Because I Cannot Be Disuaded

At the end of each year, it has become my tradition to review the goals I set and see how I did, and then to create new goals for the new year. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I find it helpful for keeping my focus throughout the year – usually. Life happens when you’re making plans for something else, right? So, let’s see how I did:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

Well, I tried. I did begin to submit to agents again, and while I had favorable comments, I haven’t landed one just yet. So, we’ll be seeing this one again, I’m certain.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

That was very ambitious of me! And I did pretty well. The Afterward has been revised, I finished a novel called “The Year I Went Invisible” (though it needs a great deal of work still). I wrote (and sold!) two new short stories, and I’ve started a new novel that is moving along nicely (it doesn’t have a name yet, though). While I didn’t actually write three two new novels, I still feel pretty good about my accomplishments.

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month. 

I came so close on this! I did find new places to market my work! And I took full advantage of every opportunity! I managed to be involved in 10 events this year! And for some of them, I was even paid! This one might be tougher with only one new book coming out this year, but hopefully, I’ll find some new resources as well.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

I have to cheat a bit on this one, but to me, it still counts. In April, I was one of the presenters at the Writing for Charity event in Provo, Utah. However, I took full advantage of the times I wasn’t presenting and attended as many workshops as I could fit in during the day. Then in September, I joined the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and attended their three-day conference in Denver. It was amazing, uplifting, and something I very much needed to do for myself and my heart.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

And here, I exceeded my goal significantly. I began teaching for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program again after not having taught for them in over 12 years. It is a wonderful, rewarding experience, and I look forward to the classes and my students each week. This coming spring, I will be teaching a class on Flash Fiction, and I have gained so much insight by reading in this area, so I’m very excited to share this with my students.

And so for next year? Well, I’m continuing to try to stretch a bit, but I’m also trying not to set myself up for failure or disappoint. Let’s be realistic: I have a full-time job; I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and the giant furless mommy cat in my family. I have responsibilities and demands – but I also have a need to write, so I’m trying to find that balance between the real world and my writing ambitions. My family is supportive and willing to compromise (which is easier now that my baby is 19 and only lives here on school breaks), but I need time with them, too. In that realm of balance and ambition, here are the 2015 edition of my goals:

1. I will submit to no less than 5 agents each month.

2. I will write a minimum of 7,500 words each week.

3. I will participate in a minimum of 10 events which allow me to promote my books.

4. I will attend at least one writing event where I am NOT speaking or presenting.

5. I will continue teaching creative writing courses through Lifelong Learning.

Now, I’m adding a new twist: I have printed off my goals and stuck them to the wall next to my desk so that I can see them each day. I am inviting you to ask me at any time to provide a public update on these goals, which I will do. I’m inviting any encouragement, support, chastising, or harassment that you may feel is appropriate throughout the year. And I will thank you now, in advance, for doing so.

Here’s to the new year: may we all follow our dreams and continue to flourish and grow!

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Resolutions – The 2013 Edition

It has been a VERY successful year for me, and I am grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers, librarians, and most of all readers! In June of this year, Angelic Knight Press made an offer for Death’s Kiss. In August, I sold a horror short story under my pen name Mimi A. Williams. That story, entitled Rita, will be part of the Axes of Evil: Heavy Metal Horror Anthology that will be released on February 1, 2014.  The Deepest Blue was released from Tanglewood Press in September of this year. This book has a long, winding history behind it, and it’s one that I am incredibly proud to see in print. All of this exceeded my goals for the year, although there were a few places I fell short

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this exercise. It is a tradition now, and something I look forward in some sick and twisted way. It actually started further back even than the posts on this blog! All credit is due to Carol Lynch Williams who started the whole thing at least a dozen years ago and maybe even more. We are members of several list serves together, and every year about this time, we would publicly post our writing goals, and at the end of the year, Carol would hold us all accountable by posting our objectives on the list.

I like to do it this way: First, I review my resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how I did. That usually provides the motivation for my new resolutions. So here is what I aspired to a year ago and how I did:

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

The Afterward did not get the work I had hoped it would. It was shoved aside in favor of other projects. That’s not entirely bad. The other projects were both getting revised for publication. The Deepest Blue was the one that required the most time, followed closely by Death’s Kiss, which will be released early in 2014.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

Death Kiss was revised, and it was bought by Angelic Knight Press. It did find a home, and as I mentioned, it will be released soon under the revised title of “Death’s Kiss”

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3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

I did quite well with this! I attended 10 different events, including a workshop at Whitmore Library, Writing for Charity, Davis School District Literacy Night, SCBWI’s The Inside Story, and others. I have also upgraded my website, and learned new ways to use social media to help promote my books. The results have been very positive, and as I anticipate my upcoming royalty payments, I should have a more concrete idea of how effective these efforts have been.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

I didn’t quite follow through with this, though I did teach two workshops with good results. This year, though, I will follow through with the workshops, and I have recruited my talented writer friend C. Michelle Jefferies to be part of the fun! We have already laid the plans for the first workshop the first week of February.

