Yesterday I joined Brian Abernethy of Journey Frog Audio to do a Skype chat with Red Sofa Literary Agency. We discussed networking for authors and creatives. I cannot stress enough how important networking is to a writer's career. I thought I would post the outline of that chat here. This outline covers more than we were able to get to during the actual half-hour chat.
This is just a note that as of September 1, 2017, I will be on hiatus from editorial work. I want to focus on my own work for a while, but will re-open to client submissions in 2018. I have room in my schedule for the end of this month and August. Any work started before September 1 will be finished in contracted time periods.
To learn more about my editorial services, or to contact me and get on the schedule, check out this page.
There's always someone diving into the writer pool. Some new, hopeful soul wanting to "make it", or "get published". Someone who decides they're going to be an Author-with-a-capital-A. All of us start off as rookies. And being the newb can be scary. I mean, traditional publishing already comes with this weird cloak of mystery. It can sometimes feel like you need to know the secret handshake just to follow someone on Twitter. So, here is some free Rookie Author 101 advice for those who are doing the writing thing and want to go pro. 1. Research.
Seriously, I can't stress this one enough. I know I've gone on and on about it at length before, but it's ridiculously important. If you're going to start submitting to magazines, agents, publishers, editors and such hoping for publication, your first job (other than writing a good piece) is to do your research. Follow publishing professionals on Twitter and other social media. Join up on the message boards on Absolute Write Water Cooler, QueryTracker, The Grinder, and Preditors and Editors. Whenever you're looking at potential submissions, check them out at the above places. Look up their submission guidelines and FOLLOW THEM. Find out how your favorite authors got where they are and learn from that. Above all else, you need to do this legwork.
2. Get serious about your social media.
If you're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, know that once you start submitting your work to agents, editors and publishers, other people are going to come looking for you. Those same people you've researched? When you submit work to them, they will probably check you out if they're interested in your work. They want to know that you're professional, that you can work well within certain confines of the job, and that you can also be discreet.
How can you appear more professional?
- Don't flame other authors, professionals. Don't like something someone said or did? Get a rejection letter from that agent? Don't go plastering it on your Twitter feed for the world to see.
- Did you get an offer of representation or publication five minutes ago? Sweet! Don't post about it on Facebook yet. In fact, many publishers and agents ask that you don't mention anything until after you've all signed the appropriate contracts. Hell, I've got amazing news that I'm still not at liberty to tell you guys. I've been holding on to it since before Christmas. Part of the publishing industry is keeping things close to the chest. It starts with your social media before you've even gotten your first contract.
- Do NOT post screengrabs of rejection or acceptance letters. Why? First of all, if it contains a professional's email address, that's highly unprofessional. Many agents' emails are public due to the nature of the submissions process, but some agencies rely on a generic slush email and distribute to specific agents after that first contact. Editors? They can be EXTREMELY secretive about their professional emails and with good cause. Can you imagine if your already burgeoning inbox suddenly got a glut of slush stories because some author posted your email address on Twitter? Furthermore, not every acceptance is identical. Your letter may offer something different than the next author, and those terms can be sensitive. And, again, posting these things shows a lack of discretion on your part. Authors who can't be discreet can be harder to work with. Authors who are hard to work with....? They get less work.
- Do NOT solicit advice from strangers on the Internet. You think you want your favorite author to read your story? Don't ask her. Did you get a contract and now you need another set of eyes on it? Do not go asking random authors/strangers on Twitter to do this for you. You're about to make a major business decision. Now, if you've met an editor/agent/author at a convention and they've offered to help you, or if a professional has a blog that is open to questions and such, by all means, use that resource. However, it is bad form to send a total stranger a message asking, "Could you please help me make a legal choice?"
3. Remember that people talk with one another.
That shit you talked online? Yeah, someone saw that. The comment you made at a convention? Someone heard you. The letter you sent to that agent who rejected you? She told her colleagues about it.
Publishing is a very tight community. We all talk to each other and word travels quickly. Remember that.
