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The place to post questions and find answers on all of your too-afraid-to-ask concerns, hesitancies and worries about breaking into the publishing field.
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1. Just a Reminder: New Address

Hey guys,


I was reminded today that a lot of you get the blog via newsfeed, and you might not realize I've switched over to a new site. So! If you're getting this in your newsfeed - or have been wondering WHY you haven't gotten anything in your newsfeed (I know, because you don't have better things to wonder about), just a reminder that the blog is now at:


See you over there!

0 Comments on Just a Reminder: New Address as of 1/1/1900
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2. Mama's Got a Brand New Blog

So some exciting news in my cyberworld - I have a brand new website, and a brand new blog to go along with it. Well, not really a brand new blog, as I'll be doing the same Ask Allison stuff, but just from a different address.


So, if you get here via blogspot, please know that in the future, you'll find this blog at:

http://www.allisonwinn.com/blog/

If you've so generously added my blog to your blog roll, please take a teeny, tiny second from your day and update it. (I know it's a pain, and I thank you in advance!) Also, I believe that all of you who have subscribed to the RSS feed will be transferred over to the RSS feed on my new site, but if not, I apologize, and you just have to sign up again. I'll keep you posted on that one. Regardless, wherever you find me and however you get here, thanks for coming!

1 Comments on Mama's Got a Brand New Blog, last added: 6/12/2009
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3. Are You Made of Win?

Question of the day: Although part of me gets inspired from reading all the "stories of success" of various authors, I can't help but feel totally defeated and discouraged at the thought of just how MANY people there are out there scrambling towards the same goal, where there's really only standing room for a few of us in the genre particularly, but in the market as a whole. How do you stay confident and inspired? Or more importanly, motivated?


Yes, well, this is the conundrum of being an aspiring writer. Not only that there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing, but also not knowing if a) you're good enough to rise to the top and b) whether or not being good enough really matters. Because let's face it: there are plenty of good authors out there whose work will never see the light of day. Not all of them, probably not even a ton of them, as I do believe that most truly talented writers get a break at some point, but yeah, not everyone, which is what makes this whole venture truly damn scary.

I've often said on this blog, and I can never repeat it often enough, that it takes a certain temperament to endure this career, and I stand by that. Years, YEARS can go by without success, and the rejection can diminish even the most confident among us. The only way that you will endure is to surround your ego and your confidence with steel armor, armor that might get occasionally nicked in the face of defeat but is basically impenetrable. I think you likely either have this disposition or you don't. But I also believe that you can at least learn to shrug it off, to get knocked down but stand up and face it all over again.

I was probably born overconfident. This has not always worked to my benefit (trust me - ending relationships was never my strong suit, as I always believed I could find a way to work things out), but in this career, yes, it has been. I simply never doubted that I could succeed. Which I know sounds ridiculous, but that is truly how my brain functions. I remember once, many years ago, when I was still finding my freelancing sea legs, my husband gently suggested that if I didn't start to get more work, I should perhaps start looking for a JOB job. I scoffed, literally scoffed at him, because I couldn't believe that he didn't KNOW, as I did, that I'd get 'er done. To paraphrase Captain Kirk: I don't believe in no-win situations.

And surely, when defeaning silences amassed from freelance editors or when my first agent and I agreed to part ways (UGH!), this way of thinking buffered me from what might have been an impulse to spin on my heels and bolt the other direction. Look, this is a tough, tough, tough business. Other than acting, I can't think of one that might be as difficult. So you either have to resolve that you're going to do your best and stick with it, or you get out. Because if you take rejection to heart and let it diminish you, your confidence will suffer, your writing will weaken, you'll present yourself as less of a package than you are.

And what should you do if you're not born with natural armor? I'd remind you to not take any of this personally. Ever. Rejection of your idea or your novel often has nothing to do with you. Agents, for example, are looking for whatever fits their specific criteria; magazine editors aren't dwelling on whether or not they think your query was poorly written. They have a product to push and sell, and they're looking at whether or not you add (or don't) to their business. This is a business. Period. Don't ever forget that. Another tip? While you're waiting to get published, keep writing. In my opinion, writing is the best way that you are going to get better. My first manuscript wasn't published and looking back, it didn't deserve to be. My second one was better, and resulted in my debut novel. My third was even better (IMO), and it's a New York Times Best Seller. There's no shame in putting something aside and recognizing that it was a learning experience, the end.

I hope this post doesn't come off as making me sound like I'm some narcissistic ego-maniac. :) I'm actually not! LOL. But, just to give you some perspective as to why I promise that I'm not, when I was a kid, whenever I had some sort of competitive activity, my dad used to sit me down and say, "What's your last name?" I'd roll my eyes about a dozen times, and finally, after much prodding, would say, "Winn." (Get the play on words?) Looking back on it now, I'm grateful that he did this. It wasn't that he turned me into a competitive freak, it's that he let me know that I always held that win inside of myself, that I was always capable of coming out on top. Even if your last name is Brown, Smith or Weinberg, the same theory can hold true for you...and I think it's a critical one for success as a writer.

Wow, long post. Anyone want to chime in on how you keep your confidence afloat?

18 Comments on Are You Made of Win?, last added: 6/10/2009
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4. Getting to Know You

Question of the day: I'd be interested to know the type of 'relationship' you develop with a character before weaving them into a story. I have read about authors literally becoming obsessed with a character. To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, my characters are really just the tools allowing me to do the job - and while I feel a growing interest in them, I haven't felt the need to list their likes/dislikes/food allergies in any level of detail. Should this too be something that develops organically during the writing rather than the planning process - or am I missing a trick here?

This is a very good question, not least because I'm still learning A LOT about character development. I recently read a book, Hyatt Bass's, The Embers, which I'll discuss more once it's come out, that had the most in-depth, fleshed out characters I think I might have ever read. I mean, I was reading it, and I was so just impressed because truly, I don't know that I'm capable of going that deep. Well, maybe that's not fair; maybe I'm entirely capable, but I'll be honest in saying that I felt like her analysis of her characters blew mine out of the water.

