Floatsam and Jetsam of Living the Dream

Peasant Woman, Art.
Peasant Woman, Art.

Last grad school residency, my cohort was required to attend a panel discussion of agents and editors. As I’m sure you can all imagine, we were chomping at the bit to impose our tendrils of ignorance on these people, the very ones we hope will help us realize our writerly publication dreams.

I have been following the publishing industry in a sometimes obsessive, but mostly casual way these past couple of years, and by all accounts, it is nothing like it was even ten years ago. Now, there are still authors who have success, but not as many, and the quality of the work has tended downward.  Porter Anderson does a weekly feature on Jane Friedman’s blog about the perils and perks of the publishing industry in all of its current iterations. It has been a helpful starting place to read all the moaning, so I was more-or-less prepared for what the Editors and Agents said.

They said that almost none of their authors are making a living from writing alone.

They told me that I’m living the dream already.

That was heartening.

Living the dream means cobbling together a living from constituent parts that allow your writing to flourish, that don’t make you miserable. That give you both enough time and money.

Tricky alchemy, that.

I write every weekday morning from sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. to sometime between 7 and 8 a.m.

Then, I teach on Mondays and Wednesdays.

I work in a restaurant on weekends.

And I do freelance writing when I can get some that doesn’t annoy me, even if it pays shit.

I take on clients. I am interested in coaching/teaching and developmental clients. I am booked through January, though, so if you are interested, gimmie a buzz and we can get you on the calendar. Not to be a wanker, but Karma’s been on my side since late March, and I’m in increasing demand.

At the end of this week,  I will have completed the first revision of my manuscript. It is twelve personal essays. About a week after that, I will have completed my second revision, and it will be “ready.” I will embark on my personal trek of hell rejection submissions. I have a list, a strategy, and a budget. That’s a future post.

I’m calling it a memoir. I have the worst ideas for titles, so if I sell it, I’ll let you know what they’re calling it.

I have my half dozen beta readers lined up. These people deserve to be sainted.

My undergrad mentor’s memoir came out last month. Here’s an interview on Bookslut.

The book is called FEAR AND WHAT FOLLOWS, it’s available for pre-order on Amazon. I’ll be reviewing it in the Sun-Gazette’s lifestyle magazine in the Fall issue.

A guest post I wrote will be on Jamie Chavez’s blog next week, on the 16th. Go subscribe to her so you’ll catch it when it goes live. Another post I wrote about creativity, that will only be on Jamie’s blog, will show up there another time soon.

Doesn’t sound too glamorous?

It’s not.

But it’s rewarding, and I am, for the first time in many, many years (maybe ever), truly content.

Open Letter to Vanity Publishing Crowd

From Flickr User Ian Wilson

Dear Book Writer,

What is your profession?  I’m dying to know.  I will show up there and take over your clients.  I will prescribe their pills or write their briefs or cobble their soles.  I can slice and stitch with the best of them; after all, I took Home Ec.

Or maybe I should show up at your workplace and insist that you show me what you have learned to do over years, what you have paid to learn, and how to do it, free of charge?  Or maybe I should laugh at you when you say that one must diagnose the disease before making the incision?

Here is how we writers become so: We spend years feeling tortured, true or not, and scribbling onto any scrap of paper that’s large enough for a word or two.  We have journals.  We have burned some of them.  We have saved others.  We have many half full, many overfull.  Then we pursued writing-related tasks with vigor, fading into the background in school and work to observe, store up material, notice how people talk and act and are. We have been called odd snobs, different, dangerous, powerful.  We have been taunted and less frequently heralded our “gifts” with the word. Our gift is obsession with the music of language, the ability to tune in.

We have read with quiet abandon.  We have studied the written word, intentionally, osmotically, we find no greater joy than in the annals of another writer’s imagination.  We have allowed others’ voices to inform, infuse our own.  We have studied, studied, and continue to study the story, how it works, when it’s working, when it’s not.  We have made our rookie mistakes in the privacy of our own rooms or in the semiprivacy of our educations, writing workshops, writers’ groups, families, friends, LiveJournals.