4. Talk to other people.
See that above comment? Make it work for you. Talk to other authors in the querying process. Get involved on forums, use private chats, and talk. Just as word about authors behaving badly will spread quickly, so will news of an agent being a dick. We authors talk. We know who to avoid, who is a total douche at conventions, who is an absolute dream to hang out with even though her Twitter is acerbic and vulgar....we know which editors get back to authors quickly and we know which agents take 6 months to request a partial. Make the community work in your favor by digging into it and being a part of it.
5. Remember Wheaton's Law.
Don't be a dick.
Seriously. Everyone has an off day. Everyone gets rejected, or pissed off, or confused, or scared. Writing can be lonely. Pursuing publication can be terrifying and isolating (because your friends and family don't always get it.) But remember that everyone you're dealing with is a person with their own story. That agent is just getting back from maternity leave. That editor who hasn't responded in the past two hours? Just had neck surgery. That author you're trying to talk with at a convention is on a deadline, stressed about family and really doesn't do well with crowds. One of the best lessons to learn early in your career is to treat people with respect and humanity. Be kind.
Not everyone has an Obi Wan Kenobi to show them the ropes of the publishing industry. A lot of people have learned by doing, making mistakes and getting back up. But a lot of resources exist to make your job a little easier. Blogs, message boards, books, social media feeds, websites... it's all there for you to use to your advantage. (You'll still make mistakes, but hopefully they'll be less painful than they otherwise might be if you go it alone.)
So, I don't have this whole "professional writer" thing figured out. (Shock and awe.) I, like most people, am just making shit up as I go along and hoping to every god that I don't fall flat on my face in front of everyone. There's one thing, though, that I've been thinking about of late that I really struggle with. And that special something is maintaining enthusiasm while marketing myself.
Hell, self-promotion is hard enough. Sure, let's take a group of people who are professional introverts and have a well-documented tendency toward fraud complexes and then have them PROMOTE themselves.
I admit that the days I feel like a failure are fewer now than they were...say...4 years ago, but I still have about one week out of every month where I am convinced I should just get out of writing forever and save the human race from my drivel. Those days still exist.
Even when I have those days, I still have to get out there and bang the drum. I don't mind doing it for other people. In fact, I love being the carnival barker for other people. Step right up and see the amazing Beth Cato and her debut novel THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER! Tremble before the might of Delilah S. Dawson (writing as Ava Lovelace) as she unleashes THE SUPERFOX upon you.
And so on.
But it gets exhausting to do it for oneself. At least for me.
There are days when I absolutely loathe my writing (the same book that I loved two days ago and have to encourage you to buy) but I have to muster the enthusiasm to convince you it's not a waste of your life energy (and money) to experience it. And even if I like the book or story, there are days when I'm just tired of looking at it, thinking about it or even knowing I created it. It's like with anything else... sometimes you just get burnt out on something. For example, I've read UNVEILED somewhere in the realm of 10 times (minimum) in the past 4 months. This past weekend I had to read it (again) for what is (I hope) the final proofing pass...and I can't begin to tell you how much I hated that book. Not necessarily because it was shit (I'm the way wrong person to ask about that, see above points), but because I'm just tired of it.
And, of course, NOW is the time when I have to really gear up the promotion machine to get YOU to love it and buy it and tell everyone in the world how amazing it is.
Not only do I have to fight myself on this one sometimes...but I have to fight the rest of the world. Or so it seems. Most of the self-promotion I do is via social media. Facebook, Twitter, this blog...these are the main ways I try to flag your attention and get you to notice my works. I don't know about you, but my Twitter feed moves incredibly fast. There's a billion words that I try to sift through to see what my friends are saying. Of late, I've been rather quiet (for me) on Twitter because I have just felt kinda out of it. Like I don't have anything to contribute.
And that leads to anxiety. There's this odd fear... I don't know if other people (creatives or otherwise) feel this way, but I have this fear of being forgotten. If I don't tweet something witty today then you're all going to forget I exist and move on to the latest, hottest, prettiest, coolest new model of funny chai-loving pyromaniac.
