Your Book, On Shelves

I have seen a lot of wonderful posts lately about the pros and cons of traditional vs. indie publishing.  They give a ton of good information.  I’m not going to link to them, because I don’t want to give the impression of picking on anyone in particular, but if you look around the YA blogosphere, you’ll find them.  And you should, because they’re really informative.

But one thing concerns me.  Over and over again, I see authors saying that one of the huge pros of going with a traditional publisher is that they will get your work into bookstores.

This is close to true.  So close that I see tons of people saying it, and other people nodding along.  Authors want this to be true.  Publishers want this to be true.  But there’s this bit of falsehood in it that I think is important to recognize.

Here’s the truth:

Your big five publisher wants to get your book in the bookstore.
They are your best bet for getting your book into the bookstore.
With the exception of a stroke of luck or genius with a (very) reputable small press, they are your only way to get into a bookstore.

But ANY publisher who promises they can get your book into the bookstore is lying to you.
Why?
Because publishers don’t actually have any power over what’s on the bookstore shelves.
Who does?
The buyers at Barnes and Noble.

(Also the buyers for every other bookstore.  But B&N are so much of the landscape these days, I’m just going to talk about them.)

Here’s the ugly truth: the buyers at Barnes and Noble don’t pick up every book that is put out by the big five.  Really.  They don’t.

This should be evident.  Been in a Barnes and Noble lately?  Seen how little of their shelf space is now dedicated to books?  Barnes and Noble isn’t the bad guy.  They’re trying to stay relevant in a rapidly changing  business landscape.  But their bookshelf space is dwindling, and even before that happened, shelf space was a scarce resource.  ALL bookstores need to maximize the selling potential of their shelf space by stocking books that move off the shelves and generate revenue.

So the buyers are selective about what they shelve in store.  They have to be.  And, as a consequence, there are books that get published by big five publishers that don’t see the bookstore shelves.  This can happen for a variety of reasons.  But it happens.  All the time.

Here’s something I don’t talk about: mine was one of them.  I’ve been a published author for two years and I have never seen my book on the bookstore shelf.  This is hard for me.  Because that’s the dream, right?  That’s the thing you visualize when you’re writing your first novel, and you’re wondering if you can do that.  I remember when I told my mother I wanted to be a writer.  I was eighteen, and just starting to picture what I was going to do after college.  ”It’s hard to make it in writing,” I said.  ”I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”

And this is what my mother said to me: “Go to the bookstore.  Look around.  All those people did it.  Why shouldn’t you?”

That’s why I’m a writer today.

In grad school, a professor asked us to write down three concrete goals that we wanted to achieve in the next five years.  Here was my list: 1) finish my master’s program 2)sign with an agent 3) find my book on the shelf at the book store.

That was in the Spring of 2006.  A year later, I signed with my first agent.  A year and a half later, I finished my master’s program.   And four years later, I sold my first novel.

On track, right?

It’s been eight years.  I’ve never seen my book on bookstore shelves.  I don’t know if I ever will.  And the truth is, it doesn’t matter.  The real dream is to write words and sell them for money such that I can afford to write more.  That’s the dream that matters to me, and there are people doing that whose books are not on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.  But I still cringe every time I hear authors (and others) saying that the big publishers will get you into the bookstore.

They do get books on those shelves.
They’re basically the only ones who can.
If you sign with them, they will try to do so for you.
But just know that when you submit to them, and when you sign with them, you are hoping for a possibility, not celebrating a forgone conclusion.

And let’s try to be realistic when we talk about the facts of publishing.  Let’s try to talk about the good possibilities, and the bad.  Because as writers, we’re business people.  We’re making business decisions.  And like any business, it’s important to base those decisions on facts, even when the facts aren’t what anyone would like them to be.

The Mommy Writer Works Inside a Tornado

My daughter is two.  And while I still put her in front of a movie so I can have focused writing time every day, lately that hour and a half hasn’t been enough.  I’m juggling a lot of projects, several of which are in the stare-at-the-line, rewrite-it-until-it-works stage.  This means I need lots of thinking time between writing spurts, which doesn’t lend itself well to having only one intense writing session per day.

