was. Then Mary could retort it was none of his business instead of it being something she simply said.
Now it seems I’m back to square one and back to the basics of said, asked and whispered. As frustrating as this is, and I’m not going to deny it’s a bit frustrating, it’s part of the editing process.

More importantly, I’m going to defer to my agent on this one. If my agent says this is what publishers want then I’ll spend all the time necessary making these changes. I might be good at telling stories, but my agent is skilled at knowing what publishers want and giving it to them. Funny though, how it all comes down to a case of he said/she said.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Humbling Reminder

I just wanted to let you know that Like You Mean It has been one of the BEST stories I've read on here. I was actually debating on whether I wanted to go to vet school or occupational therapy school, and because of this story I chose OT school so I can with with people who have to use a prosthetic limb. So, thank you for helping be the reason I"m going into such a fantastic field.

A few days ago, I received the preceding message from one of my fans. The story she's referring to, Like You Mean It, is one I've posted online at a website called Wattpad. It follows the journey of a young man who loses his arm in a car accident. Not only must he learn to cope with being disabled, but he has to learn how to handle the reactions of others. It's a tough road for a seventeen year old kid whose peers once voted him most athletic and nicest smile. 

As I've said before, when I first started out as a writer, my dream was to have a line of books featuring disabled teens in leading, romantic roles. I wanted these teens to have a role model rather than being relegated to supporting characters if they weren't omitted altogether. I wanted to touch hearts and change lives.

You might recall from my previous postings, both here and on Twitter, I'm a huge fan of the Wattpad website. It's been dubbed "the You Tube for e-books" and offers writers the chance to post their work for review by readers. I've often said writers, whether seasoned pros or just starting out, should check out this site. Although writers don't receive monetary compensation for the work they post, the honest feedback fans provide is an invaluable tool for improving a writer's craft.

After receiving this fan's message, I'm even more convinced of the virtues of Wattpad. I'm still waiting to realize my dream on a larger scaled, but I feel one step closer. Beyond that is an even bigger picture, one that speaks to the amount of influence a writer can wield. Something about Like You Mean It spoke to this young woman and convinced her of her calling in life. It's a humbling reminder of how much writing means not only to the writer but to the reader as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

That's Not So Bad

Earlier this year, I signed with a new literary agent. By new, I mean new to me and not new to the business. I feel the need to qualify that statement because there are some in the industry who warn writers away from getting involved with new agents. However, that’s a topic for another time. My intent is only to remind my loyal readers that I managed to snag a great agent earlier in the year.

I was signed on the strength of one of my paranormal novels. For those of you who know me, or if you’ve read this blog before, you know the paranormal genre isn’t my first love. I’ve always been more of a realism with a touch of romance kind of writer. The problem with that was when I first tried to get my realistic novels into the hands of publishers, the timing wasn’t right. Teens wanted vampire novels. I wrote one only to be told it couldn’t compete with the existing vampire titles. Down but not out, I changed my tactic and wrote an entirely different paranormal novel whose subject matter scared away potential agents and publishers. Not willing to give up, I tried again and put a softer spin on a different paranormal novel. It worked. I found the agent I’m working with now.

Since signing with this agent, he’s been working hard to get this book into the hands of the right publishers. So far, they’ve all passed, but it’s not over yet. It’s still under review with several other publishers so you never know what could happen. In the meantime, my agent has forwarded me the rejection letters. Though he’s obligated to do so, I could tell he felt bad doing it when he prefaced the email with the words “no one likes to read rejection letters”.

My response to rejection letters depends on the day. There are some days when I barely register a reaction and other days when I cry and still other days when I go off on a long rant about the difficulties of this industry. Interestingly enough, the day I opened this email, I didn’t do any of these things. Believe it or not, my faith in my talent was actually buoyed by the comments from the editors. The most negative comment came from only one person who didn’t feel a connection to my protagonist. Most everyone else felt the plot was interesting and liked the characters and praised my storytelling ability.

It seemed the problem didn’t lie with me. Once again, it’s a matter of timing. You’re not going to believe this, but the young adult market is flooded with paranormal novels. Publishers are turning those away and looking toward realistic novels. I am absolutely thrilled to hear this since realistic plots are what I consider my bread and butter. As we speak, I’m in the process of editing one to send to my agent to see if it’s strong enough to submit to publishers. With any luck, I can catch this train before it takes off. Until its ready, my agent will continue to make the rounds with my paranormal novel.

Nobody likes to read rejection letters. True enough, but those letters weren’t so bad this time around.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The One that Started it All

Yesterday was the actual Veteran’s Day holiday. Today is the observance. Those people who work for businesses closed on Sunday are lucky enough to get the extra day off thanks to those who’ve served and sacrificed for the United States.

If you know me personally, or you know anything about me, you know how near and dear the military is to my heart. As the daughter of Air Force veterans, it’s difficult not to recognize the importance of that service, but I like to think I’m the kind of person who’d be grateful without the personal connection.

Thinking about Veteran’s Day got me to thinking about the first novel I released. Letters from Linc was published in 2006 but set in the year 2003. The story centers on a young Marine facing his first deployment to Iraq just weeks after marrying the love of his life. The story was written at a time when our nation’s involvement in Iraq was in its infancy and we weren’t really sure what it would grow to be. 

It wasn’t long after the story was published that I began to read stories of substandard conditions in our military hospitals. They couldn’t help it. The number of wounded resulting from this war exceeded their ability to keep up. Determined to find a way to help, I made the decision to donate one hundred percent of the royalties from the sales of my novel, Letters from Linc, to our nation’s hospitals. Even though it means I’ll never make a dime off the story, it’s a decision I’ve never turned my back on because I’ve never regretted it.

Since Letters from Linc was published, I’ve met many fine men and women who’ve served our country as well as their loved ones. One woman told me the story helped her understand her husband better. The man was a medic in Operation Desert Storm who’d not only suffered a head injury but came home with a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Another woman told me the story touched her heart and reminded her of the things she and her husband felt during his service in Vietnam. Another young man, whom I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting and who was also one of our country’s defenders, has become one of my biggest champions. He’s always quick to talk up my work any chance he can because he understands what I’m trying to accomplish.

I wish I could say that sales are skyrocketing and I’m one of the biggest donors Walter Reed Hospital has ever seen, but the truth is I can’t. Sales are slow, especially in this tough economy. I’ve never been one of those authors who are about the bottom line. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is for people to be touched by my stories. The only reason to be disappointed here is because I feel like I’m falling short. I didn’t serve, but I want to give back to those who did.

