This week in writing 1/13/14

613px-Happy_new_year_01_svgIt’s two weeks into the new year. You’ve made your resolutions. You’ve probably already broken one or two. Hey, I only had one (write every day), and that went bye-bye for a night at a Korean karaoke bar. Look, I can’t write drunk. I’m not Hemingway. But besides falling off the writing wagon, there are many other things that went on in the writing world this week.

Did you have a good Christmas? Good. Know who didn’t? Nook. B&N’s ereader had very poor sales this holiday season, and the new CEO, William Lynch, is blaming his predecessors and the fact that they didn’t come out with a shiny new device in time to pitch it to Santa. Well it’s all on you now, Lynch. See you next Christmas.

In case you didn’t get all the book love you wanted this Christmas, here’s a final best-of list from the New York Times. Top 10!

If you love books AND fashion, you might like this bag. I can probably drop that kind of cash on a first edition. But this has no actual words inside. Seems like a waste. However, it has inspired me to put some cash in the pages of a book and pretend it’s a purse! It was the best of bags…

peregrineAfter the holidays’ lag, you might be having a hard time finding that momentum you need to keep going, so here’s Ransom Riggs on what inspired him to write Miss Peregrine. (I bought it for myself, and my daughter immediately took it. She just returned it to me, so I’ll get to it after I finish Kathy Erskine’s Seeing Red.)

Nathan Bransford also has a post on starting new projects, which you might be doing being that it’s a new year and all.

If Nook’s figures are any indication, looks like ebook numbers might be dropping. I own a Nook and I only bought three books on it last year (none of which I read, according to my Goodreads list. Those were all hardcopy.) But ebook numbers really did decline in the U.S. in 2013, though not worldwide.

Speaking of e-stuff, something I’m struggling with lately is social media. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to it, and yet, I’m supposed to be selling my books through social media using handy tips like these! (Which are actually handy despite my inability to use them.)

Wanna see what a whole day of being happy looks like? Well, here you go. (Warning: very addicting.)

Online Life vs. Real Life

My son, who fell asleep doing his Spanish homework knows all about fatigue. Who doesn't want to spend more time with him? Even if it's just snuggling!

I haven’t posted to this blog since August 19th. It wasn’t a conscious decision to take a hiatus. I stopped because I have been dealing with a serious illness that has taken me out of my life for most of this year, and will continue to do so for many months. Being forced to stop my regular routines has  made me think about what’s really necessary in my life. Besides the obvious: more time with family, more time working on my passion, less of the people/things that cause me stress, I’ve had to think about how I spend my time online vs. my face time with Real Humans and the blank screen, or unedited page.

I’m not  alone. Nathan Bransford recently discussed “blog fatigue” and said that he’d be posting less. J.A. Konrath is on hiatus for an indefinite time. Like him, I also thought about opening up this blog to guest posts. I posed the question about blog fatigue to the people in my G+ writing circles and the “likers” over at Tracey Baptiste Writes on Facebook, to similar results.

For me, cutting back is a necessary, and welcome, change. I’ve enjoyed not having to post every day. I didn’t even realize I’d put so much pressure on myself. It also frees up my time to read and knit more. And the blog didn’t hurt because my blog stats actually went up. Why? Who knows?

And since I’m not alone, I’m throwing the question out to you. How do you deal with balancing your online and real life? Have you also cut back on blogging? How big do you think this trend is?

The Mashup

It’s Monday, so here’s your publishing news roundup.

My favorite link of last week was probably the one of Paulo Coelho talking about how he likes pirating books. It totally flies in the face of conventional publishing, but he has a point: it makes you a popular author. Check it out.

If you follow Coelho’s advice and do become popular, you might want to look into getting a publicist. Author Eddie Snipes talks about his experience with a publicist and lets you know whether it’s worth it or not.

