Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spinning the Signs

I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t shiver when a black cat crosses my path. I don’t avoid walking under ladders, though I don’t often have occasion to do so. And the fact that one Friday in September falls on the thirteenth doesn’t concern me in the least. That said, I have talked before about signs. No, I’m not talking about street signs. Instead, I’m referring to those external indicators that drive a person’s response to a given situation.

I’ve often looked for signs with regard to my writing. For example, if I get several messages from readers asking me when my next book is coming out, I might take that as a sign that sales are going to be good. Today, I received a sign that I initially thought about making bad but have decided is actually good.

In reading previous posts, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’m no stranger to participating in writing contests. I can’t remember when or why I started doing this, but I suspect it has to do with wanting to lend some credibility to my resume. Since embarking on the professional writing journey, I’ve entered countless contests. Though I’ve placed in some, I’ve never been the big winner.

Recently, I entered a contest in which my ability to write was judged by the first five hundred words of my young adult novel. Five hundred words is hardly a drop in the bucket which makes me think the judges are trying to determine if the story can hook the readers from the beginning. Today, I learned I was not one of the five authors whose story was chosen to be posted online for fans to vote for the best. This is where the signs come in.

My first reaction to this news was that my failure to advance is a sign that my writing isn’t up to snuff. This is always the first reaction I have when I don’t do well. To get over feeling sorry for myself, I remember the legions of devoted readers I have that have been patiently waiting for the release of my novel, Like You Mean It, which wasn’t the novel I entered in the contest in question. On further reflection, I realized the logic I used to end my pity party was actually a sign in and of itself and that perhaps not advancing in this contest was for the best. In fact, I think it’s a sign that I need to move on from writing contests, at least for the moment, and focus on being a writer.

Some would call this making lemonade when life gives you lemons. It probably is, but I also like to think of it as seeing the signs as they’re meant to be seen. Sure it’s spinning them in the most advantageous light, but what’s wrong with that? If you ask me, it’s better than throwing in the towel.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Encouraging or Discouraging?

Recently, I was contacted by one of my Wattpad readers to ask if she could interview me. The reader liked my work and wanted to use the interview as a means of promoting my work on the site. This isn’t the first time a reader has asked me for an interview, but I’m always flattered and humbled every time it happens, and I always say yes.

During these interviews, I’m often asked the same questions. How long have I been writing? What inspires me to write? Do I ever suffer from writer’s block and what do I do about it? Sometimes, I get asked some interesting questions, which I don’t mind as it makes the interview more fun. Once, I was even asked to play word association, but the words didn’t have anything to do with writing.  At least I don’t think being asked to name the first word I thought of when the reader said the word dinosaur had anything to do with writing!

In my most recent interview, I was asked a new question, one that had to do with writing but one I hadn’t been asked before. The reader asked if I thought any of my novels would ever be published. Given that I self-publish, I took the question to mean did I think a mainstream publisher would ever publish my work. I wrestled with how to answer this question. My first inclination was to say no, I will never be published. I’ve been in this business for eight years and have yet to reach that goal. With each year that passes, it becomes harder to believe in the dream. I hesitated to answer the reader this way because many of my Wattpad readers are also aspiring writers and I’m not interested in being a party to trampling someone else’s dream. In the end, I decided to answer honestly. I said no and I didn’t give it much thought beyond that.

Flash forward two weeks to today where I read an article about twenty-one-year-old author Samantha Shannon. I’d never heard of this woman until I read this article, but she’s being touted as the next J.K. Rowling for her freshman novel The Bone Season. For some reason, this article brought to mind my recent interview in which I said I’d never be published.

Rather than being encouraged by Shannon’s success, I felt the opposite. I suppose that has to do with my age. It’s difficult to be hovering near the edge of forty and have been toiling at this for eight years with minimal success and see an author half my age being given such a prestigious moniker. It calls to mind the big question; am I being passed by publishers because my work isn’t any good? I want to jump on the no bandwagon and ride the coat tails of excuses like it’s a hard business to break into or I have to be somewhat good to have so many readers.

Whatever the reason for my inability to cross over from self-published to mainstream author, one question remains. When I see other authors take the same steps down the road to publishing that I’ve already taken, and they succeed where I’ve thus far failed, am I encouraged or discouraged? Maybe it’s both and the way I feel depends on the day. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe I should be happy for them while staying focused on forging the path to my own success. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

An Interesting Lesson

As a writer, I’m always interested in improving my craft.  I’m one of those writers that will gobble up every book and magazine article aimed at helping me to be a better writer. Thanks to the internet and the subsequent social media explosion, it’s easier than ever for me to find tools designed to make me a better writer.

The best example of this is my Twitter account. There, I subscribe to a number of profiles designed at helping writers not only polish their prose but reach their target audience. Recently, there was a link on my Twitter account posted by one such person I follow. The link had the impressive title of how to avoid getting bad reviews of your novel. The first time I saw this link, I passed on reading the article with my first thought being that writing a good novel is really the only way to avoid a bad review.

When another person I follow posted the same link, I couldn’t resist reading any longer. There had to be something all these people knew that I didn’t. Having once been the victim of a bad review, which was entirely my fault, I wanted to know what else I had to do to avoid a repeat of this disastrous fate.

My expectations were quickly dashed when the article, which was actually a link to an independent author’s blog, was lacking what I’d call helpful advice. In his post, the author recounted his experience with getting a bad review because of his failure to research the profile of the reviewer. It turns out this author sent his book to a reviewer who didn’t care for his genre. The result was that the reviewer didn’t give the book a fair chance before publicly posting the bad review which had the potential of costing the author future readers and sales.  The author of this blog post suggested that every author needed to research reviewers before soliciting reviews of their work.

I hate to say it, but my first thought after reading this blog post was ‘Well, duh!’ If I were attempting to find an agent or publisher for my young adult fiction novel, I would never send queries to people who dealt only with non-fiction. Why then would I send that same novel to a reviewer who only liked Science Fiction and Fantasy or Westerns? I wouldn’t. To me, that’s just basic logic.

It’s unfortunate the author was the victim of a bad review because of his own shortcomings, but I was a little disappointed that the title of his blog post implied it was something it wasn’t. I was expecting to get some tips and tricks on dazzling book reviewers and securing those great reviews. If this author’s blog post is any indication, my first instinct was right on. The only way to get a good review is to write a good novel. Just make sure that novel gets into the hands of the appropriate reviewers. If not, you have no one but yourself to blame.

As to the blog post on avoiding bad reviews, there’s an interesting lesson here. While the author may have been trying to spare colleagues from suffering the experience he did, the title was misleading. It gave the impression it would have all the answers on the subject, which illustrates one very important thing about writing. A good title can make all the difference.