Honestly, at first I was like “wow that’s really cool…”
Then like three seconds later I was like something is off…
Not sure what it is, but thoughts?
I’m scared. I can admit this to myself, and possibly, to my cat. Why? Because I’m nearing my self-induced deadline to self-publish my novel. For those not in the know, end of the summer is my deadline.
I really should have put this book out 3 years ago after my last set of critiques. I haven’t touched the book since the end of 2011 or early 2012. I put it in a drawer and wrote two other books, so it wasn’t like I didn’t do anything.
That’s what this latest string of crit partners is about, getting some fresh eyes on my book before I throw it into the world and that scares me. Not because It’s going to be read by all of four people and barely make enough money for a mochaccino. That doesn’t concern me all that much.
My fear is twofold. I’ve had over 150 rejections for this book. 95% of which never even asked for pages, despite the agents telling me in workshops that the query is really good. Hell, I even sat down with Harpercollins and talked to one of their editors who agreed my first ten pages, synopsis, and query were outstanding. (She even told me to send her the book, which I never did because I lost her business card and couldn’t find her contact information anywhere)
Tragic, yeah, because I’m an idiot.
Still, I keep wondering, what if I queried just one more time, would I have an agent four months from now who might deign to accept a whole manuscript or 50 pages, whichever is less? Then 3 years from now, I might get to sell my work, my characters, tv rights, everything for a $5k advance?
I keep wondering if I could be a “published” author instead of a self-published author. I keep wondering why I care because let’s be real. Those publishers are chasing two customers: Joe Average who buys one book a year at an airport by Tom Clancy or Stephen King or James Patterson and Annie Teenie-bopper who is going to buy whatever the hottest, latest, thing all the other tweens are buying. They are looking for huge wins.
My book won’t be those, sorry, it won’t. I know that. But if I self-publish, the chances of getting published are even slimmer for this series… and I don’t know why I care.
My other fear is that it does get read. That someone picks up my book and just hates it. I know that’s going to happen. Hell, I really like pizza and ice cream and, half the time, I get pizza and ice cream I don’t enjoy. It makes me want to give a money back guarantee. I mean, someone spent hard earned money for something to enjoy. Granted it took my 5,000 hours to write it, but that’s not the point.
Someone is giving me their time. Taking their time, which they can’t get back, and handing it to me. That is a huge responsibility. Life is too short to do things you don’t want to do. It’s way too short to read stuff that you think is bad. When you put it like that, a money-back guarantee seems almost like a cop out.
I’m going to go invent a time machine. “Back away from the buy now button sir. You’re going to waste twenty minutes of your life. Oh by the way, call me The Doctor.”
I waste a lot of time. I think it’s a natural thing for most people to do, which is sort of sad, because I haven’t met one person who said, “Man, I just have so much free time.”
I’ve been looking at this book writing thing very closely for a long time, and all I do is read about it. I know I’m not a special snowflake, and that’s why, even without selling a single book, I know the secret to this industry.
It is the same secret that has followed everything since the dawn of time. It’s a simple formula: Time + meaningful effort + luck = success.
You can boil everything down to that formula. I’m not going to argue that luck and time spent are unimportant. I think they both have their place. If Oprah picked up a book tomorrow that had sold zero copies and decided, for the thrill of it, that she wanted to mention it on TV, bam you’re a billionaire overnight. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen.
That’s why I think the most important thing a person can do is apply meaningful effort. I read this book about Mickey Mantle when I was a kid. He talked about how hanging a baseball from the ceiling with a rope and spent HOURS hitting the thing.
Malcom Gladwell wrote an entire book on the subject, it’s called Outliers. Go read it. Every success story is yes, about luck, but a person needs to have the requisite skill to make a go of it. You need to put in your ten thousand hours to get good at something.
I can’t tell you all the things that might make a person good at anything. I can’t tell you how much innate talent or ability makes up of success. I do know lots of people who struggled and put in the time and effort and made something of themselves in very difficult fields.
I also know people who are amazing artists who never did more than sketch in their notepads. You need to apply your effort in a meaningful way.
There is one thing I do know, if you have any amount of talent, you can practice enough to make a go of it. Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that whatever it is you are doing is going to be easy.
I’m going to try to make a go of this writer thing. I’m not sure if I have 10k hours or not. I’m not even sure if I have the requisite talent.
What I am going to do is make sure I put out the best possible product I can. Not the one I settled for, but the best product.
