Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dear New Novelist: Do Your Research

It's a big publishing world out there. When you have your finished novel edited and ready to go, the question becomes "What do I do with it?" We live in an age where the options are more and more every week. You could self publish, and you'll have a dozen choices for platforms and formats: Amazon-exclusive, wide-net (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc), Lulu.com... ebook only, Print-on-Demand (POD), both? You could submit to one of hundreds of small indie publishers who have open submissions. Or you could aim high for one of the big publishers who can get you into physical bookstores, but then you usually have to start with an agent, and there are hundreds more to choose from there.

It's a daunting, overwhelming selection no matter which path you take, and that's why today's lesson is important.

Dear new novelist,

DO YOUR RESEARCH.

It's a big publishing world out there, and in any big world, you're going to find people taking advantage of the newbies. Anyone can hang out an agent or publisher sign and tell a newcomer anything they want, and without doing research, who's to tell them otherwise? It can be so exciting to get that first "yes" that you'll miss or ignore all the red flags, and the worst scammers will tell you "this is how it is." Vanity publishers, places that take your money to print your book for upwards of ten thousand dollars, will tell you that paying to publish is totally normal (it's not. There's a writing law about it.) Lazy publishers will tell you, "Even the Big Five expect you to do all your own advertising and marketing" (they don't.) Scam agents will tell you that you need to have your book edited first (probably true), and they know this editor who will edit your book to perfection for a few thousand from your own pocket (probably their spouse,sibling, or shady business partner. Expect your money to be pocketed and your book never sold.) Even honest publishers with good intentions but little experience can fail, taking your novel and your money to bankruptcy with them.

What I'm trying to say is, not all agents, publishers, and publishing options are equal, even on the same level. Some small presses are more stable than others. Some larger companies can have issues behind the scenes that are leading then on a quick ride to closure. Even some vanity presses are more legitimate and better values (because there are cases where vanity publishing is acceptable or beneficial, often things like coffee table books with lots of pictures or books by public speakers who sell at their speaking engagements). The only way to learn all this is to do your research: before, during, and after.

Before submitting anywhere, look them up. The Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum has hundreds of publishers and agents, along with peoples' input on them based on personal experience or website evaluation. Sometimes the company or agent being evaluated will give their own input, which can also be eye-opening to their public behavior (and door-closing if they're behaving badly.) The Writer Beware blog (supported by the SFWA) also keeps up with the publishing world and reports on trouble brewing. Other things to look up at this stage:
  • How publishing works on all levels, from start to finish
  • What agents and publishers do for you to earn their share of the cover price, and how much their share typically is
  • The pros and cons of a big publisher, a small publisher, a new publisher, an old publisher, an old agent, a new agent, and self-publishing. 
  • The difference between net and gross in contracts and how not knowing this can screw you over
  • The difference between being able to order a book in bookstores and finding it on the shelves
  • The difference between an agent and a contract lawyer or literary attorney
  • The difference between a new publisher/agent with previous publishing/agenting experience and a new publisher/agent with no previous experience or only experience being published
  • The difference between Print-on-Demand and print runs 
  • The red flags to look for while vetting agents and publishers
  • Anything and everything that anyone tells you is normal or typical in the publishing business
During submission, it's easy to miss some of those aforementioned red flags and submit to someone who may not be as on the up-and-up as they seemed. When you get that "we'd like to publish you" email or "I want to represent you" call, it's not too late to do some in-depth research. Dig around the internet, or at least Google "[Publisher] scam." If you find out that this isn't who you want, you can always say "no." You should also be allowed to reach out to the people who will be your fellows with the company or agent and ask some questions. Do so. You may find out some things going on behind the scenes that aren't public yet, like withheld payments, illness causing delays (a major issue with small, one-man companies), or just slow response rates. There have been people who've signed contracts with companies in the middle of collapsing who hadn't paid their writers in months just because that failing company said, "Yes". Don't let that happen to you.

After you've signed the contract, it's still good to keep an eye out for what's going on and act appropriately to preserve your stories and ask questions. Publishers going under can be quick, or a slow crawl, and if you don't act in a timely manner, you might lose any books with that publisher for years. Agents can get sick, retire, quit, or move agencies with little notice, and you want to know what will happen to you under those circumstances so you can plan accordingly.

Basically, the more you know, the safer you, your novel, and your wallet will be. And trust me, in this business, you want to be safe. How many potential shining stars have died out unnoticed because they went with a bad publisher? Answer: lots. Don't let yourself be one of them. Do your research. It's for your own good.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Good News, Everyone! The Dream Is Real

Good morning, dear readers, and a happy Monday to you! How was your weekend? Good, I hope. Relaxing. Fun. Full of adventure and happiness and good news.