You know, if you haven’t purchased a copy of Letters from Linc, it’s never too late. You can buy the e-book on Amazon for just $3.99 or if you’d prefer, the paperback version, it can be purchased for $14.95. If not, believe me when I say I understand. And believe me when I say I’m in this for the long haul. I’ll never forget those who served or the book that launched my career.

Monday, November 5, 2012

When Life Gets in the Way

No doubt you’ve noticed it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. It’s not just my blog that I let go but all of my social media. Messages piled up in my email inbox as well while my laptop sat dormant for several weeks all for one reason. Life got in my way.

On October 19, 2012 I got a call that changed my life and not in a good way. It was Friday afternoon and I was in the middle of editing a manuscript during the lunch hour of my day job when my stepmother called. Rather than calling to say hello, she was frantic. My stepmother was out of town and had been unable to reach my father by phone. She sent my eighteen year old stepsister to the house to see what was wrong and my sister was unable to wake my father up. Pushing back my panic, rather unsuccessfully, I assured her I’d take care of everything and call her when I knew what was going on.

After letting everyone in my office know what was happening, everyone who hadn’t left the office for lunch, that is, I called my husband. Needless to say I was a bit put out when his voice mail picked up, though I knew he was in the middle of a coworker’s retirement luncheon. As I hurried out of the building, I left him a rambling message. On my way out to my car, he called back to clarify what was going on and I managed to make a little bit more sense. While sending him to my dad’s house, I went to the Veteran’s Hospital to await the arrival of the ambulance.

I’d just pulled in the VA parking lot when my husband called. My father was awake and speaking but was obviously ill and in need of the hospital. The problem was that he was refusing to go. This isn’t unusual for my dad. Like most men, he’s always denied the gravity of any illness he has. Frustrated, I drove the distance to my dad’s house. By the time I got there and saw my dad, my frustration gave way to full blown anger. My dad looked terrible. His blood sugar and blood pressure may have been fine, but he was twitching violently as though he was having some sort of seizure. I was less than nice when I insisted he go to the hospital. Even the paramedics didn’t want to leave him. It was a phone call from a paramedic supervisor that convinced him to go to the hospital.

So it was back to the VA hospital. I followed in my car while he went by ambulance. The trip was around fifteen minutes for me. Somehow, I managed to arrive before the ambulance, and it was another half-hour before I saw my dad again. By then, he was unconscious and still shaking. The doctors fired questions at me that I couldn’t answer. When did his symptoms start? What other complaints did he have? How long was he like this? What medications was he taking?  As much as I would’ve liked to answer their questions, I fired off one ‘I don’t know’ after the other. I didn’t know. I don’t live with my dad, and the last time we spoke there was no mention of any illness.

Several hours later, my dad was in intensive care and still unconscious, and my stepmother was cutting her church retreat short to come home. After almost ten hours at the hospital, and after the arrival of my stepmother, I headed home. My father still wasn’t awake and test results were still pending to pinpoint his problem.
Saturday October 20, 2012, I went to see my dad. I was pleased to see he was awake. Though he was still weak, he was awake, and he seemed to be himself. We joked with each other the same way we always had. When I left to go to my daughter’s band competition, I was confident he’d be better and be home soon. Sunday night, I learned how wrong I was.

For some reason, my dad took a turn for the worse. He was struggling to breathe and hadn’t slept the night before. As my daughter and I sat with him, he spat out delirious questions like asking us if we had a knife to cut the cake. While we were there, the doctors came to assess him and discuss a course of action. Thinking my stepmother should be a part of the discussion, I took my daughter and went in search of my stepmother who assured me she’d keep me informed. By ten thirty that evening, my father was sedated and intubated.

It seemed my father had pneumonia and had not only been admitted with septic shock but had subsequently contracted Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The idea of the intubation was to allow his lungs to recover while he rested. It was only supposed to be a few days. Instead, it was almost two weeks.

Every time they tried to take my dad off the respirator, he became combative and refused to follow their commands. I will never forget the first time the doctors tried what they called a “sedation vacation”. The plan was turn off the heavy sedatives so that he could wake up. Once awake, they’d turn down the respirator to see how well he could breathe on his own. You know what they say about best laid plans right? My father raged against their efforts, and I mean that in a literal sense. He kicked and thrashed and fought tooth and nail. It took five medical personnel to hold him down while they turned on the medication and waited for it to put him under once more. As I watched this, I couldn’t help feeling I’d failed my dad. We’d never expressly talked about it, but I suspected he didn’t want this kind of intervention. I feared his fight was his way of telling me that, but my stepmother insisted he agreed to be intubated. He agreed? He also asked me if I had a knife to cut the cake. I didn’t think much of his agreement, and I told her so.

Day after day, I sat at my dad’s side trying to come to terms with the fact that he was going to die. I was never going to speak to him again. Rather, he was never going to speak to me. There was so much I wanted him to know, and I was afraid he didn’t know any of it. I wanted him to know how much I loved him and appreciated all he’d done for me. I wanted him to know I was glad he’d been my dad. I wanted him to know I was going to be okay, and I’d do my best to always make him proud.

My friends and coworkers asked about me and my dad daily. As I gave the updates, I confessed I didn’t have a good feeling. I should tell you this is my dad’s fault. He raised me to be a pessimist. Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if the best happened.

Almost two weeks later, you can color me pleasantly surprised. It was the doctors’ fourth or fifth day of their “sedation vacation”. My father was a bit more responsive but still very combative. Their plan was to put him back under and try again tomorrow. This was always their plan, and I was getting angry. Luckily, my dad had other plans. Despite his wrists being restrained, he managed to use the muscles in his neck to dislodge the tube halfway from his throat. On seeing this, the doctors called in the respiratory therapists. My stepmother and I were asked to leave the room while they worked. By this time, it was nearing lunch time. I told my stepmother I was going to have some lunch and would be back in the afternoon. When I returned a few hours later, my father was no longer intubated or sedated. He was wide awake, and I wept as I hugged him and told him the things I’d longed to say while he was unconscious.

As you can imagine, during this ordeal, there wasn’t time to write. I wanted to write, knowing how it would heal at least me. The problem was I couldn’t bring myself to make the time. Certain my dad was going to die, I didn’t want to miss the last of the time I thought we had. I couldn’t let myself do that and regret it, especially if did pass while I was pounding away on my laptop.

