Lisa Manifold

Writing From the Top of the Street

Tag: critique groups

Back from the dead

Well, good grief.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted. WTH? I was being better than that. Well, here I am, back and repentant. It’s been a busy week. In all honesty, I look at how I scheduled life before I stopped working outside the home, and wonder how did I get anything done?

Enough whining. Tonight, I want to talk about why you publish, and how to make the decision. In order to get there, you’re going to have to go back to 2013 with me.

face-palm

Settle in. This is a long one.

I had just joined RMFW. Gone to the Conference. Pitched my first agent, and gotten a request for a partial.

I was On. Fire. Guuuurl, I was gonna land that agent (my Dream Agent, btw) and become an overnight success. Sent in my pages, and within a month, I’d heard back from the agent. Thanks, but no thanks. Nice note of rejection, but a rejection none-the-less.

So I joined Query Tracker, and started the round robin. I don’t know now how many rejections I have based on who I queried, but in early 2014 I sure as hell did. However, I was still confident that even without Dream Agent, it was Gonna Happen.

I was also in the midst of critique group change. The one I belonged to was not a good fit, and I landed in the Tuesday group I am still part of. The moderator of that group, with whom I am great friends with, and I were on the same journey. Finished book, doing edits, working on something new, and querying.

Then the moderator went to a conference, and came back all a-gog. She’d heard one of the biggies in the indie world speak. She laid out facts, contract specifics, and most importantly, money.

I’ll never forget the talk we had after that Tuesday meeting. It changed my life. Literally. I went and did some reading on the author she’d heard speak. It was Courtney Milan. If you haven’t read her thoughts on indie publishing, I recommend it. Then I did the Bad Thing. I put ‘indie publishing’ into the Google browser.

Er.Mah.Gawd.

The first person I found was Hugh Howey, the indie darling. I’d read his Wool trilogy without knowing he is an indie, but now I did all sorts of online stalking on his journey into publishing. I remember sitting at my netbook, and just having to lean back at the sheer overload from what I was reading. (I have to tell you all I met him at Dragon Con last year, and WOW. He’s really a nice person, and very passionate about self-determination in the publishing world, which I love. He also has an amazing blog @ wayfinder.com. Its worth reading, particularly, if you’re like me and in addition to being an indie writer are a passionate sailor. The boat envy I have….oy. Anyway)

Which led me down a rabbit hole, but I pulled back, and concentrated on my own work. I finally, FINALLY, put Novel #1 under my bed and stopped querying it. Focused on something new, because the way to get better is to write something else. Came up with an idea for a new series. (That is Sisters Of The Curse, in case you were curious. LOL) Worked all summer and fall last year on Thea’s Tale, and getting better at my craft. One thing my critique group taught me was that I needed work on my craft. I started reading craft books, going to classes, LISTENING to those who might know something more than me.

That’s important, boys and girls. There’s always someone who knows more than you. Go find them, when you have a question. LEARN. Good lord, you can google anything. I’ve learned the most random things from Google. There is no excuse.

And I finished Thea’s Tale. SO now…the thing was done. What then?

Revise, have beta reader read it, and revise some more. Then once more, and then – Get an editor. Don’t take just anyone. Interview them. I am lucky – I know my editor, and she’s not only a fantabulous editor, she’s part of my target audience. So she can tell me what doesn’t work for the audience I’m going for. Give the book to the editor, and leave it be until s/he sends it back. While you’re waiting, find a cover artist. I know there are people who say DIY, but I disagree. I think having someone who is a professional (even if you’re one) but is not emotionally invested in your book can give you a more balanced view of your cover. JMO, however, and you’re welcome to disagree.

Work with your artist. I pride myself on my ‘artistic eye’, but you know what? Every single idea I shot to my artist (see my earlier post about those two amazing ladies) looked like shit. Let’s not pull punches. My ideas looked like shit, when the ladies took my idea and did exactly what I wanted. So I started telling them what I wanted theme-wise, generally, and let them do their job. Guess what? You can see the beauty of what they came up with.

