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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Has Publishing Become a Kinky Game? Ruth Harris Talks about Writer Masochism and How to Cure It

I have to admit that when Ruth Harris first talked to me about “writer masochism,” I cringed.

I realized she was describing me.

Not so long ago, I fell so deeply into the writer-masochism pit, I couldn’t see a way out.  I gave exclusives, signed onerous contracts, accepted puerile assessments of my work as gospel truth, and spent years feeling powerless and unworthy, begging for any publishing professional to let me lick his/her kinky boots.

And I’m not alone. The story of most writers’ forays into the dark world of publishing can read like a metaphorical Story of O

Worst of all, a lot of writers tend to shame and bully each other into playing the assigned submissive role. I realize now the BDSM rule-enforcers were partly responsible for the nasty attacks I got when I tried to tell my fellow Boomers not to be afraid of writing Amazon reviews  (More on Boomers’ fear of tech in a great post by Jane Friedman this week.) 

After I wrote that, the self-appointed Writing Inquisition let loose the full force of its self-righteous fury, trashing my Amazon buy pages, vilifying me on forums, telling me I'd never sell a book in this Internet again--even emailing me death threats (Seriously. Some of these people had major mental health issues.) All because I told authors’ fans that Amazon reviews empower readers so they no longer have to play a submissive role to the publishing establishment. Heresy!!

Here are some quotes from the diatribes I got from the Writer-Masochists:

  • “Authors should never pay attention to reviews or book rankings. They should write for the pleasure of writing.”
  • “Once I release a book, I truly release it. I cannot control if it's read, how it's reviewed, if it's reviewed, etc. and that's fine by me.”
  • “Why would you read your own reviews? It’s none of your business if anybody likes your book.”
  • “Authors who track their sales are narcissistic.”
  •  “It is unethical in all cases for friends or family members to review your book.”
  • “I would never write to make money. You disgust me.”
Can you imagine those things being said to members of any other profession?

  • “How dare you talk about billable hours, Ms. Lawyer! You should be practicing law for the pleasure of it!”  
  • “Once I finish a painting, I throw it out in the street. When it comes to selling my work, I am ignorant and powerless, and that’s fine with me.”
  • “Why would a teacher read his class evaluations? It’s none of your business if your students are satisfied.”
  •  “Performers who pay attention to ticket sales are narcissistic.” 
  •  “It is unethical for Real Estate/Insurance agents/stockbrokers/Avon ladies to sell to family and friends.”
  • “I would never practice medicine for money. Doctors who expect to be paid disgust me.”

The sad thing is most of these quotes were from WRITERS. (I didn’t include the obscene and violent ones, because I deleted them right away. Sometimes I wish I’d kept them for proof of the extremes of writerly loonitude.)

Most of the above dogma is intended for published authors. But the rules for the Great Unpublished are just as bad. Maybe it’s not entirely a coincidence that our communications with the industry are called “submissions.” 

How many times have you been told—

  • Don’t call us; we’ll call you.
  • Learn patience: Expect us sit on your manuscript for several years with a 99% chance we’ll reject it.
  • But it has to be an exclusive, so you can’t submit to anybody else during those years.
  • I’ll only consider this if you remove all your gay/abused/racially-diverse characters and spend a year rewriting it as a Christian-thriller/vampire-werewolf-romance/post-apocalyptic-zombiefest—with no guarantee of representation.
  • If you don’t hear from us in the next 6 months, it’s probably a no. But we won’t bother to tell you, even though we require paper submissions with an SASE. (What do they do with all those SASE’s, do you suppose?)
  • You didn’t/did use italics/Oxford commas/Courier font, so it’s an automatic no.
  • My 13-year-old unpaid intern says the plot/characters are too complex. (Speaking of abuse—what’s this with the unpaid-intern child-labor stuff?)
Yes, last week I did say the query process is the best way to learn about the publishing business, and I still think it is. Not all agents and publishers are sadistic bullies. But when you go through it—remember you have choices. Don’t let the Inquisitors tell you it’s your duty to submit to abuse.

NOTE: This post is NOT telling everybody to run out and self-publish immediately in order to avoid masochistic behavior.

Ruth is saying the self-publishing revolution is turning the tables. Because of the massive changes brought about by the e-book, writers now have choices we’ve never had before. Because we now have the choice to walk away, publishers are going to have to learn respect or lose out.

Ruth has been on both sides of the publishing game: a NYT bestselling author and a Big Six editor. She knows what she’s talking about.

