Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's All Moot Now!

The bad news (at least in $$ theory): the day job "eliminated my position."
The good news: because I was not let go for cause, I have some severance for a limited time.
The bad news: health insurance will cost ten times as much.
The good news: I plan to make ten times as much money. :-)
The even better news: now, I can truly throw myself totally into writing full time. And this time, I have no doubts that it will work.
The even better than the previous better news: be careful what you pray for. Just sayin'. :-)

The best news of all: no more Sunday-night depression.
No more getting up before crack of dawn, whether I'm rested or not.
Amen, and hallelujah.

So if you're looking for a freelance fiction editor...here I am!
Send the checks! :-D

More later,

Thursday, January 06, 2011

To Whom It May Concern: The Other Side of the Coin, Or, 5 Reasons Why You DO Want Me as Your Acquisitions Editor

Okay…we’ve covered some reasons why putting me into the Acquisitions chair at your fiction publisher might constitute Job Match Fail.
Fair enough.

But even in a situation where there is no hope of rainbows or unicorns, for every negative I can see about my “savvy” in some areas, the expertise I can offer in others—the wonderful, craft-oriented hands-on areas—goes a long way toward balancing what may be a perceived “weakness.” In short, if you can take my worldview in stride, talk my (clean) language and see “story” from where I sit, there are just as many, if not more, reasons why putting me in that Acquisitions slot would be Job Match Nirvana.

Why do I say this?

1. I love authors and I love a good story! I’m always looking for the story that takes me away. I’m always dreaming of it. When I find it, it’s an unbelievable high—and one that’s completely safe and legal. What’s not to love about that?

2. I’m a great manuscript evaluator. Remember, when I went into the Agent for a Day contest, I was looking at queries. No chapters. Once I start looking at chapters, however, it’s a whole ‘nuther game, one I’m very good at. I’ve picked Golden Heart winners (and written one myself); I’ve judged dozens of contests and critiqued hundreds of samples. People who work with me trust what I tell them to do with a manuscript. They acknowledge me in published books. Even people whose books I’ve panned have revised them and gone back and thanked me for it! Who else on your staff can you point to with that wealth of experience and potential influence?

3. I work hard, I work fast, and I work smart.  I can, literally, tell within paragraphs if something’s going to work as a story. I don’t waste time chewing over whether I’m going to hurt an author’s feelings by sending her a form rejection; I know it’s gonna hurt. I try to do it gently, not brutally, but I don’t believe we do authors any favor by coddling them, either…so I don’t. I consistently produce more work, better work, and faster work than most editors in my business can point to; when I work, I work.

4. I have vision for the “big picture” of both an author’s potential and how that author can fit into a catalog slot. I know a lot of authors who are working on specific kinds of books, and I know there are unfilled niches out there that I could—with expertise—help find material to fill for you.

5. Finally…I am obsessive about quality. An old Hanes ad on TV years ago featured a ferocious  Quality Control woman on screen whose slogan was: “They don’t say Hanes until I SAY they say Hanes.” That’s me. In a nutshell.  I will question an author. I will push her. I will demand that her plot holes are closed, her characters are understandable and believable, and her premises are plausible. People who work with me can tell you my favorite question, when working with story, is “Why?” I believe the more of those “Whys” we answer…the more satisfying a story is.  So if you want stories to be as perfect, as clean, as correct, and as complete as possible—you need me shepherding at least some of those stories.  Clean, well-written stories with emotional depth and resonance are keepers…and that’s the only kind of book I let out of my shop.

So you’ve seen both sides of the fence, you who are in Editorial Judgment Seats. The next time one of you has an Acquisitions editor run away to the Caribbean and leave no forwarding address…or join the circus…or hit the lottery…look up this blog again and shoot me a line. I’ve got a perfectly good, warm and toasty set of talents just waiting for you to use—if you’re brave enough to hire the best.

(heh heh!)


To Whom It May Concern: 5 Reasons Why You Don’t Want Me as Your Acquisitions Editor

One of the few “day jobs” that would be agreeable to many of us in the novel-writing business—in fact, in some ways a dream job—is being an acquisitions editor for a fiction publisher. However, sometimes, I confess, I wonder if I’m temperamentally, or even professionally, inadequately equipped for such a position.

Why would I think this?

1. When I tried “Agent for a Day” on Nathan Bransford’s blog, I picked only one of the actual published books, and passed on the query letters of at least two that had already become or were becoming best-sellers. I.e., my sense of what the market wants is apparently zilch. I’d have a hard time convincing editorial committee to gamble on the book of my choice, when I can’t seem to tune into what’s actually selling out there.

