Friday, June 24, 2011

Writer vs. Author - What's the Diff?

So I've been talking with a friend on twitter about the difference between a writer and an author.  It started out as a simple enough tip: he suggested that I should take "aspiring" out of my profile, because if I write, then I'm a writer.  I disagree.

Part of it goes back to what I said in this post about not being able to call myself a writer until I've finished the novel, and not being able to call myself an author until I'm published. But I realize now, that in my head, they're two different titles.  It's like being called Staff versus Manager, or an Analyst versus Accountant.  It's not necessarily hierarchical, and maybe it's pigeonholing, but to me they're entirely different animals (though not mutually exclusive).

In my opinion, being a writer means that you sit down and write pretty much every day.  A writer may or may not share that work, but that's not the point.  A writer actively writes, and that's a good thing, and a goal in and of itself.  You can be a writer regardless of the style of writing (it could be poetry, news articles, corporate brochures, or advertisements), and you don't have to make money doing it.  It could be hobby or something you do sitting on a train (which is how I got started).  The point is the writing, and going back to my old post again, finishing what you start, even if you don't share it.

An author, however, is someone who writes book-length work and shares that work broadly, generally with the intent to earn money on it, even if it doesn't pay all of the bills.  I don't think a copywriter is an author, but both are writers.  Similarly, I wouldn't call a journalist an author, but they write too.  To me it's a title, and one that's earned through publication, be it traditional or self-publishing. 

I am a writer, but I aspire to be an author.  It's the next step in my writing career, and that's precisely how I look at my writing: as a career.  I enjoy it immensely, and there's a strong possibility that I'll never get rich or famous from it, but being an author is still a career goal.

I don't want to demean anyone who calls themselves purely a writer.  Being a writer is a self-defining thing, and something to be admired.  I just don't think that the two terms are synonymous.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Slowly but Surely, the Process Moves Forward

It's been a little while since I posted, so I think it's time to give an update on my progress, and the process I went through to get here.

2010 and Prior -Wrote the "Shitty First Draft" (SFD)
The SFD took me a long time, about two years.  Of course, I was/am a new writer, still figuring everything out (I'd only seriously been writing for about a year prior to starting 'Pack'.)  About six months (and 35,000 words) into the first version, I decided to rewrite everything.  The premise was the same, but the cast and initial setup was completely different.  The only character I kept was my protagonist, Laila.  Even then, I didn't really know what I was doing, and kept going back and changing things around, so I chalk up most of the two years to newbie mistakes and the learning curve.  The next one won't take nearly so long.  I hope.  :-)

January - SFD Complete
My first draft was not good.  The basic concept was written, the characters were more-or-less developed, and the overall content was laid out, but it wasn't anywhere close to being published.  Which was fine.  It's accepted wisdom that the first draft should be shitty.  The author needs to write the first draft as fast and as creatively as possible, without letting the internal critic slow the process down.  The critic is allowed out to play during the editing process, and that's when you start to have a publishable story.

February/March - Prepared for Beta Readers
This was the first round of edits, and to be fair, I really went through the manuscript two or three times before I sent it out to anyone to read in full.  (I'd asked for some feedback on certain sections, but ultimately I decided it wasn't worthwhile to share the novel in bits and pieces.)  Even after the edits, the manuscript wasn't perfect.  I knew it wasn't ready to go out into the world, but I wasn't able to see what needed to change.  Luckily, that's what beta readers are for.

April - Break month.
I sent the complete manuscript to several people to read and give me feedback (my beta readers).  These were people that I trusted to give honest, constructive criticism, and they did a great job for me.  They all found aspects of the story that they liked, as well as things that needed to be fixed or changed to improve the clarity and cohesiveness of the story.  In particular, I found out I'm not so good at the description.  Which is great (okay, not great that I suck at providing enough setting and description, but great that now I know I suck at it, so I can pay more attention to it in the future, and fix my problems).

Meanwhile I took a break from 'Pack'.  I worked on other things, most time-consuming of which was my day job (it was my busy season). But more importantly, I needed to put some distance between the manuscript and me.  In order to see the flaws, I had to be able to read with fresh eyes, and a new perspective.  I couldn't be so wrapped up in the story that I took all of the criticism personally.  

May - Paper Review
First, I read through an unedited version of the manuscript, making my own edits on paper.  I called this the Master Copy.  Then I read through each beta reader's comments on their version of the paper copy, adding the changes and comments I agreed with to the Master Copy.  Each beta got their own color of pen in the Master as well, so I could keep track of who said what.  Have I mentioned before that I'm a bit of a Type A nerd?  Anyway, I managed to get all of that done for all five copies of the manuscript, despite the fact that I was still swamped at work and busy with personal things on the weekends. 

June (forecasted) - Finish Major Rewrites
My goal this month is to finish incorporating the written edits into the digital file, so that I have a completed work of fiction by July 1.  I think it's doable, but I will have to knuckle down and work hard to get there.  I need to add a couple of scenes, revise the ending, and generally make a lot of changes.  But I really think it's coming along.  Once the major rewrites are done, I'm going to send it to a couple more people to read, to see if it's (finally) ready to go out the door.