With this ordeal sufficiently behind me, my dad’s been home from the hospital five days now, I’m finally able to write again and let me tell you what. It feels good!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Matter of Perspective

As I’ve often shared in the past, I belong to an online writers and readers group in which I upload my work for others to read and offer feedback on. In doing this, I’m able to connect with my target audience and get their insight as to what does and doesn’t work for my novels, something I consider invaluable. While many of us have our work critiqued by book reviewers, there’s nothing quite like getting the opinion of those we write for.

A number of writers participating on this site will write as they go. In other words, they post the story as they write the latest chapter. This can be a disappointment to fans if the writers doing this are plagued with a case of writer’s block and ignore or ultimately abandon the story. It’s happened so often with stories I’ve been reading that I’ve taken to refusing to read a work unless it’s completely finished and all of it has been posted. The exception to this rule is when young writers post a small sample of their work and specifically seek my advice on how to improve what they’ve come up with so far.

When it comes to my own work, I will not post a story on the site unless I’ve already completed it. This prevents disappointing fans if I happen to lose inspiration. Since joining this site, I’ve posted a total of eleven works. Not all of these are novels, but at least eight of them are. I’m also currently in the process of uploading a ninth young adult novel.  I typically like to post a minimum of a chapter a week. This gives fans a chance to get caught up on the story and keeps them interested and coming back for more. It also allows me the opportunity to edit the work prior to posting so that fans are focused on my story and not my mechanics.

At the moment, I have two novels fans are clamoring for. Like You Mean It is a teen romance novel which I’m currently posting chapters for each week. The Unholy Trinity series falls under the paranormal young adult category. Initially, The Unholy Trinity series was intended to be a trilogy. Having gotten such an overwhelming amount of requests for more, I not only created a prequel but am presently in the process of creating a fourth book that picks up the story eight years into the future. 

Between these two novels, a full time day job and parenting two kids in the beginning of competition season for their respective sports, my time is pretty limited. Still, I do my best to keep giving my fans what they want. And have I mentioned I do this all for free? I do, and I don’t mind. I only bring it up to remind everyone that I do this because I want to and I love writing and love and appreciate the fans that enjoy my work.

Lately, I’ve been inundated with requests from fans to not only upload Like You Mean It faster than once a week but to hurry up and post my fourth Trinity book. Today I received a private message from a fan who wanted to “complain” I’d kept people waiting too long for the fourth book. My knee jerk reaction was to be indignant. I wanted to remind everyone I do this for free. I wanted to say again I’ve got a full time job and a child in band and another in competitive cheerleading. I wanted to remind readers that a number of authors on this site don’t put in the time and effort I do to please fans. I also wanted to remind them that most professional authors have a year or more in between their novels and I’ve produced eight in less than two years.

Once I got over all of this, I sat back and took a second look at the requests. When I did, it occurred to me I was looking at this from the wrong perspective. These requests and complaints are actually quite flattering. It means they enjoy my work so much they want more. Rather than being angry about that, I’m going to feel pleased and honored, and I’m going to do the best I can to give them what they want. There’s not much more I can do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

If You Don't Catch it, They Will: The Importance of Editing

I was recently asked by a young writer to review the first pages of her new story and offer her some tips. When she prefaced the request with a flattering remark along the lines of wanting to use my advice to make her as good as me, there was no way I could resist.

The first page from this writer’s story was a disclaimer that she doesn’t have an editor and readers should expect mistakes in the story. Not only should readers expect them, but we should forgive them because she’s only human. I found this to be off putting for a few reasons.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to read and offer input on stories which are publicly posted chock full of mistakes. Of course, many of the works I read are from young writers who are learning their craft. It’s unreasonable to expect perfection, especially when it’s not always modeled in the e-books they’re reading. I’ve read a number of self-published books of late that are swimming with mistakes. As an adult writer, and a self-published writer in particular, this is unforgivable.

When it comes to young writers, I always tell them to make sure their editing is tight. I also stress that editing is more than proper spelling. The best spell check in the world can’t help if see is spelled right but the writer meant to use the word sea. Spell check also isn’t going to help with proper punctuation. Sure, it will occasionally tell me I should be using its instead of it’s, but it can’t tell me if a semi colon or comma is appropriate. My spell check also isn’t going to catch bad grammar, at least not overall. There are times when I intentionally use slang like gonna instead of going to, and my spell check will put that red squiggly line under gonna, but it’s not going to catch all of my butchering of the English language.

While young writers, or older ones for that matter, may not see the importance of tight editing, there is value. I always say readers won’t believe in a writer’s work if it’s riddled with mistakes. Even more important, readers may lose interest in the work if they’re constantly being tripped up by mistakes. This means they’re not only going to avoid reading your future works, but they may be giving bad reviews in public forums or warning friends and family off your work.

Don’t think readers won’t notice the occasional mistake either. I’m here to tell you they do. I’ve experienced this first hand. Like many fledgling writers, I don’t employ an editor. While I’d love to have an editor, they don’t come cheap. Instead, I rely on my own eyes to catch things, which isn’t always wise. In a chapter of my latest teen fiction story, I inadvertently used the word principle when I meant principal. The ironic thing is that as I was editing the chapter, my eyes kept going back to the word and telling my brain something wasn’t quite right. Trouble was my brain wasn’t listening. A reader caught it and pointed it out. I fixed it, but the damage was done. I lost credibility with this reader. I also recently tagged a story with the word amputee only in my haste, I wrote the word amutee. If you think that went unnoticed, you’re wrong. I had a reader point out the misspelling. My first reaction was to blow it off since this wasn’t part of the story, but I realized the flaw in this logic. The tags are how readers search for stories they want to read. No one is going to be searching for amutee which could cost me potential readers.

Like it or not, readers are checking for and catching mistakes. They expect a polished product, whether they’re reading a free e-book that’s been posted online or whether it’s an actual printed book they’ve paid money for. And you know what? Readers deserve that product and writers who want to be taken seriously will give it to them.

Edit, edit, edit! I can’t say it enough.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Worth Repeating

I was planning to discuss something else today. I'd been thinking about it for the past few days, but plans have changed.  An opportunity presented itself today, and given the visceral reaction it evoked, I can't pass up the chance to discuss it.