Speaking of good news, I'm getting published.




That's pretty much been my life the past two days. The high is real, y'all. Call me the Wicked Witch because I am defying gravity, and nothing's gonna bring me down.

My short story "Like I Need a Hole in the Head" has been picked for the Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good anthology for release in early 2019. I am unbelievably honored and thrilled to be a part of this anthology, and I can't wait to be able to share more information as the table of contents and release dates come out.

My OTHER short story, "Tuna for Bast", is coming out in the STRAEON 2 anthology edited by my friend and critique group leader M. David Blake. Currently there is no set release date, but I can say I am sharing the anthology with several other great talents I've had the pleasure to hear on a regular basis at the group.

So, yeah, this is happening. This is my life now. Sometimes I kinda forget how to breathe when I think about it. The best thing, though, the greatest feeling ever, is the every-so-often pop-up thought of, "I'm good enough. I'm actually good enough." Y'all, it feels really, really good.

Now that I actually have things to announce, I've set up a mailing list for anyone who might be interested in keeping up with occasional updates as I get them and as they pertain to you getting access to what's coming from me. If that sounds good to you, then all you have to do is enter your email in the box on the upper right and click Subscribe. And of course, thank you to those of you who have already signed up. Whether you're signed up, not yet, or never will, I'm grateful to all of you readers for sticking with me and giving me the encouragement to keep trying. I hope this is just the first of many announcements to come, and I hope you'll all come along with me for the ride. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

What Are You Afraid Of?

When I came up with the concept for this post, I started up a list of fears, went to see if I could find more, and discovered that someone has done years more work than me, and there are many more fears than I initially imagined. I mean, I know some of them. Trypophobia, for example, the fear of clusters, which, by the way, if you HAVE it, don't Google it.

"Hey, guys, what kind of pictures should show up in Google Images for people who have a fear of clusters?'

"How about a bunch of clusters?"

"Brilliant!"

Anyway, if you're looking for a fear for your character, take a look at The Phobia List, which is exactly as described on the tin. While it actually doesn't have trypophobia on it for some reason, it does have things like:

- Alliumphobia - Fear of garlic.
- Chronomentrophobia - Fear of clocks.
- Euphobia - Fear of hearing good news.
- Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia - Fear of long words. Yes, the person who named it is an asshole.
- Omphalophobia - Fear of belly buttons.
- Soceraphobia- Fear of parents-in-law.
- Zemmiphobia - Fear of the great mole rat

But those are, at their core, "common" fears, fears that have been written about and named in reference books. It doesn't quite look at irrational fears. Those can get very specific. For example, aichmophobia is the fear of needles or pointed objects, including knives. For a time, on top of a fear of needles, I was outright terrified of being accidentally impaled by someone using a knife in the kitchen. Absolutely irrational, but I spent the better part of a decade excusing myself whenever someone else was cutting anything because I could just SEE the knife slipping out of their hand and flying at my skull like a ninja star.

So, since general fears have been done well beyond my means, let's have some fun with irrational ones, or ones that aren't on the list.

Irrational Fears
Fear of a children's TV show
Fear of a specific song
Fear of accidental impalement
Fear of being late or early
Fear of being murdered in a hotel room
Fear of being stalked by internet trolls
Fear of celebrities
Fear of chihuahuas (or any other small dog breed)
Fear of closed cupboards
Fear of clowns in unlikely places
Fear of conspiracy theories
Fear of cracked doors
Fear of crossing train tracks or standing on platforms
Fear of desserts
Fear of emergency or construction vehicles
Fear of escaped zoo animals
Fear of falling in public
Fear of finding unnatural things in food
Fear of flickering lightbulbs
Fear of getting kicked in the face
Fear of getting locked out
Fear of getting lost in a big city
Fear of hotel rooms or any room that's not their own
Fear of knitting needles
Fear of knowing other peoples' secrets
Fear of manual labor
Fear of mythical creatures
Fear of ocean debris (seashells, seaweed or flotsam)
Fear of open windows
Fear of other people being paranoid
Fear of oversized bags (purses, trash, etc)
Fear of rain puddles
Fear of rainbows
Fear of reflected light spots
Fear of shaved or hairless cats
Fear of the internet
Fear of the naked mole rat
Fear of uneven terrian
Fear of unpaved roads
Fear that everyone is talking about you behind your back

Thanks to my dear friend Kat for coming up with several of the ideas on this list. Check her out on Twitter: @_Almost_

So, dear readers, tell me, what are YOU afraid of?

