But is it good enough?

There are a lot of people writing out there. A lot. And it’s great. There are so many stories to tell. Now with technology catching up to ideas, there are also lots of ways to get your story into the hands of readers, quickly, and affordably. But there are two things I keep hearing from both sides of the equation: the readers, and the authors.

The readers: I can’t find anything good to read. Or more blatantly: Everything I download is crap.

The authors: You can’t even convince people to buy a book for 99 cents! And: How hard is it to download a free book?

So there are two things going on here. Readers want to find something of value, even at free or 99 cents, because they’re not just paying with their cash, they’re also paying with their time. I’m sure we’ve all spent time on a book that we wish we hadn’t, because it’s time we can’t get back. It’s one of the reasons I won’t do any more reviews for ebooks unless I know the author. I spent a good chunk of last year reading crap. I had cancer. That was bad enough. But bad writing on top of it? No.

The second thing that’s going on, is that the authors are frustrated because they’re doing everything they can to promote their work, and don’t understand how much more these readers need. Blood? Writing is suffering enough! But there is one thing that the authors aren’t taking into consideration. Is it really good enough?

Consider this W. Somerset Maugham quote: “I have never met an author who admitted that people did not buy his book because it was dull.”

It’s a painful concept, that maybe what you wrote just isn’t good enough, but it is a reality, and it’s one that we have to consider as artists. If we’re asking people to read our work, we have to be prepared to find out that what we’ve put out there just doesn’t measure up. Not everything that comes out of our fingertips is going to be best-seller quality. But there are ways to stave off totally bombing when the book hits the shelves.

1) Read everything you can in your genre, and everything you can outside of your genre. I don’t think I need to tell any of you how important it is to read, read, read. It teaches you.

2) Use your beta readers wisely. While not everything they say is going to really work for you, everything they feel is a gold mine waiting to be plumbed.

3) Hire an editor. A good one. For one thing, an editor will save your readers the headache of trying to get through that tangled grammar. But more importantly, a good editor can point out plot holes, places where the pacing sags, inconsistencies in your character, or their speech, and the myriad other little things that slip by you when you’re the writer. I may be an editor, but I don’t edit my own work. I don’t even try.

It’s impossible to know how your work is going to be received. And taste is everything. One person’s crap is another person’s favorite book. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw who gets their hands on it, and what they think of it, and word of mouth, and the  momentum from that becomes everything. Still, it’s important to stay humble and think hard about your work. Even though it may be painful to admit, sometimes, it’s just not good enough.

The Mashup

It’s Monday! Time for publishing news…

For us social media folks, Livia Blackburne says that blogging is a waste of time. (Frankly, sometimes I wonder myself if I’m just spinning my wheels here). Agree or disagree?

If you tend to disagree, Jane Friedman has some ideas on how to build diversity into your online presence. This was one of those rare posts that actually had new information on this oft-written-about topic. Thank goodness for fresh ideas!

And while you’re on the big bad InterWeb, be careful about how you behave. This social media thing can wreak havoc on your career. That’s from fellow WordPress blog, Whispered Writings.

Back in the writing world, there’s the very awesome Terrible Minds who wants writers to be M…rf…ing Rock Stars. Hell yeah! I’m all for it. Sadly, I’m too polite. Do you want to try? I’ll be your groupie.

There are a bunch of essential Ted talks, and some other clips about why failure isn’t fatal and how it can be rather helpful, in fact. Each of these clips and interviews are extremely instructional, and the last one is J.K. Rowling’s now famous commencement speech. Which is worth the 20 minutes every time. If you don’t click through to anything else this week, this is the one to check out.

If you’re stuck coming up with a book title, or you think what you’ve come up with is immensely stupid, fear not. The folks over at Huffington Post have rounded up the 15 most ridiculous book titles for you. And they really, really are. I think you’re safe.

If you’re try to create a book trailer and want to see what a good one looks like, look no further. I have seen some crappy ones recently, so thank goodness for this lady. Whew. If you’re looking for one that’s for kids, then here you go. Of course, you’d need some animation  skills if you were planning to do something like this on your own.

Neil Gaiman gives you the best and simplest writing advice around. We all probably know all of these, but it’s nice to hear from a master, isn’t it?

And what should a non-fiction query letter look like? This.

If you’re still in the revision process, this kid lit revisions class might be for you. I’ve worked with these folks before, and I love them.

For you indie  writers, there’s an award  for you! Finally! Let’s please separate the wheat from the chaff. I’m really excited about this one.

And once you’re ready to upload your masterpiece, think twice about that 99c price point, will you? Though now that you’re offering that ebook, you can also offer to sign it for your fans who buy it on the Kindle.

And finally, after that ebook love, here’s another article about what ereaders can’t download. I guess the whole real book v. ebook thing isn’t going to go away after all.

