You Can’t Win

Starting out a new year always seems like "Woo! A fresh beginning! A chance to start over!" with the implication that "This time, I'll do it right!"

Yeah.

I've got a couple of nits to pick with that.

First, the same applies to every morning. I prefer to look at each new day as a chance to start again. Every day is a New Year's Day, even if it's a Wednesday in the middle of April. Don't get me wrong. Year end is a year beginning and that's cool. It's like a door into the future - as soon as we enter, we can pretend everything gets reset. But if I get off on the wrong foot on January 15th, I'm screwed on an annual framework. When I only have to get through today? Well, Ground Hog Day. I can get up tomorrow and do something different.

Second, I'm not convinced "do it right" is a meaningful construct. The difficulty for me is figuring out what "right" is. Most times, I don't know until after I've done it whether it was right or not - 20/20 hindsight and all that. What's been more interesting to me is that I seem to learn the most from doing it "wrong" -  what I thought was "wrong" turned out to be pretty darn good. I'm not saying "Go break a window," but maybe you keep using that word "wrong" and I do not think it means what you think it means. At least not always.

Which brings me to looking at outlook, looking forward, and an aphorism that is more canard than value. You've probably heard it:

Writing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon.

Here's the thing.

It's half right. Writing isn't a sprint.

It's half wrong. Writing isn't a marathon.

By trying to treat it as a race of any kind, it sounds like there should be a finish line. A tape you can break with your chest as you cross that line or a trophy you can collect on the way out of the stadium.

Maybe it's different for you, but for me, writing is neither sprint nor marathon. It's not a race. It's a way of life and nobody gets out alive. While that may sound moribund, for me it's an important reminder that, however we look at writing, we each have a finite amount of time to practice our craft. I see that as a challenge worth rising to. I see that as a really good reason to keep getting up every morning and putting on my writing shoes. It's a good reminder at this cusp of a year that whatever happened last year happened. What matters most is what happens today, and I'll see what I can do to make sure I leave as many good stories behind as I can without worrying about whether or not I'm winning.

Because with writing, you can't win. You can only do.

Here's to a productive and prosperous new year to all my friends in RMFW. May you all keep doing.

Image credit: Webweaver's Clipart

Writerly Goals for 2015: Did You Meet Yours?

Christmas Labrador puppy dog wearing Santa hat

Let’s see where I ended up on my goals for 2015:

Write a book.

Check. I wrote at least 2. Take that hernia of my left thumb.

Write a great book, of the all American novel kind.

I’m still working on this one, as in working up the desire to write a book no one will actual ever read, but boy will they say they have.

Write a bestseller.

Yeah, you can see how far that goal has gotten me. 2016 list for sure. I blame my pen. The damn thing never writes a bestseller.

Revise the book hidden in my underwear drawer.

Did I say revise? I meant look at once, cringe, and tuck it even farther back. That book needs serious work. Maybe when I die they’ll use it as one of those long lost manuscripts that goes for millions at auction. Or more likely, toss it in the rubbish bin.

Network with my writerly peers by going to more events.

I would’ve done this one had it not required me to a) leave the house and b) put on pants. Admit it, you hate wearing pants as much as I do.

Attend at least one conference.

Surprisingly I made it to two, RMFW and Pikes Peak. Both were very informative and it was great catching up with my tribe. I no longer felt like a seahorse at the bottom of the tank. Thank you, all of you, those I met, and will meet next conference.

Be healthy.

You wouldn’t think this one is writerly, but maybe even more so than the others. If I don’t take care of myself, then I won’t be able to write. Have you ever seen a chick in traction write a novel? Okay, I probably could dictate. My gosh, everyone’s a critic.

 

Which brings me to the next goal…

 

Ignore my critics.

Five years ago, heck, even three years ago, I would’ve scoffed at this advice, claiming you learn from every criticism. Then I realized something. Since I started writing I haven’t learned anything expect how to a) feel badly about myself and my work and b) that even the best criticism comes with a critic. Meaning, someone else’s ego, subjectivity, and baggage join whatever advice that is doled out. Now I am not saying ignore any and every bit of advice, but instead, use your head. I know what I’m doing (for the most part). I can ‘see’ when the advice is right or when it is driven by more than a desire to fix the page.

Listen, really listen, to advice.

