Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Galaxy Quest

I teach a workshop called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” and it is based on a collection of stories – my own and other writers’ – of the things that can and do go wrong in the publishing world. There are so many elements involved in seeing a book move from idea, to manuscript, to submission, to revisions, to finished product. Because of all these complicated pieces, the opportunity for problems is as abundant as the steps are. Sometimes there are multiple challenges all with the same book. Sometimes these issues are just minor headaches, and sometimes they are enough to make you wonder why you ever thought being a writer was a good idea.

In my own little corner of the writing universe, I’ve had plenty of encounters with publishing speed bumps. I’ve had contracts cancelled due to one publisher buying out another. I’ve had a publisher accidentally send me a bill for what should have been my author’s copies. And I’ve had editors get ill, have family problems, and delay my revisions by months.  Most recently, I’ve had a book scheduled for release three times only to be delayed again because the original publisher is being bought out. It’s tough to go from preparing to celebrate the release of your book to being told, “We don’t really know when it will be released.”

Woman+Pulling+Hair+out

 

In a conversation with an acquaintance, I was explaining the most recent development with my book when he asked, “So why do you keep doing this?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Because I can’t NOT write. I can’t stop.” And it’s the truth. I have stopped writing before for almost two years, and it nearly made me crazy. I tell people regularly that, even if I never made another dime from my stories, I would still keep writing and submitting. It’s my addiction. It’s what keeps me breathing and keeps my heart pounding. It is, very honestly, who I am. So in spite of all those speed bumps, I will never give up. I will never surrender.

There are only a few things I feel this much passion for. My family, obviously, is at the top of the list. Knowledge is another item on the list because I love learning. My pets, and really animals in general are also  high on my list. But writing is what fills my heart. It’s where everything comes together for me.  It’s why I search for detail in the mundane, why I listen for noises or voices that no one else pays attention to, and why even as I’m sitting in traffic, I’m creating a scene or writing descriptions in my head. It just is who I am.

When someone asks, “Why don’t you quit?” When I go through the occasional bout of self-doubt. When yet another speed bump surprises me and jolts me like I’ve been moving too fast, I might have a quick slip into that dark thought of giving up writing, but ultimately, my brain surges, my heart beats faster, and the passion takes over again. Never give up, never surrender.

work-hard-and-never-surrender

Advertisements

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”

deathkiss final-front

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

Guest Blog Excitement!

Today, I’m turning the reigns over to my friend and fellow author, Johnny Worthen! I want you all to play nicely, okay?

Let me start by saying that this guy is one of the few people on the planet who gets my sense of humor (which makes HIS planet of origin highly suspect!).  I recently began reading his upcoming novel BEATRYSEL, and while I’m only about half of the way in, I have been completely blown away from the writing style, the strength of the character development, and the excellent detail that is showcased in this work.

BeatryselWS

So here are a few enlightening and entertaining words from Mr. Worthen:

Writing with others – not for me.

When I was in college back when teachers wore mortarboard hats and robes and rode to school in chariots, I took a creative writing class billed as a “workshop.” That was my first taste of writing in groups, and I’m here to say, it was also my last.

I don’t write well with others.

I got an A in the class, that’s the kind of student I was – grubby grade groveling scholarship keeping academic whiz-kid, but I didn’t learn anything. No, that’s not true: I learned never to do that again.

Now don’t get me wrong, writing workshops are fine in some ways. Writers are by nature solitary creatures and a little bonhomie and community is a good thing – a necessary thing. It’s good to be exposed to others’ writing and helpful to hear what people think of yours.

Sometimes.

The experience I had in that class not only spoiled my attitude toward writing groups, but it actually put me off writing for over a decade.

It was a terror literary politics, subjective criticism and stupid people. One didn’t like the fact that I used four syllable words when a two syllable word would do, like “luminescent” versus “glowing.” Another thought my villain was too mean. Did I mention he was the villain? Another thought that I’d stolen their idea because being drunk was obviously a unique experience. Some criticized the font I printed my stories in – “serif fonts are out of style, don’t you know.” Others admitted they didn’t like science fiction and so wouldn’t read past the title. And of course, being in Utah, I had litanies against the use of foul language and adult situations. What the hell?