So any time you’re told it’s your duty to fall on your knees and obey your publishing masters, answer back: “NOT ANY MORE! 


by Ruth Harris

I’ve seen it in myself, in other writers (even mega bestselling writers), in writers trying to get established—a learned masochism. In publishing the inevitable vulnerabilities and insecurities every human being is born with become the leverage by which publishers for several decades have ruled with an iron-fisted upper hand.
WM is the reason publishers have been able to get away with screwing writers for so long: the shabby treatment, the unfair contracts, the declining advances, the pathetic royalty rates, and incomprehensible royalty statements.
The writer-publisher relationship used to be much more equal. Paperbacks were sold in every drugstore, grocery store, supermarket, even in gas stations. To fill those almost-omnipresent racks, publishers needed writers & the work they created. There were lots of markets, lots of genres were routinely published, and editors & writers were colleagues who worked together coming up with new ideas or new twists on old ideas.
More contracts were signed, more books were published and sold, more writers  were able to make a living. When that massive distribution went away, publishers no longer needed to fill the racks and were no longer so dependent on writers.
A complete power switch occurred in which the writer lost and became the beggar shaking his/her alms cup hoping for a crumb, a penny, a kind word.
Over time, the writer was placed in the position of the relentlessly abused, rejected, criticized and undermined child—even though the parent (the publisher) would aver how much they “loved” you. Out of that unequal relationship a demon’s brew of writer masochism flowered.
No matter what happened, every book that didn’t sell up to expectations—basically just about every book published—was ALWAYS the writer's fault.
Never mind that the ad/promo/pub budget ranged from miniscule to non-existent.
·        Or that the one meager ad (that’s if you were lucky enough to get an ad) buried Allah-knows-where was, shall we say?, massively inadequate to the results expected.
·        Or that the cover had nothing to do with book.
·        Or that books weren't in bookstores even as the writer (me & plenty of others) was damn near killing herself/himself touring.
·        Or that no one bothered to use rave reviews to stir up excitement and interest. Those raves were just filed away to languish in oblivion, never to see the light of day.
·        Or that suggestions a writer (who you’d think might know a thing or two about her/his own book) made about how to sell her/his book were ignored.
·        Or that books—even books for which publishers competed & willingly paid large advances—were regularly published in secret, spine out somewhere in the back of the store on a bottom shelf next to the men’s room.
Nope. Blame the writer
The book didn't sell so it must have sucked—even if the publisher willingly, eagerly paid a lot of money to acquire it.
Even if the reviews were spectacular.
Even if book clubs, paperback publishers, foreign publishers, and movie companies spent beaucoup to acquire the rights.
In fact, by selling off sub rights and thus recouping the amount of the advance, publishers had even less motivation to aggressively sell the book in question.
The publisher’s solution to the lackluster sales: Move on to the next book, the next writer. Then blame that one, too.
And what did writers take away from the downbeat response, the blaming, the phone calls that weren’t returned, the memos containing suggestions or requesting information that were never answered?
They became prisoners of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Writers began to feel that the criticism was deserved, the disappointment was their fault, and that the way to a more rewarding outcome was to write a better book next time. Except, of course, that no one knew exactly what a “better book” was.
I have never once heard a publisher of mine (or anyone else’s) ask what they could have done differently or admit in any way that their publishing effort had been lacking.
When several of my books hit the New York Times bestseller list, the response was not pride or pleasure. It was a pout: “But it didn’t sell as much as we thought.”
THE CURE: take control—and responsibility.
With the advent of e-publishing, a second huge switch has taken place, this time, with the power going back to the writer.
Now it’s publishers who are feeling threatened and being undermined.
We hear the howls, we see how much they like it (NOT!) and how desperate they feel—just the way writers used to feel (because, back then, back in the bad old days, writers were the ones with no power and no choice).
What about you, scriveners? Have you ever been urged to practice masochistic behavior by publishing professionals or fellow writers? Have you ever got to the point where you believed writers deserve to be abused? Have you ever fought back?

Update: Family Therapist Sandy Nathan has written a companion piece to this post on her blog, Your Shelf Life--explaining why the lack of balance in the publisher/author relationship can be hazardous to your mental health. 

Ruth has more book news! She has two new boxed sets:  A three-book set of the 20th Century Woman  and a five book set that includes two more of her NYT bestsellers  (and hit the top five in the recent history Kindle bestseller list this week.) 
 And remember that ZURI is coming soon….

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

I’ve Written a Book. Now What? 22 Steps to Getting Published.

I’ve had a number of people ask me that "now what" question in the last few months. There’s tons of info out here in Cyberia, but not everybody knows how to access it. And along with the good info, there’s plenty of bad—especially from predatory vanity publishers and bogus agents.

So here are some basics for the newbies around here.

You’ll see I don’t get to the self-publishing option until #22. That’s because I think the query process is the best way to learn about the publishing business as well as hone your writing and sales skills. Learning to sell a book to an agent prepares you for selling your book to readers. Because promoting and selling books takes at least 50% of your writing time, I think you should write and polish at least two novels before you think about self-publishing. 

Plus a good agent can help the self-publisher as well as the author who wants to be traditionally published. Most of the self-publishing gurus like J. A. Konrath, Barry Eisler and John Locke have agents. (And Eisler is married to one.) 

NOTE: Don’t sign any agency contracts without having them looked at by a lawyer or somebody who knows intellectual property law. Some agencies have pretty bad contracts these days, and you don't want to sign one that gives them a cut of your profits even if you terminate the relationship.

So your book has been critiqued, edited, and polished to a glittering sheen. What do you do next?

1) Celebrate!

Break out the champagne, chocolate, fireworks, old Prince CDs, or whatever puts you in a festive mood. Contact a few people who remember who you are after your time in your writing cave, and toast your accomplishment. 80% of people in the US say they want to write a book. A fraction of a percent actually do. You’re one of them. Woo-hoo!!

2) Make sure you know your genre.