But. To be honest, I guess maybe I'm okay with that. :) At least for the books I've written thus far. I finished her book and thought, "Wow, someday I'd like to write like that," but for now, what I've done with my characters has really worked for my writing process and for my books. My process is this: I primarily start with an emotional connection with these characters, which maybe sounds a little pretentious if you haven't written fiction before, but
for me, at least is the most important ingredient in my writing. I've stopped and started several manuscripts because I just didn't GET these characters, and when I don't GET them, I can't figure out all of their other little choices: their likes/dislikes/food allergies, etc. :)

So I start there. Once I'm inside their brains - and to be honest, one of the reasons the first part of book #3 took so long was that I really had to wrench myself into my protagonist much more so than in my other books - the rest of it falls into place when I'm writing. Maybe my characters could stand for some deeper probing, I'm not saying they couldn't. Again, I was truly so in awe of the Bass's character development. But for me, I sort of just connect with them, understand who they are, and then inform their choices as I go.

But as I said, I'm still learning a lot of about this - so how do you guys deal with character development? Anyone have a handy habit chart that you want to share?

6 Comments on Getting to Know You, last added: 6/28/2009
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5. Want to Win Some $$$

Of course you do! Eileen Cook, awesome writer, even funnier person, is running a contest over on her blog in which you can win a $75 gift certificate, which can buy you a slew of good reads, all to commemorate the six-month anniversary of the release of her book, What Would Emma Do?


Head on over to Eileen's website for details. Happy weekend!

2 Comments on Want to Win Some $$$, last added: 6/7/2009
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6. It's All About Distribution

Question of the day: How do books get in which stores, their placement etc? I've heard authors say if they don't make it in Walmart or Target, they expect to take a huge hit in their total sales. And that Amazon.com makes up a tiny slice of their total sales. Can you explain a bit more about this process?


Ah yes, this is one of the big secrets that many soon-to-be published authors don't uncover until they're published: distribution (and print run) are king. In many, many ways, much of the success of a book is determined long before it hits shelves, and is up to a team you might not even have thought much about - the sales team.

Here's what happens: you write your book, you and your agent deem it genius, you and your editor deem it genius, and then...from there...a lot of it is out of your hands. Hopefully the art dept gives it a fabu cover, and hopefully the marketing and PR team come up with an incredible campaign, but what really has to happen is that the sales team has to believe that this book can sell the hell out of itself, and thus, when they take it to Barnes or Borders or Amazon or Ingram or Target or Walmart, etc, their buyers want to place big orders. If the sales team just isn't as jazzed up as it needs to be or if they can't sway the buyers to place big orders, your book simply isn't going to get in enough places to make much of a dent. You can hustle the hell out of it and if buyers can't find it, well, they can't buy it now, can they?

As far as what really makes the biggest hit, in terms of sales? Yes, Target, Walmart and Costco are biggies. In fact, I was just informed that Target placed a big order on the paperback of TOML and named it a Breakout Book from Aug-Oct, and my team (ugh, not to sound pretentious) is jazzed. Because the support of one of these biggies can completely change the trajectory of your sales and your success. That said, can you hit a best-seller list without it? Well, sure, my hardcover did, but you still need a strong distribution throughout the major chains (again, up to your sales teams and the store buyers). There are few things more frustrating than getting great reviews and great press and knowing that people WOULD buy it if they COULD find it, but since they can't find it, they forget about it, and voila, there goes the momentum that a prominent review might have held.

So how do buyers make their decisions? I'm not a buyer, but from what I can tell, it is partially based on previous sales, partially based on trade reviews, partially based on the amount of support and $$ that your publisher is throwing behind you. So they place an order, and these cumulative orders determine your initial print run. If Target or Walmart decides to place a biggie order, it can significantly boost your print run and generate a ton of enthusiasm which trickles down to your entire team...and thus, might help them sway other buyers to place bigger and better orders.

As far as Amazon, I think it depends on the book. I found that Amazon orders made up about 15% of Time of My Life hardcover sales. But then, I had strong distribution in stores, so maybe people preferred to literally get their hands on it when purchasing. Others might find this percentage higher if their book is harder to find or lower if their book is available everywhere (airports, grocery stores, etc).

It's funny to realize how much of this process is out of your hands. Well, maybe funny isn't the right word for it. :) But so much of it depends on outside factors: what buyers think will sell, other books that are launching the same month that yours are, how much marketing dough they're throwing your way, etc. I guess my advice is to go into it with realistic expectations: almost every author I know (barring the biggies) has gotten those emails saying, "I want to buy your book but can't find it!," and it is so, so frustrating, but it is simply how this game is played. Hopefully, your sales team is doing a kick-ass job (a HUGE shout-out to mine for landing me Target - I freaking LOVE THEM!!), and that's all you can ask for at the end of the day.

Other authors want to weigh in? I'm sort of fascinated by this subject.

19 Comments on It's All About Distribution, last added: 6/6/2009
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7. FIlm Agents - Yay or Nay?

Question of the day: I have often thought that my story/book would make a great movie (especially for Lifetime!), and my question to you is when it comes to books that are made into movies does that come about from your agent shopping the book around to film agents or you wait and see if interest comes to you?


While I don't have any concrete figures, I would say that 99.9% of the time, of books that actually get made, a film agent has shopped it around. Let's rewind a bit to discuss why.

I've said here before, but I'll say it again because I think I have a lot of new readers: getting your book published is a very, very difficult task. Getting it made into a movie makes getting your book published almost easy. In order for it to hit your local cineplex, an almost serendipitous stream of events have to occur. Including (but not limited to): 1) a film agent has to agree to take it on. So after finding a book agent, you now have to be vetted even further...these agents take on even fewer project than lit agents, AND there are fewer of them out there, so...the odds are small. 2) A producer (or director or some sort of behind-the-scenes figure) has to want to option it. 3) A studio has to agree to give this producer money. 4) A script has to be developed that all parties agree on. 5) The studio/producers has to decide that despite steps 1-4, it is still worth their time to pay everyone involved their big payouts by greenlighting the project. 6) You have to overcome a wide variety of snafus throughout the process (including but not limited to: weak scripts, temperamental directors, temperamental actors, temperamental producers, studio bankruptcy, etc, etc, etc.)

Phew! And those are seriously just SOME of the steps that come to mind. There are about a dozen others.