And now it’s time to commit to the page (such as it is) my goals for the coming year. They came pretty easily this year, and I feel like I am stretching a bit and giving myself a challenge, but I don’t sense I’m setting myself up for failure. So here they are:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

That’s a lot to do in the next year, but I’m feeling confident and enthusiastic. It’s as much giving as it is taking. I’m focusing on quality and quantity. Overall, I think 2014 holds more promise than even this past year held, and that just makes me even more eager to get started!

Here’s to the coming year! My propellers are spinning and I’m ready to fly!

airplane

What’s the Definition of Insanity?

There’s a wise saying that reads: The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over but expecting a different result!

I’ve also heard it said this way: If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

The message to me, my own interpretation, is that becoming stagnate is like digging a hole for yourself and then wondering why you can’t get out! I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently for a variety of reasons. First, it’s getting to the end of the year and I tend to get a little reflective during this time as I look back on the past year and look forward to formulating my goals for the coming year. Second, the last year has been one that has forced changes on me. Some of these I have embraced and welcomed, while others I’ve gone into kicking and screaming and digging my heels into the dirt. Finally, I’ve made it a goal of mine to look for ways to improve as a writer, as a mentor, as a partner, as a friend, and as a person.  Change can’t happen when one is stagnant.

As I’ve looked back on the preceding 12 months, I’ve come to understand that the times I’ve struggled most are the times when I’ve resisted the obvious changes I needed to make. There have been so many good things that happened.  In many ways, this year has been one for the record books! My writing world has been filled with exciting events that continue to evolve even here in the final weeks. There was the sale of Death’s Kiss, the sale of a short story entitled Rita, the release of The Deepest Blue, and soon the release of Death’s Kiss. I participated in numerous signings, workshops, and conferences in 2013 – more than I ever have in years past. It seemed like almost every month I had something involving writing (other than my writing group) to participate in. Then came the opportunity to edit a book for one of my publishers, something I absolutely enjoyed and hope to do again! So many changes took place so quickly that sometimes I didn’t even realize they had happened. All of it required flexibility, organization, and the willingness to step outside my comfort zone – something most of us don’t like doing. But not all of the changes I faced were as easy to accommodate.

I had to let go of a lot this year: hopes that I held for myself and others for a number of issues. I know that sounds terribly cryptic, but the truth is, I can’t go into a lot of detail because it’s very personal, and it’s not just about me. Here is one example, though, that truly pushed my limits. I’ve had to let go of a friendship with someone whom I’d been close to for several years. I hate letting go of people I care about, whether through choice or through loss. I don’t give love easily, so when I commit, it’s with my entire heart and soul. Unfortunately, continuing to allow this person in my life was literally asking for continued pain and destruction. For reasons I will never understand, someone who claimed to love me and be my friend was working behind my back to undermine me and hurt me. I’m pretty much a nice person most of the time. I’m not a saint and I have my moments to be sure, but I don’t go out and deliberately try to hurt someone while simultaneously professing to be a friend to him or her. It required some drastic measures to accomplish, but I think I’ve successfully eliminated this individual from my life. It hurt  to do it, but it was a change that needed to be made.

And there are other changes as well. After holding firm to the idea of independence for so long, I’ve finally determined that I need to get an agent, and I am pursuing that even as I write this. After eight years in print, my first three books (the “Hey, Ranger” series) was taken out of print. I will always love those books and I hope one day to be able to do more with that series than the publisher was willing to do. After years of letting it languish, I update my website and I am proud to show it off now!

So what’s the point to all this? Anyone who is close to me will tell you that if you look up the definition of crazy, you’ll see my picture next to it. I move at a fast pace; I’m constantly busy; I’m writing more, editing more, helping other writers, and generally running around like a headless chicken. Things are in a constant state of change in my life: personally, writing-wise, and professionally as well. I don’t think I ever do anything the same way twice, and if that means I’m protected against crazy, well, I’m not sure I agree. But my definition of crazy is what’s keeping me happy, and as the new year approaches, I look forward to more of the same that won’t be the same!

crazy

The Truth about the Publishing World (According to Me)

Sometimes when I do school visits, I will ask kids how long they think it takes to write and publish a book. I’ve heard responses ranging from two months, to five years. The good news is, it doesn’t often take five years – but sometimes it can be that long depending on the book. Truthfully, once you’ve finished writing a book, you can expect it to take anywhere from one to three years to see it in print. There are a lot of factors that go into this timeline. For example, the book has to be accepted by a publisher, and that can take a very long time. The shortest time in my personal experience is three months, the longest is three years.

calendar

This timing also includes the publisher’s calendar. Again, the shortest time from acceptance to release in my personal experience was six months; the longest has been two years. There are other variables, too, such as what the market is doing, what type of publisher you are using, or whether or not you are using an agent. All of these things will make a difference.