Then we come to the hard part. I did all of the above -and now I have this book waiting on a pre-order, and I don’t know what to do next. So off to Google I go. Because I have to dip my toe into the waters I fear the most in this process – the marketing waters.

Gack.

To me, marketing is the shark tank of my business. Who knows the best things to do? What will work for me? It worked for Author X, and this worked for Author Y, but Author Z does it this way – it’s enough to make you go crawl into bed and put the pillow over your head.

But, my dear reader, you cannot do that. Your book will fall to the floor, and wither and die. You must find a way to get your book out there, in front of readers.

My first suggestion, knowing now what I know? (Lordamercy, what a difference a year makes!)

  1. Write a series, and PLOT that business out! I’m telling you this as a lifelong pantser who is finally moving to big girl land and doing some plotting. Read Take Off Your Pants, by Libbie Hawker. Your world will change. Promise.
  2. Publish the first three in your series FAST. I’ve seen recs to wait and publish them all at the same time – I didn’t do that. I’ll have four out in a six month period, and I’m starting to see a bump from multiple books. At the start of 2016, I’m going to release in that ‘all at once’ method, and see how it works. LOL – I promise, you’ll hear about it. Whether you like it or not.
  3. Pick your social media – and be HONEST with yourself on what you’ll use – and use it. Post 80% of value content for those reading your stuff. That means NO PROMO – of you, or anyone else. I won’t lie – I have done more than 20% promo at times, and no more. I love talking self/indie publishing, so that, and the crap that interests me – that’s what you’re going to get. I also am on Twitter, and FB – but that’s it. I decided those three venues were the ones I wanted to invest in, and that’s all I’m doing.
  4. BE NICE. In my search for marketing, I have come across so much stuff about authors and other creative people not being nice online. Guys, if you’re here (and I don’t mean you, Mom) and reading this for some little bit of education, you want to be successful with your creativity. Negativity doesn’t sell, and in this day and age, it NEVAH goes away. EVAH. Even if you delete what you posted 2 minutes ago. I think you can disagree, even discuss passionately with people – but be respectful.
  5. Respect those who work with you. As I mentioned before, hire an editor. And a cover artist. Get some beta readers, or a critique group. Even if you don’t agree with them, respect them. They’re taking the time to help you improve your work. Hear what they have to say. No one says you have to agree. But listen. They might be right (see my earlier comments on my cover ideas ALL looking like shit. To the last idea, folks.)
  6. You’re a business now. Treat yourself like one. Get a coupon folder, and put ALL receipts in it. That’s the first step – to train yourself to not toss things. But get that little folder or you’ll just die with all the little bits of paper. I met an agent who said she took pics on her phone of the receipts – I think I’m going to train myself to switch to that. Makes it easier for record keeping and transition to Quick Books or the like. Read about taxes for the self-employed. Keep track of your mileage. Become a LLC. I haven’t done the last one yet, but that’s next on my list. Because this year, I have to add author stuff to the tax info. To say I’m nervous, even after years of being self-employed, is an understatement. I’m sure you’ll get a post tax filing post outta me.
  7. Engage with people. Now here I’m just meandering off into Lisa land. I have seen the little prawny bump in my sales. I’m not doing a lick of promo right now, mostly because I am working on three different WIPs, and I am reading and planning for a) the next promo push; b) all the things I have to do for some of my marketing; c) those three WIPs, and d) reading and compiling better ways to try and market. Seriously, that’s what I’ve been doing since mid-September. I’m also really involved with my writers organization, and I work with the self/indie published folks. Helping others. Sharing what I know. Seeing if I can help all of us market more – and I really and truly believe that is why I am seeing the sales bumps. Because I’m out there not promo-ing for me – but working with and for others. I’m engaged. It helps that I am working on a topic near and dear to my soapbox and heart. So find your passion outside of your work – and get to it. LOL – I know, easier said than done. What with all our free time, right?

