Tag Archives: publishing

Memory: A Trip From the Depths of the Closet

Happy Memorial Day, everyone!!! Hope you’re enjoying the three-day weekend.

I spent most of my weekend cleaning out my closet. I knew I had a lot crammed in there, but I didn’t realize how much stuff. There were things I’d completely forgotten about, like yearbooks…from elementary school. (Yikes! Time to get rid of those.)

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Wasn’t I adorable?

Two of the things I unburied reminded me how long I’ve been writing. They’re two books: one poetry and one essays from high school. These books were the published works of all the finalists and winners for the Northeastern United States high school poetry and essay contests.

I was a finalist in both, and I thought it’d be fun to share a sonnet written during my years of teenage angst.

Wondering

What lies beyond the stars high above us?

The glowing fire that consumes my soul lost,

bright burning fires expand my want and lust.

New life born from the bitter black is just?

Long lost places shrouded in mysteries deep,

long lost souls that I must keep hidden clear,

great nightmares of destruction in my sleep,

I see all this and wait to shed a tear.

Up floating high, no I’m afraid to fly,

wait, do we fly or remain down inside?

Inside is cold and dark and black, oh my!

Loved ones, are you happy or sad, I’ve cried.

I sit wondering for what holds the key;

one day long into the future I’ll see.

That poem was courtesy of ninth grade. Funny thing is that as I re-read that poem, I clearly pictured what I’d intended it to be about. Memory is fascinating: how you can remember so vividly something you’d forgotten about when a touchstone presents itself. My touchstone was the poetry book.

Do you have any long lost writing?

(Photo courtesy of myself.)

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Should Author Hopefuls Attend College?

 

Happy Monday, everyone!

6881499716_e8f46fa096_zSo I’m doing a slightly different post today. Over the weekend, I read a blog post talking about how college isn’t necessary. In fact, the post went as far to say that college was a waste of time. (The author of the post received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Both from prestigious institutions.)

Though the author provided an exhaustive list of careers options that don’t require a four-year college degree, most of those professions require experience. It seemed that the author expected to graduate with her master’s and immediately get a six-figure salary job, while she was still in her twenties and with very little to no experience in her chosen profession. (And she wasn’t too happy about having student loans.)

At one point, she talked about my choice of bachelor’s degree: a BA in Clinical Psychology, stating that you should only get a BA in Psychology, or any sub-set of psychology, if you’re going to get your PhD and become a professor or practicing psychologist. (She went on to state that if you go to a four-year college, you should choose your major based on the level of salary you can get.)

When I was working on my bachelor’s, I fully intended on earning my PhD, however life happened and my interests changed. Now, I work in pediatric allergy and immunology research, and am considering transferring into HR (all the while finishing my master’s in fiction writing). Perhaps, I’ll end up receiving a PhD…in editing. (Or, even better, become a published novelist, who makes enough money to live off her writing.) I’m not sure yet.

What I am sure of is that without college I wouldn’t have the job I do, and I would have missed out on a ton of life experiences.

If you’re more practical and salary-oriented, think of college like this: with so many people having college degrees, in order to stand out, receiving more advanced degrees is even more important. Having a bachelor’s doesn’t hold the weight it used to. Plus, college is a great way to network, and as I’ve gotten older – and I’m betting this is the same for you – I’ve realized how important social networking is. Most of the time you get a job or a promotion, or really any opportunity, because of the people you know. The smallest acquaintance can open doorways.

As for the author’s list of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, while it’s true that you can enter those professions either with an associate’s degree or without any degree, most people end up earning their degree or multiple degrees while working and gaining experience. That way they can get promoted or switch careers if they so desire.

I’m not saying everyone should go to college. College isn’t for everyone. There are some people in my family who attempted college and realized it wasn’t their path. I am arguing that college can be very important. College has the potential to help you both immediately and later in life by providing life experiences, broader opportunities, flexibility, and increased chances of promotion. It can also help you get your foot in the door. (I worked in a psychiatric hospital for a year, and while I was applying for the job, though the job requirements stated only a high school degree was required, I discovered that everyone who applied had at least their bachelor’s degree.)

I realize my master’s in fiction writing isn’t the optimal choice for making money, but I don’t regret the program. My writing’s improved, and more importantly, I found a sense of camaraderie and support (and some phenomenal critiques of my writing) that I was looking for. It also doesn’t hurt that I enjoy my master’s because I love to write, and I love being around people who are as passionate about writing as I am.

Sometimes, doing something you love beats out earning potential. After all, we only have one life. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide what’s important.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Tax Credits.)

