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It's been a while since I've made a confession, so here it is. As much as I love writing, this industry makes me sad. I see authors I love go from being on bestseller lists to not selling well. The question I ask is why? Where are the readers? And when I go into a store and have to spend at least $5 on a greeting card, I can't help but think, "I'd rather buy a book." Most ebooks are so much cheaper than greeting cards, yet ebooks aren't selling like I'd hoped they would.
The bottom line is that it's really tough to be an author today. You have to love what you do and let that carry you through each day. I often remind myself that I choose to write for me and not to trends. I have a loyal fan base and I love them. Will I ever achieve my big dreams as a writer? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's not why I write. I write because it's who I am. I've been a writer since I could hold a pencil. So that's what I'll continue to do. Even on the days when I feel like crying. Even on the days when I question if anyone will ever read the book I'm pouring hours, days, and months into. And I'll continue to hope that the readers come and that they treasure the written word as much as I do.
*Remember: If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.
Last week I officially finished work on my urban sketching book. Last Monday, my editor sent me a print-out (just done on their office printer) of how it looks so far. This was for us to go through together, over the phone, ironing out any remaining issues.
This is the first time I have seen the design of certain elements, like the title page and contents above. I just chose images, then the fairies turned them into something lovely! I am very pleased with how the chapter headers are all looking too. These were the images I chose when I was at the meeting down in London, but the graphics has now been fine-tuned and they are looking really punchy:
There are still the colour proofs to check, which are due in 2 or 3 weeks, and my final job will be to check over the re-anglicised version of the text, in just over a month. My English text has already been Americanised for the Barron's edition. All the main proofing and checking is done on this version, then it is turned back again to UK English. At which stage, I will quickly run my eye over things, to make sure the punctuation fits with the meaning I want to get across (control freak...).
As far as the real work is concerned though, I finished it off on Saturday. Hurrah!
Earlier in the week, I went though my print-out, troubleshooting remaining anomalies and marking it up in red. I was looking at the image placement and graphics, re-reading through my text and looking at 'holes'. The holes were problems with guest images - people whose work I had selected, but who could not be contacted, or couldn't find the sketchbook the work was in.
I was on the phone to my editor for nearly 2 hours last Wednesday afternoon, going through the whole book, pointing up things I felt still needed tweaking and talking through any last-minute text which needed writing to fit the new, replacement guest images we were choosing to fill the holes. Then on Saturday, I spent the day doing all the bits and pieces of final work.
The design team did a great job on the kit-list page, don't you think? Remember when I was talking about it all being photographed? My print-out is only A3, but the actual book is larger, so I can't wait to see the full-size proofs, where it will be all glossy and gorgeous too!
Everyone knows in order to be a good writer you need to read. More importantly you should read the types of book you want to write. I ask you though. Is that really true? I have to be honest. I don't necessarily read the type of books I write. For me it wouldn't be as fun. I want to go to different worlds just as much as the next person.
I write young adult and new adult books. I have also dabbled in picture books. I'm getting off subject. My point is. I love to read. So much so I majored in English Literature.
I love the printed word. I love digging into a book and getting lost not only in the story, but in the world that is created for me to explore. One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre. I have lost the number of times I have read it. I've done reports on it in college, and you know what amazes me? Each and every time I have read it, I find new information about the characters I missed the time before.
This is what a book should be to me. When I can re-read a book and always find something I missed before. Another story which does that for me is "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This work is incredible. I can only wish to write the way these two women write.
So yes, these are the books I read. At the moment though I am reading something a bit different. I'm actually reading "Blood Song" by Anthony Ryan. I love this book. It's the first in the series. So yes, my taste is diverse. Don't judge me on Jane Eyre.
What type of books do you read? Do you read to write? Or do you read to read? Personally, I read to read. If it helps with my writing, then that is an added bonus.
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
Our Little Secret Feature and Review Opportunity Limitless Books is organizing a feature and review opportunity for bloggers. We're looking for people to feature the book and possibly review it on November 6th. If that's you, sign up here.