I'm sure I've mentioned before, I spend a lot of time in an online writer's group. The idea is to develop my target audience and improve my writing. The biggest problem I sometimes run into is that the site is open for writers from the age of thirteen up to post their work and request feedback. There are pros and cons to this as both an author and a reader.

As an author, I love the ability to reach my target audience to find out if they like my work and find it believable. It also helps me to stay connected to the genre and allows me to sound authentic. As an adult writing from the perspective of teens, this is invaluable. As a reader, I not only enjoy reading the work of up and coming writers, but I love discovering new stories and getting lost in them.

The downside as an author seeking feedback is that it's sometimes difficult to get mature feedback from teens. Their grammar, punctuation and spelling isn't always up to par, nor is their ability to understand character and plot development. That's not to say all of them are this way, but many of them are. As a reader, I have a difficult time getting into a story that's written by a thirteen year old who writes in what I call text ease and uses extra punctuation and all capital letters to emphasize their passages.

On this site, I'm often sought out by young writers and asked to read their work and offer my input. Whenever I read a story, I always look for the positive as well as the negative. My goal is not to crush dreams but to foster improvement. The things I've learned have come through trial and error and a string of painful rejections. Had I known them sooner, I might be further along in my career.

Today, I received such a request, which I happily complied with. Well, color me surprised when the author sent me a private message to tell me there was more to her story than I realized and she was "just saying". Normally, I'll let such things go, but today I responded with a rather curt reply. I let the author know that not only did she ask for my feedback specifically but she needed to be prepared that posting in a public forum means she's granting readers the right to assess her work as they see fit.

This is something I've discussed here in the past but bears repeating. Don't ask for my opinion and then tell me it's wrong. Don't seek my advice and then disregard it as rubbish. If you want someone to tell you how great your work is just the way it is, don't post it publicly. Maybe ask your best friend, significant other, or parent to weigh in. Do that and you're more likely to get the warm fuzzies you need, but don't bring it to me and expect I'm going to be anything but honest. And I assure you I want the same in return. We can help each other improve without tearing each down and egos need to be checked at the door, especially in this business.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Viewpoints Done Right

In fiction, there are two types of viewpoints. For all the years I’ve been a writer, there’s been a debate over what’s better, the first person story or the third person.

The first person is the most common. A first person story is told from the point of view of the writer being the protagonist. In other words, I am the main character and I am the one telling readers my story. The third person story is one in which the writer isn’t the protagonist.

Many writers find it’s difficult to write in third person and will stick to first person. It’s a lot easier to tell readers what I feel, think, see, etc than it is to show the same of others.

Those writers who do brave the third person viewpoint often make the mistake of telling the story from the viewpoint of every character. One minute readers are following along with the thoughts of the hero and the next minute the maid walks in the room and we’re hearing the story from her voice. Not only is this quite confusing to readers but it’s an abuse of the third person story. Just because the story is done in a third person viewpoint doesn’t mean readers want or should know what every character is thinking.

That’s not to say that writers shouldn’t use alternating viewpoints, alternating being the key word. As writers, we have to find that appropriate middle ground. We have to know how much to show readers without it being too much and we have to do it in a way that’s effective.

Using alternating or even multiple viewpoints, if the story calls for it, can work. The trick is to give each viewpoint character either their own passages or their own chapter. To switch viewpoints midstream will confuse readers and could cause them to set aside your novel. The problem with that is that they not only tell other people not to read your work for that reason but they also don’t buy anything you publish in the future. 

Whether the story is first or third person, readers want to know the main characters are thinking and feeling even if the characters can’t say the same of each other. Readers feel like they’re part of the story if they know the secret John is keeping from Mary. Part of what keeps them interested is how the secret will be revealed and what Mary will do when she finally does find out.

When I first started out as a writer, it was considered the kiss of death to give too much away. Having multiple viewpoints was one of those things that could give too much away. Since then, writers have learned it’s okay to invite readers deeper into the story and show them things about the characters that not even they know. Just make sure it’s done in a way that allows your story to move freely without tripping up the readers. Do that and you can make any viewpoint work.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Eiplogue Blog

Lately, I’ve been doing a more reading. I attribute this to my Nook. As much as I resisted the idea of reading electronically, I have to say it’s nice to have a bookstore at my fingertips. It appeases that instant gratification, too busy to make another stop aspect of my life. Whatever the reason, I’m reading more.

In my recent reads, I’ve come across more and more books that have epilogues. In fact, there are so many stories of late that do have epilogues that I’m a bit surprised when I find one that doesn’t. As a writer, I can tell you it’s rare for me to include an epilogue, which I’d say is generational.

When I was growing up and reading everything I could get my hands on, it was rare to come across an epilogue. The story ended where it ended. Sometimes things were neat and tidy, but sometimes they were left in the air. The idea with leaving things in the air was to leave things to the readers’ imaginations. Let the readers decide if getting married meant the main characters had kids and lived happily ever after.

If a writer tries to leave things open ended now, readers will eviscerate them. Okay, eviscerate is a bit of an extreme, but they will point it out. Some will be nice and some won’t. I’ve personally been bitten by this. I concluded my trilogy with the anti heroes triumphing over the heroes. The last scene was the epic battle followed by a reflective passage from the protagonist. The story concluded on Valentine’s Day of the protagonist’s senior year of high school, which is important for two reasons.

First, I got countless requests from readers urging me to complete an epilogue and let them know what happened for the rest of the year. They wanted to know if my protagonist went to her prom and graduation and what happened in her future. It wasn’t enough for them that she’d won the battle she’d been fighting for three books. They needed to know more. Second, in the beginning of the final chapter of the final book, there was a scene in which the protagonist received a Valentine’s present from her boyfriend. The book ended with me never revealing to readers what the present was. To be honest, I didn’t think they’d care so much. Boy was I wrong! I was flooded with messages all asking one question: what did she get for Valentine’s Day? The fact that the gift was never specified bothered my readers and it was suggested I address this in an epilogue.

While I didn’t add an epilogue to my trilogy, this experience, combined with my recent reads, got me to thinking. Maybe the epilogue is more than a nice idea. Maybe it’s something writers owe to readers who’ve invested their time and emotions in the characters. If I think of it that way, it makes more sense to me. Having omitted them for so long, it’s going to take some effort for me to include them in my future works. The spoiled child in me wants to resist the idea and wants to tell people this is my book. I’m the author and I’ll write what I want.