I think that’s it for now. Look for more from me as I continue on this journey. I love indie publishing, and I love the path I’m on. I think it’s a path with room for everyone who wants to be on it.

When I first heard about self/indie publishing – it struck a chord in me that nothing about publishing had prior. Nothing. I can’t explain the feeling of wonder, of total amazeballs, that I could Do. This. Myself.

Sure, I’ll make mistakes. I won’t do a pre-order again unless I have hordes of fans emailing, and the damn thing is done, and just waiting on edits. But guess what? *I* get to do what I want. I get to try things, and have the choice of failing without worrying about whether my publisher will drop me. They may have some rather harsh language for me, sure. But that’s it. After the harsh language, we go back to the drawing board.

You need to consider what calls to you. I had this discussion at the Gold with another writer, and she is 110% in the traditional publishing camp. It’s where she feels good, where she feels called to be. I think that’s fantastic. I’ve said it before – this is a great time to be a writer. We have choices. We can be where we are because that’s where we want to be.

For me, that’s indie publishing.

If you have questions, feel free to ask. I’ll answer as best I can. I’m certainly no guru – but I know what I’ve done that works, and what hasn’t. I;m always happy to share.

Ahhh! Almost forgot. Go RIGHT. NOW. Start reading Kboards Writers Cafe. The amount of sharing of info on that will be mind blowing. And it will put you on the path.

Craft talk from Ursula K. LeGuin

shownotell

I read about my craft regularly. While I’m pleased with my progress over the last year, I am in no way anything other than a noob at this gig, and I don’t pretend otherwise.

Another writer brought this site to my attention – Ursula K. LeGuin did a Q&A blog where she answers questions about craft. How fabulous is that???? You can find it here:

http://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2015/08/10/navigating-session-1/

You need need need to read the entire fifty questions. She is just marvelous.

One of the questions I really liked was about Show vs Tell. I hear the groans now. We ALL know that phrase, have said it, have heard it in regards to our own work. I personally am quite familiar with it. I rarely meet exposition I don’t like. But I think this question, and the answer, are a wonderful way to approach it. It’s something I’m finding now that I am three works in. Sometimes, you gotta tell. Because it’s a story, and you’re telling it.

Paige: I have been writing fiction (fantasy, light sci-fi) for several years now, and my question is the age old one about showing not telling. My narrator is telling his story through a journal that shuffles back and forth in time. How can he tell his story without “telling” as much as showing? Thank you for any advice or guidance you can offer.

UKL: No matter what sacred laws the Moseses of the Iowa School of Writing handed down on their stone tablets, the fact is, stories are not shown, but told.

Movies show stories, graphic novels (partly) show stories, but we story-tellers tell them.

“Show don’t tell” is good advice for beginning writers, and for preachy writers. And it reminds us all not to lose the onward pace of our narrative among infodumps.

But if your narrator has a complicated story to tell, let him tell it. Let it be as concrete, as visual, as vivid as possible, of course. Keep it always moving forward (or in your case, sometimes backward!) — in any case, moving.

Showing can be quite static, after all; but telling always involves moving on.

There you have it. From a pro’s pro. (Or is that prose pro? LOL, not enough sleep last night!)

There’s also this tidbit, which I 110% subscribe to.

UKL: How can you judge how well the first page of a story works until you’ve done a first draft of the whole story? There’s no way you can tell until the whole thing is, however roughly, there.

And then, more often than not, you find the first page, the first several pages, are just throat-clearings. Necessary preliminaries. Clearing stuff out of the way. Circling around, nose to ground… till finally you pick up the scent and you’re off into your story like a bloodhound on the track.

So then when you revise you throw away the whole beginning.

If you don’t trust me, trust Chekhov. He said you can always throw away the first three pages of a first draft. I didn’t believe him till I tried it.

Goes along with my editor’s recent comment that the first chapter is hell, and then things calm down from there.

thor-with-beerNow back to work. If the above doesn’t inspire you – holy friggen forearms! – I got nothing.