One of the most important skills to develop if you want to be a writer is patience.

patience

This is one of the most first lessons that I teach in any of my workshops. Not only does the publishing world take time, but you can’t control almost all of the factors involved in that timeline. The only thing you can control is what you submit and to whom you submit it. One of my novels was submitted, and after collecting about 30 rejections (probably more, I tend to block those things out), I decided to work on revisions. About a year after I submitted it for the first round, I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to buy the work. The editor hadn’t even seen the revisions – the publisher had been holding the original manuscript for over about a year and had just gotten to reading it.

 

 

 

 

 

Another lesson is to keep writing. Most of the writers I know are working on two or three manuscripts at a time. It isn’t because we have ADHD – in fact, that would make it quite hard to focus on writing at all. It’s because the first book you write may not be the first book you sell. The first book(s) I sold were my nonfiction series HEY, RANGER. But I had written at least four other complete manuscripts (and untold numbers of incomplete ones) prior to getting that contract.

heyrangeryellowstone

Even the first novel I sold was not the first novel I had written. The danger here is that, if you launch into another project, it often becomes an excuse for not finishing one you are struggling with (see my previously mentioned untold numbers comment). Traditional publishers will ask for anything between one month to six months once they’ve received your manuscript to give them time to sort through the hundreds or thousands of others that came in before yours. Even with the new e-publishers, it can take 30 to 60 days before you receive a response (and I recently read the submission guidelines of an e-publisher who said to allow eight to twelve weeks). If all you do is sit around waiting, checking your inbox, and fretting over responses you haven’t received, you will go nuts in a very short time.

crazy

Another part of the publishing world is editing. No matter how perfect you think your story is, your editor is going to find things that you didn’t see, and will recommend changes.

redpen

Right here is where many writers choose to part company with traditional publishing and opt for self-publishing. Some – though clearly NOT all – of these writers believe that an editor will just try to rewrite their story for his or her own purposes. These writers are so in love with their own words that they can’t bear the thought of anyone making even the slightest change. The truth is that editors just want to help you tighten your story, make it more compelling and interesting to readers, and therefore, make it a better selling book. An editor’s primary focus is making sure that the product that publisher puts out is as finely crafted as a diamond ring from Tiffany’s. Some writers choose self-publishing for other reasons, but that’s a topic for another blog.

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The last thing about the publishing world is that they operate on budgets. When it’s time for your book to be released, your publisher will do what it can to promote your work. They have a vested interest in seeing your book do well. But unless your name is Stephen King or James Patterson or Janet Evanovich, the likelihood of your book getting a million dollar ad campaign is pretty slim. Every publisher is a little different in what they are willing to do, so you should be willing to ask about this in advance of your book being published. Anything they are willing to do (such as bookmarks, posters, postcards, etc.) will need to be scheduled early on. If you wait until the book is about to be released, it will be too late. You will also need to be willing to do some work yourself. Social networking, emails, postcard mailings, contacting local bookstores, and other activities are something you can do at a minimal cost. I sign up for book fairs at schools, offer to speak to writing groups, and take just about any opportunity to get my name and the name of my books out to the public. For several years I even judged a high school poetry slam!

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These are just some fundamentals, and again, they are based on my personal experience. I have worked with seven different publishers throughout my writing career, but I don’t claim to know every detail about every publisher. This industry changes constantly (when I started, snail mail was the only way to submit and now the majority of publishers prefer email), and anyone who wants to be successful in this weird and wonderful business needs to learn what he or she can about targeting publishers, crafting and fine-tuning a manuscript, and surviving the wait until the next sale.

You Say You Want a Resolution . . . (with apologies to the Beatles)

new yearFor the past six years at this time, I have made public my writing resolutions. So here we go again – a new year and a relatively new round of resolutions. First, though, here are last year’s offerings and the results there of:

1) I will finish the YA novel currently entitled “Death Kiss” and start submitting it by this summer. Check this one off. I did finish and I did begin submitting. It is currently sitting on the desks of two different agensts, waiting for word on its fate.

