Two Words to Remove From Your Vocabulary

August 29, 2014

“I can’t.”

Ugh. Those two words put my Vickie Secrets in a wad because it’s so defeatist. It’s not unusual to hear these words in the publishing industry, and it makes me want to scream because it normally follows a conversation like this:

“I never thought publishing would be so hard.”
“I’ve had a ton of rejections.”
“My editor doesn’t understand me.”
“My agent won’t get return my calls.”

“I can’t.” Blah.

Here’s the deal; publishing is hard. Damnably hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s why vanity presses and self publishing got their claims to fame. But there is a ton of money and time put into publishing a book and getting it out to the marketplace. Does anyone really believe that every single cancer story/divorce story/addiction story is meant to be published? Sorry, but no. If publishers are going to sink tens of thousands of dollars into producing a book, they’re gonna be sure it’s a book they’re pretty darn certain will sell.

We’ve gotten to be a society of victims, so facing tough challenges invariably elicits a tossing up of the arms and uttering, “I can’t.” Publishing isn’t for the weak, and thar be no crying in publishing, except when penning your name across a contract.

Instead of looking for ways to say “I can’t,” look for ways to say, “Yeah, I can do that,” or “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” Perspective is the lifeblood of happiness. If you’re drawn to writing, then accept there will be challenges – big challenges – and be determined to enjoy the journey.

There is only one instance when you may add “I can’t” to your vocabulary: “S’cuse me, would you like to put your glass of wine down?”

Here’s a beautiful woman who never let the words “I can’t” invade her life. Huzzah. No go out and be brilliant.


Your Horrible Life – Do You Have a Point?

August 8, 2014

Scared_Dog

Of late, I seem to be the recent recipient of every addiction/abuse/life nightmare story ever written. I realize people have tragic lives, and writing about them can bring about a large measure of emotional release and comfort. And yes, I do publish memoir – so I understand I’m a non-moving target. But for crying out loud – so many of these stories are simply too horrendous, and I find myself reaching for mouthwash and eye bleach. Many of these, I simply want to unsee.

Many of these queries have no other purpose than to horrify (mission accomplished) and cluck one’s tongue about how gruesome humans are to one another. My concern about these stories is…do you have a point? It’s one thing to flood the market with “Read About What Ghastly Shit Happened To Me” stories before readers tire of the sameness of it all. It’s the literary equivalent of the National Enquirer…and sure, they do have a large readership, but where those stories are sandwiched between the covers of a known quantity, your Lurid Lucy story stands all by itself – without benefit of a ready audience. And the queries I’ve seen seem intent on out-grossing each other.

“My story is about how I was abused at 7.”
“Oh yeah, well I’ll up that by telling my story about how I became a prostitute at 10 and addicted to cocaine.”

Oh dear GOD!!! Enough! I can’t handle it.

My problem isn’t necessarily what happened to these people (and my soulless heart breaks for them), but where they put the focus. If the nucleus is about detailing every inch of each horror, then what’s the point of the story? Is this violence for violence’s sake? Is it self therapy? Is it both?

I can appreciate anyone who comes through a tough life and finds unicorns and rainbows on the other side, but in order to get my attention, these stories have to have a point. A message. And that’s the problem with Gruesome Gandys…the messages always seem to be the same: Believe in yourself.
Never give up.
Praise God.

Whatever it is, it’s already been written about. A lot. And since there’s nothing unique about the message, it’s very hard to get readers’ attention, let alone an agent or publisher’s. The media and reviewers will invariably yawn because it’s a Been Thar, Done That kinda book.

Of course, some stories are very tough to read and a literary masterpiece. I think of our own book MOMMY, I’M STILL IN HERE. Kate McLaughlin unflinchingly writes about the ravages of bipoloar disorder that afflict two of her kids. I spent much of the book with my fist in my mouth. But I was also blown away because Kate never keeps the sole focus on the horrors – but about finding the light at the end of the tunnel and that bipolar disorder isn’t a death sentence, and people can go on to live happy, healthy, productive lives. I cheered. I huzzah’d. I jumped on furniture and fist-pumped the air. It was because of those horrors that I could rejoice in the sweetness of success. But the vital element was that the message was unique, and she had a clear point to make.

If you’ve had a horrid life, you have my blessings and hugs. If you want to write about those horrors, ask yourself why you’re writing it. Is it a form of therapy, or do you have a concrete message? If you have a concrete message, is it the same one that’s already been written about thousands of times already? If so, then how are you going to interest an agent or editor?

Lastly, the only way to know whether you have something that’s been done to ad nauseam or unique is to read books in the topic you’re writing about. You have to go from victim to analyst in order to determine whether you have a point, or whether you’re simply talking about your horrible life. And if it’s solely about your horrible life, please, please, please, don’t query me. I’m on heart medicine, yanno…

 


Are There Too Many Painters in Your Cave?