So, I’ll write what I want, but if the fans aren’t happy with what I write they aren’t going to read it. As a writer, it’s important to remember who I write for and why I post my work to be read online. I write for the pleasure of my fans. Making them happy makes me happy. To ignore a suggestion that is valid simply because I’m stubborn or possessive of my story isn’t going to endear me to those I write for nor will it make me a better writer.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to write an epilogue for every story I write. I also don’t expect to see one in every story I read. Sometimes, they just won’t be called for. Sometimes they will though and that’s when I’m going to do it. I’ll let the story be my guide.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Anything but That

I think it’s safe to say most writers are avid readers. It’s definitely true for me and the small group of writers I’m acquainted with. Before I realized I wanted to be a writer, I just loved to read. Now that I’m both a writer and a reader, I find that reading other novels, including those not in my own genre, helps perfect my craft.

Since investing in an electronic reading device not too long ago, I’ve done quite a bit of reading. Most of the books in my library are either romance or contain an element of romance. Not only do I write in this genre, but it’s one of my favorites to read, provided it’s not a historical romance. Only one author has ever been able to interest me in a historical romance, and that has more to do with supporting the author than being interested in the genre.

As I’m sure you can imagine many romance novels contain sex scenes. Some are more graphic than others. Some are downright amusing. Some just curl my toes and not in a good way. Of late, I’ve noticed what seems to be a trend of self censorship in some of these novels, which can be identified in just two words: her sex

I’ve run into a rash of stories where the woman’s vagina is being referred to as “her sex”. This trend isn’t confined to conservative novels either. It’s even crossed over into the erotica genre. Since when did writers develop a fear of putting a name to the female anatomy? I say the female anatomy because I’ve seen it there most, but it’s popped up a few times when referring to men. I have to say, I find it a little funny that an author will throw out every name under the sun for the penis, but confines her description of the vagina to “her sex”.

Although I chuckle, I can understand how easy it is to censor your work. The first novel I published, Letters from Linc, contained quite a few sex scenes. While no one seemed to find them vulgar, the frequency with which the characters had sex left some readers unsettled. When it was brought directly to my attention, I defended myself and explained it was expected for the characters to be going at it frequently. Not only were they newlyweds, but they’d spent the first few months of their marriage on different continents. After I broke it down like that, most people understood, but it changed my approach to sex scenes. In the follow up novel, After All These Years, I was a lot more cautious with not only how often the characters copulated but how I described it.

For writers who aren’t comfortable with or have never written sex scenes, it can be a daunting task to produce something that doesn’t smack of sex manual. What I mean by smacking of sex manual is a basic description of the act akin to what you’d find in a step by step guide. Readers don’t want us to say the man inserted his penis into her vagina. What we should say is the mystery. To me, it’s dependent upon the characters themselves.

The problem is many writers, including me at times, have a difficult time separating author from character. After my dad and my grandma proudly showed off my second novel, Extraordinary Will, it made me rethink my descriptions of sex scenes. I became even more self conscious when my dad admitted skipping over the scenes in my stories because as he put it ‘fathers don’t like to admit their little girls know about such things’. 

What’s a writer to do then? Here’s what I do. First, I write my first draft the way I want it. If I want to say he rammed his cock into her dripping folds of flesh as if it was the last time he’d fuck her then I say it. Not only does it allow me to get the vulgarity out of my system, but it keeps me from getting hung up on the scene and being unable to proceed. Second, I try to get out of my own head. When I write, I’m no longer Trish. I’m the protagonist. That means I want to say things she’d say and describe them as she’d describe them. If she’s a virginal girl who’s never missed a Sunday of church in her life, she’s not likely to say cunt unless there’s a wild streak in her that I’ve taken time to develop so as not to shock readers when it happens. If my protagonist is male, you can bet I never say penis. I’ve yet to meet a man, except maybe a doctor speaking in a clinical setting, who refers to his penis as a penis. Third, I pretend my family and friends are never going to read it. I always find it easier to share my work with strangers who have no emotional investment in me, which includes the sex scenes. Oddly enough, when I omit or provide tamer versions of sex scenes, a large chunk of my readers beg me to turn up the heat in the future chapters.

To other writers I’ll offer one more suggestion. If you’re not comfortable writing sex scene then don’t. Gloss it over, hint at it, skip it, but please for the love of Pete do not use the phrase “her sex” or “his sex” unless you mean her sex life was good or his sex life was lacking since getting married six months ago. Anything but that!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Never Say Never

Not too long ago, I told you how I’d broken down and taken a tiny step into the digital age by getting the iBooks app on my smart phone.  Well, last week I turned that tiny step into a giant leap and bought myself a bona fide electronic reading device.

This decision was motivated by two factors. Number one: Much to my surprise, I’ve been enjoying reading books on my smart phone, but the screen isn’t conducive to prolonged reads for people with sub standard eye sight. Number two: Like it or not, electronic books are the new industry standard. If I don’t get on the e-book train, I could miss some good reads.

When I went into the store, I was in search of a Kindle. This decision was based on absolutely no research. It was strictly the name that made me want the Kindle. I do have a few colleagues who own one and swear by it so in my defense I think that qualifies as some sort of research.

I don’t know if I picked the wrong day to go on this shopping excursion or if the demand of the Kindle device far exceeds the supply in my area, but this was mission impossible. After coming up empty at the first two stores, I headed into the third with my hopes pretty low. I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t she just order it on line, oh say from Amazon? I wanted to see it first. I was most interested in the size of the screen. My eyesight isn’t the best, remember.

Wouldn’t you know store number three was out of the Kindle as well? By this point, I was pretty frustrated. If there’s one thing you probably don’t know about me it’s that I’m not a patient person when it comes to having to wait for what I want. Tired of chasing the Holy Grail of the electronic reading world, I shifted my focus to the Nook.

The price on the Nook was comparable to that of the Kindle as were the features. Even better, the store had the Nook in stock. If ever there was a reason to buy such an important piece of electronics, I’d say that was it. So I bought my Nook and a nice cover for it because there’s no way I’m going to chance dropping it, especially not after being too cheap to shell out for the extended warranty offered by the store.

In the last week, I’ve read several e-books. I’ll save a review of the quality of these books for another time. I’m just here to say that I did something I swore I’d never do. Not only did I buy an e-reader, but I’m glad I did. Just goes to show that old cliché is right. Never say never.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back Your Files Up

After reading the title of this blog, there are probably some of you humming an old school rap song by Juvenile. Though that's by design, I can't quote the lyrics, at least not without paying for the rights which we all know I'm not going to do for this blog. We can also see I'm getting off topic before getting on, but the title is quite fitting.