So I write while my child destroys my house, basically.  I was trying to describe my thought process when I see what my child is doing while I’m working, but it’s really better represented by a flow chart.  My child carpeted my floor in hairbands while I made this chart, so I hope you enjoy it.


Yes.  That just about sums it up.

The Kind of Post You’re not Supposed to Write

Blogging has been on my list of things to do every day for the last two weeks.  And every day, it is the thing that doesn’t get done.

Why?  Because I have a two year old and a cold and four novels in various stages of development.  That’s right.  Four.  Because the three I was working on weren’t enough, so I decided to draft another one.  Whee!  But I opened this today to share two links, and instead I blathered on.  So here are my blatherings.  They are scattered!  They are ill-composed!  They would be better off written some other way!  But if I wait for the moment when I have the brain for that, they will never get written at all.

The good news is, I have a novel nearing completion with my editor.  It has a title!  The book formerly known as HAYLEE’S JOURNAL and then SINGLE FILE will hereafter (for real!) be known as EVERYTHING’S FINE.  And it’ll be out this spring.  Wait, is it spring?  Yeah, well.  I’m hopeful.  I’ll commit to a specific date when we get to copy edit, which will be soonish.  Since this is my first time through the indie process, I’m not totally sure how the rhythm will go.  That’s probably unprofessional of me.  Just like this post!

Other books are also in revisions.  Those you will get to read, too.  I’m so very excited about that.

I’m due for another Mommy Writer post.  I can tell because my last one didn’t say anything about the 45 hairclips that have been methodically flicked onto my floor while I’ve been writing this post, or the fact that I wrote it as my lights flicked rapidly on and off.  So my work habits may have changed some.  It happens.  A lot.

But what I’m really here to share with you is the brilliance of others.  A couple weeks ago my writing group read a chapter I had written, and felt like they just weren’t quite connecting with the character.  That’s a note I’ve had more frequently than I’d like, so I asked them to try to identify why.  And due to some insights from my brilliant friends, they were able to show me which beats my character wasn’t reacting deeply enough to.  And then I spent six hours on my Saturday with other people’s novels open to deep character scenes, trying to figure out what they were doing that I wasn’t.  I was going to write up what I discovered, but critique buddy Heather did it for me, more eloquently than I would have, and with pretty examples!  She would be my blogging role model if I hadn’t just sworn off waiting for time to compose posts.  Anyway, go read her post.  I’ll wait.

Did you read it?

Good.  (Or if you didn’t, for shame.  The next paragraph won’t make much sense to you.)

The only thing I would add to what she said is the reason for the beats.  When your character is surprised, the reader needs the visceral, physical beat to ground them in the scene, or your characters start to feel like floating heads, instead of people interacting at a specific time and place.  Then, the reader really needs an internal response, so that your scene is not just grounded the physical, but also grounded in the particular point of view.  It’s this that makes your reader feel close to your characters.  Then you can proceed to the dialogue response, where your character actually responds out loud.  These beats aren’t as important when the stimulus isn’t surprising or new–when characters are just riffing off each other, rapid fire dialogue is great.  But when your character has to make quick, unanticipated reactions, physical and internal beats are your friends.  And even putting them down in the wrong order will get confusing, and throw your reader out of the story.

One of the things I love most about writing is that I never run out of new things to learn.  One of the things I find most frustrating is that it’s impossible to know and be accomplished at everything.  Writing is awesome like that.

And while I’m pointing you at other smart people, you should really read Natalie Whipple’s writing advice post.  +1 to everything she said, even the stuff you don’t want to hear.

Whew.

That was crazy.

If I ever want to blog again, I better make a habit of doing it like this.

Later!

 

tl;dr: My first indie published book is called EVERYTHING’s FINE.  It’ll be out soon.  I’ll tell you more about it in coming weeks, but I’m going to have to start doing so in a drive-by, scattered way, or I shall never do so at all.

 

 

Daphne

This was my last Iron Kingdoms character.  The mini is Steampunk Alice from the incomparable Sebastian Archer.  Once I saw the mini, I knew I had to stat her.  (She was an aristocrat field mechanic, if you care about such things.  And yes, my GM let me have a mechanical bunny.)

