Part Four of My *Very Personal* Journey to Publication: Embracing Optimism…or the post in which Auralee invites authors to give the ol’ F*#k you to realism

In the years before I became a published author, I spent many an hour scouring authors’ webpages trying to figure out how they accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published. While no one journey in particular held the magic answer for me, I did learn a great deal from reading those experiences. As a result, I thought I would share my own history in a series of posts. As I mentioned in the title, these are my VERY PERSONAL experiences. I am in no way trying to argue that there is one right way to do things. 

First, let me apologize. I know I was supposed to write on learning the craft for this post, but I met an aspiring author this week who inspired me to write on this topic instead. So here goes…

I’m going to hazard a guess that most writers have days where they feel like this:

slkbm

Writing is a tough business. When I was getting started, I dreaded…dreaded…my writing coming up in polite conversation. People’s reactions usually fell into three broad categories.

1) The largest group was the I’m really going to try to be supportive, but OMG!!! group. This group can be easily identified by their collective pained smile that says, Wow, I had no idea she was delusional.

polite smile

2) Then there were the reactions of the Public Service Messengers. I can’ t tell you how many times I heard, Did you know that getting a book traditionally published is about as likely as winning the lottery?

The-more-you-know

My reaction: Hmm, yes, I’ve heard that before. Where’s the bar?

3) Finally, there were others who took the anyone can write the drivel that is out there approach.

I guess this observation was meant to imply that I had a shot?

snob

(Oh Lord, and brace yourself if you dare say you write anything that brushes near the genres of Romance/Chick Lit/Humor/Paranormal…or anything that female readers might traditionally gravitate towards.)

Now, let me say, I do not think that ANY of these people are bad people for these reactions. I’m sure I have done the same thing to others talking about their dreams in the past- although, now, I make a conscious effort not to. It does beg the question, however, as to why do any of us have these reactions in the first place. I’ve given this some thought, and I believe it it because DREAMS ARE SCARY. They are scary for those pursuing them. They are scary for those of us watching others pursue them (also addictive – just look at reality TV talent shows). Why? Because dreams are an expression of vulnerability – and I like to believe the vast majority of people don’t like to see others get hurt.

But, here’s where we get to the optimism vs. realism bit.

There was a fourth reaction I received every once in awhile, and when I did…well, the clouds would part, the sun would shine, and…AND creativity would start bubbling.

It looked like this:

That's awesome

 

(There’s one person in my life who has consistently given me this genuine reaction every time I have expressed any hope or dream. I completely admire this about her.)

Now, you could argue that the first three ways of thinking are realistic, and you’d be right. There is evidence to back them up. But here’s the thing – even though writing is hard, some people (maybe yourself included) are going to try it anyway…AND if you’re going to try it anyway, I encourage you to try it OPTIMISTICALLY.

Oh, but I don’t want to lie to myself, you say. I don’t want to delude myself. It will only hurt more when the horrible reality of failure hits.

No, it won’t.

For a long time, I was as cynical as cynical could be, and you know what? Failure still hurt! My “realist” attitude didn’t protect me one damn bit! Stupid realism.

Don’t believe me? Then, Smartypants, believe the research. Psychologist Martin Seligman has written a ton of books on the subject.The evidence/research shows that optimistic people (even those – or maybe even especially those – who disregard/downplay/ignore negative evidence in favour of positive) are happier…people who consider themselves “realists” less so. Now, let me ask you, which way of life do you think is smarter? (Okay, so I totally reduced masses of research to a glib sentence or two, but hopefully you get my point.)

Will you be successful in writing? I don’t know. But you don’t know either. Nobody does. Not really. What I do know is this: if you’re going to spend time pursuing the craft, why not practice spending that time believing in yourself? Odds are you’ll be happier…and most likely more creative and productive. Maybe that’s a better definition of success anyway.

Forget all the categories of reactions I just listed. There’s only one attitude that matters, and it looks a little like this:

I'm_Awesome!!!

Go ahead. Try it. It feels good…and it’s certainly better than walking around like Sad Batman. Nobody likes a Sad Batman.

 

Part Three of My *Very Personal* Journey to Publication: When to “Sell Out”…or How I Got My Agent.

In the years before I became a published author, I spent many an hour scouring authors’ webpages trying to figure out how they accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published. While no one journey in particular held the magic answer for me, I did learn a great deal from reading those experiences. As a result, I thought I would share my own history in a series of posts. As I mentioned in the title, these are my VERY PERSONAL experiences. I am in no way trying to argue that there is one right way to do things. 

Ha! Gotta love that title, but before anyone freaks out (Natalie, my glorious agent, I hope you’re not reading this, but if you are, keep going), it isn’t what it sounds like.