In the end, this has been a long and involved process.  Now that I've gone through it (or will have gone through it soon) I'll do better on the next novel.  I now know where I tend to get stuck, and what steps I'll have to go through to get it all finished.  Plus, I'm a much better writer now than I was when I started, so the SFD should go faster next time.  

I want to emphasize, however, that the writing process takes as long as it needs to take.  I'm not going to rush through everything and send a piece of crap out into the world.  If I need to go through another round of edits on 'Pack' to make the story sparkle, I will.  Good things are worth waiting (and working) for.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Irresistably Sweet Blog Award

This morning, I woke to find a comment on my blog from Catherine Pawsey, an aspiring paranormal romance writer blogging at The Diary of a Trainee Paranormal Romance Writer.  She awarded my blog the Irresistably Sweet Award!

Thank you Catherine!!

It's wonderful to know that my blog is being read and enjoyed by people outside my immediate circle of friends and family.  Despite my Google Analytics stats (which really aren't very good, but do show that people are visiting the site) I always wonder if anyone cares what I put up here.  I hope so!  But in the end, Ranting, Raving, Writing is a means for me to share my thoughts and experiences.  I want people to read, learn, and participate, but that's the joy of the internet: people can easily ignore the idiot standing on the soapbox if they're not interested!

In any case, the rules of this award are as follows:
  1. Thank and link to the person that nominated you. 
  2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
  3. Pass the award to 15 of your blogging buddies.
  4. Notify the recipients. 
I realize this is a bit like a chain letter, but so what?  Maybe you all will learn a bit more about me, and some of you might actually find that interesting!

My seven facts:
  1. I love to garden, and this year have planted a ton of veggies.  So far, they're all doing really well, but only the cherry tomatoes have started to fruit.
  2. I've cut out my coffee addiction, at most drinking one latte a week (it was a daily or even twice daily habit).
  3. Instead of coffee, I now drink herbal tea most mornings.  I especially like chamomile and lemon teas, with a bit of honey to sweeten them up.
  4. I love wine.  A good sauvignon blanc on a warm evening, or a fantastic cab with a prime steak is divine.  Seriously, drink of the gods.  :-)
  5. I've had laser eye surgery, but my vision still isn't perfect.  At least I don't run into walls anymore when I'm not wearing glasses or contacts.
  6. I have a dog, named Foster, that is currently at "summer camp" in Colorado (spending time with my mom).
  7. I would love to own chickens.  My city allows them, but right now I just don't have the time to care for them properly and Foster might try to eat them (he's an 80 pound husky mix).
So that's it.  I hope you learned a little more about me, and enjoyed reading this post.  Comments and questions are always welcome! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Blog Design

For those of you who visit the site directly, this should be pretty obvious, but for those that read my blog in Google Reader or another application, click on the link to check out the new blog design.  I'll wait.

So what do you think?  I tried to make the theme fit Pack a little bit better, though I'll admit, I still used Blogger's design templates.

Pack takes place in the Colorado mountains, in the summertime, so I wanted a background that was at least reminiscent of the woods and mountains.  This was the best Blogger had to offer in that regard, but the trees aren't quite right, I know.  Someday, when I have more time, I'll put a real Colorado background up there so that it's accurate.

The layout is different too, with the gadgets on the right instead of the left.  I thought that would make it a little cleaner and easier to read.  I'm not sure that it makes much difference, but maybe this is more blog standard?  I like it anyway.

I do have one question though...if I were to break the posts in the middle, so that you have to click a link to go to the specific post page rather than being able to read three entire posts on the main page, would you be irritated?  I'm wishy-washy on the idea:

  1. Negative Reader Irritation: Sometimes people don't like to click the link to keep reading.  This is especially true, I think, of anyone reading my posts in Google Reader or another application, instead of directly on my blog page.  I don't want to do anything that would keep readers away from the content.
  2. Positive Stat Tracking: I'm a nerd, and I like numbers.  I have an application on the blog that lets me track the visits to each page.  Putting in a break would give me better data on the popular posts and the actual number of readers interested in the content.
What do you think?  Would a break detract from the reading experience?  Or, is it worth it if I can get better data about the popular posts?  Am I just a big nerd and the data isn't that important anyway, since I'm a fiction writer?

Comments and suggestions are welcome!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Favorite lines from 'Pack'

I'm back at it, working on the revisions to Pack based on my beta reader feedback.  So far, I'm really pleased with what everyone has said, and while there's still a ton of work to do (it seems never-ending) I think I'm at least on the right track.

But today, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorite lines from the story.  Enjoy!

We kept up the pace for a couple hours, finally stopping for a break when my stomach growled so loudly that even Erik heard it.

"Hungry?" he asked.

"No, I think I'll wait to see if my stomach can eat my spine."


Teeth the size of paring knives glinted in a vicious snarl.


"No," I said firmly, trying to imagine the wolves were just misbehaving Labradors.