Editing I'm editing for Seek this week. I have two books on my plate and both are amazing.
Revising I have an emotional hangover from revising an Ashelyn Drake new adult title last week. Seriously all the feels! This week, I'll be revising another Ashelyn title, and it's adult. I'm still getting used to the fact that I wrote for adults.
Reminder to All Readers I want to remind everyone to please, please, pretty please review the books you read. I'm so grateful for every review that pops up on Amazon. Yes, even the not-so-stellar ones. Why? Because reviews get Amazon's attention and then Amazon makes the book more visible to readers. So please, if you love books, help the book community by posting a review.
The Case of the Washed-Up Warlock I'm so excited to announce that the first book I edited for Leap will releases today! It's a great middle grade book by Patrice Lyle and it's absolutely gorgeous too. up tomorrow. Order it here.
It's October and time for Chicken by Chicken. This is going to a long post. I will also post about my fun Halloween chicken project at the end. I've been doodling chickens for years. They cheer me up. This past year has needed a lot of cheer.
I joined the Presbyterian church recently, and have been reading The Book of Confessions. It's a book that affirms basic Christian truths. It's the response of this denomination of Christians when it has been blindsided with confusing and destructive ideas.
So here is my history. For the past year my poor noggin' failed me. It's connected to my work. Here is the deal: you fail much as a writer. It is part of the gig. But a dark cloud came over me last year and just would not budge. I never thought my work would fail. Church, yes. Friends and family, yes. Body, yes. Circumstances, yes. But never my work. A friend told me once that my work is what keeps me floating above it all. Well, my work sank, and I sank like a stone in a deep ocean. I headed to the doctor and, yes, learned I was suffering from straight out major depression.
My thoughts were not about taking my life or even dying. This was all about failing at my life's work. Here's the deal, good writers get paid for their hard work. Their books sell. I put out a book as dear to me and with as much of my soul as I could on a page, PLUMB CRAZY, and the result was no one cared. I sold less than a hundred copies.The publishing house cancelled my contract. Then, I began submitting a book called PROFIT that I believed was the best thing I'd ever put to a page. I had one partial request, and the agent never got back to me. Everyone else ignored my submissions.
Here's the painful litany: Fool. Idiot. Stupid. These words branded me. All those people who said you were full of it for wanting to be a writer, they were right. No one cares. You can't write a single word that anyone cares about. All the people who have passed on you, they just didn't want you to know that your work is substandard and will not rise. You are irrelevant. The success of reaching others and making a difference in this world. The dream you would be able to make a modest living at this, over. You could have worked for real all these years and your kids wouldn't be pulling out loans to get college educations. You messed up your whole life and there are no do overs. You chased a dream, and nada. You are a freaking failure. (It's okay, folks, these words don't burn into me like hot coals any more.)
This has been hard on so many levels. My mother suffered major depression when I was a teen. She didn't really get over it until I went to college.We had no healthcare when I was kid, so mom just suffered. Thankfully, that is not my story, but even good doctors can't wave a magic wand to make me better. It's been a long road this past year. It has been terrifying.
Depression feels like a band is tied around my waist, tight and painful. It's like being plated with metal armor that you can't take off. It like living in darkness. My art has suffered. I've thought about giving it up. Another choice mom made. Man, this has been a mess. Still, I continued to move forward, but my arms were heavy like led weights, my stomach ached, and my poor brain just sank into a pit. I cried more tears last year than I ever have in my life. I'd be standing in line at the grocery store and realize my face was wet with tears. Oh, why am I at the grocery story when every movement is agony? I refused to stop functioning through this pain. I wiped the tears and moved to the next thing on the list. I wrote a lot of lists last year.
So here is the journey. I got clinical help, and I worked on seeking goodness. I had to let some things go. I cut down on the writing events. I shoved aside the novels for almost six months and worked on picture books. It was a struggle to write one word and that is the whole picture book game. I left the church I was attending. I'd been going there for almost five years and didn't really know anyone. This was no longer acceptable. I found a church that was more open to ideas and people with differences. I planted a tree. I hugged the cats. I wrote my lists and drew my chickens. Silly chickens make me laugh, and I love to laugh. I taught teens who to write through a summer program TEENS Publish at the library (no pay). Gosh, I loved those young writers, so full of passion and dreams. BTW, this was a totally unprofessional act, I know, but it brought some happiness to my heart and mind, and this year happiness has been worth more than all the gold in California.