Film agents, like book agents, act as a filter between authors and producers/studios. The best agents (and I count mine among them - I'm very fortunate to have her), have relationships with producers, studios, directors, etc, and know what they're looking for, in the same way that lit agents have relationships with editors. Sure, of course, someone could read your book and contact you and want to option the rights. Definitely. But the odds that they'd have all of the other linchpins in place to actually get the movie made? Probably not high. I'm not suggesting that Steven Spielberg doesn't read books and contact authors - he might (though again, I'm guessing it's not his standard way of finding material - he has a team, I'm sure, who is always actively looking), but this route is sort of climbing up and over a mountain when there is a tunnel that offers direct access. But yeah, that tunnel has a pricey toll and doesn't allow everyone to pass through.

Sorry for the bad analogy. Anyway, I wish that I had other news; I wish I could say, yes, I know a dozen writers who have been contacted by legitimate producers who have then not only paid them fairly (I'm not talking about these ridiculous options for basically no money) but have gone on to get the movie made...but I can't. In fact, I know very few writers who have sold movie rights to begin with. Some, sure, but most? No.

But readers, correct me if I'm wrong. What say you? Possible to get your movie adapted without a film agent?


2 Comments on FIlm Agents - Yay or Nay?, last added: 6/4/2009
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8. Timing Is Everything

Question of the day: What time of year is the best time to contact an agent? From what I read and understand, the entire publishing industry goes to the Hamptons for the month of August. So, I'm wondering if there's a more opportune time to start down this publishing road of acquiring an agent who will submit it to an editor who will work with their publishing house.


The best time to contact an agent, hands down, is when your manuscript is as perfect as you can possibly get it. I know, I know, this isn't the answer you wanted, but it's the truth. In my opinion, far too many aspiring authors send out a manuscript before it is ready...they're just too antsy and want instant gratification. I'm not just talking about typos, though they're those too. I'm talking about first or second drafts that simply aren't major league ready, and sending out before you are in top form can really impede you in the process. Once an agent passes, he or she is unlikely to take a second look, even if you've majorly revised. (Yes, very occasionally he or she will, but why take that risk?)

So how do you know if you're in game day form? That's the million dollar question, of course. As I've said here, find trusted readers, listen with open ears and no ego to criticism, go through and delete, delete, delete extra exposition and scenes that don't propel the plot forward. Most importantly, I think, is to sit on it for a while. A few extra weeks won't kill you. Take a step away from it and then reread it and see if you still think it's just as genius as before. Try to remember that agents see SO MUCH STUFF that if yours isn't the cream of the crop, they'll likely pass without a second thought, and you'll be shooting yourself in the foot by sending it before it's at its very best.

Now, to answer your question, yes, August is a slow time in the industry. I'm not sure that I'd submit then, nor would I submit over the December holidays BUT, I'm also not sure that I wouldn't. (Gee, helpful, right?) Plenty of agents are still working in August (though yes, the last week is really, really dead, so I'd skip those already clogged inboxes), and things might be slow enough that you might grab their attention. I'm certain that there are writers, perhaps even who read this blog (chime in!), who garnered attention during this so-called slow time.

So again, the best thing I can tell you is sure, to perhaps be wary during August, but just to make sure that your ms is in kick-ass shape and send it in THEN. And good luck!

Readers, what say you? Better or worse times for submission?

4 Comments on Timing Is Everything, last added: 6/2/2009
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9. Dear Author: Here's a Little Piece of My Mind

Question of the day: Do you think about your readers as you write? Does that work for/against you? How do you NOT think about all this stuff?


Like it or not (and the jury is still out on this one), I do think about my readers as I write. Especially as I wrote book #3 (which I previous referred to as The Happiest Days of My Life, but it is getting a title change, so now I'm just referring to it as book #3). It was really difficult not to because Time of My Life was such a break-out book that I got A LOT of feedback - a lot good, some not so good - and I found it impossible to void out the feedback as I wrote.

Now listen. Here's the thing. I write for readers. Without them, I wouldn't have a career. So while it wasn't always a wonderful thing - me mulling over some of the harsher reviews and whatnot - I did find it important to consider what struck a chord and what didn't. For some reason, TOML was read by a lot of Christian readers, some of whom wrote me, my agent or just posted on their blogs, that they enjoyed the book but took issue with my liberal use of the F-bomb. I'll be honest in saying that, as a non-Christian NYC-er who is exposed to some pretty foul language, this criticism never even occurred to me. Never once. But, as I was writing book #3, did I at least give a second thought to every F-word I used this time? Sure. It was an easy enough fix that didn't compromise my writing or my characters. When I felt like the swear word was absolutely necessary, you bet your ass (ha!) I put it in. But when maybe I could find a better way to phrase it, I found a way to do that too.

I also learned a lesson in my first book and that was that readers really want to LIKE your protagonist. Not everyone liked Natalie from The Department, which is just fine, and I wouldn't change a word, but it is and was something that I'm now conscious of. Why would readers agree to give you their time for 300 pages when they don't even care if your character wins or loses? Ditto some of the reviews that said I was a good writer but didn't develop my characters deeply enough. Those really stuck with me, and I agonized with my characters in book #3, making sure (I hope) that they were three-dimensional, real, fleshed-out people, like friends you might know in real life.

So that was the good. The bad is also all of the above. :) And that while I have all of these different reviews and voices and criticism clanging in my head, it's easy to feel paralyzed. I know, because I was. Even though you KNOW that you can't please everyone and that certainly books are SUBJECTIVE, if you ruminate too much on these things, you simply can't write or you can't write well. For a while, I was so, so, so terrified of writing crappy character development, that I didn't write anything. I mean, God forbid someone put up another Amazon review stating my characters were flimsy! (That's sarcasm if you can't tell.) But yeah, for a while there, it DID feel like one of those Amazon reviews would be the end-all.

So...I guess what I'm trying to say here is that it's a mixed bag. But in the end, I'm glad that I'm weighing my reader feedback. They're the ones who buy books, and they're the ones, ultimately, whom I have to please. I pleased the majority of readers with Time of My Life, so with book #3, I aimed to do something similar...I hope I have. And even if I have, I'm sure they'll be dissenters. Oh well. They'll post their Amazon reviews, and hopefully, I'll make them happy with book #4. :)

What about you guys? Do you listen to what your readers have to say?

