Thursday, July 30, 2009

Publishing Options

An interesting article on the difference between Print On Demand and self-publishing.

Apparently it's even getting harder to self-publish. Standards are going up for every part of the industry. Which can only really be a good thing.

Although, if I hear one more agent say the key to getting published is to write a really good book, I may throw up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My So-Called Life

Overall, today has been a very good day for me. I actually got more than four hours of sleep. I met with a friend this morning who wanted to know all about my book. She introduced me to two other Christian writers in my church. Turns out there are other writers in this area. They want to start getting together to encourage each other. They are exceedingly excited about my publishing contract.

My husband had to dash off to New Mexico briefly, so he was home this morning and had lunch with me. We laughed like we were teens in love. It was a fantastic lunch.

I went to the doctor, where I discovered I've lost nine pounds in three months, have unbelievably low bad cholesterol and very good good cholesterol, and am in overall excellent health.

I took my kids with me and left them in the waiting room, where the admin people raved over how superbly behaved they were.

It was a good day for me.

A few hours away, a very, very dear friend is attending the funeral of his nephew - a kid that was like a brother to him. The past few days have been a nightmare for him. Who expects a 24 year old to go to sleep one night, and not wake up? Who expects an athletic, active kid to have a heart condition no one could see?

My friend's grief is palpable. The world has stopped for him. I know. Because life stopped for me just eight months ago, when another friend of mine died.

Every moment I felt good today, I felt bad for feeling good. The aspects of my life are great right now, but my heart hurts for him, and it seems strange that my life should continue on - my parallel world with his - each of us connected to each other, and yet on such separate paths.

It feels sometimes, for me, like we are not all living in the same world with each other, but we are each living in our own world surrounded by a supporting cast of people who each live in their own world in which I am but a supporting cast.

Except when I think about him. And then I am overwhelmed with sadness too.

It reminds me that all the things that are seemingly important - getting a book deal, getting published, finding agents, writing, getting media productions complete and in mail ahead of schedule, folding laundry, cleaning the house, finishing critiques, making appointments...

none of these are as important as people.

Which is why it's taken me half the day to write this simple, short post. Because my son wants to show me what he's made, and my daughters want me to teach them how to make friendship bracelets, and my husband, for once, was home for lunch.

and who know how long I have with any one of them?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Judging a Book By It's Cover

There has been a lot of flap lately over the cover of LIAR, by Justine Larbalestier. If you don't know about the controversy, where have you been??

Just kidding! Seriously, this plays into my hands in the fears I wrote in the previous post: what happens if you hate the cover art? More specifically - what happens if the book jacket doesn't match your book... at all?

Justine describes the main character this way: Micah is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short.

The cover photo? A decidedly Caucasian woman with long, fine hair.

I'd comment about this at length, but better, smarter people have done that for me. So here is a great blog post about another author's view of the situation, which had me thinking about this more widely than just this book. What is the purpose of cover art?

Author John Green (of the aforementioned post) points out that publishers want to get the books into the hands of as many people as possible - to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. But he brings up a great point:

I would argue the job of a cover is not to get the book to the broadest audience but instead to get the book to its best audience.

So does a publisher (and it's marketing/cover art department along with it's partners in crime in large chain bookstores) have an obligation to make the cover as appealing to a wide-spread audience it thinks it can sell better to - or to appeal to the audience, albeit maybe a smaller one, that would actually love the book?

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Fears That Keep Me Up At Night

Just in case you think it's all rainbows and puppies here since I signed my book away into a publisher's hands, here's the flip side - the things that freak me out just a little before I fall asleep.

1. What if my editor wants the entire book in five points of view instead of one? Or worse - wants it changed to 3rd person instead of 1st? Or wants to change it to be about cancer instead of diabetes? Or wants a different ending? Or wants it to take place in New York instead of Texas?

2. What if the publishing press turns out to be this big scam and my book never gets published? Or they go bankrupt before it comes out?