Maybe you’re still struggling with writing. Well, according to this article from Forbes, if you’re fresh out of college, you probably can’t write a lick because “learning clear writing in college is like trying to learn sobriety in a bar.” What? I know. That literature degree I have is start to look like an expensive piece of nothing. Think NYU will give me my money back?

Then again, maybe you are writing but you’re suffering from the dreaded writer’s block. Author Gene Perret says it’s all about managing your fear (and maybe not being quite so self-involved).

Perhaps you just need a pep talk. Here’s some advice from bestselling authors. I’m with Cassadra Clare: read the whole thing aloud. Or it might be that you’re not getting enough distractions. That’s right, you heard me. Newbie author Nathan Bransford says that distractions are a good thing. Well, sometimes.

Do you like zombies? Who doesn’t right? The New York Times dissects all those zombie books and prepares us for the zombie apocalypse. Or the zombifying of literature. Or something to do with why there are so many zombie books out these days and why we can’t seem to stop them (the books, or the zombies). analyzes why Americans love book clubs. I’ve never been a member of a book club myself, but like the author of this article, I’d join one, if only for the cookies… and the alcohol.

In YA news, Harold Underdown does an excellent and thorough analysis of the sales numbers in young adult literature, and sees that the genre is booming… er… kind of. But then Roger Sutton of the Horn Book responds about all those YA numbers and the confusion over them, and seems to be really cranky about it all. Take it easy, fella.

And finally, my husband says that the script of Cowboys & Aliens was stolen from an episode of Scooby Doo and the Alien Invaders. Hmm. He might be right.

Tuesday Mashup

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll keep it short.

In response to the YA is bad for you drama of the last week and a half, Sherman Alexie added his thoughts to those of other renowned YA authors in saying all the ways that those “problem” books help kids in real pain, and don’t hurt the ones who aren’t.

While Wired was saying that ebooks are not quite all the way where they need to be yet, someone else was reporting that Kindles represent 10% of Amazon’s market.

Speaking of Amazon, their new “Sunshine Deals” pinpoint the books priced at $0.99, $1.99 and $2.99. Watch out, Big 6! Which is one of the reasons why some say that now is the best time for authors.

Maybe that rejection pile that’s growing on your desk makes you disagree, so here’s a post from Nathan Bransford’s blog about rejection and recovery and how you need to be a writer-athlete. Er, read it. You’ll understand.

If you’re looking for places to get feedback, try the site Critters Writers Workshop. There’s also Backspace which is another writer’s community. And my new favorite, Evil Editor who tells you just why you’re not getting anywhere with your writing.

And in the looking-for-an-agent category, there’s an interview with Sara Megibow over at the blog Mary Baader Kaley (is) Not an Editor.

Finally, a big thank you to the folks over at BooksNJ for a terrific event on Sunday. My family had a great time, especially the kids. (Below, the Non-fiction panel I was on with fellow authors Linda Bozzo and Ann Malaspina.)

Have a terrific week, everyone! And happy writing.

[Image of readers via Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-64102-0002 / CC-BY-SA]

A thin line between truth and lies

Readers are like the parents of teenagers. They want to believe your story. Really they do. But they have their doubts. And as you go about spinning your yarn about why it is you weren’t where you said you would be and why there’s a suspicious-looking stain on the ceiling, they’re listening and hoping that the story pans out, but they’re also looking out for the inconsistencies that belie your tale.

And that is why it is important to be able to lie well when you’re a writer, but also why it’s crucial to tell the truth.

These things may seem incongruous, but believe me, lying and truth-telling work hand in hand for fiction. The ratio of lie to truth depends on a few things, like the genre of the book. A memoir would have far less lies, one hopes. It may also depend on the motive of the writer. Vampire stories veer more toward lying. Then there’s what the reader brings to the table. In Dan Brown’s case, I’m sure there are different levels of belief in that yarn he’s spinning. Do you believe in secret religious societies? I don’t. Some do.

