Monthly Archives: January 2012

Two Sides of the (Publishing) Coin


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            Earlier
this week I had the opportunity to hear two local authors, Ann Port and Steve
Ulfelder, speak at a small public library in the town where I teach.  Both are novelists and both are
published.  Ann Port went the way
of self-publishing, while Steve Ulfelder pursued traditional publishing through
a literary agent.  I loved hearing
both their stories and respect their choices for different reasons.  Listening to the motives each gave for
his or her choice of publishing made me think about my own reasons for writing
and my own goals.

            Ann
spoke first about her journey in self-publishing.  She is a writer who writes from her experiences and travels
and seems to enjoy sharing a bit of herself and her stories through her
fictional pieces.  She admitted she
just wants people to like what she’s written, and as her friends and readers in
the small crowd attested, they do. 
As an older writer she has the dream of seeing all six, possibly seven,
of her stories published.  Though,
from what I gathered, all but that possible seventh have been drafted, she puts
them out one at a time, only publishing the next when the previous book has
paid for itself.  She’s disciplined
in that way, but likes that she doesn’t have to be.  She can publish on her own time schedule, and has a great
deal of control over everything from editing to cover design.  Self-publishing works for her, and she
seems happy (happy enough to enthusiastically try to sell me on the idea).  I admire Ann for doing it her way, for
creating her own goals, her own rules, her own opportunities.  It takes guts to say, ‘I know what I’ve
written is good enough and I’m going to share it with the world, New York be
damned.’

            Steve,
on the other hand, took the route of seeking traditional publication.  He suffered through rejection letters
and rewrites until he found an agent who agreed to represent him and managed to
sell his novel to a publisher (a subsidiary of one of the big New York
publishers).  This arguably more
arduous road was worth it for him though, because he had the goal of becoming a
novelist, one who could sell a book or two a year and make enough to live
on.  He sought to become a writer
as a profession, not just a passionate hobby.  Unlike Ann, he has deadlines and people whose editing
suggestions I’m guessing are at times more like demands.  But he also has the support and
marketing of a major publisher. 
His books are stocked in the “big” bookstores; his advanced
copies are sent to major book reviewers. 
Traditional publishing certainly worked for Steve: his first novel
Purgatory Chasm was just nominated for an Edgar Award (the Oscars of mystery
writing).  I admire Steve for
sticking it out and succeeding in a cutthroat world and for admitting he went
that route because he had bigger goals in mind.  It’s easy to dream big; it’s harder to admit it while you’re
still on the road to success.

            One
could oversimplify the choice by saying it comes down to why we write.  If a writer writes primarily for
intrinsic reasons they should self-publish, and if they write for extrinsic
reasons they should pursue traditional publishing.  But that would be implying that anyone who goes the route of
traditional publishing writes solely for money or recognition, and I don’t buy that.  Sure, it would be nice to make a living from the thing I’m most passionate about, but that’s not why I started writing,
not why I continue to write despite not making a dime (actually, if you count
ink, paper, and postage, never mind time, I’m pretty deep in the red), and it’s
not why I’ll always write.  Like
most writers, published or not, I write because I have stories to tell, because
I love the power of words and the process of piecing them together in just such
a way that lets you 
know you nailed it. 
And yes, like Ann, and Steve, too, I’m sure, I like having people read
my work and hopefully enjoy it. 

            I’ll
admit, ideally, I’d like to follow Steve’s path.  My big dreams involve writing for a living, which will
probably require an agent and numerous books sold by one of the larger
publishing companies.  But big
dreams and small dreams share the same seed: passion.  If down the road I decide to follow Ann’s path and can do so
with the passion and joy she seems to have for her work, that wouldn’t be so
bad either.

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Simon Says “Reformat…again!”

            I
lovingly remember those childhood days playing Red Light, Green Light and Simon
Says.  Back then it was just
another way to pass time at the bus stop, or, for me, another opportunity to
display just how slow and uncoordinated I was.  Only when I became an adult did I realize these games
actually teach kids valuable skills: listening and following directions.  As a middle school teacher, I can
attest to how desperately our children need these skills.  As an adult, however, I can get a
little frustrated when I feel other adults are yelling “Simon says!”
just to test my resolve, and possibly my intelligence.  I am no longer a child.  I no longer need someone to explicitly
tell me things that to anyone with average intelligence would be considered
commonsense.  Apparently, though,
there are enough adults out there who do. 
At least, I’m giving the publishing world the benefit of the doubt, that
their sometimes condescending submission guidelines and ever-changing
formatting requirements, are truly from years of bad experiences and not just
an evil scheme to frustrate hopeful authors everywhere.