3. What if the cover art is hideous?

4. What if I turn out to be terrible at revising with my editor's notes?

5. What happens if no one buys it?

6. What if, because no one buys it, no agent or publisher will ever look at anything else I write?

7. What if people buy it, and hate it, and think I'm a terrible writer?

8. What if I throw up from anxiety when I try to talk to people in public, like at a signing or conference or something?

9. What if it turns out I can't work on someone else's deadline schedule?

10. What if getting everything I want, turns out not to be everything I dreamed it would be?

You know, it's Friday. I should end this week on a more positive note. So here it goes.

What happens if getting everything I want, turns out to be even better than I dreamed?

Because, after all, why not?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dreams I Am Suddenly Allowed To Have

1. Seeing my book in a bookstore

2. Attending a conference where I am actually an author instead of someone hoping to get a foot in the door

3. Taking a photo of me with my book and posting it on my blog

4. Signing a book for someone, especially someone who isn't related!

5. Reading author blogs and thinking, "I'm in the same place as them!"

6. Getting editor notes

7. Having to stay up late because I have a real deadline someone cares about other than me

8. Telling the very gracious parents who volunteered their time and emotional experiences with diagnosis of their children that the book is out, and that if they read it carefully, they'll see themselves in it

9. Looking at all the rejections that came before this as a blessing

10. Knowing that something I have wanted to do all my life, I have done. And looking forward to the next step, and taking it to a new and bigger level; to finding a new a bigger dream. Not different. Just bigger. And suddenly knowing that it can actually happen. It can really happen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I'm sorry, did I just yell that??

I think, a week and a half after the formal offer, it is finally sinking in. Today I signed the papers, and it feels real. After walking through a daze, wondering, "How in the world can this be happening?" it finally is.

I have a contract with a publisher who wants to publish my book, Some Kind of Normal.

I suppose it's typical of my life that it didn't happen the normal way. Typical of the book, really. It happened, as I suspect many things in this industry do, by a lot of hard work, but a good deal of luck as well. Or networking. Maybe some of both.

The short story is this: I met a guy on Twitter who had an editor. He asked me to join a writing forum with him, where I wrote my query pitch. His editor saw it and asked him to have me submit to them. I did. They offered. I accepted.

The long story is much more...well...longer. And probably confusing. And I'm sure I'll get around to telling it here one day. But for now, suffice it to say, I'm not knocking Twitter anymore. :)

The publisher is a small press named NorLights Press. They are new and growing, and the more I talk to them, the more excited I become.

I've done a lot of research lately about small presses, which I'm sure over the next weeks I'll fill you in on more. I've read the warnings and the praise, weighed the two along with my own experiences in the past eight months and those of my fellow writers, and come to the conclusion that this is exactly where I need to be.

The next weeks will be a flurry of editing, collaborating on cover design, marketing research, choosing where I want the press releases sent. While NorLights takes on all of the financial responsibilities and normal publishing duties, since they are a small press, it becomes even more important for me to help market myself and the book in places they might not be able to reach. It's an aspect of the process I'm eager to jump into.

I love this whole life! I love every aspect of writing! I love writing, revising, editing, marketing. I even loved the query process, most of the time. While I didn't get an agent out of it, it was, on the whole, very good to me. Without so many agents writing such encouraging, personal letters, I might have given up long ago.

So there it is.

The journey begins.

As soon as I get myself off cloud nine. :)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

News Flash: Publishing ISN'T A Dying Industry

Just because I haven't been writing blog posts doesn't mean I haven't been spending my share of time on the computer, researching the publishing industry.

I decided some time ago I was over queries. Soooooo over them. Not in over sending them, but over trying to get them right, trying to tweak, to learn about, to stalk agents and figure out exactly what they want.

So I'm spending my blog haunting times doing research on the publishing industry. After all, that seems to be the whole crux of the problem with my friends getting published, and in them getting agents (and me too). There just aren't a lot of books being acquired right now.