4 Comments on Dear Author: Here's a Little Piece of My Mind, last added: 5/29/2009
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10. YA? MA? What the hay?

Question of the day: I wrote a novel that I thought would be deemed "young adult." My agent read it and said it was "middle grade." What's the difference and does it matter?


Truth told, I am not an expert in anything YA. At all. But I asked my trusty agent, and here's what she said: "I'm not totally sure, but my understanding is that there is not a hard and fast rule. But my experience if the protagonist/audience is 12 or younger, it is middle grade. Of course, the content can determine it too. If it's dark, it's YA."

She suggested asking a YA editor, but since I don't write YA, I didn't really have any contacts from which to pool. To answer your question, does it matter? I do feel like off the top of my head, most of the break-out youth set books have been firmly YA, but then again, I'm not an expert. The good news is that I run a blog with a lot of readers who know things when I don't. :) So if anyone can weigh in below, please do!

6 Comments on YA? MA? What the hay?, last added: 5/29/2009
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11. Flying By The Seat of Your Pants

Question of the day: You talk about plot complications, and I would like to know how you deal with those. As I am discovering, even the best-laid plans go awry when you actually put finger to keyboard, so I'd like to know how you approach such a instance. I have found that as I get to know my characters better, I am unhappy with some of the things I previously thought they would do - or even the direction of the plot. In such an instance, would you just make a note of it and go back to it a little later - or would you start a chapter rewrite there and then? I've been doing the latter, which doesn't bother me as the MS will literally keep me awake at nights if I don't attend to it immediately - but I'd be interested in some tips here.


Excellent question, and yes, I definitely wrestle with this, and have especially wrestled with this earlier in my novel-writing career, when I was still getting my sea legs as to how to write the best first draft possible. Because I am a pantser - as in, I don't outline, I don't have much of a clue what's going to happen, and I write by the seat of my pants - I often find, as you have, that the characters go places I totally didn't anticipate. In the manuscript I just completed (but, I'll note, haven't yet revised, which I'm sure will cause further changes), one of the main characters was a late entry into my imagination, and in fact, wasn't even part of my original idea, and the second half of the book took on a life of its own: I literally NEVER imagined what ended up happening was going to happen.

For me, this method works. I feels organic, honest and allows me to, I hope, create characters who aren't shoved into contrived circumstances because I deemed said circumstances necessary to get from point A to point B.

But. This method also means that yes, I often have to go back and tinker with what I've previously written. When I discover a disconnect, I go back and amend it right there and then. But this is because my writing and the plot tend to snowball...if I, in the back of my mind, know that there's some incongruity in the plot or the characters, I have a difficult time getting to the mental place I need to imagine their current lives or situations. (Wow, that's a really ambiguous sentence.) What I mean by that is that if I'm hung up on the thought of knowing that I need to change a character's past behavior or past life, it's hard for me to fully imagine their future behavior or their future life, because, as a pantser, all roads lead to the page I'm currently on. If something needs to be changed on page 56, well, then it's going to affect the outcome of page 102. Make sense? So I go back right then and rework it.

As I said, I've gotten better about this with every book I write because I have a much better understanding now of what I have to do to create tension, accelerate the plot, give the characters depth, etc. So I fall into fewer sand traps as I go. I guess my advice is to really ruminate on the action before you put it down on paper. Even though I might not spend my entire day writing, I do spend a lot of my non-writing hours mulling over what's going to go on the page when I do. I don't just sit down and write to write...I've long since hashed out WHY I'm asking a character to do something and WHERE this is going to lead to in the plot. If their actions make sense and propel the plot forward, then for the most part, I'm safe.

Anyone else deal with this? Do you go back right there and then to fix things or keep chugging along to get to the finished product?

13 Comments on Flying By The Seat of Your Pants, last added: 6/4/2009
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12. Anna David Can't Be BOUGHT (Or Can She?)

So we haven't done an author Q/A around here for a long time, and despite the fact that I am so very wise, sagacious and all-knowing, I think it's time to mix it up. :) (Er, yeah, sarcasm, in case that doesn't translate.) So today I'm super-excited to have a Q/A with Anna David, author of the newly released BOUGHT and the previously released PARTY GIRL, which I very much enjoyed.


I've known Anna virtually (and by that I mean online) for a few years now, and we finally, finally got to meet a few weeks back when she popped her gorgeous mug into my reading with Laura Dave. As always, it is fabulous to connect with like-minded, supportive authors, and thus, I jumped at the chance to host her here today. Okay, enough of me. Here's the scoop on BOUGHT, and then read on to get some scoop from her.

Tired of gathering banal quotes from the B-list on the sidelines of the red carpet, Emma Swanson publicly yearns for a more substantial career but privately dreams of a hotshot boyfriend to transport her into the beating heart of the Hollywood scene. Instead, she meets Jessica—beautiful, cavalier, manipulative—who shamelessly trades sex for the gifts it can bring. Convinced that writing a story about Jessica and her ilk would seriously boost her journalistic cred, Emma soon finds herself sucked into a world where the luxuries of prettied-up prostitution may cost more than she ever expected.

1) This is your second novel - how did the experience differ this time around than the first?

It was about a thousand times more difficult. I don’t know what your experience was but my first book flowed out of me like the words had just been sitting in the front of my brain, ready to be downloaded onto the keyboard at the earliest opportunity. It was like, “This novel thing is easy! Why do people say it’s so hard?” And then I started writing this book. Because my first novel was based so much on my own experiences and this one was basically an entire figment of my imagination – with bits from an investigative feature
I’d done on high-class prostitution for Details – I struggled and struggled and struggled to find the story. I ended up taking the manuscript back from HarperCollins after they’d bought it and explaining that I wanted to do a page one rewrite. The books is 272 pages, and I barely want to think about how many pages were thrown out. 200? 500? I have no idea.

2) Any lessons learned along the way to publication or between books #1 and
#2?

I guess I would have leveled my expectations more. I hope I’m doing that this time (sometimes I don’t know that I’m not doing that until it’s too late, if that makes sense). When my first book came out, it felt like such an accomplishment, and I guess I thought my entire life was going to change as a result. Instead, I learned that hundreds of thousands of books are released every year and few make an impact or an actual impression on the world. This time, I’m enjoying the process more. Yes, I’m killing myself promoting this book, but it’s fun to be interviewed about your book and try to get people excited about it and plan parties for it, and I’m taking the time to remember that this is the celebratory part. All that it’s-the-journey-and-not-the-destination stuff.

