Archive for the 'Being a pro' Category



27
Jan
10

You must answer me these questions three…

Hello! I’m Jeannie, another of the newbies and today I’m going to talk about something every writer (especially first timers) should be willing to do — asking questions.

Why did I choose this topic? Well, mainly because I recently found myself in a situation that required me to direct a lot of questions to my agent. In December, my editor at Bantam jumped to another publishing house. She and I had worked very closely on my book through two major rewrites, and I’d gotten very comfortable with our relationship. Naturally her departure left me wondering just what the heck I was supposed to do about my pending release, not to mention the second book.

I peppered my agent with questions. “What does this mean?” “Is my release date going to be pushed back?” “Is my contract in jeopardy?” “Who’s my new editor?” “Do I even have a new editor?”

My agent was wonderful and answered all my questions. “This means you’ll have a new editor to complete the release of the first book and to work on the second book.” “No, the release date won’t be pushed back.” “No, your contract is fine.” “Here’s the name of your new editor, and yes, you do have one.”

The main point I needed to understand was that a changing of the guard is not unusual in publishing. People come and go. It’s part of the business and we, as writers, have to learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. One of the best ways to do this is by not being afraid to speak up, ask questions, and voice our opinions especially when it involves our careers.

This couldn’t be more vital to a first-time author. No one expects you to know everything going in. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of other authors, your agent, and especially your editor. They are there to support you and guide you.

Above all, remember it’s your career, and you have a right to know where it’s heading.

06
Jan
10

Fine, I’ll be professional, but do I still have to be mature?

by Diana

I’ve been slogging away on a short story for the past couple of weeks, and finally reached the point where I knew it was as good as I could make it and that it was time to pass it on to one of my critique partners. It should be noted that “As good as I could make it” does NOT equal “ready to send to an editor.” I knew that the story was far from perfect, but I’d reached the point where I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it… and I KNEW it had stuff wrong with it. So, I sent it to my critique partner, and a short while later she responded with the kind of critique that every writer loves and hates. The love part was that she absolutely nailed what was wrong with the story. The hate part was that she basically told me that I needed to start over.

Okay, so she didn’t come right out and say that I needed to start over. What she said was that she loved the plot and that the premise was great… but that I was telling it from the wrong point of view. And, no, I’m not talking about something as simple as “This should be in third person point of view instead of first person.” No, she was saying that I was telling the story from the wrong character’s point of view.

The seriously sucky part is that I know she’s absolutely right. Oh, sure, I could go ahead and leave it with the current narrator and get it cleaned up enough that the editor would probably go ahead and publish it, but I’d always know that the story wasn’t anywhere near as good as I knew it could be. I’d always be a little ashamed of it.

So, I emailed my critique partner and thanked her for her insightful critique. (Okay, it’s possible that I actually wrote: “You horrible evil fucking bitch whore from hell…  I hate it when you’re completely right.” ) And I’ll be a good little writer and get up early tomorrow and rewrite the story from the other character’s POV.

But I’m definitely going to pout, whine, and moan about it. I figure there are times when I’m totally allowed to act immature.

So there.  Pfffttthhhhhh.

19
Dec
09

The unexpected perks of publication

So we all know the obvious perks of getting a contract with a major publisher: a fantastic editor, outside verification of worth, money, your book in print (with a cover and everything!), etc. All of these things are the utmost peak of awesome, but there are other great parts of being with a publisher/having an agent, little perks no one tells you about… For example:

Perk 1: Free Books!

So I happened to mention to my editor at Orbit several months ago that I was excited about reading Soulless. Low and behold, what should appear in my mail box a few days later but a lovely ARC of Soulless! Friends, there is nothing more awesome then getting to read a great book… MONTHS before anyone else.  And that’s just one example. Sometimes books would just appear in my mail, awesome books, FREE awesome books by awesome people like Jeff Somers and Amanda Downum! Seriously bad ass, that’s what free books are.  This is not to be missed!

Perk 2:  Meeting Other Authors!

