My Marketing Revelation

November 18, 2013

Cover image from Sarah Pepper’s newest release.

Last week, I went to a community ed class about how to market your book put on by Sarah J. Pepper, a local author who has achieved success through both traditional and self publishing. I always wonder when I show up at these things whether I’ll learn anything new, and I always walk away from them glad that I went. Along with some potential freelance contacts, great handouts, and frantically jotted notes, I also came away with this revelation:

To really market, I need to stop writing.

Not forever (God no!) but long enough to not be distracted. Long enough to let my writing energy rest and build up. Long enough to really commit myself to marketing, and long enough to possibly see results.

This came when Sarah admitted that her husband told her she “can’t start” writing a new book until after her soon-to-be-released Death of the Mad Hatter is released. So all that writing energy goes toward … promoting the upcoming book.

I’ve never been good at marketing because I always try to squeeze it in on the fringes of my writing work (which I try to squeeze in on the fringes of my paid work). And since I don’t like marketing, it’s easy for it to fall to the bottom of the “to-do” list. It’s not so much that I don’t like talking about my work — like most writers, I enjoy that very much. But I don’t like feeling like I’m “bugging” people. And as an introvert who doesn’t really like to be “sold to,” I project that onto anyone I might try to sell myself to, and I sort of crumple up inside. And I retreat to writing. True, there could be worse ways to avoid a dreaded task. But I really, really, really need to give this self-promotion thing a try if I want to keep striving to make writing central in my life. And I do.

Now the decision point comes — I know that my focus needs to be on my Dark Crystal submission until I send it off, hopefully in early December. After that, my initial plan was to return to work on my Rapunzel novel and work on preparing my Rumpled ebook for distribution. But it may not be wise to pursue both at once, as I’m likely to hide from the ebook within Rapunzel. Still, I’m thinking a good strategy might be to complete my second draft of Rapunzel, then set it aside to work on Rumpled. I’ll probably have some fresh insight when I return to my Rapunzel draft afterwards. Now the real question is whether I can accomplish all this before next November, which is supposed to be my “on” year for NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned!

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Orson Scott Card’s Plea for “Tolerance” is not Enough

November 11, 2013

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” – A.E. Wiggin

Warning: this post contains Ender’s Game spoilers; proceed with caution unless you’ve already read the book, seen the movie, or have no intention of doing either.

It’s a big scary world out there, Ender, full of aliens and homosexuals.

My husband and I went to Ender’s Game on Friday. I thought it was a beautiful movie, but I still left the theater feeling conflicted. I knew many people were boycotting the movie because of Orson Scott Card’s homophobia — which, as an attitude, could perhaps be forgiven, if he hadn’t also taken active steps to block GLTBQ people from enjoying full rights. It was later revealed that OSC won’t receive any money from box office sales, but many continued the protest on philosophical grounds. Others say to go ahead and see the movie if you want to, but just don’t buy OSC’s books. I have a fairly extensive collection of Orson Scott Card’s books, purchased back when I only knew him as a gifted storyteller and not as a homophobic bigot. Luckily, all my OSC books came to me through used book sales and Paperbackswap, so none of my money has made it back to him (and, by extension, into the anti-gay campaigns he supports).

I often don’t have to struggle with such cognitive dissonance about the entertainment I enjoy, because most creative types are pretty open minded people, especially writers of speculative fiction, where being able to imagine new and different worlds is a job requirement. But one thing that always frustrates me about “classic” science fiction (Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, etc.) is that, although these authors could imagine vastly different worlds in terms of politics and technology, they could not imagine gender roles that went beyond the norms of the time they were writing in, leaving their female characters empty and one-dimensional. Orson Scott Card frustrates me in the same way.

In response to the boycott, Orson Scott Card issued a statement in which he said Ender’s Game had nothing to do with “gay rights” (my paraphrase) because they were not an issue when the book was written in 1984 (head in the sand much?). But Ender’s Game, which is ultimately a story about tolerance, remorse, and forgiveness, has plenty to say about prejudice–and that includes homophobia.

Ender is a powerful leader because he understands his enemies to the point of “loving” them. This is what keeps him from becoming brutal, although his mission requires violence. His biggest frustration when faced with the Formics (the alien “invaders”) is that he has trouble understanding them. But eventually, he does — and when he does, he feels such remorse over the genocide he unknowingly committed that he devotes the rest of his life trying to make it right.

In case you missed this, Ender found a way to understand and love an alien species that looked, thought, and communicated nothing like him, and that had wiped out millions of his people. If Orson Scott Card can imagine this feat of understanding, why can’t he make the comparatively tiny leap toward understanding people who fall in love with others of the same sex? Anyone who has fallen in love is already 98% of the way there. If you understand love, if you understand the desire to live a life free from hatred and discrimination, if you understand the desire to follow your heart, there’s not really anything else you need to understand about being gay. And yet, Orson Scott Card apparently cannot make that leap; and he puts his money and his activism into pushing others back from making that leap, too. Is this what Ender would do?