Did I mention that I’m a bit complicated? So here it is, ignore goal 7. Take advice. There are people who can see my work better than I can. Editors for one. Consider their advice. Roll it around my head. And then make the decisions. Don’t discount it out of hand because I ‘know’ best. Though I do. Because this is my goals list, damn it.

Learn new tools and skills

I failed this goal. I had high hopes of starting to dictate my books. Then I tried it, felt stupid talking out loud to my computer, and then on top of that realized it was taking twice as long. My words come from my brain to my typing fingers. Not to my lips.

I also wanted to learn ways to excite my description, so I went to a workshop, and what I found out was, it’s not that description is lacking in excitement. I am. I can twist and turn a phrase with the best of them (not really but it sounded good) but I can’t do it when it’s not something I am interested in, like what a room looks like or how grandma smells. So I’m moving this over to goals for 2016. I plan to sniff plenty of grandmas in the name of research.

Write daily.

I have to admit a terrible truth. I am not a daily writer. I do write daily, just not fiction. I write emails for work, grocery lists, sometimes on the back of my arm for fun… This year was going to be different. Yet it wasn’t. I wrote for three whole weeks, every single day, until I didn’t anymore. So back on the goals for 2016 list it goes.

 

Goals for 2016

  • See list above

What about you? Did you make any goals for last year? How’d you fare on them? Were you crazy enough to make goals for 2016? If so, care to share?

Happy New Year to all my prose-prone friends! May this be your year!

After Colorado Gold…Now What do I do?

Twenty-one years ago, I attended my first Colorado Gold conference. I recall standing in awe of the published authors (often in the corner, scared to death, thinking I didn’t belong there). I remember how Kay Bergstrom spoke to me, offering welcome and encouragement. I went to as many workshops as I could cram in, hungry for information. I took pages of notes, wanting to learn as much as possible. I came home so excited.

But I was also exhausted and scared to death.

So, this week, I’m wondering how many of this year’s new attendees are feeling that spectacular mix of eagerness and trepidation, fatigue and desire.

Most all of us leave conference with incredible energy to write but ready to crash with physical exhaustion. It’s a strange combination and it’s unexpected for first-time attendees. But it’s also absolutely normal.

The majority of writers are introverts. Some are uncomfortable in social situations and spend the conference weekend working hard to interact with others. It takes a lot of energy to do that. Even those introverts who appear to be extroverts (that would be me, having finally realized I don’t belong in the corner) find themselves zapped by the end of the several non-stop days. That’s the nature of introversion. Socializing drains our energy while those lucky extroverts increase their energy from social situations. If you’ve never attended Colorado Gold before, don’t be baffled trying to figure out why your desire to write is higher than ever but your body is sluggish. Get some extra rest.

Minds may also take a few days to catch up. We’ve just shoved an incredible amount of information into our brains and processing it may take a while. Imagine that little guy in your head trying to keep up with the filing! It’s okay if you don’t remember everything from the workshops you attended. That’s what notes and handouts are for. And CDs of workshops can also help refresh memories. There is a link on the website if you need to order one you forgot at conference.

But, many of us are also experiencing newfound enthusiasm. This is the time to capitalize on that by setting new goals and habits. After a few days to recover, start moving forward. If you have critique buddies or writing friends (including those you met at Colorado Gold), make plans together. Challenge one another to new writing goals or new support for one another. Put new advice into practice. Rather than letting the wealth of new information overwhelm you, select a couple of the techniques you learned and try them out.

This is the time to go forth, to accept challenges, to write like you’ve never written before!

GOING ROGUE – THE INDIE REVOLUTION OF AARON MICHAEL RITCHEY

By Aaron Ritchey

I have become like Kurtz in the Congo.

I have gone native.  I am living in a hut, out in the jungle, and I’m writing books that don't have the approval of the British elite in London.

The horror!  The horror!

But do you know what?  It’s awesome and scary and nerve-wracking and freeing and sometimes I feel like Prometheus and sometimes I feel like the eagle eating Prometheus’s liver and sometimes I feel like Prometheus’s liver.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 started like any normal day. I was struggling.  I’d gotten back some wicked, flesh-eating edits from an editor, and I’d gotten some ass-smacking criticism from one of my beta readers, and lastly, the small press who published my first novel The Never Prayer was going under.  On March 31, 2015, I was going to get my rights back.

