Self (Publishing) Help: What is a Book Doctor? Do I need one?

From Flickr User takomabibelot

If you’ve been reading here, or if you grabbed one of my free eBooks, you probably know that I am 100% pro editor.

But if you’re thinking about self-publishing, or wondering if you should pitch an agent, and have done even a small amount of web research, you’ve probably also seen the term “book doctor.”

Maybe you’re wondering what, precisely, is the difference?

Sometimes, people call themselves book doctors and they are really developmental editors (meaning they are equipped to help you develop the plot of your story, your characters, the big meaty bits: they will help you with the big revisions).  But be careful!  Because sometimes, these are folks who’ve self-pubbed, who haven’t used editors, and who don’t know their hand from their face.  Sorry.  I don’t like to be a crass hater, but it’s true.  You don’t really have to be qualified to hang a shingle on the internet.  You just have to be able to figure out WordPress or Blogger, and trust me, both are doable with any modicum of tech savvy.

Sometimes, book doctors are reasonably successful genre authors who can help you with the kinds of books they write.  In my experience, traditionally published genre authors are well-informed on the demands of their particular market.  They’ve read everybody like them and can probably tell you if you’ve got something sale-able on your hands.

But book doctors take the temperature of your manuscript or your ideas and asses their marketability, saleability, and they’ll be your book or proposal doula, too–they’ll be on hand to talk you through block, or help you slash darlings.  They can give you tips on leveraging social media, blogging, author plarform.  They can help you pick software for accounting.  Maybe some of them would even make you a sandwich.

Book doctors–good ones–are the first stop before trying to publish or self-publish.  Sometimes, before even developing a full draft.  But make sure that the book doctor you hire is legit, and has experience with what you want to do.  Ask for references or testimonials or both (if there aren’t any on their website, and even if there are).  Ask for a copy of their resume or CV.  Legit people won’t balk at the request or feed you a line about confidentiality agreements.  They will comply happily with they information they may provide while satisfying the demands of heir confidentiality agreements.

I’ve read a bit lately about the success (or lack thereof) of self-published novels, and across discussions, blog posts, infographics, the more money a self-published author spends pre-publication, the better the book does in terms of sales.  Here’s an interesting piece about Fifty Shades of Grey, and here’s something from Jamie Chavez, a happening (and experienced) independent editor.

Do You Need One?

But here’s a little quiz to check.  Answer Yes or No, and tally each answer.

1.  Do I have experience with writing book proposals?

2.  Do I have experience with writing books?

3.  Do I have experience with hiring editors?

4.  Do I have a complete manuscript that I have already pitched to several agents or editors?

5.  Have agents been interested?

6.  Do I have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the  field of writing or in the field about which I hope to write?

7.  Have I networked with any editors or agents?

9.  Am I writing the book for work or to serve a specific, narrowly definable population to which I have access?

10.  Have I started building my author’s platform?

Assessing Results:

7-10 Yes – You are probably okay without a book doctor, but if pitching at least 30 agents and editors doesn’t yield any results, perhaps consider a consultation with a book doctor.

4-6 Yes – You would probably benefit from a book doctor.  You could probably muscle through  without, but your job would be easier with one.

0-3 Yes – By all means, get on the horn this instant.  Maybe even reconsider your authorial aspirations before you’ve done a little more work or research in that direction.  Check out a conference in your field or a writing workshop or both.

Why I Love Facebook, After All.

From Flickr User SeanMacEntee

I was not an early adopter of social media.

I didn’t have a MySpace until Facebook was already a thing.  My MySpace account was under the name of my Misanthropic Internet Doppleganger, Georgette Magillacuddy.  If we were friends in college, you might’ve heard me tell people (men) that was my name at bars.

I thought social media was stupid and time-consuming and–like Television–threatened to rob me of all of my proper thinking muscles if I let it.

My friend Sharon talked me into getting a Facebook.  She also showed me Project Runway.  I was on board with Project Runway immediately.

And, yes. I am aware of the way in which Facebook is collecting information about me in order to be able to sell demographic info to companies who will try to sell things to me, but frankly, I’d prefer smart marketing than stupid marketing. I do not like watching ads about sports equipment or hearing aids. If I liked sports or was hard of hearing, I would.  Sure, the way in which it’s not a terribly far leap between April the demographic and April the person is a touch scary.  But all new developments in technology are a touch scary.