As the series progresses, we see that Ender’s remorse over his role in the Formic genocide leads him to a deeper understanding of all life. In Speaker for the Dead, he makes it his work to find the seeds of good in even the most seemingly “evil” of people, so that after life they can retain some dignity and be remembered as human beings rather than “monsters.” Again, if Orson Scott Card can theoretically make the leap and see “good” in someone who beats his wife and children, why can he not make the same leap to see the “good” in people who are not of his politcal/moral/homophobic persuasion?

Many people speculate that OSC is a “closet case” who feels that the current social order is the only thing “saving” him from giving into his own secret gay desires. While I’m not going to use this blog to speculate on his sexual orientation, he hasn’t left issues of gender ambiguity completely alone in his work. In Children of the Mind, Ender’s adopted son Miro finds himself attracted to “Young Valentine,” who is a projection of Ender’s mind. That means that Young Valentine essentially has Ender’s soul; she is not a real woman, but a man’s imagining of a woman, retaining something that is ultimately male. Miro reflects on this — does it mean that, underneath it all, he’s really attracted to Ender? He can’t shake his feelings for Young Valentine, even after this contemplation. Is it just me, or are things getting a little queer in here?

While the characters in the Ender’s saga attempt a “live and let live” philosophy toward alien races, viruses, and other humans, Orson Scott Card agitated to prevent his fellow human beings from having equal rights and equal dignity. To his credit, he’s willing to “let the case rest” now that the Supreme Court has ruled that forbidding same-sex marriage is unconstitutional (even though, in the past, he’s called to “overthrow” any government that would let such a thing happen.) But how much of this is him “taking it like a man,” and how much of it is his fear over how his homophobia might affect his pocketbook? He’s pleaded for “tolerance” of his views from those on the other side, just as he’s decided to “tolerate” them by no longer fighting against same sex marriage.

Let’s return to Ender’s Game. Although I love the story’s message, there remains a bit that rubs me the wrong way. And that is how quickly, how easily, Ender is forgiven for wiping out an entire sentient species by that very species. While human beings commit genocide to retaliate for millions who died in a past war, the Formic Queen forgives genocide and allies herself with the one who committed it as soon as she understands the depth of his remorse. Now, it seems that Orson Scott Card wants a similarly quick “forgiveness turnaround” from the GLTBQ community. But there’s one important difference: Orson Scott Card has expressed no remorse for the spiritual violence his activism has committed on millions of GLTBQ people and those who love them; instead, he’s simply decided to “let it go.” This is not enough. We have been “tolerating” homophobes forever — when was the last time you heard of gay people committing “hate crimes” against the people who spread hatred toward them? Despite fear rhetoric to the contrary, GLTBQ people have never tried to take away the rights of homophobic people — they just don’t want their homophobia imposed on secular institutions. That is tolerance, and those of us who support GLTBQ rights have been doling it for years. Orson Scott Card can have my “tolerance,” but he cannot have my respect, my admiration, or my money.

In Orson Scott Card’s crusade against homosexuality, he has committed a grave evil, just as Ender Wiggin has. The difference is that Ender immediately feels acute remorse, whereas Orson Scott Card seems to feel a smidgen of embarrassment. Asking for tolerance is not enough. To truly redeem himself, he must ask for forgiveness.


Writing and the Immeasurable Payout

September 3, 2013

Recently, I subscribed to Holly Lisle’s e-newsletter on a recommendation from Publishing E-books for Dummies, which I’m reading as part of my Rumpled ebook project. Although my inbox is full with newsletters and updates that I often don’t have time to read, I’m glad I took a look at Holly’s post about whether writing is worth the price. I recommend that not just writers, but anyone who wonders about the “price” of their dreams, take a look.

As a freelancer who juggles work for a variety of clients, as well as a part-time job with fluctuating hours, I often find myself weighing costs and benefits in my head before I accept any project, knowing that to do so means I may have to give up others. Questions include …

  1. How long will the work take me, and how much does the project pay? In other words, what will be my approximate “per hour” rate?
  2. How enjoyable is the work? Or, conversely, how boring, difficult, or frustrating is it?
  3. How reliable is this client at paying on time, or how long will I have to wait to get paid?
  4. If the pay-rate is low, are there other benefits — such as building up my portfolio, reaching a certain audience, or bringing me closer to something I want?

