Saturday, 17 June 2017

How I learned to say No

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Taking my writing to a professional level had moved me quite out of my comfort zone. By going public, I exposed myself to criticism, rejection, frustration, and the need to hit deadlines. I have had to say yes to so many things: to improvement suggestions that don't come from me, to editing that takes twice as long as writing the first draft, to appearing uninformed and naive on occasion.

With three kids and a household to take care of, however (and let's not forget the garden and chickens), I also had to learn to say no.

No to another social media account, to another blog interview, to reading and reviewing another book. To beating my own word count for the day. To bringing the release date of my next book just a wee bit closer.

I also provide freelance editing and proofreading services, and though it's something that I enjoy doing (not to mention that the extra income is very helpful), I had to temporarily close to requests, as I was becoming stretched too thin.

I do fill with awe and wonder when I hear about authors who put out regular newsletters, podcast, vlog, tweet, Pin, and whatnot. More power to them! But I can hardly keep up with Facebook, Goodreads and Wattpad, and I know taking on more would be unwise.

Ultimately, what makes me a writer is not how often I update my status or revise other people's books, but what and how much I write. And to keep this writing going, I cannot let my time get all clogged. So I say no, and feel more comfortable about it as time goes by.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

When you run out of agents to query

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I have been seeking an agent to represent my Middle Grade fantasy novel for some time now, and have contacted over half a hundred agencies so far. I have received little interest and lots and lots of silence, which doesn't mean I should give up, of course, but the trouble is, I'm seriously running out of agents to query, as I need to find someone who represents both Middle Grade and fantasy.

I might have mentioned my system of querying once a month, usually on the first of each month, and then forgetting all about it for the next 30 days. It's a good system which allows me to preserve my sanity.

Usually I send out my queries in batches of 8 to 10. This month I only sent 6, as I couldn't find any more agents to reach out to. Each time I verified with my list, it would turn out I have already queried this particular agency.

Form rejections suck, but total silence is worse. It's not only disappointing, it's just plain rude. I realize agents are swamped with emails, etc, but it only takes one second to send a pre-written No.

By the way, I've also submitted directly to several small independent publishers who appear to be reputable, but those are few and far between. I had not heard back from any of them, but as everything in the publishing world moves forward at a glacial pace, something may come out of this yet.

The obvious question, of course, is - what if my book really isn't up to scratch? What if it isn't good enough, engaging enough, original enough?

I just have to say that in children's literature, many of the new books that come out each year are such that I wouldn't want my children to read. Many are just plain disappointing. They are prettily illustrated and beautifully bound, but the content leaves much to be desired. When reading to and with my children, we mostly stick to classics - Winnie the Pooh, the works of Astrid Lindgren, Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit. The newest book my children know is Harry Potter.

I believe in my book. I know my children were genuinely delighted with it (and they aren't the flattering kind). I know that, if given the proper exposure, it can entertain many others.

Why not self-publish, then? I have considered this, but as a rule, children's books do less well as self published projects, and I see no reason why I should be an exception. So while I might do it eventually, so far I'm going to hold out and keep looking.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Writer's burnout: how it came to get me

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It's really ironic that I let myself become a victim of writer's burnout, when I'm so good at giving sensible advice on avoiding it: treat this as a marathon, write a 1,000 words a day, and you'll be producing at a respectable pace. 

Still, I guess we all get carried away from time to time. 

So, in addition to trying to put in a 1,000 words a day on two WIPs, I was also working on getting The Landlord ready for publication in July, doing promotion for my other books, querying for a middle grade fantasy novel, and working on editing and proofreading other people's books. 

Others might pull this off with relative impunity, but you have to remember that both my husband and I work from home and homeschool three young children. I don't have my own private work space. This means everyone is in my hair every day and all day long. 

I wrote on my phone while trying to get my youngest to sleep (so far I haven't found a better way than lying down next to him and quietly stealing out of the room when he's asleep). I wrote while at the playground with my kids, while other moms gossiped and exchanged recipes. I stopped answering phone calls from friends. I began resenting my human needs to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. I won't tell you how long I have gone without washing my hair because I don't want to shock you. 

Naturally, you can only go on like this for so long. 

