Tight outfits? I can't do much about that. When Nick Fury tells me I'm going to a party and lays out my clothes for me, I can't really say anything. Perhaps he's choosing my outfit with his left eye— I've heard he does that when he votes. Still, you don't tell your boss to totter off and get some fashion sense. You wear what he tells you, which is great when you're running around and fighting, but itches like crazy when you're just sitting still.
I sit still way too much.
But as I said, I can't do anything about the tight outfits. What I can control, however, is being behind on a challenge.
November is National Novel Writing Month! Whether you're participating in the challenge, participating in not doing the challenge, or participating in the first but thinking about the second, you deserve some encouragement. To be honest, I deserve some encouragement. I've been behind since day one, when I offhandedly decided I wanted to write but completely forgot what I liked writing about. Day two, I didn't write a word. It wasn't until day six that I finally got myself together and began writing in earnest. By that time, I was kind of resigned to being 10k behind the game for the rest of the month.
As I said, getting behind on a challenge bothers me a little. I like to be ahead of things. I like to say "On your left" as much as possible, even if I'm saying it to myself in past years. I don't mind letting others get ahead of me, as long as I'm beating my personal records.
Being 10k behind kind of beats my own record, I guess— how far behind can you be and still enjoy the novel you're writing. I've failed NaNoWriMo challenges before, but that's because I hate the novel I'm writing and decide to start afresh. I've failed because I forgot to validate my wordcount because I finished the challenge so early. But I hate to fail when it's a good concept, I'm writing regularly, but I can't do anything to get ahead.
But that's where I have to talk to myself. NaNoWriMo isn't about winning or losing. It's about the novel you write along the way. It's about la joie de l'écriture. It's about how long you can go without uploading a novel summary or title.
I know I hold that record, at least.
Every year, I have to ask myself this question, and answer it anew. Do I stress because I might not make it this month? Do I stress because I have high expectations and want to finish before November 14th? Or do I calm myself down, allow myself to write what I want to write, and allow the novel to come first? Once I put myself in that frame of mind, I find myself with plenty of time to write.
Put yourself in that frame of mind. Whether you're behind and pushing, ahead and relaxing, or on the cusp of failing or winning, let yourself step back. Figure out why you're writing this novel. Some people do it for the experience of writing a novel. Some people do it for practice. Some people, like me, do it to prove that despite all the other things going on in their lives, they can still support a writing life.
No matter your reason for writing, it's going to be hard. It's going to slap you in the face at some point and make you wonder if it's really worth it. That's something you have to overcome by yourself.
To me, it has always been worth it to at least try NaNoWriMo. I have only ever completed two challenges in the month of November— the other two times I've tried, I've crashed and burned spectacularly. The same goes for many of my Camp NaNoWriMo challenges. Why do I keep doing it? Because every month, I ask myself the same question.
Is this worth it?
And every month, I come to the same realization.
Yes, it's worth it to waste all my free time on my computer. Yes, it's worth it to stress a little about the numbers and the ideas. Yes, it's worth it to fight all my battles in a tight-tight-tight outfit, even though it itches when I rest. Those battles have to be fought. Those words have to be written. All that free time, if I didn't waste it on writing, would be wasted somewhere else, somewhere even less useful.
Answer me this, readers: Is it worth it for you? Is it worth it to write a novel in a month, even though you may have done it a million times already? Is it worth it to write a novel in a month, even if it's your first time? Is it worth it?
Well, I guess I am. Some rules are definitely useless and should be ignored (Stark's rule about not using JARVIS as an encyclopaedia, for instance), but most are there for very good reasons, and I like them. Seat belts, returning library books, not wearing the uniform into a fast food restaurant. (That makes the food considerably slower.)
In writing, though, rules are fluid. A lot of writing tips are set up as a series of rules that you ought to think about, but you'll find that as you grow, those rules no longer apply. As you're just starting out, you might have to force yourself to describe things, because you'd rather just do dialogue and leave the world and the action blank. Thus, you force yourself to describe more until you realize, actually, you're describing too much. You forced it so much that you passed the proper amount.
Write what you know is a popular rule. For beginning writers, yes, it's good. By writing what they know, they spend less time having to research and possibly losing interest. They are allowed to compare real life with fiction and get motivations, character arcs, and a seamless plot. They figure out how the mechanics of the story work by doing something simpler.
