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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Writing is an Endurance Sport

I wrote the following as a guest blog post for another site back in 2012. This subject popped up elsewhere recently (or continuously?) so tracked down the old post and am updating it here. (NOTE: only a week ago, I said this blog was going on hiatus. I lied.)

Writing is an endurance sport. That's been my mantra for the past few weeks yearsTwo months ago, Back when I first started querying my latest novel, Ye Gods! (titled Chupacabra at the time) I received a request from an agent for the full manuscript of my current novel, Chupacabra and I've been patiently waiting I waited patiently for two months to hear back. Patience may be a virtue but it isn't one of mine. I refrained from sending daily emails, but just barely. I did send a friendly note after six weeks and got a prompt reply that I was next in the pile.

This week, Finally, I received the "thanks, but no thanks" letter. The agent took the time to tell me what she liked and what wasn't working for her. Enough worked that she read the entire ms, but overall, something missed the mark. [Insert the sound you associate with a crumpling ego and dashed dreams here.] 

What's a poor author to do when, after spending months, even years writing and editing and polishing, an agent says "no" to their masterpiece? Not so long ago, the options were to persevere or give up.

But this is a new age in publishing; the options have expanded. Authors who have put in the thankless hours of finishing a novel (that itself is a huge accomplishment) no longer need face the demoralizing anguish of being told, "It's just not good enough." Instead, they can rail against literary agents for "not getting it," rant about "the gatekeepers," and justify their own work with, "I've read books that are worse than mine." Then they can run their ms through spell-checker and immediately proceed to the self-publishing option of their choice and send their book out into the world, ready or not.

I have that option, but I'm not going to take it. Writing is an endurance sport. There's more work to do before I reach the finish line and a marathon runner can't take a short cut and still win the race. Or, if they do, the win will be fleeting. Just ask Rosie Ruiz.

I also have the option to look for small publishers, as I did with my first novel, Marina Melee. For new writers, small publishers offer a great way to break into the publishing world. My publisher, Casperian Books, is easy to work with, provides valuable services like layout, cover art, press releases, and help with marketing that I wouldn't have had I self-pubbed. So why not go with them again? Because with their help I've learned a lot about selling books and I've grown as a writer. I'm now better prepared to approach agents and offer them more than just another manuscript in the slush pile: experience, and an appreciation for what they do.
Update: I'd given myself 1 year to query. I received four requests for the partial or full manuscript and lots of helpful feedback and encouragement, but no takers. In total, querying and waiting to hear back from those agents, I waited 18 months before deciding to approach Casperian Books again, and that's where it found its home. It took another 14 months to go through the editing and design process, develop the marketing materials, and get in the queue to be released. Ye Gods! came out in April 2014.

I'm now working on the sequel to Ye Gods!, The Un-Familiar. Because it's a sequel, I suspect an agent would be hesitant to pick it up, so I will again query Casperian. (I know that just because they published me once is no guarantee they'll keep publishing my books. I have to give them a quality product that they can sell!)

It took one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, eight years between deciding to become a writer and selling his first book, Practical Demon Keeping.  He spent a year writing it, and almost another whole year polishing and editing before it sold. His persistence paid off. True, that was before the advent of easy, cheap self-publishing, but, would he have chosen that path had it been available? "I can't imagine marketing a book without an agent. I'm doing this to write, not to be a salesman. I left being a salesman to write books, so I'm happy to have someone to do the selling" (click here for more). Sounds like a no to me.

Moore's Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove sat on the desk next to me and motivated me while I wrote Chupacabra. His writing inspires me and his words in this interview even more so. I'm in this to write and I'm in for the long haul. As tempting as it might be to self-publish the current, pretty good version of Chupacabra, I'll get back to polishing, I'll work on the areas the agent suggested, and the story will be even better. When I do find an agent, with their help, it'll get better still. Update: so glad I went with Casperian Books. Despite many, many rounds of rewriting, revising, running through a critique group and beta-readers, self-editing, and hiring an editor, their editor found additional errors and recommended other helpful changes.

Am I missing an opportunity by not considering self-publishing? Maybe. But I think it's for an even better one somewhere down the road. Being a novelist isn't a sprint, it's an endurance sport. That takes patience and persistence. While I'm not known for the former, I have the latter in spades.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Just Say "No!" or Why This Blog is Going Inactive

Today I came across this great article, The Many, Many, Many Things You Should Should Say "No" to at Work, by Kristin Muhlner is the CEO of NewBrand Analytics, which helps companies monitor social media chatter about them.

Nancy Reagan had it right? (From wikipedia)

Read the article for her explanations of each, but here are the things this social media expert says we should NOT be doing.

1. Anything where our presence isn't essential.
2. Anything someone else is/should be doing.
3. Networking. Yes, you read that correctly. This social media expert says don't do the networking thing! (I think I love her.)
4. Don't answer email.
5. Philanthropic work.
6. Being inauthentic.
7. Don't jump right into everything! Hold out.
8. Chaining yourself to your desk.
9. All-nighters.

It really is worth reading her explanations of each of these and how they're time-sucks that don't get us anywhere. But of course, it's #3 that really caught my eye.

I've always had mixed feelings about my "networking" activity on a glut of SOcial MEdia (So-Me) outlets: Facebook, two blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, 4 email accounts (really, how many email accounts should one person have? Yahoo, my original, but then it got wonky, so thought I'd migrate to Gmail, but realized I could selectively migrate by types of email, as something of a filter, so kept both, plus have my work accounts, one for UMUC and one for TTC!), and whatever else I've forgotten about.

If I have mixed feelings about it, why am I so active? Am I that self-absorbed? (Arguably, yes, but not in that way.)

The common wisdom in the writing community is an author MUST have a social media presence. My mixed feelings come because in my mind, the whole idea of author networking through social media was bastardized and twisted from, "an author should have a social media presence to reach readers" to "one has to have a social media presence to get readers so you can get published." That whole platform question that I blogged about (against) here and here.

I've been in the process of streamlining my life recently. I've finally gotten around to hitting "unsubscribe" to the hundreds of junk-mails that work their way into our mail streams as we click our way around the internet. I've stopped renewing memberships in organizations that, while I support what they do, I really don't have the time to read any of the emails, magazines, newsletters, alerts, etc that I'm flooded with, and I wonder what good I do in the big scheme when it costs them more to generate and mail all the printed material I receive than I contribute to begin with.

A little neater than my own desk.

My biggest motivation for simplifying and ejecting some forms of social media from my life is that it takes away my valuable and limited writing time. In the hour or two I've carved out to write each day, I send a few 140 character tweets, write a blog post (as random and rare as they are!), keep up with friends, acquaintances, and strangers on Facebook, posting pictures of what I'm thinking of doing (rather than doing it) on Pinterest, and check my various emails. Leaving me exactly 10 minutes to write.

Has any of that resulted in new readers? Maybe. I don't know. Certainly not in the hundreds or even dozens.

So, I'm going to do what I suspect I should have been doing all along: focus on my writing. Not email writing, not tweeting, not Facebook and blog posts, but working on my next novel. For now, I'm going to try to limit my So-Me presence to my static website, and one inactive blog. I may keep Waterblogged going with an occasional sea creature post because that's fun and I can tie it into my teaching.  I don't know if I can go inactive on my personal FB account without my author page, Marina Melee by Lynne M. Hinkey, getting disabled, too. We'll see.

And hopefully, I'll see all of you every now and then on Waterblogged or on my FB author page.

Hopefully, my next post will be announcing that The Un-Familiar is done, edited, accepted for publication, and will be released on...

So long for now, and thanks for following!