2. I’m a contrarian by nature. When the world loved Paul McCartney, I loved George Harrison. I have failed to be grabbed by Hogwarts, Middle Earth, or Narnia; during Seinfeld, I sat irritated while other people fell out of their chairs laughing. So apparently I’m missing that gene that enables me to enjoy and connect with “mass appeal.” I’d probably look right at a future best-seller, wrinkle my nose and toss it back over the transom.

3. The kinds of books I want to read contain no “F” bombs, no sex on the page, and no nihilistic or apocalyptic endings. I like light in the darkness, not more wallowing in same. That narrows the field of what I’d put out in the marketplace considerably. (See #1 for the consequences of this…er…attitude.) Added to this that I’m a conservative and a Catholic, and unapologetic about either—with reading tastes to match—and I can see many, many places in which the corporate culture and I simply wouldn’t mix.

4. I’m one of those old-fashioned souls who actually believes that good writing and a good story should trump everything else. Therefore, if it’s a choice between Deepak Chopra’s son’s tome about lessons he learned from his dog and a new book by an author with no track record, but a wonderful story…it’d be no contest. Nothing personal, Deepak. It’s business. And stories. Which should count more than New Age nonsense of spouting “wisdom” from a subservient creature, no matter whose celebrity name is attached to it. There’s smart marketing, and then there’s pandering. ‘nuff said.

5. If it comes down to push vs. shove, I’m an author advocate. Yes, I know. All editors portray themselves as author advocates when they’re speaking at conferences and encouraging submissions. Trouble is, I really mean it…which could end up being a thorn in your side if I saw a potential unfair rights-grab, a murky royalty setup, or a contractual overreach about to happen on my watch. My belief? If we ain’t got authors, we ain’t got product, and we ain’t got a house for long. If you really grasp that, then we’d both enjoy my colorful presence on site. But I’ve seen enough of the business end of this business to know that my “colorful” attitude can quicky become dismissed as “quirky” or feared as “dangerous” before very long.
So be it. ☺

I want to still believe, deep in that place where I dream of rainbows and unicorns, that there’s a publishing house out there where my curmudgeonly temperament and tastes would be right at home. Reading PW and the like, however, makes me increasingly believe otherwise. It’s a shame…but what is, is.

I guess I’ll have to resign myself to being a house’s best-selling author instead.
Stay tuned for the flip side of this post, coming next!


Monday, January 03, 2011

Why "Publishing"...Isn't Actually the Point

When so many of us were newbies in the business of writing fiction, we dreamed of our names on book covers. Admit it. You did, didn't you? I sure did.

Some of us did more than dream of it. At least one writer I know actually took a book cover that had a title identical to one of her works in progress, pasted her name and particulars on the cover in place of the actual author's name, and put the paste-up on her bulletin board where she looked at it every day while she worked.

It did the trick. She sold, and sold, and sold again. She's probably still selling, although I've lost track of her so I couldn't tell you for sure.

But the point is...we all have that book cover in our heads somewhere, at least in our fantasies. Sometimes we can't bring ourselves to be as bold as that author was, but we still dream about it.

What does that book cover say to a newbie?
That they've been published.
That was the dream we grabbed hold of when we took the plunge here. That we were going to become  published authors.

So how's that dream worked out? For some of us, fabulously. For some others of us, not so fabulously. And for a lot of us, not at all...yet.

Veterans in the writing biz have, at times, taken it upon themselves to tell us that some of us will get our hearts broken. Some of us will never sell a book to a publisher. Some of us will never have that book cover. They're trying to let us down gently, because book publishing is such a numbers game. They think they're doing us a service. They're not...because few of us ever think that the one who'll get her heart broken is us !

But more to the point, I think they've failed to tell us the most important part of that message: that  publishing  isn't what the business is about at all. Certainly not in this age of "instant publishing" via the Web--but even before we had such things available to anyone with a keyboard, "publishing" wasn't what this business was about in the first place.

“Publishing,” after all, is nothing more than "making something public." It's putting your words up somewhere public, attributed to an author. In that sense, lots and lots of things can be considered "published," all the way from Letters to the Editor, to this blog, to graffiti on a washroom wall...if you've signed it.