The professor had the idea to let the students grade their classmates’ work and arrive at a grade in that way. I was on scholarship, remember, a tight 3.7 or better GPA, and couldn’t afford the D- I was destined for after the first week. Luckily, by the second week, the instructor recognized where his shit ideas was heading – no one was going to pass his course. Nobody. After one student criticized another for having juvenile alliteration, that author turned around and found new faults in that student’s paper, dropping their B to a low D because “they didn’t get it.”

Yeah. I know, right?

The professor took grading back into his own hands, promising A’s to everyone who participated and handed in all the work – content and quality notwithstanding.

Of course the politics still went on and the widely different levels of literary tastes and experience. I remember spending days trying to dumb down a two page story so the visiting exchange student from Longbortistan could understand the aquatic imagery. She never did.

When I turned to writing again, I knew to stay away from groups. I’d been there. Writing is a solitary event. There’ll be time enough for criticism when agents, editors and publishers have it – time enough and plenty enough. At least with them, I know they want my work to succeed, a different mindset entirely from my earlier experience.

I’d never have been able to write my debut BEATRYSEL in that environment. It’s too rough, the language too adult, the situations too disturbing, the language and verb-play too unusual, the use of epigraphs too outdated. The font too “fonty.”

I write. I write a lot, but I admit, I don’t write well with others.

Let’s all put our hands together for Mr. Worthen! Believe me, you can look forward to hearing more from this exceedingly talented guy! And check out BEATRYSEL at all your favorite book and ebook places!  Johnny is a pretty awesome individual, and you can find out more about him here:  http://www.johnnyworthen.com/

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.

s73293b.tif

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!

???????????????????????????????

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.

Research, Reviews, Revisions – Oh My!

revision

I’ll start with revisions. For one book, they’re done, for another, they’re just beginning. Two weeks ago I received the Advanced Unedited copies of my contemporary young adult novel THE DEEPEST BLUE from my publisher.

deepestblue

This was the last possible chance to make any kind of changes to the book before publication. Nothing major – like I couldn’t change the ending, make big alterations to scenes, or anything of that nature. A few extra spaces were found, and a line that should have been deleted was probably the biggest glitch. The thing is, it was just an amazing thing to read the story all the way through for the first time since all the major revisions were done. It was frightening, but it was also exhilarating. I can tell you that at the end of it, I’m pleased – very pleased. I’m very critical of my work, and typically I’m harder on myself than anyone else ever would be, so the fact that I read through the entire book and didn’t hate it says something.

Now I’m gearing up for the revision process for my young adult paranormal novel called DEATH’S KISS. My publisher told me to expect the work to begin in earnest at the beginning of August. I actually like revisions because it’s a second chance (or third, or fourth, or whatever) to fine tune the story. It’s like working on a painting only now I get to go in with a tiny brush and add the details that bring the picture to life. And believe me, the excitement of having two books coming out within a month of each other is only getting bigger with each passing day!

review

This brings me to reviews. The verbal feedback I’ve received from those who have read the two stories has, thus far,  been incredibly positive. I’m grateful for the comments of my beta readers and my editors. Their input has guided both stories and helped to make them stronger. But last week I got word that Kirkus Reviews was planning to publish a review of THE DEEPEST BLUE in their August 1st edition.

kirkus

I got a copy of the review, and while it is very positive, it is fairly critical of one aspect of the book, and that stung a bit. Well, no, it stung a lot. I’d be lying to say that my feelings weren’t just a bit hurt. The only remedy is to remind myself of the same words I’ve given to other writer friends in the same situation: reviews are really only one person’s opinion. If readers respond, that’s all that matters. Soon enough, I’ll have the answer.

So research – I’m working on a new young adult novel, a murder mystery. When I worked with my writing partner on BEAUTIFUL MONSTER, we interviewed a friend of mine who is a mortician to be sure that we got certain icky details correct.