I feel that way in my writing life, too. Like if I don't produce something new right the hell now, I'm going to lose what tenuous purchase I have on a publishing career and fall into the abyss.
I feel like I'm competing for your time. There's so much content! And the internet is so LOUD! I feel like I have to constantly yell louder to be heard in the din of "click here". And on top of that, you have to measure your promotion carefully. Like with the Kickstarter, I had to carefully choreograph when I made what announcements and upped my game. I felt like I had to constantly refresh things and out do myself to keep people interested.
And that's exhausting.
So yeah. It's not something I've figured out yet. At least, in my opinion. I mean, I can't see returns on sales or hits or followers and such, so there are days where I feel like I'm just shouting into a hole. I know that it's necessary. It's part of the job, and I'm sure there's a balance and rhythm to it. I just haven't found that yet.
So yeah... um... buy my books? ;)
And seriously, go check out Beth Cato, Delilah S. Dawson, Tex Thompson, Stephen Blackmoore, Kerry Schaefer, Chuck Wendig, Marsheila Rockwell, Rene Sears, AD Marrow, Michelle M Welch, Sharon Skinner, Karina Cooper... oy, okay, I could keep going. They are amazing wordsmiths and all around awesome people. If you don't buy their stuff, my stuff...just... go support some author types.
I'm going to voice an unholy, unpopular opinion...
I didn't like the Joss Whedon "Much Ado About Nothing".
There. I said it.
Look, I love Joss Whedon's other works. I find his writing to be impeccable, sharp and entertaining. His direction and filmmaking abilities are some of the best in the current crop of Hollywood. In short, I dig Joss Whedon. However, I cannot say that I enjoyed his take on this particular Shakespeare play. I much prefer the Catherine Tate/David Tennant stage production directed by Josie Rourke. I could write an entire blog post about my issues with the Whedon version, but, in the end it comes down to four words: It's not for me.
Along those same lines, I don't like lima beans, country music, reality television or skinny jeans. I'm not into Clown Dominant BDSM porn. These things and the people who dig them are not inherently bad (though I ask for a slight dram of understanding when I look at you funny for the clown thing). They are, however, not for me.
In general I am a "live and let live" person. If you eat lima beans while listening to your Keith Urban, I'm not going to rage at you or call you names. I'll be over here with my chai, watching the Tate/Tennant version of "Much Ado" for the tenth time in as many days.
But I realized recently that there is one avenue where I have an extreme prejudice. And that arena is BOOKS. I posted on Twitter quite happily that if your book is poorly written (ie riddled with spelling and grammar errors, rife with poor characterization and otherwise chock full of suck) I will rip it apart. I can, when it comes to the written word, be a judgmental bitch.
Now, my personal Facebook account is set to "friends only" for various reasons, the most pressing of which is that I like to have some semblance of space that is for myself, friends, family and close colleagues. Otherwise, I've got a fan page or my Twitter feed or this blog or conventions et al for everyone else. Anyway, I used my personal Facebook account to ridicule a self-published novella for its horrible cover and the atrocious writing quality. I started off being vague about it, not naming names or using the copy/paste function. After a while, however, I posted a link to the book on Amazon to share with others so they would see, "This is why I'm gagging here!"
I have amazing friends. Not only will they laugh with me, they will take me aside and say, "This time, I think you need to check yourself." One such friend sent me a private message offering a different point of view that I had, admittedly, been ignorant of. He suggested that this book was written that way specifically because it was aimed at a particular audience. The book used a cultural language and plays to the values of a specific kind of person.
In short, this book was not for me.
It wasn't written for me. It was written for another woman with a different life experience.
I think what we've seen recently in the news with Ferguson and the like has highlighted that while many of us are trying to live colorblind, we are instead blinded to other experiences. It's not out of anger, hatred or racism, but it is a flaw. In trying to see only people and treat everyone equally, we forget that everyone lives different experiences. Women walk to their cars holding their keys like a weapon. Black men are stopped for carrying a can of tea and Skittles. These are details of every day life for some people that the rest of us do not necessarily understand. A man doesn't know what it is to grow up in rape culture from a woman's perspective any more than I--a middle-class, cis white woman--can truly understand what it must be like to live the life of a black teen in middle America. Or a Latina immigrant. Or a transgender male. I can--and do--have sympathy. I can imagine or put myself in his/her shoes. But I can never truly know what that person's life is with cultural heritage and social conditioning.
