Tag Archives: publishing

Writing advice, because that’s what we writers like to do

So my latest novel, Small Town Sonata, was contracted for publication by Dreamspinner Press, and I’m very happy. Hopefully, it signals the revving up of my writing career again.

So, in the spirit of that, and because someone asked about it in a Facebook group, I’ve decided to offer some Writing Advice (capitalized, to show how pompous… I mean “important” it is). Seriously, this is just some stuff I learned over the years. Take it or leave it, as you like. It’s less about writing than about some practical concerns.

I started writing in Middle School, reading articles in The Writer (which was a much better magazine then) and locking myself in my room after school to type. My mother bought me my first typewriter (personal computers were like $5,000 then), but with the door closed, the heat from the wood stove couldn’t reach me, so I had to bundle up in a blanket. Abe Lincoln would have been proud.

I still have all of that writing in a briefcase. Most of it is pretty bad. Writers often tend to start out thinking their prose needs to be Serious and Important (translation: flowery). That’s actually the worst thing for modern writers, unless you’re doing historical or literary fiction. (And even then, it’s probably not great.) So there are some story ideas I like in that pile, but I’d have to rewrite them all from scratch. But, hey, that period taught me a lot about how to write.

I wrote on and off over the years after that, but had difficulty finishing things. Eventually, I tried NaNoWriMo, and that allowed me to finish my first novel (Seidman), then another, and so on. Everything I wrote through NaNo was eventually published. (Finish what you write. An unfinished story is no good to anybody, and even one that isn’t 100% perfect has a better chance of being published than an brilliant, unfinished one.)

I write in Word and use Scrivener to keep my notes. (Tip: You can relocate the Scrivener directory to a folder in your Dropbox folder, so they’ll be backed up.) I tried writing in Scrivener a few times, but so far I’ve found it difficult. The problem I’ve had with Word is that it wants me to buy it on iPad, even though I own (=lease) it on my laptop. This has made it nearly impossible to use my iPad for writing, as I used to do.

In college, I composed electronic music, using a program called Personal Composer, which had a problem with frequent crashes (at that time). One night, after working on a piece for something like 5 or 6 hours (it was around 3am), I saved and it crashed. Because I’d only used ONE file the entire time, it got corrupted, and all my work was lost. I learned to create a NEW save, every time I work on something. My novels tend to have over a hundred save files, by the time I’m done.

For a while, I was working a corporate job, and using thumb drives to take my current working files back and forth between home and work (I didn’t have a laptop). I discovered two things about thumb drives:

 

  • They’re easy to lose. I had to completely rewrite an entire chapter once.

  • They’re unreliable. On several occasions, I saved files to a thumb drive, ejected, and discovered the files were not there. They weren’t anywhere – not on the drive, not on the computer, not even in temp files. This is when I started using Dropbox, and yes, they’ve had some problems with security, but they also keep backups of files, so when a file of mine was destroyed somehow (Virus? I don’t recall.), I was able to go to the Dropbox site and download it again.

Lastly, if you can’t get a publisher or agent to buy your novel, consider self-publishing it. I’ve read a bunch of articles which insist self-publishing is what Losers do, when their work isn’t good enough to be published by real publishers. They’re the equivalent of cavemen banging on rocks, angry that “cheaters” have discovered a box of matches.

Look, the fact is, self-publishing is relatively easy, and that’s led to the market being flooded with a lot of stuff I would have to call “poor-quality”… if I’m being kind. This, in turn, has led a lot of readers to assume our self-published work isn’t worth very much. Combined with Kindle Unlimited, authors are now forced to sell months of hard labor for pennies, if we want anyone at all to notice its existence. (Thank you, Amazon, for pulling the floor out from under aspiring authors.) This has led to more and more indie publishers throwing in the towel, so those that are left have been forced to close or severely restrict submissions.

Throw in the fact that, with so many people out of work, everyone seems to think writing might be a way to earn some income, and the end result is that traditional routes to being published, which were already difficult, are now extremely difficult. Good books, bad books, books written by the next Great American (or whatever country you’re from) Author… they’re all being rejected. It is not a sign of failure to self-publish.