But as you grow, you no longer need to write what you know. You begin to realize how much things are parallel in life. Saying goodbye is universal-- we make different connections to things, and the reasons we have to leave are different, but the emotion of saying goodbye never changes. The same goes for sadness. The reason behind it might be different, and the reaction might be too, but the emotion is the same. Once you realize this, writing what you know means writing what you don't know. You get to stretch yourself, looking at new characters in new situations that you've never experienced. But because you understand how people function, you can write it.
So here's another rule/piece of advice: know the rules, then break them.
Spend a lot of time getting to know how writing works. Write what you know, focus on description, dialogue, plot, whatever you need to focus on. Make sure every character wants something from the beginning of the story. Make plot diagrams and write different outlines and squish your story into three-act/five-act/seven-act formulas. Figure out how storytelling works. That comes first. Just follow the rules. It might feel annoying, but it has to come first.
But writers get published when they go beyond the rules. That's when they prove they have mastery over the skills of writing. They mess with grammar, or plot points, or characters, in ways that are off-book, but stunning in their effectiveness. Authors are published because they can break the rules. Also, they can break the rules because they're published.
That's not for you yet. You're still in the learning phase, where a character's motivation might go wrong and you'll spend the rest of the book trying to keep them from becoming the villain. I don't mean to discourage you, but at this early stage, following the rules is more important than pushing at them.
Now, this is not forever. The rules are necessary for the beginning, but eventually you'll find yourself at a crossroads. You want to do this with a scene, but the rules won't let you. If you can accomplish it, the book will be so much better. Now might be the time for some rule breaking.
Here's a simple example. You've got an action scene, and the rhythm of your sentences is important. Someone does something. Someone else does something. Some big chain reaction happens and everything is going wrong and the main character is panicking and something is about to happen and she doesn't know what it is but--
Ta-da, I broke the rules of grammar. You aren't allowed, by the rulebook, to write a sentence with each word on a different line. You aren't allowed to leave off punctuation, or stop capitalizing letters. What I just did is not okay. If I did it every chapter, it definitely wouldn't be okay. But once, in the middle of an action scene, to take the emphasis from very high to WHOA PLEASE STOP, that's worth it.
What is the rule here? Use good grammar so you can get your point across. What if your point is so big that regular grammar can't understand it? You might have to break a rule. If you break that rule all the time, it loses effect. If you break it once, it has an enormous effect.
So break stuff! Once you know what you can and cannot do with the rules of writing, start going beyond. For instance, if Stark tells me I'm only allowed to use the refrigerator for research, I can stick with it for a while. I'll write a couple food-related fantasies, or maybe an ice-world science fiction. But when I need to research the effects of erosion, I'm going to need something stronger. Rest assured I'll ask JARVIS behind his back.
Rules are made to be learned. They'll keep you in line while you start out, and allow you to learn the mechanics of writing. But eventually, they'll fall short. When that happens, you're going to have to get creative and break something. If that's the case, don't be afraid to break a rule just because it's a rule, as long as you know what you're doing.
Know what you're doing, and have fun. That's my favorite advice.
|Don't worry, I'm still me. Just breaking the rules.|
Everyone Else: This isn't just like a journey to a bookstore, where you summon your credit card and buy all of the books that speak to you. This is writing.
My fellow writers have defeated their armies and they have succeeded. We will just be writing. My friends, have you forgotten all that we have done together?
J.K. Rowling, who was rejected by 12 publishers for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, did she give up when she was told "not to quit her day job?"
C.S. Lewis, was he not rejected over 800 times before getting anything published and is not now The Chronicles of Narnia published in 47 languages?
Louisa May Alcott, was she not told to give up her dream of publishing Little Women and is not still in print 140 years later?
Stephen King, the man who has terrified millions, was he not told to stop writing after giving up on his first book?
Writing alone is folly. I have known many great writers who have passed beyond because they attempted to write on their own. They fought nobly, but they were forced to give up. Writing is not for the faint of heart. Without my fellow Avengers, I would find it harder than I would like to do this. Join this community of writers! Connect with others on social media sites, share your pain and your success in all of your battles.
