Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Blog tour--I'm away today!

Over at Beth Cato's blog, I've told about one of my favorite memories of Christmases past. You can read all about it here.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Attention everyone!

Join us for the 2016 Giftmas Blog Tour! We're raising money for the Edmonton Food Bank, and there's a chance for you to win a prize, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Everything (important) I've learned about publishing (so far)

Today a friend asked me to tell her everything I know about the publishing industry. This is a tall order. But I distilled the key elements down to what has been most helpful to me, and she gave permission for me to share it with you, too.

The entire publishing industry is a big territory, and a lot of what I've learned (focusing on poetry and SF/fantasy/horror) may not transfer to other genres or sectors of the industry. But there are some general ideas to keep in mind.

Everything here should be taken with a grain of salt. Or a bucket of salt.

1. There are a lot of scammers out there. If you are submitting to editors/agents, a good rule of thumb is that MONEY SHOULD FLOW TO THE WRITER. That means, reputable places do not charge reading fees, or fees to publish your book or get it on store or library shelves. If someone asks for an upfront fee, or tells you that they'll publish you IF you pay their associated editing group to spruce up your manuscript, they're not legitimate.

2. If you're self-publishing, or looking for an editor and agent, and want someone to proof your manuscript or offer ideas for improvement, there are reputable people who can help with that for a fee, or with ebook design or cover art. (If I ever decide to self-publish, I will definitely get outside help with stuff like that. A good book designer or copy editor can make a huge difference in how professional the end result looks.) Approach it as you would hiring someone to put a new roof on your house, or fix your bathroom plumbing: get recommendations from people they've worked with, check out finished products, etc. Not everyone in the industry is equally skilled or experienced.

3. For that matter, do your research for editors and agents, too. Spend some time in the bookstore, and check the acknowledgments page of books you like in your genre. Many authors will mention their editors and agents, because they know good ones are worth their weight in gold. Make a list of agents/agencies who seem to have a liking for your style of story. Check out their websites and see if they're taking new clients.

4. Is an agent worth it? I have some friends who have gone without because they stick with smaller, more specialized publishers, and that works for them. My closest writer friend has hit the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists, is going on a book tour paid for by her publisher, and has work translated and published in a dozen or more countries--and she swears by her agent. It's a complex issue, but I think having a GOOD agent can open a lot of doors. Having a sucky agent can be career-destroying. I've watched that happen to friends, too.

5. Another writer friend taught me that, when making book submissions, you should be careful to understand what that particular editor or agent is looking for, and you should not spam EVERY agent at an agency or every editor at a publisher. Many of them take the stance that, if you've submitted to one person at the establishment, you've submitted to all of them, so choose your first contact wisely.

6. ALWAYS READ THE GUIDELINES. All the guidelines. And follow them. It's pretty easy to find sites that will give you standard manuscript format (William Shunn's is the one I've most often seen mentioned), but many places will have their own tweaks or requirements. If you have an absolutely killer story, it won't necessarily be the kiss of death to make obvious mistakes . . . but lots of people write killer stories, so why give them any advantage? And there are always editors and agents who will reject you based on nit-picky issues because it's a sign that you might be difficult to work with. 

7. Revise and proofread. Do it one more time than you think is necessary. Read your work out loud--it will help you catch errors that your brain glosses over.

8. If you have a genre in mind, think about joining the professional organization as an associate member, or a full member when you have the requisite sales to qualify. In my field, that's the SFWA for science fiction and fantasy, HWA for horror writers, SFPA for speculative poetry. There's also the RWA for romance writers, the SCBWI for the writers of children's books, or the MWA for writers of mysteries and thrillers. They have benefits even for beginners--RWA sponsors a lot of conventions with classes and learning opportunities, for example. Regardless of whether you write SF, you should check out SFWA's Writer Beware site--I think Victoria Strauss is still in charge of it, and it's a great clearinghouse that warns of many scammers, sketchy dealers, and collapsing presses. 

9. Writers' groups, conventions, and workshops can be a great opportunity to network and learn, or a massive time- and money-sink. It's important to do your research, but also to consider what YOU need. Don't leap into something just because someone tells you that's the best way to become a success, even if they seem pretty successful to you. What works for them might be a disaster for you.

10. For that matter, be wary of anyone who tells you they have the One True Way to be a successful writer, whether that's writing every day, publishing their own work, or standing on their head while typing with only their big toe. Every writing career is unique, in both its successes and its hurdles. You're going to have to find your own path, to a certain extent.

