Don’t Give Up!

In literature, when nine hundred and ninety-nine souls ignore you, but the thousandth buys your work, or at least borrows it — that is called enormous popularity. ~Arnold Bennett (1867–1931), English writer

You could have knocked me over with a feather the day I learned somebody wanted to publish my book.

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Proven Wrong

A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron (American novelist), interview, Writers at Work, 1958

I finally read another novel by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Picoult, and I’ve got to admit I was a bit hard on her before.

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Writing

Rejection.

We writers

Open our souls

To the whole world

To see and to judge

What we labor to bring forth.

Sometimes it’s spectacular, inspired, or even divine;

Other times, it’s nothing but garbage

Wasting good ink and paper.

Or worse, merely average.

Running in circles

Saying nothing

Important.

Note: This one came to me late at night. If there’s a name for this poetic form (with word count increasing by one on lines 1-7, then decreasing back to one), somebody please let me know!

Thanks for Reading, Thanks for Commenting

I was watching the finale of Season 7, The Next Food Network Star, last night (Jeff Mauro, the Sandwich King, won, in case you missed it), and something that was announced grabbed my attention.

Premiering on Aug. 27 will be a new show starring The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, who has penned an immensely popular cookbook, memoir, and children’s book. She’s billed as a sassy, spoiled city girl turned rancher’s wife and home-schooling mom of four; her show will spotlight home cooking and life on the ranch.

What’s amazing to me is that Ree is a blogger. But not just any blogger.

She gets more than 20 million page views per month and received the Weblog of the Year award for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Talk about a following!

Seriously, I can hardly fathom having that many people devouring my words on a regular basis. How does she ever keep up with the comments?!?

When I started this blog (shortly after returning from a Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive in October, 2009), I did so with a great deal of trepidation. I’ve written practically all my life, but the idea of putting my thoughts and words “out there” for all the world to see kinda gave me the heebie jeebies (yes, that’s a word — look it up!). The last thing I wanted or needed was having a bunch of strangers creeping on me.

Over time, however, it became apparent that the people reading my blogs were, in many cases, very much like me. As I read their thoughts and words in return, and as we commented on each other’s posts, I began to feel a kinship with them. I prayed for them, looked forward to learning more about them, and began to hope that somewhere along the line, maybe we’d actually meet in person.

That hasn’t happened, yet. But it’s okay. You don’t have to see friends every day to remain connected.

I’m thankful for every single one of my readers — whether they leave comments or not, whether I know them personally or not. They make me smile, or laugh out loud; they give me new ways of looking at things and advice when I ask for it.

Writing can be a lonely task. Knowing there are others traversing a similar path makes the journey more pleasant.

So go ahead and leave a comment. How can we connect if I don’t know who’s reading and what you’re thinking?

Writing for Fun??

The co-editorial director of Publisher’s Weekly, speaking in a recent interview, said self-published authors typically sell less than 100 copies of their book, compared to the 10,000 copies a well-selling traditionally-published book will move.

Sad, isn’t it?

When a friend showed me this statistic in AARP The Magazine, I couldn’t believe it.

The article went on to compare two first-time writers. Both penned memoirs; both were over 50.

There the similarities end.

One sold more than half a million copies of her book; the other logged a measly 20 downloads to e-readers.

The difference? The first author has a traditional publisher, while the second is self-published.

Now that’s a pretty significant difference.

I hate the thought of laboring for years to produce a book I’m proud of, a book people will want to buy and read, if only a handful are going to bother doing either.

It’s like trying to carry sand in a sieve.

The quandary between self-publishing and traditional publishing is nothing new. Many of us are dealing with it right now. In fact, my friend Lynne Spreen over at Any Shiny Thing recently blogged about this very subject.

There don’t seem to be any easy answers, either. Especially when you realize that you the author are going to have to promote your book, regardless of how you publish it.

Anyway, the AARP article goes on to talk about how many “older authors” want to share their stories, profit or not. And how many vanity, e-book, and other self-publishing options exist for those who do. And how “easy” it is to become self-published — nearly three-fourths of a million nontraditional books came out in 2009, compared with fewer than 300,000 traditional titles.