Sometimes, those fellow writers, will help with your ideas and inspire you. I have a friend who shared a video from the Inter of Nets, that inspired me to write a novel that I am very proud of.
My fellow Avengers spoke to you about your ideas this month - how to find them, how they morph and change. But the important part to remember is not to give up. Assemble your team. Writing is not something you need do alone.
And then there are those times
I, Thor, have come to you today with a special announcement. My current alter-ego has chosen to move on from YAvengers, and will be leaving the team. This does not mean, however, that I am leaving as well. I have found a new alter-ego, and would like to introduce her now.
Meet Krista McLaughlin.
I am Thor Odinson of Asgard. There is no one worthy to carry my hammer, only I, the God of Thunder can wield it. I write as one called Krista McLaughlin, who frequents tales of young adults being contemporary or something of the sort. I must have a cup of coffee to write! My alter ago also prefers to be known as a Hufflepuff, Hobbit, and serious Trekkie. You may follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and her Blog.
I have already gotten to know Krista, and we are sure to be a fantastic team. She and I will likely give a post toward the end of this month.
Farewell, and good day.
Wait, what? No, nothing's going on. I just finished my food.
Well... something is going on, but I'll get to that later. First of all, we have the end of a great month. May's topic dealt with Publishing in all forms, along with a little bit of networking and other things. We didn't dive too deeply into it (there's still plenty to research, in other words), but we're still researching it too. I don't think that job is ever quite finished. But this month is a great place to start.
Speaking of great places to start... Well, he might be the worst place to start, but here it is: Stark starts! He wrote a spectacular post on self-publishing, which is something about which I'm always curious. He also relabeled it 'punk rock publishing', which I admit is something about which I'm less curious, but I'd try it if someone with my taste in music suggested it. As for the post though, he makes a lot of good arguments for going self-published, debunking many of the myths surrounding the field. It's a daunting way to go unless you've done the research, which Stark has.
Moving into the traditional field, Banner talks about cover art and the kind of control an author has in traditional publishing. Authors don't have much control. As someone who believes the cover and synopsis should further the book's intent just as much as the story itself, I wish it weren't so, but you take what you can get in traditional publishing. There are some side effects with both punk rock and traditional, but there are benefits of each.
Hey, there's me, looking slightly out of place as usual. I spent a post trying to figure out how to use hashtags, but also talking about connections in publishing. How do you get them? Do you really need them? You'll find out your own formula for both of these answers-- the publishing world is different for everyone-- but this is a good place to start.
To round out the month, Thor weighs in (a lot of weight, may I just say, most of it hair) on conferences. Networking is difficult for someone who spends most of their time in the dark with a glowing screen and a keyboard, but it's still important. Know the types of conferences you might find, know what you're looking for, and above all, be yourself.
That's the month from the blog's perspective. Behind the scenes... Well, there's a lot going on.
You may have noticed I'm laying off the Thor jokes this time around (comparatively, at least). Thor is having a bit of an identity crisis lately, and it's going to be tough. His current alter-ego might have to go in a different direction soon. We'll keep you all posted on what's going on-- look for an official announcement before Thor disappears entirely, and rest assured that we'll have a replacement on the team before too much time passes. We enjoy having the full squad on deck.
That's only half of the problem, though. I too am shimmying my responsibilities into a different area. I have a mission to complete that might take some time. Right now I'm working on stacking up posts to schedule over the next four months, over which time I can't tweet, can't write wrap-ups, can't do anything. It's wonderful that technology has advanced far enough for me to stick around even while I'm off working. I don't like the idea, but it must be done.
So what does this mean for you? Very little, actually. The blog is still active. We'll keep producing posts for you to enjoy. If you'll bear with us for this next period, I think we can keep you pleased. As always, thank you for being here. Without you, none of us would have a reason to exist. We might have to change a little bit, but our reliance on you never does. Thank you for that.
As always, have a fun month of writing!
Before I begin, allow me to invite you to join me for a #YAvengers Twitter chat this evening at 7pm Pacific Daylight Time. (That is 10pm Eastern.) Come with your questions about publishing, agents, editors, self-pub, and what have you. We will do our best to answer your questions and direct you to appropriate research in whatever regard you require.
Now, being that is it conference season, and my alter-ego had the privilege of attending one recently, I thought it would be beneficial to all if we speak on this topic.