I watched as the first of the haggard looking buildings passed my window.  Faded and peeling red paint graced its walls, while slightly crooked steps led up to the sagging front porch.  The windows were clean though, and well-dressed mannequins advertised modern clothing inside.  The next building was equally dilapidated, and the sign over the door simply read Bar.


"How's the training going?" Sarah asked, as I gracelessly threw myself into a chair.

"I'm definitely going to be sore tomorrow, probably sore tonight, and maybe even sore before lunch is over," I replied.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So...I finally joined Twitter.

I did it.  I joined Twitter.  I had been resistant because I didn't really see the point.  140 characters?  Who cares?  But as an author, I think I finally see the reason for it.

First off, basically everyone says that you should be on both Facebook and Twitter to effectively connect to an audience.  As an author, especially a potential independent author, I need to make as many connections as possible, so I think it's about time I gave it a try.  Plus, I felt like I was missing out by not meeting new people effectively on Facebook. With a new platform, I hope to reach new people and start really connecting with an audience for my books.  (Which is not to say that I don't value my Facebook friends as an audience, I just want to keep growing that audience.)

I've decided to set up slightly different rules for Twitter versus Facebook.  On Facebook, I tend to make random posts about whatever, from a link to a photojournalist's essay on War Dogs (totally awesome), to my blog posts, to a complaint that I'm tired.  But I want to try to limit my Twitter account to post mostly about books, writing, and publishing.  I'm sure the occasional unrelated War Dog link might find its way over there, but they should be few and far between.  :-)

So if you'd like to follow me on Twitter, you can find me as MeganPHaskell.  I hope to see you over there!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Jane Friedman, famed There Are No Rules blogger and media & networking expert, has had several posts recently about talent vs. determination.  She argues that determination is more meaningful than talent, not because talent is unnecessary, but because having talent doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a great success, while determination and focus will propel you forward.

"I suspect that a few of my most talented students aren't putting in the effort required to succeed. They've succumbed to the demons of ambivalence and apathy."

That's the funny thing about talent: if it comes too easily, sometimes you neglect it, and won't pursue that activity.  It's too easy.  But if you want to succeed at that task, if you're truly passionate about the activity, you'll do whatever it takes to get there.  That's not the same as being talented.

In a separate post on her personal blog, Jane talks about the 3 Boring Elements of Success: 1) Extraordinary Focus, 2) Dedication and Consistency, and 3) Industry Awareness.  However, taking that a step further, all three of these elements come with passion for what you're doing, obsession with your chosen vocation.

If you are passionate about your job, it will be easy to find the focus and dedication to perform each and every day.  You might need a break now and again, but the itch will grow and you'll be back to it before you even realize it.  Similarly, if you love your career, you'll want to know what's going on in the industry and what trends are popping up, so that you can find your own best way of navigating that world.  You'll want to know every little detail, not because it's a required part of your work day, but because you're fascinated by the changes, events, or connections around you.

Having great talent isn't really necessary if you're willing to put in the work*.  Having great passion is required.  With that passion, the work will come easier, the 10,000 hours of practice won't be forced.  And eventually, you'll demonstrate the talent that may have appeared to be lacking in the beginning.  As Justine Musk, of Tribal Writer, says:

"Common wisdom has it that we’re passionate about the things we’re naturally good it, but it’s possible that it’s the other way around: we become “naturally” good at the things we’re truly passionate – and obsessive – about."

* Caveat: it's probably good to have some basic aptitude, but you don't need to be an idiot savant.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It has been just over one week since I sent out the Beta Manuscript.  I promised myself that I would not edit Pack while the beta readers are working.  To that end, I've given myself one month away.  Here's my reasoning:
  1. Respect for the readers: if I'm fiddling with the manuscript, then they're not reading the latest version, and their time is wasted.  
  2. Fresh eyes: giving myself some time away will let me go back and read with renewed vision.  I'll be able to see the typos and errors better, and gain a new perspective on the story.
  3. Distance: when reader input comes back, I'll have a bit of distance from the project.  I won't be as wrapped up in crafting the story, so I'll be able to consider their feedback with an open mind, and not take things personally. 
Unfortunately, taking time off is proving a much more difficult task than anticipated.  I can't stop thinking about it!  Even though I'm not reading the words on the page, I'm still revising things in my head and second guessing certain decisions I made along the way. 

"Is that scene really necessary?  Maybe I should have taken it out before sending to the beta readers." 


"That transition was too fast, there wasn't enough time between action A and response B." 

I will not go back to edit.  I will not go back and revise. 

The thing is, I was really happy with it when I sent Pack off to be read.  I felt pretty good about it.  Is it perfect?  No, but I thought it was as close as I could get on my own without new insight.  I still think that's true.  Additional edits might have just been changes, and not necessarily for the better.  I need the time away and I need the feedback.  So I will wait, as frustrating as that may seem sometimes!

