. little bitty essays about writing

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Self-publishing. It has all been said elsewhere, I would just like to add my two cents and a slightly different perspective. I write for kids and teens, publish traditionally, and speak and teach writing at writers' conferences. I have had many experiences with self published authors, most of whom give me signed copies of their work and ask me for blurbs or comments on Amazon if I enjoy the read.

I say this quietly and respectfully,aware of the effort they expended writing and marketing their work: I have yet to write a comment or a blurb for a self-published novel.

I think the problems with self publishing are the obvious ones, and this: It’s really, really hard to get published traditionally. Agents serve as the gatekeepers between the publishers and all the would-be writers because publishers no longer have staff, time, or desire to read through their slush piles. So writers now begin searching for an agent first, as they must, because most publishers will not consider work from individuals without one. Agents are swamped, buried, slogging through submissions and they often take months, sometimes a year or more to respond to a query, even with printed rejection slips. The frustration for writers--especially those who don’t live in or near NYC, and who don’t know someone who knows someone--is terrible.

I just googled “self publish” and came up with 49,800,000 hits. The sites have phrases like, “Set your OWN royalties” and “Eliminate middlemen”. One promises to end “unneeded and endless re-writing”. Another says, “Have your books in a week and start selling!!” Lots of exclamation points. All very seductive if one is driven to write, to be read, and frustrated to the screaming point.

Conventional publishing is an antique industry and is in MAJOR flux. The returns system is a whole separate topic and a complex one. Amazon is rumored to be thinking about building brick and mortar stores.  People are writing their own work, then marketing it....everywhere they can. New opportunities abound.

 Most traditionally published authors I know are not in any way old fashioned nor blind. They are experimenting with formats, structures and sales channels. I am certainly not pretending to know what the future of books will be or saying that the system as it stands serves writers or readers as well as it might.

I am just saying this: It takes years of writing with purpose and intent and energy and feedback from people who don’t love you and who understand writing, to get good at writing. Prioritizing publication and marketing, assuming either one is a validation of the work in and of itself, can be discouraging, even heartbreaking for the writer. So take your time.

I have written about this here, too:  http://kathleenduey.blogspot.com/2011/12/publishing-old-new-self-indie.html

San Louis Obispo Conference

pic taken by Roxyanne Young, friend and author   

I spent a day in San Louis Obispo, teaching serious writers that there are no freakin rules. They were kind enough to let me pace the floor, sit on the table, and listen to them read aloud with my eyes closed. I love writers. They notice everything. They are awake..they keep me awake.

On the train up and back (14 glorious hours of train) I reread the first 70 chapters of book #3. The story is telling itself, or so it seemed to me. And now....onward.

PS.  One writer got in touch to thank me for being the only writer she had ever heard say there were no rules who then did NOT provide a sequence of rules to follow. I should probably add that there were no beginners in the room. But even if there had been, I am convinced that craft often overwhelms art and our books are not what they could be because of that.

*a few days later::  I am NOT saying art will bloom if craft is not learned. I am saying that once craft is strong and solid--which can be a long learning curve for many of us--art should probably run the show whenever possible.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

your agent search/ my ability to help

The book covers here are unrelated to the topic. I just love them so I included them! 

Finding an agent: 

I don't give my agent's name to people I don't know really well--and even then, I rarely do it. The agent/writer match up is an odd thing. Find the right agent first time around if you can. Interview them honestly and represent yourself honestly, too.... you are considering making them your business partner. Make sure they LOVE your work, your career vision. It's good if they like you a lot, too, and you like them. You want someone to be a partner you can ask any question and get a real answer. You sign a contract, after all, so begin this phase of your career seriously, don't rush it.

I am assuming that you are a good enough writer to begin the agent hunt. I can't tell you how many people think they are...and aren't. If a bunch of agents don't respond at all or several send your work back saying you aren't ready, believe them, examine what they said and get to work. You can find places and ways to learn how to write better in almost every town. Rejections are a precious and free gift that agents hand to any aspiring writer: the unglossed opinion.

Agents don't usually want new clients who echo what they are already repping--at least not enough of an echo to make them feel redundant to editors/readers/publicity people. All genres contain similarities...but you wouldn't want to compare your work to mine (or anyone else's) in a sub letter. If you describe your work well, the agent will be able to respond accurately according to their current needs and what they see coming down the road....etc. Some agencies have guidelines for sub letters...if they do, follow the directions. They get hundreds/thousands....and they have asked for their template to be followed in order to save staff hours.

