Sunday, August 20, 2017

Conventioning

I spent most of the day yesterday at the Southern Authors Expo at my local library. It was a relatively small show--around 65 authors--hosted on the first floor of the library.

This was my first show. Or, at least, the first show I actually physically went to as a vendor. I co-ran my spouse's table at a few shows, and Evin's publisher took copies of my book with them to Indies in Indy last month (and will have copies at another show in October--more details on that when I have them), but I've never manned a table for my own work. Until yesterday.

 
My table. Little, but so pretty.

 
Getting to go to an author event for the first time as an author rather than a reader was an exciting thing. Meeting potential readers face-to-face is invigorating. I wouldn't call myself a great salesperson, but I do feel like I do a little better pitching my work in person than the blurbs on websites do. I had a few chances to talk up my book, and the response I got to these pitches were positive. 

And I got to meet other local authors. This is great firstly because writing can sometimes feel deeply lonely. The reminder that there are other people that share some of my experiences helps keep me grounded. It makes me feel less alone in the world while I work--not just on the writing itself, but also on developing a platform and trying to get my work out there. The second benefit of meeting other authors is getting to pick their brains for resources. I got the names of a few new publishers and agents and guilds and writing groups that I'm going to check out. I might have come across these resources on my own--I spend a pretty substantial amount of time researching the publishing industry--but this saves me a little time and gives me a baseline expectation for groups before I go in.

There are a lot of benefits to shows like this, but the drawbacks are worth noting. 

This particular event didn't have fantastic attendance. There were plenty of authors, but there our tables didn't get much in the way of foot traffic. Some of this is the result of the event being relatively new. It takes a while for an event to build an audience. I didn't participate in the event last year, but, from what some of the other authors told me, there had been a few improvements in the way the event was run between last year and this year. The addition of author panels was one of the positive steps made, and the advertising was somewhat improved. That's promising, and enough to encourage me to come back, but some of the folks that showed up the first two years might have less patience. 

The relatively low attendance also meant that several authors didn't sell anything. I did relatively well--better than some of my neighbors--but I didn't make back what I spent on the table, the books, and the other odds and ends I picked up for my table. I expected this. I knew about how well most author attendees did last year, so I expected to lose out. I imagine some of the others did, too, but it does sting to not sell much--or at all.

If I view the event from a money-making standpoint, I couldn't really call it a success. But, if I view it as a way to get some facetime with readers, to get my name out, to network with other authors, it was one of the best bits of marketing I've done.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It's Always so Busy

We've hit back-to-school season where I'm from. K-12 students started back in the first week of the month. Working at the collegiate level gave me a few more weeks away, but my summer (such as it was--I taught a course over the break, so I didn't do much summering) ends Thursday. I've been trying to make use of the free time I've got left, and I think I've done a decent job. I've divided my time between making industry connections and gaining insight, author appearances and sales, and starting a new project.

Saturday, I spent the day at an Author-Preneur workshop hosted by the Corvisiero Literary agency (more on their workshops here, if you're interested). I went to a similar event in February, which I wrote about here. The crowd for this event was somewhat smaller--about 30 people as opposed to 100. But that worked for me. There was more opportunity for interaction and questions. It's always useful to hear about the publishing industry from people on the inside (even if there is a very enthusiastic church service in the next room that keeps getting loud--nothing like publishing advice peppered with a few "hallelujahs"). I can't stress enough how much writers can benefit from events like this one. In a lot of ways, publishing can seem like an impersonal, faceless industry. These workshops let you see some of the people involved and get some face time. They offer a glimpse into what the people evaluating your work are thinking.

This Saturday, I'll be focusing my efforts on selling some books. I'm participating in the Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville Public Library. I've ordered books already.

This is what I'm taking to the Expo! The books, not the cat. Rascal is not for sale.

I haven't had much opportunity to pound the pavement with EVIN, so I'm excited to get out there and put my book in people's hands. I'm also looking forward to networking with other local authors and sitting in on a few panels, if I get the chance. My book has been to a few events like this, but this is the first time I'll get to sell copies in person. That potential for connection with a reader is probably what I'm most looking forward to.

Also, there will be food trucks--which is not relevant to writing, but still exciting.

The other thing I've been devoting my time to in the waning weeks of summer is a new project. Project 2016 is about as polished as I can get it without some outside help, and I've been researching where to find that help. But I want to keep working in the meantime. The obvious thing would be to work on the second book of the series--I actually have an older draft of it that I could start sprucing up. Instead, I'm starting something new. I want to take a bit of a break from the Delphinus universe so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

And this new idea is begging me to spend some time with it.