With regards to conferences, you, as writers, should be aware of the differences between various types. There are conferences with classes to help you improve your craft, panels to give you perspective or advice from published authors/agents/editors, classes geared toward librarians, booksellers, agents, editors, etc.
If you are unpublished, you should be focused on your writing craft. Some conferences are geared more toward the sellers (bookstores, libraries, publishers, reviewers) but until you have a book to sell, you should learn as much as you can about what you are doing. Always seek to grow and improve.
|Side note - always bring snacks.|
There are many lists of tips and tricks for meeting agents and editors, do's and do-not's, and the truth is, there is no hidden secret to doing this. However, through her experience, my alter-ego has one simple rule for you to follow:
You're either going to be nervous, or you're not. There's not much you can do to change that. What you can do, is let yourself behave the way you would with any other random stranger. Be polite, (don't shove your manuscript in their face) and don't pause what you're doing just because an agent or editor is in your vicinity or even talking to you. They love books as much as you do. They do this because they love authors and stories. They love working with words.
The first time you meet an agent, you'll probably freeze. If you're anything like my alter-ego. But if you push through it and be yourself, you'll showcase your personality in the best way. And you never know, you just might draw someone's attention.
Did I fool you with my use of a hashtag above? Apparently they're useful, and I'm doing my best to learn how they work. I think I've got it down. I love how modern I sound. (According to others, use of a semicolon destroyed the modernity of the hashtag. Oops.) Hashtags aside, we're talking about publishing this month. I'd like to talk about the above statement. It's now below as well.
"I wish I could meet an agent or editor in real life; that way I'd have a foot in the door for traditional publishing."
Let's split it into two parts: the wish and the reason. The wish, I think, is good-- and because of that, I'd like to share a couple of ways to befriend agents and editors without coming across as the slobbering amateur. The reason, I think, is bad-- not because putting your foot in a door really hurts (which it does), but because connections do not a book deal make.
I wish I could meet an agent or editor.Good wish. Agents are experts in the business of publishing as well as reading, and they often have interesting takes on books and things they'd like to see in their to-read pile. It's important not to focus on their to-read desires and try to write for the market, of course-- that makes a lot of stress for you without much promise. The market can and does change over the course of a week, and even the best of us can't write, edit, submit, and publish novels in that space of time. Trying to mold your WIP to whatever genre or form an agent thinks is selling well, that doesn't work.
But agents are more than their to-read piles. A relationship with an agent is a long-term thing-- it's very seldom insta-love-your-book-I'll-buy-it. Don't see an agent as a direct, quick path to publication that you have to seize in the next five minutes. Through talking with an agent, you'll realize how agents work; how their enthusiasm drives their business, how queries and pitches catch or lose their interest, and how the agent/author relationship works. Also, when an agent raves about a book they just read? Read it now.
Editors are slightly different, but the same rules apply. You don't walk up and shove your book in their face. Don't expect them to buy your book immediately. Keep it simple. Learn about the things they look to fix in manuscripts, so you can fix them yourself. Learn what makes them excited and why. Learn from them, don't see them as one of those slot machines where you put in a pitch and get out a book deal. That's always when things get...
#Awkward! (Nope? Okay. I'll keep trying.)
Here's a great rule of thumb for talking to people in the business without shoving yourself down their throat (it also works for talking to anyone, if you struggle with that sort of thing): start the conversation by asking, "What are you excited about?"
|Usually they're excited about books, but you never know.|
Wrap up the conversation by focusing again on them. Ask for advice, or ask about a book that hits shelves soon, or whatever you want-- just don't push them. You've made your pitch, they've said something nice about it (hopefully they've asked for something more), and that's all they can do for now. Your goal is to finish the conversation as their new friend, not as the writer who tried to negotiate a ten-book series before their sushi arrived.
#ThatsHalfOfThePost! (I'm not getting better at this.)
I'll have a foot in the door.Now we see the reason for wanting to know an agent or an editor. If I know one or both, it's basically a free pass to publication, right? Inside tips, query-free submissions, and if they reject me, I can pout at them for not being a good friend! Right? ...Right?