We do not insist that these mistakes be proffered publicly. We are not proud of them. We do not hear editors’ rejections or suggestions with scorn for gatekeepers.  We thrive in rejection, we allow it to make us better, we recognize that we may never have success.  We do not write for publication, we write for writing, for self, for art, for work, for pain, for pleasure, for sex.  If we are published, of course we are pleased, but we do not begin with that in mind.  We begin with the word in mind, the story, the sadness, the soul, the voices, the joy around us.

We do not begrudge you your desire to be heard.  But we wish you would stop blabbing so loudly about how unfair the world that does not welcome your scribbling is.  We wish you would remember how you toiled to learn your trade, the one that is not book writing.  We wish you would stop believing that because you can speak you can write.  We wish you would stop thinking of writing as a cash cow.

Please, write.  Please do.  There can never be enough writers.  But before you fire up CreateSpace and start selling your print-on-demand for $24, read.  And read again.  And read until your eyes are dry and shrunken.  Until you’ve read more books than anybody you know.  Then write.  And write long and hard.  Until you’ve logged millions of words, tens of thousands of pages. And once you’ve done these things, you may be surprised how many of those pretentious, self-aggrandizing, gate keeping, nay saying, parade raining editors are willing to reconsider your work.


A Writer

Self (Publishing) Help: Get a Developmental Editor!

from: http://www.public-domain-image.com

Ego Schmego

Writing is so complicatedly ego-driven.  On one hand, we have to be somewhat narcissistic to love the writing life.  All the time alone, in our own minds, reading and re-reading our own words, writing more of them, clamoring after friends, peers, editors, agents to read them, dealing with the rejection and keeping on…

But on the other hand, the ego battles us!  We have to come up with strategies for silencing our inner editor.  We have to figure out how to block the negative, self-hating thoughts that will keep us from finishing work.

And on a third hand (handy!), I know a lot of authors and writers who would be just as happy being invisible.  I write because the stuff my brain does through my fingers is way more interesting than anything it does through my mouth.  And because I’ve always done it.  I don’t know how not to.  I feel like it’s a calling of sorts, or at least a strong compulsion.


So when we work on our novels and stories and essays and memoirs, in the brave new self-publishing world, it’s incredibly tempting to just say, “I know I’m interesting.  I’m just going to self publish.  I don’t need an editor!  I’ve been hard enough on myself along the way.”

Yes you do need an editor!  If you’re looking for a good one, call this lady.  If you want a manuscript review or critique, and some advice on what to do next, call this guy.

And any traditionally published author, or author who makes money writing books will tell you, revising is the hardest, most essential part of writing, and you simply can’t do it alone.

We can’t get enough space from our egos to get where we need to go.  We need a person with a pair of first eyes who we trust, who gets our writing aesthetic, and who will not be afraid to tell us hard truths about our stories, characters, or plotting impulses.  These people will help us, if we can figure out how to let them.

There are three main types of editors that someone who’s considering self-publishing should find.  Start with a developmental editor.  Much more on this below.

Then hire a copy editor, who reads for technical inconsistencies (name spelling change and hair color change, plot queerness, syntax, grammar, style, consistency throughout, etc).

Then hire a proofreader, typically a last set of eyes, focuses in on punctuation and spelling primarily, but may flag larger issues.  Hopefully there will be few if you’ve chosen well for developmental editor and copy editor.

Why hire a developmental editor?

I’ve been in hundreds of hours of writing workshops and read tens of thousands of pages of student writing and writing that’s on its way to book form, and I’ve  become acquainted with some of the common faux pas of early drafts, even from the most brilliant writers.  We all do these things.

Here are just a few that are also reasons to hire a developmental editor:

Editorializing–where the character will think something clever, and while the implication is transparent, go on to explain the joke or thought in the next line or two.  My favorite thing to say to writers, and the best thing I ever learned from a writing teacher is this: “Trust your readers!”  Writers Digest has a great article with a segment on staying true to your IQ in the most recent issue.  The thesis is basically this: people who read books are smart.  Do NOT try to dumb yourself down.  Do NOT explain something that’s obvious to you. If it needs explaining, your developmental editor will tell you.

