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.