And if you haven't read this article, and I suspect you haven't unless you are a dedicated Lehrer News Hour listener, then you need to. Right now.

But if, as I suspect, some of you won't click over because you are just that busy, here is the quick rundown.

  • E-books are not going to run traditional books out of business.
  • E-books are actually increasing the sale of traditional books
  • Think of e-books like audio books: they don't replace, they just supplement
  • Reading rates are actually on the upswing - a steep rise in adults reading this year
  • The publishing business is legalized gambling (says an agent)
  • Small press publishers are getting the best books out there
But don't take my word for it. Go read the interview with two top agents, and what they have to say about what's going on in the topsy-turvy world of publishing. I promise, it's an interesting read.

If you're into that thing, that is.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Letter

Dear Blog:

I've been unfaithful. Not that I've been hanging out on other blogs or anything. I'd never do that to you. Really.

But I haven't been as committed as you. You are here, day in and day out.

I am...well...around. I check in every now and then, but I can't write. I think of you often. I think of creative, fun things to fill your pages. But when I sit and find you, there are other things pulling me away.

I could fill you with photos, but then I'm afraid Flick'r would be jealous. I could add quirky quick little updates, but then Twitter and Facebook would be jealous.

Honestly, I think I may just have too much technology on my hands.

Nah. Impossible.

It's just a summer slump. I'll be back again, writing every day soon.

I promise.

Love, Me

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finding Peace in the Hard Places

I've been in the midst of some big decisions here. I don't do decisions very well, I've discovered. There are some decisions I make quickly - like if my kids can have cookies an hour before dinner - and others - like do I try to fix my dying computer or do I buy a new one - that are much harder.

And then there are the big ones that feel overwhelmingly big - like what direction do I take my writing in? Which of the two books that I am writing do I want to continue with - which leads to the more important question of who do I want to be as a writer?

And faced with big decisions only I can make, I find retreat in photography. It's like my place of peace.

So I have nothing big to write right now. I'm in the midst of decisions not yet made. Researching and soul searching. And at last I'm at the place I just need to decide which path to go.

So I will give you some of what I have been doing while mulling over those decisions. A bit of peace. And I hope they find you well.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bear With Me: I Have a Point

More than eleven years ago I found out I was going to have my first baby. It was the most incredible news ever; a surprise only in that we had wanted this for so long, and nearly given up that it could happen.

For eight months I prepared in the way nearly every new expectant first-time mom prepares. I bought the books. I went to classes. I learned to breathe the right way and visualize through the pain. I read the book cover to cover and subscribed to magazines. I set up a birth plan.

In short, I was well-informed.

And then, 28 hours after heavy labor started, my doctor informed me plan A was not working.


"There is a baby inside me. I want to get it out. This is plan A. What the heck is plan B???"

In a matter of minutes I was surrounded by doctors, nurses, interns, machines and drugs and wheeled into the operating room where plan B was enacted. A c-section in which they cut that baby out.

The end result: pretty much the same as plan A.

The point is? I had in my head the way the birth of my child should be. There was a plan: the traditional, time-honored way of having a baby. A very specific journey to take to get that beautiful baby boy. But in the end, just because I took a different path didn't mean I had anything less than that perfect beautiful boy.

And frankly, when it came to the second and third children, I chose plan B: the more direct, less painful, faster way to the end result. Hey, I'm no martyr. I was given the option and I grabbed it!

I've been thinking about this a lot in regards to publishing. In short, I want to be published. I want to see my manuscript, my baby, on a bookshelf. I want to see it in someone else's hands in something more than just a ream of loose leaf pages hot from my own personal printer. I want to have a real book.

And in all the planning, I've only been looking at plan A. Write the book. Query the book. Get an agent. Submit to editors. Find a publisher. Get printed.

But the truth of the matter is that this is only one of many options.