I'm trying to distract myself with other related projects.  I'm seriously researching the publishing options, reading blogs and books on all aspects of the subject.  I'm revising a short story set in the same world as Pack but 60 years prior.  I'm writing the content for my website and bugging my husband to help me design it.  I'm thinking about the next book and starting on a very rough outline.

All in all, this is still going to be a productive month, but I can't wait to hear what the readers think and get back to finishing Pack!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Second Sight by Sherry Ficklin

I don't give book reviews very often, but this one definitely deserves a mention.

Sherry Ficklin is the author of The Gods of Fate series, a young adult fantasy trilogy, following Grace Archer.  I read the first book in the series, Foresight, last August, and loved it.  So I was excited to read Second Sight as soon as it came out last week.  I'll try to avoid giving too many spoilers...

Grace Archer is the daughter of Pandora and Prometheus, friend to the fey, and demi-goddess in her own right.  In Foresight, Grace learns of her heritage and discovers her powers as a demi-goddess, as she fights to protect her mother's urn.  Along the way she falls in love with Chris, one of her guardians and a fey warrior.  Unfortunately, he's killed during the big battle scene (sorry...trying to avoid spoilers here...but I can't avoid them all...) but she brings him back to life and they live happily ever after...

...For awhile in Faerie.  This is where book two, Second Sight, begins.

By saving Chris and bringing him back to life, Grace stole his soul from Hades.  He was safe in Faerie, but as soon as they leave, Hades returns to collect the missing soul and take Chris to the Underworld.  Grace is devastated.  What choice does she have but to bribe Charon, barter with Hades, and bring Chris home?   Of course, it's all a lot more complicated than that, and Grace is forced to make decisions that change everyone's lives, while narrowly avoiding destroying her own.  Friends and relatives -- people she should be able to trust -- want to use and control her (and her growing powers), and she must navigate the traps and schemes to become the woman she wants to be. 

Overall, I loved Second Sight as much as I loved Foresight.  Sherry Ficklin does a fantastic job bringing together modern, contemporary fantasy with Greek/Roman mythology.  Though the book is being marketed as YA, the complexity of the story, and the maturity of the lead character kept me entertained and turning the pages.  In fact, I felt it was a much more mature novel than some other YA stories I've read.

I highly recommend picking up this series.  But you have to read Foresight first.  Second Sight is equally as good, but it's not truly a stand-alone novel.  Start with Foresight, read them both, and you won't be disappointed. 

(P.S. The final installment of The Gods of Fate trilogy, Hindsight, is slated to be released early next year.  I can't wait to read the completion of the saga!)

Final Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, April 1, 2011

Quick Update

I apologize for missing my posting earlier this week.  Things have been a little crazy around here.  So I'm just going to give a quick update on where I'm at.

I finished a second (or is it third?) review of the manuscript, tightened up some plot points and rewrote the ending.  The ending still needs some work, but I'll get back to that.

I've decided I need to write-out a character from the original draft.  She felt like a 2D stereotype and didn't add much to the story.  In fact, she wasn't physically in most of the story, usually appearing only through phone conversations.  I figured out a way to replace her, so I'm going to do it.  But that means a lot of revision, and one more pass on the manuscript before Beta. 

The new ending also beefed up another character for me, and added a new dimension to the story that I have to scatter throughout the manuscript.  I think it will be much, much better this way.

All of these changes have really cut down the size of the manuscript.  I'm down to about 60,000 words, which is a little short for a novel.  If I continue to slice and dice, it could go even lower than that (and might be better for it).  I'm considering calling it a novella now instead of a novel.  There are issues with that, of course, including that novella's are often difficult to sell through Traditional Publishing, but I'm thinking I don't want to go that route...much to ponder before fully making that decision, but I'm thinking about it.

I should have a Beta Manuscript by the end of the weekend.  My Beta Readers are lined up and ready to go.  Then it will be a month-long "break" from the novella.  I have a couple of story ideas that I'm going to start working on during the "break" to see if anything sticks.  I also have a short that I want to clean up and post for free online.  And I'm going to put up my own website soon too, so you can look forward to that.

Well, so much for a "quick" update.  There really is a lot going on!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beta Readers

I've mentioned this a few times over my last few posts, but my manuscript is nearly ready to be reviewed by beta readers.  If all continues on current trajectory, I will have a "beta-ready" draft by April 3rd.  As I prepare to send this to a few readers, I thought I'd explain the beta process in a little more detail, particularly with regard to my own ideas and expectations. 

Caveat: This is my first time sending a novel out for beta-review, so ideas and processes may change over time.  Not every writer approaches their review in the same way, and this might not even be the best way, but it makes sense to me right now. 

What is a beta reader?
A beta reader is someone who is willing to read a complete, but as-yet unpublished manuscript and provide feedback to the author (me).  Here's the Wikipedia definition.  The beta should provide constructive criticism -- honest, useful, and insightful feedback -- on the work in question. 

From my perspective (and I imagine every author would feel approximately the same), it's not useful to say that you don't like me or you hate the book.  I need to know why you hate the book.  I need to know if and where plot holes exist.  I need to know if you got bored, or where there's not enough description.  I also need to know what you liked, and if you were excited, engaged, or couldn't put it down. 