            Yesterday
I prepared and sent out a new round of queries, hoping to find a publisher to
accept my book.  By the end of the
day I was bleary-eyed and a bit annoyed (until three nice people sent
personalized confirmations, and one requested a full manuscript!).  It wasn’t just that I had a killer
headache and had spent too many hours trying to find anyone on any writers’
websites who liked any publisher. (There are some really bitter writers in the
world trying to give postal workers a run for their money.)  The publishing websites themselves are
often maddening.  I teach writing
to seventh graders.  Even at
thirteen I expect my students to follow a particular formatting guideline.  I get that.  Having everything in the right place, in the right font,
hopefully not riddled with grammatical errors makes me happy, and it makes
reading others’ writing easier.  But I don’t
develop my own guidelines arbitrarily, nor do I make nasty sarcastic remarks
about the fact many of the essays I correct hardly resemble anything close to
the English language as it should be written.  Ok, I have on occasion, but I’m dealing with kids, most of
whom would rather live at home indefinitely than ever enter a profession that
involved writing, not adults who have completed entire novels.  Yet, reading some of these sites, a writer
might think these publishing companies and agents are addressing a classroom
full of ADHD teens.

            Maybe
I’m in the minority, but before I submitted anywhere, I spent time researching
standard manuscript format, which is different from synopsis format, which is
different from a teaser in a query, which is not the same as a cover
letter.  Yes, it is as confusing as
it sounds, at first.  Yes, it sucks
time like a thousand thirsty leeches. 
But, if it gets a writer published, it’s all worth it.  Right?  Well, I can’t yet answer that one, but I can tell you all
the time I spent learning the proper formats according to a few major websites
and books, which I was told were authorities on such things, was often a waste
of time.  It seems every publishing
company and small press (and many literary agents, as well) each has its own
preferences.  Unlike academic
writing, ninety percent of which uses one of two standard formats, MLA or APA,
the publishing world has no set standards.  Some like Times New Roman, others pooh, pooh it and prefer
Courier.  Some like chapter titles
centered, others don’t or don’t care. 
Some specify how many single spaces down from the top of the page they
should be, but no one wants single-spaced manuscripts, so that guideline
doesn’t even make sense.  Wait, one
e-publisher actually did want it single-spaced.  They must buy stock in Tylenol and Visine.  And don’t even get me started on word
count.  Who knew you needed a math
degree to be an author?  In this
day and age, can’t we trust the computer to be fairly accurate?  If any agent or publisher saw my math
grades, they’d let Word handle any computations–I make it a habit not to
question people as successful as Bill Gates.

            These
seem like minute details, hardly worth griping over.  And they are, which is precisely the point.  The publishing world is probably too
large and too diverse to ever agree on a set format.  Perhaps, instead, they should let go of the little things and
trust that writers who are serious about their craft will have done their
homework and followed a format that is both readable and professional.  If a writer needs to be told not to
send a draft with coffee stains, not to include bribes disguised as odd gifts,
or not to write an email query with the same level of informality one would use
to text a friend, his work isn’t likely to get read no matter what size margins
it has.

            Like most writers, I hope, I
can handle some adversity, and I play well with others, following the rules as
asked.  To the many great companies out there whose instructions are clear, polite, and professional, you have my most sincere gratitude.  To those who like to have a little more fun with their prospective authors, all we’re asking is
that if we have to jump through a few hoops, please keep them still.  And just because a few of our predecessors may have gone hog wild and broken a few, please don’t light them afire
for the rest of us!

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I Bet You Thought I Dropped the Ball

           So
New Year’s Eve is upon us.  The
ball is about to drop.  And this
slacker writer has done it again, made a challenge she couldn’t possibly meet.  Right?  Wrong.  I told
you I hated quitting.  I also
warned you these twelve blogs wouldn’t all be long and eloquent.  So here’s my plucky, pithy attempt at
meeting my goal.  For the sake of
the inboxes of those of you who get each post emailed, I’m sending out blogs
five through one in a single post (but I am still counting it as five separate
blogs!).  If you’re already
enjoying some New Year’s Eve wassailing (sorry, I had to work it in one last
time!), then may these not add to your hang-over headache too much come 2012.  You can always pace them out to end on
the epiphany, which is when the twelfth day of Christmas truly falls, but I
have a resolution to keep!