2) I will start working on the collaborative projet with Jared (assuming he finishes his other one!) and have it completed by the end of the year. We never quite got to this, but we did sell Beautiful Monster and are awaiting the first royalty payments from it!

3) I will continue trying to get an agent. Of course, having sold all my books without an agent, I sometimes wonder if I really need this. Then I read about an overseas deal or movie rights negotiated by an agent and I realize that this is the right course for me. Still trying, still getting rejected. I haven’t found the right agent yet, but I haven’t tried them all so no point in stopping yet.

4) Continue learning and polishing my craft. I plan to attend a variety of workshops and conferences this year, learning more about the industry and about my chosen career. I atended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and I continue consulting with some of the most talented and generous writers I know. I’m also reading constantly and analyzing everything that I read.

Not bad for 2012. I pretty proud of what I accomplished, like selling two books (Beautiful Monster and The Deepest Blue) and seeing one reissued (Kiss Kiss Bark). I’m proud of the work I’ve done and continue to do. I am committed to growing as a writer, to supporting those in whom I believe, and to pursuing my dream with my whole heart. So, without futher ado, here is this year’s set of goals –

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

These are my objectives. Some require some stretching, some just require organization and time. I look forward to seeing the results of my work, and I would love to hear how many of you have resolutions as well!

It’s PARTY TIME!

I used to present a workshop entitled “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” that was all about the many things that can wrong on the way to your publishing dream. For example: one writer friend came up with a wonderful idea about kids who used an old shack as a club house, then discover that their club house is really a time portal that allows them to travel back and forth through time. It was a great idea, and she started working on it feverishly. A few months into her writing, the “Magic Treehouse” series came out. Tough to sell your idea when someone else is already making money on it. 

Another true story of a serious bump in the publishing road: a writer I know personally had put hundreds of hours into researching, writing, and revising a nonfiction book for an educational publisher. Just as the last revisions were about to be submitted, the editor called to announce that the publisher was being bought out, and the series that this book belonged to was being discontinued.

And here’s another: After working on a novel for nearly a year, a writer found an agent. The agent sent a glowing letter about how marvelous the book was, and that the agent knew exactly which editor would be interested. Months went by with no word, then more months went by. Finally the author called and ased the agent what the status of her book was. The agent replied that it looked like a sale and they should get the contract soon. The the author later found out that the editor had passed away. A new editor was hired. The the bad news: the agent sent a letter saying that not only did the new editor not want the manuscript, but the agent, too, has had a change of heart and would no longer be representing the work.

The sad truth is, there are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of stories just like this (I have many of them written down for my presentation). I tell people all the time: Finishing the book is the easy part. Getting it accepted for publication and seeing it in a finished form is the hard part. Long ago I adopted the phrase, “It ain’t a book til it’s a book.” The fact is that until you can hold it in your hand (or now a days, download it to your iPad), it isn’t a book.  So many things can go wrong along the way to that final piece that it’s best not to get too excited.

But then there is a point where getting excited is not only justifiable, it’s almost impossible to avoid. At some point, you can’t stop the ball from rolling, and like a big cartoon snowball, gathering momentum, the inevitable happens – the book becomes real and the excitement becomes almost unstoppable.

I’m there! It’s just over a week to the release of “Beautiful Monster” and I can no longer contain my enthusiasm! But if the truth be told, this one was twice as hard to get excited for as any of my other books.  First,  it’s a very different book for me, and I have spent a great deal of time worrying about what people who know me will think when they read it.  Second, this book generates a lot of mixed emotions for me for reasons I’m not going to bother explaining at the moment. Just take my word – it’s a tough one for me. Third, I haven’t had a lot of support for this book from one very important person, and that has kept me from wanting to celebrate.

But all of this changed in the last few days. A wise person asked me, “Why would you let anyone control your happiness – or any other emotion for that matter?” It was a valid question, and one which I spent several days contemplating. After much meditation and thought, I arrived at the following conclusions:

First – this book made me stretch as a writer, and as such, I grew as a writer as well. That is definitely worth celebrating. And the people who know me will just have to deal with the fact that I can write horror and other difficult subject matter as well as writing the funny kids’ stuff! Second – for all the challenges I had writing this book, I also gained a great deal. I gained confidence, I gained clarity, and I strengthened a friendship that will matter to me for the rest of my life. These are all things that I find worthy of celebrating. Third – turning over my happiness about something to anyone – regardless of who that person is – is just not emotionally healthy, and I should be tougher and more committed to my dream than to allow that. I earned this celebration, and I deserve to hold my head high about this upcoming release.