I still think Facebook could rob me of my thinking muscles.  But I figured out how to block users and apps, so now, If somebody posts only sentimental quotations and quips about Christ, I say, “Please, Facebook.  Don’t show me any more of that.”  I also ask it not to show me stuff from Farmville or Sims or any of the games.

Facebook can be a benevolent master.

It can also be a sneaky time-suck.

But as with every other guilty (and lately gleeful) pleasure, we have to exercise self-control.  I have a policy where I shut Facebook down after every time I check in on it.  I used to let it up all the time.  But whenever I do that, I get nothing done.

As recently as eighteen months ago, I still professed to being confused about Facebook.  I remember being kind of stymied when one of the smartest people I know, my friend, mentor, and fellow-freelancer, Katney B., said, “I totally get it, and I love it.”

But first when I sold cell phones, and then when I went full time as a freelancer, and it occurred to me that Facebook could be my ally.

Ah ha!  A practical use for Facebook.  Potential generation of capital.  And so I began to tinker in earnest, and without guilt.  That bit was huge for me.  I have to give myself permission to do things that are enjoyable, or things that I view as unproductive.

And in so doing, I started to get it. I could check in on people about whom I am curious, but have no need or desire to spend hours in conversation with.  People for whose success I am hopeful.  And people whose work I admire.  And if I am feeling particularly nosy, I can know what the weather is like where they are, and I know if they switch jobs or cities or S.O.s.

And in the last few months or year, I’ve re-connected with some people in my past who I missed!  Two of my dearest friends ever and I now swap emails outside of Facebook. Child and I made a sweet visit to NYC via a Facebook connection with a friend from long ago.

Since I’ve been blogging and building myself a business of my thinking and writing muscles, I’ve loved the way Facebook allows me to show my work to 541 of the people with whom I’ve become acquainted along the way, personally, casually, professionally.  It’s even safe to be friends with ex lovers.

I have Facebook friends who are fellow writers, authors I admire, literary journals.  And in a couple of instances, the literary journals have reminded me to submit to them.  Now I belong to the group Submission Bombers.  If you’re a writer, check it out.

People who live where I do invite me to cool stuff.  People who have kids post pictures, so they don’t have to email them to me.  I appreciate that.

And while it’s utterly practically meaningless to the business, I enjoy being able to go click the big thumbs up on businesses I live near, or whose owners I know, or places I’ve been that are cool.  I like that I can categorize myself as “person who likes The Nightmare Before Christmas or Mad Men,” even if it does mean that Facebook will tell other people to sell me 60s vintage shoes or vaguely creepy stop-motion movies.

And this is kind of weird, but I get a little competitive about the number of friends I have.  I view it as an absurd measure of success, especially since the second most traffic on my blog is drummed up through facebook.  

So what about you?  What do you love about facebook? Or do you hate it?

Writing Out of My Depth: Why You Should Challenge Yourself Professionally

this image is from Flickr User brendahallowes

Today is the last day I’m writing at Adotas.  My (incredibly brainy) friend from college, Brian LaRue, is Managing Editor there, and he posted on facebook last weekend that he would be taking a week off, and needed a fill-in writer.  Adotas’s subject matter is technology and marketing.  I offered my services post haste.

I may be a bit better informed than the average end user, but I’d position my know-how at the top of the bottom tier of tech-savvy.

So writing for adotas was challenging.  Even when writing about the changes in TV Marketing.  Also, it’s really hard to be interesting in jargon.

I am an artist.  Writers are.  People forget that, I think.

A thing about being an artist who practices writing is that I’m curious.  About everything.  So I spent my week learning terms like pre-roll and verticals and SQI and exploring concepts of which I had, really, peripheral awareness, like the role of analytics and how ad-based marketing and branding are changing.  I looked up a lot of initialisms, too.  That world slaps initialisms on everything.    And I loved it.  It was like being 22 again: looking out over a vast expanse of possibility and the unknown, and recognizing that there is so much I don’t know, will never know.

So yeah, it was harder than it strictly needed to be, but it’s really important to step out of your comfort zone once in a while.

Here’s Why

1.  Diversity in work history is good.  Employers look favorably on people who are willing to do or learn what the job demands, regardless of their expertise or experience.

2.  Learning new stuff feels good.  It’s good for your brain and your self-confidence.

3.  When you challenge yourself professionally, you remember that the world extends beyond your purview.

4.  You get to meet new people who you would never meet in any other context.  I talked on the phone with the CEO of Share This. While he was on a plane. How cool is that?