Some writers believe that to tell a good story, you have to make sure you lie well and don’t mess up the details. For example, if a kid buys a spaceship with a corndog, he’s probably not going to be too worried about facts like the physics of flying a spaceship through the universe. That would seem incongruous, and mess up the whole damn lie. Whereas other writers believe that to lie well, you have to rely on the truth, specifically, universal truths like the effect of longing and desire on us poor mortals. Say Harry’s married but in love with another woman, he most likely won’t go around telling everyone he meets. Harry, if he wants to keep his body intact, would try to keep his desires under wraps.

These writers are actually saying the same thing: in the context of your story, your lie must approximate truth so closely, that readers have no choice but to believe it. And whether you do that by telling a clever lie, or you do it by parsing the truth is a matter of dexterity and your ultimate goal. But do it, you must. Or else readers are going to walk away.

Getting your dream agent

I recently came upon the site QueryTracker, which is exactly what it sounds like: a place for you to track your queries to agents and publishers. (It works, see?) In the comments section for one agent, a poster said that they queried nearly 350 agents before finding the one that they wanted. This person also said that they turned down some agents in the process, but how many (and whether that’s true) is indeterminable. Granted, that’s a crap ton of rejections to have to go through, but it falls between the 27 Dr. Seuss got and the 600 that Jack London got before they were published. Rejection is just part of the business and tenacity wins out in the end. (Some more famous rejections here.) Other authors wonder if they should bother to go on, even after just a handful of queries to their “dream agents.”

Which brings me to my next point. Until you work with someone, you have no idea if they’re going to be your dream agent. This is why there are so many articles about agent breakups. It’s like any other relationship, which requires work and time to figure out. As always in publishing, there are no shortcuts.

So the best way to find your “dream agent” is to do the work.

STEP ONE: FINISH YOUR MANUSCRIPT. I don’t mean, just finish a draft, but finish the editing, re-writing, getting feedback, and then rewriting again, process. You can’t find someone to represent your work if you have no work to represent.

STEP TWO: RESEARCH. Figure out who represents the kind of work that you’ve written, and what you think you may write in the future. Books like Writer’s Market, Literary Marketplace’s Guide to Literary Agents, etc. are good sources. You can also follow many agents on twitter to get a bead on what they’re representing. Going to conferences is another great way to find someone you’d like to work with, and is infinitely better for getting a feel for a personal relationship than reading about them in a book, or even following their twitter feed. Plus, you may have the opportunity to pitch an idea to them, which is good practice for you, and a good “in” when you query them later.

STEP THREE: QUERY. Perfecting your query letter is key to getting an agent’s attention. Writer’s Digest has a blog that showcases successful query letters. Once you’ve sent out queries, keep a cool business head. Though you may be passionate about your work, there’s no place for emotional pleas and heated responses in your business letters/emails to potential agents. If you want to bitch, that’s what your friends are for.

STEP FOUR: MORE RESEARCH. When you do get a favorable response from an agent, it’s still good to check into their business practices, if possible. Nathan Bransford recently posted about “spaghetti agents” which may or may not be what you’re looking for in a representative. Have a few questions on hand about what you’d like to see out of the relationship and let them know what your plans are for your career. If everything matches up, you should be good to go.

At the end of the day, finding the right agent is a matter of hard work, luck and more hard work, but it can be done. There are a lot of great agents out there, and a lot of good resources to help you find the right one.

The chicken and the reviewer

Since I decided to read and review 100 books this year (I am so NOT meeting that goal) I’ve worried a little about how the reviews would stack up. Already I’ve read one book that I did not like, and decided to go with the “sugar” rather than “vinegar” approach by sticking with the things I did like rather than harping on the stuff I didn’t. I was advised to be honest because it might have been helpful to the author, but ultimately I decided to… well… chicken out mainly because I hate to hurt anyone’s feelings and because I know how much work goes into writing a book. And while I regret not being more ballsy, I’m kind of glad I did because some authors are CRAZY. Like, straight-jacket-wearing, meds-swallowing, foaming-at-the-mouth crazy.