Some books make the rounds between publishers for years — even decades. Do you have that kind of time? I’ve published over 30 novels and novellas between December 2010 and now — just over eight years. (Of course, I know authors with two or three times that output.) I may not be a brilliant author, but my work is being read. And that’s what needs to happen, if you want to earn anything writing.

What a lot of authors are doing, if they can, is publishing through publishers at the same time they self-publish. This is called hybrid publishing, and it has the advantage of getting your name out by association with the publisher, as well as convincing readers your stories, including the self-published stories, are professional quality. Going through a publisher can also help you make contacts with editors, cover artists, and others who can help you, when you self-publish.

And that’s a key thing: if you self-publish, you must hire a professional editor and a professional cover artist, and probably a formatter, as well. This shouldn’t break the bank, but it will likely cost a few hundred dollars. It will be worth it. Nothing screams “Crap!” like a homemade Photoshopped cover with free images everyone and his brother has used before. And if a reader skims the preview and sees typos and spelling errors on the first two pages, you’ve lost that reader forever.

But self-publishing has a much quicker turnaround than publishing houses. When I published my last Christmas novel, I finished it, had it edited, got a wonderful cover for it, and published it — all in the space of about a month and a half. I didn’t have a choice about going through a publisher, if I wanted it out by Christmas. Self-publishing also means a smaller chunk comes out of my royalties. This isn’t because publishers are swindlers, but simply because they have overhead costs.

Anyway, all this pontificating has worn me out. I’m gonna go take a nap.

I mean “write.” I’m gonna go write.

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Filed under James Erich, Jamie Fessenden, Life, NaNoWriMo, New Release, publishing, Romance, Writing, Young Adult

“Billy’s Bones” has been contracted!

KevinI just signed a contract with Dreamspinner for my psychological drama, Billy’s Bones!  For those who haven’t been following my progress on that novel, here’s the “blurb” I sent in my cover letter:

Kevin Derocher was just thirty-two when he walked into Tom’s office, newly married, a baby on the way, and the collar of his red flannel shirt pulled up in an attempt to hide the bruises around his throat caused by hanging himself in his garage.  After this initial encounter, therapist Tom Langois is convinced he’ll never see Kevin again, until the man turns up three years later to make repairs on Tom’s new house.

The two men become fast friends and Tom begins to suspect that Kevin may be interested in more than just friendship.  But Kevin is haunted by something from his distant childhood—something so terrible that he’s blocked it from his mind.  Not only do these suppressed memories make it impossible for Kevin to get close to anyone without panicking and lashing out, sometimes violently, but as they begin to surface, it becomes apparent that Kevin may hold the key to the disappearance of a boy from his neighborhood twenty-five years ago.

The picture on the left is what I pictured Kevin looking like.  Tom looks like this guy:

TomWe’re looking at a release date sometime in late July or maybe early August!

So this week I decided to go back and re-read the novel.  I’d already had a conversation with my mother, who is a psychologist with experience treating PTSD, and I learned that I’d handled several things incorrectly in the therapy scenes.  Or you might say I had Tom and Susan doing things the way they used to be done, and psychology has learned a thing or two since then.  For example, it’s no longer considered essential (by many therapists) to pressure the client to remember suppressed memories.  That can cause them more trauma than simply leaving things alone.  And giving someone something to relax him, such as Valium, before experiencing a possible trigger in a controlled setting isn’t as good an idea as I’d thought.  It can do additional harm by distorting the memories further.  (Some therapists don’t believe in repressed memories, but my mother has worked with enough cases to take them seriously.)

So I sent Mom the specific scenes in question to get some feedback on how to make them more realistic.  Hopefully, since the novel is already contracted, we’re just talking about tweaking things a little.  In the future, I’ll remember:  always check with Mom!

In re-reading the novel, I’m still finding it engrossing.  But Tom is seeming a bit more like an asshole than I remembered.  My beta readers didn’t seem to hate him, so maybe I’m just seeing him from a bad angle at the moment.  But I may try to make him a bit less pushy in edits.

Of course, the really frustrating thing about re-reading a novel after it’s been submitted, but before the first edits come in from the editors is that the typos and mistakes I find, I can’t correct.

How on earth did I not notice that I’d failed to capitalize one sentence?

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Filed under Drama, gay, Psychological Drama, Romance, Writing