Not too long ago, I shared with you a tale of woe in which a virus infected one of my manuscript files. Given that the novel was almost completed, it was devastating to lose so much of it. Even worse was knowing the disaster could've been averted if I'd just backed up my files on a regular basis. It took that loss for me to stop being so lazy and stop thinking it wouldn't happen to me and to start doing what every responsible writer should and back my files up.

Since that horrible day last year, I not only have my computer set to auto save every few minutes, but I do a weekly back up of all of my files. Okay, my husband does the back up, but I make sure it gets done. Despite this faithful effort, I haven't needed to take advantage of my back up files, at least not until a few days ago.

After a long, hard day of work at my day job, I came home and powered up my computer. I was all set to settle in for satisfying night of editing. I chose the file I was currently working on and immediately received a familiar error message. I knew all too well something corrupted my file. Reflecting on it now, I'm pretty sure I know what caused the corruption, but I won't get into it now.

Unlike the last time I couldn't open one of my files, I barely registered a reaction. That's not to say I wasn't irriated, but I sure wasn't the weeping, wailing mess I was last year. There was no need for me to panic, not when I had a back up on another computer. In less than five minutes, my computer whiz of a husband deleted my old file and replaced the new one. Being that I only back up once a week, there were some prior edits that weren't saved on the replacement draft, but it wasn't anything I couldn't give a quick fix.

I was much happier having to replace only a few pages of my work as opposed to a few hundred. Moral of the story? Back your files up! And if you don't know the Juvenile song I'm speaking of, you can likely find it on You Tube.

Monday, July 30, 2012

One Month Down

It’s going to sound corny when I say this, but it seems like yesterday that I started working with my new literary agent. As of last week, it’s been a month. This month has flown by.

When my agent first began sending out the manuscript, he cautioned me not to expect too much too soon or be disappointed with how much time it took for responses. I assured him I understood. Having been in this business for so many years, I’ve grown accustomed to the length of time needed for agents and publishers alike to review the submissions they receive.

Knowing how much time it’s going to take and realizing how much time has passed are two different things. As usual, I’m faced with mixed feelings. The logical, sensible, practical side of me knows full well that publishers are inundated with submissions and it’s vital to be patient. Then there’s that other side of me, that side that wants to stomp my feet like a tantrum throwing two year old. Okay, that example’s a bit extreme. I simply mean it’s sometimes difficult to be patient and not let the doubt creep in.

Being familiar with the process and having been through it before, I can never completely get over that urge to check my email and mark the days, weeks, and months on my calendar. Despite that, it hasn’t been as great a worry this time. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to occupy my time with writing a new story and editing some old ones I post for the online writer’s site I belong to. At the moment, I’m writing for fun and letting my agent worry about submissions and offers and all other business related things.

And you know what? Having an agent to handle this process has been great. One month quickly down. With any luck there won’t be too many more to go. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Practicing What I Preach

There are two breeds of writers; those who are so uncertain of their talent they expect and want criticism and those who view their stories and characters as one of their children. Those who view their stories and characters as one of their children often have a difficult time taking any form of criticism. I suppose it would be fair to say there’s a third breed of writer; the writer who welcomes constructive criticism but is rebuffed by the ridiculous or hurtful.

I’ll be honest. My favorite feedback on my work is the kind that goes something along the lines of ‘you’re the greatest writer ever’ and ‘I love your work’.  As I’ve said before, I don’t always trust these comments. Not because I doubt my talent. I think I’m a pretty good writer, if I do say so myself. I doubt these comments when considering the source. Its friends and family I’m leery of. Sure, some of them no doubt really do love my work and think I’m the greatest ever, but some are being over the top because they don’t want to hurt my feelings or crush my dreams. For that reason, it’s the feedback of total strangers I usually find more reliable.

For the most part, I’ve gotten rave reviews from my on line postings. I’ve reached my target audience and they clamor for my updates. Still, there are some who don’t like my work. The religious implications don’t sit well with some, and I always wonder why they bothered to read. The tagline made it pretty clear the content was mature and could cause hurt feelings. I wonder, but I don’t respond. Most of the time I don’t need to respond. Legions of fans are there to jump to my defense.

The criticism I find most amusing is suggestions to clean up minor punctuation or spelling errors while suggested to me in writing that’s rife with identical errors. In other words, don’t tell me to make sure I haven’t misplaced any commas when you add an extra S in the word misplace and write the word comas in place of the word commas while you omit the apostrophe in haven’t. Regardless of who points it out or how it’s done, a writer posting or publishing in public forums should have a clean copy. However, writers will take exception to self proclaimed grammar Nazis not practicing what they preach. If you want perfection from me, you better offer it when pointing out my flaws.

There’s also a brand of criticism I can’t quite decide how to classify so I call it ‘taking things too seriously’. I was recently confronted with this and had to sit on my fingers that were itching to give a scathing response. In this instance, the reader took exception to my portrayal of her city of residence. She didn’t appreciate that it implied the city was filled with poor minorities and wanted to be sure I and anyone else reading understood it was a melting pot of all cultures. Hence my ‘don’t take this too seriously’ moniker.  The story in question is a work of fiction centered on a vampire prince falling in love with a human girl. In the chapter she took exception to, the human girl went to visit her best friend who is a poor minority. As such, all of the fringe characters our heroine encountered in this chapter were poor minorities and the area was depicted as dangerous, not because the characters were minorities but because the area was known for its high crime rate. Rather than pick up on that, she wanted to focus on what she believed was my inaccurate description of the city as a whole. By her logic, I shouldn’t be writing about vampires and humans falling in love when no evidence of vampires exists. How can I write something so untruthful?

Much as I wanted to write a lengthy response defending my work and my own character, I refrained. I’ve long said that when writers allow others to read their work they have to be prepared to take the bad with the good. No writer will object to glowing reviews of their work, but some will get defensive over the bad ones. Some writers get so defensive they pen responses with nasty tones that can alienate not just the offender but potential readers who take exception. 

I confess that I sometimes have the urge to do so as well, but I abstain. To do so would go against that motto of taking the bad with the good. If I’m going to start belittling the bad reviews then logic would dictate I should do the same for the good ones. Otherwise I’m not being equitable in my response to the critics. Given how ludicrous that sounds, I think I’ll just practice what I preach. Take the bad with the good. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be venting to like minded colleagues!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Too Much to Ask?