3) You were open about your first novel, which I loved, btw, somewhat mirroring your own life. Where did the inspiration come for
Bought?

As I mentioned, I had done this investigative piece for Details on high-class prostitution. I had spent about six months infiltrating this world of exploitative madams, porn stars doing tricks as “side work,” pimps demanding money in exchange for information, and FBI informants playing me tape recordings of tapped phone conversations with madams, and it ended up being this 2000-word story that was, essentially, about how rich men get their rocks off. So I decided to fictionalize what I’d learned and incorporate in aspects of some of the dysfunctional relationships I’ve been in to tell a story about how much we all sell ourselves to get what we want.

4) You have a huge platform and are a media name: how did you go about
building this platform for yourself? A lot of Ask Allison readers are still
at the beginning stages of platform building, any specific tips?

For me, it was a sort of accidental offshoot of working at magazines. When I was on staff at Premiere and my photo began appearing on the contributors page, VH1, E and other cable networks started calling and asking me to come on to talk about various and sundry aspects of celebrities and celebrity-dom. That really is a good entrée in because there are hundreds of shows about celebrities that need to fill their hours and are thrilled to do that with free labor! I also wrote about sex, dating and relationships and was lucky enough to be hired to answer those questions every week on G4’s Attack of the Show. I also go on my friend Greg Gutfeld’s show, Red Eye, about twice a month…it’s not a paid gig but the show has such an ardent following (just like Attack of the Show) that I’ve connected with a lot of viewers that way. I really do think TV is the way to build a platform and if you can show up, be comfortable and deliver what they need, the same shows – whether it’s Today, CNN’s Showbiz Tonight or Hannity & Colmes – will keep asking you back. Creating a blog that’s controversial or gets a lot of traffic or writing a slew of magazine stories on similar topics or finding the newsy angle to your novel and then starting to contact the bookers at those shows would definitely be a way to start getting on. I’ve had to hire outside publicists to help on this.

5) You are a Twitter queen. (@annadavid) We've had a lot of debate here on
the blog as to the benefits (or not) of Twitter - where do you come down?
How do you use it?


When I meet people who say, “Yeah, I want to get into Twitter but it would be so much work,” I feel grateful for the fact that I actually enjoy doing it. It doesn’t feel like work to me. And I have connected with some of the nicest fans on there – I’m talking about people who have gone all out helping me get the word out about
Bought, created Iphone applications for my blog, edited together video clips of my appearances on shows…I’m telling you, the nicest people in the world. I’ve also gotten help on any number of things – hiring web developers, handling computer issues, even making my DVD player work when it was acting up. But I think it’s too soon to say for certain what the long-term benefits of Twitter are.

6) You used to do a slew of celebrity interviews. Any favorites? Any great stories (even if names are withheld?!)? :)

I’ll tell you my least favorite: when I covered the Oscars for
Premiere, I was really nervous. I couldn’t believe I was standing at the Governor’s Ball. I went up to interview this French actress who had been nominated, and I was such a bundle of nerves, she accused me of not really being a journalist. When I swore that I was and asked her how she prepared for the night, she spat out, “I did the Alexander Technique” but she said it in this indecipherable French accent and at the time, I didn’t know what the Alexander Technique was. I asked her to clarify and she told me to get a dictionary and look it up, and then swept off. It was so traumatic that I actually fictionalized this incident and used it in Bought.

5 Comments on Anna David Can't Be BOUGHT (Or Can She?), last added: 6/1/2009
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13. Well, I'm Stuck

Question of the day: I went to NYC to talk to agents about the novel I'm writing. Several requested pages when I'm finished. Guess what? Now I'm stuck.


Ah yes. That old adage all-too-frequently proves true: that it is much easier to start a novel than to finish one. In fact, while I don't have any concrete stats to back me up, I'd gander that at least 75% of people who start a book don't finish it, because, let's face it, it's a hell of a lot easier to come up with a fancy concept that can generate a few chapters than to see that fancy concept (and all of the twists and turns) to page 300.

This isn't a slam at all. Just a simple writing fact of life.

So here's what I recommend. I've found in the past, whenever I get stuck, it's because I don't have enough going on with my characters and their lives and their sundry problems. So if I'm at a literal loss for words, I try to come up with another obstacle, another problem to throw in their path. Make them miserable; make their lives fall apart. You'll inevitably generate momentum because you'll HAVE to find a way to write them out of the hole you've place them in. Put a kink in their marriage, fire them from their job, send their father off a cliff (okay, figuratively speaking). Examine your character's life from all angles and see where it can go wrong.

Exposition - chattering off what's going on inside your character's head - can sink a book faster than a lot of authors realize. Don't get stuck in an actionless plot. Create the action and the pages will soon follow.

4 Comments on Well, I'm Stuck, last added: 5/21/2009
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14. On the Clock

Question of the day: You said in one post you only work on your book about an hour a day -- did I get that right? Do you do it first thing in the morning or after your freelance work? And how often do you violate that rule?


Yep, indeed, I did say that, and it's only sort-of true. I set aside one hour a day to write because that's what I tell myself I HAVE to write...given how arduous I sometimes find fiction, I think if I told myself that I had to write four hours or whatnot every day, I simply become paralyzed with dread. But an hour? I mean, what's a measly hour? It's nothing. So I schedule my day around this hour because let's face it, anyone can do anything for an hour. (I often use this same psychology when it comes to running or working out...I can really endure a little pain for that short a period of time, and then it's over, and then I'm always glad that I did it, right?)

I almost always designate this hour in the morning, if only because my afternoons tend to get away from me with non-writing stuff - dropping in on my son's baseball class, walking the dog, running errands, and the only way that I can ENSURE that I get my hour in is to crank it out when the house is quiet.

Now. Does this mean that I only give an hour? No, not at all. Often times, once I get started, I completely lose track of the time and devote much more. But if I'm having a crap writing day, after minute 59, I give myself an out. Again, just like a workout. You have to break a sweat, but that doesn't mean you have to exhaust yourself. On days like that, just showing up is enough.