5.  As an artist or other sort of creative person, stepping outside of your comfort zone demonstrates your ability and desire to make unexpected solutions, and it can also help your potential clients or employers think creatively about how to put you to use.

6.  Getting your name in front of more people is always positive.  When you step outside of your zone, you position yourself for relationships or clients you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

7.  You refresh your awareness of your own resourcefulness.  The ultimate death blow in any career is comfort and stasis.  Especially in our world that is constantly changing and being niggled into unfamiliar spaces by technology and its capabilities.

8.  It reminds you how to admit you’re fallible and how to ask for help and where to look for help you can give yourself.

How about you?  Any great stories from stepping outside of your expertise?  Any other reasons to do so?

Self (Publishing) Help: Birthing Originality and Truth

From Flickr User Swami Stream, Temple of Truth

I told a friend the other day that I honestly can’t remember the pain of child birth.  I can’t describe it specifically, the way I can describe the sting and itch of mosquito bite ages after it’s dried out and my flesh is white and smooth again.  My friend will soon become a mom, and she is worried and scared and she wants to avoid the pain.  I understand that.

There is no benefit to the pain.  Other than knowing that your mind can swallow anything it doesn’t want you to recall.

I think she asked me about it because she expected me to tell the truth.  She has read some of my blog.  I am a writer.  What are writers, after all, other than people who use lies, language, and literary devices to tell the truth?

What I did tell her was that whenever I try to write about it–in prose or poetry or essay–all I get is that the pain was like I imagine it must feel to have a cinder block slowly rotated inside your vagina: scraping and sharp and bloody.

The other week, I wrote about the Writer’s Digest webinar I attended, and Smoky wrote in the comments that she thinks that writing to a formula is wrong, and that she tells her students not to listen to Writer’s Digest’s advice about how stories work.

I think she is both right and wrong.  Doing it in a formula can be as helpful as it is unhelpful.  Every writer must find her own way.

But In reading Writing Down the Bones, which is one of the assigned readings for the residency, I found this chapter that really resonated with me, and that speaks to this very thing.

And I am even more convinced now that any writer at any stage of the game should own a copy of this book.  It is always relevant and inspiring and full of ideas.  But it is not prescriptive.  It does not say, “This is the way.”  It says, “There are many ways, here’s mine.  Let me help you look for yours.”

Trust Yourself

That’s the title of the chapter of Natalie Goldberg’s book that really speaks to me on this reading.

Here’s my favorite passage:

This is where the depth of the relationship with yourself is so important.  You should listen to what people say.  Take in what they say. (Don’t build a steel box around yourself.) Then make your own decision.  It’s your poem and your voice.  There are no clear-cut rules; it is a relationship with yourself.  What is it you wanted to say?  What do you want to expose about yourself?  Being naked in a piece is a loss of control.  This is good.  We’re not in control anyway.  People see you as you are.  Sometimes we expose ourselves before we understand what we have done.  That’s hard, but even more painful is to freeze up and expose nothing.  Plus freezing up makes for terrible writing.

And that’s what, I think, Smoky was saying when she said that Writer’s Digest will train the writer out of a person and make her into a factory fictioneer.  Following a formula that somebody else taught you means that you can stop trusting yourself.  “If I do it like this, then it will be right.”

That is wrong.  Right is, “If I do it like me, then it will be right.”

I and Smoky and Natalie Goldberg want you to trust your own sense of truth when you’re writing.  We don’t want you to ask Writer’s Digest how to make a story, or Donald Maass, or J.A. Konrath, or Mike Hyatt.

There are no new stories.  One of the oldest texts with popular readership is the Bible, and even in there it says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

What it unique is you.  There’s no other writer in the whole wide world who has exactly the same life, experiences, expectations, ideas, values, thoughts, education as you.  So even if you’re telling a story that’s been told a zillion times before, it’s new because you are telling it.

Your truth is original because it’s yours.

So tell it.  And don’t be afraid.  And don’t limit yourself with too much thinking about structure or plot or tricks.  Just read and write and everything will come out okay.

After you do that, get an editor.  Or a book doctor. Or beta readers.  Or all three.  A post on book doctors is coming next week.

Campfire Parenting, New Context, New Friends.

From Flickr User lowjumpingfrog
Our campfire was not on the beach, but I feel idyllic about campfires, and it might as well have been, it made me so pleased.

Ever have casual, peripheral, or professional contact with people and know that you want to know them more?

I love people, and I love to meet and talk to new ones.  But I don’t always love to sustain relationships.  Sometimes, I find myself doing it anyway out of proximity or convenience or a desire for adventure, self-punishment, or intrigue.