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds, but pick one to three genres as a tool to help agents and publishers—and especially, readers—know what kind of book they’re dealing with. When you’re querying, make sure you use established categories like “paranormal romantic suspense” not “vampire bunny western.” Creativity doesn’t work in your favor here.

But you are allowed change genres according to who you query. Genre boundaries are oddly flexible these days. Both Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” vampire books and Lisa Lutz’s dysfunctional-family comedies are categorized as mysteries. Women’s fiction is an umbrella that covers everything from Danielle Steel to Margaret Atwood. And anything with a protagonist under 19 can be YA (the most sought-after genres are in YA these days.)

Two caveats here: 1. don’t call it “literary” unless the writing is to-die-for gorgeous (an MFA helps.) 2. Never use the term “chick lit” unless you’re querying a small press that specializes in the genre. You’ll find it listed on most query websites, but it’s still the kiss of death in New York.

3) Research and read the latest books in your genre(s) if you haven’t already.

It’s important to have an idea of the market. A query letter is more effective if you can offer “comps”—similar titles that are selling (but not blockbusters—that looks like bragging.) Also, the authors of these books may blog or Tweet and you can follow them and get advice. Network. Find out who represents them. Eventually you might even get a recommendation, which is a golden ticket out of the slushpile.

4) Write your synopsis, hook, author bio and a basic query letter template

You can find helpful guides in any number of places. AgentQuery provides solid basics. Most agents have similar information on their websites.Nathan Bransford’s blog gives the info in a fun and friendly way, and Janet Reid's Query Shark Blog is a boot camp for query writers. A number of forums and agent blogs provide critiques of queries—as well as Public Query Slushpile I give the basics for writing an author bio here.

5) Start a blog or build a website if you don't have one already.

Don’t spend a lot of money on it. In fact, a free blog like this one makes a fine author website. If you want to blog, I’ve got all the skinny on how to start a blog here. On some blogging platforms you can even have a static first page just like a formal website.

But if you don’t want to deal with the responsibility blogging, and you don’t have a lot of money, you can build a simple website on a shoestring at GoDaddy, iPage , HostBaby or dozens of other hosts.

Even if you have the money for a drop-dead gorgeous design, this isn’t the time to do it. And you don’t want anything you can’t update yourself. Waiting until a designer is free to change things can make your site look dated very quickly.

All the site needs is a professional-looking photo and a simple bio, with your contact information and something about your book and/or other publications. Nothing fancy. No bragging. Nothing is sadder than a pretentious website for an unpublished writer. And don't post any excerpts from your work that you're trying to sell. You'll be publishing it and making it unmarketable.

Facebook, Goodreads or other social networking sites that require membership aren’t a substitute for a website. Be Googlable, reachable and professional.

6) Start researching agents.

You can do this by subscribing to WritersMarket.com, but you can also get free information at AgentQuery.com, which has a searchable database. You can put in your genre and immediately find what agents represent your work. Then check QueryTracker.net for further information on the agents you’ve chosen and get valuable comments from other queriers.

Then start Googling: look for interviews and profiles of agents to fine tune your queries.

If you write YA, a lot of the research has been done for you by the wonderful Casey McCormick and Natalie Aguirre. They have a blog called “Literary Rambles” that is a treasure trove of profiles of agents who rep YA (worth a check even if you don’t write YA, since many agents rep a wide spectrum of genres.)

Literary Rambles was named one of the top 101 Sites for Writers by Writers Digest! Very well-deserved!!  Casey has been doing these profiles for a number of years and last year Natalie joined her on the blog. (Congrats, you two!)

7) Send out your first five queries.

You only do this after your book is finished, honed and polished. You knew that, right?

8) Start your next book.

Yes. Right now. Don’t sit around waiting to get rejected and depressed. Start writing when you’re feeling great about yourself for sending those queries.

9) Get rejections. Mourn.

Yup. You now are officially a member of the professional writing community. The one thing we all have in common? Rejections. For more on rejections, read Ruth Harris's great post on exactly what they mean: nothing

10) Send out five more queries.

Tip: If you join QueryTracker’s premium membership, you can track your queries on their site. It’s a useful service. And their forums are a great place to network. (No, I'm not affiliated with QueryTracker in any way. I'm just impressed with their great work and up-to-date information--most of which is free.)

11) See if you’ve had any silent rejections.

Go to the websites of agents who don’t send rejections. Under submission guidelines, it will say “if you haven’t heard from us within two months, it’s a no.” There will be some silent “no’s”.

Mourn. Fine tune your query. But NOT your book. Not yet anyway. Chances are your book is just fine. Queries, on the other hand, are worth taking a second (and third and fourth) look at.

12) Sent out five more queries.

Yeah. This time you think you really nailed that puppy. You’ve got it down to three paragraphs and your synopsis is 250 words of distilled brilliance.

13) Maybe get a request for a partial! (The first few chapters of your book.)

But before you send it, go to the agent’s website and double check guidelines for formatting and sending documents. Most formatting is pretty standard, and they will probably ask you to send it as a Word (.doc or .rtf) attachment. But some agents are quirky and will request something like “no italics” or “number your pages on the bottom of the page.” Do whatever they say, no matter how silly.


14) Get the partial rejected.