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Rubber Duck Method of Plot Fixing

Have you ever heard of the Rubber Duck Method of Coding?

There are offices where computer programmers, on their first day, are given, among other supplies, a rubber duck. It is to sit on their desk until its needed.

In the words of Arthur Weasley, "What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?" Why would programmers keep a bath toy on their desk, and why would they ever need it?

Let me ask a different question: How often have you gotten stuck on a problem and been unable to progress because you just can't figure it out?

Feeling stuck? Talk to the duck.

What? Maxwell, have you gone mental? No, I'm quite sane, as are the many computer programmers with rubber ducks on their desks. Because when you run into a problem, you can spend hours, days, weeks running it around in your head and get nowhere. Come on, writers, hands up if you have. If there were an audience here, I'd probably be seeing every hand up.

Now think about this: of all those problems, how many times have you solved it ten seconds after you started talking to someone about it?

Uh-huh.

And I'm willing to bet, many times, the other person in the conversation didn't even need to say anything. You could have practically replaced them with... a rubber duck.

Some programmers have used this technique to solve coding issues for years: talk to the duck, explain what you're trying to do, and you'll figure out your logic error. In extreme cases, they'll bring in other programmers and THEIR ducks until three, four, five people and their ducks solve the problem.

In the same vein, tell a duck your plothole, and maybe, while explaining why it doesn't work, you'll figure out what can fix it. Or, if you feel silly talking to yourself aloud, you can type it out like you're chatting with the duck. Compose an email to the duck on why your main character is being frustrating and dismissive with the love interest (epiphany: she's actually in love with her best friend) or how this secret door's mechanic is stupid and doesn't make sense (realization: Why not use a remote control instead of the classic 'pull a book' method?) If you've got writing buddies, they make fantastic ducks, because they understand, and they've brought their duck, too. I have never once encountered a plot hole that couldn't be fixed by talking to the duck. Sometimes the ducks are named Kat and Bobo, and they've got a duck named Maggie. But whatever the name and whatever the technique, it works. It always works.

And that, Mr. Weasley, is the function of a rubber duck.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dear New Novelist: About That Bad Review...

It's a difficult pill to swallow, but when you're done with your short story, your novel, your poem, anything, and you get it out in front of the world, not everyone is going to love it. Go take a look at your favorite book on Amazon or Goodreads. It's got 2 and 1-star reviews. My own husband can't stand Harry Potter (I married a hater? I know, right? But he introduced me to Terry Pratchett, so I can get past it.) There is no single book or story that's universally loved, and there never will be. Some people won't like the genre, others will hate the writing style or plot, and some will just be around to troll because they think it's fun to rile up fans. Inevitably, when you put your hard work out for public consumption, the day will come where you'll get... a bad review.

It's going to stab you in the heart, and how that makes you feel depends on you.

Maybe you'll feel like a failure, even if you have a hundred other reviews that are 4 and 5 stars. You'll pour yourself a glass of liquid comfort (wine, hot chocolate, one of those huge-ass milkshakes that's got a whole slice of cake on it), have a cry, and enjoy a good pity party.

Maybe you'll get mad. How dare they? Haven't they ever heard "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" How could they have never watched Bambi?

Or maybe you'll laugh it off, shrug, and go about your day. But no matter what you do, the words will still be there, circling around in your head, popping up unbidden like a Jack-in-the-Box and slowly eating away at you. 

You'll go back and read it again, and you'll notice something. Maybe they misunderstood what you meant in a scene they say they hated. Maybe they're talking about something that never happened, like they reviewed the wrong book. Maybe they're mad they bought the wrong book entirely. Whatever the reason, you'll read it through, and then, when you're done, your eyes will linger on the little option below it.

Reply.

Brake brake BRAKE. Slam those pedals to the ground and pray to God you're not hitting the accelerator, because this is where you need to STOP

It's time to talk about the Author's Big Mistake. That is, replying to comments. 

How are you supposed to handle bad reviews? Well, you've got three options:

1) Ignore it. After all, a handful of bad reviews don't cancel out the good ones. One person saying, "I didn't like it" is one person's opinion. Eventually, it'll be just one review among many, and if it's factually wrong or trolling, it'll probably be downvoted by other reviewers.

2) Kill them with politeness. "Thank you for commenting! I appreciate your honesty and will take your thoughts into consideration in the future." It at least makes you look like the bigger person, but it also opens you to conversation with them, which can lead to #3.

3) Try to argue your perspective. Or just argue. After all, writing is your business. Bad reviews will cost you sales, right? Probably. So it only makes sense to respond and tell them "No, see, here's where you're wrong. Please correct your review." Right?

