Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Writer With a Day Job

I know most writers dream of writing full time and I am no exception. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my day job and I am very grateful to have it, but I long to pay my bills with my writing. Ever since I was in kindergarten if someone asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I would say, "An author." Some things don't change.

I have made money as writer (I've worked as a journalist, an editor, a technical writer and a technical editor), but never a novelist. I now work as an environmental scientist. Sometimes I kick myself for not sticking with writing, but everything happens for a reason. Right?

Balancing work, life, and writing can be tricky. I have the option of working a flexible schedule, so I choose to work ten hour days and have Friday-Sunday off. I get most of my writing done on these three days, but I also write for two hours every week night. It took awhile to find this discipline, but now that I have it, I will never let it go.

Some days my pesky auto immune disease demands that I rest. On those days I just do as much as I can. Then there is life. I have a husband, a house, and three animals. Luckily, I am an early bird. I'm up by 7am (at the latest) on weekends, and my husband doesn't wake up until much later. I utilize the time to write. My schedule can be hard and exhausting, but I love it. I've made many sacrifices for my writing, but I'm happy to do it. It will all be worth it in the end.

Whether you work full time, part time, or are a stay at home mom; how do you balance life with your writing schedule? Do you have a fixed schedule like me? What sacrifices have you made for your writing career?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Reading and Writing (But Definitely NO Arithmetic)

Last year I read 132 books. This year I set a goal to read 200; sadly, I will not reach it. So far I'm sitting at 42 books read for the year. It is a sacrifice, but one I am happy to make because I have been pouring my heart into my writing since last October. Thankfully, I have a lot to show for it.

I miss reading several books a week, but I always make sure I have some time to read. I find I am not only more motivated to write more after reading, but I also write better. I know we as writers learn a lot through osmosis. I study one of my favorite author's voice, another's use of dialogue or sentence structure, and maybe another one's prose. 

It took awhile, but I can finally study an author's writing while reading. It may take me a bit longer, but I always learn something, even if the story wasn't one I particularly enjoyed. I explore the things I liked and didn't like about the story, and more importantly why I did/didn't like it.

Sometimes if I'm stuck and the words just aren't flowing, I will use reading as a warm up for my writing session. Beautiful words always seem to rouse the muse. How about you? Do you find you write better after you read? What warm up methods do you use?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Possession, by Elana Johnson

Violet lives in the Goodlands where she is a rebellious teenager who can't seem to stay out of trouble and despises the Thinkers who control the city with their minds.

Her father went missing seven years ago and her sister, Tyson, disappeard over three years ago. Vi has been left alone with a mother who despises her ever since. The one bright spot in Vi's life is her match, Zenn. One night Vi sneaks out to visit him, risking another violation on her record. That is the night Vi's life changes forever. 

In prison, she meets a Baddie named Jag who seems to understand Vi in a way no one ever has before. From this point on, Vi gets caught up in a whirlwind of lies, corruption, and conspiracy. She has to a lot of choices to make, important choices; choices that could cost her either her life, or the lives of those she loves.

Possession captivated me from the very beginning. I fell in love with the authenticity of the characters. And oh the plot twists! There are so many plot twists, my head was reeling, but nothing left me confused. I especially loved the relationship between Vi and Jag. It felt true to the characters and I could feel their struggle as they tried to overcome the obstacles placed before them. 

Elana Johnson did a beautiful job of constructing a very believable world full of surprises for the reader. I was glued to this book and could not put it down.

Overall, I give Possession five stars. I can't wait for the sequel.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lighthouse Writers Workshop 2011 Lit Fest Publishing Panel

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Lighthouse Writers Workshop 2011 Lit Fest Publishing Panel at the Tattered Cover bookstore.

The Panelists:
Terra Chalberg - Literary agent, starting her own literary agency in September
Alex Glass - Trident Media Group
Sara Megibow - Nelson Literary Agency
Chris Parris-Lamb - The Gernert Company
Renee Zuckerbrot - Literary agent

I took detailed notes that I will share with all of you. These are not direct quotes, but summarized notes of what was said. You can Google the agents to find out more information about them and their agency.

