Publishing Goal #1: Keep your sense of humor

Celebrating the new year last month I had lunch with my mom and son before he returned to college. After enjoying some of P.F. Chang’s finest, including the Great Wall of Chocolate (Cha!) we were served fortune cookies along with the check. Like many people, it’s our tradition to add a phrase to our fortune, but you have to decide on the phrase before you open the cookie. My son went first with “When I return to school. . . .” Thus, his fortune was “I will hear from distant relatives when I return to school.” Ah. Fitting.

My mom went next. Because she’s researching family lineage she picked something along those lines and got the fortune she would “make new discoveries”. Wow. Great cookies!

Now my turn. Of course, not being traditionally published yet and being the new year it was time for me to dive in. Contest entries, agent submissions, website updates, and of course, a new WIP. Encouraged by my family’s good luck I said, “This week as I launch a fresh start with my writing career . . .” And I opened the cookie . . .

To absolutely nothing.

Never have I opened a fortune cookie to nothing. I burst out laughing. The look on my son’s face made me laugh that much harder.

Rule #1 in publishing: Never lose your sense of humor. I guess no matter what happens to me in 2019, I’ll at least have that!

Handwriting Analysis here I come!

Thanks so much to the RWA Kiss of Death #KOD chapter for their fantastic COFFIN classes. I’ve taken three over the last year and they never disappoint! Not only with the knowledgeable instructors and information provided, but the inspiration for manuscript fodder.

My current class involves using the Gestalt method to gather character traits from writing. Even my husband is getting into it by being the first to provide a writing sample. This from the man who I’m lucky to get a signature on a card!

Now, back to psychoanalyzing my family. And prepping for my next WIP.

Art and Humor

Love to see the @mfaboston and @Gettymuseum getting into the spirit of Super Bowl weekend with #MuseumBowl2019. Proving once again art is timeless. And I was just re-reading Search and Seize Her again this week!

Confessions of an Unpublished Author

Whenever you hear an author speak about their first big win, be it a contract, contest, or book launch, she almost always thanks her support group for believing in her and the endless encouragement to “never give up”. (As she should!) But while I agree with the former sentiment, I have a love/hate relationship with the latter.

I relish the perseverance in writing. For a scene, a sentence. The first draft or the dreaded second. Victories I fight for every day at my desk. But have I given up the dream at times?

Hell yes.

For me, being a writer is as much about persistence and drive as raising your middle finger to the dream of being traditionally published. The idea at two a.m. that rushed me to the keyboard? It still doesn’t work a month later. Charming. The sentence I love hearing my character say, but my beta reader stumbles on every time I correct it? Trashed. The contest I felt certain I would final in and I’m not even close. The first page that was music to my muse an agent shreds . . .

Or the best example in my case: the risk I took temporarily publishing two manuscripts on Amazon for a contest (which stipulated I had to pull ISBN’s) only to have it be considered by some years later as self-published. (“If it’s not published, why does Amazon say it’s unavailable?” {Their terms of use policy, that’s why.}) Now a tactic I used to get feedback flaunts my ineptness. As I “tried something new” the rules shifted under me once again.

These are all instances when not only should a writer “give up” but she must to achieve success. Chuck the dream for a week to clean out my house, scrub the shower, or fifty other things I don’t accomplish when writing 40+ hours a week. It’s the only way I can gather my courage for the next WIP. With the level of rejection in publishing, how can I give of myself to my characters (and thus my readers) if I don’t give myself a break and offer an “up yours” to the  publishing world every now and then?

I can only write my butt off (rather than just hope) to be that newly launched author one day. But when I thank the amazing supporters I’ve been blessed with, I hope I’ll also be thankful for the times I gave myself some space. Space to grow and recharge and accept it wasn’t my time yet.

Show the World How You are Wrong

So often in writing circles you hear about “show” versus “tell”. From my experience, the amount of each in a manuscript varies by genre and more importantly a reader’s taste. The same submission to an agent or competition will be praised by one and shredded by the other. A writer who has sweat through the craft enough can correct that balance. An agent shares my vision for a manuscript and wants to represent me? Amen! Tell me what you want for the editors you plan to target. I can adjust the prose. A contest judge who has barely finished her first manuscript and doesn’t write in the same genre I do? I’ll stand by my run-on sentence, thanks. (And yes, grammar Nazis, run-on sentences can illustrate a character’s anxiety or thought process and how sometimes it goes faster than what her brain can whirl. Fragments work too. 😉 )

Let’s go a level deeper.

I mention on my home page that I write “high-impact” fiction. I first heard this term from publishing world guru, Donald Maass. (For details, I encourage you to look him up, read his books, attend a workshop, blog, etc.) One of my big takeaways from his wisdom is this: If you write safe, you can show all you want and still not affect the reader.

Instead, how can you write to impact the reader?

One of Mr. Maass’s techniques never fails to give me a sphincter moment—Identify the topic/emotion you don’t want to write about. That’s right. The one that repels you from your keyboard, makes you feel unsafe, and your first instinct is “Yeah, no. Not going there.”

Well, guess what? You have to. Explore it. Discover why you’re so uncomfortable. Figure out just how inept you are about that subject or emotion. Then give that feeling to your character.

I’ve spent 2018 writing the fourth manuscript in my series. My protagonist is an FBI agent. It’s her job to respond appropriately at all times. Her safety depends on it. Convictions of criminals depend on it. So, what happens when she’s thrown off-balance right after she achieved a lifelong goal? She’s unsteady. She’s not herself. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t fix it. And she must. Now.

Where does that hot mess come from?

Me. Dealing with (what feels like) my way-too-lengthy journey toward traditional publication. That every submission, every contest entry has to be perfect otherwise my goal will never happen. The pressure that no matter how far I trek into the publishing jungle, I will never make it through the “Amazon” alive.

Even as I write this post, frustration crackles in my mind like static. A word, or phrase when the answer almost comes into focus, like a contest win, is my drug. At last—the connection. The big break! But then the signal reverts to static again. The more I strain to listen the louder the noise becomes: My manuscript is going to my beta readers late. Illness. Monumental family events delay submissions: graduations, a relocation for my husband’s career, and a sump pump failure in my basement all within the last three months. Such issues happen to everyone, that’s nothing new. But do your frustrations play like static in your mind? What do they smell or look like? Only you can answer that.

Writing advice is everywhere. I embrace the fact I always have something to learn – it’s a joy of being a writer. But none of these well-meaning people know what can bring to a manuscript. A unique power that writers, published or not, overlook way too often when they don’t allow their characters to reflect themselves.

The only thing I know for certain at this point is how to fail. So I use my face-plant talent to differentiate my writing. My “advice” can only echo that of Mr. Maass. Identify your greatest weakness, work up the guts to give it to your character, then display it to the world. When a writer is willing to announce: “Attention everyone: this is how I suck!” people can’t help but respond.

Especially in these times, with the explosion of social media, or the gazillion online reviews about products and services. People devote countless hours of their time, trying to convince others they are right. That they know best. And while much of what they say might be true, it’s all too often drier than an empty ice cream cone.

Instead, show the world how you’re wrong. Give that failure to the character you love most. Trash their life over it. Then together find the solution.

That’s far more memorable. And human.