I am coming out of the long dark night. I'm working again. The dips aren't as deep. Positive thoughts are back. I still have a ways to go, but I am hopeful. Finally my book CHICKENS DO NOT TAKE OVER HALLOWEEN http://ow.ly/SVYcBis for sale. I was so blessed by the silliness of this book. I hope that it blesses a few of you. I will be back next week with more confessions, chicken by chicken.
Here is a doodle for you. It's a picture from the Chicken book.
A quote for your pocket: There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. Vincent Van Gogh
I just finished the book Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson, about the hurricane that destroyed Galveston in 1900. The prose was powerful, thrilling and as unrelenting as the storm Larson wrote about. The story documents with near microscopic detail the events surrounding the storm, and the one man who stood in the center of it -- meteorologist Isaac Cline.
Larson's exacting narrative and his notes in the back of the book are mandatory reading for anyone interested in writing nonfiction. In his notes he discusses how he "filled in the blanks" of the history of a place that was literally wiped off the face of the earth. Larson says: "I approached the problem the way a paleontologist approaches a collection of bones. Even with so little to go on, he manages to stretch over those bones a vision of how the creature looked and behaved. I have been absolutely Calvinist about the bones of this story -- dates, times, temperatures, wind speeds, identities, relationships, and so forth. Elsewhere, I used detective work and deduction to try to convey a vivid sense of what Isaac Cline saw, heard, smelled and experienced in his journey toward and through the great hurricane of 1900." Larson goes on to explain that he "mined the library's holdings for anything that might provide a fragment of my dinosaur's skin....I used details from these photographs to decorate the scenes in Isaac's Storm." Maps guided him through the city to trace Isaac's steps, and photographs let him see exactly what Isaac would have seen. From the map, Larson knew that he would have walked past a lumber mill, a bulk coffee roaster, and several livery stables. "Each must have perfumed the day."
His own observations provided details about "... dragonflies on Galveston Island, the behavior of seagulls in the north wind, and the colors of wave crests during a tropical storm."
Larson's research involved massive amounts of data and facts, but he never lost sight of the need to infuse his stories with the sights, sounds, and smells that would put his reader in the eye of the storm.
Today's topic comes courtesy of Rick Starkey. Rick wants to know if it's too much clutter for an editor's inbox if an author sends a thank-you after receiving a rejection, especially if it's a personalized rejection.
Now, keep in mind that I can't speak for all editors, but for me, getting thank-you emails from authors kept me going during Seek's open submissions period. I received some that simply said, "thank you for getting back to me so soon," since my typical response time was 24 hours or under. (Yes, I'm insane like that.) These emails mentioned how it was nice to get such a speedy response, even if it wasn't a favorable response. My reaction was that these authors understood how busy an editor is and appreciated that I worked so quickly to get back to them. So, I definitely liked getting these emails.
The other kind of response I got was on personalized rejections. Again, these authors were appreciative of the feedback I offered on their submissions, and a few even mentioned how rare it is to get the feedback. Showing you understand that an editor doesn't have to provide feedback but took the time to do so gets you a big gold star in my book. I really enjoyed reading these emails.
So, it's all good, right? Well, not exactly. Here's the exception. I received a few responses that began as thank-you emails and morphed into "since you were kind enough to offer feedback on this book, I have another I think you'll love" and "can I assume you'd be open to me revising based on your feedback and resubmitting?"
Let's start with the first one. Now, it was an open submissions period, which means anyone could submit any book to me. There was no need to ask. So this email actually came across as "you see potential in me so I'm letting you know I'm sending you something else that you'll hopefully move up in your slush pile because you like me." Now, maybe that's not what the author intended, but it does come off this way to an editor, so be careful about sounding like you think you deserve special treatment. The second response is also a no-no. If an editor wants you to revise and resubmit, he or she will tell you that. Otherwise, consider it feedback to help you get the manuscript ready to send out to other editors.