I spent last week getting down what is, for a lack of better words, a long, shitty synopsis. I've done a few character sketches and some world building. This week, I wrote the first few hundred words. They're wonderful and terrible, as starts of first drafts always are. My goal is to have an alpha draft done by the end of the year, which might be difficult with my work schedule, but should be doable.

I'm a little sad to have to go back to devoting most of my time to my day job rather than my writing, but maybe the shift will be good for me. I've been productive this summer, but I've not done so well with sticking to a schedule (as the updates on this blog suggest). Here's hoping the busy time will help me get back on track.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

New Beginnings

The blog has been on hiatus for the past couple of weeks in preparation. I entered Project 2016 in Pitch Wars this week. For those unfamiliar, this is a contest where published/agented authors or teams of authors select a mentee based on a submitted work to help the mentee get the work ready for agents. Mentees won't be announced until later this month, but what this means for me and my writing in the meantime is that I've got to set Project 2016 aside until I've heard one way or another. I might do some formatting tweaks and make some notes, but it's time for me to work on other things.

It's been a pretty long time since I've written a first draft (for a novel, anyway; I've pounded out a couple of short stories in the last few months). I wrote the first draft of this part of Project 2016 (remember, I ended up writing the second book in the set first) last October and finished it in November. Since then, I've adjusted and revised. I've written plenty of new material--more than one chapter got a total overhaul in the last round of revisions, and even more have had scenes added or reworked. None of this new material, though, has been written under the same blank slate circumstances I'm working with now.

"Blank slate" may actually be a little misleading. I sort of already know what my next project is. I haven't written a true outline yet, but I know the main goal and the main conflict. I have a decent idea of who my protagonist is, what she wants, and how she'll change through the course of the story. I'm not flying completely blind.

But there's a lot I haven't figured out.

It's amazing how the process changes each time. This is, if we count my false start with Project 2016, my fourth time writing a first draft of a novel. I've don't this before. The muscles are built. But I still feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm not even completely sure where to start with the outline.

I'm not worried that I won't figure it out--at least, I'm no more worried that I actually don't know how to write than I normally am (who needs background noise when you've got screaming self-doubt?). But the thought that this whole thing should be easier has definitely crossed my mind.

I'll work it out--I've done it before. It might be as simple as just pounding out a few words and getting moving.

The prospect of a new project is exciting. And terrifying. I've learned so much from the process for Project 2016. I've got a ton of new and useful tools at my disposal. But I also know better than ever how much I don't know. It's a daunting thing to realize how much you might get wrong.

I'm excited about my new project. It's a different age category and genre from what I've been working in with Project 2016. Ultimately, the excitement outweighs the nerves.

So I guess it's time to dive in.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Out of Hand

Project 2016 continues to be an on-going struggle.

Lately, I've been looking back over the responses to my queries. I still have a couple outstanding, but the responses so far have been nos. A couple of them have been form rejections, but the ones that have had even one non-form line have suggested that I've got something here--there's something about this project that has potential. It's just not quite clicking.

So, this has sent me back to the drawing board, so to speak. I've started another round of revisions on the project. The plan was to make a few tweaks. The structure of the story itself is pretty sound. There were a couple of big things that needed to be done--blank page rewrite on chapter 1, add a chapter in the first act, change a setting in act two. But I figured most of the revisions would be pretty small. Manageable.

As has been the trend with this project, I underestimated.

The thing that I've learned in this past year--the year that I started diving in to writing as a craft and as a pursuit in earnest--is that the writer that I am changes over the course of time.

I wrote the bulk of Evin in 2011. It was absolutely the best book I could write at that time. But, if I sat down with the intent to tell the same story today, I wouldn't end up with the same book. I can even see changes in my writing style between Evin and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which was written in 2014.

Changes in writing style over three years might not seem so surprising. What's been more striking is the changes I've seen in the way I write in this one year.

I wrote the first draft of the manuscript that I'm currently revising this past November. In the time since I wrote the draft, I've done a couple major revisions, written two short stories for anthologies, and done small writing exercises that were more for practice than anything else. I don't write every day, but I spend several hours a week engaged in my writing--actually drafting or building or outlining a scene in my head (or on my phone, as the case has been a couple of times).

That time spent with the work makes a difference.

When I did the blank-page rewrite of chapter one, the strategies I used were completely different. My focus was in a different place. Certainly, part of this was the fact that I knew the story better this time around, but it's impossible to discount the amount of time I've spent learning about writing and practicing what I learned.