Before you  run off, here’s a little fun for ya for the week… and yes, I did see Cowboys vs. Aliens this weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Happy  Monday everyone! Have a great week.


The never ever ever ending story

When I was a kid, we lived on a windy hill where there were very few houses. It was perfect for kite-flying. Usually my dad made my kites out of sticks and brown paper. It was his specialty. They were wonderful, but they never flew very high. So one day I decided to buy a fancy plastic kite. It was bright blue with a yellow tail. And it flew so high, that I could barely see it. Then the wind whipped the string out of my hand. I chased my kite and the just-out-of-reach string down the hill, but the kite was strong and the wind was faster, and I wound up out of breath at the bottom of the hill watching my kite fly out to sea.

Today I’m thinking about that blue kite with the yellow tail because my novel is getting away from me. Now at 60,000+ words and no end in sight, I feel like I’m chasing the string again. It’s there just beyond my fingers. So I’m running downhill, and the story is ahead of me hurtling toward something… is it freedom? Or is it just a runaway story that needs whipping back into shape?

So much for that outline I was so proud of back in September. So much for all the pride and superiority I felt over my domain of this story. Now I’m just a kid again. Out of breath. Frustrated. Wondering where is this all going to lead?

After I lost my fancy blue kite my dad bought another one. This one got away from me too, but someone caught the string and brought it back to me. I was grateful that I got to fly that kite many more times, but it’s the one that got away that I always remember. If I could have grabbed hold of that string, and it took me along, where would we have ended up?

And if this story is taking me on a wild ride, should I just let it?

How to find a beta reader

Yesterday at a Twitter chat, I mentioned that I had some great beta readers that I could trust, and another poster said that he wished he had some trustworthy beta readers as well. I realized that I’m pretty lucky to have a group of book nerds as personal friends, and that many people may not be able to say the same. Beta readers are essential for any writer who wants to get some feedback for their work before they send it out to agents or editors. And that feedback can be invaluable because when you’re creating a piece it’s really difficult to take a step back and see all its flaws and goodness. If you can’t see those, rewriting and editing is rough. So if you’re not lucky enough to have friends who gather around their computer screens awaiting the announcement of book awards, what do you do?

1. Join a writing group.

Some writers love writing groups. They swear by them and wouldn’t know what to do without their group. I am not one of those writers. Mainly it’s because I worry that if I don’t like someone’s writing I won’t be able to contribute without either lying or hurting their feelings. But don’t go by me. I’m weird.

2. Befriend your local librarian.

It’s no shocker that librarians love books. They also love talking about books. And they like people who write books. So they’re your go-to people for beta readers if you make them your buddies. I practically live at my local library and the librarians are always happy to give my work a read.

3. Corral your online peeps.

You meet in the same Twitter chats and review similar books at Goodreads. You like the same Facebook book/author/publisher pages and get excited about new releases. So next time you go to a writing conference, or other book-ish gathering, let your online peeps know so that you can hook up. If your personalities are a match, they may be your next source for beta reading.

See? You’ll have trustworthy beta readers in no time.

You can learn a lot from knights

Last night, my family went to Medieval Times. It’s a role-play “dinner” “experience” in a “castle” with a king and knights and chivalry and plastic cups that are supposed to look like mead steins. The kids loved it. My husband and I… we… er… loved that the kids loved it. But despite the bad acting (truly, truly horrendous) and the horrible food (seriously, the worst I’ve ever had, and I lived in England, so that’s saying a lot), the saving grace of this thing were the fight scenes.

Sure, it was extremely careful choreography because they’re using actual swords and mace and whatnot. And sure they’re going pretty slowly to make sure that nobody gets hurt, but they were kind of exciting. And that was because of the reversals.

Reversals: the stand-by of the horror, the thriller, and every b-movie you’ve ever seen. You think a guy’s down and then he suddenly sees a way to claw back to the top. Is your knight done for? No! He tipped up his blade and caught the bad guy in the gut at the last second. Down goes bad guy face-first into horse poop.

The fighting knights reminded me that sometimes, even the worst story can be saved with a little of the unexpected. Some excitement by way of surprise. I know it’s the same ol’ the-axe-murderer-was-dead-but-comes-back-for-a-final-slash bit. But it works, right?

Just imagine if you do those reversals well in your book? It’d be pretty awesome!

Because everybody loves a comeback.

Pushing through

There are days when you’re going to feel like you’re putting out Herculean effort for little results. There are days when you worry about whether you’re writing well enough, or if you’re doing enough marketing, or online socializing with peers, or how you’re going to sell your next story.

But what you have to do is just push through.

Not every day is going to be smooth. Not every day is going to be inspired. Not every day is going to be successful.

But if you’re always moving forward, and you’re always putting out your best effort, the smooth days and the inspired days and the successful days will come around again.

Believe.