That is not the relationship you want to cultivate. When you meet an agent or an editor, you're doing something many amateurs never get a chance to do-- you're lucky. Don't destroy that fragile thing with READ MY BOOK PUBLISH MY BOOK DO IT DO IT. Yes, you now have an acquaintance that makes things happen in the publishing world, but it's like any other business. Bribery doesn't work. Blackmail doesn't work. And would you want someone to publish a manuscript of yours that still had glaring mistakes in it? It's not fun, but rejection does have a refining effect. Although you have a happy new friendship, it's wise to think of the business side of that as any other business relationship. You won't get a handout, and you don't need one. You're good enough to get published without charity. A little independence and pride in this area won't hurt.
Now, that doesn't mean ignore the business aspect. But knowing an agent or an editor does not equal getting published. It does not mean you're eventually going to get published. I met an agent briefly back before the army-- then I ate my spinach, crashed a plane, and woke up with one Hydra of a hangover.
#IUnderstoodThatPopeyeReference! (Yes, he was around in those days, although I only found out about the spinach thing recently. Also, hashtags working? No? Okay.)
It takes a bigger superhero than I to track down a publishing contact ninety years after I last saw him. Also, you can probably tell I didn't get anything published back then. I'm trying again now, but although I've met an agent or two, I'll say it again: knowing an agent/editor does not mean instant publication. It doesn't mean eventual publication. It is no guarantee of anything.
That sounds harsh. I apologize. Knowing an agent/editor has incredible value to someone just learning about the market, revision strategies, and networking. It teaches lessons you can't learn anywhere else. It just doesn't guarantee publication. Having a connection in the publishing world is valuable, but your writing is far more important.
That's what I want you to take away from this. If you want a career as an author, writing will get you much farther than anything else. I keep saying it, but here it is again: practice. If you know thirty agents but haven't finished a story, it doesn't help. If you've written fifteen separate novels, revised four, and queried three, you have more of a chance of publication than someone who wrote one novel and refuses to query unless her agent/editor contacts request it in person. If you're good at chatting people up but can't deliver on paper, you need more practice. If you're good at your job and persistent, you will get published.
Connections are useful, but they aren't everything. Make sure you focus on your writing, and make your connections count as relationships rather than as name-dropping opportunities. You'll be great. I believe in you. I'll leave you with a final hashtag as a hint.
You could say that as a scientist, I know a lot about a lot of things. I've even successfully explained string theory to Hawkeye - sort of. He glazed over at one point but didn't ask any questions so I assume that he understood it.
But the very real and very mysterious science behind the choosing of cover images for books, in print and electronic form, still eludes me. Maybe you feel this way, too. Maybe you've picked up a book with a striking cover image of - I don't know, let's say the silhouette of a tiger - and you read the whole book wondering when the tiger was going to show up. And you think about all the ways a tiger could be a metaphor for what happened in the book, but the book was about Inuit people fishing so you're left scratching your head and thinking that some editor somewhere must have heard that tiger silhouettes sell books. Or you've read a book with a blonde blue-eyed girl on the cover and been annoyed by the middle of the book because the main character has brown hair and, furthermore, it is very important to the overall meaning of the story that she has brown hair. You're not irritated because you bought the book only because you like books about blonde people. You're irritated because the cover image doesn't match the content. It's not quite false advertising, you admit, but you still feel some sacred trust between author and reader has been violated.
I have a friend who has released five YA contemporary romances and she's gotten cover approval on some of them. The first tine around, she couldn't wait to see what the publisher put together, and her first set of choices struck her as all wrong. It wasn't just that the couple on the prospective covers didn't look like her couple - though that was important to her, as I bet it is for lots of writers who get to know and love their characters as much as parents must know and love their children. It was that some of them just seemed so wrong. One of the cover boys was balding, which doesn't exactly scream "seventeen-year-old cutie pie" to most YA readers. This chapter in the saga ended well, though, as they found the perfect couple and the perfect image. But with each book, despite it being about the same couple depicted in each book, it was always a different pair on the cover. My friend didn't want to be a pill and knew that her publisher knew a heck of a lot more than she did about selling books, so she but her tongue when one of the covers featured a girl in tight jeans and high heels but privately wailed to me, "Bruce, my MC would never wear, those shoes! She wears beat up Chuck Taylors!" She worried that readers would expect the book to be a whole lot racier than it is and be disappointed. She takes these things seriously. Still, she trusted her publisher to know what they're doing, and all of the books have sold well.