But other times, I am so charmed by a person or couple’s energy that I become absolutely exhilarated if the opportunity to learn to know them better presents.

Lately, a fellow solo-professional, Jon, and his wife, Katie, have been on my radar in that second sense.

So imagine my excitement when they invited Fella, Child and I over for a campfire the other week.  I already shared one anecdote from those glorious two hours.  But here’s some additional homage.

On Campfire Parenting

Campfire parenting is hands-off.  I tend to be pretty hands-off in general.  If I can hear my kid, I’m good.  And I’m also from the “you’re not hurt that badly, brush off and keep playing” school.

Child kept falling.  No wonder: she was running around in the dark with Katie & Jon’s kid, and their (fabulous) neighbor kids.  And she is typically not a drama queen.  But she kept scraping herself and requiring bandages, which the other children administered, and which were generously fetched (along with antibiotic cream) from inside by Katie.  Campfire parenting dictates that it takes a village.

Marshmallows!  Child had at least four.  I don’t know how many the other children had, but I know that the best part of a bag of ‘mallows was obliterated.  Campfire sugar doesn’t count.

Then, science experiment in which I lent the application for flashlight on my phone to illuminate.  It involved speculating about throwing roly-poly bugs into the fire, and strict admonishment not to by the grownups.

On New Context

One thing that I did know about Jon is that he used to be a Philadelphia police officer.

Being the lawless rebel that I am (haha), I have a specific view of police officers in my head: They are stern yes-people with no capacity for critical thought, caprice, or joy.  Also, they take sadistic pleasure in restricting other people’s freedom, which seems to be something that ought to be taken with absolute certitude of desert, and great consideration, but of which the fuzz seem to be collectively incapable.

And this notion never really jived with my sense of Jon.  But the campfire fun totally crystallized the fact that there’s not an ounce of that in him.

And when Katie told me that she grew up just her and her sister, I said, “So are you stoked to have boys?”

Which seemed like a reasonable question in thought form, but one that was mildly beer addled, b/c I felt like an ass as soon as I said it.  But Katie saved the moment from raised eyebrows and back-pedaling.  She said, “You know, I’m just stoked to have human beings.”

And she said it in this kind of awed tone of voice that accurately captured the sense of power, helplessness, and accomplishment that comes with parenthood.

All of this is why it’s exciting to be alive, to meet new friends, and to be a parent who likes campfires.

Campfire Commencement Address

from flickr user nffcnnr

I love campfires.  The bugs, the smoke, the heat, the marshmallows, stars, smoldering wood smell, cool, dark.  It is an elevated level of consciousness at a campfire–dulled senses from booze (or whatever) notwithstanding.  I like music, talking, squabbling children, raccoons, bats, bug bites, itchy ankles. I love how it makes my clothes smell.

A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of campfiring with some nearby neighbors & their children, neighbors, my child, and Fella.

Their neighbors were two cute kids around ages 7 and 10, I’d say.  I was talking about something, as I often am, and the older one, a boy, said, “Are you a teacher or something?”

“No,” I said.

“You talk like you’re smart or something.”

I laughed.  A lot.  Then I thanked him and said, “That’s the best.  I’m going to put that in my blog.”

His eyes got huge in something that I couldn’t discern, incredulity? Awe? Horror? “You have a BLOG?!” He said, like it was something so special.   I love that about kids.  I ask myself every day, “What are you doing, spewing into this blog river?  Why do you deserve to say what you want to say? What makes you think anybody cares?  Almost everybody who reads your blog knows you,” and on and on and on.  Kids don’t ask themselves such questions.  The world is fresh and new and everybody is smart and nice and deserving.

It is humbling.  And one of the many pleasures of parenthood.

At the campfire, we talked about all sorts of things, among them, the shared enjoyment from our stints as food servers.

And then the next day I was cleaning my kitchen floor with the same sort of urgencyI used to clean the floor at the end of my shift.  I was thinking about all the fun things I could do just as soon as my floor was clean.  I didn’t actually have anything fun to do, aside from not clean the floor, but that didn’t matter–I didn’t want to do the work, but I wanted the floor to be clean.

And then I started to think about how glad I am that I got into food service at such an early age (15!), and all the terrific life lessons I learned during my decade as a food server that prepared me for college, life, parenthood, self-employment.

So in this season of commencement addresses and forward-looking and 18-year-olds on the brink of everything, I will make like a teacher and offer the following in favor of the INCREDIBLY unpopular taking a year or two off school after high school.