Nobody gets their first partial accepted. This is part of the process.

It may come with a note. This will say something like “I couldn’t connect with these characters,” or “the protagonist wasn’t strong/sympathetic enough,” or “the plot is too complex/simplistic” or even “this is perfect, but I have no idea where to sell it.” DO NOT take these too seriously or start rewriting your book.

They’re mostly just polite words to say, “It didn’t give me screaming orgasms, so it’s not worth the energy it would take to sell it.”


15) Get a request for the full manuscript!!

Remember to check those guidelines. Some agents still want to see a ms. on paper. If so, put a big rubber band around it—do not bind—and mail it in a flat-rate box from the P.O. with a #10 stamped, self-addressed envelope inside for their reply. NEVER send it in an annoying way that requires a receipt. 

Celebrate. Get the really good chocolate this time

16) Send out more queries. Don’t wait for that full to be read. It may take a year. It will probably first be read by a young unpaid intern. If she likes it, she’ll give it to the busy agent, who will put it on her pile of 150 TBR manuscripts.

17) Get another partial rejected
. And another. Start building calluses on your soul.

But—if the rejections start to sound the same—like everybody says the same thing about your unsympathetic, wimpipotamus hero, this is when you might give your ms. another once-over to see if you can figure out how to tweak things without doing serious damage to the book.

18) Get the full rejected.

You may get some more detailed feedback on this one. Pay attention, but don’t despair. It may not be your book that needs a rewrite. Maybe you’re targeting the wrong agents or pitching your book wrong. Maybe it turns out you’ve written a domestic drama (women’s fiction) not a romance. Try changing your query and hook before you change your book.


19) Finish book #2.

Woo-hoo! Don’t forget to celebrate. It may not feel as momentous as your first ms. But it’s a triumph. You’re now acting like a professional writer. That means you ARE a professional writer. Even if nobody’s paying you quite yet.

20) Start all over again with #2, but keep sending out #1 until it collects at least a few hundred rejections.

If you’re luckier than me, you may…

21) Land an agent somewhere along the way here.

22) If you don’t, you may want to consider a small press or self-publishing

This isn’t “settling” or giving up. All this means is you’ve discovered your work isn’t part of the predicted trend curve at the moment and may not be what corporate marketers think is the hot item for next season.

This is the point at which people like Amanda Hocking, Saffina Desforges, and John Locke jumped into self-publishing. And look where they landed. 

Some agents consider the successful self-pubbed ebook the best query these days, so if you’re good at marketing and you know you’ve got the best books you can write, go get yourself Kindlized. You could be the next self-pubbed millionaire. Just make sure you have some inventory before you start (Amanda Hocking had eight books completed before she self-published.)

Or if you’re a little more traditional like me, you might start querying presses that don’t require agents.

Even some bigger presses still take unagented work. If you write SciFi, you can still direct-query Daw (Penguin) or Tor (MacMillan). And for romance writers, a few Harlequin lines also take unsolicited manuscripts. There are also a number of mid-sized mystery publishers that welcome writers without agents. (Alas, Midnight Ink now requires an agent.)

Or start researching the smaller presses. There are hundreds of them. Here’s a list of presses that don’t require agents. Be sure you talk to other authors, though, and check Writer Beware and other watchdog sites before you query. They operate on shoestrings and can often go under, leaving your book in limbo and your royalties unpaid.

But I’m working with two small presses, and it’s working very nicely for me.

Just don’t let that book languish in a drawer!

What about you scriveners? Do you have advice for new writers who are beginning to learn the publishing ropes?


Ruth has another new book coming soon!  

It's something completely different: 

Africa. An orphan. A love story. 

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Writers: Are You Taking Care of Your Emotional Health? 8 Tips to Keep From Going Batty as You Launch Your Career

   First, a couple of announcements: This blog is up for a Goodreads “Independent Book Blogger” Award and we'd love your vote. If you’re a Goodreads member,  you can vote through the vote button on the sidebar. Unfortunately the Goodreads icon seems to have been eaten by the Blogger elves, but the button works. You can vote once in each of four categories,  Publishing Industry (that's us) Young Adult, Adult Fiction, and Adult Nonfiction.

     AND: Ruth Harris has a brand new book out! It’s OVERRIDE—another hold onto-your-hat, fast-paced thriller written with her husband, Michael Harris. More about it on Ruth’s Book Page.

This week we have a returning guest, literary author and college professor Samuel Park. Last year when he visited us, Samuel had just published his first novel, THIS BURNS MY HEART with Simon and Schuster. (And he told us NOT to kill our darlings.)  His spectacular reviews are the kind most of us just fantasize about.) Now he’s preparing for the debut of the paperback. (I just love the new cover!)

Yes, there still are hardbacks and paperbacks coming out from the big publishers! And yes, there still are success stories like Samuel’s. People magazine and the Today show do still pay attention to debut authors. Congratulations, Samuel!

And how did he do it? Turns out he didn’t torture himself with overwork and 20-hour days filled with endless publicity gigs.

He took care of himself. He thinks you should, too.  