Last week, I shared that I’ve moved into the twenty-first century and started reading electronic books. No, I don’t have a Kindle or Nook, though I’m thinking seriously about putting one on my holiday wish list this year. Until then, I’ve been reading through an app on my smart phone, and that tiny screen is part of the motivation to purchase an actual electronic reader.

In the last few days, I’ve read a number of e-books, most of which are self published through a web site known as Smashwords, and I have to say I’ve been a bit disappointed in the offerings. While the stories have good premises, there have been a lot of issues with mechanics and what not.

Before I go any further, let me put a couple of things on record. First, I fully believe in self publishing. As a self published author, I like the creative freedom and control that comes with producing my own books. Second, I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on publishing, literature, the English language or the like. While I have a fair command of English and have recently signed with a new literary agent, my college degree is in the field of criminology. The discrepancies I’m about to point out are from the perspective of perplexed reader.

Thus far, the biggest problem I’ve seen with these self published e-books is poor editing. Words are misspelled and punctuation is misplaced. Sometimes words are spelled correctly, but the author has chosen the wrong word. If the author has a character say, ‘I sea what you mean’, spell check isn’t going to catch the incorrect use of the word sea. I often caution young writers about this when reviewing their work. In the e-books I’ve recently read, there’s also been the problem of authors saying though but meaning thought. Things like this sound picky, but it disrupts the flow of the story and turns the reader off. Being that self publishing is already stigmatized, self published authors need to be careful with their editing.

Another emerging and disturbing trend is the tendency for authors telling stories in third person to have too many narrators or viewpoint characters. Although it’s a third person story, the audience needs to have a viewpoint character, otherwise the story becomes confusing and convoluted. Even the most intelligent readers get tripped up when viewpoints are changed mid paragraph. Alternating viewpoints can and do work effectively, but the transitions need to be smooth and seamless. The audience shouldn’t feel the disruption caused by the thoughts of feelings of five characters in one paragraph.

Perhaps the most egregious error of all was an author inserting himself into the story. The author had the audacity to insult readers by having two of his characters speaking to a deity that pointed out what a great guy the author was for not giving up on writing or being angry that he had so many reads for his books but no reviews. The deity went on to say something to the effect of the author understanding his work is for the joy of others and not his own gain much like that of the deity. Considering I just paid for the book, I felt personally insulted that he would call readers out this way. As a writer, I understand how discouraging it can be to see so little reviews for your work. It’s happened to me as well. While I’d like to see more of those Amazon reviews, I’m just grateful to have people buying and enjoying my work. Oh, and the author of this book also had a number of errors with punctuation, spelling and grammar as well as an over abundance of viewpoint characters in the same scene.

I’m no expert on publishing, but I am an avid reader. As such, I want clean copy, smooth

Monday, July 9, 2012

Embracing the Present

As a kid, I used to listen to my music on 45 records. Eight track tapes were still around, but the technology was being phased out. When the 45 went by the wayside, along came the audio cassette. Remember how much fun it was to have your tape player eat the cassette forcing you to patiently spool it back into the cassette all the while hoping it still played when you were done? After the cassette came the compact disc. Now, I can get all my music digitally. Much the same thing happened with movies.

When I was a kid, it was impossible to get copies of movies. You saw the movie in the theater and hoped someday it would be run on television. I still remember the thrill I’d get from seeing Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music once a year on television. Somewhere along the way, the beta movie cassette player was released and then the VHS. Somewhere in there was the laser disc, but I don’t think it really caught on.

When the VHS started to go the way of the eight track and audio cassettes, I swore I would not replace movies I owned on VHS with DVD copies. I’d stick to my VHS. That plan lasted as long as the old VCR did. I grudgingly replaced the format of my favorite movies feeling confident it wouldn’t need to be done again. What could be better than a DVD? Try a blue ray! Again, when the blue ray was released, I made the same vow. I will not replace my movies. I will not embrace the technology. DVD copies are fine. While DVD isn’t yet an obsolete technology, my refusal to consider replacing my DVD movies with their blue ray counterparts is an obsolete plan.

Not long ago, the same thing that happened with my music and movies started happening with books. When I started out as a writer, the electronic book was being touted as a wave of the future. In the last several years, it’s become such the norm that brick and mortar book stores like my beloved Borders are being shut down. Some would say the declining economy played a part in this, but I’ve always placed a large chunk of the blame on the more affordable and often lesser quality e-book. The manner in which these books can be read is as varied as the genres offered. It used to be the Kindle was the only way to read an e-book. Now, there are several options in a wide range of prices.

Those of you who know me won’t be surprised when I say I’ve been resistant to the technology. When I read a book, part of the connection I feel to the story comes from being able to hold the book in my hands. That’s not an easy task to accomplish with an e-reader. Then there was my argument about not being able to have an author sign an electronic device like she could sign the actual copy of the book. I said that, but ask me how many signed books I had from authors and the answer is none.

If it wasn’t for the fact that a colleague of mine released her first novel last year and only made it available in the e-book format, I might have continued down this path. However, I’m always anxious to support a fellow author, especially one who’s been so supportive of me. While I don’t have an e-reading device, I did manage to get an app on my mobile phone that allowed me access to purchasing and reading e-books.

That said I have a bit of a confession to make. Despite downloading this e-reading app some time ago, I’ve failed to follow up in reading any of the books in my electronic library. I suppose it’s that purist in me that’s been so resistant to it. Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I finally felt compelled to jump in and give it a go this past weekend. You know what?

It wasn’t as bad as I expected. There were some problems with font size and screen size that I can’t really do much about, but it’s been manageable. The bigger problem is that I sometimes like to go back and reread earlier parts of a story when I get deeper into the book. With the e-book that’s a bit harder to do but not impossible.

While I’ll never get over my love for the printed book, I have to admit that e-books aren’t as bad as I thought. I would say I’m embracing the future, but the truth is I’m embracing the present. About time, huh?

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Waiting Game

It's been one week today that my agent began submitting my new young adult novel to publishers. As a result, I now have a new reason to obsessively check my email and jump every time my cell phone rings.
My fellow authors can empathize with the agony and ecstasy of having to play the waiting game. So, what's a writer to do until the word comes?