On the Writers of 4 Corners blog, I outlined the main options in a new post. Not that I'm ready to head down another path at the moment, but you never know. Things are changing so fast in this industry. At some point, we all may have to adapt and switch gears.

It's never bad to know what plan B is. You know. Just in case.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Breaking the Code

This was my week for making a serious dent in my writing. For the first time in over a month, the kids are busy all morning, and I figured I would disappear into my local coffee shop and write, write, write.

Of course, the best plans of mice and men....

The problem has been part just getting back into things, and part the struggle so many of my friends seem to be in: do I revise as I go or move on?

I've advised all of them to move on. My code: Keep moving forward. You can get stuck forever trying to get what you've already written right, and never write anything else. Move on. Get it done. Then revise.

I think that's the best plan of attack. Except when it's not.

Sometimes, revision is about making the writing tighter, better, more vivid, more detailed, deeper. Sometimes revision is making it better. And that can wait until it's done.

But sometimes, revision is about a major overhaul. Sometimes, part way through writing, the story or character take over, and then suddenly you have a different story altogether. Or the structure of the story changes.

In that case, I think it's wise to stop and go back. If you know big things need to change, rather than changing it all midstream, it makes sense to go back and fix what's wrong so that there isn't a complete switch in the middle of the manuscript. If for no other reason, I think mentally it makes a difference when you are writing.

One of my writing partners recently had to do this, and now I find myself in the same position.

When I went back after my hiatus and looked at my book, something wasn't working. To be truthful, it was never working, which is why it was so easy for me to suddenly find less time to work on it. When I sat to write in those few stolen moments here and there, something was wrong. I knew what it was that didn't work, but I didn't know how to fix it. And I couldn't keep writing knowing that everything I wrote was eventually going to have to change in the face of major revisions whenever I figured out what to do with it.

Then, one of my brilliant writing partners said something which suddenly cleared it all up.


Now I have a new structure for the book: a more unique and creative one which will totally support the plot and serve to fix every problem I had as I was writing.

It means I need to go back and start rewriting now; I won't have to dump everything I've written, but I will have to completely revamp it. If I weren't so excited about it I'd be frustrated. But I think it's a great change, exactly what this needs. So I am back at square one; or square two maybe.

Lessons learned?

Sometimes it's okay to break your own code.

And also: writing groups totally ROCK!

And also: writing sometimes is really hard. Even when all the pieces are there, and when you're excited, and when you know the whole story in your head. The writing itself is hard.

Which makes me admire every single one of you who have put enough words to paper to be able to type the final words: the end.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Author Interviews (for lack of a more creative post title)

In an act of clear irrationality, Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, has graciously accepted my invitation to an interview here on the blog.

I'll be honest. I've never interviewed an author formally, and to start with a NYT bestseller author is a bit daunting. It's been a long time since my last journalism class (1991 to be precise), and I've gotten lazy in the years since.

I am almost embarrassed by my book reviews, and I have so far refused to review the books I read on Good Reads. Have you read the reviews there? They read like college papers. They are thorough and intelligent and detailed. I am more along the lines of, "Hey, I read this book and I really liked it. I think you should read it too."

Part of this is because I don't actually recommend books that often, so when I say, "You should read this book, it's really good," I am not just flinging a half-hearted compliment out there. I really mean it. And I don't say it that often.

(The other reason is that this blog is not my vocation, nor is Good Reads, and to put the kind of time required into great, scholarly sounding reviews takes away the time I need to write my fiction. That, and I'm just a conversational writer at heart.)

So I really liked the book Columbine, and to me the impressiveness of the book can't be separated from the impressiveness of the writer: the scope of his research, the depth of his connections, the ease of his writing in what is clearly an emotional, difficult topic. He clearly did not skate by on the idea that the book would sell on it's subject alone.

But now that he's agreed to an interview, I'm waffling about what to ask. Honestly, I could spend an entire day asking questions that would range from the tragedy at Columbine to the eerie similarities between his background and my own husband's (Army, Arthur Anderson, time in Kuwait, Fort Benning... the list goes on and on). I'm guessing he probably doesn't want to spend an entire day entertaining my ramblings.