If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.
I wrote this for the Oregonian back in 2006. Nearly 10 years later, it's all still pretty true. Sadly the Oregonian is a shadow of its former self.
I'm a mystery writer and now I have a clue.
I used to imagine what my life would be like when I was finally a published writer. I envisioned fancy book parties. Standing-room only crowds at signings. Seeing piles of my book at Costco. But I didn't really understand the true pros and cons.
Pro: I will no longer get up to the blaring of my alarm. Con: I get up to the blaring of my husband's alarm.
Pro: Good riddance to co-workers. No more hearing one clip his fingernails in his open-air cubicle, or being forced to look at another's endless vacation photos. Con: It's lonely, being by yourself. You can't ask someone which word sounds better. You can't discuss bad reality-TV shows. When you start work on Monday, no one asks about your weekend because no one else is there. About all you can do is blog. And talk to the UPS guy every now and then.
Pro: No boring meetings! No buzz words! No pretending to care about the latest branding strategy! Con: That's all true. But I sure used to get a lot of writing done in those meetings. I furrowed my brow and looked like I was taking detailed notes. But in my notoriously bad handwriting, I was really scribbling things like "Poison? What's untraceable?" You can write a lot of murder scenes in meetings. Some meetings even inspire them.
Pro: Everything is material. Writing a book opens you up to the world. In search of information about characters and plot possibilities, you'll read stuff you wouldn't have read in a million years. For example, because of Torched I learned how to build a pipe bomb. I cried about something the other day and I actually remember wanting to take notes about how my nose burned right before I started crying. Con: Everything is material. When bad things happen to you, everyone says, "Just think of what great material this is --you'll be able to put it in a book someday!" People say this after my car breaks down hundreds of miles from home, or we end up sheltering a neighbor when her husband turns out to be an abusive nut case. Then they smile as if this silver lining completely negates the cloud that has just rained all over me.
Pro: You'll be a mini-celebrity. When we bought a new sideboard, the salesman asked me my name. "You're the April Henry? The author?" A fan in the furniture store! And he even waived the delivery fee. Now if only I were really famous - he might have given me the sideboard! Con: You're more mini than celebrity. When my first book showed up on the paperback rack at Fred Meyer, I felt like I had truly arrived. An employee was kneeling on the floor, stocking packs of gum. "That's my book!" I crowed. "I wrote that!" She looked up at me and shrugged. " I don't read," she said, matter-of-factly. It was clear that she could read, but didn't want to.
Pro: You can recognize others. There's a tradition in the mystery community of naming characters after real people. These opportunities are often raffled off at one of the mystery conventions as part of a literacy fundraiser. Mary Mason, who also goes by Maggie Mason, a bookseller in San Diego, has shown up in probably a dozen mysteries I've read. She's been a hospice patient, a murder victim, and in my favorite instance, she made an appearance in a Robert Crais mystery. Her alter ego was actually two --identical twin 6-foot hookers with dragon tattoos --one named Maggie Mason and the other named Mary Mason.
Con: Others will recognize themselves. Stick to your guns, no matter what anyone asks. You write fiction. You make stuff up. If anyone thinks a character resembles someone in real life: deny, deny, deny. It's simply a coincidence that the bad guy looks remarkably like your old boss, or that a whiny character uses the same annoying catchphrase that your old boyfriend used to use. The only thing I admit to: The characters in "Circles of Confusion" had the same last names as kids in my first-grade class.
Pro: You will have fans. It used to be hard to connect with authors. I know, because I used to write actual letters on paper to authors in care of their publishers. And usually, after many months, I would get a note back. That's why I have a postcard from Roald Dahl I got when I was 12, as well as letters from Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, David Brim and Elinor Lipman. Now it's easy to get in touch with writers. Almost everyone has a Web site, and quite a few have a blog or a MySpace or a Facebook. (I have all four.) You can drop your favorite author a note and usually get a reply in a day or two. Every author enjoys hearing that you liked his or her book.