This SCBWI list might help.
If you are not familiar with SCBWI they are an international organization for YA and children's literature and art. They have been around 40 or more years and the agencies they list are well known, reputable, honest, etc. SCBWI conferences and their faculties ROCK.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Leave out the dull stuff

I am writing the third book of my trilogy now. There are two protagonists and two timelines that alternate every other chapter. In one story, about 8 years will pass. In the other, about 200 years go by.  The timelines are slowly converging, so it gets complicated at times. The chapters tend to be short overall, but I use chapter length as a way to brighten or dim the spotlights guiding the reader back and forth when emphasis is needed on one thread or the other. To keep all this in sync, sometimes I have to readjust for pacing.

So I spent this morning turning twenty chapters in one of the storylines into fifteen chapters, by combining chapter content, changing the emphasis points, re-polishing the little cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter and, most of all, diminishing or eliminating the ink spent on things the reader already knows/has seen. The story rolls so much better now.

It can be useful  to reread each chapter of any book in progress and see what it really brings to the story. If the event you are excited to write--the real heart and purpose of the chapter, occurs in the middle of the night after the protagonist comes home from spending time with someone that you know they are slowly going to come to love, or hate, or anything that is story-significant.....it might be worth painting a full evening scene, let the protagonist get ready for bed, fall asleep, then be awakened by whatever the midnight-surprise in the actual plot-moving scene is.

But if the protagonist spends the evening with people less important in her/his life, or with significant characters the reader already  knows and understands in terms of their roles in the protagonist's world, you might not need to write the last few hours at the office and the train ride home this time. If the reader already  knows the layout of the apartment or house or campground (or whatever the scene venue is) and can imagine the physical setting of the event without an awkward   real-estate-tour-guide-author-intrusion, consider a chapter opening that has almost no set up: here is a quick made-up example:

Instead  of this:    

Chapter 14

       Jenny left the store about five minutes after closing and she had to run to make the last train. It wasn't as crowed as usual, but it was slow again, so she got home later than she wanted to. She quick-walked the two blocks to her apartment, her keys protruding from her right-hand knuckles as always. She used the stairs up to the forth floor as her daily aerobics, unlocked her apartment door, then went through the ritual of locking all five of the locks her father had sent her.

     Taking a long shower helped a little, but it was getting harder and harder to make herself to relax after work. The two new sales girls remained annoying. She could only hope they would both get fired when someone finally noticed they smelled like pot half the time.  She had overheard them telling jokes about her at lunch again, too. Mr. Gregory had been tedious as always and sometimes she wondered how she could stand to work there, but she knew she had to. Nothing had changed. She had to support herself now. There was no other way to convince her family that she could eventually survive by selling her art.

     So she made a decent dinner, read a little more of the romance novel her mother had sent her, then turned on the TV. An hour later, she turned it down, then off, hoping she wouldn't have nightmares, that she could sleep until her alarm went off.

((ok, assumuing the reader knows/had seen most or all of the above in previous chapters, knows she is having nightmares, etc...consider jumping into a scene without the usual daily-activities intro:...))


Chapter 14

     Jenny jerked upright and the pounding stopped. She could hear her heart beating as she freed herself from the tangle of sheets and stood up so she could walk off the adrenalin. The nightmares were getting scarier, more real, including the sound tracks. The floor was cold and she was about to turn on the lights and find socks when the pounding started again.
     For an instant Jenny smiled, glad the sound was real, not another nightmare. Maybe some drugged-up addict was using trashcans as snare drums? She looked out the window at the empty street, then turned back to stare through the darkness that led to her little kitchen, her front door. The banging was real, close,  meant for her. It was not muted by skin or flesh. Someone was attacking her apartment door with a heavy metal bar. She heard the jingle of the first lock hitting the floor.....  etc....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The SF/Fan community

Me after a GREAT panel for YA readers

I attended DragonCon this year and will be going back next year if I can. Book/reading communities are like big families: Lots of opinions, lots of different preferences, and a great deal in common. Find one that suits you.

I don't costume like many people do, but I admire their creativity and the incredible work that goes into the making of their clothing.   This is a link to the Steam Punk fashion show 2010. I was so THERE. It took an hour of line standing, but the woman behind me turned out to be a NASA employee in charge of the Mars robots. So, YEAH.  DragonCon  rocks.