Note: I'm being sarcastic. Have you ever seen what happens when a business responds to a bad review with negativity? It ain't pretty. And this applies to authors too. When a person leaves a bad review, if the recipient ignores it, then its just one review among reviews. Some people will read a bad review and not buy it. Others will read the same review and be convinced they need to try it themselves. In the end, it'll probably balance out.

But when the recipient responds with criticism of the reviewer, it gets out. The reviewer mentions it on their blog or posts about it on Facebook or on a forum, and then it's like a high school fight: everyone's gotta see it and get in. Then the reviewed has to defend themselves from the flood of negativity and voices going "Dude, stop" because they're wrong too, right? You have to save your business! Everyone has to see that you're not the bad guy! And then you're too far gone.

Even if you manage to avoid the flood of negative PR from responding defensively, you've still put evidence out there that you have thin skin, or that if someone doesn't like your work, they'll get spoken down to or yelled at. Your own bad behavior will cost you more sales, reads, or reviews than any negative review ever could.

So stop and look at that reply button. Sip your wine, tea, hot chocolate, or crazy-ass milkshake. If you absolutely must write a response, write it in a separate document, not the reply box. And then, when you're done, delete it.

Because no bad review could ever do as much damage to your career as you can do yourself with a reply.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear New Novelist: The Paycheck Isn't Always Worth It

Dear New Novelist,

Getting paid to write sounds amazing, doesn't it? That's a lot of our goals. Whether it's enough to live and work full-time as a writer or just enough to buy a pizza and maybe a celebratory milkshake, the fact is that we want to get paid to do something we love. So if someone came to you with an offer to write for them, for pay, why would you ever say no?

I got an email this morning. Right to my inbox. In summation, it said, "Write a blog post for us, and we'll pay you."

I should be excited! I've never been paid to write.

And I will continue to not be. Because while the idea of money for words is lovely, sometimes the cost isn't worth it.

To expand on that email's summation, the sender is a foreign wedding and prom dress website. They want me to write them a blog post, in German, advertising them, and if I make the post, share their banner, and advertise the blog post on all my social medias, they'll pay me $30.

I could be living out of a paper bag and I still would not take that offer. Because, new novelist, pay is not always worth it.

It's not worth surrendering your integrity or going against what you stand for if they want to pay you to write something you would normally never say yourself but must portray it as your own thoughts.

It's not worth loss of reputation and dependability if they want to pay you to become a walking spam advertisement.

It's DEFINITELY not worth the risk of malware to your readers or you.

Honestly,  not worth learning another language either, in this case. I know, like, three phrases in German: Ich bin ein Berliner, schmetterling, and schadenfreude. And you know, some random stuff about Heil and Fuhrers and a few insults I picked up in The Book Thief.

I am not even going to trouble myself with writing them a response, unless they're actually reading this blog, in which case, my answer is "No." No, I will not be your shill. No, I will not destroy my reputation across all my social media platforms for you. No, I will not waste my time with you more than sharing a few laughs with my friends at your audacity.

But thanks for the inspiration for the blog post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Reading for Research: Suddenly, I Understand Omni

In the latter quarter of 2016, I was slowly working my way through The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, sneaking a chapter here and there until a road trip encouraged me to finish. The chapters are short, so they were easy to sneak, and by the time the road trip started for me, the book was too engaging to put down like I had before.

If you don't know about The Book Thief (I know, you probably do, but I keep running into people who don't, so just in case. Bear with me. I'll be brief), it's a story about a young German girl living in Nazi Germany at the start of WWII. As the title implies, she steals books. The interesting this is, the story's told from the perspective of Death. It's used as a framing device, a character who has seen many stories, met many people, and is pretty much the world's greatest neutral force, becoming fascinated with this one girl he keeps encountering.

While I was trying to think of how to explain this choice of framing device to someone to whom I recommended the book, I realized it: this is how you write omniscient POV.

You don't know how long I've been trying to understand omni POV. I've tried studying it and failed. I've grasped the idea of it, but the overall puzzle eluded me. I had the pieces, but I couldn't put them together in a way that made sense. "There's a narrator and they know everything" just didn't work for me, especially as someone who generally writes in close perspective. But it finally clicked here, because there's literally a narrator instead of just some unnamed force telling a story. Imagine Death as a storyteller. If you sat down in front of them and asked for a story, what you will be told is Omni. Someone who knows everyone, who knows their stories and what happened, but maybe not necessarily their feelings. I actually get it now. I just needed that skeletal face to put that damn puzzle together. Thank you, Mr. Zusak.