What matters, therefore, is not whether we're published authors. What the term "published" used to mean and convey is what we're after: i.e., the book is out, it's on the bookstore shelves and in the library catalogs, it's available for purchase through an online retailer or in a store...and someone pays us for it regularly.  We have professional recognition. We have credibility. Someone was willing to risk real dollars on us...and we've come through.

In other words... publishing isn't the goal. Being well-published, by a  well-respected house whose name and reputation mean something, is.

That's what gives us the book cover and its book on the shelves: a publisher sinking money into our work because he or she thinks the company will make money off it.

That's what gives us the readership: a publisher spending marketing and distribution money to get copies of the books out to the stores and into the outlets so people can give that money back  to  the publisher...and, ultimately, to us as authors.

That's what gives us the fame and fortune (!), or at least aforementioned credibility...and enables us to live out the real, ultimate, streets-of-gold pipe dream of eventually supporting ourselves through our fiction writing.

Not merely being “published” by a house that does nothing with the book, basically, but print it. Or worse, charges us to do so!
Not merely being able to call ourselves “published” because there's an ISBN out there with our name on it.
Not signing away book after book to places that may as well be black holes, for all the chance any real flesh-and-blood readers are going to have to see the book and enjoy it.

No matter how many bells, horns, and whistles some "publishers" trot out to make us feel "special"...in the end, feeling "special" isn't what this business is about. Getting read, getting the rewards for hard work, and getting (hopefully) future contracts for more work are what this business is about. Getting our stories in front of lots and lots and lots of eyeballs is the key, and there's no substitute for it.

Big, reputable publishers have the means available to them to go after  those eyeballs. That's what I want from a publishing experience: eyeballs. I'm in this business to be read.  Savored. Absorbed. To take a place on someone's "keeper" shelf.

But that can't happen with many of the so-called "publishing" opportunities that presently exist.  Ever.

There's a stubborn inverse snobbism that's been around in publishing for a long time: the conviction that "big publishing" is somehow out to "get us all," that it really doesn't like "new voices" or "new stories," and that it only wants to make money on pap and keep that pap out there. That it's, therefore, somehow “selling out” to make a work “marketable” to them, when anyone can publish anything, anywhere, now...and not have to mess with all those "judges" and "gatekeepers."

But that's a conviction we embrace and act on at our peril.

Because that conviction, while it may get us “published” in the strict sense of the word, will never, ever  accomplish what we actually dreamed of, all those years ago, when we imagined our name on a book cover.

It's an artificial shortcut. And, like most artificial shortcuts...in the end, it puts us further behind than we started out.

If we make the mistake of deciding to pursue our careers within that narrow, spiteful worldview, we might have the "comfort" of our "artistic integrity"--but we'll have nothing else real to show for our work, our investments of time and emotion and blood and sweat and tears. We'll have no readers, we'll have no money, and we'll have absolutely no respect in the business of "real" publishing.

In the end, sometimes, we may even have no joy in the writing anymore.
And in the end, I believe, that approach can break our hearts.

So, from where I sit, I believe we need to be careful about this "publishing" business, and have the guts to hold out to do it right.  We have to have the courage to face the possibility that the big brass-ring dream may  not  ever happen for us...and be brave enough to determine what will become of us if, in the end, we don't "get there."

I think that's what the veterans were all challenging us to ask ourselves. Unfortunately, judging from the plethora of really bad "publishing" that has gone on in recent years--and the beating the industry has taken, at least partially, as a result of all this slapdash shortcut-taking--many of us didn't have the guts to ask or answer that question.

And many of us are still running, scared to answer it.

But fear is never a good basis for any decision. Especially not one with the lasting implications of a publishing decision. Jumping into the wrong "opportunity" at the wrong time can end up being a nightmare...and a trap.

Don't let fear override your dream.
Don't try to short-circuit the trip.
Be willing to invest the time. To pause and consider. To trust. And to wait...a lifetime, if necessary.

The heart you save may be your own. The work you save...will most certainly be worth it.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

This Week: Rainman's Bride, Revisited

...uh-yup. It's that time again. Pitching one book, getting into another.
And yes, Rainman's Bride is another "golden oldie."
But, like the other book of my heart I've just reworked and am sending out into the big, bad world, this one isn't really "old" anymore. I have a new concept for the book.
Totally new.
And so totally out of its former box that we may as well sell the shattered lumber as scrap.