This publishing guru speculates the market for self-published works will grow as more people accept the technology.

His advice in the meantime? Write for fun, not for finance.

Say what?

When did writing a book become fun? Every real writer I know, including meself, calls it Hard Work.

And to embark on that journey expecting no remuneration is foolish.

I suppose people with nothing but time on their hands, or celebrities with a hefty trust fund and a full-blown ego, can afford to laze about and tinker with penning a novel, then pay somebody to publish it, not caring what happens after that.

The rest of us sweat bullets to get every comma in the right place, choose the right POV, work and re-work plot, act out our scenes with dialog, check pacing, and a thousand-and-one other details.

All in the hopes of finding the right agent. The right publisher. The right market.

Because this is our baby, and it deserves nothing less than our best.

Why shouldn’t we expect payment, regardless of how we publish?

My Flighty Muse

Why is it that, when my mind and body are at their busiest, my Muse decides to inundate me with writing material??

Maybe I’m in the shower, or exercising, or driving to an appointment, or even just dropping off to sleep. Maybe I’m up to my ears designing Websites for clients or making updates on already-designed sites.

Regardless, it’s then that my lovely Muse appears, and I learned long ago never to ignore her!

She’s a flighty thing, my Muse. Once I tuned her out, and she punished me with too much time on my hands and no ideas. Couldn’t even write a simple Thank-you note!

So I don’t ignore her any more.

I stop what I’m doing, grab paper and pen (or my computer), and frantically get down everything she gives me, with all the detail I can recall. This I stash away in a secret place, to be pulled out when the well runs dry.

Many times, I’ve found her “gifts” questionable. That’s probably my fault more than hers. We mortals often don’t understand or fully appreciate intuition, and ideas can vanish like smoke; then, too, what sounded plausible at one time might, upon deeper contemplation, appear silly.

Nevertheless, you won’t catch me without a notepad and pen — in my car, at my desk, beside my bed. You might call it a journalist’s curse; I call it being prepared.

For when my Muse does show up, I don’t want her to catch me slacking!

And so I Write

Ever since I can remember, it’s been one of my most persistent dreams to write a novel.

As a kid, I started a book (in pencil, by hand!) every summer. Mostly, it was a loose collection of semi-autobiographical tales that happened to a make-believe person.

When summer ended, so did the book. It wasn’t finished, but I put it on a shelf in my closet and started a new one the following summer.

And so it went — for years.

My first career was as a newspaper journalist.

I wrote every day — nonfiction. Real things that happened to real people in real time.

My colleagues and I often talked about writing “the Great American Novel.” Most of them weren’t serious; I was, but dared not admit it for fear of being ridiculed and discouraged.

One day, the “itch” became so insistent that I had to scratch it. I started a novel.

Not on company time, mind you. By then, I was on a new career in Web Design. Running my own business meant I could write around projects.

I wrote while watching my son’s soccer games, or waiting for him to get out of school, or during one of his many lessons.

And I actually finished this novel. Keyed in (on computer) “The End.” Finally, I was a writer!

The book was awful, unless you count spelling, grammar, and sentence structure (thank you, grade school nuns!). If you like tension, conflict, characterization, and such, forget it.

So it joined the unfinished others on the shelf, while I devoured Writer’s Digest magazines, poured money into writing how-to books, attended workshops and tried to learn what I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Several years ago I faced another dreaded lull in my business.

Time on my hands. Fear of going to the poorhouse.

I started a second novel and finished it, too.

This one was better. With age comes courage (if we’re lucky), and I sent out query letters, hoping to snag a literary agent.

No takers.

I studied some more. Did more reading. Attended a conference or two.

And started my third novel.

I typed “The End” several months ago and have since polished and revised and polished some more. Once again, I’m shopping for an agent. Once again, I’m looking for publication.

Because everybody knows being a writer is different from being an author — right?

Well, sort of.