Let’s talk reviews

I bring this up because on writer’s forums, there’s always a post or two that is discussing reviews – how to deal with great ones, what to think of harsh ones, etc, etc. I generally feel that people are allowed to review as they please. I DO feel that if the review attacks the person, rather than the work – eh. That’s a little much. You’re not reviewing the person. You’re supposed to be reviewing the work or the product. I know that’s the focus for me when I write reviews.

We all have a stereotype of what we think of reviewers. The sort of image that is often presented is something like this:

reviewer

In reality, reviewers, because I am also someone who reviews books, are more like this:

giphy

People review because they feel strongly about something. Good or ill.

I got a critical review recently, and of course, like most people, I have to look. I was a little nervous, honestly.

Ya know what? It was totally fair. And the reviewer – well, critical reviewers should take note. This person pointed out what they didn’t care for about the book. What they felt went against the standards for the genre, and what their problems with the story were.

They also threw me a nice compliment, so that’s good.

I read it, and then read it again. And I did something that I never, ever thought I would do when reading someone not liking my baby. I shrugged. Why? Because the comments were fair, and I knew there might be readers who felt the way this reviewer did. I’m totally good with a critical review that is balanced. Since this is the first time I’ve faced such, I didn’t know what I’d think/do/how I’d react.

I will also tell you, I went and look at the way in which I categorized my story, and the reader was correct, I wasn’t hitting the standards for one of the categories. So I changed it. Because it was a legit comment.

So the lesson for today? If you are not at a point where you can stay away from reading reviews, make your shocked face and then read it again, with an open mind. You may find there is just as much to a critical review as there is to a positive, glowing review.

To me, it’s no different than when I sit in critique group and hear what didn’t work for my crit partners. It’s hard. It’s hard not to jump up and defend our babies. But not all work will resonate with all readers, and I am glad they took the time to offer a fair, balanced critical review.

I also need to shout out to the wonderful reader who reviewed my book on two sites, and then put it on her blog! Wow! What a compliment! Thank you! Again, another thoughtful, critical review from someone who obviously knows the genre and is a dedicated reader. I LOVED it.

Last piece of advice for my fellow authors – DO. NOT. ENGAGE. This is something that I also see discussed. Just don’t do it. Reviews are generally not for us, the creator. They are for fellow readers, to let them know what’s what. We are just fortunate enough to get to read them.

Oh! One last thing – thank you to ALL my reviewers who have not posted spoilers. I read reviews of books I’m considering, and I don’t like reading spoilers in the reviews. I’m always thankful to read a review of my work or anyone else’s that doesn’t throw out the plot surprises. Or, a nice warning at the beginning of the review.

So there’s my PSA for today. I like to share with you all as I move through this journey of becoming a FT author. Not there yet, but every day is one step further down the road.

Now go write!

This is it

In less than twenty-four hours, my book is live.

I’m so nervous, and excited, I almost don’t know what to do with myself.

Over the course of the year spent writing this, I have undergone several plot revisions, different directions, name changes, and it’s not the same book I imagined a year ago. It’s better.

Thea’s better. I like her even more than when I started. She’s grown, come into her own, stretched her wings.

I feel as though I have done the same.

After tomorrow, I can say, I’m an author. I write books. I actually sell them.

After tomorrow, my career is something totally different.

What a concept – to change your career and life with the click of the mouse.

Book baby thoughts

So in two short weeks, my literary baby will be heading out to stand on its two little feet. Like any parent booting the kid out, I’m nervous.

Now that it’s finished, I know it. I KNOW it. My editor asked me a flurry of questions the other day. I knew the answers to every single thing. Some of it wasn’t anything that was in the story, but it was part of the arc that I knew. Know. By heart. After the amount of time it took to get those details sorted, that is a thrilling feeling. I’m all atwitter even as I type it.