Take Care of Yourself: (Emotionally) Healthy Living for Writers
by Samuel Park

Being a writer is full of highs and lows, with lots of opportunities for anxiety. For instance, I can’t think of anything more frustrating than waiting to hear from an agent after a query. Or the emotional yo-yo of being in a relationship with your book—one prone to fits of joy, followed by bouts of self-doubt. Being a tortured used to be part of the persona of the artist, but these days, everybody wants happiness. Even writers.

Here are 8 Tips for (Emotionally) Healthy Living:

1.     Delegate Anxiety

If there’s a particular part of the process that sets your teeth on edge, see if you can get a spouse or friend to do it—somebody who is less emotionally invested than you are. If querying agents is getting you down, see if you can get someone to take care of that for you. That way you can avoid the emotional rollercoaster of waiting to hear back.

I’m not suggesting you hire someone—I don't believe in paying for that kind of service. And you absolutely have to write your own query. But if you can get a writer friend or spouse to manage the submission of the queries and the follow-up (maybe trade query duties with a fellow writer?), that'll remove you from the daily stress of the waiting game.

2.     Be Delusional

According to what I’ve read, delusional people tend to be happier, richer, and more successful. For a writer, being deluded can be an effective antidote for writers’ natural propensity to be pessimists. It may, in fact, be the only way to have a more clear, truthful perspective on your situation.
I have a friend who published book a few years ago and it didn’t do as well as she’d hoped. Recently, her former editor got in touch with her to find out what she was working on.

Because I was an impartial observer, I knew that the editor was checking in in the hopes of possibly snapping up my friend’s second book. My friend, however, read it as the editor simply being nice and feeling sorry for her.
In this case, my friend thought she was being realistic. My advice for her was to be more delusional, and tell herself that she was brilliant, talented, and that editors were desperate for her next book.

In her case, “being delusional” actually provided a more accurate reflection of reality.

 When writers act “delusional” and tell themselves that they’re fabulous, there’s a good chance the “delusion” is a necessary corrective for writers’ natural tendency to doubt themselves.

3.     Use Up Your Brain Cells

Sometimes worry and frustration come from your writerly brain not having being used enough that day.

When I first started writing, my mentor Don Roos stressed to me that I should write for an hour a day every day (except weekends).

 I thought it was for the sake of discipline and productivity, but he said it was actually to stave off the self-loathing that every writer feels when she hasn’t produced that day.

When you don’t write, the guilt starts inching forward, and makes you feel bad. When you do write, the world feels terrific. And the brain post-writing (and post-FLOW and post-high of creating) is too tired and spent to indulge in negative, self-sabotaging thoughts—its capabilities have been used up by the plotting and scheming for the day.

4.     Let Out the Anger…But Don’t Become a Rage-a-holic

One of the easiest ways to escape the writer’s blues is to indulge in anger. If you’re feeling bad, you can probably start feeling good almost right away just by letting out your repressed anger.

The problem with that, though, is that you become an angry person. If a rejection from an agent stings, go right ahead and let out some expletives. It’ll make you feel better.

But for the sake of your friends and family, get out of that mode as soon as you can! Nobody wants to be around someone who is mad all the time.

5.     Take Care of Yourself

Evolutionarily speaking, we weren’t born to work indoors all day, or to be writers in the modern sense of the profession.

Being sedentary and solitary may be conducive to producing work, but it’s not conducive to producing happiness.

Exercise; get vitamin D either by going outside, getting a sun lamp, or by taking multi-vitamins; be social, ideally in a “tribal” scenario—that is, with two or more other people; watch your favorite TV show; or better yet, do all of the above.

6.     Avoid Avalanche Thinking

Being turned down by an agent is not bad if you maintain things in perspective.

But we’re writers, we have big imaginations, and it’s hard to resist avalanche thinking: “Agent X doesn’t want my manuscript, which probably means that Agent Y won’t either, and no agent will ever want me, and that’s because I have no talent, and if I have no talent, then I’ll never sell a book, and if I never sell a book no one will ever love me, and no one will ever love me then daddy was right when he called me a loser, and so on and so on.”

If an agent turned you down, all it meant was that he wasn’t right for your manuscript.

The right writer-agent combo is something worthy of a matchmaker, and dependent on personality, work styles, and temperament. It takes a while to find the right one.

Don’t read too much into things.

Avoid negative chains of thought; chop them off from the very beginning. If you’re prone to avalanche thinking, try reversing it by replacing it with a positive thought, or by feeling gratitude for something.

Think about something good that happened to you and focus on that in your mind, and focus on how you feel about the person who helped you or made that possible.

7.     Take the Lesson Contained in the Conflict

I hate to sound like Polyanna, but every time we feel bad about ourselves or others, there’s a lesson there waiting for us.

The lesson may be to be more patient, or to write a better query letter, or to improve one’s writing by attending a conference.

Instead of dwelling on the rejection, rewrite it as a teaching moment, and try to squeeze a lesson out of it.  And then focus on that lesson.

Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, focus on what will go right next time.

This will help you get over the negative emotions surrounding the event (disappointment, anger, frustration) and focus on the positive emotions that come from focusing on the future (hopefulness, more inner strength, satisfaction from self-improvement). 

8.     Think About Being Down When You’re Happy

When you’re happy, the last thing you want to do is think about the worries and frustrations of being a writer, but I’d argue that when you’re happy is the exact time to set these behaviors and habits into practice.