What I don't need is a line-by-line copy-edit (although if you happen to see something, especially if it seems to be a recurring problem, go ahead and let me know so I can fix it). 

What are the expectations?
I think this is probably different for every author, but I'm going to request the following of my beta readers...

1. Deadline:  
We all have time constraints and life issues, but once it's out there, I'm going to be sitting on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, tearing my hair out, to find out what you think.  So...I will give you a month to read it and send back your feedback.  I'm not going to do any work on the manuscript after I send it out, so this will also give me some time away from it to have a fresh perspective when I'm reading through the comments.

2. No Sharing:  
Do not share the novel with anyone else at this point.  Not your mom, not your best friend, not your next door neighbor.  It's a work in progress, and I know there will be additional revisions after I get everyone's feedback.  If you like the story, FANTASTIC!  Tell everyone how great it is and then tell them that some day, once it's finished and published, they'll be able to buy it.  You can even tell them the premise of the story and why you liked it.  But please do not share the actual novel until it's published.  If I find out you've passed it along to someone else, I will hunt you down, okay, that's not true, but I'll be really upset.

Along with the manuscript, I'm going to send out a simple editing guide to use while reading the novel.  Essentially, I would like the beta readers to mark up the margins with their comments, using a legend of sorts to organize their thoughts.  For example, if a passage is boring, I want you to put a big "B" in the margin and explain in a few words why you're bored.  Like, "B - too much walking through the woods."  Or if a section is really exciting, it might be "E - LOVE IT!".

4. Be critical, but don't be mean: 
'Nuff said.

What can beta readers expect in return?
My undying gratitude.  And maybe a case of beer or a bottle of wine, your choice.

Okay, but seriously, I am trying to turn this into a career, so I will do my best to act professionally in my response to comments.  I will endeavor to not take any feedback personally, and I will not argue with your impressions of the book.  In fact, unless there's a comment that I truly don't understand, I promise to not bother you about it at all, unless you bring it up in conversation or something, and even then I promise to not get upset. 

Well, I'll do my best. 

It's a hard thing, putting your work out there for other people to tear apart.  But I really do want the criticism, because I need to learn and improve my writing.  I don't want people to coddle me and tell me that "it's just so wonderful."  That's why moms are not going to be allowed to read it (sorry Moms - you'll get to read it when it's finished).  Of course, I don't want to be crying over the darn thing either.

For those of you who are my beta readers -- and you should know who you are, but if not, you'll find out soon -- this is your chance to bow out.  If you don't think you can make the timeline, or don't want to put up with my Type A personality BS, you don't have to be a reader for me.  I won't get mad.  Believe me, I realize that it's going to be a bit of work, and we all have jobs, hobbies, and other commitments.  I will 100% completely understand. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

DropBox - a Lifesaving (okay, Writing-saving) Productivity Tool

It seems that I like posting on Tuesdays.  This was unintentional, but I guess routine will sometimes sneak up on you!


Today is March 15, which means I only have a couple more weeks before my self-imposed deadline.  Unfortunately, things are progressing much slower than I had hoped.  In part, that's my fault, because last week was not very productive for writing.  This happened for a number of reasons, but suffice to say, I let myself get distracted. 

This week, I'm trying to keep my butt in my chair as much as possible.  Luckily, I've been introduced to a new tool that will aid my progress.  It's called DropBox, and it's a super easy way to transfer files between computers.  All you have to do is save your file to the DropBox folder on your desktop and it will appear on every other computer that you've installed DropBox.  So now I don't have to go through the time-consuming process of saving the files to a flash drive and transferring them manually, or opening up Google Docs on a webpage to download the file.  It's already there!  Best of all, it's FREE!

I'll be working hard this week, and I still intend to make my deadline, come hell or high water.  I WILL have a beta-ready draft by the end of the month! 


On an unrelated side note, some of you may know that I have a Japanese exchange sister, Sachika.  In the aftermath of the earthquake, we were able to contact her.  She and her family are safe and sound, but the devastation has been brutal.  If you are interested in financially supporting the relief efforts, and want to make sure that 100% of your donation is being used directly in those efforts, you might consider donating to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  They have pledged that "your gifts...designated for the Pacific Earthquake and Tsunami will be used entirely (100%) in response to this disaster."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Work Hard and Finish What You Start

About a week ago, maybe more, I had a conversation with a good friend about my book.  She's read a bit of it and helped me through some tough choices that I've had to make on the early rewrites.  We were talking about the amount of time I've spent working on the novel, and how I've learned so much from this process.  Given today's knowledge, if I could start all over, I would do things very differently, though I don't think I can face starting over completely on this story.

She had one comment that really struck me during this conversation, and has stayed with me ever since:

"Don't stay married to the novel, just to justify your efforts." 

On first glance, that might seem like a terrible thing to say, but it wasn't, and I didn't take it that way.  Rather, she was forcing me to consider why I'm writing, and what it is I'm trying to accomplish.  She was helping me assess the work in progress.