Like a child, I know so much about Book Baby. I know the whys, and there are things that are non-negotiable. No, my character will not be buying a vowel (I used medieval spellings for some of my characters names. I’ve gotten a little…flack for that). No, I will not change that name. (Another character.) There are things that when I’ve gotten suggestions to change I think…eh. It doesn’t change what I want to share and makes the work flow smoothly, so sure. Why not? There are other things I get absolutely stalwart about and WILL. NOT. CHANGE. I’m always surprised by both.

And while the writing of it was a solitary thing, the getting the book out there is NOT. Not at all. My editor has been invaluable. My bestest critique partner has been as well. My critique groups (I have two, I know, I know, but they both kick ass, so there it is) have shown me things that I wouldn’t have considered. They’re also completely unafraid to tell me the truth. It’s couched in the criticism sandwich, but they say it.

I’ve wanted to finish and publish a novel for…oh…years. I did some serialized bits last year, but it’s not the same. Technically, it is, but it sure doesn’t feel the same. I’ve been in a daze since I concluded that I was done. And ready for the editorial eyes to latch on like a lamprey.

I was reading a blog somewhere else – it was Hugh Howey, I think – and he said that he never wanted to lose the joy that came from publishing something new. I agree. I never, ever want to lose how wonderful this feels. Of course, being able to speak coherently in full sentences would be nice, but I’ll live.

So if you have that novel lounging around in your head, waiting to get out, time to get to it. I won’t lie – getting this finished – to the point where I was no longer saying, ‘Oh! Just one more thing!’ is not easy. But it is easily one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.

So there it is. tl;dr – Go write your own Baby.

Deadlines

My colleagues and I meet weekly to go over whatever we’re working on, and what we’d like critique feedback on. Initially, when I started going to a critique group, it was not fun. Not at all. I got lucky, though. I found another group, with a really focused and strong leader, and equally focused and strong members. Everyone’s supportive. It’s such an amazing thing to go somewhere every week where people are excited when you are, and commiserate and offer ideas when you have had a challenging week.

We all have projects we’re working on. Every one of us has a self-imposed deadline. Until I really started writing, I didn’t understand the importance of setting a deadline for yourself.

When you think about being successful as an author, in my thoughts, anyway, you think about having your work sought after and deadlines imposed by your agent/editor/publisher. This is all true, but what you don’t often read about is that you must, absolutely must, set deadlines for yourself. You have to, in my opinion, plot out your plans for writing.

This means you have to look at the next month, the next three months. What do you want to have accomplished? Finishing your work in progress, getting it copy edited, rewriting – what? What do you want, no, what do you NEED to get accomplished?

For me, it got all kinds of real when I looked at the rest of 2014. I have a deadline that looms for…tomorrow! And then another two for the end of August, and one for September. Within those four deadlines, I have a number of smaller deadlines. I had to make a list in order to keep all of them straight. Oddly enough making the list allowed me to take a breath and stop the rising panic at the thought of all I need to get done.

So to continue the tips to get the writing flowing, take an hour this week, and plot out your writing plans for this month. The next three months. The rest of the year. Add in getting things read by your beta readers, and edited.

If it seems too large, reign it in. Bring down the timeline to a shorter period. And focus on meeting your deadlines, one at a time. Not because someone is breathing over your shoulder. Because you know what needs to be done with your work, both by you and by your support system.

Go on. Go set your goals and a deadline for meeting them.

Rebooting the writing…thing.

So what a shift from the last time I was posting! It’s amazing – before I was married with kids, I worked two jobs, usually six days a week. (As a recreational activities instructor, your day job is awesome, but the pay is not. A second job, usually restaurant oriented, is required.) I thought, and I remember this, how hard can married/parent life be? (Stop laughing.) One job, your husband is a team player and a partner in the hellish list of chores, and you come home from work and get it all done in a jiffy! Pretty sure, although I wouldn’t have admitted it then, I also saw the birds from either Snow White or Cinderella flitting through with ribbons.

That is SO not the case! My husband is totally a team player, and a great partner. Yet there are some days we both come home and don’t care that the kids want cereal for dinner, or that there is not a representative from the fruit and veg category on the menu that evening. I should feel like a bad parent (or as we call it in my house, MOTY/FOTY – short for Mother Of The Year/Father Of The Year). I’m usually too spent to muster the energy for that much guilt.

