The Lady or the Tiger?

Today I wanted to write about two completely different topics. The “Should” monster popped up and chastised me, urging me to pick one and roll with it. But the monster’s not as big as it used to be, and I kicked it into a corner instead. So here goes.

First topic: Amazon’s decision to create the Kindle Indie Bookstore. There’s been a good deal of discussion about the profitability of self-publishing for authors who either cannot or refuse to go the traditional publishing route, and arguments about whether releasing a glut of unvetted books will have any impact on the overall quality of literature. I’ve been warned not to self-publish for fear of turning off agents and blowing potential deals when I do seek traditional publication, and encouraged to do it because circumvents gatekeepers, with a higher percentage of profit from each book sale.

How will Amazon’s decision affect e-book self-publishing? Hard to say. The storefront does highlight indie books that have sold well, which may give better quality books a leg up. In addition, having your own category could be perceived by some as a nod to legitimacy. Then again, segregating the entire category may eliminate the chance for readers to “stumble upon” some of these books while browsing among their traditionally published cousins, or mark them as the dross of the publishing world. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Second topic: Scientists have discovered that reading fiction can change your personality (read the Quill & Quire article). Subjects were given either a short story or a simple list of plot points to read, and then administered a standard personality assessment. Those who had read the story exhibited personality changes, while those who read only plot points did not. This does not surprise me, but I’m pleased to hear there’s now empirical evidence to support fiction’s influence on readers. In my former life as a psychologist-in-training, I was introduced to narrative psychology—understanding how we, as human beings, make sense of our and others’ experiences by developing a narrative, or story.

We have an important job as writers. By writing stories, we change others and shape the world we live in. It’s easy to become discouraged by the submission and rejection process, thoughtless questions from others about what’s taking so long to get published, the insinuations that what we do is both easy and meaningless. Not so.

I guess I see both topics as “Lady or Tiger” issues: Self-publish or go the traditional route? Quit writing or keep going? Both choices have their up and down sides, their heartaches and ecstasies. In each, there’s a ray of hope because we have choices, and we do make a difference in the world. The evidence is in our favor now, isn’t it?

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of….This?

When you get right down to it, everything is composed of three things: energy, information, and a whole lotta space. But matter is, well, SOLID—I doubt you’ve mastered walking through walls, right? Sad as it is, that’s reality. “Wait a minute,” I can hear you saying, “I thought this was about dreams. What’s up?” Bear with me, and you’ll see it really is!

Dreams are wonderful. We see what we want, what we desire, the best possible outcome. The phone call offering representation by your dream agent, the slick feel of your first novel’s dust jacket, the person sitting next to you on the train reading your work. Giddy, heady stuff, isn’t it?

Buckle up, because you’re in for a rough ride.

Publishing is a tough business. We’re called upon to not only create but market the beloved products of our imaginations while coping with massive amounts of rejection. There may be times when you feel ready to give up, when you wonder if you’ll ever win the brass ring eluding your fingertips with every rotation of this crazy carousel. Near-misses and disappointments abound.

So why are you doing this, again? Be brutally honest with yourself, because the reason forms the foundation of your vision, your strategy, for actualizing your dreams and making them a reality. You’ll need to reach deep down inside yourself when despair comes a-knockin’ at your door and find the will to keep going. Will, or intent, provides the energy portion of the equation.

And information? There’s a lot of it out there, and not all of it helpful or accurate. Sift through it, study it, research. Pay attention to other writers’ experiences at sites like Absolute Write Water Cooler. Use sites like Preditors & Editors to protect yourself from scams. Follow agent blogs—learn what they’re looking for and how to write query letters. When you have the information you need, you maximize your chances of success.

Space, the final frontier. To go boldly where the successful have gone, you’ll navigate vast stretches of distance and time. The wait can seem interminable when you’ve submitted work and are chewing your nails to the quick. Writing is a solitary profession, which means you’ll need colleagues and friends to connect with during the journey. Find them on Twitter, find them on forums like Query Tracker Discussion Forum, find them at writing conferences. They’ll help ground you, keep you from drifting away from your dream, and support you when hopes are dashed.

With energy, information, and a way to manage space, your sweet dream is on its way to becoming wonderfully hard reality!

War of the Worlds: Frontlines has arrived!

A few days ago I received my contributor’s copy of War of the Worlds: Frontlines. Came at the best time, too, because I had a terrible day at work and wanted nothing more than to go home, shut the front door, and collapse in front of the TV set for a few minutes. Healthy and constructive, no. Quick and easy, yes.

But there it was, a small book-sized package waiting for me on the front porch. And I knew instantly what it was, dropped my satchel and tote and purse and simply ran from car to house to rip it open (carefully, oh so carefully, mustn’t damage the long-awaited prize) with mildly trembling hands.

Beautiful. Glossy cover, elegant font, and my name in the table of contents. MY name, you understand? Turning the pages, there was my story, “Tequila Sunset,” on page 150. Sounds silly to say, but I was goggling over having something I created in an actual, real, professional-looking book that other people will read. Maybe they’ll like it, maybe they won’t, but if even one person gets it, that’s enough for me!