Question:  What are some of the changes you have noticed in the industry?

Sara:  Represents genre fiction. Something she has noticed recently is when she goes to offer representation, typically the author already has three or four other offers. She has an interest in young adult science fiction and fantasy, romance (all genres except category or inspiration), women's fiction (including chick lit) and high concept literary fiction.

Terra:  Terra has noticed that e-books are thriving and the business in general is growing. Publishers are a little scared because they can't make up the money lost to e-books. There are lots of new ideas and business models coming out to try and figure out how to make up the money that was lost along the way.

Chris:  One of his authors is trying to bundle the e-book and the hard cover. It is an experiment. If the customer buys the hard cover, then they have a month long window to download the e-book. This shows that experimentation in this area is being conducted. We have an industry evolved to ship weighted books to book stores, and in a matter of 18 months, 50 percent of new books are being sold digital. The publishing industry is not set up for a 50/50 world. But writers should not worry. The novel has been around for a very long time. These are just business issues. Writers should not change what they are doing.

Renee:  Storytelling is not going away, but the way we tell the story is changing. In her opinion, e-books will resuscitate the industry. Publishers are trying to change the business model, but it will be slow.

Alex:  This week Abrams announced a new Wimpy Kid novel. They printed six million copies, which is a lot of printed books. This shows that a lot of people are still buying new books.

Question:  From an authors perspective, do you still fall in love/not fall in love with a story first? Or consider the market?

Renee:  She considers things like, 'Can I sell this? Can I sell this well?' Book review coverage is not what is used to be. If she loves something and believes in it, she will try to sell it even if she thinks it will be a difficult sell.

Sara: Says her answer is somewhat controversial. Number one, she has to LOVE the project. If she is reading and gets about 20 pages in and knows it is something she is interested in, she will put down the manuscript and start "Google Stalking." She would like to see some sort of an author platform (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

Chris: Takes social media into consideration when considering non-fiction work; when he is reading for expertise or authority on a subject. Is there a reason to listen to what the author has to say? What are their credentials?

Alex:  When he receives a literary novel, he wants to know if the author has an online presence. Have they been published in literary magazines? Do they have any reviews? Something to validate their credentials.

Terra:  Writing is the most important thing. Writing is not just about selling your work, but also about selling yourself.

Question: How do you suggest writers balance the need for an online presence with their writing?

Alex:  Doesn't want to feel the author has been sitting and writing by themselves without showing it to anyone. He needs to know the author has talent.

Chris: Follow-up to Alex's response. Unless the time spent not social networking is poured into writing a really great novel. He would hate to feel there are writers who don't reach their full potential, or give the novel enough time to reach its full potential. He would hate to see social networking happen at the novels expense.

Renee:  Magic happens in the revision stage. You need to let it sit and then revise. Share with writers groups or a mentor. While you are not under contractual obligations, take your time. Once you get a contract, it is very hard to get a contract extension.

Alex: Networking with other writers, meeting other writers, get a mentor who is terrific. Meet and greet. Anything you can do to get yourself out there helps.

Renee:  If you are on Facebook, post relevant things. Don't waste time on there.

Question: Do you have to have an online presence?

Sara: She represents debut clients. For sub-genres, she would prefer you to have an online presence.

Terra:  If you do not want a Facebook page, then don't create one for yourself, but create one for your book. There are creative ways to have an online presence that you do not have to be a slave to.

Renee:  Has an author that does not have any sort of online presence. She is a best seller and wants to focus on her writing. Renee says "good for her."

Question: How do you deal with the growth of manuscripts that come across your desk?

Terra: Has never met an agent who can get back to every person.

Chris:  If you do not receive a response within four to six weeks, it is an automatic no. The author has to write a good first page and a query letter. It has to be immediately apparent in the first page that the writer can write well.