I had always planned on going to another small publisher once my contract ended, and yet, on that Tuesday, I talked with my lovely wife and discussed the pros and cons.  Many of which I blogged about on this very blog – http://rmfw.org/get-big-by-going-small-the-top-five-reasons-to-publish-with-a-small-press.

Here’s the thing, a small press can be great—editing help, marketing help, cover help. But do you know what?  I think even more important, at least for me, was that it was another person in the world who believed in me.  Finding editors, cover artists, marketing help, all that takes only a bit of time and money.  But finding someone to believe in you?  That's priceless.

But how much is it worth?  Is it worth 30%, 50%, 70% of your royalties?  Is it worth someone else’s timeline?  Is it worth the waiting, the headaches, the general hassle of trying to squeeze yourself into someone’s else’s to-do list?  Because when you are with a publisher, you become a line item on someone’s to-do list, and unless you are bringing in fat stacks of cash, you aren’t their highest priority.  Even the ones that love your stuff.

No one will work harder on your writing career than you.  No one.  Unless, of course, you are making mad money, and then people will come out of the woodwork to “help” you.

On that fateful Tuesday, my wife and I decided we wanted to take hold of the reins. I still have other publishers I’m working with, but I am seizing control of my first three novels, including my newest novel which will hit the streets May 7, 2015.  You are all invited to the party at Hanson’s.

The name of my new publishing company will be Black Arrow Publishing because my stories have been forged by my father and his father before him.  The true king under the mountain.  And I aim to take down dragons.  Oh yes.

But in many ways, I have it easy.  I’ve had four publishers of various sizes like my work and want to publish it.  That really helps me.  I have huge respect for those authors who went Indie and they never had that kind of validation.  They have big ol' huevos of iron.

Still, it was hard for me to take this leap.

Part of it goes back to the original dream I had of becoming rich and famous.  I so wanted the huge literary agent, the six-figure book deal, the advance, the book tour, the Gulfstream personal jet, the whole Stephen King dream.

Going Indie meant having to mourn that dream all over again.  I wasn’t a princess in a castle adored by the big-five publishers.  I was just me.  Just a writer.

But who are my books for?  Are they for agents, editors, presses big, small, and in-between?

Not really.

In the end, my books are for the world and for the readers who read them.  I don’t know why I haven’t been loved and adored by millions.  I mean, my books seem to be well-written and people like them.  Goes back to validation.  Which I’m learning is cheap, cheaper than an empty Coke can in the gutter.

I still like the idea of the agent, the big publisher, the glory and teeth-gashing of that game.  And some of my projects will eventually go that route.

But other stories?  Man, I want to write books.  I want to write a lot of books.  And I’m tired of waiting on other people to help me get my books out into the world.

The time is now.

I’m going rogue.  I’ll get a developmental editor (Vivian Trask), a copy editor (Chris Devlin), a cover artist (Natasha Brown), and a formatter (Quincy J. Allen).  I’ll get help.

And with that help, I’ll shoot arrows at the sun, baby.

I’ll bring that star down and put it in my pocket.

The Road to Accomplishing Your Goals

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Even if you are firmly entrenched in one path to publication like traditional publishing, you won't find your journey is a straight line. Even those writers who sell their first book to the very first editor their agent approaches, often look back on the way they became an author and are surprised at how winding the road was.

Which makes this the best time in history to be a writer. The options to becoming a writer are immense, as are the ways to publication. My advice, never judge your own journey by that of another. Compare it, sure. Use it, definitely.  But avoid judging your progress by someone else's, especially since the roadblocks and detours you face are very different, as are your writing, your goals, and your needs.

So let's talk a little about those detours and ways in which you can become an author, other than or within traditional publishing or self-publishing, that you might not have thought about.

I'm going to begin with a story about my own path to becoming an author and how different it was from what I expected, which was...I had no clue. I just knew I wanted to see my book at Barnes & Noble. I was naive to the publishing game.

Boy have I learned a lot since my first conference in 2007.

Only 10 books ago (or for those who count in years, 8 of those suckers), which feels like a lifetime ago, I first started to consider a career as a writer.