“They” as a Singular Pronoun in Literature

5969704980_63ef52f94a_zRecently, I critiqued a few chapters of a young adult fantasy novel. The chapters were interesting, however I stumbled along what I thought to be a pronoun error. It wasn’t until I talked with the author that I realized he meant to use the plural “they” as a singular pronoun.

In traditional grammar, “they” is plural, and only plural. But “they” is also used as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun. The transgender community has used “they” for decades in an attempt to create non-gender biased language (the “he” or “she” pronouns).

I’ve since talked to many people about using “they” in the singular. Peoples’ reactions have been mixed, with most individuals being completely unaware of this movement (if you’re not part of the transgender community or don’t know someone who is, it’s not surprising you’d make the same mistake I did while critiquing this young man’s work).

Most people I talked to stated that it was fine to have a gender-neutral term, but that the transgender community should have come up with a new term. Using “they” is too confusing. People automatically assume that you’re talking about a group of people when you use “they” (or in the case of this young man’s story, I thought he was referring to conjoined twins – he wasn’t).

Multiple gender-neutral pronouns have been introduced throughout the years (“thon” and “ze” are a few). None have gained enough popularity to become part of everyday culture, which might explain why “they” is now being used.

However, in terms of writing, using “they” in the singular will make it more difficult to get published. In the editing world, you meet tons of people who are sticklers for traditional grammar. Also, since more people than not are unaware of “they” being using in as a non-gendered singular pronoun, it will appear that the author doesn’t know correct grammar.

“They” can still be used in the singular. But if it’s going to be done, then it must be made clear from the get-go what the author’s intentions are. Authors cannot expect readers to see what they intended. Unfortunately, people cannot read each other’s minds. If readers aren’t made aware of a plural pronoun being used in the singular, they will be confused and will likely not continuing reading.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Paul Townsend.)

Getting a Leg Up: Improving Your Chances of Getting Published

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I’m always searching for ways to improve my chances of getting published. No matter what avenue you pursue getting published is a challenge. Many times it seems more about luck than talent or perseverance, though without staying power the chances of getting published are reduced to zero.

I’ve joined a critique group, taken creative writing classes, read several creative writing books, analyzed commercially successful novels, and am now working toward a Masters in Fiction Writing. All of this done in an effort to polish my work into a piece of writing an agent and then an editor will take on.

wanted lit agentBut even as I do all of this I know my chances are still slim. And before I go off on a bunny trail and start talking about how many poorly written novels end up being bestsellers (readability is one of the most important aspects of successful commercial fiction, not literary finesse), I would love to know what others are doing to improve their chances of getting published.

Currently, there’s the debate of whether or not to pursue an MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) in creative writing. Thousands of people apply each year to get into this program, while each year thousands snub the program. Real fast: an MFA is a terminal graduate degree, usually taking two to three years to complete, that offers students the opportunity to focus on their writing and grow as writers. Students participate in traditional style classes and workshops, where they read and critique other students’ work and where their work is read and critiqued.

One of the best attributes of the MFA is the opportunity to have your work read and critiqued. The program provides you with a community of writers that will give honest and thorough feedback on your writing. Sometimes when you have family or friends read your work, they’ll want to be encouraging, and so will be afraid of truly critiquing your novel. When you’re in a workshop setting, that is not the case. You will get straightforward and truthful feedback, whether you want to hear it or not.

An MFA program also teaches you to read with a critical eye. As I’ve delved deeper into the literary world, I’ve noticed my reading style changing. Whereas I used to read solely for pleasure, now I automatically dissect technique and literary elements within any work of fiction I read. On one hand this is great because I come away with a better understanding of the work I just read. On the other hand, I don’t enjoy books as much as I used to because I can better pick out the inconsistencies, plot holes, flat characters, etc. Though in order to improve as a writer, you have to learn what to avoid when writing, and one of the best ways to learn that is to become a critical reader.

As with all programs, there are downsides to the MFA. One, there’s the cost. Very few programs cover expenses. Most will cost students anywhere from $30,000 to $65,000. That’s a lot of money for a degree that provides little opportunity in the professional world!

There are no guarantees that you’ll get published. You’ll spend thousands of dollars and years of your life focusing on improving your work, and nothing may come of it. One of the most common pieces of advice writers hear is to not quit their day job.

Also, an MFA tends to be literary. If your focus is commercial, it’ll be challenging to get accepted into such a program. The literary world tends to snub the commercial world, while the commercial world doesn’t care all that much for the literary one. As stated earlier, one of the biggest proponents of having a commercially successful novel is readability. I’ve read many novels where the characters are two-dimensional and stereotypical, where the plot is nothing new, and where the writing is average at best, but I’ve come away liking the books because of their readability. (Literary fiction usually doesn’t promote readability to the extent of well-crafted writing.)writer

In the end, what you choose to do to improve your writing will be based on personal preferences, what you can afford, and what other successful writers in your genre have done.