Renee:  Gets rid of the ones that are not addressed to her. The writing needs to hold her attention immediately. Spend lots of time revising and rewriting your work. A smart query letter, plus credentials equals a read from Renee. If you have not heard back within four to six weeks it is considered an automatic no. You must follow the guidelines which are very specific on her website. She needs to know the writer is talented and can work well with a publisher. The writer also needs to be professional. It is a business.

Chris: The publishing industry does not assign value to a book, but tries to sell the book. Professionalism is key. Publishing is an industry and a business. The cover letter must be professional.

Question: What is the author's responsibility for promotions after publication?

Chris: Do what the publishers tell you to do. Be proactive.

Alex:  Publishers will put money toward few books, so you should not sit back and do nothing. Hire an outside publicist if you can afford it. An outside publicist will be selling you and get you media.

Sara: Nelson Literary Agency has a publisher in house, but you need to make the effort on your own to sell your work.

Question: How long do you stick with a project?

Renee:  It really depends on the author, no one size fits all.

Alex: This is definitely a question you need to ask your potential agent early in the process. What is the agent's strategy? How much does the agent believe in your book? Who will they send it out to? How long will the agent stick with you? You need to go with the agent who is best for you and your book and wants to help your career the most.

Chris: He likes to send things to all five major houses. He wants to know who likes it. The agent should always be thinking about who may buy the work and then tries to get the best deal possible.

Question: Tell us about what you rep.

Sara: Accepts novels via query letter. The absolute number one step is to find an agent who represents your genre. Then look at their sales. Have they sold anything in your genre? Start Google-Stalking the agency. Does the agency seem like a good fit? Does the agency seem moderately sane? Currently accepting completed romance, completed science fiction and fantasy, and completed young adult.

Renee: Don't send out your manuscript to thirty different agents at one time. Send it out to ten to twelve. If you receive all rejections, revisit the query letter. Be straight forward. If you send your query to six agents and one offers representation, let the other five know that you've received an offer and need to hear back from them within a week or so. If you have a number one agent in mind, consider sending the query on exclusive for a short period of time. You need to find who works best for you. Renee currently has a 70/30 ratio of fiction to non-fiction. She is looking for more horror novels and non-fiction books.

Terra:  Not looking for much right now, but always keeps herself open. She reps literary fiction and memoir. She likes a good story.

Alex: Accepts 80% fiction, debut literary fiction, mystery and crime, and platform driven non-fiction.

Chris:  Accepts 75% non-fiction, but would like to change it to 50/50 non-fiction to literary fiction.

There you have it! An hour and a half conversation in a really long blog post =) Hope this has been helpful, I know it was for me.

Check out my good friend Lindsey Edward's very timely blog post on how to be a literary agent's dream client. It fits well with this post. Happy writing!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA Truly Does SAVE - My Story

This is lengthy and personal, but after reading this article last night from the Wall Street Journal, it just needed to be written.

I grew up in a small town in Alabama, population less than 3,000. My graduating class had less than 130 students. My mom worked as an accountant for the church we attended (southern baptist) and I was there Sunday morning and night, and every Wednesday. My dad had a great job, but he traveled a lot, so after both of my sisters moved away to college it was mostly me and my mom. Being anything less than cookie-cutter perfect in this town meant isolation. But being different also meant having a chance to be real. 

My life wasn't complicated until eighth grade. Call it the creative side of me, but makeup, hair color, funky clothes; I loved it all (still do)! I have green eyes, so I always wore dark makeup to make them pop. People started calling me a goth and a druggie...all because I wore dark makeup? Isolation begins...

Things didn't get much better when a guy who also dressed differently asked me out. I was happy. He was my first real boyfriend. The rumors started to fly and my youth pastor told my mom I was on drugs....I wasn't. Thankfully she believed me, but the damage was done. Word got out I was a druggie. I remember walking down the street with a friend and I was supposed to babysit for a lady later that night and the woman pulled up beside us as we were walking and said, "You will never babysit my kids!" and drove off. I was speechless and embarrassed.