This was great for the chapter rewrite. But it's turned into A Thing as far as the rest of the revisions are concerned.

I'm still working my way through act one. There have been a couple of chapters that I've only tweaked. But there have already been chapters that have moved from the "light revision" category to the "start it over" one.

The writer I am now isn't satisfied with some of what the writer I was before did.

This isn't a problem, really. In the end, the writer I am now is better than the writer I was earlier this year and late last year. Reworking parts of the project is letting me get closer to the story, the world, and the characters as they exist in my head. It's a good thing in the long run.

The theme with the work on project 2016 has been "this is getting out of hand." But I think, really, that's what a project like this should do.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Events, Workshops, and Appearances

This summer has been hectic.

Though things have slowed down in terms of my day job, I've still been doing work. The summer class I'm teaching lasts until the end of the month. I've had the worst month in terms of migraines that I've ever had. I've had two pieces due on deadlines (both are out the door now, thank goodness). And I've been going back to Project 2016 trying to get it in the best possible shape (I've about decided to call in a professional editor to take a look at it--I think I've hit the end of what I know to do to clean it up).

So I've had a fair amount on my plate. But, as I've mentioned before, my ability to use moderation in the creation of my schedule isn't the best. I'm trying to take breaks and get some rest, but I promised myself that 2017 would be the year that I did everything in my power to further my writing. Part of this is wrapped up in working on the writing itself. Part of it is working on promoting the work that I've already got out there. In the coming months, I've got a few workshops, events, and appearances on the schedule. If you want to find my work, check out a workshop, or meet me, check the schedule below.

JULY

July 29--Indies in Indy, Carmel, IN

I won't personally be attending the Indies in Indy event, but Evin's publisher, Foundations, LLC, will have a table. Copies of Evin will be available for purchase. Be sure to say hi to Steve and Laura and to check out the other Foundations books at the event.

AUGUST

August 12-- LitPow Author-Prenuer Workshop, Huntsville, AL

I wrote about going to the Alabama Writers Workshop back in February. That event was an excellent experience, and I noted at the end of my post about it that it was a shame I wouldn't be able to do many similar events.

And then one got scheduled right next door.

Where this workshop differs somewhat from the ALAWW is that there's more time given to platform building and getting a career started. This and the opportunity to get feedback on my first page and to hear what agents are looking for has got me pretty excited for the workshop.

August 19-- Southern Authors Expo, Huntsville, AL Library Main Branch

This day-long event is a combination of panels by authors dealing with different aspects of writing and publishing and a writers market. I'll be there all day with copies of Evin for sale. I'll also be signing copies, so if you're local and have already bought one, bring it by. If the event works the way it has in the past, there will also be door prizes and chances to get your own writing reviewed and critiqued by the participants.

I'll be posting more events as they're scheduled. If you want to keep up with what I'm doing, you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook or check out my website.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

First Impressions

I've been querying again lately. The whole process makes me nervous. Pitching is always an anxious process, but this project is more important to me than anything I've written so far, so the tension is higher and the rejections have a harsher sting. I'm letting this round wrap up, and if nothing comes of it, it'll be time for the next round of revision.

I've got to where I'm pretty comfortable with my query as it stands. It was the basis of the in-person pitch that got a partial request from an agent at ALAWW, and I've had it critiqued by an Writer's House agent via The Manuscript Academy (this is a great resource for authors, by the way--I really recommend checking them out). From the feedback I've had on it, it's pretty solid. And I'm proud of that. It's not easy to distill 82,000 words of novel into a compelling two-paragraph pitch.

But, of course, a good query is only part of finding representation. What I've really been thinking about recently is first pages.

Most of the agents I've got on my query list ask for sample pages. The number of pages varies. One agent asked for the first 50 pages of the manuscript. One only asks for 3. Most want the first 10 pages or the first chapter. No matter how you look at it, there's not a lot of time to make an impression.

I've poured over my first chapter dozens of times. I've moved the starting point. I've sheared description and reframed sections from the character's point of view. I've cut words that create space between the reader and the character. I've played around with starting at a different point in the story entirely to change what the reader knows at the beginning. I'm trying to find a balance between compelling reading, connection to character, and a solid establishing of the world. I've had test readers and critique partners give feedback, and I've applied it--or at least tested it to see if it would work.

The first chapter--the first page--of a book has to do so much. I know what potential the entirety of my story has. I love the narrative and the characters--I have followed them through their journeys.