And why not? I had one brand new spanking, shiny manuscript under my belt and was pretty sure it would be a book by Christmas that year. This was in June, mind you. I was deluded, so sure that publishing was a one step process. Lucky for me, this was also a time when indie or self-publishing was looked at like one does a fan of Dan Brown.

If self-publishing would've been an option like it is today, I would've jumped on it after my 300th rejection email appeared in my inbox. Sadly I had to wait another 700 rejection letters (or 3 years in regular people counting) for my first book to be sold, by me at a RMFW conference.

The thing was, I had an agent. And this wasn't the first book I'd tried to sell. This was the 5th book I'd written. I'd paid my dues (at least I thought I had). I'd done everything I was supposed to do on the traditional publishing linear path. Which went something like, write great book, get agent, sell book to big six publishing house. I'd gotten an agent. I'd suffered through editorial boards. And yet, I hadn't sold a book.

And now I had. By myself.

Of course the agent was very helpful come contract time but that's another horror story and we don't have time for me to break down in tears.

But you see my point, there are more ways than that one straight line for traditional publishing. Think about the authors you know. How many of them fit into the linear path? Maybe one or two. So on the traditional publishing path, we have agent/editor/book, and we can add editor/book. Many houses, with the exception of most of the Big 5 publishers, do accept unagented queries.

You could also smack talk your way to a book deal as social media explodes around us. I know plenty of bloggers who now have book deals because of the platform they built on their blogs. I bet you know of one too. Anyone every heard of Orange is the New Black? Well, the writer, Piper Chapmen, was a blogger who sold her story as a book and then later as the award winning Netflix show.

Which brings me to yet another path, do a sex tape... Pam Anderson of the famed Tommy Lee sex tape published a book in 2004.

Now I'm not saying that's your best bet, mind you...

But celebrity does help.

Okay, let's move on to networking your way to the top. Making friends can get you a book deal. I've seen it happen. Writers become friends with agents or editors, the writer writes a damn good book, and gets it in front of her friends. They love it and already know they love him or her, and the writer is now an author.

Don't discount networking with other writers. That can be just as fruitful. Writers will give their agents and editors referrals and often that referral holds enough weight to get a contract.

Other traditional publishing paths you might not have considered are mid-sized or smaller presses. You probably won't get a huge advance, but they, in my experience, can be better to work with. You are allowed more control over what your book will look like once it's published. Article, serials, and magazine writing can open doors for you. Non-fiction and creative non-fiction are also ways to get published.

All these things, no matter what path, assume you already have a great, polished book. Without that, the path to publication will be very bumpy.

Let's talk about self-publishing options for a moment. I am a hybrid author, meaning I write for traditional publishers as well as have my own self-publishing empire (though it's a very small empire at that). I am a firm believer in self-publishing. I know how hard it is to get a book published the traditional way, especially when it's a book not quite in the mainstream. Short story collects for example. Very few publishers want them.

Self-publishing is as viable an option as traditional publishing if you are looking to get your book into the world. I'm not going to go over the pros and cons of each, just know that there are many for both, and to explore your best option when deciding which path you want to take.

So some of the self-publishing oaths you can take are 'self' self publishing, by which I mean, doing everything on your own. You edit or hire an editor (which is my suggestion), you do the book cover or again hire someone, you do the formatting or hire someone. This DYI approach is a great option if you have the time and abilities.

For those that don't. You can go through a vanity or boutique press, but be very careful. They tend to be expensive and the contracts can be very tricky. When you self-publish, no matter how you do, make sure you retain the rights.

If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about your publishing journey. How did you get a book deal, or self-publish your book? If you haven't done either yet, what road do you think you'll follow?

 

You can learn more about me and get a free ebook at www.jakazimer.com or friend me on facebook.

 

Setting Up Your Goals – Make Your Bed and Lie in it!

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

If you’re anything like me, and I know you are, your New Year’s resolution lasted until January 3rd. The 2nd if it involved not eating cake. Thankfully, for the sake of humanity, most of our writerly resolutions do not involve the consumption of baked goods.

However, they do include the dreaded word resolution, thereby dooming us yet again this year to failure. Therefore, I prefer to look at the start of each New Year as an opportunity to, a) eat lots of cake and b) set writerly goals rather than making resolutions I will never stick to, merely for the fact, it contains that vile word.