Beautiful Monster Blue.2

Now, I’ve started interviewing a good friend who is an attorney, and a friend of my parents’ who is a retired city detective. They are helping me to verify the details of  a cold case murder. I’m learning all sorts of legal and forensic information that will help me tell a better story. The cycle has started over, and I’m excited to be launching into a new adventure.  Of course, with three books in the works, I’m at three different stages in the writing process, so to say I’m starting over is only partially true.

This time in my writing life is busy, rewarding, and always interesting! I’ve worked hard for this, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have spent 15 years of my life (minus a few I took off when I didn’t think I could write) working toward the experience I am having right now. When I hear other writers whine that they haven’t achieved some level of literary greatness after three or four years, I just have to laugh. I’m happy. I’ve worked hard for this happiness. I will enjoy it to the fullest, and I will continue working to maintain it. Research will not slow me, revisions will not dissuade me, and reviews will not take it away. I’m having a blast!

She said what???

From the mouths of babes . . .

Baby-Picture-Funny-Baby-Boy-Yelling-at-the-Camera

I was presenting a workshop recently, and I was approached by a woman who had attended one of my workshops. She asked a few questions about something I’d said, and then she hit me with something I was totally unprepared for.

“When did you stop attending events like this and start presenting?”

I had to think for a minute. “I started presenting at conferences about 12 years ago,” I said. “But I still attend workshops when I see one that looks really useful.”

The woman shook her head, her eyes wide. “You still go to writing workshops?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “Does that surprise you?”

She sort of “harrumphed” and folded her arms. “I’ve been coming to these things for three years and I could probably teach most of these classes. I’ve read every book on writing ever written, just about, and I’ve got at least eight books finished.”

“How many books have you published?” I asked. I figured she’d have at least a few in print, and maybe she was just looking for the opportunity to be part of a conference in a different way.

“I have one published, but I have eight finished.” She sounded sort of defensive.

“Great,” I said, trying to be enthusiastic. I was getting a really strange vibe from this lady, and I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me. “Who published your first book?”

“I did.” She dug into a canvas bag she was carrying and produced the finished product. She handed it to me as if it were gold leafed and she was afraid I’d damage it.

The cover art was amateurish, to be polite. The design felt almost lopsided and the colors looked muddy. I don’t recall the title of the book because it was really hard to read. And when I looked at the back cover, I found two typos that were set in bold type.

Now, lest my self-published friends think I’m ragging on self-published books, the point of this particular blog is not her book, but rather, it is her attitude. I’m sure the story was fine, maybe even really good, but this woman acted as if this one book meant she knew everything about writing.  Her very words to me hinted (not so subtly) that this is how she felt, too.

I know how this feels. When my first book was published, I felt like I had it all figured out and that my success as a writer was guaranteed. But there is an old adage in the publishing world: The second book is twice as hard as the first. And that is so true. I went six years between my first novel and my second. It’s not that I wasn’t writing – in fact I wrote a lot. But I became afraid. What if this one wasn’t as good as the first one? What if I couldn’t make the magic happen again? What if I wasn’t as good as I thought I was? What if, what if, what if? It paralyzed me, and that made it easy for me not to even try for a while. But I couldn’t stay away, and eventually I had to try again, but I needed reassurance.

So I went to conferences. I went to workshops. I read books. I worked with other writers. These things allowed me to see what my strengths were, identify those areas I needed more work, and helped me to build up those skills that needed a bit more muscle. Even now, these events remind me that I do know a lot about writing, but also remind me that I will never know everything.

I understand this woman’s desire. I understand that she wants validation of her dream. We all do! But the idea that you’ve learned it all and you could teach it all is sort of silly, especially with only one book in print. Yes, you know a lot, and no doubt this woman could talk about her self-publishing experiences, but it takes a bit more than that before conference organizers and workshop hosts invite you to come and present.

The writers I know who are invited to events like this have worked hard for many years to develop the skills they demonstrate in their books and present in their classes. They have tried different ideas, adopted some, rejected others, and have shown through their successes that they understand elements of writing at a very intimate level. And they didn’t show up somewhere, announce that they knew everything, and demand to be allowed to present.

I wish this woman well, and I hope that she is successful – whatever that may mean to her – but the minute you suggest you don’t have anything else to learn, you’ve just proven how little you know.