Somehow, in the transition between computers old and broken and less old and less broken, Rainman's Bride's new incarnation didn't get transferred onto a hard drive.
But fortunately, it did get transferred onto hard copy.
At least as much of it as I had written...which amounts to about five chapters' worth.
I've got plenty more of it still to write, so I'm gonna be a busy puppy for awhile.

Anyone have a few hundred thousand dollars they want to spare to invest in me for, oh, say, about the next five years? So I can stay home from the ADJ and write these books? And sell them? And...?

Not to worry. I've got more ideas where this one comes from.
My only problem now will be trying to carve out the time to write, and write, and write some more.
Because I need to.
Because these stories are damn good, and they deserve to be out there and sold.
And read.
And...in my wildest dreams, I will readily admit...made into movies.
My style will work well for the movies, because I write a) visually and b) episodically.

Beat the bushes, folks. Find some generous person who's always dreamed of being a patron to the arts.
I can guarantee them they'll enjoy the trip. :-)

More to follow!


Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Title, New Focus, New Attitude!

Yep, what you're seeing is different up top, isn't it?
It's time to make a change.
I'm still a Catholic.

I'm still a chick. :-)
I'm still writing.

But over the years, I think some people have thought that the "Catholic" part of this title was its importance. Some of them thought it'd be much better if I bit the bullet, got rid of all the frivolity, and simply turned this into a religious blog.
I thought about it. I did. But in the end, I decided that wasn't where I lived. There are tons of good religious blogs online; I don't need to try to one-up them. So, while I'd love to win a Catholic blog award...it's gonna have to be for something other than turning this into Doctrine Central.

Some people have preferred the "writer" tag. All the professionals I read out there say this repeatedly: if you're writing a blog about writing, make it about nothing but the writing trade and professional things.
But I was reluctant to turn this into Yet Another Writer's Marketing Blog So That You Will Buy My Books and Services. Again, there are a lot of good blogs out there by multipublished authors; it's premature to turn this into something like that, when I literally have little between covers to sell to anyone. Yet.

Besides, I happen to love the personal side of a writer's blog. I can look up her book information on Amazon. It's much easier to get to know her, however, through what she says about herself.

So I got myself a web site to show off my editorial-consultant and writing-consultant hats.
It's at www.msmentor.com, by the way, should you want to take a gander at it.You'll see a lot of the same blog posts there that you see here, if they're pertinent to writing.

Finally, some people have really loved the "at large" part...including the blog's author. Because then, I could ramble on about, oh, whatever I wanted to talk about. Be it music, sports, writing, food, wine--it was fair game. Hey, the most traffic I ever got was when I called LeBron James a punk. (Funny, how months after I put that down and got pelted with nonsense because of it...lots and lots of people ended up saying the same thing. But I digress.)
"Other stuff" can sometimes get you attention you don't want. But there come times in everyone's life when she finds it necessary to say things some people don't like. That's what I've done, now and then, over the years. I don't do it to "generate traffic." I don't do schtick for its own sake. Nothing has ever been on this blog that I don't believe and stand behind. So even if you don't like what I say, rest assured I'm not saying it just to provoke anybody. It's what I'm thinking and feeling at the time.
That being said...
After doing some evaluation of my online presences, I realize that, like most people, I have too many of them that I'm not attending to properly. And, if I'm going to make a mark in this writing business, I've got to more clearly identify who I am on this blog and what my ultimate destination is. I've said a lot about it in other blog posts...but if it's not in the title, if people don't know what your emphasis is right off the bat, you lose a few of them before they ever click through.
Hence, the new title. And the new "motto" beneath it.
I am a novelist.
I am a fiction writer.
I work in nonfiction to make money, when I need to.
I work in nonfiction as a day gig, until I don't need to anymore.
That day may come sooner, or it may come later.
But in the meantime...I need to brand myself now as a fiction writer.
Not as simply a "writer at large."
Not as simply any ol' kind of writer.

And not as someone who's just rambling about without knowledge she can share with others.
I'm a fiction writer who can also teach other fiction writers how to do "story" better. I have happy clients and crit partners who will attest to that fact. I'll be happy--nay, ecstatic--to take on more of those kinds of clients.
So spread the word.
The Catholic Writer Chick is now, officially and irrevocably, focused on Fiction.
She can teach you how to write it, if you're so inclined.
She can help you polish it, if you've got a start.
Sometimes...she can even help you get it sold.
And she's going to make it as a fiction writer, period, or spend her last bit of computer time, energy, and printer ink trying. :-)
Amen and hallelujah!
And the line forms at the right....