Here’s what I prescribe.

Graduate from high school.  Get a full time job in food or retail if you don’t already have one.  Move out of your parents’ house into a cheap apartment, make sure you can afford it.  A good rule of thumb is that you have to be able to make rent with one week’s wages.  If you don’t make enough money, get a roommate.

Live like this for a year. Consider it a paid internship in life.  Consider it an invaluable part of your education.

Keep all of the bills you paid and receipts from food or anything else you bought yourself.  Add it up at the end of the year.  Then, think about that sum–whatever it is, it is almost certainly under $15,000, and remember how hard you worked for that money, and how many days you lived for that percentage of your college tuition.

What The School of Food Service Will Teach You About College.

1.  How to make yourself do stuff that’s uncomfortable, even if you don’t want to.

You will learn to muscle through odd demands from micro-managing bosses, to be nice to people who are miserable, to accept responsibility for things that aren’t even your fault, and how to recognize the world outside of yourself.  This will make you realize what a blessing a fifteen-page paper or fifty pages of reading a night is.  It will be a relief to be master of your own success, and to not have to rein in your mind or self–to be encouraged to develop those things.

2.   The value of money.

When you have no conception of, for example, $40,000–which is somewhere in the middle range for a year’s college tuition–you will think nothing of wasting your time and your parents’ money–or student loans that you’ll eventually be on the hook for.  And you’ll want to take your time.  College is comfortable.  It’s insulated.  There are other people your age, and usually lots of fun to be had.  If you understand the value of money, you will understand the value of all of that a little more, and will naturally handle both your time and your fun-having more responsibly.

3.  How to talk to strangers.

I remember having a parent switch as a teenager that I’d put on for talking to adults.  It involved a lot of smiling and nodding.  When you have to talk to strangers and grownups for your bacon, you will learn quickly that adults are people just like you are a person.  And you will be able to translate that knowledge and belief to professors, academic advisers, your significant other’s parents, etc, etc, etc.  I taught freshman comp at Pitt for a semester, and I was kind of perplexed by how the students–mostly middle- and upper-middle class 17- and 18-year-olds regarded me (I was then 26) as either a parent surrogate, or a duncy nemesis.  And only two of them talked to me in a way that indicated experience talking to adults.  Two out of twenty-three.

4.  How to work hard and party hard.

I don’t think I’ve ever written the word and with such muscle.  In college, I observed a lot of people who played madly, and did the bare minimum to get by academically.  The food service/retail construct which awards hard work with money drives a person to work like she means it.  And then makes her feel justified in partying hard.  This skill is massively useful in college.  You’ve gotta do well, grades are the student’s capital during college and when entering that elusive job market.  And you’ve gotta know how to make yourself do the stuff for the grades before you go do that keg stand or beer bong or frat party.  You will know how to sweat at work, and that skill will translate to school work.

5.  How to show up and be present.

It’s impossible to wait tables on auto pilot.  And the best advice I can give anybody for success in any life is this: show up and be present.  It’s not enough just to show up (unless you’re a white man).  You need to show up with your mind, too, and there is no greater advantage in college than going to class switched on.  You’ll do better, your teachers will notice and appreciate it–and by extension be more likely to work with you if some life thing comes up and you have to turn in your paper a few hours or a day late.

6.  How to value a job well done.

In food service and retail, yes, you get money for doing a good job.  But you get something else, too: you get an addictive feeling of accomplishment and self-congratulation.  You learn how to make yourself proud.  In college, teachers do not–they cannot–stand over you and hold your hand and make sure your self-esteem is in order.  You have to do that for yourself.  If you’ve done some time in the school of hard knocks before heading off to your liberal arts education, you’ll be a much, much better student.  And you’ll be able to be your own cheerleader.  And you’ll probably have some ideas about yourself that would enable you to choose a major more specific than liberal arts.

7.  How to manage yourself.

When you’re a server or a bartender, you can make your own little food service enterprise.  You will get customers who love you, who remember you and your name, who request you, and who will tip you well.  You will learn the value of positive working relationships.  You will learn how not to be affected by the grumbling going on around you.  These are massively important skills because you will need to be unfettered by the morale in a class in college.  Sometimes, there is an overwhelming number of grumblers.  You need to take what you can from the course and ignore the people who are making it miserable on themselves by complaining.

Anybody else have post-high school stories that could guide the next generation of college students?  Or anecdotes that contradict this advice?  Sound off!