As I mentioned in my last two posts, my journey to publication wasn’t without some bumps in the road. Early on, I discovered I had one of those voices that can be polarizing on the Love/Hate spectrum. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. I write humor. Humor is subjective. I also knew this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. You’ll often hear agents and editors talking about the importance of voice, and it’s better to stand out in a crowd than it is to blend in. That being said, it can lead to some difficulties, and, for a long time, I thought my…oh, let’s call it, uniqueness was to blame for my growing e-pile of rejection letters from agents.(Keep in mind, this was months before I decided to submit to publishers directly as explained in this post).

Now we all have to tell ourselves certain things in the wee hours of the morning in order to make it through to the next day, and my mantra went a little like this:

too stupid

Hey, delusions are good. They’re protective. I don’t judge. But they can also hamper growth, and after awhile, it got really tiresome hearing about other authors who had hordes of agents replying to their query letters.

post-30942-Jennifer-Aniston-OH-REALLY-gif-nmbd

I decided to put a little more thought into making myself *shudder* marketable. First off, I was writing urban fantasy. UF can be a tough market to break into. There’s a lot of UF out there. But wait, I thought, I’m different…special. I’m writing about a funny superhero wannabe! There isn’t a lot of that out there! Yeah, that can be problem too. You see, some point along the line, I realized that for agents it really is about business (for the most part). Agents want books they can sell. They have to be able to bring to mind an editor they could sell your work to, and if they’re drawing a blank…well, form rejection letter it is.

So where did that leave me?

I took a big step outside my comfort zone and wrote a cozy mystery. Now, now, now, before anyone gets crazy, I’m not going to try to argue here that you should chase the market. I am maybe suggesting, however, that being aware of the market is not a bad thing. Yes, the fact that the cozy market was, and is, a fairly robust market, did appeal to me, but I also felt that the genre would be a good fit for my voice. You can have oddball characters and quirky settings in cozy mysteries – maybe because the mystery format itself is so conservative. So here’s where you really have to know yourself and what you can do. I would love, for example, to write horror novels like Stephen King, but every time I try, I am left…well, horrified with myself.

So what was the upshot of my adventures into cozy land?

I had seven requests for material from my first (and then only) round of queries (I think I submitted to twelve agents).

 shocked

I know.

Make of this what you will.

Next post: Learn Your Craft Dummy

Part Two of My *Very Personal* Journey To Publication: When to Submit Directly to Publishers…or…Is it Time to Put Your Big Girl Panties On?

In the years before I became a published author, I spent many an hour scouring authors’ webpages trying to figure out how they accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published. While no one journey in particular held the magic answer for me, I did learn a great deal from reading those experiences. As a result, I thought I would share my own history in a series of posts. As I mentioned in the title, these are my VERY PERSONAL experiences. I am in no way trying to argue that there is one right way to do things. 

My short answer for when you should submit directly to publishers? When you’re weird.

weird1

Okay, well, there are many reasons to submit directly to publishers, but, for me, being a little out there was my rationale. I mentioned in my post last week that entering contests gave me the opportunity to see how readers would potentially respond to my work. Well, the responses I got were pretty dramatic and varied. It didn’t take long for me to realize that part of the difficulty (or pleasure!) readers were having with my work was that it didn’t really fit into a particular genre, and therefore, they didn’t know what to expect. Was it a superhero novel? Those tend to take themselves very seriously. Was it Chick Lit? Oh Lord, cringe. Everyone says Chick Lit is dead. Was it Urban Fantasy? I mean, sure, those books have sassy/snarky heroines, but my Bremy, well, she’s a little more slapstick. I suspect this difficulty with classification was also a problem for agents. I had a few nibbles during my querying journey into Hell, but way more rejections via the dreaded form letter. (I will spend some time talking about agents in my next post, but I just want to say for now that agents are not evil people out to thwart dreams – although it can certainly feel that way. They are people making a living by selling books, AND, they are, sadly, the experts on what they can sell.)

So, what did I do with this information? Well, I wallowed in misery for awhile. I loved SIDEKICK. Sure, it was different, but the good kind of different – you know, like sushi for many Westerners or those little fish that will eat the dead skin of your toes. (Actually, I don’t know if that’s good at all. It sounds dangerous.) Eventually I started on another novel while fending off everyone’s (at least it seem like everyone – grocery clerks, mechanics, dentist hygienists) suggestion to self-publish. The problem I had with that was twofold. First, doesn’t it seem like everyone and her brother is self-publishing these days? And then as a related point, how would I stand out? I’m lousy at marketing myself.