Con: Some of your fans will be crazy. I've known authors with stalkers, including one woman who wrote thrillers and actually ended up carrying a concealed weapon because she feared her fan turned stalker had threatened to kill her. Mostly I run into people with oddball questions at readings ("Compare and contrast your character to one of the singers on 'American Idol' "),
Once, though, a gentleman at a Borders genuinely did scare me. At that time, women's bodies were turning up in Forest Park, dumped there by a serial killer. The guy seemed to think one of my main characters was a real person. He kept asking me, "Does Claire like to run in Forest Park?" Even when I told him that Claire was made up, he kept repeating the question, until finally I stammered, "Yes, sure, if Claire were real I'm sure she would like to run in Forest Park." The event coordinator ended up walking me to my car. Just to be safe.
And my favorite pro: You could be hot! Most mystery writers and readers are on the far side of 50, sometimes the very far side. My first book was published when I was 39, when I felt like my salad days were long behind me. But when I showed up at my first mystery conference, guys hit on me (granted, mystery writers in their 50s). Women thought I was skinny and cute and young! I didn't feel like any of these things, but I wasn't about to dissuade anyone.
My hubby and I have an ongoing joke. When a character is killed off or leaves a TV show, we call it a contract dispute. For example, the character of Lance Sweets from the show Bones was killed in the Season 10 opener. Boy that was a shocker! Other major characters have left or met their demise on other popular shows such as NCIS and CSI. The most recent contract dispute falls in the lap of Doctor Derek Shepherdwho went out with a bang (literally) when his car gets T-boned by a truck, and he hangs on for dear life for at least a couple more episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. A sad day indeed. Sniff.
The exit of these characters got me thinking. When is it the right time to kill or remove a character from an ongoing book series? Is it when the character stops meeting the readers’ needs and expectations? Do the characters become boring? Stop growing? Refuse to change? Perhaps. I guess the best sounding board would be the readers. Listening to them on the social media or reading the reviews they post. Are they sick of Character X? Does Character Y make them want to vomit? Or do readers even relate to Character Z? Mind you, I’m not sure killing a character off would have the same effect in sales as it does for TV ratings, but you never know until you try. Bahaha…
However, if you kill the wrong character you’ll have blood on your hands and angry readers. Case in point—when Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes by sending him over a waterfall with his arch enemy Professor Moriarty in tow, it wasn’t pretty. I mean for Sir Arthur, and the readers demanded satisfaction. Seriously? What was he thinking? Note to self: don’t piss your fans off!
In my time travel series, The Last Timekeepers, I’ve seriously thought about replacing certain characters to freshen up the series as it progresses, although nothing is written in stone yet. Readers are continually looking for new and improved characters to keep them invested in any series. That’s the reason why TV shows keep introducing new characters into a series. Even J.K. Rowling added new characters (and killed off a bunch) throughout her Harry Potter series.
So my question is: when must a character die or leave? I’m guessing there are so many answers to that question, but the reason I’d off one of my characters is when there’s no more room for character development or growth. That’s what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempted to do when he killed off Sherlock Holmes—he tied up all the loose ends and made sure Holmes lived a full life. Unfortunately, Doyle underestimated his readers, even though he wanted to cash out and move on to writing other books. And to this day, Sherlock Holmes has survived his creator, and duped death. Now that’s one loved character!
Thank you for reading my blog! So, what characters would you like to see killed/removed from your favorite book series? Love to hear your answers! Cheers!
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
YA Scavenger Hunt I'm excited to share that I'm on Team Orange for the YA Scavenger Hunt. It will run from October 1st to noon on October 4th. That means' I'll be posting on Thursday instead of Friday this week. There are tons of books to win on this hunt, so be sure to stop back on Thursday. Oh, and in case you noticed, I am on Team Orange for Our Little Secret, my new Ashelyn Drake title too. :) I'll be sharing exclusive bonus scenes told from alternate POVs, but they'll only be online during the 72-hour hunt, so don't miss out.