Goals are much less concrete to me, a place I’d like to be rather than meeting some expectation or commitment (and now you see why I’ve never been or will ever be married). Expectations equate to failure. Goals equate to trying your very best. Yes, it’s merely my own warped version of the same song, but it does help me accept and make new goals.

So my goals for this year are:

1) Write every day.

Yep. I blew that one by day 5. Now if I felt like this was a resolution, I’d simply give up and write like I normally do, which is whenever I feel like it. Since it’s a goal, I can easily get back on track.

2) Expand my marketing efforts.

By this I mean, I want to try new marketing avenues. I love facebook, but it’s never done me any good as a marketing tool. Therefore, I am no longer going to expend my energy on it (as a means of marketing, instead I will use it for my enjoyment as it was meant to be used, that and for whining about sports teams, mother-in-laws, and plagues). I’m going to look at more guerilla marketing based tricks. I might be sharing more depending on how things go.

3) Finish the manuscripts I have waiting on my desktop.

Remember that vampire/zombie interstellar romance you wrote 10 years ago? No? Me…neither. Stupid concept…Anyway, some books are left half written because they suck. But others, like a few I’ve abandoned over the years, are good books that just needed more time to percolate. This year I am getting out the red pen and working on those manuscripts.

How about you? What are your goals for this year? What would you like to do more of (if you had the time)?

Goals or Genocide? You decide.

By Aaron Ritchey

January, 2015, and ‘tis the season to set goals.

I’m a poor goal-setter because I set too many goals. I have completely unrealistic expectations, and when I don’t achieve my goals I sulk and contemplate genocide.

Go big or go home…that’s what I say.  Either I’m successful or humanity dies!

But all the success books say to set goals, make them concrete, break them into smaller chunks of cement, and then climb into the mixer and take stock of where you are in the process.  It all makes sense and it is a good thing to do.  Like flossing.  Flossing is good for you, and so is brushing your teeth and preparing your taxes in January and all sorts of homespun common sense types of stuff.

Yet even without this goal-setting, I do have one goal that I’m pretty good at.  Actually, in the end, it’s my only goal.

My goal is to write every day.  Not market.  Not organize.  Not critique other writers, but to write.  Editing is writing, I guess, but I’d love to swing it that I write every day whether I’m editing a book or not.

That’s my goal.  Generally I write on Thanksgiving, but not on Christmas.  Martin Luther King Jr. Day is usually when I get caught up from the holiday madness.  I can write seven days a week, but Sunday mornings can be tough.  Monday mornings can be tougher still.

Starbucks opens at 5 a.m., so writing before the day starts is generally what I do, but how I wish they opened earlier.  I don’t like to write at home, but when push comes to shove, I will.  To achieve my goal.

Writing every day takes the work out of forcing myself to sit down to write.  Most of life is just stupid habit.  Oh, it’s time to write.

But the house is on fire, Aaron, and Armageddon is knocking on the door.

Sorry, gotta write.  I have goals, dammit, and they cannot be denied.

Lie.  I don’t have goals as in plural.  I have one goal.  To write every day.

This can be difficult though, since I have a wife, kids, a few friends left, but not that many.  Because I write every day.  Friends require time, and if I’m keeping friends happy, I don’t write.  So yeah, I’ve sacrificed a social life, but worse yet, I’ve sacrificed my health.

Because prepping food and cooking food and eating and exercising all take a lot of time, time I’d rather use to write. Every day.

But the reality is, the writing part only takes so long, like a couple of hours.  After a couple of hours, I’m ready to do something else, but during that time, I am a machine, I am focused, I typed lots and lots of words.

The real time-suck is not the writing , it’s the resistance to writing, it’s the setting things up just so, it’s the procrastinating of the writing, that’s where I lose the time that I could use to make and keep friends and stay healthy.

The challenge of writing every day isn’t really the hard part.  Sometimes the writing is grueling, but usually if I sit down the words come.  No, the hard part is the five minutes before it’s time to write when every bone in my body tells me to run away and surf the internet for pictures of kittens, puppies, and pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.  Which I do for hours.

So yeah, I don’t have friends and I’m unhealthy not because of the writing but because I resist writing.  I buy into the drama.

So in 2015, I vow to write quickly and efficiently and then move on with the rest of my day, so I can have friends and be healthy.

And I’ll floss and do some marketing at some point.  Maybe.