The only way I can do that is by spending my time, effort, and money in a reasonable way. I will do that, this I promise. Every. Single. Time.
I totally just ditched my wife. She is going for a run and that sounds like work. I’m not a huge fan of work, especially work that makes me sweaty. I’m not a huge fan of sweat.
So, instead, I poured myself a cup of coffee, even though I don’t drink coffee, and decided to write a blog post. There is a reason for this post actually. It’s because, against my better judgment, I decided to link to my good reads page.
Why? Because most people I talk to about writing always ask what I like to read. I like to read everything all at once. I like to throw myself into an orgy of books because I always learn something from a book.
I feel like reading helps me “level up” my writing so to speak. If I want to write a really gushy scene with two lovers? Laurell K. Hamilton all day and I’ll be able to write a scene about how “the heat of his breath tightened things low in my body and sent warm tremors down my spine.”
I want to write some crazy horror about how “it was dark, so dark that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. Sounds crept in at the edge of my hearing; that scritch scratch of something against the window pane. I pulled my blankets tighter around me, scrunching my down in my bed until my eyes were barely showing.” I’ll probably go try to find something like that, maybe Poe? Maybe something my wife wrote because she does creepy like no one’s business.
I know both of those paragraphs are bad, but hey it is my blog and I’ll throw up on the page if I want to. Anyway, I’ve also read that many other authors recommend reading a lot. I’d probably do it anyway…
My grandmother used to take me to the library or the used book store to pick stuff out since I learned to read. We’d lay on the couch and just read all day long. I’ve been reading for my whole life; it is what I do. Hell I wrote my first novel, it’s horrible by the by, when I was a freshman in high school. (it’s only 30k words). I wrote my second and third sophomore year (also 30k words each).
I think I lost track of what the hell I was talking about. The entire goal of this post was, basically, to explain why I’m linking my good reads page. If you’re curious what I read, then there you go.
Also… Daisy Buchanan is a brunette.
One of my greatest fears happened the other day. Sort of…
One of my critique partners had queried an agent and sent along the first four chapters of her manuscript like four months ago. No big deal right? Now the agent has requested the entire novel.
Good for her, except we’ve been working on her novel for like 2 months. She’s completely rewritten not only the first four chapters, but almost half the book thanks to my recommendations. And who am I?
Her book was, apparently, good enough to have the whole thing requested as is. So what should she do? Send the original MS without my helpful hand? Send it with my rewrites included? What if my rewrites and suggestions are the things that make her novel no longer worthy in the eyes of the agent?
She told me she sent the one with my suggestions because she likes it better. If it gets rejected now, will it be my fault? I know she didn’t have to follow my suggestions, but I can’t help but feel responsible.
It scares me because what if one of those lines I crossed out was the line that spoke to that agent? I mean what the hell do I know, right? I haven’t been published.
Then again, two of my last three critique partners were picked up. If she gets picked up is the common link me? Am I the man behind the curtain or do I just have phenomenal luck when it comes to critique partners?
I mean, let’s be real here, I don’t want to be an editor. I only do it so that someone will read my manuscript and poke all sorts of holes in it. The end goal here is to either get published or self-publish a novel that so that when Sally gets home after her dog bit her, her boyfriend dumped her, and her boss fired her, she can escape for just a few minutes into my world.
Still, I can’t help feel responsible. I hope this agent likes her book, because I’m going to feel like it’s my fault if she doesn’t. Which, I agree, is totally stupid.
I’m a bad person… possibly evil. I’m coming to terms with that. Yesterday was a silly day for me. It was silly because I’m silly. Let me tell you why.
I had a thought as I was cruising the blogosphere yesterday. I wondered what happened to my old crit partners from 2011/2012 and, like an old lover, I decided to google them. I knew one of them was a published author now, so it wasn’t a surprise. What I didn’t know was that the second (of three) was getting the book I helped critique published by penguin in 2015.
I had several completely separate reactions about it.
Happiness! Because she worked damn hard on her book, probably harder than anyone I’ve ever met… and her book started out really good.
Excited! I have critiqued a book that is now being published. I feel sort of proud even though I contributed like .00001% to her success.
Blinding jealousy! That’s the rub. It took me a long time to shake it yesterday. I wondered to myself how these two people, who I worked so closely with, managed to get published when I can’t even get past the query letter stage with an agent.