Editing I'll be editing for Leap this week. This is probably the fourth time I'm reading this book, which is why an editor must LOVE your book, because I'll read this at least four more times before the book is published.
Monthly Newsletter Change I've decided to release my free monthly newsletter on the first of every month instead of the first Monday of every month. The reason is that some months begin on a Tuesday and I feel like it takes to long for that first Monday to roll around. So, expect my newsletters in your inboxes on the 1st from now on. If you aren't signed up to receive my newsletter but would like to, click here.
I Wrote An Adult Novella? You know me. I say I'll never do something and then, guess what? I do it. I said I'd never write for adults. I'm a children's author. Well, I am, but I just finished a novella for a boxset last week and it's a clean adult romance. So, I guess Ashelyn Drake writes romance for teens, new adults, and adults now. ;)
Our Little Secret I want to thank everyone who has already posted a review of Our Little Secret on Amazon. Reviews are so important as far as Amazon promoting the book and placing it in the eyes of potential readers, so I really appreciate every review, whether the reader loved the book or it wasn't for them.
Hi folks, fall is upon us. My husband Tim is going on an scientific expedition with JOIDES Resolution for the next two months. This is the link to his blog. He is flying to Darwin, Australia today. I will hold down the home front for the next two months. I have all kinds of mayhem planned for this time period. I just released THE CHICKENS DO NOT TAKE OVER HALLOWEEN with Caney Creek Books. I hope that you give this a peep.
This week I will chat about the fab-ness of creating this book. Doodling Chickens is all about play for me. It's also about the love of the imperfect. I have grown weary of machined edges of all children's art in these days. There is a choking perfection in children's book making these days that leaves me cold. I am still thinking about the good times with Mr. Rodgers when he would dig a hole in sand, pour water in, and then watch the water disappear. You know, for kids.
Return to your inner child this week. Take some time to play. If you have some children, all the better. Blow bubbles, play cars, pretend to be dinosaurs...whatever floats your boat. Staying close to your early years opens up your work. Believe the impossible things. Don't listen to the voices that say no. Reconnect with the wonder of days. Reconnect with silly. We grown-ups do tend toward the deep waters of serious. Come with me and splash in the shallows for a while.
Don't orchestrate everything. Leave plenty of margins in your life. Be kind to yourself. The child-self forgives easily,is up for new things, and is open to new friends. May your days be filled with laughter. May you find surprising twists and turns in your plots. May your life be filled with sweetness, health, and peace.
THE CHICKENS DO NOT TAKE OVER HALLOWEEN is all about homemade childhood. I had fun making this book. It's not the Mona Lisa but it is the
I had the best laid plans to write an essay on some of the things Azar Nafisi writes about in her fantastic introduction to The Republic of the Imagination (still reading and still enjoying!) because I have lately found echoes in other things I have been reading. Unfortunately I just haven’t had the time to spend to think about it and bring it all together yet. And here forms a dilemma.
I might have the time this coming weekend. But I might not. Do I wait and see?
The more time that passes between when I had the urge to write solely about the introduction and some of its ideas, the less enthusiastic I become about it. As if it is somehow dated even though it is not. Really it is a matter of being distracted from the original idea and pulled in other directions.
And of course the longer the distance between the original idea and its execution, the more I begin to doubt I could really write something worthwhile. If I had just managed to dash something off when I had thought about it first, I would not have had time to dwell on whether I could do any kind of justice to it. My inner critic (whose name is Zelda by the way and who can be a real bitch sometimes) has had too much time to whisper in my ear and make me self-conscious about what I wanted to say.
All of this — distractions, time, Zelda — swirls around in my head and creates a great confusion and a growing resistance to even wanting to try to write anything about the introduction. I have turned it into something bigger than I had intended, something more than “just a blog post.” Then emotions start to get stirred in too, why not? A big slice of uncertainty, a couple dashes of guilt, a pinch of disappointment, a flake of bravado. It makes quite a gumbo!
Things like this are why I don’t ever try to write anything besides blog posts. Sure, I consider it from time to time, but it never goes beyond that because gumbo.