Friday, August 14, 2009


If you want to write for kids or YA, go to SCBWI.ORG and begin to explore a world of help for your craft, the business, everything. This year, I got to do the closing speech for around 1100 people. I was so nervous before I began. During? It was like talking to my family.

Actually, better than that.

Except for that monster screen....

thanks to Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looking forward (and back)

Traditional  publishing is still undergoing a sea change, a departure from many of the old models. It is a painful, wrenching///exciting, amazing new phase for storytellers and story sellers. The big-6  publishers are downsizing staff and have been for years. They are looking for new ways to be efficient and still create and sell great books. They are experimenting with incredible multimedia projects, and are sizing up the oncoming waves of reading devices and other story-vehicles. They still support great print books while releasing great ebooks. People who work at publishing houses are generally smart, dedicated to their work, and love a good story. They are also innovators who know how to adapt or morph.

          It’s an echo of how itunes wiped the slate and gutted the album format. The big music studios said there would be a gazillion garage bands with 30 fans each. They turned out to be almost right. Even the TV mega talent shows rarely seem to launch careers the way the studios once did. On the other hand, the indie bands are thriving and I love the idea of artists of all kinds finding their audience, mega, big, small, global or local.  Art belongs to everyone.

          For now, at least, the publishers still offer writers what they always offered us: a long, steep learning curve that will eventually qualify some of us for access to incredible editors with critical reading skills and DEEP story experience--as well as informed and energetic marketing staffs.  If a writer can captivate someone who has spent years reading and developing books....it's a good sign that lots of readers will find the work compelling, too. A sign, not a guarantee. There are none. There never have been.

          Almost every career writer I know asks writing-friends to beta-read their raw work. I do.  I often spend time on rewrites before my editors see it. I spent my learning-curve years in writing classes, reading a hundred or more books about writing, studying literature, reading, reading, reading, writing, writing, writing, and going to endless writer's conferences. I took notes while famous authors, incredible editors, artists, and agents shared what they had learned along the way. I still go to conferences. I get to speak now, but when I am not speaking, I am listening and I still take notes. I did all of this and more because no easier way was offered to me—or anyone else. There was no other way to enter into the career I wanted more than anything. I assumed a 5-10 year craft learning curve because that's what we were all told by the writers we listened to.

          And now we are living in the golden age of self/indie-publishing. It is fascinating to me.  2.7 million indie books were released in 2010. Wow. I just clicked in “self publishing” and there were 10,200,000 hits. Wow again. It’s an industry.
          A very few indie publishers have done really well. Some of these writers already had traditional careers and preferred to run their own show. Others are very good writers and marketers who came prepared and have worked hard. I admire indie authors.  I want to try indie pub for some of my stranger/odder works next year. I can only applaud the time, energy, and money indie writers have poured into their work.  The people who have done well have earned it!  I am cheering for anyone who has even modest success on their own. I know they are doing ten jobs, all at once. I just want to say this:

          Almost no one expects musicians to get good on an instrument without years of lessons, books, years of practice. There is a similar learning curve for writing. Mine was longer than I thought it would be. Traditional publishing used to give writers a free way to test readiness. I have a pile of rejections. Now writers are told to query agents first. They offer the same readiness test. If you get a positive response to your query, you send the manuscript or part of it and get more feedback, sometimes detailed, sometimes painful. For absolutely no fee at all, agents will let you know where your stand because if they take you on, they will have a stake in your success. Ditto old-school publishers. They put up the money and the staff.

          Indie publishers do not offer that kind of service. It is almost certain that no craft/art/market specialists will be reading your work with that kind of careful, invested  attention. It will get published anyway.

          Without mentors and teachers and beta readers, learning to write it is like deciding to knit, buying yarn and needles, then sitting in your room alone, waving them around and hoping for a sweater.

          If you don’t have critique partners, consider finding some.  Take classes, read the kind of books you want to write.  Read books about writing. Your library probably has a stack of them. Save up for conferences and if they offer critique staff, sign up to have your work evaluated. Take notes. Sift all the comments carefully. It’s your work, shape it. Experiment with guided revisions.  Learn. Get good. Then publish any way you want to. There can never be enough good books.

If you write for kids and YA, consider  http://www.scbwi.org/