I know she had a good query letter; I sat in “internet query workshops” with her where the agents helping us would request her book because the idea was that good… From the workshop…
The agents always told me my query was perfect, was good, but none ever requested my book.
When we had last spoken, I’d just suffered a blinding stream of 12 rejections, not one asking for pages and she had 9 separate agents asking for her book.
So, clearly, she had something special. I am happy for her, and I’m not just saying that. I really, truly am.
But I sorta wish one would just pick me. I think that’s the problem. Getting chosen is like a 1% chance, actually less than that according to some statistics. Still, it is hard to not feel your self-worth start to chip away under an onslaught of rejections… especially when the people you worked closely with are getting there.
I know… I know I shouldn’t define my worth based on:
A) Other people’s success for work I had nothing to do with. We are totally different people with totally different life circumstances and totally different books.
B) On what other people think of my work. I can’t base my happiness on what other people think of me because I will always come up short. All I can do is my best and be happy that I did my best. I need to choose myself as it were.
Those are two things that make no sense to get upset about and I understand that… but it still bugs me.
I recently got a critique back that made me want to just throw my entire novel in the trash. Don’t worry, I didn’t, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to make me think this way. It’s because I’m starting to get a case of “maybe there is too much soup in the pot.”
For those of you unfamiliar with “the soup in the pot” it comes from Jennifer Eaton. I’m deciding to steal it and use it here. The idea is basically if you are writing a scene and more than one person says the same thing about it, then maybe, just maybe, you should go fix it.
The problem is… I don’t know how to fix this particular thing. I think it’s because I’m not writing a graphic novel, or a movie, or a short story. Let me elaborate so it makes sense.
I have a spell. It is a very particular spell that looks a certain way. It is intended to be a signature spell. My main character uses this spell in a very particular way in chapter 4 of the book. Later, in another chapter she uses THE SAME SPELL. She calls it the same thing. She casts it the same way. The effects are nearly identical.
Three separate people have commented on the second usage of the spell, saying stuff along the lines of:
When did she learn this new spell or why didn’t she use this spell before.
She did use it before. That’s the whole point. There’s like two spells in the whole book with names and this is one of them.
This makes me think there are two problems. I am not making a significant enough impression on the first usage of the spell. It is either A) being forgotten or B) There are too many spells/neat things that the reader is getting overwhelmed.
In previous drafts I had a lot more background, more named spells, more world building. It seemed like every time I added some cool piece of flare, readers got bogged down. It is sort of a necessary evil to some extent because the main character comes ready to go out of the box. She has her own abilities and this is the time for the reader to be like… wow she knows cool stuff. Which she should, she’s been trained to do this sort of thing.
That being said I am going to go over both usages one last time. I don’t have much more flare I can eliminate before I just have a generic story where the main character uses “knife” and “magic” because I have to keep in the back of my mind one key question: “How important to the overall plot is this piece of flare?”
If this was a graphic novel I could physically show you a picture and you’d be like “oh that’s the same spell, I remember seeing it.” Same thing with a movie. If she pulled out her sword, it would always be black with purple polka dots because it would be drawn/ filmed that way… every time.
I have to make you remember she did this spell with my words almost ten chapters later. It’s hard to do that. I can barely get people to remember the names of her weapons and I repeat them virtually every time she uses them.
I know part of it is the crit process. It requires going so slowly through a story that you lose your chance to get immersed in the world. You’re always looking at it with one hand out going, “should I tell him/her to move this sentence?”
I mean, this isn’t a novel breaking issue… but it annoys me.
The secret to a good novel is clever critique partners. I told this to one of my crit partners before, but I think it deserves a post.
I got back a critique the other day and it had, basically, rewritten my entire chapter. I don’t mean she rewrote it per se, but that so much of it was commented with suggestions on what to do, that it meant I was rewriting the whole damn thing… this is the second time this has happened in as many chapters.
Admittedly, I was never fond of this particular chapter. It’s one of those necessary chapters, but I was never happy with it. Flow was off, words were awkward, and it was soooooo long.
This chapter was the perfect example of a conversation I often have that goes like this:
“Is this chapter good enough so that I don’t have to work on it anymore?”
“If you’re asking yourself that, then it isn’t.”
Now this chapter sings. It wasn’t me who did it either. It was my crit partner.
I love when the crits are so spot on that you rip up your entire thing to redo it. What you get afterward is something awesome. There are so many one-liners or witty lines that I wasn’t clever enough to come up with, or which came from a question asked by someone.