The first thing that happened when I got my agent (other than me nearly having a heart attack) was getting intr0duced to our own lovely Diana Rowland who, in turn, invited me to come and join her and some other bad ass people on a group blog (which is about to get a large influx of new bad ass people, stay tuned!). This kind of stuff (while not always on the level of awesome as joining the Magic District) seems to happen all the time once your name enters the published pool! My agent has introduced me to authors, so has my editor, my agent’s assistant, my editor’s assistant… it’s like they’re all in on this vast conspiracy to link authors together! Which is great because fantasy authors tend to be pretty awesome and interesting people you want to hang out with. I always thought that meeting other writers was something that happened slowly as you built a name, but it turns out they start you right out of the gate, which is great because your fellow authors are some of your best resources as a rookie. Amazingly awesome.

Perk 3:  Calls from New York!

Maybe I’m a total nerd, but there is nothing that makes my heart go pitter patter like pulling out my phone and seeing a 212 area code, then excusing myself because “I’ve got to take this call from New York.” Maybe it’s pretension, but it’s this stupid awesome feeling of “I’ve made it,” even when the call is just “hey, send us that form” or something equally banal. Bonus points when it’s your editor calling because she had this amazing idea that really is amazing, or because she wants to discuss things like cover art… squeee!

Sure writers don’t get health insurance, paid vacation, flex time, or 401ks, but there are other unique perks to the job that are not to be over looked, including the most important of all: being able to make a living writing stories you love AND having people read them. Can’t beat that with a stick right there.

17
Dec
09

“How did you learn to write?”

(Just a note, folks: this is going to be my last Magic District post for awhile. Between grinding away on Book 3 and the imminent publication of Book 1, and my own day job, and family stuff, I’ve got too much on my plate, so am trimming back. Not permanently, but consider me on hiatus for a bit. To quote Ahnold: I’ll be back.)

In a recent conversation I had with some other professional authors, one of them related an exchange she’d once had with a professor of creative writing. On learning that she didn’t have an MFA, this person asked, “But how did you learn to write, then? Who taught you?” This is not meant to be a commentary on academic elitism, note — I’ve gotten similar questions from family, friends, and random acquaintances, when they learn I’m a writer. It’s one of those questions writers get all the time at parties, right up there with “Would you like to write my book?” and “So what do you think of Stephen King?” (Lately that last question has been either Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer instead. But I digress.)

Anyway, my answer to the “how did you learn to write” question is complicated. Continue reading ‘“How did you learn to write?”’

01
Dec
09

Various thoughts that were thought while slightly fevered

Forgive the lateness of this post, please. I’ve been whining and moaning courageously battling strep throat for the past several days, and so I don’t have an in-depth commentary on anything, but rather a variety of thoughts on issues that occurred to me while whining and moaning courageously battling strep throat.

Setting goals

I’ve met dozens and dozens of people who claim that they want to write a book but just “can’t find the time.” My response is always the same: “Write one page a day. At the end of a year you’ll have a book.”  The reactions to this vary. Sometimes it’s a bit of a wince, as if I’ve called their bluff. Other times it’s a sudden appreciation for how much dedication and discipline it takes to write a book. (Yes, I’m asking you to commit half an hour every day for a year.) Other times I see a dawning enlightenment, as if I’ve suddenly handed this person the keys to the kingdom.

I know that most of these people who profess to a desire to write a book have no real desire to write a book. They don’t have the drive or passion to make such a commitment, and are only saying that they will “someday” write a book to either minimize my own accomplishments or their own insecurities. (Oh, you wrote a book? Well, I could do that too, but I’m just SO busy with Other Important Stuff that I don’t have time to show you how easy it is to do what you’ve done.)

But the last group of people–the ones to whom I’ve handed the keys–are the ones who probably scrawl scenes and snippets of story, or fan fiction and character studies. And those are the ones who’ve been afraid to tackle a novel because… well, let’s face it, it’s intimidating. A hundred thousand words is a lot of typing (and that’s just for a first draft!)

So, break it down. Don’t make your goal “Finish a novel.”  Make your goal “I will write x number of pages a day/week/weekend.”

(By the way, this applies to other areas of life as well. Instead of saying, “I will lose thirty pounds!” instead tell yourself, “I will walk thirty minutes every day.”  No, I’m nowhere near as successful with this one, darnit.)