That being the case, this particular book was not for me.
And I know that some of you are sitting there shaking your heads wondering how this can possibly be an epiphany for me. Well, I know that there are divisions. I know there are sects, schisms and denominations in the world. I know well that there are cultural/racial divides. But the one place I forget these things exist is in a library. It may be my naivete showing, but I think of libraries as huge, open areas where anyone can peruse any section at length and read any volume they choose. There isn't a room set aside for this class or this color or this creed. Books are accessible to all, in my mind, and I try to make my own writing equally open.
But, yeah... guess what, Jamie. This book isn't for you.
Coming to this conclusion throws the issue of diversity-in-fiction into even sharper relief, and adds new questions to the mix:
When writing The Other (be it People of Color, other genders or sexual preferences etc), where is the line between writing people--fully-generated characters--and ignoring their differences? For example, we don't want our strong female characters to be "men with tits" any more than we want to whitewash PoC. I think we can agree that white-cis-heteronormative male is not the default human setting (regardless of what popular media would show). However, we don't want to have token black characters or Sassy Gay Friends just for the sake of them being there, either. Personally, I write people. Some of my characters are black, some are white. Some are satyrs and gods. Some are bi, some are cis, some are Pan. To me, though, these are things that inform who they are without defining who they are. My characters have fears and desires that resonate on a human level.
However, is this also a problem? Does being colorblind turn into erasure? I'm thinking here of a discussion way back in high school about how shows like Cosby and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn't depict "blackness" but black people in white roles. The idea of "the Carlton" being the equivalent of a house slave. (Not my personal feeling or argument, but one I've heard often and take into consideration when developing characters.) That argument stuck with me, though, and it does play in the back of my head sometimes when I'm working on character development. Am I writing a fleshed out character who is black, or am I writing a Carlton?
Where is the line between writing a dialect and poor writing? It's been pointed out to me that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is considered to have its own rules. If that's the case, and we say that AAVE has its own set of standards, where is the line between "poor writing" and "following a different set of rules"? And along this same line, by deciding that AAVE is acceptable, are we allowing writers to "write down" to people? And to that point, is that good for anyone? It almost sounds like--in some cases--we would lower standards and turn out poorer product for certain audiences. I find that as insulting to both creator and audience as I do seeing men portrayed as having dull minds and uncontrollable libidos, or women used as plot devices.
Now, in my own writing, I look at dialect as something that individual characters have. If writing in first person, I will allow slang and dialect to a point, but not over do. In third person, the prose I keep in standard American English with all the grammatical trappings and spellings of MLA and Chicago Style manuals. If a character is Cajun, or African American, or has a thick Geordie accent, I let that come through in dialogue. Spellings and grammar be damned, if it's what that character would say, so be it. However, I don't let it leak into the prose. (I will admit that my lead character speaks in Internet English sometimes in her prose, but that's who she is.) So don't misunderstand; something like the works of Twain written in Southern American English is not going to be held to the same yardstick as Shakespeare.
Furthermore, if we posit that there are not only books that are "not for everyone" but entire genres written with one subset of humanity in mind, is this in some way segregating? Is it just as limiting as omission? We have black publishers, women's publishers, LGBTQ publishers...groups set aside to make sure all voices are heard. But at what point does that swing the pendulum to separate but equal?
These are more philosophical points, perhaps, and I know that they only scratch the surface of issues. These questions are not going to be answered in a day or Twitter post. But I'm keen to open a dialogue with you about them. I don't pretend to have The Answers to this. I have ideas, but I also will admit that in some matters I'm ignorant.
PS: And no, "Much Ado" is not up for debate. Tate/Tennat FOREVAH!!!