I became twitchy and irritable. My hands would begin to shake when I picked up my phone to check my email. I could no longer enjoy a good book or simply relax. Worst of all, I began having fantasies about some distant future time when I won't have to write a single damn thing ever again. 

And this is when I realized something is very wrong, because writing has always been a creative outlet and a source of satisfaction for me, and now it has become a burden. 

I had to slow down unless I wanted to end up with a neurosis. I knew it, and a few decisions helped:

The first was relatively easy to make. I decided I'm not going to take on any more editing projects in the near future. As flattering as it is when people contact me spontaneously and tell me they'd love me to work on their books, there's only so much of me to go around. Same goes for beta-reading and reviewing. 

The second decision, also a no-brainer, was pulling back from social media and forums. 

The third involved some introspection and ego killing. I came to terms with the fact that nobody really cares whether my next book is released now or six months from now. Actually, most people don't care whether there is a next book at all. So there's no point killing myself over something that might as well be done in a relaxed manner. 

The effects were almost immediate. I began enjoying reading and writing again within a very short span of time. So now it's back to my old reasonable 1K words per day, sanity, and undisturbed sleep. 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Slice of Humble Pie


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Soon after Wild Children hit the virtual shelves on Amazon on April 28th, I received a disappointing review that essentially said, "there is a good story here, but the book had been poorly edited."

My first reaction, of course, was to seethe: How dare he! The review was especially glaring in the light of the fact that the book had jumped through many, many hoops of editing prior to publication. First there were the rewrites suggested by my publisher, then the detailed chapter by chapter edit, first round of proofreaders, second round of proofreaders... it had taken far, far longer to edit this book than to write it in the first place.

Still, everyone makes mistakes, and I had spotted inconsistencies even in some classics that have been out there for many years. Some people just tend to nitpick, I reasoned.

This only lasted, of course, until my publisher and I discovered that, by some crazy stroke, the files that got uploaded to Amazon were not the final, thoroughly cleaned up version, but one of the earlier ones.

You can imagine. First thought: Oh yikes! Second thought: thank goodness for digital publishing and POD, which makes correcting such glitches comparatively easy. Imagine discovering a blunder of this sort in a truckload of printed books!

Third thought: how fortunate that, despite the annoyance we felt towards the reviewer, the text was still checked just in case. This made the discovery of the mistake possible. So ultimately, I do feel thankful that this early reader cared enough to leave a review, even though it temporarily lowered the book's rating.

I suppose the lesson I have learned from this is, don't get toppled over by criticism, but don't dismiss it out of hand either, even if it seems completely unfounded at first glance.

PS: Wild Children is only 0.99$ for the next couple of days, so if you are looking for the next great find in the dystopian/light SciFi genre, you might like to check it out!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Why you should write in the genre you love

When I began writing my dystopian novel, Wild Children, I was pregnant with my son, and I think this hormone-infused state might have prompted the creation of the book's concept. I thought of the women who have suffered unspeakable cruelty under the Chinese population control policy - forced abortions, forced sterilizations, or simply having to give up on having more than one child - and asked myself: could something similar happen in the Western world? 

From there it was a pretty short leap to post-apocalyptic United States, where the government controls reproductive choices and transgressions are mercilessly punished. A woman named Rebecca has an illegal baby and, fearing retribution, leaves him in an orphanage, though it breaks her heart. Rebecca can never forget her son, however, and trying to find out about his fate leads her to the discovery of a government conspiracy on a scale she had never imagined. 

I wrote this book simply because I could not keep the story from pouring out to the pages, but once I was done, I naturally asked the questions every author who aspires to more than just writing for a hobby asks: will people be interested in reading this? Will any agent and/or publisher be interested in signing this up? Will it sell? 

I was somewhat discouraged because, at that time, several prominent agents, publishers and literary critics widely claimed that dystopian fiction is dead, that the market is saturated, and that people are tired of endless books riding on the wave of The Hunger Games. Reading this was pretty depressing, I confess. It even prompted me to start a forum thread titled, "Should I chuck my novel into the garbage?"

What, then, prevented me from throwing up my arms in despair and moving on to other projects?

The first reason was very prosaic. The novel had already been written, and I wouldn't be losing anything by querying it. The second ran deeper: after considering this for a while, I realized I don't really believe in "dead" genres.  All genres have their ebbs and flows, and a good book would eventually find its audience even if it wasn’t riding a trend, I hoped. 