Using flashbacks or dreams to cover up poor plotting–a lot of writers, unwilling to return to the story board after hundreds of hours of work, or much too married to their plot maps, decide to throw in a dream sequence or flashback to explain away their poor planning.  Developmental editors have radar for this kind of thing.  They’ll tell you, honestly, whether you’re employing some trick that a reader will see through, or whether you’re missing an opportunity to take your character someplace affecting or compelling or wonderful or story-propelling!

Replacing actual character depth with wardrobe ticks and social stereotypes–A lesbian is portrayed as a short-haired, aggressive, ugly girl with her septum pierced, camouflage cargo pants, and  two pit bulls.  Developmental editors will tell you if you do this, and they won’t re-write your characters for you, but they will have tricks up their sleeves to guide you to deeper characters.

Using verb tense and point of view changes without knowing why–suddenly switching verb tense or point of view from one chapter to the next with no reason that’s related to propelling the story or providing some other literary benefit.  You can’t artlessly apply these techniques.  Verb Tense and Point of View are two very intimate things about any story, and they are also promises to a reader that are made in the first pages, and that you need a MASSIVELY compelling reason to break.  Developmental editors can tell you if you’re doing this successfully.  Here’s a post from another time on this blog about my personal aversion to extraneous past perfect (or pluperfect) tense.

State of (Self) Publishing

The trouble with self-publishing is that–unless you have a bunch of besties with MFAs or who work in publishing, and sometimes even if you do–you have to pay people to help you make your good work great, and chances are, you’re not independently wealthy or some kind of writing idiot savant to whom none of this applies, so hiring the team that traditional publishing houses (still) have on hand gets pricey.

I was recently asked to review a self-published book.  It was published through Create Space, which is Amazon’s self-publishing service that offers comprehensive copy editing and proofreading as well as book marketing for prices that range from $220 all the way up to $4,000.  I think that the old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies here.  It probably costs a publishing house in the neighborhood of $25,000 to see a book from manuscript to press-ready.  That amount of money pays acquisitions and developmental editors, copy editors, proof readers, and book artists, cover designers, etc.

Getting yours to the mouth of the press for $4,000 seems like a dubious bargain, doesn’t it?

Copy Editors and proofreaders are not paid enough to do developmental editing for you, it is not in their job descriptions, plus it’s massively beneficial to use multiple sets of professional eyes.

Don’t be a Diva!

And don’t you want people to read your book? You have to figure out how to shut down your ego’s diva.  Send her shopping for shoes or something.

Let the developmental editor help you.  Chances are she’s been to school to study stories, writing, and grammar.  She probably has an advanced degree or years of practice or both.  She loves books and stories and has read thousands of them over the years.

And don’t stop there.  Hire more help.  The investment will return itself to you in the form of book sales.  What good is a quickly published book if it’s so sloppy nobody will read it?

If you want to self-publish, TERRIFIC.  It’s a good business decision.  Being your own book’s puppeteer sets you up for maximum benefit.  But it’s short-sighted and a poor business choice (and it diminishes your credibility as a writer) to unleash your novel or memoir or collection of short stories on the world without investing in yourself, your work, and your business to present the most polished product you can muster!

Additional Reading

http://selfpublishingteam.com/: Great advice specifically about self-publishing.

http://www.janefriedman.com: Jane Friedman collects and offers for free almost every day piles and piles of great information about the world of publishing, about the evolution of media, and about all kinds of concerns for all kinds of writers.

http://www.copyblogger.com: This is a great resource for thinking about your writing as a marketable product.  It will give you invaluable tips, including when and how to write for free to make money writing.

http://www.penelopetrunk.blog.com: Penelope is a great source of information and advice about writing, selfhood, career, and how to make the writing life pay off.

http://www.bridgetasher.blogspot.com: Julianna Baggott blogs here about all sorts of literary things, but also for writers.  Her writing is lovely, and her advice is practical.

http://www.justinemusk.com: Justine Musk writes about creativity and writing and being a badass.  She also writes about pop culture and feminist concerns.