 

Skull bats

These skull bats are from Super Dungeon Explore.  They painted up in about an hour.  They were so cute, I could have painted about twenty of them.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times

When commiserating with my friends about writing, I’ve found myself saying nonsensical things.

“I hate revision!” my friend will say.
“Yeah,” I’ll say.  ”Me, too.”

“Drafting is the worst,” another friend will say.
“It really is,” says me.

“Ugh, copyedits!”
“Blah, outlining!”

They are the worst.  Really.

I started listening to myself and wondering if I really hated the process all that much.   Do I really hate all of it?
Yes, I hate aspects of all of it.  But I love aspects of all of it, too.

I love outlining and pitch development (which I do first) because the possibilities are endless.  I take my beat sheet that I always use for structure, and throw on ideas and events and characters.  It’s like a big puzzle, trying to hit the right beats with the right story elements so that I have something I can begin to draft.  But it’s also the worst, because thinking up good ideas to fill the holes isn’t easy.  Figuring out what will make a good plot point when I haven’t written to it isn’t easy either.  And most of all, I feel like I’m making no progress, because there’s no word count.  There’s no novel.  There’s just the idea of one, and the task master in me just wants to breeze through and get writing.  I’m impatient.  I’m ready to go.

And then, I do go.  Drafting is the best because it’s where progress is the most measurable.  I have word goals; I throw down scenes.  I’m free at this stage to be as bad at writing as I need to be, as long as I’m accomplishing something.  I usually can’t manage much more than the plot, the nitty gritty scene details, and the main character’s voice, because I can’t hold a whole book in my head at one time, let alone translate it into words.  I know that, so I fly through those things.  It’s quick; it’s dirty.  It feels dang good to get it down.

But what goes down is bad.  Really bad.  No one reads my first drafts anymore, because there is no point.  By the time I’m done, I know I have wasted my time and written the biggest train wreck that has ever been birthed in the English language.  The only thing that stops me from canning the thing and quitting altogether is my husband talking me down off my post-draft ledge.  ”You always feel like that,” he says.  ”You say this every time.”

Actually, he says that at every stage of the process.  And I try to believe him, and remember that since the other books I’ve written didn’t languish in first-draft-horror forever, neither will this one.

Then comes revision.  Revision is the best because I get to make the book good.  I get to do the beautiful parts like theme and minor characters.  I put some real backbone into the tension arcs.   Things start to shape up, slowly but surely.

But revision is the worst because mostly, it shapes up slowly.  I begin the book with a new vision, and by the time I get to the end it’s become so ingrained in my mind that I can’t remember that the book used to be different.  If it wasn’t different before than it is now, I must have accomplished NOTHING!  (“You always feel like that at this stage,” says my husband.  He’s a wise guy.  Love him.)

I’m doing some (close to) final edits right now on a book.  (I will have an announcements as soon as I have a final title–Argh!  Titles are seriously the worst!)  Final edits are the best because the book is in decent shape.  Most of my vision has finally firmed up and realized itself on the page.  But they are the worst because my new words aren’t allowed to be bad anymore.  What I put in had better be brilliant, because my chances to fix them are dwindling.  If I am brilliant, it’s usually by accident.  It’s not easy to bring the brilliant on demand.

Copy-edits are the best because the major fixing is done.  The book is clean; the plot is done; the characters are developed.  But it’s tedious.  Seriously tedious.  Makes me want to poke my eyes out, tedious.  It requires concentration, but offers little creative energy in return.  Copy editors, I seriously don’t know how you do this all the time.

I feel like I should end this with some sort of platitude about focusing on the positive, but that’s never been helpful for me.  Instead, anticipating the negative helps me to make my will-save to disbelieve my own despair.  If I always feel like that, I know that a time will come when I will have made the book better.  I’ve been doing this long enough, that I’m (finally!) starting to trust my own process.

And that is seriously the best.

Super Dungeon Reaper

This is my favorite mini from my favorite game.  If you like miniature board games and haven’t tried Super Dungeon Explore, you are missing out.  Also, the minis are fantastic.  We just finished painting up our whole set, though we have to fight over who gets to paint what.  Mostly I give the best minis to Drew, but I held firm about this Reaper.

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