Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Right Way to Publish a Book

I recently, finally, signed a publishing contract for my Southern noir crime novel, They Call Me Crazy.  I say finally because it has been two years since I finished the book, which by the sands of a publishing hourglass, I hear, is no time at all. But, I work hard and fast on everything, and for me, two years was a long, long time. So now I have a publishing contract, and a year from now, I should have a book.

I'm not going to tell you to keep working, keep going, keep trying---it's not my job to motivate anyone in this business because honestly, it's a hard business to stay positive in. It's filled with rejection, self-doubt, and in most cases, very little return on your creative investment. But I am going to tell you this; there is a 'right' way to publish a book, and finally,  I know what that right way is.

As writers, we have choices. We can self publish, go with a small, independent publisher, work with a medium press, contract with a bigger press or one of the Big Five. We can choose to query agents to help in this process, we can rely on our attorneys to read contracts or we can simply go it alone. We can query by email, we can go to conferences and meet people 'in the know', we can incorporate the services of book cover artists and editors, or again, we can do all of these things ourselves. We can even choose not to publish at all.

With all of these options, how can I possibly say there is a 'right' way to publish? I almost self published and changed my mind when the business side of it began to overwhelm me before it even began. I queried some publishers on my own, then found an agent who queried more, then made corrections, adjustments to my manuscript and queried again. Basically, I used the Hot Oatmeal Method: throw it at a wall and see if it sticks.  Is that the 'right' way? Well, it worked...

I have friends who are happy and successful in self publishing, small press publishing, hybrid publishing and traditional publishing.  What do they all have in common? At some point, they sat down and thought about what they wanted, what they needed, from this thing called publishing. They were honest with themselves and with others about their needs, their time expectations and what they were willing to do to promote and publish their own work. As individual as their manuscripts, they had a plan, based on their goals and their work.

 Had I been a bit more informed about all of these options and had I been a tad more in touch with what I really wanted for myself and my work, this process would have been more  streamlined than it was. I'm certain I would have found my way to the exact same destination, contracting with a smaller press as I have, but I also feel like had I taken the time to really evaluate my goals and my work, the journey would have been less stressful than it was.  Had I not listened to those that tried to tell me the 'right' way to do this I might have realized that everyone has their OWN way.

The 'right' way is your way. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

It really is that simple. And that difficult. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Who Couldn't Love That Face?

Getting pregnant is easy.

Imagine you have a beautiful baby, one that you love with all of your heart, and everyone you show your baby to finds him less than perfect, even if it is just a vague reference. "I prefer girl babies." "Shouldn't he be walking by now?" "I think he is only supposed to have two eyes." It wears on you, and at some point, even the most loving mother becomes reluctant to show baby pictures. Not because she doesn't love that child, but because she is tired of defending his perfection to those that don't see it.

Of course, no-one else HAS to love your child, unless your goal for that child is to one day share his gifts with the world. That's when things get tough. And if that baby is actually a book, that's when the tough are quickly humbled.

I'm certain those that have never pursued this path have no idea how hard it is to get a publishing contract for a book, and I won't even go into the process, because it's enough to make the average, sane, person say, 'why would you do that?' For me, writing the book was easy; it's the 'what comes next' that is difficult. Why? There are no real 'rules' for this part of the game and for most, it does involve a lot of rejections.  Almost everyone has to deal with them---J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, the list goes on of the hundreds of rejections that many famous authors received before they actually sold a book. As writers, we use these examples to keep us going, but it doesn't really make it any easier.
That brings me to my book, They Call Me Crazy. I love the little three-eyed devil, and he'll walk when he's damn well ready. But at some point, someone needs to love him like I do or he'll never move out of the house.

My sweet little boy has made it through rounds of acquisition editors, only to be killed in committee like a bad Schoolhouse Rock video. He's been called a few bad names, but usually just a reference to 'somethin' ain't quite right about that kid'. My favorite rejection, ever, being the editor that said, "I will buy the book when you get it published, but we don't have room for it on our list."

Patience. Rejections. More patience. More rejections.

So what do we do? Keep showing the baby pictures, keep entering our little guys in baby contests and never lose sight of the fact that our babies are the most wonderful creatures they can be.  And one day, someone will say, "My, what a unique little guy he is!"