On his blog today, Nathan Bransford posted about the virtual witch hunt of author Jacqueline Howett after she went a little nutso on a reviewer, who actually didn’t give her such a bad review. Since her bad reaction to his post, she has been trashed online by a mob of readers who have posted negative, or mock reviews of her work on Amazon and B&N.

Bransford also linked to Emily St. John Mandel’s essay on bad reviews for The Millions, in which she expressed exasperation about her own  negative reviews, but in a thoughtful way. And of course, there’s the famous 2009 Twitter meltdown by Alice Hoffman which was just painful to watch.

So is it really chicken to stick with the good stuff in the books that I’ve read, or have I done the writers and the readers of my reviews a disservice by not being completely honest, even at the cost of an author’s feelings? I suspect I know what you will think, but I’m still asking…

Nathan Bransford on Self-Pub vs. Traditional

This week, former Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford did posts on authors monetizing their careers. Among the most interesting was his post about Self-Publishing vs. Traditional which is the thing that has been the forefront of publishing business news of late. He crunches the numbers and makes it easy for even the most math-challenged among us to get a grasp on what’s really at stake.

The post is here. Enjoy.

Bookstores are dead. Long live bookstores!

In the ever-increasing ebook market, bookstores seem to be as endangered as polar bears, and inspire the same amount of passionate response. Things are changing. It’s natural that some people will panic. But is that panic really warranted? I know that some see the closing of Borders bookstores as a huge sign that The End Is Near. But I think the end is only coming for huge chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Small independent bookstores will thrive because they cater to niche markets. And customers will probably like them more because they’re going to be specialized.

In a post last week, Nathan Bransford asked for advice to booksellers. Among the comments was a bookseller named Boon who wrote that their specialized bookstore didn’t cater to mass-market books and bestsellers, and is thriving because of it. And it is because their customers trust them to stock only books that they feel really good about. Sounds awesome right?

In Boon’s comment, the store employees were called “curators,” a feeling echoed in Nicole Krauss’ recent article for The New Republic. As the market changes and authors take more control, what will survive are the experts. So a bookstore like Boon’s is probably going to continue to do remarkably well. Even on the production end of things, things will change. On J.A. Konrath’s blog, he and Barry Eisler recently discussed why Eisler was walking away from 1/2 mil book deals. They argue that editors will move from publishing houses to agencies as author’s representatives will increasingly have more power than the publishing houses. I don’t think that this is necessarily true. I think some editors may be able to stand alone as authors will seek to hire them directly. Again, the experts will win out, because naturally some editors will be more coveted than others.

The business model is turning upside down. And there are going to be a few bumps and bruises along the way but nobody’s job is going to disappear. The ones in control are just going to be different. Imagine authors running their own publishing houses. And small booksellers with the power to really have an impact on books.

Honestly, if you’re a writer or an independent bookseller right now, this is probably the best time to be in this business.

[Photo by Ansgar Walk, available here.]

Map out your story

On Tuesday when I was struggling (before I bolted to the mall) I started to look up plot graphs. I remembered that Nathan Bransford had done one for LOOKING FOR ALASKA, and I thought/hoped that it might help to focus me on my work. Among other things, I came across this:

Can you tell what story it’s from? Of course it would take a teacher to create something this great. It’s basically a visual map of the entire plot of the story. And it’s a fabulous way to get kids to think about story/plot. But it might actually be a really handy tool for visual writers as they try to work out their own plot lines.

Heck, I’m going to try it. Eventually.

Of course, a traditional plot graph looks like this:

Effective, but boring. However, it’s probably what I’m going to use to keep myself organized.

For more story maps and plot graphs search for “story plot graphs” in your browser.

Now join me in rubbing your hands together and wickedly laughing, “mwah ha ha ha ha!” whilst plotting your latest revenge… I mean story.