Taking breaks

Butt In Chair is a terrific motto for a writer to live by. If you aren’t writing, it’s tough to be a writer. However, I firmly believe that once a writer has established the Butt In Chair discipline, they also need to work on the Fill The Well aspect of writing as well. I hear of writers who claim to write 8-10 hours a day, every day, and my reaction is the same as it would be to anyone who works 60-70 hours a week at whatever job they have: “Dude. Get a life!”  I think this is especially important for writers, or anyone who depends on creativity to fuel their output. Now, it probably shouldn’t be done when looking down the barrel of a deadline, but in those times when one has breathing room, step away from the computer, read some books, take up another hobby for a while, go to the zoo, or a museum… that sort of thing. IMO, your writing will be better for it. As will your mental health.

My schedule

Again, there are writers who write every day. I’m not one of them. I don’t write on weekends or during holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I do my best to be self-disciplined, and I do set goals for weekly output, but I’ve learned (the hard way) that attempting to write when family is around is an exercise in frustration, so I’ve ceased to waste my time and good humor. (The exception to this is if I’m looking down the barrel of one of those aforementioned deadlines. Then I abandon my family and take refuge at a coffee shop somewhere.)

Pie

Pumpkin. Hands down.

06
Nov
09

Tired Nora is Tired

30 minutes to spare!

There will be no thoughtful, chewy post today, because I’m sick. I had a cold earlier in the week, but from the way it seems to be rebounding, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have con crud too. (Thanks, immune system. Just kick a girl while she’s down, why don’tcha.) Therefore, I lack the energy for thought and chewiness, or even a decent con report. As evidenced by the fact that I’m posting half an hour before my posting-day ends. Sorry.

In the meantime, let me gleefully shout-out to fellow Districters Tim Pratt and Greg van Eekhout, both of whom I finally met in person at World Fantasy Con last weekend. Rachel, you’re now the only one of us I haven’t met yet! Get with the program, chica!

In the meantime, it’s official: I now have spare The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Advanced Reader Copies available. Just a couple! So I’ll be giving away one of them here in a week or two, and another at my own site — just as soon as I think up a suitably interesting contest. (Suggestions welcome, BTW.)

Until then, please send healthy wishes my way. The crud is powerful.

26
Oct
09

Clarity, continuity, and how many days has it been?

by Diana

Every writer has been there. You write something–whether it’s a scene, a short story, or a whole frickin novel–then pass it off to a first reader/critique group/editor, and they come back to you and say, “But this doesn’t make sense!” And you fight the urge (sometimes quite unsuccessfully) to scowl and point to the page and respond with, “What are you talking about? It’s right there! See?” At which time they will sometimes give you a withering look and reply, “Um, no, it’s not. You merely think it’s there because the story is in your head and it makes perfect sense to you. Now stop whining and fix it!”

And, likewise, every reader has been there. You’re merrily reading along, caught up wonderfully in a delightful story when suddenly you read something that doesn’t work, or is just plain wrong, and you’re completely and utterly yanked out of the story. You stop and frown and say, “What the [expletive]? Why the [expletive] would the character need to call a locksmith to get out of handcuffs? Doesn’t the author know that handcuff keys are universal? Why wouldn’t the character own a handcuff key if she owns handcuffs?” (Okay, you might say something else, but the aforementioned handcuff key issue is the reason why I stopped reading a certain popular series. I couldn’t get past this very basic research error.) Or perhaps it’s an issue where you’re not quite sure how something happened, and you find yourself flipping back through pages to see if you missed a crucial detail. Either way, you’re not in the story anymore.

Writing sometimes becomes an optical illusion. The writer knows that something is supposed to work or make sense, and so our little writer brain magically fills in what’s missing, or glosses over parts that don’t work, or ignores the fact that we’ve used the same word seventy-jillion times. I’ll say it now: Thank all the powers that be for editors and copyeditors! 

I remember going through revisions with my editor on Mark of the Demon, and reaching one particular scene where we kept going back and forth over the continuity of one character sitting down and standing up. Seems like a silly trivial thing, but if a character is sitting on the floor, and then picks a book up off a table, it’s one of those little details that could jar a reader out of the book.  There was also an issue with whether a demon could travel a certain distance, which turned out to be more of a clarity issue than one of continuity. I ended up adding several lines and adjusting some timing so that it was clearer that the characters were talking about two different demons.