So, I'm trying to balance between what I really want to know and talk about, and what is interesting on the blog, and what is good for him as well.

As I assemble my list of questions, I ask myself what I would want as a writer. If I were being interviewed, what would I want to get out of it?

And the answer I think is a balance between the book and the writer.

I want to promote his book, because I think people should buy and read it.

But I want people to feel connected to Dave as a person as well, because I have the feeling there are more books in him, and I think if people come to have a connection with the author as a person and not just as the writer of a book of interest, they are more likely to buy those other books down the road. I know this is true of myself. I am more likely to buy Vikas Swarup's new book because I heard him speak and I really liked him (and the books sounds fantastic). I will buy Patricia Wood's next book, not just because I loved Perry and Lottery, but because I read her blog and she comments on mine, and because I feel like I know her a little.

Personal connections are what build loyalty, I think.

So what do you as readers like to see in an author interview? And as an author, is that different?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On Being A Serious Writer

It's late tonight, and I don't have time for a long post.

One of my dear friends and writing partners has been going through a tough time of it lately; namely, despite the fact that many agents fought to get her, the one she chose (brilliant as the agent may be) is having trouble finding an editor to acquire the book. She is, apparently, "too literary." Her prose is too smooth, the plot too timeless, the story "too lyrical."

Publishers, apparently, are looking for the serial fast food of YA lit: gossip girls and clique chicks and what have you. My friend is, inexplicably, too good for this market.

None of us in my writer's group write fast food literature. And often, when I am at the beginning of an idea, I think: will this sell? Is it catchy enough?

The answer is never an easy one, because I don't write fluffy stuff. I like the hard hitting writing that makes you think, and feel; the kind that changes you a little. I gravitate towards reading it, and that's what I tend to write.

Tonight while catching up on correspondence, I had the TV on to some music station, just for the background noise, and one interview caught my attention. I rewound it (the great benefit of a DVR) because it seemed so apropos of this very discussion.

So I leave you with the thought of a country singer:

"Its hard to be taken seriously when you aren't doing something serious." Brad Paisley

Take that gossip girls.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Columbine: The Review

I don't usually do back-to-back book commentaries, but I'm done with Columbine, and I'm hoping to put it behind me and move on to something lighter.

Don't get me wrong; it was a good book. A very good book. Dave Cullen is obviously an outstanding journalist, a top-notch researcher, and an engaging writer. It was thoroughly written, both as an overview of the school massacre and as a psychological study of the two killers. It is, in large part, a critique of the media, and on those of us in the public that demand news second-to-second, as it happens.

It is amazing - and sad - to see how much has been legislated or created based on the assumptions made the first 24 hours after the two kids walked into their high school and shot it up, and how much hasn't changed at all because the truth that developed later wasn't as interesting. It is incredible and frustrating how many myths still surround the killings.

I couldn't put the book down, or stop talking about it, which was a real downer for my husband, who couldn't really understand why I was interested in it in the first place. But it's the kind of book you want to talk about... talk it out.

It's the kind of book that gets under your skin, that lives in your head. While watching the fireworks on July 4th, I cringed at the explosive sounds, and wondered if the students there that day would ever be able to sit through fireworks again. I thought about them when I filled our propane tanks for the grill. I thought about them when I used a C2O cartridge for our seltzer bottle. I thought about them when I saw someone on TV in a trench coat. My head is full of images, even though the book doesn't have any pictures.

I taught middle school English for six years, and one of my first years I had a student eerily like Dylan Klebold. Quiet, depressive, combustible. Highly disturbing violent stories about knives and guns and blowing students to pieces... along with some unmentionable things that might happen to me if I didn't run away with him. Gosh, I shuddered reading this book and wondered what happened to that kid.

It's an excellent book, and one I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Columbine.