I’d like to think I don’t need publication to validate what I’m doing. That, even if I can’t go into a bookstore and pick up a book with my name on the cover and my words inside, I’m still a writer.

But why write if you can’t share your words with the world??

So I’ll continue chasing my dream. And I’ll continue to write because that’s what writers do.

As Admiral Farragut once said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

A Rose by any other name…

This past Fall Break, I was puttering around the kitchen while My Favorite Domer was watching one of the sports channels on TV.

All of a sudden, I heard the announcer speak a familiar name. Whirling around, I declared, “Hey, that guy’s my hero!”

MFD turned a puzzled face toward me and asked, “Who? That guy?”

“Yes!” I screamed, repeating the man’s name.

“You’re kidding,” MFD said. “How do you know him?”

“I don’t know him,” I said. “I know his name. It’s the same as the name of my hero, the one in my book.”

For those who don’t know, I’ve been working on a novel for the past few years. I’ve basically finished the writing portion; now I’m in the editing/polishing stage and soon will be ready to pitch it to prospective agents (say a prayer, okay?)

“You used the name of a real guy for your book?” MFD asked in a rather horrified tone. “That was dumb, Mom. You should’ve Googled him first.”

Duh! I guess I should have.

But who would have thought the name I’ve been “living with” for this long would turn up on a real person?

In all fairness, my hero isn’t an athlete (an athlete who’s managed to get himself in a bit of trouble with the law, to boot), but he hails from the same U.S. state, and that’s just too much of a coincidence for my comfort.

So I decided to re-name my hero. It’s easier to find another acceptable name than to face possible legal consequences.

But doggone it, those few seconds put me in a tailspin. With as many people as there are on the planet today, it’s not easy finding a good name that hasn’t already been taken, and I was rather fond of the one I’d chosen!

So I did a bit of research into what other writers do when naming their characters. They:

  • Browse telephone directories
  • Buy character naming books
  • Use online random name generators
  • Thumb through baby naming books
  • “Steal” names from spam e-mail
  • Traipse through cemeteries
  • and even “borrow” names from their friends and families

Interesting, huh?

Naming characters isn’t easy. You’ve got to find a name that fits the type of fiction you’re writing as well as the period and place it’s set in; you’ve also got to “live” with the name for a while and see if the character accepts it.

Does anybody else have other “foolproof” naming resources? I’d sure welcome them!

Tit for Tat?

I’m feeling a bit “put-out” today.

I did a favor for someone — at considerable personal cost, I might add — yet the favor went unacknowledged.

Un-thanked, too.

Do we live in such impersonal, selfish times that we can’t expect to receive gratitude (at least) for favors rendered??

Here’s what happened.

More than a month ago, someone asked me to read something they’d written and make some comments.

A critique, if you will.

“Be harsh,” they said. “Hit me between the eyes. I can take it.”

Right.

Turns out, they didn’t mean it.

Oh, they wanted me to read all right. But they didn’t want to hear my honest comments.

No, they only wanted someone to stroke their ego.

I don’t roll like that.

You ask for my opinion and you get it.

Sure, I’ll try to soft-pedal so you don’t feel like you’ve been tossed into a berry patch, but don’t bother asking for my thoughts if you’re not prepared to hear them!

What is it about creative people who think they’re above criticism? I’ve heard from too many writers who refuse to join a writers’ group because the others there “only want people to praise what they’ve written and dissolve into tears at anything negative.”

How do writers expect to improve their craft by only hearing the good stuff?

And how many agents and publishers want to work with someone that delicate?

I realize I’m partly to blame for not charging for proofing in the first place.

Some people make a real living at proofreading/critiquing, and doing a “favor” like this took time from my own writing, web design, and even my personal life.

So I’m not real happy about the experience and reluctant to repeat it.

I can only conclude this person was born in a barn or something.

I mean, if someone does me a favor, I make it a point to say “Thank you.”

I might bristle at their criticism.

I might not take their suggestions.

But I acknowledge their efforts and affirm their right to have an opinion.

Shouldn’t I be entitled the same courtesy?