Timing has been a big pain in the ass factor as well. Since the phase of the moon is very important to my main character’s ability to summon demons, I had to create moon calendars and pace out the action very carefully–sometimes running several days off to get to the moon phase that I needed. My copyeditor was fantastic here, and I can only imagine what sort of charts she had to make out to keep track of it all. And, despite the fact that I kept  meticulous track (or so I thought), she still caught a couple of timing issues where I was off by a day or two.

And then there are timing issues that have nothing to do with the phase of the moon. In Blood of the Demon, my editor pointed out that I had a victim’s funeral set for a day and a half after he was found dead. This seemed a bit speedy to her, unless the victim was Jewish and had to have a timely funeral? (I ended up adding a couple of days into the timeline instead of making the victim Jewish.)

And speaking of things Jewish, also in Blood of the Demon I had a character making a blithe comment about being Jewish, which was why she hadn’t been to Sunday School. My editor jumped on that one and said, “She’s Jewish, with a last name like [very non-Jewish name]?” (And here is where I must confess to heaping quantities of ignorance of Jewish tradition! Shame on me!) Since the character was a single female, my editor wanted me to either explain why she would have such a non-Jewish last name, or change it so that it wasn’t so jarring to people who Had A Clue. This seemed like a very minor thing at first and I was all set to take out the whole reference to being Jewish,  but then I had a little thought about the character being previously married…a very short and tragic marriage… which suddenly gave me all sorts of seriously nifty backstory to the character, all from a line that I thought was a brief little funny.

There have also been a few issues that slipped by everyone until we reached the page proof stage. A blouse in one scene turned into a scarf in another. Within the span of a dozen chapters, a manual garage door somehow became an automatic garage door that required a remote. (Scribble scribble scratch… change “he pulled the garage door up” to “he hit the button on the remote.”) One error that made me laugh out loud (and I still can’t believe none of us caught it before page proofs!) was a scene where the overhead sun cast patterns through the leaves… and then two whole paragraphs later a character makes a comment about the rising sun. *facepalm*

And then there are the issues that seem at first be matters of continuity, but are instead matters of clarity. During copyedits, my copyeditor pointed out a place where a character got into her car and drove away. “How could she get into her car? Didn’t [other character] drive her over there?” Ah, yes, I thought, but she’d left her car there earlier. Don’t you remember? But, I went ahead and inserted a couple of words on the order of “he parked next to her car” and figured that would be sufficient to remind the reader that she’d left her car there earlier.

But apparently not, because after I returned the page proofs I received an email from my editor’s assistant, telling me that Production was concerned because I had a scene where the character gets into her car and drives off, and how could that happen if she’d been riding around with [other character.]

Grr. Snarl. Stomp. Why couldn’t the readers frickin’ remember this? But, I forced myself to admit that even though it was blindingly obvious to me, this was obviously NOT CLEAR at all if it was being pointed out by more than one person. So, I went back and added another line on the order of: They went to do crime-scene stuff, but left her car at the house since it was such a piece of crap. (And if that doesn’t work, I’ll make an FAQ that explains exactly how she could get in her car and drive off, ‘kay?)

Needless to say, good editors and copyeditors are worth their weight in gold. A good editor (and I’ve been gifted with a fabulous one!) takes your book and helps you make it better. (I’m going to save What An Editor Does for another post, because that’s going to be a long post. 🙂 ) A copyeditor takes that revised and edited book and (aside from fixing grammar/spelling punctuation errors)  makes sure that all of the details fit together, makes sure that what you’re trying to say is what has actually been said, makes sure that what you’re trying to say actually makes sense and is feasible, makes sure that you don’t actually use the same word seventeen times in the same page… (Actually, my most-overused word is “just.” It’s a bit horrifying just how often I use that word!) Also, a good copyeditor makes sure that you don’t make stupid research-related mistakes. (In the first book my CE caught an error regarding the make and model of a gun.I was horrified that I’d screwed that up, and deeply grateful that she’d saved me from looking like a bonehead.)

 

As you might imagine, I was thrilled to pieces when I managed to score the same CE for both books. Even though a new CE would have been given the previous CE’s stylesheet, my CE caught a continuity error between the two books that I doubt would have been referenced on a style sheet. (And I’m keeping fingers crossed that I’ll be able to keep her for subsequent books as well!) 