But if you're the kind of person and writer who likes to control things,
I propose a motion: let’s change the name of self-publishing or indie publishing to ‘punk rock publishing’, and recognise its ideology of doing it yourself and rejecting the establishment and all of those glorious punk rock traditions. Right? Way cooler. A hundred times cooler.
Now that’s out of the way, I’m going to talk a bit about punk rock publishing, because it’s something I’ve a bit of experience in. There are a lot of reasons people choose to do it themselves, and also a lot of misconceptions about it, so let’s debunk the latter while discussing the former, all at once. Multitasking.
Misconception #1: People self-publish because they can’t go the traditional route.
For some people, self-publishing is a route that they pursue because they’re fed up of rejections from agents and editors. That’s true. That doesn’t mean they’re not good enough for ‘traditional publishing’. People do choose to self-publish because the traditional publish route isn’t a viable option, but that’s for all sorts of reasons.
1) They don’t follow genre, so their book is hard to categorise. A lot of publishers are wary about taking on books like this, so it can be a reason to self-publish.
2) They’re writing in a genre or category that’s difficult to market because it has a small audience. Case in point: poetry. It’s exceedingly hard to get a poetry collection published traditionally, but very easy to do yourself.
3) They don’t want to hang around. Self-publishing is a lot quicker, and while it can still take time for one’s efforts to pay off, it’s still faster than the traditional route, which has a lot of waiting around.
Misconception #2: Self-published books are lower quality
This isn’t entirely wrong. Writers who go to the punk rock route by definition don’t have the benefits of the publishing house, which has editors, cover designers, formatters, proof readers and the like. But that doesn’t mean what they’re churning out is rubbish.
The writer needs to write well, that’s true. They need to proof-read their work. They should ideally have a cover created professionally, not by a friend using MS Paint. It might be worth hiring an editor, rather than relying on critique partners who may not be very experienced.
At the end of all that? It’s a book. The one you buy from the shop with the publisher’s mark on the spine is also a book. Look really hard, and tell me if you can tell them apart.
Misconception #3: Traditional publishing is the only way to make your name as an author.
It’s not. There are benefits to it, absolutely. It’s far easier to get your books into libraries and bookshops if it’s being churned out by Penguin than if you did it all yourself. But doing it yourself can allow you to build up a dedicated reader base, and that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? In fact, they might even be glad you’re not traditionally published if that cuts the waiting time between books.
The way to make your name as an author is to write good books and to encourage word-of-mouth to sell them. That’s basically it. It helps if you’re famous like me, of course, because I’m pretty sure people would buy anything I wrote without questioning it too much, but I’m Tony Stark. Not everybody gets that chance.
Misconception #4: Self-publishing means you can only publish e-books.
Absolutely not true. Seriously. Where are you getting this information from? It is easier to publish e-books by yourself, sure. You upload a Word document (how quaint) to Kindle Direct Publishing, it sorts out the formatting, you upload a cover and you’re done. You don’t even know how to format stuff, although it helps if you do.
Print copies are more complicated. You need to choose a distributor. Are you gonna go with CreateSpace and sell your soul to Amazon? What about Blurb, or Stark On-Demand Books?
Depending on which you choose, formatting will be easier or harder. You may need to design a wraparound cover, which can be more difficult, although sometimes using your Kindle front cover and a plain coloured back cover can work (quick tip for you). You might have to worry about mirrored margins and page numbers and contents pages.
But ultimately, print-on-demand makes it just as cheap to produce print books than e-books, so you can start selling paperbacks like the most traditionally published of all traditionally published folks.
Side note: here’s the kid who has been disturbing the Twittersphere by pretending to be me, which is absolutely absurd and unbelievable (we’re dealing with it) with a paperback copy of her third poetry collection, printed by Blurb:
Therefore, friends, if you think your best option is to go it alone and do it your way, I encourage you to go forth and be punk rock publishers.
Just don’t tell Pepper I’m egging you on, because she thinks I’m a bad influence. -- Iron Man
The YAvengers Twitter account saw activity this week from JARVIS as well as the rest of the team. You’re missing out if you’re not following it.