 

Five Golden Things

            I
joked in my first of these blogs that though I could do without the avian
gifts, I wouldn’t mind the bling of forty rings.  At the price of gold, I’d even make room for a flock of
feathers if it were a package deal only. 
However, I don’t think the Twelve Days of Christmas or most other gift
exchanges are truly about the gifts. 
If that were the case we’d all be calling ourselves “haulers”
and posting videos on YouTube sharing our haul of gifts item by pricey item…ok,
so apparently people do this, but I still think it’s the minority.  Then again, I still delude myself into
thinking the number of Americans who have made it through an entire episode of
Jersey Shore is a minority.  But I
digress.  I was writing myself
nicely into a beautifully sentimental cliché: neither money nor gifts can buy
us happiness.  Gold is a cold hard
metal.  Golden describes those
things that make the cold, hard parts of life worth wading through.

            I
was blessed to spend this holiday season in the warmth of welcoming homes,
eating too much, doing too little, but otherwise healthy, and surrounded by
friends, family, and pets.  We
exchanged gifts, but more importantly we exchanged what makes us golden: our
love, laughter, and generosity.  I
hate to anger the literary gods by arguing with one of the greats, but I’m
going to risk it.  Robert Frost got
it wrong when he claimed “nothing gold can stay.”  Sure, we and the people we love will
grow old, our health may not always be great, and our bellies may not always be
full, but so long as we can remember with a grin the times when they were,
we’re golden.

 

Four Fashion Faux Pas

            I
hate to see the holiday season coming to a close.  I’ll miss the lights, the bright colors, the sugar I’ve been
feeding into my body like a crack addict. 
Ah, yes, the January doldrums, as well as the DT’s, will hit hard come
Monday.  (Hey, I have plans for
both lunch and dinner tomorrow; cut me some slack.) 

            One
thing I won’t miss about the holidays is the poor taste that seems always to
accompany it.  I am certainly not
an expert on fashion.  If I happen
to coordinate an outfit well, it’s likely because I saw it on a mannequin at a
store or copied the look from a more fashion-forward friend or respected
celebrity.  Despite that, I feel I
possess enough taste to rag on those people who use the holiday season as a
reason to throw out any semblance of style.  Here’s my list of fashion don’ts for future holidays.

            1.
Dressing your pet, corny, but acceptable. 
Dressing like your pet–in matching sweaters, vests, or other ornaments
of poor taste–a little pathetic. 

            2.
Dressing your car.  It’s a gas
guzzling SUV, not an eco-friendly friggin’ reindeer, people.  Loose the wreaths, antlers, and shiny
red nose.  Save those for Fido.

            3.
Forgo the fake fur.  If it looks
like it belongs trimming Santa’s hat, leave it on Santa’s hat.  It does not belong adorning the tops of
your stripped knee-high socks or the bottom of your sweater, unless of course
you’re entering an ugly sweater contest, in which case, fringe away!

            4.  Lose the neon 2012 glasses.  These were fun in 2000, and perhaps
acceptable through 2009, when the zeros fell over your eyes, so you could still
see.  The last three years they’ve
just gotten a bit ridiculous.  I
know the people donning these tonight are likely already wearing their beer
goggles, so perhaps they think they look as good as the scary dude they’re
hitting on, but if you happen to be a designated driver tonight and come across
anyone wearing these, please remove them. 
Friends don’t let friends become victims of drunk-dressing.

 

Three Good Reasons

            If
I had a bottle of champagne in the house, I’d be popping the cork just about
now.  No, not because it’s New
Year’s Eve, but because this blog marks post number forty.  Last New Year’s I began my blog by
thanking the Kardashians for giving me the courage to blog about my mundane
life to the world in hopes that a handful of people would care enough to read
about it.  It was intended to be a
weekly blog, though that idea lasted about as long as Kim’s latest
marriage.  Still, I’m glad I kept
at, even sporadically, and intend to extend it well into 2012.  The public still watches the
Kardashians, so maybe my small group of readers will show the same amount of
enthusiasm, or at least tolerance, that we give to other time-sucking
non-celebrities.