When you start feeling beat down is actually too late, because by then you’re in a funk, and it’s much harder to get out of a funk than to prevent one in the first place.

If you’re feeling bad, you won’t be able to gather the motivation to do any of these things. When you’re feeling good, you can’t imagine that you’re ever not going to feel good, but that’s a mistake. 

Anticipate the inevitable lows of the writer’s life, and prevent them rather than ignore them.
Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Korean-American author Samuel Park graduated from Stanford University and USC, where he earned his doctorate in English. He is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011, a People magazine “Great Reads in Fiction,” and one of the Today Show’s “Favorite Things.” THIS BURNS MY HEART was also a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Book of 2011, an Indie Next List Notable Book, and a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club Selection. Translations of the book are forthcoming in Norway, Germany, China, and South Korea. He lives in Chicago, where he is an Associate Professor of English at Columbia College.
What do you think, scriveners? Do you feel better about yourself if you write every day? Do you think being delusional is helpful to writers? (I wonder if I’d have gone down this road if I hadn’t been a little delusional myself.) How about trading query duties with another writer? I never thought of that, but it sure would have made it easier. (Misery loves company.) Do you have any other tips for keeping your sanity in this crazy business?

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

12 Myths About Being a Writer

When you’re beginning to write, you’re likely to be bombarded with advice from all quarters—your family, your friends, your hairdresser, and that know-it-all guy at work. I don’t know why, but everybody who ever watched a few minutes of Oprah’s show seems to think they know all about the publishing business.

But chances are pretty good they don’t.

And chances are even better that whatever they may have heard is out of date. This is a business in a state of rapid change.

If you don’t want your heart broken in this ever-more-complex, soul-crushing process, you need to keep those myths and outdated ideas from infecting your brain.

Here are twelve things to disregard when you hear them from those well-meaning friends and relations. (Be polite, but you might be forgiven a slightly condescending smile.)

1) Writers make big money.

How many times do you hear stuff like this? “You’re a writer! Will you still talk to me when you’re rich and famous?”

Tell them to rest easy. It’s not likely to be a problem. Even “successful” writers need day jobs these days. Royalties and advances are shrinking at an amazing rate. Yes, J.K. Rowling is richer than the Queen, James Patterson lives in movie-star grandeur in Palm Beach, and Amanda Hocking and John Locke made buckets of bux self-publishing.

But they are superstars—the exceptions that prove the rule. And even if you become a star, like Pay it Forward author Catherine Ryan Hyde, and get a movie deal and six-figure advances, you're not necessarily on the road to becoming a one-percenter. (More on that to come in the book Catherine and I co-authored: How to be a Writer in the E-Age…and Keep Your E-Sanity! Which debuts in June.)

Of course you (or your hairdresser) can fantasize you’ll become a superstar, too—we all do—but the odds are mighty slim.

2) Genre fiction is easy to write

People will tell you to start out with something “easy” like a romance/mystery/kid’s book. Don’t even try. If you don’t love a genre and read it voraciously, you’ll never write it well enough to publish.

3) Never write for free.

Professional freelancers will tell you this with the ferocity of union organizers, and they are absolutely right…when they’re speaking to seasoned journalists (although even they aren’t getting paid much these days.)

But it’s a long way from writing your first essay to publishing in the New York Times. During your learning process, writing for free is good practice and a great way to get your name out there. Consider you’re being paid in clips and platform-building. And the truth is, if you write literary fiction or poetry, you may never be paid for it. (Most literary writers make their money teaching.) But the lack of paying markets doesn’t mean your work doesn’t deserve an audience.

Plus, it’s important to remember that literary agents work for free a lot of the time—sometimes for years when they’re getting started, just like writers. 

4) Don’t waste time on short fiction. 

People tell you short stories are a waste because you won’t make any money, but that’s all changed with the ebook and the advent of Kindle Singles (see last week’s post: "Why you Should be Writing Short Fiction”.)

Also, short stories are the best place to hone your skills. Publishing shorts makes you more attractive to agents and gives your self-confidence a boost. And it’s a whole lot easier to publish a short story than a novel. There are thousands of literary magazines and contests in the US, but only six major book publishing houses.

5) Don’t reveal your plot, because somebody will steal it.

Everybody’s got a story. It’s how you write it that matters. Since the copyright law reforms of the 1970s, copyrighting your work before it’s published (especially a first draft) has been the mark of a paranoid amateur. It’s copyrighted as soon as you type it onto your hard drive. (And BTW, you can’t copyright a title.)

6)With talent like yours, you don’t have to jump through all those hoops.

The old saw about 10% inspiration/90% perspiration is 100% true. Talent without skill is useless. That means skill at writing AND hoop-jumping. Learn the rules and follow them or nobody will ever find out about that talent of yours. 

7) Spelling and grammar don’t matter.

The only thing that’s important is creativity, right?

When you’re seven, maybe. Words are your tools. If you can’t use them properly, nobody’s going to hire you for the job. 

8) Be extra creative so you’ll stand out.

Sorry, but you won’t get a book deal if you write your query with animated emoticons, invent a new genre, or try to bring back the papyrus scroll. At least not when you’re a newbie. If you have any hopes of getting traditionally published, follow genre and word count guidelines. It’s a very stodgy business and if you don’t follow the rules, you won’t get in the door.