Finally, for a terrific insight into what a copyeditor does, you absolutely need to read Deanna Hoak’s blog, especially this entry here.

23
Oct
09

sorry, that ain’t how it goes (Agent Edition)

So there’s stuff allllll over the internet about the relationship between author and agents.  It goes something like this: author writes awesome book, sends it to agent. Agent likes book, agrees to work with author to sell book to publisher for mutual benefit. Agent works hard, places book at a great house, everyone is happy and makes money. Insert HEA here.

Well, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea. And if you still don’t know what I’m talking about, there are a million places you can learn all about every nuance of how the agent/author interaction is supposed to work. Of course, this always makes me wonder: with SO MUCH information out there about what to expect from a literary agent  where do people get these crazy ideas about them?

Some of it is simple ignorance, some is misinformation from scammers, and some is simply stupid television.

I’m a horrid cheapskate, so we don’t have television at my house. As a result, I cruise through a lot of Hulu when I have thirty minutes of downtime. This exposes me to a lot of TV shows I would not otherwise watch, including a new ABC classic, Castle (wikipedia link to avoid ABC’s AWFUL auto-launching ads).  The show’s premise is as follows (again, from the wikipedia article):

“Nathan Fillion stars as Richard Castle, a famous mystery novelist who is initially called in to help the NYPD solve a copy-cat murder based on his novels. Stana Katic stars opposite as the young detective Kate Beckett. Following his encounter with Beckett, Castle decides to use her as the model for his next book series. He uses his contacts and receives permission to accompany Beckett while investigating cases.”

Fun right? I mean, sure it’s a little far fetched, but who wants reality in their TV? Heck, we don’t even want reality in our reality TV! I can swallow a little ridiculousness in the name of a good show, and it’s got Mal from Firefly! (<3 ❤ <3) So I thought I’d give it five minutes. Of course, those five minutes happened to be from the latest episode on Hulu. To truly understand my horror (and the next few paragraphs), I ask that you take 2 minutes and watch the very first bit. Just 2 minutes, I’ll wait.

Ok, for those of you who didn’t/couldn’t watch, here’s the crux. Our author, Mr. Castle, is woken at 7 am in his lovely NY apartment by his extremely fashionable “book agent” ringing his door bell to come and tell him that he is on the short list to write the new James Bond series. This is of course fantastic news… but I couldn’t get much past that because I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor from the incredible, stupid wrongness that was the set up of events for this scene.

I’ll tell it to you straight. Your agent will never visit you at 7 in the morning, in heels and a hot red dress, to tell you about a deal. She may call you, email frantically, maybe even send flowers, but I’m willing to bet you a great deal of money that she will never show up uninvited at the crack of dawn to play coy about you getting a huge deal. This is mostly because your agent is probably in New York, and, chances are, you are not. Even if you do live in NY, I’m pretty sure your agent still wouldn’t drop by your apartment without invitation early in the morning, (though maybe Nora can set us straight on that one).

This is because, unlike as is depicted in this episode, the agent/author relationship is a professional one. Of course it’s wonderful if you’re friends with your agent, but business is still business, and your agent is aware of that even if you’re not. After all, they’ve got other clients. Of course, life is different if you’re a “famous mystery novelist,” but I’m pretty sure even Tom Clancy’s agent doesn’t just drop in at the crack of dawn. That’s just… stupid. And rude. And unprofessional. And counter productive.

STILL, I could have swallowed all of that for the sake of TV. Really, I could have. My disbelief is used to being in a high state of suspension. However, the little tick that really did me in was the phrase “book agent.” Both our author and our agent referred to her position as being a “book agent.” I have never heard this term. Lit agent, sure, agent, literary agent, etc. But it’s not even the “book” part, it’s the fact that he has to identify her as a “book agent,” which begs the question, as opposed to what? Does he have a film agent too? Is he an actor? Maybe his real estate agent drops by for beers every Saturday and he has to keep them straight.

There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking, if writing is your bread and butter, you’ve only got one agent, your literary agent. The person who makes the deals. If you have other agents working with your material (say for foreign rights, or if your book gets turned into a movie), they go through your lit agent. That’s why it’s so vital to get an agent who loves your material, they become your door to publishing, and, through it, all the other good stuff like movies and commemorative shot glasses and your face on a cereal box.