            I’m
not so sure I’ve truly embraced my inner-Kardashian in 2011, but blogging has
had other benefits.  Being
primarily a fiction writer, writing non-fiction on a semi-regular basis has
challenged me.  First I had to take
topics I was passionate about and relate them to people and life in general.  Not everyone is a write,r or a teacher,
or a single woman, but my passion, my career, and my life situation pose the
same struggles and offer the same opportunities to laugh as most other people’s
lives; the key finding that bigger picture.

            The
second good reason to blog on is that blogging has helped me find my
voice.  Not to brag, but I’ve
always been pretty good with characterization–of fictional characters.  No matter how piss poor my plot
development might be, I know my characters inside and out and can convey that
with a bit of skill.  If you can
create interesting characters readers will forgive an awful lot in terms of
plot.  I think the same can be said
for writing nonfiction.  There were
many weeks I didn’t have anything profound to say or interesting to share, but
once I found my voice and allowed myself to write honestly, few of you cared
what topic I chose.  It’s
fascinating for me to discover and then unfold in my fiction the ins and outs
of a character I’ve created, but it’s been just as eye opening to find and
share similar insights into myself.

            I
considered the possibility that the final benefit blogging has had is teaching
me about brevity.  That would be a
lie.  My posts from week one to now
have slowly grown in length and the sequel I completed during the same course
of time, which I thought contained a much tighter plot structure than book one,
weighed in almost thirty pages longer. 
So brevity is not what keeps me blogging, or writing in general.  But the support of every one of you who
has read my blogs, or my books, or both and sent along an encouraging word, a
funny comment, or a bit of advice has made every week I struggled for a topic
and every afternoon I opened the mailbox to another rejection letter
worthwhile.  So this year I’m not
thanking the Kardashians, who really don’t deserve such praise, but I am
thanking my family, friends, and coworkers for tolerating forty blogs, two
novels, a couple short stories, and whatever the new year brings!

 

Two New Resolutions

            Yes,
I want to eat healthier, work out more, stress less, meet Mr. Right, stop
procrastinating, etc., etc.  These
are resolutions we all make, and mostly break year after year.  I will eat like a rabbit until the
first piece of cake passes under my nose at a team meeting after my least
favorite class.  I will lift and
run and sweat like a fiend until the first cold knocks me out and I remember
why it was I loved my couch so much. 
I will not stress less, because I will be half-starved from dieting and
sore from working out.  I may meet
Mr. Right, but with my luck I’ll be wearing my goofy running hat, fourteen layers
of winter gear, and sporting a snotty red nose that always accompanies a
cold-weather run.  As for
procrastinating, I’ll get back to you on that one–later.

            One
might assume from that previous paragraph that I’m throwing in the towel before
Dick Clark has slurred one word on his Rockin’ Eve.  Sorry, Mr. Clark, but there is a time to throw in the towel,
and, for you, it has long passed. 
As for me, I’ve still got a few rounds left to go, I’ve just decided not
to waste them being predictable. 
And therein lies my resolution. 
This year I resolve to step outside my comfort zone on a more regular
basis.  There’s no guarantee that
by taking more risks I will publish a book, finish a half-marathon, and find a
great guy.  But I can guarantee
that by not taking risks none of these aspirations will come to fruition.  And if I needed any more inspiration
than calling for take-out by myself the final Friday night of the year, it was
found in my fortune cookie: Do not fear failure.  Excellent advice, mediocre sushi.

 

One Happy Year

            Reviewing
the topics I’ve written about over the last year, I realize I’ve done more than
my fair share of griping.  I’ve
complained about the weather.  (If
you haven’t blocked it from your memory, this time last year we were just
beginning the weather pattern that had us all wondering if the Armageddon was
coming in the form of never-ending snowstorms.)  I’ve moaned about money and how there’s never enough,
groaned about dating profiles and how they all suck, and tried my best to put a
positive spin on confidence crushing rejection letters that seemed to keep
coming.  I guess after all that it
seems kind of crazy to end the year by saying it wasn’t so bad, but it wasn’t.  The plummeting real-estate market led
to reduced condo fees and taxes; even my adjustable mortgage went down–I didn’t
even know that was possible.  My
rant on dating profiles got me published for the first time since the Lobby O
(my high school newspaper).  And I
was able to swallow my own Pollyanna view of rejection letters and keep
writing.  More importantly my
family and friends remained healthy, I became an aunt (of the unrelated sort),
and I’ve met some great new people through all my adventures and misadventures. 

            May
2012 bring about as many reasons to gripe and as many blessings to count as
2011.  Happy New Year’s!         
  

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