And even if you’re self-publishing, follow the three-act structure, and skip the show-offy rule-breaking, or you won’t get read.

9) Don’t read other writers’ work or you’ll imitate them.

Reading widely is essential to the growth of your craft. The more you read, the better your own work will be. If you imitate a bit when you’re a beginner, no harm done. Traditionally, painters were trained by copying the masters. It’s not a bad exercise for writers, either. Your own voice and style will emerge as you grow as an artist. 

10) The sadder your personal history, the more publishers will be moved to buy your book.

In spite of what you’ve seen on Oprah, readers are not likely to be interested in your personal tragedies, unless you write beautifully and have something new to say that will benefit THEM. Do you enjoy listening to strangers complain about their problems?

Yeah. I didn’t think so. 

11) Sell yourself. Show them you’re confident!

Confidence combined with cluelessness will not help your career—unless you’re Will Ferrell and you do it in an elf suit.

In publishing, tooting your own horn is more likely to make you the butt of #queryfail snark on Twitter.

So when the office know-it-all claims you’re “not trying” unless you query with lines like, “my poignant and exquisitely-written memoir will be bigger than the Hunger Games and Harry Potter books combined,” smile politely and change the subject to his impending mortgage foreclosure. 

12) You wrote a whole book! It deserves to be published!! 

Uh, no. Almost all successful writers have a few practice books hidden away somewhere. Getting something published—especially book length fiction—is like getting to Carnegie Hall. It takes practice, practice, practice. 

What about you, scriveners? What did you once believe about writing that turned out not to be true? Have any myths to add to the list?

INDIE CHICKS fans: This week's inspiration comes from Women's fiction author (and new mom) Talia Jager. Read it on the Indie Chicks page here. 

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why You Should be Writing Short Fiction

Update: I'm so pleased this post has had thousands of hits over the last year and is energizing so many writers to take up short fiction. But I fear a number of readers don't read the whole piece and assume I'm telling newbie writers to self-publish their first efforts at story-writing. 

Please don't do this. 

Here's what I say further down in the piece. "I’m NOT advocating that new writers self-publish your fledgling short fiction. A few self-pubbed singles by a brand new writer won’t get anybody’s attention. (And they may embarrass your future self.) To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional, you really need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours."

Seriously. Reviewers can be brutal. Don't put yourself through that. Learn to write first. It's way harder than it looks. Take classes. Get critiques. Fail miserably and try again. It's what we all do. 

You don't expect to play in a major tournament the first time you pick up a golf club and you don't drive in a NASCAR race the day you get your learner's permit. Give yourself some time to fail in private. Failure is how we learn, but we don't need to do it in the public marketplace. 

What—short stories? Aren’t they just for writing classes? Why would I waste time on stuff that doesn’t pay?

Because it does. And this isn’t an April Fool joke.

Last week Amazon announced it has sold over two million “Singles” ebooks since the launch of their Singles program a little over a year ago. Yeah. 2 MILLION.

The short stories sell for between $. 99 and $1.99 and the authors keep a 70% royalty. Many of the top sellers are by name authors, like Lee Child, Stephen King, and Jodi Picoult, but others are by unknowns, according to Kindle Singles editor David Blum.  (The 70% royalty is only for official Kindle Singles. If you self-pub, anything sold under $2.99 gets a 35% royalty.) 

But this is where you should be doing a happy dance and shouting from the rooftops: THE SHORT STORY IS BACK! This is nothing but good news for authors no matter where you are in your career.

After three or four decades of evaporating markets, the short story has found a new home in the ebook.

OK, we’re not reliving the halcyon days of the mid-20th century when short fiction in weeklies like The Saturday Evening Post paid more than the average book advance does today. But short fiction fits the ADD-attention-span lifestyle of the E-age, and people are willing to pay for it. (Which is yet another reason NOT to give away your fiction on your blog.

I think it’s time for all fiction writers to start re-thinking the short form. Personally, I know I haven’t spent enough time on it. During the decade I spent writing and re-writing my “practice novel” I could have been building an inventory of short pieces that would be a gold mine now.

Unfortunately, most novice writers I know are still doing the same stuff I did. They’re putting all their energy into book-length fiction or memoir and not bothering with short pieces, except maybe for a flash fiction contest or special event.

In fact, I visited a critique group not long ago where one writer complimented another with the misguided advice that he shouldn’t “waste” his crisp little story—he should turn it into a novel.

In other words, she was telling the writer that instead of sending a 10,000 word short story to Amazon to sell for 99 cents, he should spend two years turning it into a 100,000 word novel, which he could sell on Amazon for…um, 99 cents. (OK, not all self-pubbed ebooks are priced that low, but even at $4.99, the bottom line news isn’t good for the author. Especially if he puts money into editing and design.)

Of course, back in the Jurassic days when I started writing, that critiquer’s advice would have been perfectly sound. In the 1990s, most magazines had stopped publishing fiction and short stories had all but disappeared from the publishing world. Mega bookstores were in their heyday: book-length fiction was happening.

So aspiring authors were told to keep our eyes on the big prize and put our energy into churning out novels in the popular genres like chick lit, cozy mysteries, and family sagas.