Now I'm going to say up front that I'm not going to set the novel aside until I have a completed manuscript.  I have to finish the story.  I tried to explain why during the conversation with my friend, but I don't think I was very eloquent about it. 

Luckily, there's someone else out there that's been in the business much longer and is better equipped to speak on the subject.

David Coe is starting a new series of posts on Magical Words called "Back to Basics".  Part 1: Be a Writer posted on Monday.  Of the many good pieces of advice in that post, there was one that particularly struck a chord, because of this past conversation. 

6. Keep Moving Forward:  Ask Faith, and she will tell you that you are not a writer until you finish something — a story, a novel, something.  And she’s right.  I know so many aspiring writers who reach that tough section in the writing process and either retreat into rewrites or give up and start something new.  Revisions are important; the new-shiny is a great part of writing.  But writers finish what they start, and you need to keep moving forward with your Work In Progress.  Writing isn’t easy; part of the process is fighting through the stubborn sections of a work, finding that solution to a nagging plot problem.  Keep moving forward.  Finish what you start.

This brilliantly explains why I can't just stop working.  I can't call myself a writer until I've finished an entire work.  I've written a few short stories, sure, but they were intended to be writing exercises, not serious projects.  The novel is my first attempt to create something that's worth publishing.  The act of "finishing" the project will prove that I can, in fact, write a novel.  If it's not good enough this time, maybe the next one will be, but I can do it. 

Far too many people decide that their goals are just too hard.  They don't want to put in the time, effort, energy, money, or make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their goals.  They're afraid of failure.  And maybe they're even afraid of success.  So they quit mid-stream and go back to something that, at least on the surface, seems easier.

Life takes work.  Dreams take work.  There's no fairy godmother that's going to wave her magic wand and poof, you're a princess.  It doesn't work that way.  You pick a path, choose your goal, start at the bottom and work your way to success.  I don't care if you want to be a farmer or an astronaut, a ballerina or a WWF wrestler, you have to work to your success.  What's that old adage?  Anything that's worth doing is difficult (or something like that).

I want to be a writer.  I've spent nearly two years working on this novel, but I'm not yet a writer.  I will finish the novel, and then, only then, can I call myself a writer. 

Ultimately, I want to be an author.  If this novel isn't good enough for publication, then I'll start on the next project.  I will finish that one.  I may have to go through the process two or three more times, but eventually I will be published and then, only then, can I call myself an author.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Today is March 1st

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.  March 1 follows February 28.  Not a complex idea, unless it's leap year, and then March 1 follows February 29.  Luckily it's not leap year.  And yet, somehow, March has taken me by surprise.  There's a lot wrapped up in this month.

This is the last month of work before my self-imposed deadline to have a complete manuscript for beta readers.

I have 4 weekends of solid writing left before that deadline (5 if I cheat just a little) and one of them will be spent traveling.  With the exception of time on the plane, I probably won't get a whole lot accomplished over the weekend away.

There are four Fridays before it all hits the fan at the day-job: a major workload lands on my desk, my boss goes on paternity leave, and I'm managing a new staff person.  (This was a big part of why I set my manuscript deadline for the end of March; April will be stressful and I won't get much writing done).

March is a writing month.  I have to get it done, there's just no alternative.  The pressure is invigorating, as it forces me to pull my thoughts (and myself) together.  I'm looking forward to finishing the manuscript and finding out whether people like it, even though I guarantee the end result will be more work.  After all, what's the point of having beta readers, if not to incorporate their feedback?  But I'm hopeful that the last year and a half spent writing and re-writing this particular novel won't be left gathering dust on the virtual shelf.

Okay, that's enough musing on the date.  Time to get to work!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

You know you're a writer when...

...bathroom signs drive you bananas!

There's a sign in our office bathroom that drives me nuts every time I go in there.  It's stupid, and not a huge deal, but I read it every day, multiple times a day, and I can't stand it any longer. 

Please be considerate of your fellow employees and leave the stall area clean.

Everyone can help by making sure you utilize the provided seat covers as well as thoroughly wrapping feminine products and disposing of them properly in the container.

Thank you.

On first glance, this might not seem so bad.  But look closer.  The tenses don't really agree in the second sentence, and it's awkward at best.  I wish there was someone I could complain to, but in an organization that spans the country and employs more than 20,000 people, who knows who wrote it.  I'm sure it's part of some toolkit that was provided to our operations personnel on a national basis.  Luckily, I have people I can rant to!

So, here's my revision:

Please be considerate of your fellow employees and leave the stall area clean.

Everyone can help by using the provided seat covers, thoroughly wrapping feminine products, and disposing of them properly in the container.

Thank you.

Or another version:

Please be considerate of your fellow employees and leave the stall area clean.

Please use the provided seat covers, thoroughly wrap feminine products and dispose of them properly in the container.

Thank you.

Or a funny version:

People work here besides you.  Don't be gross and mess the place up. 

 Anyone else have a version they'd like to share?