I’m sure there’s more to the show, but I shut the page down after 2 minutes of that swill. The worst part about all of this is that, while it’s easy for me to see how desperately stupid all of this was, how completely and deliberately divorced from the truth, most people probably watched this and saw nothing wrong.  The space in their brain for information about being a writer, hither-to pure and untouched, is now filled with blatantly false B.S., all thanks to Castle, and that’s just sad.

Just think of this as another reason to do your research. You can lose viewers (or readers) for the stupidest stuff. You don’t have to be 100% real, but it does help not to be blatantly, foot-in-mouth-to-the-knee wrong. Just a thought, Castle writers, just a thought.

22
Oct
09

A Brief Dip into Politics: Health Care

Apologies to those who saw a related post about this on another blog, or an older one on my blog; I just feel strongly enough about this to reiterate. I’m going to pause the examination of fantasy and writing and whatnot to talk for a moment about health care reform.

It’s directly relevant to the lives of working writers, if you’re wondering how this is on topic. Fulltime writers in America, or even those who work part-time or freelance, struggle as much as any artists to find affordable health insurance (something I’ve alluded to here before). There are any number of writers’ grants and loan programs, including the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Emergency Medical Fund, that are designed specifically to help ailing writers pay for unexpected medical bills. Why do you think such funds exist? Because so many American writers, even bestselling ones, are uninsured or underinsured.

Let me tell you a story. I’m in my thirties, generally very healthy, responsible. I’ve got health insurance, for which I’ve been paying about $300-$350/month through the Freelancers’ Union. Expensive, but bearable. Better than nothing. It’s provided by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Anyway, I’ve got a family history of fibroids (Mom had a hysterectomy at about my age, though that was back in the Dark Ages), and some warning signs have appeared, so my doctor has recommended that I check annually to see if I’ve got them too. This usually means a sonogram (ultrasound), which I’ve now had for the past three years. No biggie. Last year I didn’t have any fibroids, and this year I’ve got small ones. Again, no biggie — nothing I need to do anything about, really. But if I do decide to do something about them, they’re easy to take care of with hormone therapy or something non-invasive, since I’ve caught them early.

This year, however, there was a big biggie — the insurance company refused to pay for the sonogram. Claimed the fibroids were a preexisting condition, despite me not having any on my last (less than a year ago) sonogram. Obviously it wasn’t a preexisting condition, but here was the problem: many health insurance companies routinely consider any significant health condition reported during the first 12-18 months of a new policy to be a preexisting condition. “Significant” means anything worse than a head cold, basically. So because I switched to new insurance when I quit my job to write books, and even though I’ve paid my premiums for almost a year, I’m not really covered. So now I have to pay $3000 for the ultrasound meant to keep me from enduring major surgery and years of possible followup complications. Meant to keep me healthy, really.

Which plunks me solidly amid the 25 million Americans who are underinsured — i.e., people who are paying through the nose for insurance, but are still up a creek if they get sick. If my fibroids become a problem — or hell, if anything goes wrong with my body in the next few months, until I’m out of this preexisting period — I’ll probably be on my own for treatment, which will land me in another statistical category: 80% of bankruptcies due to medical bills are filed by people who have insurance.

I’m fighting this, of course, so hopefully I can make them see reason. (Insert cynical laugh here.) But more importantly, I’m doing whatever I can to fight for decent health care in this country. In my opinion that means single-payer — but I’d be willing to put up with a public option too, so long as it’s not so watered-down as to be useless.

I don’t know you guys’ politics, and don’t really care. I can’t speak for the other Magic District dwellers; this is just me saying this. But I’m urging all of you who do care about health insurance reform to take action. Please, consider writing to your congressional representative in the House or Senate. Do this especially if you live in one of the states/districts whose Democratic politicians are opposed to health care reform, because politicians listen to their own constitutents more than they do people from elsewhere, and these guys are the main obstacle to fixing the system. Send the letter via snail mail for extra impact. And consider joining an organization that’s fighting for reform, like these guys.

Because — as many of you know firsthand — it’s awfully hard to dream up entertaining imaginary worlds when you’re worried about physical and financial survival right here in the real one.