I’m happy with my decision to work toward a Masters in Fiction Writing part time (this is different from an MFA) because it gave me a group of writers and professors – all published – who provide me with feedback for my work and gave me a group of people who understand what it’s like to pursue writing seriously and who know how difficult it is to be successful in the literary world.

No matter what it’s important to read and read widely. Reading books in your genre is vital, but so is reading books outside your genre. Join a critique group, and in doing so be open to (1) putting in the work and (2) being open to criticism. (I recently learned of a critique group where everyone wants their work read and critiqued, but very few want to read and critique anyone else’s work. Reciprocate people!) And when your novel is finished, revise, revise, revise. If you’re not great at editing, consider hiring a professional editor (if you have the funds to do so). Attend writer’s conferences. Immerse yourself in the literary world.

A great article I’ve read recently about the MFA and whether it will give you a leg up in the publishing world is “Why Writers Love to Hate the M.F.A.” It’s worth a look.

How do you improve your chances of getting published? What’s your stance on the MFA?

(Photos courtesy of The BookBaby Blog, The Graduate21, i am CAM Jr!)

Quotes and Rejections: Surviving the World of Publishing

It’s safe to say writing is my passion. I like the act of writing, reading about writing, learning about writing, reading in general, both fiction and non-fiction, adult and young adult. Without writing my life would lack a vital component, but there are times when I don’t feel like writing or I feel like I’m not any good at it. Sometimes I’m tempted to throw down the pen and quit.

Writing isn’t easy. Shelling out an entire novel, revising, getting it critiqued, and revising a few more times is a long process. Then, having to write and revise the synopsis, blurb, and query letter all in the hopes of having an agent declare your book worthy of being published is another arduous step in the very long process of finding a place for your work among the shelves of other published novels.

Sometimes it all just feels futile, like you’re bashing your head repeatedly against a brick wall.

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When these moments of futility occur, I turn to quotes by published authors. It helps to know that I’m not alone in this process or feeling like I can’t find the right way to describe something…or that my work is a load of crap that should be burned.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite quotes:

“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
– Lawrence Block

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E. L. Doctorow

“You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.”
– Orson Scott Card

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”
– Ernest Hemingway

“It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So, in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn’t realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it makes on the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

“We writers are apt to forget that, as the gunsmoke fogs and the hero rides wildly to the rescue, although the background of this furious action is fixed indelibly in our own minds, it is not fixed in the mind of the reader. He won’t see or feel it unless you make him—bearing always in mind that you can’t stop the gunfight or the racing horse to do the job.”
– Gunnison Steele

“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
– Ray Bradbury

“Long patience and application saturated with your heart’s blood—you will either write or you will not—and the only way to find out whether you will or not is to try.”
– Jim Tully

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
– William Faulkner

“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
– Leslie Gordon Barnard

“Don’t be dismayed by the opinions of editors, or critics. They are only the traffic cops of the arts.”

– Gene Fowler

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
– Leigh Brackett

At times it may seem like published authors were immediately successful. Agents and publishing houses love advertising their wildly successful writers. However, most writers didn’t get an agent after they queried only five agents. They didn’t sell millions of copies of their debut novel. Most authors worked hard and diligently for years and received countless rejections before finding success.

Probably one of the best examples of this is J.K. Rowling. Though she got an agent quickly, she was rejected by almost every publishing house in the UK before her book sold. On top of that, she was told to get a day job because she wouldn’t make any money off of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

J.K. Rowling is now a billionaire and one of the most well-known authors in history.

Some other examples:

The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series received over a hundred rejections. I don’t know about you, but I owned several of those books when I was younger, and the ones I owned were only a few of over a million copies that sold.

C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” spent years getting rejected before it sold. Not only is this series famous, several movies have been made of it.

Dan Brown was told his “The Da Vinci Code” was too badly written to be published. Millions of sold copies and a movie later, he’s doing just fine.

H.G. Wells was told his “The War of the Worlds” was “An endless nightmare. I think the verdict would be ‘Oh don’t read that horrid book.’” It was published in 1898, is still in print, and was made into a movie both in 1953 and 2005.

The list goes on…

This isn’t so common nowadays with most literary agents preferring email query letters instead of paper, but authors will talk about how they received enough rejections to wallpaper a room or that they have drawers full of rejection letters. Yet, despite being told their work isn’t good enough to be published over and over again, they persisted, and enough they became published.