Now after this little confession what do I do? Do I try to write something this weekend, results be damned? Or do I let go and move on? Part of me suspects this little, whatever this is, is an attempt to keep myself from moving on. Also, it is me trying to make an excuse for moving on.
I don’t talk much about my own writing on this blog and now you can see why. I am completely mental about it. I know a lot of people feel that way about their writing but we are all special in our own mental minefields, aren’t we?
So will there be a post next week about literature and imagination and censorship and culture? I don’t know. I’ll have to wait and see who wins this one, me or Zelda and the gumbo.
Something that made me sad, then happy, then sad after my friend Nelson died was finding our email exchange about how he wanted to start writing again.
And thank you for thinking me a writer, or at least having the seed — I know that having the chops requires craft. And craft requires time, sweat and not a little bit of Jameson’s. I thought about what you said, though. Maybe essays would be a start; the idea of writing the great American novel is outside both my ability and my reality. I am starting to think that reading email for a living has reduced my attention span a bit too much for that level of dedication. Sad, that. But words will always fascinate and entertain me, so if they find a way to come out in a way that someone else would enjoy — that would be something. Thankfully, some of them entertained you enough that summer to call me in the first place.
He sent this soon after the last time we saw each other in New York, in November 2012, right before Hurricane Sandy. I remember being so glad he was thinking this way. The letters he wrote to me while he was in the army — I’ve written about that era a fewtimes — were a joy. I hoped he’d find his way back to the page.
Nelson and I first got to know each other in a high school writing class — the one I took my senior year that also led me to my friend Lili, who died ten years ago of pancreatic cancer, and to our teacher, Mrs. Kjos, who died of ovarian cancer in 2008. I guess this is what being in your forties is like.
Last night I dreamed that I was reading a collection of short stories Nelson had written, a book he self-published knowing he would die soon. In the dream he was still alive. Waking up this morning was the most bittersweet thing.
Today's topic comes courtesy of Johnell DeWitt. Johnell wants to know how long it takes an editor to make a decision after they've requested and read a manuscript.
For me, it's immediate. I have to love a book to take it on. I stop reading a submission when I realize I'm not in love with it. That means if I make it to the end, I loved it. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to send off an offer right away though. At this point I know I want the book, but the next question is how does the book fit into the current line for Seek? The book has to be a good fit for the company. If it is, then I'm ready to offer. If it's not...
Two things could happen at this point. I could regretfully pass on a great book because it's too similar to another title or doesn't fit the line for another reason (like maybe the word count is a lot higher than Seek's other titles). Or, I might email the author to see if they are willing to make changes to have the book fit our line better. Now, the author might not want to make the changes (which is totally fine), and at that point, I wish him/her luck in finding a home for the book. If the author is willing to make the changes, I'm ready to offer a contract.
So, that's what it looks like on the other side of my submissions desk after I read a manuscript. I'm sure other editors might have a different process, but hopefully you find it helpful to hear about mine.
*If you have a topic you'd like me to cover in a Writer Wednesday post, feel free to leave it in the comments.*
We're excited to welcome A.J. Steiger to the blog today. A.J.'s debut, Mindwalker, was released on June 9th of this year. Today, A.J. is joining us with advice on breaking the rules.
When to Break the Rules by A.J. Steiger
On my long road to publication, I’ve taken numerous fiction classes, read plenty of “how to write” books, and participated in critique sessions with other writers. There’s no shortage of do’s and don’ts on the subject of writing, and wading through these seas of information can be overwhelming. But the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever received is also the simplest: “Trust your gut. No matter what the rule is, someone is going to break it and break it well.”
Fiction is not an exact science, it’s a primal art which often emerges from a deep, intuitive place. Stories have been a part of human culture since we were painting them on cave walls. Yes, guidelines are useful. But if you treat them as immutable laws, they can easily become a gag muffling your own voice. The key is knowing when to deviate from the standard principles.
With that in mind, here are a few common rules I recommend throwing out the window (at least sometimes). Read more »
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