As far as my freelance stuff, it all depends on my deadlines. I procrastinate much less on my articles, so carving out time isn't that tough. Many times, I give myself that hour to work on my fiction (or else I'll end up skipping it altogether), and then, once my brain is in the "work mode," I transition pretty easily to my articles.

I think there are a couple of reasons why this works for me: 1) I don't expect too much from myself. As noted above, anyone can suffer through an hour. And 2) I've established a pattern that really works for my mental and physical schedule: I start writing right after my coffee has kicked in, when no one is around to bother me. No excuses. No reason NOT to dive in. It's a no-brainer.

6 Comments on On the Clock, last added: 5/18/2009
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15. You Like Me, You Really Like Me!

Naw, not me...my protagonists. :) Today, I'm over on Writer Unboxed talking about that fine line that writers need to walk between seriously messed-up and still relatable characters. I know from what I speak, as I've occasionally scribed some real bitches, only to have to rewrite them when enlightened that no one really likes a bitch...most people just like a touch of bitchy with a side of disfunction. That's enough.

Anyhoo, click on through to get my thoughts.

1 Comments on You Like Me, You Really Like Me!, last added: 5/15/2009
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16. The Price of an Agent

Question of the day: What do agents charge? What advice do you have for someone that wants to write a book & be published?


Legitimate agents don't "charge" anything. If anyone, ANYONE, wants you to pay him or her for reading/submitting/publishing your manuscript, run, run, run as fast as you can in the other direction, and you might consider reporting him to Editors and Predators, as well.

Agents earn their keep by selling your work. Period. So if they make money only when YOU make money, which is critical, because their success is contingent on your success - this is why it behooves them to work for you. Agents usually take about 15% of the sale...so, if your ms sells for 10k, they earn $1500; if your ms sells for 100k, they earn 15k. You get the idea. Anyone who wants to charge you differently (more or less) is a scam artist. (I should note that these percentages might change slightly in the area of foreign rights, film, etc, but this is a general barometer.)

As far as how to get started? WRITE. Full stop. You cannot sell a book without having written it. I've read before that something like 90% of the populations believes that they are capable of writing a book. Ha! Of that 90% how many actually write it? Well, I don't have the specific percentage on that one, but I can assure you that it's a tiny fraction of this percentage. Wanting to write a book and actually doing it are two very, very different things. So get going. Prove to yourself that you're one of the few who CAN do it, not just dream it.

2 Comments on The Price of an Agent, last added: 5/23/2009
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17. The. End.

So...I did it! I did indeed finish this baby on Friday. I wrote 20k words in three days, and it all happened so quickly, I actually think I'm in a small state of disbelief about it. I mean, there were points in writing this book that I actually didn't think I could do it, that I either peaked with Time of My Life or that I needed to ditch this one and start over. And so, no one is more surprised than I am (albeit pleasantly surprised) to suddenly have that lightening bolt strike and have everything click into place.


It's funny: I was chatting with some other authors at my reading last week with Laura Dave, and we all agreed on a few things: 1) the more books you write, the easier it gets. (More on that in a minute.) And 2) the more books you write, the more you realize that this is just a job (a great job, but a job nevertheless) and the less exciting it is to hit The End.

What I felt when finishing this one was...relief. :) Well, that's not true. I reread the last 20k, and actually, if I do say so myself, I love, love, love, love it. BUT, when I finished my first one, I was nervous about selling it/AMAZED that I'd written a book, and when I finished my second one, I was THRILLED to discover that I wasn't a one-hit wonder, and this time, I just thought, "Well, thank the sweet lord, because I'm under contract and if I hadn't finished it or if I'd really tanked it, my career would take a real nosedive." Ha. Not exactly what you'd expect.

I shouldn't minimize it too much, to be fair. I am genuinely thrilled at not only what I've produced, but at the fact that I produced it both well and at all, but yes, there is a very different feeling now than four years ago with my first one. This is what I do now. I write books. After this one, I will write another one. It's a wonderful, wonderful job, but it's my job now. There are expectations, contracts, and a need to prove myself each time I publish. I love it. I'm not complaining. Don't even think for a second that I'm complaining, but the feeling between my first book and now is so, so different. I don't know - maybe the same as that honeymoon stage in a marriage and what real life marriage actually is? Is this making sense to anyone? :)

The good news is, as I alluded to above, that every book, in some ways, is easier. This one was harder for a lot of reasons - pressure, expectations, plot complications, a difficult protagonist - but know that I know HOW to write a book, well, that part makes it a hell of a lot easier. I know when to crank up the tension; I know when to throw in more conflict; I know when to dial back characters and how to pace various plot lines.

I don't know - I hope this post isn't too rambling! I guess what I'm trying to say is THANK GOD I AM DONE!! But now I have to write another one... LOL.

Any other authors out there understand what I mean?

16 Comments on The. End., last added: 5/23/2009
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18. Melora Hardin and her film, YOU

So, just in time to coincide with all of the discussion about celebrity interviews, I'm very excited to take a second here at Ask Allison to promote Melora Hardin's new film, YOU.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, a little bit.

I met Melora a few years back when I interviewed her for an American Baby piece. We had one of those wonderful conversations that you sometimes have with an actor, in which it doesn't matter one hoot that she is on television every week (for those of you who don't know, she plays Jan on The Office) or starring in movies (17 Again) or whatnot. We just really got along, enjoyed what the other had to say, and have stayed in touch ever since.

She told me about this project way back when. She had directed it, produced it, starred in it, AND done so with her husband, who wrote it. And so, because yes, she is a friend, but also because we are all about entrepreneurialism and forging your own path here at Ask Allison, when I was given the chance to help spread the word of the film, I, of course, jumped.

Here's the scoop, straight from Melora:

YOU is a love story. It spans 21 years, bouncing around in time, creating a kind of family quilt that wraps around a father as he struggles to overcome the grief of losing his beloved wife and raise their daughter alone. A coming-of-age journey for both the father and his daughter, YOU is filled with the magic of life and love and family.

We made this film in 18 days with our own money and in our own home as well as many locations donated by friends and family. Though it was fast and furious, we were determined to make it a great experience for all. Gildart and I frequently scrambled eggs in the morning -- simultaneously getting hair and makeup -- so that everyone would have a hot breakfast. Our friends brought their signature dishes for lunches and dinners.