I still have a day job, and it’s not writing, sadly. I actually love my day job, and it’s both demanding and rewarding. My kids are demanding and rewarding. They’re kind of a day job, too.

So where does writing fit into all this? Well, late in the evening, when everyone has settled, and the kitchen is tidied. When my brain is still going, even though I know I have to get up to hit the grocery store tomorrow morning. We’re low on jelly, and that doesn’t fly at lunch time.

It’s hard, though. My head, up until the last week, has been full of what I’m working on right now. I got, finally, something to replace my 47 pound dinosaur of a laptop, a Surface tablet with the fun light up keyboard. Which means I take my writing with me. I have to mention, the last purse I bought was purchased with being able to carry the Surface around in it.

So if I’m stuck somewhere waiting on something (like the vet’s office for the mysteriously sick senior kitty) I pull it out and work. I have a running doc just for ideas. It’s invigorating! I’m pulling all the little minutes I can to work and ease that cracked out hamster in my head.

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. I was reading in one of my forums a post from a mom who just can’t find the time to write, and I remember thinking, I get that. I totally get that. It’s why I’ve gotten crafty in my pursuit of time to get stuff out of my head into some written form.

Something else that motivated me as well was finding the right critique group. I used to go to one that met twice a month. It never felt amazing or creative, or any of the things I’ve heard from other writers about their groups. Then I met the group leader of my current group, and gave her group a try. It felt like the difference between night and day. The members write in different genres, are all passionate, and all enjoy helping one another. We meet weekly, and I’ve missed it for two weeks due to summer stuff. Boy, do I miss it.

So if you’re struggling, just find a way to squeeze it in. Easier said than done, initially. For me, the kick in the pants was getting a work station, so to speak, that I didn’t need a sherpa to carry around for me. I still have my dino HP. I need to transfer a bunch of documents from it to the new one. It still weighs 47 pounds. LOL, not even my kids want it, because it’s an older model than theirs. But in thinking about it, working with that thing was a weight in more ways than one.

Once I cast off the weight, so to speak, and became more flexible in what “work time” could mean, I got more productive. Then I surrounded myself with really great creative energy, and the brain and output has increased tremendously. So if you’re struggling, and I was for a time, look at what your weights are. What is it that slows your progress, or puts roadblocks up, figure it out.  That in and of itself can take a few days.  Then find ways to either remove the roadblock, or get around it.  Either one will work.  Whatever takes less energy and allows you more time to write, or do whatever it is that fills you creatively.

Because even though putting One. More. Thing. Into my schedule fills my schedule up even further, I am happier.  Happier that I’ve made time in my life for something that is just mine.  Don’t we all want that?

Amazing tentacles day!

N-tacles Plush Tentacle Assortment

Amazing Tentacles!

Click on the above to see these wonderful tentacles.  I am working on my Bride of Cthulhu costume. I need small tentacles.  I was going to make them…but good lord.  These are perfect.  Look how well they fit in that coffee cup! Must haves.  MUST. Not On Topic at all, but when you find a great set of tentacles, you’re morally obligated to share.

That would be great – another step towards finishing the Bride costume.  LOL, the other big step is finishing the darn corset.  I’ll ignore that for a bit.

On the writing front, I am caught up with my critique group.  How many of you participate in one?  If you do, do you do so online only? In person only? Hybrid of both? We’re thinking of going to reading online only.  A number of in person groups are moving a lot of the regular activities – reading, critiquing, logging the critiques – to online forums.  It would certainly save on paper. But then what’s the incentive to meet face to face?

For me, that incentive would be there regardless. I like interacting with people in person, talking about writing in general, and you and others’ specifically.  It energizes me.  Not everyone is the same way.  What are your thoughts?

So off to get dinner done, and hunker down in the snow. Stay safe if you’re out there in polar vortex land.

 

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