And it only takes one.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Write Good Words

The assignment in my English Composition course last week was to write a personal essay discussing something you had read that changed the way you viewed life. It could be anything, a book, a poem, a news article and 'the change' could be something life altering or something as simple as 'brushing my teeth every day'. The purpose of the assignment was twofold: to focus on construction of a personal essay and to realize how powerful words are.

Hats off to my students, who wrote about everything from children's books to epic poems, on subjects ranging from child abuse to better financial management of their own lives.  To learn their interests and what is important to them was fascinating. But as a writer, I realized something very important.

Our written words matter.

All of them.

Of course, there are obvious articles and books that are intended to raise awareness of subjects, but it seems that it was the subtle references in unexpected works that my students picked up on and were really struck by. It is the comparisons to their own lives, similarities and differences, that forced them to look at their worlds differently.  And as one student put it, "Although I've read other things on this subject, this particular author seemed to speak my own thoughts on {the subject}, and I knew I wasn't alone."

That's powerful.

To think that a horror story can make someone understand that we all have a potential monster inside of us, that a poem can make you call your mother every week just to say hello, that a fantasy novel can help you understand the value of imagination, that a news article can help you see the importance of questioning and not taking everything, or everyone at their word, or that a biography can teach you to appreciate the small things in your life, is something we should all consider. Every genre and every medium has the ability to affect someone's life in unexpected ways.

So as writers, what do we do?

We write good words, we tell good stories, we take care in our craft.  Because someone will read our work. And it may make a huge difference in how they view the world around them.

So, in teaching my students that the words they read can be very powerful, I also realized that the power comes from those of us that write those words.

Let's do it well.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Once Upon a Princess


Like most females, I grew up watching and reading Disney and my earliest ideals about womanhood came from watching Disney princesses. I never thought much about negative messages that these characters might be giving, all I thought of was how wonderful it would be to someday be in love, be beautiful, be a princess.

Most recently, there has been a lot of controversy about these characters. They are always thin, always beautiful and typically rely on the male figure for their happiness. As an adult who has grown through a historical period of female liberation, I, too, felt that Disney may be sending the wrong message to young girls. Where are the fat princesses? The lesbians? The woman who just want to succeed based on their own worth?

 A few weeks ago, I read an article on the University of California's website by Lydia O'Connor titled, "The Princess Effect: Are Girls Too 'Tangled' In Disney's Fantasy?" and basically, the author agreed with me: Disney needs to change and show 'princesses' as normal woman, not just dependent sheep of impossible beauty. Although this particular article could be seen as supportive of my own previous argument, reading it made me understand how ridiculous that opinion might be.

Young children go through a period in their development when they establish a gender identification. Of course, not all young girls identify with the female role models, however, there do have to be defined lines for them to recognize the differences between male and female. Androgynous figures might be more confusing than helpful. True, once they get older and identify more with their own selves, that may be the path they are most comfortable with, but as young children, they need to see the differences in gender in order to understand the similarities.

Additionally, imagination plays a huge role in the development of a child's intelligence. I would think there is more imagination being exercised  when pretending to be a mermaid who wants legs than costuming as a popular historical figure. I do think young girls should be exposed to contemporary, positive female role models, but I don't think overexposure and excessive emphasis on these women's lives offer more options for young girls. Not all will grow up to be the next leader of a people or run a corporation. Some will grow up to be stay at home moms, and that shouldn't be seen as less admirable. Finding a fair balance between magical places and realistic settings may offer them more in the long run when they begin understanding who they are in relation to the world.

Disney is trying. Although some of their attempts have met with ridicule, such as the racial stereotyping of Tiana, Jasmine, and Pocahontas, they have made some strides in other directions. Mulan, for example, is a warrior. And when given the choice, Fiona opts  to be an overweight, green princess instead of the raven haired beauty.

As an adult, I don't feel that my constant wearing of a mermaid fin when I was six made me less aware of myself as a woman.  My refusal to eat apples given to me by my stepmother or my fascination with riding horses, side saddle in a long skirt, didn't result in any lifelong psychological damage.  And maybe the Disney princesses taught me something else about life that we deny focusing on because we are too blinded by their exhibition of beauty; life has a lot of challenges, and in order to live the dream, whatever that dream may be, you do have to work at it.  And as for finding a prince? Yes, you do have to kiss a few frogs.