No idea

Thankfully, my close friend, who is a book blogger, suggested I submit directly to publishers. Now, I had looked into this…a little bit. I almost submitted to TOR (man, they have some work for you to do, but I suppose that weeds out those who aren’t willing to go the distance), but, at that point in time, I still wanted to go the agent route and the agent route only. When my friend brought up submitting again, I whined that I had been through so much rejection that I didn’t think I could take much more. She persisted though, and recommended I consider Harlequin’s Escape Publishing – she’d had some good experiences with both their books and editor. She reasoned that epublishers were often willing to take more risks than the traditional paper ones. Well, at that point, I decided to put on my big girl panties and give it whirl. Then, surprise of surprises…I GOT OFFERS…plural…plus one lovely letter from an editor, who wrote that she was so happy I had received offers because she loved my book and while it didn’t fit into her line, she felt it should be published. (I did eventually go with Escape.)

Oh God, after all the rejection, the acceptance was just…blissful…

So, what did I take away from this experience? A couple of things. First, know your product. I really didn’t think SIDEKICK was that far out of the box, but if you look at publishers’ guidelines for their products, they are often very specific. SIDEKICK, for example, was around 72,000 words. That’s a no-no for most Urban Fantasy which usually comes in around the 80,000 word mark.

mad-men-gif-not-great-bob

Plus, publishers like branding. They just do. It makes good business sense. Do you fit with a one of their lines? It’s important to know. Now, if you decide you want to write what you want to write regardless of how difficult getting published might be, then you might want to consider different forms of publishing – and yes, those are usually the ones that don’t involve a large investment of money upfront on the publisher’s behalf. As sad as it is, publishers want/need to make money. Book sales are hard.

So, in the end, what’s my advice? Consider all the avenues. I’m very happy that I did.

Next Week: When to “Sell Out”…or How I Got My Agent. (Ooh, that’s sounds terrible! It’s not though…really.)

Part One of My *Very Personal* Journey to Publication: Learning to Love Contests…or…Suck it Up, Buttercup!

In the years before I became a published author, I spent many an hour scouring authors’ webpages trying to figure out how they accomplished the seemingly impossible task of getting published. While no one journey, in particular, held the magic answer for me, I did learn a great deal from reading those experiences. As a result, I thought I would share my own history in a series of posts. As I mentioned in the title, these are my VERY PERSONAL experiences. I am in no way trying to argue that there is one right way to do things. 

Oh, contests. Sweet, exhilarating, excruciating contests.

When I first started writing in a serious manner, I made a vow to never enter a contest. The idea was horrifying. I didn’t want to be judged by strangers. No way. No how. I would just send my manuscript out to the professional agents and let them establish my worth. Why expose myself to people who probably couldn’t help me anyway? Or wouldn’t get me…or whatever…I had a ton of excuses to cover up the fact that I was just really scared.

I stuck to my vow in those early months and began the querying process. That whole experience can be summed up in a single word, Ow. I soon became well acquainted with the dreaded form letter. As if the rejection wasn’t bad enough, a form letter? That was useless to me! I wanted to know why I was being rejected. Was my writing craft sub-par? Mechanically? Stylistically? Was my pacing off? Was my humour too “out there”? Was I close but no cigar? Or was the agent shaking his or her head in pity at my delusion of becoming an author?

Crazy-making stuff.

That’s when I turned back to contests. See, depending on the contest, oftentimes the judges are required to give feedback or, at the very least, provide a scoresheet. I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed some idea of what I was doing wrong, so I started sending my baby out to be judged. Once I started, I found I couldn’t stop. The idea that someone other than those nearest and dearest to me would read a section of my book and give me feedback was both terrifying and intoxicating. Plus, as an added incentive, in many of the contests I entered, if you made it past the first round, an agent or editor would read your work! And, of course, one of them would surely fall in love with me. Ha ha…sigh.

A month or two later, the first results arrived in my inbox. I remember excitedly opening that little missive…only to have all the excitement quickly go splat. I wasn’t a finalist. It hurt. It did. No point lying about it. Preparing myself for the worst (like that’s ever possible), I hesitantly clicked on the attachment of the first judge’s comments…and I was blown away. The first judge loved me…really loved me. She gave me a perfect score. She read those chapters exactly the way I dreamed readers would! So what had gone wrong? Why wasn’t I a finalist? Then I remembered the other attachment. As much at the first judge loved me, the second one hated me. (I say me, but I really mean my first three chapters, but it sure felt like me in the moment.) It was a odd experience. I was crushed…then exhilarated…then crushed again…then exhilarated…and so on.

As the weeks passed, more results from more contests came in, and guess what? The same thing kept happening! I had judges who thought my work was funny, original and smart.  And then there were others, who, well, thought all sorts of things. For example, one judge in particular speculated that I must be a man because I didn’t understand women AND perhaps enjoyed bullying them. Again, I’m not going to lie. That gave me pause. On the bright side, SIDEKICK did final in three contests. Sadly, not a single agent or editor fell in love with my entry, but, at least, I was left with something to add to the dreaded bio section of my query letter, and the feedback I received gave me enough confidence to keep trying.