While there's nothing definite we can do to distract us from waiting to hear the results of our agent's submission to publishers, there are some things we can do to help pass the time. One thing I can tell you that I'll never do is go back and read the novel under review. If I do, I'm likely to find things wrong with it. Those things will then haunt my dreams and keep me from being able to think positive thoughts for the future of the project. Instead, here are some things I will do.

First, and most obvious, work on a new story. Immersing myself in a new story not only redirects my energy but it gives me something new to be excited about. Not to mention, it also allows me to have another story in the can should I need it for the future.

Read books by other authors. One of the best ways for an author to improve her craft is to learn from other authors. The best way to do that is to read their work. Another great thing about this is that I get to enjoy the chance to be a reader which writers sometimes forget to do when they're focusing on their own work.

Along with reading the work of other authors, I like to lend a hand to young aspiring authors. My favorite way to do that is to spend time on my favorite on line site. This allows me not only to inspire and aid others but it gives me the opportunity to expand my reading audience. I call that a win win situation.

Spend time with those you've neglected while creating your masterpiece. I don't know about you, but when I'm writing a new story, it becomes my sole focus. I get so determined to finish the story and see how it all ends that I tend to ignore my family and friends. Having a finished story being sent to publishers and no deadline for other work gives me the chance to remind everyone what I look like!

Take a vacation from writing, whether that's an actual vacation where you leave the house or a vacation where you don't turn on the computer makes no difference. Sometimes the best thing we can do as writers is give our imagination the chance to refresh and develop new ideas. Forcing ourselves to write every day sometimes has a negative effect on our stories. They feel forced and we don't enjoy what we've created. What's the point of spending so much time forcing a bad story only to delete it the next day? What have we really accomplished? Nothing but giving ourselves a headache.

So, there it is, ways to beat the agony of the waiting game. It might not work for everyone, but it's better than doing nothing but waiting for the phone to ring or checking my email every five minutes. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Here Goes Everything

I know what you're thinking. The phrase is here goes nothing. While that may be true in most instances, it's not the case for me. Not when I've spent so many years trying to get to this point.

I'm talking about mainstream publication of course. Having recently signed with a new agent, I've been drawing ever closer to my lifelong dream. For those of you who think signing with the agent is a formality to being published, you don't know the industry very well. Even the best of agents may not be able to convince a publisher to take a chance on the work. It's a matter of combining industry trends with editors' tastes.

Getting an agent is definitely a step in the right direction on the road to publication, but it's not a guarantee of publication. My new agent put it to me pretty well when he said authors need agents who not only believe in their work but believe in it enough to work tirelessly to find the right publisher for it and who isn't willing to give up. Finding the right publisher, being the key.

My fellow authors know there are literally thousands of literary agents for aspiring authors to choose from. Unfortunately, not all of those are good. Some agents don't fare any better than authors when trying to get work read by a publisher. Not because the author's work is bad or the publisher is overwhelmed but often because some agents aren't taken seriously by publishers. These are the agents who blindly submit all manuscripts to the same round of publishers without taking the time to cultivate the relationship with the right publisher.

While it's sad to see that happen, and I've been personally affected by it in the past, that's not the case this time. I'm confident in the ability of my new agent. If the work doesn't find the right publisher, it won't be for lack of effort or belief on his part. The slightly depressing thing about that is that I'll have to look to my manuscript as the culprit, but I'll cross that bridge if I come to it.

In the meantime, the agent has let me know that after a bit of tweaking, both of the manuscript and my marketing plan, the novel is ready for submission to publishers. He'll start submitting and if we can't get an offer, we'll hope to get some consistent comments as to why it won't be picked up. That will lead to the need for more tweaking, but again I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Until then, here goes everything I've ever dreamed of.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ask and You Might Receive

Last week, I discussed the topic how long is too long when waiting to hear from a literary agent or publisher.  The discussion was with specific regard to agents or publishers that ask for your work. How long after sending requested materials should a writer wait before sending a follow up?

As I mentioned last week, there’s no hard and fast rule so the question doesn’t have an answer that can be applied across the board. The answer depends on the agent or publisher. I can say that as writers it’s drilled in to our heads not to alienate prospective agents or publishers. One definite way to do that is for an over anxious writer to demand answers. I use the word demand loosely, but it’s easy to understand why it would be viewed as a demand by a haired literary agent.

Most agents are quick to tell you they’re inundated with submissions. Sadly, not all of these submissions are up to par for an aspiring professional writer. Side note to my fellow authors, it’s not a good idea to submit something to an agent that’s rife with grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. Even the best of books might get scrapped for this. However, I digress. Back to the agents.

Not only are they overwhelmed with submissions from eager writers, but they already represent a number of clients who deserve their time and attention. To me, a contracted author is more deserving of an agent’s time. In addition to that, many agents speak at writers' conferences and attend work shops and book fairs and the like in an effort to not only meet potential clients but to generate business contacts to further existing or even future relationships. Moral of the story? There’s more to an agents time than writers can comprehend, especially us greenies. 

So, for those of us who recognize the value of an agent’s time and don’t want to offend or alienate by being over anxious, what do we do? How do we satisfy our need to know without overstepping any bounds? I was led to contemplate these questions after waiting four months to hear from two literary agents who’d asked to see my latest young adult novel. While I can’t answer the questions for everyone else, I wanted to update you as to my story.

After discussing with some of my fellow authors last week, I made the decision to send a follow up inquiry. With shaking hands, I composed what I hoped was a message with a humble tone to ask two questions: was the novel still under review and when could I anticipate a response so that I didn’t need to impose upon their time again? Within a day, one agent replied to ask me to send the manuscript, which I did the following day. Only a few days after that, she emailed to let me know she liked my novel and would review for possible editing and reply to me within a week. I immediately emailed back to thank her for the time to update me and then waited. Let me tell you what, the wait wasn’t long. One day later, today as a matter of fact, the senior agent called to tell me he liked the novel and wanted to work with me and asked if I’d be agreeable to having him send the contracts electronically! The agent then made a point to apologize for having taken so long to reply and to assure me that’s not his standard business practice. I can’t tell you how flattered I am. First, he wants to work with me and second, he took the time to apologize which I didn’t think was necessary at all. I simply wanted an answer as to whether or not the novel was still under review. Well, I got one and then some and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Last week, I wondered whether or not I should follow up. I went ahead and took the plunge and decided to ask. This week, I’m glad I did. My advice to anyone who asks me the same question will be: ask and you might receive. This strategy might not work for everyone, but it can’t always hurt.