As a kid, I was a voracious reader. Couldn’t seem to get enough of sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and yes, even the occasional romance. I read the classics and I read complete and utter trash. Hell, I even read the backs of shampoo bottles (not that I’ve stopped, mind you)! There weren’t enough words in the world to fill me up. And now I get to feed others, which is a huge honor that I don’t take lightly.

I was listening/watching some clips on YouTube yesterday about writing and the whole business of it, and one author encouraged writers to think about why they want to write…to teach, to move, to stimulate thinking, to shock, to elevate? I thought about it and responded, “yes.” Maybe that’s not wise in this culture of marketing yourself and finding a niche, but then again, I really believe that successful writing involves using yourself as the tool. And I mean to achieve all of those things in the reader, maybe not all at once, maybe not every single time, but on the whole, that IS who I am. I trained to be a psychologist, so why wouldn’t all of those fit?

When I read my first published story, I see so clearly that writing from a place that’s solidly Who I Am and not catering to what’s Out There is working for me. I could chase after the latest pretty-vampire fad, but that’s not me. All I can say, gentle readers, is that many things become easier when you embrace yourself and your gifts (although many other things get more difficult, but that’s for another day). If you want a window into a little piece of my soul, think about picking up a copy of WotW: Frontlines and turning to the 14th story. And thanks for listening (watching) me ramble!

If you build it, will they come?

Today I’ve been thinking about marketing and advertising as I go about my morning tasks. That scene from “Field of Dreams” keeps popping up in my head–“If you build it, they will come.” It’d be nice if readers were like those baseball greats from the past who show up to play on this baseball diamond in the middle of Nowhere, Iowa, but corporeal entities stubbornly keep insisting that you do more to advertise. I don’t even know if anyone will read this post unless I get the word out that it exists.

When I worked as a grad assistant for Women’s Services at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, I was in charge of the programming and all the advertising that came with it. I did presentations to plug our workshops, flyers, posters, the whole traditional ad campaign thing. And there were a few times when NO ONE showed up, embarrassing and ineffective to say the least. Ugh, all that hard work for nothing!

The conclusion I’ve come to is that while I was wanting something from them (please please puh-LEESE come!), I wasn’t giving anything in return. The kiss of death when you want large groups of students to attend something! Large groups of anyone, really. What gets people to show up to things? It’s fun. There’s free food (not an option here). Everyone else is going. There’s free stuff. You like that person or their work, and maybe you’ll get their autograph or photo? In short, they’re offering YOU something valuable!

Takeaway lesson–offer your readers or visitors something useful or fun or cool. I like freebies and contests and swag as much as the next person and it motivates me, so why wouldn’t I give it away? So I am. Every month or so, I’m going to post free short stories on my site, and as I get things published, offer free swag or a free copy of the anthology or mag or book I’m in, maybe for those who visit and leave comments or get on my newsletter (when I have enough news, that is!). Part of me feels a little dirty using a carrot and stick to get traffic to my site, but hey, this ain’t Field of Dreams, folks. When I look at it sensibly, I can remember times that I’ve missed out on great artists and writers and musicians simply because I didn’t know about them. And that’s a shame, because we’re both losing out.

I’ll be posting my first short story on my website in the next day or so, and I’d love for you to swing by and play with me on my own Field of Dreams. Can’t wait to see you step out from between the rows of corn, bat in hand, and throw you the first pitch.

Have Patience…demand $5 million ransom

Patience. Not pushing the river. Letting go and letting God. Sounds good, doesn’t it? If only it was that easy! I seem to have spent what little I had during my training as a counselor. With my first published short story, “Tequila Sunset,” coming out this month in the War of the Worlds: Frontlines anthology, I’m all about the now–and patience is nowhere in sight. I have to practically sit on my hands to keep from sending my poor publisher email after email asking whether the anthology has been sent out for printing yet, has he received contributor copies yet, and when does it go on sale? In short, being an annoying nag that nobody wants to work with.

I don’t know that I can blame myself for being excited, though. I’ve dreamed about other people picking up something I wrote and being taken on an adventure, for a long time. I don’t care so much about seeing my name in print or the money, although my goal is to someday be able to support myself through only my writing and quit my day job(s). I get impatient for that, too. If you’re a writer who’s had his or her first taste of success, or maybe still writing and submitting and hoping for someone to publish your work, you can probably relate.

I’m thinking it might be helpful to use some of my knowledge from my past life as a psychologist-in-training and not only write articles about how to succeed and get published as a writer, but also on how to cope with the inevitable rejections without getting depressed or giving up, how to stay well, and how to keep on believing in ourselves. I mean, I can list resources till the cows come home on how to get published, but there are others out there who are farther down the road and know more than I do about that side of things.

So bizarrely enough for a dark fiction writer, I’m contemplating putting up wellness tips, exercises, and affirmations along with some of my stories under the “Freebies & Miscellany” section on my website, so maybe we can ransom Patience back without paying the $5 mil, and focus on writing instead. ‘Cause I sure don’t have the money to burn! Would love to hear what others think would be helpful.