Friday, February 11, 2011

This is a long one today, but I'm feeling prolific. 

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about my goals for my writing career.  The most immediate goal is, of course, to finish writing the novel and perfect it to what I consider a publishable quality.  I’ve been making significant progress on this one, and I think I’m still on track to meet my self-imposed deadline of the end of March.  But once that’s done, I need to decide where I want to go, and what I want to do with it.

I’ve been doing a lot of research into the publishing industry, trying to decide what’s going to be best for my own growth and development, and what makes the most sense in the digital age.  Last summer, I wrote a little about the changes occurring in publishing.  Since that time, I’ve read a lot more on the subject, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far.

Traditional Publishing
When most people think of books, they think of the big publishing houses.  Traditional publishing essentially works like this.

  1. Write the Novel: Author locks herself away in a remote cabin somewhere and writes a novel.
  2. Get an Agent: Once complete, Author sends out query letters to agents, hoping to find someone to represent the novel and take it to the publishers.  (Query letters include information about the author, a one-paragraph description of the novel, and some other basic information.)  Based on the query letter, the agent will decide if they want to request pages and find out more.  Most agents request anywhere from 1 - 50 pages initially.  If they still like it, they'll ask for a full manuscript.  If they still like it after that, they'll offer representation.  Finding an agent can take months, even years, and perhaps dozens of queries.
  3. Get a Publisher: Agent takes the manuscript and shops it around to the publishers.  Why the middle-man?  Publishers usually won't look at 'unsolicited' manuscripts submitted directly by the unknown author.  Why?  Because most of those manuscripts aren't ready for publication and the agent acts as a first screening process.  Plus the agent will know which publishing houses are looking for new authors, represent the genre or similar works, and they have the right connections to get the manuscript in front of the right people.  This process again can take several months or even years.  When Publisher makes an offer, Agent reviews the contract and negotiates the deal for Author, so that Author can, for the most part, continue to write uninterrupted.
  4. Publish Books: Once a contract is signed with Publisher, Publisher takes control of the manuscript.  They'll have an editor go through and make additional revisions.  They take care of the cover art, formatting, and printing of the manuscript.  They develop a marketing plan and set up the distribution networks to get the book in stores, on shelves, and nowadays, online.  For the most part, they take care of everything for Author, allowing Author to focus on writing.  By the time the first novel is launched, the second novel should be finished and in production.  Meanwhile, Agent is making sure that the money is taken care of, the accounting is accurate, and everyone is being paid their appropriate share.
Clearly, Traditional Publishing takes a long time and requires jumping through a lot of hoops.  There are some nice benefits to it, though.  Number one, only your best work can make it through that grueling process.  It also allows the writer to do what they do best -- write.  But in this scenario, Author loses a lot of control, and a lot of the profit as well.  On top of that, in today's market, Authors are being asked to do most of their own marketing themselves, and Agents/Editors often want to see that Author has an audience before the book is published.

Unless the manuscript is going to sit in a desk-drawer somewhere and crumble into dust, the alternative to Traditional Publishing is to self-publish.  There's a certain stigma to self-publishing, in part because a large majority of self-published books aren't very well written, and in part because it sort of seems like cheating.  Plus, it's hard to sell books as a self-published author because you don't have the connections and distribution networks like the big guys.  In the past, I think a lot of people’s approach self-publishing like this:
  1. Write the Novel: Author locks herself away in a remote cabin somewhere and writes a novel
  2. Publish Books:  Author finished the novel, and decides to skip the whole Traditional Publishing thing.  She doesn't worry about getting it edited or reviewed, except maybe by Family Member A; it's clearly perfect.  E-Publishing is the new-hotness, so Author, maybe with the help of a technical person, publishes the book as a Kindle or Nook (name your favorite e-reading format).  Yay!  It's published!
Okay, so I'm being a little snarky, but this does seem to be the way many authors have approached self-publishing.  Can't get it published traditionally?  No worries.  Send it out into the ether and it will prove them all wrong.  Instant gratification.