I’ve amassed quite a collection of half-finished books in those genres—all sadly out of fashion now. But if I had been writing short stories instead, I could be raking in the dough. (Not that any time spent writing is wasted. Everything we write improves our craft.)

But I didn’t feel drawn to writing short stories. I write genre fiction. Back then, short stories were expected to be literary. Yes, there were still some paying gigs for genre stories in super-competitive markets like Women's World, Asimov’s and Ellery Queen.

But mostly we were urged to write enigmatic tales of suburban angst and send them off to collect rejection slips from literary journals with a circulation of 26 and names like Wine-Dark Snowflakes of the Soul, or The Southeastern Idaho Pocatello Community Colleges North Campus Literary Review. All with the hopes we’d finally be rewarded with publication and payment of one free copy.

But ebooks have changed all that. Not just because of Kindle Singles. Short story anthologies are springing up all over. They don’t all pay, but if you can get a story into an anthology with some well-known authors in your genre, you’ll be paid in publicity that would be hard to buy at any price.

I’ve been offered a number of opportunities to publish fiction in anthologies this year that have really paid off. The Saffina Desforges Coffee Collection reached #1 on the anthology bestseller list as soon as it was released last December, and the Indie Chicks Anthology (which sent its profits to charity) has been a steady seller for six months—and now that it’s free it’s topping a whole lot of lists. Plus I look forward to having a story in the rom-com Martini Madness anthology coming next winter with the fabulous ladies from WG2E .  

I’m not advising anybody to ditch that magnum opus—most novel writers get frustrated when forced to write exclusively in the short form. But I’m saying it makes sense to put an equal amount of energy into shorter pieces.

Instead of putting every idea that illuminates your brain into your novel, give a few of them a spin in short stories first.

A few months ago on this blog, legendary mystery author Lawrence Block wrote about his success with self-publishing his inventory of short stories, and a few months before, Sci-Fi bestseller Jeff Carlson wrote about his success self-publishing a novella. It shot to number one in SciFi with no help from his agent or Big Six publisher.

But you don’t have to be accepted at Kindle Singles or have a famous name to benefit from publishing short-form ebooks. Consider the following things I heard this week:

1) A bestselling author decided to put some of her old stories on Amazon. As an experiment, she didn’t use her famous name. She told me she made about $500 on them last month. These were works she was told “had absolutely no commercial value.” But she put them out there, “in case someone was interested.” It seems they were—because “in spite of absolutely no promo...people are finding them and buying them.”

2) An indie writer wrote me with this advice: “unless you have a break-out success with a novel, [the short story] is probably more lucrative as a return on time invested. I can make as much per sale on a ten page short story as on a 120,000 word novel.” And I know many indies who use a short piece as a free download to introduce readers to their work.

3) My editor wrote that one of his authors recently self-published a short piece she wrote on a plane and “writing, formatting, cover, etc. took less than a day.” It got 6500 downloads in the first week. 

So the magic formula for writers right now might be “less is more.”

I do want to stress that the above writers are all successful, published novelists with hard-earned expertise in their craft.

So I’m NOT advocating that new writers self-publish your fledgling short fiction. A few self-pubbed singles by a brand new writer won’t get anybody’s attention. (And they may embarrass your future self.)

To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional, you really need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours.

But you can maximize your efforts by putting more of those hours writing short fiction. When it’s time to make your professional debut, you’re going to have some serious inventory.

If you’re still unconvinced, consider that short fiction is much easier to adapt for the screen than novels. The following films began as short stories: A View to a Kill; The Birds; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Brokeback Mountain; Children of the Corn; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; The Dead; Don Juan DeMarco; Don't Look Now; Double Indemnity. (And that’s just from the A-D list on Wikipedia.)

The best thing is that while you're getting yourself established, you don’t have to keep those stories in a drawer. One of the great things about short fiction is that it’s re-usable. Most zines and journals only ask for first rights (And be very careful with the ones who want more.)

Gone are the days when those obscure college literary journals were the only game in town. New zines are springing up all the time, and there are contests everywhere online—some even have cash prizes. (I suggest subscribing to C. Hope Clark’s newsletter, Funds for Writers for vetted info on contests.)

Contest wins and credits for a few stories published in some good online zines look very nice in a query letter or bio, too.

So forget the so-last-millennium advice to concentrate on novels. Polish those short pieces and prepare yourself for a 21st century audience.

If, like me, you can’t kick your book-writing habit, try writing a short piece about a secondary character in your WIP. It’s a great exercise for exploring your character’s backstory, and once your novel is published, it can benefit you in lots of ways:

  • It could make you a nice chunk of change as an e-single.

  • It might go into an anthology where it could get you new readers.

  • You can offer it as a free download for some inexpensive publicity.

  • Hollywood might come calling. (Hey, you never know...)

Even if you’re unpublished and have a long way to go before you publish your first novel, I suggest taking time to work on some stories and build your inventory. And I recommend you enter a few contests and submit to those zines. You might just win something.

“Award-winning writer” has a nicer sound than “unpublished novelist,” doesn’t it?


What about you, scriveners? Do you write short fiction? Have any of you had success with singles? We’d love to hear about it!

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