At first, I didn’t want to believe that my story made no sense. But, and here’s the thing, my crit partners have no reason to lie. If they don’t understand something, why should they tell me they did?
So I edit and I fix things, and you know what? I have a chapter that is way better than I started with.
I’m in a rush. I don’t know why because I’ve been working on this story for a long time. I feel like with writing that I’m always in a rush. I’m always trying to skip from idea in my head to Make-Poor-Hapless-Soul read my first draft. You don’t want to be that soul by the way. My first drafts are legendary for not making any sense. My story barely makes sense now. Imagine when it started…
I don’t know why I am always rushing. I know part of it is excitement. I’m hoping that this thing is really good and that my reader will think it is really good too. That part of it is easy to understand. It’s that whole justification of myself as a writer thing. I get that.
The other reason has more to do with my wanting to get it off my plate. It’s hard for me to work on my other novels (even the completed ones) knowing I could be spending time on this one. It is by far the closest one to being “ready.” It is so close that every word I write on another story actually delays this one going out the door and into the world.
I need it to go out the door, and I need it to see the world. Then I can put it to bed. Right now I’m in that heart fluttering, butterflies in my stomach pattern waiting for my crit partner to finish the latest chapter so I can turn around and punt that chapter to the other partner. Even when that’s all done, I have a Poor-Hapless-Soul all ready to go for what, I hope, will be the final read through.
Then it’s off to the races. Because I’m rushing now, and I don’t know why. Except, I do know why. This book has been hanging over my head for seven years. It needs to not be doing that. It needs to find its wings and fly away so I can start the cycle all over again.
Who knows, by novel five I might glance at the manuscript, shrug my shoulders before hitting the “submit” button and say to myself “Fifth novel.”
I have just come to the conclusion that there is a lot of stuff you need to do for a novel.
I mean I wrote the damn thing in 2007, that’s what, 7 years ago, and, still, somehow, there are more things to do every day. You’d think that by now I would have realized that this whole “writing” thing is a lot of work.
For instance, just the other day I decided, I mean really decided this time, that I was just going to self publish this one. I was gonna be all like “Here Amazon have my baby that I’ve poured seven years of work into…”
Of course, that meant one thing… just one more round of crit partners. So here I am, again, criting the new novel for what the 25th time? And, this time, like most times, I have two just fantastic partners. Which means I am rewriting the damn book again.
That’s fine, I love writing. I’ve been at it for a long time. I’m not that good or anything, but I’m patient enough to hammer out a piece of stone into a semi-readable something.
However, I keep reading about self publishing… it’s a little scary. I mean, as far as formatting and stuff, I can do that. I’m a freaking programmer by day. I can format a kindle book like no one’s business. (FYI I’ve formatted this book three separate times for kindle)
Then there’s finding a cover. I need a cover for createspace and for kindle and nook and smashwords… I can’t even draw stick figures. I mean, this is my book, and if I do it, I need to do it right, right? right! That means I need a sweet cover.
I glanced through fiverr, and if you haven’t, you really should, and I think I can get a cool cover for not a whole terribly huge bunch of money.
I’ve thought about professional editing because so many editors are offering up their services per word. It’s really cool because they didn’t do that when I finished this draft seven years ago. A lot has changed. Still, it’s expensive. With my book length I’m looking at like $1000 dollars. I’d have to sell, what 500 copies, just to break even for one round of editing? That’s crazy, because I’m pretty sure my mom isn’t even going to by my book. (It isn’t because it’s bad or because she hates me. I don’t think she’s ever read a book.)
Then there’s the “should I be exclusive to amazon for 90 days so I get prime and lending and all that” question. Maybe, probably.
I have to make a blog. Check!
I have to register a ton of domain names: the book title, some character names, my name… it’s just crazy.
I’ll have to engage in twitter and Facebook. I don’t even have a twitter or Facebook. That says nothing of Pintrist… slideshare… any number of other things.
I’ll have to solicit reviews from amazon reviewers and stuff. Be like “hey person who has thousands of people ask for reviews, would you mind reading my book? I’ll give it to you for free and it’s at least 35% less horrible than most stuff you get asked to do. Hell, I’ll mail you a chocolate bar.” Then they’ll either not respond, or they will be like sure, I’ll pencil it in for January 2035.
It’s just daunting. I have to do all this stuff that isn’t even related to writing and editing my book. Then I’ll sell eleven copies.