But there is a better way to approach Self-Publishing, that can be worthwhile and still produce a high-quality novel.  It goes like this:
  1. Write the Novel: Author writes a novel, but not in isolation, instead connecting with other writers and readers and developing relationships with people interested in similar topics.  They’re called Friends and Colleagues
  2. Get Feedback:  Author asks for feedback from Friends and Colleagues, perhaps participating in a critique group.  Ideally, the group of readers should be diverse, including one or two family members (for positive support) but mostly independent readers that don’t have to worry as much about negative reactions.  Some reviewers should be writers themselves, and subject-matter experts are good readers to make sure the facts hold up (e.g. if the novel is science fiction, the science should be based on the actual laws of physics, so it would be helpful to have a scientist review it).
  3. Get Help: Author is probably good at writing, but probably not so good at the technical stuff or artwork.  Whatever Author isn’t good at, needs to be outsourced.  However, the Author needs to be the director of the show, making sure that all aspects of the project are completed to a high standard.  What should be considered?  Editing, cover art, website, digital formatting, etc.  
  4. Develop a Marketing Plan: Author needs to be in charge of marketing and promoting the novel.  Hiring an expert, in this case, is probably too expensive, though it could be done.  She needs to be a Businessperson.
  5. Publish Books: Author needs to choose the best publishing options for their audience.  Digital is probably the easiest and cheapest format, but there are also print-on-demand services, or Author could even choose to print an entire run of books and store them somewhere.  This also ties in to the marketing plan, since if you’re going to print books, you need to have outlets to sell them.
  6. Reevaluate Marketing Plan: Since Author is in charge, Author needs to stay vigilant and make tweaks or changes to increase the sales.  There are a lot of variables that can be messed with, everything from price, to promotions, to guest blogging to freebies.  Author is now also Salesman.
  7. Stay Connected: Throughout the entire process, Author needs to stay connected and keep developing Friends and Colleagues, and building an Audience.
  8. Keep Writing:  While all this is going on, you ALSO have to keep writing, produce the next novel and keep everything moving. 
Quite a few more steps, huh?  Successful self-publishing is a lot of work, and requires the development of a broad, cross-functional skillset.  You can’t just be a writer, you have to be a businessperson, salesperson, director of marketing, project manager, and possibly a website designer or artist as well.  However, there are definite benefits in all that work.  If done correctly, and if the book is good, an author can make a good living in self-publishing, perhaps as good as, or better than with a Traditional Publisher.

So which is better?  I don’t know.  I don’t think there’s an answer to that.  I think there will always be room for Traditional Publishing, because some authors are happy to give up control if it means they don’t have to do anything but write.  But by the same token, I think there’s a broad and expanding market for self-publication, for those authors willing to put in the time and effort to develop the necessary skills and make it work.  And the authors that don't put the time in, will be weeded out by the market

Before I sign off on this ridiculously long post, I wanted to throw out a couple of links for the blogs that have helped me understand the publishing market.

Dan Blank has a fantastic blog (We Grow Media) about digital media with a focus toward the writer.  He’s also offering a course that I’m considering taking called “Build Your Author Platform”.  It’s a bit pricey, which is why I haven’t signed up already, but I took an hour long webinar that gave the overview, and it sounded really fantastic.  If you’re interested in learning more about digital and social media, check him out.

Jane Friedman is another blogger that I follow religiously.  She’s also focused on the publishing industry, with an eye toward the use of social media.  One of her recent posts described how the digital generation is shaping publishing and, really, consumer expectations in general.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is one that I just started following a few days ago, but has some great information.

Finally, Pub Rants, written by literary agent Kristen Nelson, is a fantastic resource to learn more about traditional publishing.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

'Pack' Synopsis

Here it is, my first attempt at the back-cover description of 'Pack', by Megan P. Haskell.

Hiking the Colorado mountains is a passion Laila Anders shares with her twin brother, Erik.  During a regular weekend backpacking trip, Laila is attacked by rogue wolves looking for an easy meal.  She's rescued, only to be kidnapped by her savior, a man with a dark secret and more in common with her attackers than she could imagine.  While Laila grapples with a new reality and searches for an escape, Erik searches for the sister he knows is still alive.  What they discover will test the strength of their bond and their perceptions of the world around them.  

Please note that the novel is currently under revision and there are no plans to publish it yet, so don't ask when it's coming out.  Otherwise, feel free to post comments!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Hiatus is Over

Hello Again World!

I have been a bad, bad blogger.  I could give you a whole bunch of excuses, but really what it came down to is that I didn't want to write blog posts.  Things have settled down a bit now, and several people have asked what's going on, so I'm back to blogging and I'll try really hard not to leave you hanging again.

The Update:

Over the holidays, things got a little bit crazy.  I didn't have much time to write, but I did manage to create the preliminary ending to the novel.  I say "preliminary", because I'm not completely satisfied with the end, but it was good enough to let me go back and start the rewrites. Which I did. 

Over the last several weeks, I have been focusing hard on rewriting and polishing the "shitty first draft" that I threw down on the page.  For those of you who aren't writers, there's a common piece of advice that says you shouldn't worry about whether your first draft is any good.  That's what revisions are for.  Instead, you put your ideas down on the page and keep moving as fast as possible.  In my case, that wasn't very fast, but hey, working for a major accounting firm limits your free-time a bit!

So I'm now revising, editing, polishing and even getting a few reviews from people.  Overall, reactions have been good!  I think I've got a good start, and with some more time and a lot more work, I might actually have something publishable.  In fact, I had a wonderful opportunity to have my first three pages critiqued by Sara Megibow, an agent with the Nelson Literary Agency, and one of my top picks for potential representation.  She gave me some great feedback, which I will be incorporating into all of my edits as I continue forward.

I've set a goal for myself that I will have a finished draft, ready to send to agents, by the end of March.  That's two months from today, for those of you counting.  Which means that I'm going to become a social recluse over the next two months.  So if I don't post as frequently, don't go out as much, avoid your calls and emails...well, I guess you'll know why!