July 14, 2014

alien

It’s been going on since the first cave scratchings back in Troglodyte days…unsolicited advice from “Helpful Friends.”

Trog: Dude, awesome rendering of last week’s Wooly Mammoth hunt…but you might want to re-draw Blorg’s broken foot mishap when the Wooly stepped on him.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Krog: Dude, cool drawing, but you might want to re-think those bushes. Looks more like green hornets.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Wog: Dude, amazing wall painting, but the sunset was more purple than orange…

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Slog: Dude…what is that you painted on the wall?

Grog: I have no fecking idea.

And this is what happens when there are too many painters in the cave. The original version is now an unrecognizable rendering that doesn’t reflect the painter’s vision.

I’ve seen this many times over the years, and it never ceases to send me running for the tequila bottle because these “Helpful Suggestions” tear away at the author’s confidence.

It usually starts small…“Oh, I loved your book, but you might want to change the _______(fill in the blank).”

Once the author gives power to that suggestion, the “Helpful Friend” realizes he/she wields some power, and offers more “Helpful Suggestions” to “improve” the book. It’s about this time when emails come to me asking whether these “Helpful Suggestions” have merit.

Hmm.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You and your editor spent countless hours poring over your manuscript, discussing intent, nuance, pace, flow…the whole enchilada.
  • No one knows the inner workings of your book or your soul better than your editor. She is your head cheerleader, chief bottle washer, and overall den mother.
  • There is no better, stronger advocate than your editor, and the last thing she wants to change is your voice or your story, or have you wake up one day wondering, “Holy crap, who wrote this?” Eeeek.

Your “Helpful Friends” didn’t take this journey with you. They’re imprinting their version of what they think you should have written…and here’s the thing: Opinions are like belly buttons…everybody’s got one. It’s a fact that you’ll never satisfy every reader, and if you give weight to every critique that comes your way, you’ll be special ordering a designer straightjacket post haste – along with changing your book into something that didn’t come from you.

I know it’s hard – because you adore your friends – but resist the temptation to listen to their every comment. By the time they read it, that book of yours is in granite. It can’t and won’t be changed. The time to elicit offers of critique is when you’ve just completed your manuscript, and you’re asking for beta readers – not when they’re reading your galley proofs!

If you run into some “Helpful Friends,” and believe me, you will, smile politely, grit your teeth (because unsolicited critiques are a pain in the ass), thank them, and put those comments where the sun don’t shine. The literary ship has sailed, and you don’t need the aggravation of wondering if what you wrote is good. It is. Have faith in yourself and your editor that you got it right.

Don’t be Grog. Don’t allow too many painters into your cave.

 


Taking a Pulse on Your Writing

June 27, 2014

pulse

You know, there are all kindsa milestones: Getting married, having babies, having bestselling books, rescuing errant beagles. But I never considered having a heart attack as one of those milestones. I don’t recommend it. I spent this past Wednesday in the ER with one such offender. After rotting in the ER (where I got amazing care), they moved me to a room and did a heart cath – which scared the ever-lovin’ SHIT outta me. But they drugged me so much, that I’m sure I belted out my high school locker combo and my shoe size. The upside was that I didn’t need a stent, so my arteries appear not to have abandoned me. Yay. But now I have a buncho pills that will be hitched to my side for life. Meh. For someone who doesn’t take so much as aspirin, this is a real buzzkill.

I know there’s nothing worse than a reformed anything…ex-smokers (even though I never smoked) and the formerly overweight drive me particularly crazy…but I’m convinced that had I paid attention and taken better care of myself by getting yearly lab tests to measure my cholesterol, I wouldn’t have had this little reminder of my mortality. So if you avoid doing the doctor thang (“I’m too busy,” “I’m fine!”) take note and get thee to the doc and have your labs run. This shit really is a silent killer – or, thankfully, in my case, a silent “Hey, dumbass, take care of yourself.” The alternative is definitely unpleasant.

And it’s the same with writing. It’s so easy for a story to get away from us. Sometimes it’s a good thing because we can go off in directions that we hadn’t considered before. Other times, it’s as bad as ignoring going to the doc for checkups. I’ve been going round and round with one particular author for a couple months now. I think it could really be cool, but I have the distinct feeling she simply doesn’t have a good pulse on what she wants her story to say, so there’s no direction. Just like when the doc says, “Pricey, your enzyme levels just went up again,” (insert Pricey swearing here), your writing is challenging you to check its literary enzymes as well.

You gotta be present at all times, or you may end up with something that requires electricity, a mile’s worth of wires, some bells and a whistle, two paddles slathered with gel, and a brave soul who will yell, “CLEAR!” You are the heart and soul of your story, so be very clear and confident about its direction.

I will say that the ER went very quiet when it was determined that I was, indeed, in possession of a heart. Who knew?