01
Oct
09

Sidelines

One of the things writers realize, when they try to figure out whether this whole full time thing can work, is that alternate sources of income are crucial. You don’t know when you’re going to sell a book; if you sell one, you don’t know how long it’ll be before the advance check comes; and once the advance is done, you don’t know if you’ll get any royalties. The advance check might look nice, but it’s 50% less nice than you think because of taxes and agent fees, and if you’re paying for your own health insurance you can kiss another 30% of it goodbye, and… well. Multiple income streams are the way to go. (This is true for anybody, really; best way to recession-proof yourself. But since writers are kind of in a constant personal recession…)

Since I have a Masters’ degree (albeit in counseling) and some teaching experience, I’m hoping to make the transition to teaching writing. I’ve run some writing workshops, been in some intensive and prestigious writing groups, so I reconfigured my resume to highlight these things — but thus far I’ve had no dice in getting a teaching job. It seems to me you need either an MFA to do this, or some noteworthy publications, or a friend who works in a university English department. Or some combination of the above. I’ve got the friends, don’t have the rest, so I’m hoping my prospects there will improve once 100K comes out. (Have considered the MFA, note; I know lots of folks who swear by Stonecoast. But I just can’t bring myself to go and get a second Masters’ degree when I may not need it. I’ll wait a few years and see.)

I do still have my career as a career counselor, which I’m continuing to keep active by working part-time while I finish the trilogy. I’ll probably keep doing that, because I really enjoy it. But having tasted a different lifestyle in the past year, I’m feeling the urge to explore new things too.

Including creatively. Although I’m primarily a fantasy writer, I’ve always dabbled in other genres — science fiction most notably, but also erotica. Yes, erotica. I’ve written some short stories in that field, but I’ll be blunt: there’s not much money in the short story field for erotica, any more than there is for SF&F. The way to go is a novel, which I’ve actually got an idea for. Just need to find the time to write it down.

Here’s the thing, though — these days, authors are encouraged to think of themselves as brands, and their books as products. When they switch the product, they’re supposed to switch the brand. Thus historically we have writers like Anne Rice doing her vampire and other books under her own name, but publishing her hardcore BDSM erotica under A. N. Roquelaure. I suspect, back in Rice’s heyday, that this was necessary not just for marketing purposes, but also to protect her from prudish bookburny types who might pillory her for eroticizing a popular children’s tale. (Though really, the original version of Sleeping Beauty was never anywhere near G-rated, with that whole rape-cannibalism schtick.) Still, her “Sleeping Beauty” books sold phenomenally well — better than her first Vampire Chronicles book. Not entirely surprising, given that the erotica/romance industry is a financial powerhouse, even moreso today than 20 years ago. So A. N. Roquelaure ended up being a great sideline for her… but if the books had crashed and burned, or worse yet triggered some kind of backlash, she could have readily discarded that “brand” and continued to sell her grocery lists as Anne Rice.

Conversely I’ve been following the career of a more modern writer of gorgeous prose, fantasist Catherynne Valente. I loved her The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden, though I am woefully behind on reading the rest of her stuff. But I note that she’s got a very erotic novel out now, Palimpsest, with the cool concept of a magic city passing from person to person as a sexually-transmitted tattoo. She’s selling that under her own name, possibly because her work is already sensual and erotic even when she’s not writing about sex, and possibly because cities-as-STDs isn’t nearly as potentially offensive to the prudeyfolk as Sleeping Beauty on a rocking horse. (And no, I don’t mean the kind for kids.) Valente seems to be building one big brand of lush, juicy fiction, into which an explicitly erotic book fits like a hand in a glove. (Carefully avoiding other metaphors here.) I’m watching to see how that works out for her.

Anyway, so these are the sorts of things I’ve been contemplating lately, as I progress steadily on Book 3 and realize that soon, the Inheritance Trilogy will be finished. Inevitable that I would look around here and suddenly wonder, “What’s next?” and face the daunting answer: “I have no idea.” But I thought I’d share what’s going through my head now, for those of you who think pro writer life is enviable and easy — if you still do after having read this site for the past few months! I’ll keep you posted on my future as it unfolds.

Oh — and if anyone is a reviewer and interested in a review copy of Like Twin Stars, the Circlet Press e-anthology that’s published my short story “The Dancers’ War”, contact me offblog.