Needless-to-say a lot of heart went into making our film and I am so proud that audiences seem to be moved by the story, leaving the film inspired to call their spouses or loved ones to say "I love you”. Our first review – In Boulevard Magazine – was fantastic:

Melora has given us more than a cool indie film. She has succeeded in gently reminding us that every moment in life is a gift – with all its frustrations and hardships and imperfections.” (Boulevard Magazine)

YOU is one of the first movies to ‘Open’ on the internet. We are very proud to be pioneering this new world and would love your support. Please visit us at youthefilm.com and if you like what you see please buy YOU from Itunes, Amazon or from youthefilm.com. Please watch it with your family and friends. Thank you so much.

So I hope that you'll click on the links above or below and check it out. I'm always a fan of people pursuing their dreams, aiming higher than they did the day before. And also, she's a kick-ass woman. Which counts for a lot too. :)

1 Comments on Melora Hardin and her film, YOU, last added: 5/23/2009
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19. Blurbs or Bust

Question of the day: how much of a difference do you think blurbs actually make?

This is a much-debated question here at Ask Allison, as we've raised this discussion a few times before. Now, with some perspective after a few books, I can tell you that I don't think they have as huge of an impact as some authors think they do. But I'm open to being convinced otherwise. Maybe I'm just old and jaded. :)

When I was a debut author, I stressed, stressed, stressed about blurbs. OMG, was I frantic about them. Partially because yeah, I thought it would help book sales, but in hindsight, I suppose I also wanted some validation from my peers. Fortunately, I got it: I got six glowing blurbs from well-known authors, all of whom I am still grateful to today. Really. I still buy all of their new books as my way of a thank you. Did their blurbs help sell actual books? Who knows. They did certainly help excite my editor and publicist and likely gave me some legitimacy when it came to wooing magazine placements, but in terms of sales, I have no idea. Which isn't to say, of course, that they didn't help: a good blurb is always better than nothing, and in this industry, you can use every leg up you get, but did they make or break my book's success? No. No, no, no, no, no.

Interestingly enough, I solicited fewer blurbs when it came to Time of My Life. I wasn't as frantic, though sure, I wanted some choice quotes for the back of the jacket cover. And rather than six, I had three. And you know what? That book sold the hell out of itself. Was it the blurbs? Well again, I'm sure that having these wonderful, wonderful authors endorse my work didn't turn people off, but at the end of the day, The Today Show and People Magazine and strong word of mouth is what generated sales.

So my conclusion? Yeah, get those blurbs if you can but have some perspective: they're a small part of the package. A nice one to have, but so many other things go into the success of a book, that a few more (or a few fewer) likely won't tip the scales.

But I'm open to changing my mind. What say you?

4 Comments on Blurbs or Bust, last added: 4/30/2009
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20. Fun Friday Features

So one of my favorite aspects of my job is getting to interview actors whose work I admire. To that end, I was so, so excited to do the below two interviews: I'd been a huge fan of Jennifer Garner since her Alias days (it's my second all-time favorite show after Felicity!), and I've already raved here about my obsession with Friday Night Lights, so interviewing the star, Taylor Kitsch, was no small thrill.

So I just wanted to post the pieces because, yeah, I'm psyched! :)

They're also good segues into some of next week's posts in which I'll talk about celebrity interviews. If you have any questions about that realm, post them below or email me. Happy weekend!

Jennifer Garner: Come On, Get Happy
Taylor Kitsch: Big Man On Campus

8 Comments on Fun Friday Features, last added: 5/18/2009
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21. I Wasn't Kidding...

...When I said that Laura Dave is one of the most collaborative peeps around. Ditto Julie Buxbaum, author of The Opposite of Love and the forthcoming, After You. In fact, the three of us are pretty tight, and so I'm so super-duper psyched not only to keep their company but that our alma mater profiles us in the current issue of their alumni magazine. Seriously, it's an honor, not just because I admire their writing skills but because they're such generous people.


Here's the article - check it out! Happy weekend!



1 Comments on I Wasn't Kidding..., last added: 5/18/2009
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22. Which Comes First: The Celebrity or the Interview?

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked, in terms of celebrity profiles, is about the logistics: someone writes me and says, "I have this great idea for a celebrity interview, but don't know if I can get him to talk to me...and if I do, how do I know if the magazine will be interested?" And therein lies the first challenge of the celeb interview: landing either the celeb in question or the assignment without commitment from the other party. (There are many other hurdles which we'll discuss too.)


Here is the problem: a celeb, especially the real high wattage stars, won't agree to an interview that hasn't already been confirmed (and likely won't also agree to something if they don't have a project to promote, so forget about approaching Brad Pitt simply because you want to interview him), but writers often feel risky (with good reason) pitching an editor, knowing that it's not a sure thing.

So here are some solutions: 1) if you have an ongoing, friendly relationship with a publicist (we'll talk more about publicists this week too) or a celebrity (yes, some of them do happen to be friends or friendly with us regular folk), then, by all means, you might want to put some feelers up. I've definitely done this. "Hey, would you be open to me pitching XYZ, as I know the editor there." Once you receive the go-ahead, then you can inform the editor that you're certain you can pull the trigger.

Given that this isn't too frequent of a situation, your best bet, in my opinion, is going with scenario 2), which is pitch the story idea without locking in the celebrity. This, however, only works in a few specific cases, which is partially why this type of writing can be so difficult. I would only do this with editor with whom I have a very, very good relationship and also only with editors who understand the snafus that occur all too often with celeb writing. These editors know that a pitch isn't always a sure-thing, and they also know that while you will try your very, very best to ensure 100% smooth sailing, it isn't always smooth sailing: actors sometimes flake, they sometimes get stuck on set, they sometimes don't want to answer questions that you'd really liked answered. A good reporter will find a way to deal with all of these things but even the very best reporter can't anticipate the craziest of scenarios, which, yes, sometimes flare up.