As Isaac Asimov says, “You must keep sending work out. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.”

Got any quotes on writing or rejection you turn to?

(Photo courtesy of Deviant Art.)

7 Things You Should Know About Agents

Agents may seem like an elite society, one that’s closed off to the general public, but they aren’t. They’re very busy and have individual interests, and will only select novels they enjoy and think will sell, but they are looking for that next novel. Here’s some things you should know:

  1. Complete manuscript. Make sure your manuscript is complete before you query an agent. If an agent requests a full manuscript, it’d be a major bummer to not have one ready. It’s rare for an agent to even request a full, so if and when it happens, be ready.
  2. Do your homework. Know what the agent represents before you send them your query. If they’re into comedy, don’t send them a dark and gritty story that has no comic relief. Also, try to keep up to date with what agents want. What they were looking for last year, they probably aren’t still looking for this year
  3. No fees. You don’t pay agents. They look at your submission, decide if they’re interested, and then choose to either represent you or not. They get a slice of your book deal. If an agent asks for a reading fee, don’t give it to them. In fact, don’t continue to contact them. They’re either a scam artist or are really bad at their job.
  4. Be professional. Your query needs to look good. No spelling errors. No grammatical issues. Make sure to include word count, genre, book title (in all caps), and a way to contact you. And don’t send an angry email to an agent when they reject you (and if you are like most people, you will get rejected). It’s not personal. The agent doesn’t know you, and they know very little about your book. They just weren’t interested in what they read.
  5. The Reminder. Sometimes you’ll send out your query and hear nothing from an agent. Most agents will give an estimated response time (i.e.- 6-8 weeks). If you don’t hear anything from them in that time frame, send a very concise and polite reminder email. (Waiting a week or two after the estimated response time doesn’t hurt either.) However, if you don’t hear anything after that, then it’s time to write the agent off.
  6. Social Media. In today’s world, social media is important, whether you want it to be or not. Agents are on social media, which is a good thing. You can follow them on Twitter, see what they up to in agent interviews, find out how to query them via their website, and find out if they’re going to be at any upcoming writing conferences. Also, get active on social media. It’s very unusual for an author to not be an active member of today’s social media scene.
  7. Agents aren’t required. You don’t need an agent to get published. You can self publish or go straight to a publishing house (though this is more for small publishers). Agents may make your life easier (I said may), but you won’t be ostracized for getting published without an agent.

All in all, the relationship between an agent and an author is give and take. If the relationship isn’t synergetic, then that agent may not be right for you.

Do Your Research. (It’ll save you a headache later on.)

When diving into the world of publishing, it’s important to know what you’re diving into. The publishing world is complex. Agents. Editors. Publicists. Publishing houses. Contracts. Publishers. And more.

And before all of that you’ve got to write your novel.

This is why doing research is vital. Research before, during, and after writing your book. Continue researching even after you’ve been published. Stay up to date on what’s happening.

There are three main types of research you should do when involved with the literary world:

  1. Your book. When you get an idea for a novel, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or not, you need to get the facts straight. As an avid reader, one of my biggest issues is reading a book where I know the author did absolutely no research. If half the teenage protagonist’s house gets burned down, the mother and police won’t just shrug their shoulders and leave the teenager alone (without having done any investigating), especially when she tells them that she has no idea why so-and-so tried to burn the house down with her in it. Not to mention having no idea what a normal high school day is like. (Please, if you’re writing YA and have a high school in your novel, know what the typical teenage schedule is like. Even if you’re writing fantasy and school is only a small portion of it, teachers will not make fun of a teenage girl when she comes up and tells them that a guy is making her very uncomfortable.)
  2. Your competition. Know the books that are similar to yours, or at least share the same category. You want to know why certain books were successful and why others weren’t. More importantly, you want to be able to communicate to agents and editors why your book will succeed despite what’s already published.
  3. Agents and Editors. The Internet has made access to information much easier. It’s also allowed for an influx of information that can be overwhelming. However, you want to know which agents and editors would be interested in your novel. If your book is an adult fantasy, you don’t want to waste your time querying an agent who only represents YA contemporary. You can also find information on when certain agents and editors will be at writing conferences. Go to those conferences. Meet those agents and editors. Give them a face and a name to remember. (In a good way only. If they remember you as the creepy stalker, who trailed them for the entire conference without saying a word, they will most likely not represent you.)

Creating lists of agents and editors, and documents for your book research and on your competition will help you to keep everything organized.

Bottom line: By doing thorough research, you will save yourself time and a headache. Plus, you’ll know what you’re talking about when you do get that call from an agent.

What kind of research do you do?