But a reader doesn't. I have to earn their time. If a reader doesn't like the first page, there's no guaranteeing that they'll read the second page--let alone the second chapter.

I've been reading and listening to podcasts and researching, trying to find advice on how to craft the best first page I can. It's overwhelming. But there are a few things that are common threads in all of the information.

A first page has to introduce the main character. That seems obvious, but it can be more complicated than it sounds. You have to give a sense of who the character is and what they want, and you have to do it without relying the cliche: things like waking up in the morning or getting ready for work (there are always exceptions--some authors can make these intros work, but more often they get boring).

The first page should introduce the conflict, or at least give a sense of it. I tell my students that, by the time I read through the introduction of their papers, I should know what to expect from the rest of the work. In some ways, this same principle applies to a first page. You don't have to telegraph the ending, but there should be something of a feeling that "oh, hey, this thing is probably going to be a problem."

On top of this, the first page should give a sense of the world. What is the structure and how does it inform people's actions and reactions? What are the rules? What is the character's place in all of it?

When you consider that a single page in the standard format-- Times New Roman 12 pt., double spaced, one-inch margins--is only about 250-300 words, you get a sense of what a tall order all of this is.

I've been trying to find ways to be more precise with my language. Some of this is dropping crutch words (the word "that" is a big one for me--also "had"). Some of it is finding ways for sentences to do double duty: to reveal something about the character while simultaneously introducing the conflict or building the world. It's improved my writing overall from where it was when I wrote my first book--even from the way I was writing at the beginning of the year. I don't know that I've "cracked the code," but I certainly have more tools in the toolbox than I did before.

There's still a lot of the process that's out of my control. I have no say over what editors are interested in. I can't control agents' personal preferences. Even an excellent first page won't excite someone who's not into the story idea. But I keep working on the things that I can address, and I'll do what I have to to make my work the best I can.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Schedule

I have been really bad at keeping up with my schedule this summer.

I guess that's not really surprising. During the school year, my days are highly regimented. My time is so limited that, if I want to get anything done at all, I have to carve out a specific time to spend on each task. The level of "get up and go" I have in me doesn't matter all that much, because the schedule itself is unforgiving. My 300 or so students don't care so much about my energy level or about the fact that there are so many of them--they want their grades; they need me to lead class. So I do. And I jealously guard the time I have for my writing--for the work that I love.

But things are different in the summer. I'm still working. I have one class that I'm leading over the summer--but it's one class of 16 compared to six classes of 40 plus.

This opens up so much time. At the start of the summer, I had the best intentions. I'd spend my days writing--wrap up a short story for a local anthology, start re-drafting the second book in my trilogy, outline book three, spruce up my submission packet, and send out new queries. I'd prewrite and schedule blog posts to give me more time on the weekends. I'd use my mornings for marketing work for Evin and "Smoke," and my afternoons for new projects. And I've done some of these things: a couple of interviews and guest posts on other blogs, a promotion through IWIC, some query refining and some new submissions. I've got about 600 words on the anthology project, which is turning out to be more of a struggle than I'd anticipated.

But by and large, I've not kept up with my schedule. I've had to fight to pull myself out of bed most mornings, and by the time I do, the time that I planned to spend working is half gone. So, rather than work, I loaf around. I promise myself that I'll work in the afternoon. And I do, about two thirds of the time, but lost days are much less infrequent now than they usually are.

Some of this might just be recovery. My schedule this spring was unforgiving. My three jobs are technically all part-time, but when you add it all together, my work weeks were well over 40 hours, and that's before we get to the hours spent working on Canus and other parts of project 2016. In the past year and a half, I've treated writing as another job--one I love, but one that requires a lot of work and a sizable time commitment. I'm still getting things done, though the pace has slowed down. Maybe a few lazy days in a week during the only time of year when lazy days are an option isn't such a bad thing. And I've been able (willing?) to take the time to read both in and out of my genre, which is both relaxing and helpful in terms of improving and focusing my own writing.

But it makes me feel miserable. I feel like every moment that I'm not working is a wasted one. If I were a real, serious writer, I'd me making use of every minute of this time (I guess that Daily Beast article got to me more than I thought--though I still think the piece was misguided and ultimately harmful).

There has to be a balance. I can't procrastinate--there's too much to do, and by mid-August, the time I'll be able to devote to it will be limited. But I also can't beat myself up every time I take a break, and I shouldn't fault myself for trying to relax a little during a time when I've got a lighter load to carry. Figuring out how my process has to work in these different circumstances is a struggle, but if I can manage to find the sweet spot between productivity and rest, this could be a great time.