I also learned another really valuable lesson from those contests. Writing is about putting yourself out there. And all of those judges? Well, they’re not just judges. They also happen to be readers – and, regardless of how I felt about it, their opinions were valid and would be mirrored by the feedback I received once SIDEKICK was published. In terms of preparation, the experience was invaluable…and really, everyone should be prepared before they face all that is Goodreads.

NEXT ENTRY: SUBMITTING DIRECTLY TO PUBLISHERS

Okay, you’re all just going to have to shut it!…or A Study in Writing the Sequel

Ha! Well, that was an abrasive start, wasn’t it? And I don’t mean it…exactly. I love it when people make contact with me – it verifies that this whole writing thing isn’t, in fact, a fantasy of my own making.

The “you” in “you’re” from my title, in actuality, refers to all the voices in my head.

Hmm, doesn’t sound much better. Allow me to explain.

In the midst of selling my new cozy mystery series, I have been endeavoring, the past several months, to write a sequel to SIDEKICK. Now, that I am a mere week away from sending it to my agent (just copy-editing stuff at this point), I’d like to sum up the experience in one sentence:

OH MY GOD THAT WAS HARD!

Okay, so writing in general is hard, but writing a sequel when your debut has just come out? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for that level of difficulty. Suddenly, I was trying to make everybody happy – reviewers, friends, family. It didn’t matter who – if she or he had an idea, I was trying to work it in. I knew it was getting out of control when I had this little conversation with an acquaintance:

Him: Have you ever thought about zombie superheroes?

Me: Um, only every day.

Him: Well, what about, Bremy?

Me: What about Bremy?

Him: What about killing her and making her a zombie?

Me: What about killing…what? No! I mean, well, maybe…”

Let me love you

(On a side note, I googled “hot zombie .gifs” to get this image before I really thought about what I was doing. I’m not sure I would recommend it unless you’re into that sort of thing.)

My head was swimming. Some readers wanted more romance, others less. Some wanted more Ryder. Others more Bart and Queenie. Some loved the funny tone. Others wanted Bremy to go dark. Eventually, I felt a little like this:

crazy

(On another side note, even as I post this .gif, I’m thinking – people are going to accuse me of being insensitive to people with mental illnesses. Sigh. They’re probably right. I have a psychology degree. You could make the argument that I am a horrible person for posting this .gif. But then again, ultimately I am just mocking myself, because, really, who thinks this much about a .gif? The type of person in that picture. That’s who.)

Anyhoo, eventually, I had to decide to just write. While I love, love, love hearing readers responses to my work, I can’t take a list of requests and fulfill everybody’s wishes – but, hopefully, I won’t disappoint too many either! Right now, I know some of you are probably saying, Wow, deep insight Ms. Psych. Major. To which I reply, Why you being so mean? Believe me, it seems obvious, but even if you know something to be true, that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to put it into practice.

Hopefully, I can remember all this next time I have a sequel to write!

Have a good one,

Auralee

Disclaimer: This entire post was written under the influence of cough medicine. In my mind, it has made me extra charming, even with my running nose.

A Study in Awkwardness…

I hate having my picture taken. I really, really do. As soon as that lens pops up, I instantly feel a jolt panic. I want to duck, weave, cover my face with my hair. It’s a funny quirk of mine. I’m not entirely sure where it comes from, and I’m a little ashamed of it. I’m a grown woman for goodness’ sake. I should be able to take a photo without having a panic attack. But the idea of someone looking directly at me – well, I just find the idea hideous. Take, for example, the new profile pic I have up on my website. I’m smiling, but if you look closely at my eyes, you can see the awkwardness I’m taking about. Luckily, my good friend was taking the photo and she had endless patience and wine to help ease the process. This got me to thinking that I often feel the same way about my writing. I am fine with complete strangers reading my work, but when it’s somebody I know? Well, that’s a different beast entirely. The moment when he or she expresses interest in buying my book, my palms start to sweat, and I often find myself saying things like, “Oh, you don’t have to do that” or “It’s really weird. My sense of humour is really weird.” I mean, WHAT? Of course, I want people to buy my book. I guess, I just don’t want them judging me. And let’s face it, reading someone’s writing is a little like peeking into his or her soul. I think I should add working on this problem to my growing list of New Year’s Resolution. I mean, one day I might actually have to go to a book signing…and, oh God, forget it. I can’t even finish the thought. Let’s just skip the moral of the story. The whole thing is just too horrible to even think about. Have a good one! Auralee

UPDATE: I’m changing my picture again. That was just too much of me, looking at me, every time I went to my page. Creepy.

UPD