But I'm glad it's done, and instead of moving on to Crazy for the Storm, I'm taking a break with something lighter. Something fun a friend gave me to read for my birthday, which doesn't have anything to do with guns or bombs or SWAT teams or psychopaths or killings, or survival.

Something more summery. Something more befitting the pool and the sun. And an easy night's rest.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Key Is Unique

America's Got TalentImage via Wikipedia

One of my family's summer indulgences is America's Got Talent. When I first watched it some years ago, I wondered how in the world three judges, let alone the American public, was going to compare such varied talents as ventriloquism, singing, and magic and come up with one most talented person. Heck, I can't even compare a country singer versus a rock singer on American Idol.

What I've learned from watching the show over the last three seasons is that to move on to the next round, you have to stand out. Not just be good at what you do. Not even necessarily be excellent at what you do. You have to be unique at what you do. It is not enough to be able to play the violin well, you have to play it in a way no one has seen before, the way Nuttin' but Strings did to pull out their second place win last year. You can't just sing, you have to blow away everyone's expectations, the way Susan Boyle did (yeah, I know that was in Britain, but still, it makes the point). You can be not as talented, but very young, and that works too. You can sometimes even be not talented at all, but somewhat entertaining and surprising - something so different no one can compare.

You can't just sing a song everyone's heard. You can't just juggle knives or dance a mean jitterbug. You have to be unique.

Which brings me to the book I mentioned last week: Q&A by Vikas Swarup (Otherwise known as Slumdog Millionaire).

If you haven't read this book, you should. Even if you hated the movie, you should read the book (like most book/movie adaptions, the book is very different, and much better!).*

Like the best acts of America's Got Talent, this book is unique and creative, and different than almost anything out there. The story itself could have been just another story of a boy in the slums of India, growing up without parents and ending up on a quiz show. And I probably would never have picked it up.

What makes this book different is its structure: the whole format of the book is different than anything else I've read. Its premise is stated in the first few pages: boy from slums wins a billion rupees on game show and is arrested for cheating. How can a boy with no education know the answers to questions most people in India don't know?

The rest of the book is structured by the game show: each chapter is a slice of the boy's life, followed by the question. Of course, each answer comes from the experiences of his life.

Unlike the movie, the book doesn't follow a chronological timeline. It jumps back and forth through his life, with few threads throughout so it's almost a series of vignettes about his life that you might be tempted to think have no bearing on each other at all. In this way, it's easy to read, quick, certain sections more interesting than others, but all like pieces of a puzzle.

And the end... BAM! Just when you think it's just a story about his life.... maybe a commentary on the game show industry or on poverty or a referendum on how humans treat each other... it suddenly becomes something much greater. The threads of the story-line, all seemingly random, come together is a WOW moment.

Swarup could have written this book with a traditional chronological structure, but my guess is the book might never have been picked up. What makes it fantastic - what gives it that WOW factor in the last few pages - is it's uniqueness in the way it uses time and the way time is less important than the quiz show format. It's brilliant.

As a writer, I am filing this away as one of the examples of "how to move to the next level." Because sometimes it's not enough to just be a good writer. Sometimes it's about having something no one else has.

*In the book the main character's name is not Jamal, he has no brother, and there is no love interest - or girl for that matter - that he loves and seeks to find, just for starters on how different the book and movie are!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy 4th of July

I love this country. I really do. The more I study the history, the more I love it. I try to remember that, at the time, the men and women who risked their lives to bring about this country, did so with no assurances - and great odds against them - that they would succeed. They had no real idea what this country would become. They had a hope. And an idea. For something that had never been done before.

On the eve of the 4th of July - the anniversary of the birth of this country - something which never ceases to amaze me - one of my favorite quotes from National Treasure:

A toast? Yeah. To high treason. That's what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. Had we lost the war, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, and-Oh! Oh, my personal favorite-and had their entrails cut out and 'burned'! So... Here's to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right...