Is Your Story Unique?: Beating The Proverbial Smooshed Spider…

June 17, 2014

stepped onI hate spiders and simply stepping on them isn’t enough satisfaction for me. I have to smoosh them into the pavement with sweated brow, gritted teeth, and a “take that, you hairy six/eight-legged biting bastard.” Reason being, I’ve had more than one spider beat feet for cover after I’ve stepped on him. Gah! The horror! Any spider that’s survived one of my stilettos is bound to be pissed off and seek the immediate services of every poison-fanged arachnid this side of the Rockies. I’m certain of this.

So for me, it’s overkill in spite of my hub’s admonishments: “Babe, you spread him all over the patio. I’m pretty sure it’s dead.”

Which is what brings me to the point of my post: Being Unique

It’s been said a million billion times at writer’s conferences and writer’s sites on the ‘Net…IF YOU WRITE IN A CROWDED CATEGORY, YOU MUST MUST MUST DISCUSS THE UNIQUE QUALITIES OF YOUR STORY.

It’s not enough to talk about your personal issues with infertility, because, well, um, no one cares. This is a discussion that’s crowding store shelves in every bookstore and online store.

The only way to capture an editor’s attention is for you to show the elements that make your story different from everything else out there. I’ll yawn hearing about the lengths you went through to have a family, because I’ve read this before, and you’ll become the proverbial smooshed spider. Many times over, in fact.

However, if you tell me that inverting your eyelids while doing the Hokey Pokey in a biker bar got those eggs and sperms doing the mambo, I assure you that I’ll read further.

Platform – Who You Be?

Yes, yes, I know. Much has been made of author platform, so I’ll continue to belabor the point. You may be well known in a particular field – say advertising, or website production – but that won’t transfer over to your topic of infertility. So the question for me is always, “Who are you? Do you have a big enough presence that I can promote you?”

Let’s face it, a national figure can pretty much break wind in church, write a book about it, and have it hit the NY Times bestseller list. But we mortals can’t. It’s incredibly helpful if your platform complements your subject matter. It’s incredibly helpful if LOTS of people know you.

There are many good books that die an unnatural death (much like any spider that dares cross my threshold), and it’s because the authors’ platforms aren’t large enough to attract an audience. No one knows them. Those books get caught up in the white noise of every other title clamoring for a readership.

So, once again, I bleat on like a yak strung out on crack…please, dear writers, if you write in a crowded category, do your homework and read your competition so you understand what makes your book different. Then ask yourself why someone would buy your book instead of the well-known actor/researcher/politician/expert in the field. If you’re not sure, then you need to work on finding a way to carve your own niche.

And speaking of carving niches, I think my friend, Sonia Marsh, is a prime example of doing an amazing job of creating one’s own niche. She took her story, Freeways to Flip-Flops, a wonderful travelogue about living on a tropical island, and turned it into an industry of what she calls Gutsy Living. She’s worked her apostrophe off promoting her book and ideaology into the mainframe, and it’s heartening to see the response. There are many travelogues in the marketplace, but Sonia added a twist of Gutsy Living, which is something that everyone can mumble, “Hell yeah, I’d like to live more gutsy.”

I’m sure Sonia would agree that creating her platform was the hardest thing about publication – and she’d be right. You can write like the wind, but if you don’t have a unique message and an established footprint in the marketplace, you may find yourself the goo under someone’s shoe.

Don’t be the spider. Tell me what makes your story unique and how your platform supports/enhances your story.


Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference – The Best…Accept No Imposters

June 16, 2014

I adore the PNWA for many reasons. First of all is the location. Who doesn’t love gorgeous Seattle? I think it’s why there are so many wonderful writers there. Seattle attracts all kinds of talent.

The second thing I love is how they spoil us editors and agents. They work us like dogs, but they are the only conference I’ve gone to that has the best goody bags…including wine! Wheee!

But most importantly is the staff who makes this conference possible. They bring in top speakers, offer wonderful seminars, and are incredibly helpful at helping new writers who are looking for advice. There have been any number of time when someone working the conference brought a writer over to me, suggesting that I could answer a lot of their questions. That’s why we are there, and the conference makes full use of that.

If you’re looking for a great conference staffed with friendly people and lots of great information, you will love the PNWA. The conference is July 17 – 20. Here’s a cool video they put up. Hope to see you there!


Editing…A Dying Art?

June 11, 2014

image

I’m not sure what’s up with the growing lack of knowing the rudimentary basics of English. It’s a rarity to read a news article that’s error free. Are we,  as a nation, being dumbed down? Years ago, a blunder like the pic above would have never happened because the person writing it would have done it right in the first place. Or the person editing would have caught it. Or the printer would have caught it. But now? No one is minding the literary chicken coop.

So while it’s funny and proffers up the expected how-horrible! groans, it’s a symptom of something far worse and pathetic. Really, we should aspire to excellence, right?


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