Six Weeks to Geek: Zombie Lore, a Panel

My Geek: A Brief History

Much to Fella’s eternal chagrin, I’m not much of a geek.  I didn’t grow up sucking down comics, tapping controllers, or digging on horror flicks, Magic the Gathering, World of Warcraft, anime, or any of the equivalents thereof.  My most successful forays into gaming were with Mario Bros. on 8-bit Nintendo, and a little later, Mario on Game Boy, first generation.

I am, by most reports, a hipster (much to my eternal chagrin).  I like indie rock and Wes Anderson movies, specifically his, but also that genre of artfully rendered pictures about quirky people who are either narcissistic or intellectual, and I read mostly literary realism by authors who people outside of Creative Writing programs have not heard of.  I’m trying to increase visibility of good, smart books as a personal crusade, and in so doing, I’m learning to branch out.

I’m discovering that the book market–with all its hard lines and rigid categories and neat definitions–is going to need to undergo metamorphosis in order to remain intact.  We are clearly not learning enough from our friends in the music industry.

My brother is of the DC/Marvel persuasion (I have heard him pontificate on the virtues of one over the other), plays video games; I have had a modest number of decidedly geekish boyfriends along the way, but a peripheral awareness has been the beginning and end for me.


I was mildly intrigued when Child’s bio dad was reading Sandman by Neil Gaiman et al, and I was reading it over his shoulder, but I imagine you can understand why those memories are fraught for me, and why I have not been eager to revisit.

When Fella and I first got together, he explained patiently (if with an edge of condescension) that geeks and nerds are two different things, and that I would require an education in all things geek.

Thus there was Zombies 101 early on Fella’s and my date-having time line.  That was our last course on geekery, as Fella found my lack of interest frustrating, and I found his interpretation of my contemplative absorption (and sometimes sleepiness) as disinterest to be frustrating.

It was around Halloween, which is my favorite holiday, and I made a brain jello that I served with canned Lychees at the Historic Genetti Hotel in Downtown Williamsport.

We watched Night of the Living Dead and The Serpent and the Rainbow.

New Respect

Until recently I was one of those regrettable studious sods who dismissed things known as comics strictly on grounds that some well-meaning collection of intellectuals and smarty-pantses whose taste and judgement I admired, wrinkled up their noses at the comic or graphic novel, pronouncing the word as if it stank of rotted skunk.  It was the same disdain they showed toward anything known as genre fiction.

Don’t misunderstand.  I am not suddenly gleefully reading The Hulk and Captain America or Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel.  I’m just starting to see that it’s not ALL crap, and that it might be useful for us literary types to expand our definition of genre, or our definition of literature.

You can read more about this problem at Billtown Blue Lit, and on this blog here.

In any case, I am sure you can imagine the tandem flurries of incredulity and joy in my house when I announced a few months ago that I would be moderating a panel at the coming Wildcat Comic Con on Zombie Lore with Dave Sims, John Weaver, and Jim Zub.  More, that I would be immersing myself in the context and culture (more academically than physically).

So over the next six weeks or so, I’m going to be taking in a plethora of geek fodder.  I’ll be reading World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide, and probably at least a few of the stories in an anthology of short zombie fiction called The Living Dead.  I’ll be watching more zombie movies, and reading more comics as I prepare for the interviews I’m doing with people as awesome as Dean Haspiel and David Small and others I won’t mention until the interviews are finished.

And I am fortunate to have as tour guides the panelists listed above who are well versed in Zombie Lore and, from what I can tell so far, have reasonably literary taste.  I am also fortunate to have automatic context for some of my new comics reading in my work as a journalist.

Tuesday night, after my presentation at ComiXnite, which I am pleased to report went over well,  I met with my fellow panelists to discuss the angle from which we’ll approach our zombie discussion.  It is going to be a lively and interesting talk.

Each week, I’ll be posting at least once under the category: Weeks to Geek.  You can enjoy the ride with me.