Furthermore, I knew I wasn't attempting to copy The Hunger Games - that would be hard to do, as I hadn't even read the trilogy! 

So I queried far and wide, and after almost a year, during which I began working on a sequel to Wild Children, I signed up with Mason Marshall Press. I had been wary of small presses in the past, but working with them has been wonderful: my manuscript received lots of attention and was very meticulously edited, and any questions or concerns I had were always promptly addressed. I know that I have ended up with a much better, stronger book than if I had chosen to self-publish. 

When time came to reach out to other people about the book, I became further affirmed in my opinion that dystopian fiction is far from dead. People kept telling me that they love the genre, are always looking for good new dystopian reads, and would love to read my book when it comes out. Only a short time has passed since the publication, but we have already had some very positive feedback from people who've read the book and enjoyed it, and I'm sure glad I didn't bury it in my "Dismissed" folder. 

If there is one message I would like to pass on to other authors, it would be, write in the genre you love, because your inner passion will show. Focus less on the current popularity of the genre (which can peak or dip by the time you finish your book anyway) and more on producing the best book you possibly can. 

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Wattpad: a useful tool or a waste of time?

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I first found out about Wattpad from Lindsay Buroker's blog, and jumped in with the goal of connecting with other writers and building a readership. About a year and a half later, here is what I learned:

- Wattpad is a truly amazing dynamic network for readers and writers which gives voracious readers plenty of material; writers, in their turn, receive feedback, validation and, hopefully, following.

Caveats:

- Don't expect to have tons of reads soon. There is an ocean of stories on Wattpad, all vying for readers. Admittedly, not all of it is high quality material (to put it mildly), but it's hard to stand out.

- If you think that you will get book sales by posting some of the chapters and telling people to go to Amazon and buy the rest, think again. There are tons of complete book length works on Wattpad, all free.

- A good way of getting traction on Wattpad is applying to be featured but, again, you can only do this with complete works. I got only about 500 views on Paths of the Shadow before it was featured. Once I applied and the book got accepted as a featured story, the number of views grew to close to 20K.

Wattpad can be a good marketing tool for series if an author chooses to post all of the first book: it will attract more readers than just half a book. I have the first two books of my fantasy series, Paths of the Shadow and Warriors of the Realm, available on Wattpad in complete form. People who get hooked on these first two books go on to check the sample of the third.

However, one must keep in mind that the direct buying power of Wattpad readers is relatively low, as many of them are teenagers. You might get some very loyal fans this way, though, as many of us tend to stay loyal to books we have grown to love early on.

Summary: Wattpad can be a part of an author's long term strategy and of building a following, but other forms of promotion, such as Amazon or Facebook ads, are more effective for short-term sales.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

How being an editor makes me a better writer

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I used to scoff at editing. Writing was a shiny comet, a brilliant stroke of inspiration, a touch of the divine it would be sacrilegious to tweak or change. What was once put down on a page stayed there for good. And you know what they say about editors, right? Editors are wannabe writers that just weren't good enough.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and today I'm wiser. Writing that first draft is just the initial stage of the process; polishing it into publishable shape is a much slower and, admittedly, more tedious step, but an absolutely necessary one. No great work of fiction sprung into being as a first and only draft. Every book we have ever known has been edited, sometimes heavily.

These days I do some freelance proofreading and editing for other authors. Not too much, because I always have so many projects on my plate that I wish I had about ten more hours each day, and I could easily fill them with work, but I do take on some projects by request.

This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a better writer than those authors who trusted me with their work. An editor doesn't need to be a prodigy. They just need to be capable and have a pair of discerning eyes. And that's so much more effective when done for someone else's work. When looking at our own, we automatically tend to gloss over little inconsistencies, mistakes, odd turns of phrase - all the things that jump out at once when reading something written by someone else.

That is why I believe that, if Jane Austen had a sister who was also a brilliant writer and wrote witty and engaging novels about marriage, the two would do much better taking each other's work and correcting it, than each trying to edit their own.

Working on other people's books makes me more capable of taking a step back and critically evaluating my own. Which is by necessity a good thing. The drawback is that nowadays, no matter what I'm reading - even if it's a paperback I bought in a local bookstore - I feel like whipping out my red pen.