11. Understand that this is a difficult field in a lot of ways. You have to have enough confidence to sustain you through the struggles, and enough humility to learn and grow from those struggles. Prepare to learn patience in a way you could not have imagined. And try to have a metric for success that does not revolve around number of book sales or autographs given. Otherwise, no matter how good you are, you will have too many days that leave you feeling like an impostor or a failure.

12. I tell people there are really only two rules: 

1) Do what works for you.


2) Try not to be boring on the final draft.

Good luck!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Overcoming the inertia of disappointment

I got a rejection every day for the first four days of the month. And then resounding silence for a few days. I'll admit, it shook my confidence. As much as I love to write, the business of writing can be a soul-sucking endeavor. Yesterday I struggled to do the work. I took myself out of the house to do a revision sweep on a story a friend was kind enough to beta-read, got home and wasted time online for a couple hours before finally getting to the rough draft work I'd committed to doing every day.

The whole time I kept thinking, This is one of the hard days, but if I keep working good things will happen. Maybe the universe will see how hard I'm trying and how much my heart hurts and I'll be rewarded!

So I was all, *Another* rejection? 

Or, you know, maybe once the work's all done, I'll get another rejection. Which is what actually happened, because the universe does not want me to be happy ever again.

So yesterday evening I wallowed and was bitchy. This morning, I decided that was not an acceptable lifestyle choice in the longer term, so I put together a list of markets I wanted to send poems to, and checked to see which ones were open, and what they might want.

And I sent out a bunch of stuff. I'm still cranky because honestly, rejections are never awesome. But I've been caught before in the inertia of disappointment, where a few rejection letters lead to months of sitting on all the new material I've written, or not bothering to revise stuff because that's the hard part, and all that effort seems pointless.

Which is not to say that I'm suddenly immune to the inertia of disappointment. Just that, today, even though the universe doesn't want me to win, I'm not going to sit quietly and take it. Not today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

New Poems!

The tax sonnet is live now at Topology Magazine, here.

Enjoy! (Definitely you will enjoy this poem more than you enjoy paying taxes. Seriously.)

And there's "Fallen to Witches" at Mithila Review, here.

I've been writing witch poems this year, after learning that both of my parents have ancestors who were jailed during the Salem Witch Trials.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Grit and the Art of Deliberate Practice

Today I’ve been reading Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. It’s a terrific book, and one I suspect I’ll hark back to because there are a lot of good ideas here. She talks about the sociological and psychological research around overcoming defeat and disappointment, as well as specific real-world examples of people who show grit in their lives. As a writer who regularly gets rejected, developing that resilience is something for which I’m striving.

One aspect to grit that particularly struck me is the idea of deliberate practice. We’re all pretty clear on the way that time spent in an activity leads to better results. Any writer will tell you that it’s common to run into people who would love to be writers but can never manage to make the time to sit down and, you know, write something. But in Grit, Angela Duckworth takes the concept further. She points out that it’s not enough to grind out the hours. Really successful people, the ones who overcome the inevitable plateaus in life, engage in what she calls deliberate practice. They seek to improve their performance by setting goals that will test their limits and stretch their skills, by focusing on specific areas that need improvement, and (yes) putting in the hard work that will make meeting those goals possible.

She points out that, while that hard work may not be fun, those with grit take pleasure in their accomplishments, and find joy in the process as it helps them improve. So tonight, I’m thinking about deliberate practice as it applies to the art and craft of writing, and seeking ways to put those ideas to work in my own stories.

If you’re a writer who’s made a conscious effort to practice deliberately, what techniques did you use? Did you have a mentor, take a class or join a workshop? Has your study been more self-directed? How did you mesh this practice with your writing?

In line with this, I’ve been thinking about one specific thing I’d like to improve in my own stories. (This is not to say that this is the only shortcoming I have; only that this is the one I think is currently holding me back the most.) My writing needs to be more emotional, or rather, there needs to be a stronger emotional thread in the story, and a stronger emotional connection for the reader. So I’m going to read a couple books that address that particular issue, and I’m going to read stories and think about how their authors develop that emotional resonance. Until I can understand what gives me a strong emotional response as a reader, I won’t be able to translate that into my own fiction. I shy away from emotion too much, in life and in art, and that won’t work.

What about you? What’s your deliberate practice? Where are you going next, and how will you make it happen?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Some thoughts on goal-setting for writers

I was putting together my goals for July, and found myself thinking back to earlier days and the way my goal setting has changed—and stayed the same—throughout my years as a writer. Everybody works differently, but I suspect there are few writers who succeed without setting any goals. And I have a suspicion that setting the wrong kinds of goals can be disastrous as well. Whether the goal-setter is thinking too big or too small, the way we approach progress and mileposts can hamper us. Or inspire, on the other hand, if we do it wisely.