I poured my heart into notebooks and poorly written poetry, but the notebook always listened and never judged. The town's public library was right next to the school and I would go there at the end of the day and wait for my mom to get off work. I would read and write for hours.

When 9th grade started I moved on to high school. People were scared of me because they thought I was dangerous. I guess dark makeup and baggy pants are terrifying. *shudders* The people who accepted me were people like me, different, but also smart. We had conversations about things that actually mattered. We talked politics, philosophy, books, music and life. I talked two friends out of committing suicide. It was a big deal. One friend was on a bridge. His sister called me. Me and my friend went to get him. He was standing there crying. A broken soul, taunted for not fitting the mold. It was horrible. The police came and instead of getting him help they ARRESTED him. My other friend also suffered. My small circle of broken friends helped him that time, but three years ago I got a call that he shot himself through the chest with a shotgun. His seven year old nephew found him. He was still living in that town.

I had no one to go to and no one to talk to. My parents were unhappy about me spending time with my friends and eventually they forbade me to hang out with them. That's when my life really changed and I started to be everything everyone already said I was. I started lying to my parents, telling them I was going places I wasn't, making all sorts of excuses for why I was late or smelled of certain things. My mom started checking up on me to see if I was really where I said I was going. I wasn't. "Tough love" bloomed out of that. I was grounded for months. I won't go into a ton of gory details, but I did cut and burn myself. I did get all the pills from the medicine cabinet, lay them all out and stare at them. That is when reading truly saved my life.

I started to spend my free time at the library, absorbing as many books as I possibly could. We didn't have a huge section of YA, but I read anything I could get my hands on:  George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Nevil Shute, Ray Bradbury, Douglas Adams, Tolkein, etc. By the end of the year I received the Accelerated Reader award for reading the most books in the school, it was presented to me at awards night.

Prom night of my junior year. I was dared to go through a car wash with just me...no car. I did it. Why not? It was a stupid dare. I stood there for like three seconds and then ran out; everyone laughed. The following Monday the guidance counselor called me into her office. She heard about the incident and called my parents. "Why?" I asked her. "Because it is clear you were trying to hurt yourself. Didn't you go through the hot wax?" I stared at her; dumbfounded. I clearly was not injured, but what credibility did I have? She chose to believe what other students told her instead of opening her eyes.

I wish I could say things got better, but they didn't. There are still too many things that happened that I'm not ready to talk about. Things I'm sure people thought I deserved, but things no one deserves. I moved to a college 60 miles north of my hometown and pursued a degree in journalism. I was damn good at it. I finished college and only stayed in Alabama another year before I moved away with my now husband. My relationship with my parents is good. I think we all learned a lot from me. Every single day my mom tells me how proud she is of me. She says I taught her not to be judgmental and that she has learned so much from me. 

I have the most amazing supportive husband, recently finished my Master's degree, have a good job, and still read and write daily. I am revising/editing my YA novel and hope one day it will be published. 

YA has given people a voice when they feel theirs cannot be heard. I was on Twitter last night when Maureen Johnson posted the WSJ article about YA literature being too dark. I read it twice and still couldn't believe what it said. The uproar from the YA community on Twitter has been epic. Maureen and Libba Bray started #YASaves and encouraged everyone to share their story of how YA has helped them. Within twenty minutes #YASaves was the third trending topic on Twitter in the NATION (and still is this morning). The responses brought me to tears. There are so many books that have helped so many people--people of all ages. #YASaves has  inspired many (including myself) to talk about their life experiences, which is therapy in itself. In essence, this article made the YA community stronger. I am full of emotion, strength, empowerment, and pride.

The article may be published, but the damage done is not to the YA community, but to the WSJ. I don't think they were prepared for the aftermath.