With all that in mind, I decided that I would, indeed, allow myself to be happy about this new book and to celebrate in a way that I never have with any other book! I am throwing a book release party at my house and I’ve invited hundreds of people! I hope they don’t all show up at once, cuz my house just ain’t that big! But if they do, that’s fine! We will overflow into the parking lot, maybe take over the neighbor’s place – who knows! I have ordered postcards to mail to everyone I can think of. The theme of the party – in keeping with the story of course – is serial killers! There will be a drawing for an autographed copy of the book and for a free download of a digital copy. 

My moment of triumph came when I calmly told the person whose support I wanted that I was going to celebrate whether or not this person supported me. I invited the person to join in, and I explained that if this person chose not to celebrate with me, that was fine – I was going to do it anyway. The response was not what I expected. “I think that’s a great idea, and I’m proud of you for going forward.”

Yeah, it was a jaw-drop moment!

So if you live nearby, or you can get here with reasonable expense (I have airmats if you need a place to stay!) consider yourself invited! It is going to be joyous, creepy, exciting, and a great deal of fun! I hope to see you there!

Paying it Forward

It isn’t a new concept. The movie with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt came out in 2000, so we’ve all heard the phrase, and we’ve probably all thought it was a great concept – but how does one pay it forward? Well, I can’t address this for everyone, so let me speak to it from my own experience as it relates to writing.

The first big writing conference I ever attended was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators summer conference in Los Angeles, CA. in 1996. I had been writing and submitting for years, but was getting nowhere. I’d had some success writing nonfiction on the internet search site CitySearch, but my stories were stuck.  I’d been suckered by a vanity press, and I’d almost decided to give up when I learned about the organization, met the Regional Advisor, and began attending workshops. It was through this organization I came to know my first mentor, and very dear friend, Carol Lynch Williams. At that point, she had something like 15 books published, and to me, she was a goddess of children’s writing.

At the conference, Carol and I discovered a mutual quirky sense of humor, and a sincere desire to become more effective and successful writers. Carol invited me to attend a writing group in her home, and we became fast friends.  During the conference, I was able to hear from writers such as Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, and E.L. Konigsburg: some of the biggest names in children’s literature in the past 20+ years!

Each of these speakers was eloquent, helpful, and very generous in giving advice and time to those of us who were new. In a fortunate turn of circumstances, I was actually seated with Ms. Yolen alone for about 20 minutes and was able to talk with her uninterrupted. Her kindness, warmth, and patience with what I know now and  acknowledge were stupid questions was certainly beyond the call of duty, but she was tolerant beyond measure with me. Later, when she spoke at another even I attended, I learned why. Ms. Yolen has long-held the belief that paying it forward is the only proper way to conduct yourself.  You can’t pay back those who’ve helped you. What could I possible teach to a woman who’s won more literary awards than I have fingers and toes to count them on? So this became my mission: as I learned, I shared. As I progressed, I helped to bring someone else along, too. Carol mentored me, and we continue to stay in touch even today. I began to mentor others through classes, writing groups, and individually.

But there are downfalls to doing this. There are those who don’t really want to learn. What they want is for you to give them the shortcut to success. They want the name of your agent, your publisher, and a good word from you to guarantee that their work will make it to publication with the effort and time that everyone else has put in.  There are those, too, who don’t really want your comments, your feedback, or your help. They want you to tell them how outstanding their work already is, even if it violates every law of grammar, punctuation, and acceptable standards for the genre in which they are writing. I’ve been asked for help by would-be writers, only to have them turn around and call me names and insult me. I’ve had them ask for my input, and because they didn’t like what I said, they’ve publicly flogged me through email, on blogs, and to others in the writing community.

But I’ve had some very positive experiences, too. Several writers who are former students of mine have gone on to become very successful writers themselves. Anne Bowen and Becky Hall are both former students and now friends who have been multiply published – and not because of me. Because they are hardworking and committed writers, and I was just in the right place at the right time to provide some encouragement and some insight.  My wonderful friend and writing partner Jared Anderson is on the brink of success – so close we can both taste it. I’ve worked with him for a few years as a mentor, but now more as a co-writer and friend. When he achieves success – and it is inevitable because he is so good – it won’t be because of me. It will be because he listened and applied what he learned, and he improve his craft. But I can take great pride in having offered just a little help to each of these writers, and they in turn are paying it forward to others.

This is how writing improves, excellent books get written, and new writers are encouraged to bring their voices out into the open. I have long practiced, and long believed in the power of paying it forward, and I hope that those whom I’ve touched, whether they are writers or not, will see the value to themselves in doing the same.  PIF on, my friends!