First of all, it’s good to have an idea of what motivates you and gets your creative juices flowing. The sad fact is, there may be long stretches of time where you’re not receiving a lot of positive feedback and outside rewards for your hard work. So figure out if a special meal, a night out with friends, or a new book might give you some much-needed joy. And then think about ways to earn that enticing reward.

Dorothy is absolutely right--but the wait can be excruciating

Break it down

The rough draft of your 300,000 word fantasy opus is probably not going to sell right off. And even if it did, you still have to write the damn thing first. You’ve got your maps, and the ominous prophecy-thingy, but now what? Shockingly, opuses don’t get written in one sitting. And you’re going to struggle.  So maybe your goal list should include something other than 1) Write epic fantasy novel. Maybe you need to figure out how to get there.

Figuring out the best approach is a learning process. Maybe you’ll outline thoroughly and break it down into scenes. Maybe you’ll calculate how long you’d like it to be and plot the major turning points and where they’ll need to occur. Maybe you’ll be pantsing the whole way and set a daily or weekly word goal. Be prepared for the trial and error you’ll need to work out your best method. Remember: everyone finds themselves stuck from time to time. It’s not a sign of failure, so much as an indication that you need to rethink the process.

Best rest stop ever, or best rest stop OF ALL TIME?

Whatever path you take, set smaller goals that mark out the way. Just like you wouldn’t drive from Boston to San Francisco in one marathon session, you’ll need figurative hotels and rest stops on the story trail, too. Treat yourself when you’ve set the hook in the opening chapter, or when you’ve finally slogged through the flabby middle part of the story and see the end in sight.

Branch out

When I started, the general advice was to begin with short fiction and break into the market that way before trying to sell a novel. That advice wasn’t terribly helpful then, and is even less so now, but there’s a kernel of value. You may have a natural form that works best  for you—I’ve been most successful with poetry so far, and my stories all want to turn into novels—but it’s not wise to limit yourself to only one thing, however comfortable that feels.

Learning to write better poetry has taught me about rhythm and pattern in language, about finding images that are vivid and unique, about compressing the necessary details and deleting what doesn’t move the piece forward. Working on short fiction has made me think about satisfying beginnings and endings, and how to convey emotion to the reader in a shorter space. And longer pieces have their own needs and structural concerns, calling for much deeper thinking on matters of theme and plot and characterization. All of those things are valuable parts of a writer’s toolkit. Even if poetry requires a different mindset than fiction (like thinking in a different language, as one writer puts it), I can use what I’ve learned in every aspect of writing.

There’s value in trying different genres as well. Too often we find ourselves locked into one particular type of story, but taking the risk of writing in a different field can bring new life to all of a writer’s work. Anyone who reads voraciously can think of favorite authors whose work grew stale over the years, as they trod the same ground again and again. So don’t be afraid to experiment. Write in a point of view you’ve never tried before, switch to a different verb tense, or even give that genre mash-up you’ve been dreaming of a shot.

In other words, don’t forget to have fun. Otherwise, you might as well be making widgets in a gloomy factory.

Build it up

The longer I write, the more clearly I see how much I still have to learn. There are ideas I have that I can’t work on yet, because I just don’t have the knowledge and experience to convey what’s in my mind and heart. (I know some of you are saying that I should try anyway—and you’re right, to a point. There’s value in taking risks, but there’s also value in gaining an awareness of the gaps in your skills and exercising patience.)

So one of the things I’m working on consciously (and semi-conscientiously) right now is to gain a better understanding of what makes good writing in various areas, to study writers who are good and work on incorporating those skills into my own toolkit. To accomplish that, I’ve set goals to read anthologies and collections and think about the stories that seem particularly effective. I’m critiquing regularly for other people, too. In the past, I’ve worked as a slush reader, and that was an enlightening experience. You know how editors will say, “I don’t ever want to see stories with X [vampires, zombies, sappy love stories]!” There’s a damn good reason for that. And you will understand, when you’ve read through every possible permutation of boring, sloppy, unimaginative vampire story that your fellow writers can come up with.

When I was an editor, it was stories about people losing it and killing their spouses. There's a lot of spousal rage out there. Seriously.

In short, there are a myriad ways in which you can build and expand your writer’s toolkit. One of the terrifying things about this work is that there’s so much more to learn. But that’s also the wonderful thing about it, too. I will never reach a point where I know everything about writing. As long as I want to, as long as I work at it, there’s always another mountain to conquer.