A full-time writer, one month a year

Finding writing time seems damn near impossible with a full time job and kids. There’s always some errand or duty to keep you from your passion. If you could set aside a month to work solely on your own writing, would you get somewhere? Well, here’s how to get your month. It seems simplistic, but read to the end. It’ll be worth it.

Write during your commute. Remember to bring a notebook or laptop (and beware of old biddies on the bus/train who complain about how loud you type). Commute time = approximately 30 minutes twice a day.

Have an iron-clad bedtime for the kids. Give yourself an hour to wind down, wash dishes, or whatever else you need to do, then write for up to 2 hours after that. (Of course, some trickster children will make every excuse to get out of bed, and you might be seriously exhausted from your day. Red Bull?) Post-bedtime writing = 2 hours.

Keep a notebook by your bed and one in the car for those fleeting ideas that come to you after the kid gets up in the middle of the night for the umpteenth time, or you’re waiting at the pediatrician’s office. Those ideas often  disappear a few moments later so keep those little notebooks handy. Sometimes I’ve used index cards. Odd writing moments = 1-10 minutes a few times a week.

Writing on the weekend can be difficult when you have a lot going on, but if your spouse is at home, you can carve out some office hours while they take care of things. Weekend office hours = 4 hours.

It seems deceptively easy, and it is… deceptive, I mean. Some days you won’t have 2 minutes let alone 2 hours to dedicate to writing anything but a grocery list. But don’t despair. As you stick to regular writing times, your mind will get trained to write at those times, and the writing will become easier and more importantly, it will add up.

A daily 1 hour commute + post-bedtime writing + weekend office hours (even if you only manage to get in 12 weeks of work out of the 52 per year) = 228 writing hours. That’s 32.5 business days… over one full month of just being a writer.

Now I bet you could really get somewhere with that.

10 writing rules

Following The Guardian’s “Ten rules for writing fiction” article, with the only clear rule that there are no rules, and since the New Yorker sees the rules as quirkily specific to each author, I thought I’d write my own rules, since they’re really only going to apply to me anyway, and I like to do things for my own amusement sometimes.

1. Only write on the days you eat.

2. When the going gets tough, take a nap.

3. Writing is lonely. Make friends with another writer so you can have bitch sessions.

4. Don’t work while the kids are running around.

5. Work even if the sink is full.

6. Be prepared to edit, rewrite, toss out, or even start from scratch.

7. Never stop your mother from telling you how great you are. You’ll need that positive reinforcement when the rejection letters start rolling in.

8. Let your characters do most of the describing. If you have more exposition than dialogue, you’re in big trouble.

9. When you think you’re done, put it away for 6 months. Then see.

10. Let someone else read your novel before you send it out and really listen to what they like and don’t like about it.

How to critically evaluate your own writing

Last September, my agent passed on my latest novel. I had been working on it for nearly 4 years. Three previous versions had gone out to editors, all with lukewarm praise and no sales. I embarked on a Major Revision in the summer, and submitted what I thought was my best work. After the rejection, I put it away. Last week I finally found the courage to revisit it.

I don’t know how to tell you this next bit.

It, um, kind of sucked.

I realized instantly that  the version before my Major! Revision! was much better, hence my agent’s enthusiasm for that one, and not this one. What happened was, I put out the latest version without ever really evaluating it. But how do you do that? 

If reading and commenting on bad prose in writing groups is nauseating, you can’t afford to pay an editor, and the feedback from your family and friends is all smiley faces, you need to find a way to get tough with yourself. What you need, I’m sorry to tell you, is time.

I didn’t look at that manuscript for nearly six months, which was enough time to gain the distance necessary to really look at it with a critical eye. Of course in those six months, I worked on other things, which is also necessary. Other projects put the one that’s waiting completely out of your mind. And you need the fresh eye of forgetfulness to tackle it again.

I’m not saying you need to wait six months every time. There’s no magic formula for how long you should wait. But you need to think of the time you take away from a manuscript as an investment in your craft, rather than a delay in seeing your title in print. If you wait to do your best work, you will faster get an agent or editor. If you don’t, you’ll be wasting time in a slush pile anyway. And wouldn’t you rather everyone see your best work at all times?

My novel scares me…

Yesterday I took a drive to clear my head from the Creech bio and this happened:

Voice: Hey Tracey!

Me: What the…

Voice: It’s me. Your novel.

Me: The one about…

Voice: No, the good one. Come on, I’m languishing here! I want you to tell my story. It’s so great, I’m practically bursting with excitement. I know you see all the scenes coming together, and you can hear all of our voices getting stronger and telling you how we want this thing to go down. I know you can feel the awesomeness in your muscles. I feel it too! So please, get back to me. I’m the one you’ve been waiting for. The one that’s going to get that second novel on the shelf and slingshot your career. It’s going to be so great, Tracey. I promise. So please, rewrite me, revise me, EDIT ME! You’ll be so glad you did.

You know as soon as I got home, I busted out that manuscript. Because you should always do what the voices tell you.