When I pitch and write my celebrity stories, I do so only to and only for editor who know that I work my tail off for them, but sometimes, a publicist will turn me down or sometimes, a subject will be tougher to crack than I'd like...and that is the nature of the beast. What I WOULDN'T do, if I were new to this realm, is toss of celebrity pitches with no contacts, no real way of getting it done. Don't, say, see a trailer for a movie starring an actor you'd always wanted to meet and fire off a note to your editor saying why he'd be perfect for XYZ profile. Luring celebs often requires the trust of their publicist, and if you don't have that, you're a lot less likely to get a "yes." (Again, more on publicists later in the week.) And it's also a pretty quick way to prove to your editor that you don't really know the ropes of this tricky dance.

I'll talk more about this in my upcoming posts. I'll end with this: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that I get to do this for a living. I love the actors I interview, I love hearing things about their lives, I love sometimes making a connection that continues long after we've hung up or had coffee. BUT. Celeb writing is not for the faint of heart. The logistics are tricky, sometimes the details and the back and forth can be a bit nightmarish, and if you think that you'll totally lose your crap when you're on the phone or in front of your all-time favorite actor ever, this is not for you. :)

5 Comments on Which Comes First: The Celebrity or the Interview?, last added: 5/5/2009
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23. Yeah, I Should Leave My House More Often



One of the things that I think I forget as a writer is how much fun it is to be, um, you know, not sitting in my office by myself all day long. I swear, in high school and college, I was super-social, but slowly, with every passing year, I've become hermetic, and honestly, if you locked me in my house with a computer and some supplies, I could probably live out my days happily. :)


So the good news is that I got off my ass last night, put on some killer heels (which subsequently twisted my ankle, proving that I am definitely more of a Converse gal than Louboutin gal) and trekked down to Prince Street to read with Laura Dave at McNally Jackson. And oh what a night we had!

The store was packed - standing room only, and it was chock full of friends, industry-folks and writers, including Anna David, Joanne Rendell, Alison Pace and Jasmin Rosemberg, and it was so, so, so awesome to have their support (and meet a few of them for the first time after years-long internet friendship). Laura and I each read sections from our books and then we took questions, which we answered in tandem. It's always interesting to hear how different authors approach different things - from the writing process to the research process to what we enjoy most (and least) about this whole shebang, so I actually thought it was a pretty informative gig (personally speaking, since I loved hearing Laura talk...I have no idea if I came off as a blithering idiot or an acute smarty).

Anyway, more importantly, I got out and met some readers who loved the book and talked to friends whom I haven't seen in a while and grabbed a slice of pizza with my agent (yes, very glamorous, we were both so exhausted that we begged off of the chichi drinks with Laura and her editor and some others), and came home both exhilarated and totally pooped. But it was a wonderful reminder that part of being a writer is getting out there in the world and soaking it all in...and now I have all the more material to seal myself in my office for at least another year. :)

8 Comments on Yeah, I Should Leave My House More Often, last added: 5/6/2009
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24. Interviewing Logistics

Do you do your celeb interviews in-person or on the phone or through email, or does it vary? If you do them in person or on the phone, do you tape record the whole conversation or just take really good notes?


I do as many of them as I can in-person, not because it's fun to get a cup of coffee or drop in at the apartment of an actor, but because there are a lot of things that you can pick up on in an in-person interview that are obviously lost over the phone or worse, via email. I think that also, in-person interviews can lead to a certain congeniality and/or intimacy that you miss out on over the phone, BUT, in many cases, because so many actors are in LA or on location all over the world (I just interviewed Anna Friel from her farm house in the mountains of Spain), many times, this isn't possible.

So my second choice is always the phone. And I don't think I've ever done an interview via email. In my magazine days, yes, I would have (and I know that hard-school journalists frown on this, but in some cases, I have no problem with it), but there is, in my opinion, a difference between getting a specific quote from, say, a nutritionist and conducting a more nuanced interview with an actor. Email limits the flow of a conversation, and one of the things I love best about my interviews is that I really go in to them with very few preset questions: some, sure, but mostly, I let the interview go where it goes, and I often get great material this way...with email, you're out of luck. I do, occasionally, ask for quick follow-ups via email because celebs are very tightly scheduled and getting them back on the phone can be tricky, but initially? No.

Finally, yes, I tape EVERYTHING. I am super-paranoid that a publicist would go bonkers on me if I got a quote or innuendo wrong, not to mention that, obviously, as a journalist, you want to be 100% accurate, and the only way that I can ensure this is via tape. So I just plunk that good old recorder in between us over dinner, and we go from there. I also feel like it would be awkward to carry out a really good conversation while taking notes...I think the key to getting a good celeb interview is to really pay attention and see where the tangents can lead you. If you're wrapped up in note-taking, this just isn't possible.

Anyone do things differently?

5 Comments on Interviewing Logistics, last added: 5/6/2009
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25. And the Dam Has Broken

I'd planned to blog today about celebrity publicists, but have to save that for Monday because I wanted to report THAT I HAVE HAD A BREAK-THROUGH!!! (Yes, those caps were necessary!) Alert the authorities, shout it from the rooftops! Hallelujah!

Here is what has happened since I last checked in on Wednesday. I have become possessed. Seriously, some sort of super-writing machine has overtaken the person who is normally AWS, and I have been unable NOT to write. To that end, I have written 13 thousand, yes, you read that right - thirteen freakin' thousand - words in the past two days. In fact, I might just wrap this sucker up today, and if not today, then over the weekend or on Monday.

This is the part of writing that I love. It is the part that I crave, that we all wait for, when those characters will just not leave you the hell alone, and you HAVE to get their stories down. After a slow-going manuscript, these words cannot get out of me and down on paper fast enough. And it has occured to me during this incredible spell that all of the words (62 thousand of them) leading up to now were MEANT to be laboric, they were SUPPOSED to be difficult because this is not an easy book to write! My others have been much more linear, but this one, with its jumps into the future, has required a lot more plot-threading, a lot more serious brain work (honestly, sometimes, it gives me a headache to work through it), like I'm swimming through hazy water trying to get to something clearer.

And I have. I HAVE! The water is so clear from here on out that I can see the shore. So I am swimming furiously hoping to get there as fast as I can. A good reminder that all legs of this journey are worthwhile, and that this sprint at the end of the marathon (yes, I'm mixing metaphors) is worth savoring, not just because the finish line is in sight, but because work that came before it allowed me to get here.

Hurrah! Yahoo! I'm cooking this sucker until it's done!

10 Comments on And the Dam Has Broken, last added: 5/10/2009
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