Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Newbie Mistakes

A few weeks ago a friend asked me if I would help a new writer who was about to publish her first book. Could I answer her questions, or maybe connect her to others who might?

Everyone starts as a newbie. We were all there once.  “Of course,”I said.
Only moments later, the soon-to-be author made contact. All glowing with the radiance of first-time publication, she wanted to meet and talk. I, old fogy that I am, suggested she first email  the nature of her project and her questions to me.

Barely seconds later, a long and detailed Email came back. This writer’s enthusiasm was palpable. Her first book is coming out! Like now! She needs to market! She wants to show it to me! 
Some of her comments showed the cluelessness of a newbie. Well, maybe most of her comments. I've gotten wonderful advice in my newbie days, and continue to even now. I've given advice when friends ask, and on this blog- even when not prompted. I wanted to be helpful.

After a few hours’ thought, I sat down and composed a long Email congratulating this writer on her upcoming book. I suggested some links to places where I have learned a lot of useful things. I suggested the best chat-board in kid-lit as a good place to network, The Blue Board. I also included a link to the most informative professional organization for Children’s book writers. The  SCBWI also welcomes the yet-to-be published.

I confessed that I have no experience in self-publishing, which is the route she chose. I made a gentle suggestion that her intention to have her book be “picked up by a major publisher” is unlikely if she self-publishes it. It has happened. But, for the most part, self-publishing is a deterrent to eventual traditional publishing. I added that presenting her book as for age 0-6 would not advance her cause, as this is not, developmentally speaking, a real age category in publishing. Infants and six-year olds will not listen to the same stories. Rather, the established age categories might be toddler board books (1-3) and young picture books (3-5). [There is also an older picture book category for beginning readers, ages 5-8.]

After checking her book out, I enclosed links to similar books. Writers should know about what is on the market if they are also the marketers of their books.

All right, I spent some time, enclosed plenty of good links, and signed with very best wishes for the success of her book. I added that she may write back with any questions she has. I know I had plenty, and do to this day. We all have a lot to learn, and paying it forward is a privilege.

Which is why I posted it here. Someone may find a bit of it helpful.
The one thing I would add is that if someone bothers to think about your inquiry and respond, thank them even if you don't resonate or feel happy about their input. 
Maybe that should be Networking 101. Then pay it forward.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tomorrow is the Busiest Day of the Year

Before I was published, DH used to tell others that I was trying to write. I corrected him time and again. I wasn't trying; I was doing it. I was trying to get my writing published, but writing was something I was already doing.

Spring is in the air and it is tempting to do less and dream about doing more. There’s always tomorrow.
 But today is yesterday’s tomorrow, and today is all we really have. Don’t try, do. Spring forth and bring it on.
Pep-talk for today, if you needed one. I sure do. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

About Work, or- How I Learned to…

Until my late twenties, I had difficulty with longer projects. Time management was not part of my schooling. If I couldn't finish a paper or a book in a month or two, I did not finish it, period. This shortcoming was something that prevented me from proceeding in school. (And from doing many other things, come to think of it.)

 In my late twenties, I decided this had to change. I picked up embroidery and started increasingly demanding projects. This form of tapestry is the most tedious way to create or re-create patterns, slower than drawing or painting. 
I learned how to parcel energy for the long haul, how to muscle up for the draining middles of longer projects when the enthusiasm of the beginning has worn off and the tailwinds carrying me to the end were not yet blowing 

I took this on as a disciplinary matter, not for its own sake. But the concrete results were there to remind me that YES, I CAN.

My efforts served me well later when doing restoration on antique textiles, and of course, with my writing/revising and such.

So this is where I am today, back to work writing a new story. If you're working on your taxes, that'll be over soon, and then comes tomorrow. On this final stretch, grab hold of the saddle and don't let go.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Elliot’s Peculiar Cruelty

Why? Do tell, T. S. - and then tell of the extra L you put in there, which my proofreading eye keeps wanting to change to cruelest.

This signature line, the beginning of the epic poem The Waste Land, seemed a good place to start. Not because it is April, but because it made me think how writing peculiarities are what separates the very good from the great.

It’s the artist’s “know the rules and then break the rules.”

I wonder if the How To books and the mechanical spell-checkers computer writing programs affect real creativity. I doubt they add to artistry in any way, and worry they may squelch it.

I look back at the very first stories I wrote with the intention to put them out in the world at large. What I wrote the first two years would be classified as unpublishable. I had not yet immersed myself in industry-mavens’ wisdom. I wrote using intuition and native sensibility. I created wholly original stories that, I later learned, would have a prospective editor hurl the pages at the wall in exasperation. Or, worse, have the editor laugh and read them to colleagues as examples of ineptitude.

As I began to read about what was expected, I tucked my initial efforts deep in the drawer and shuddered at ever re-reading any of these embarrassments. But something in me made sure I didn't burn the pages or delete the files.

Yesterday I opened one of the stories by accident. I was looking for another file and clicked on the wrong one. I found myself face to face with a story that broke all the rules. Well, not all, but close.

I didn't cringe. I marveled. It’s probably unpublishable, but it is different, full of the unexpected, and connected to the life-source of good writing in a way many of my later, more conventional offerings, are not.

It may be time to get back to the beginning and forget a lot of what I have learned. Ah, the cruelty of April. 
May is going to be busy. Lots of shedding to do.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Do You Like Your Ghosts?


The Truth About Ghost Writing


Years ago, before I even considered writing for publication, an acquaintance made me an offer. I would write a book about a subject I knew quite a bit about, and she would publish it under her name. She knew only a little about the subject, but thought a book would be good for her career. I would be paid, but my name would not appear, and I would sign an agreement to never disclose this connection. I felt funny about the whole thing and turned her down.

At that time I had no idea how common this sort of arrangement is.

Years later, before I was published but after I told friends I was writing, I got a similar offer. By then I had not only learned about ghost-writing, but knew someone who had done it. The ghost-maven advised me that this route is fraught with problems I cannot even begin to imagine. Because I knew only a little about the second book’s subject and was not drawn to it, it was easy to turn down.

After I was published I had two such offers, both from acquaintances who felt they didn’t have the time to write their books, but had the money to pay for their books to be written in their names. In each case I knew little about the subject, and cared even less. These, too, were easy to turn down.

Sounds like I’m a quick turner-down, ey?

I have an aversion to secrecy, so while I am discrete, I don’t want to invite a mega-dose of covertness into my life. I cherish ghost stories, not ghost writing.


A few years ago I watched an illuminating interview on the subject. A well-known writer, Michael Korda, who by then had come out as the ghost writer to a few people- (presumably they allowed this revelation) said that almost all books written by people who are not professional writers were in fact not written by them. This blew my mind.

By now I have come to accept it. Most anything can be bought. Why not this service as well? Only live performances can’t be faked, er…, pardon my Milli-Vanilli memory lapse.

Things ain’t what they seem, and never were.

I don’t know how you feel about it. Surprised? Scandalized? Shoulders-shrugged?

At this point, I’m not sure how I feel, either. The world is what it is. Just saying.