The best projects, of course, are the ones that are enjoyable and that pay well. But I will sometimes sacrifice higher pay for work that I find more enjoyable. Ultimately, though, my goal as a freelance writer is to get higher pay for fewer hours of work … so that more of my time is freed up for my own writing. In fact, being able to make my own writing a priority was largely the impetus that pushed me to transition from work as a full-time staff person to a freelancer. The reality of making money as a freelancer means that I don’t have significantly more time to write than I did when I worked for a company full time; what I do have is greater flexibility, which means I can work my other commitments around my writing. And that is worth a lot.

Still, I learned long ago that I cannot apply this cost/benefit model to my writing. Doing so would utterly depress me. Ultimately, I want to publish a novel with a major publishing house — that’s my most desired tangible outcome of the investment I make in writing. But even if that happened, there’s no way that the advance would ever compensate for the years that I put into getting me to that point. If it takes approximately 10,000 hours to attain true mastery, and you secure a $10,000 advance (a fairly generous sum, and unlikely from small presses), that translates into $1 per hour for your work. As a freelancer, I won’t work for those rates, and neither should anyone else.

But I’m not writing this post as a freelancer. I’m not writing my novels or my journal entries as a freelancer, either. I’m writing them for something else, something that is not easily quantified, and that has meaning even if they never bring any money in. I don’t write with hopes of payment and recognition; but I think these things would be mighty nice perks, since I’m going to be writing anyway.

And I am going to be writing anyway. I appreciate a “break” from writing between big projects, but after a month or so I start to feel “off” without a writing project threading through my life. I still get excited for new ideas and for old ones; I still feel as though there may never be enough time in the world for me to do all the writing I want to do, to tell all the stories I want to tell. This both daunts me and inspires me. I expect that my writing will take different forms throughout my life, but I know that to stop writing would be to lose a part of myself — perhaps even a crucial one, without which the other parts of myself might crumble apart. And who could put a price on that?


Speculative Fiction … Literary Fiction’s Best-Kept Secret

August 19, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I commented on a newly published author’s implication that the reason many writers are not getting published is because they’re writing stories with fantastical elements (and received a very insightful comment from one of my readers that the nature of this particular author’s novel, Race Across the Sky, follows fantasy’s “hero quest” paradigm. Hm.)

This same podcast series also included an interview with Emily Croy Barker, author of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. There was no denying that this was a book of fantasy; the interviewer admitted that she didn’t read much fantasy and was “pleasantly surprised” that she enjoyed the book. She then went on to ask Ms. Barker whether she read fantasy, as though we were about to receive a scandalous reveal. Not surprisingly, Ms. Barker said that she did, without hesitation. (I would have been disappointed if she didn’t, as I don’t think authors have much business publishing in genres they don’t even read.)

I’ve been noticing this tendency to eschew the sci-fi or fantasy label amongst other recent books that clearly draw upon the genre for their premises. The July issue of BookPage includes a review of a novel called The Humans which is told from the perspective of an alien who seeks to intercept humans’ development of a certain technology, which he doesn’t believe they’re ready for. In case you missed this important point, this book is told from the perspective of an alien. But instead of being labeled as science fiction, it receives the rather vague designation of “popular fiction.”

On the next page, we have a review of The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, a novel in which the main character time travels and inhabits different lives while she receives electroshock therapy for depression. The genre? Literary fiction. That’s shortly followed up by Sisterland, a novel about twins with psychic abilities, which is designated as merely “fiction.”

I saw something similar happen with The Time Traveler’s Wife. It has time travel in the title. There is actual time traveling in the book. There is even a (somewhat weak) “scientific” explanation for the time travel. I defiantly shelved it with “science fiction” on my Goodreads account, although you’ll find it under “fiction” or “literature” in most libraries and bookstores.

Can you think of other examples?

So, if time traveling, aliens, and the ability to predict the future don’t qualify as science fiction, what exactly does? To me, this comes down to the problem of a desire to elevate “literature” above genre. Literature is read by those who like to feel superior, convinced that they read for enlightenment rather than for entertainment, and that their college + educations make them oh-so-much-better judges of good literature than the masses. If you want women’s book clubs to buy your book, or to have a shot at that Oprah sticker on the cover, you better not be shelved with genre fiction.

Literary fiction is generally understood as fiction that is character driven, that is concerned with the artfulness of the storytelling, and that attempts to say something “larger” about humanity and/or the world. I have no doubt that the books referenced above fit these descriptions. They may not follow what are considered “typical” fantasy and sci-fi tropes, but then, the very best in any genre reaches beyond expectation. And genre fiction will continue to struggle to be taken seriously if those who are employing aspects of genre as central features in their story deny their association with their high-fantasy and space-opera writing kin.

Despite all the talk about geek being “chic,” apparently in the book world science fiction still reeks of fanboys dressed in Trek gear and shelves cluttered with action figure collections. I’ve certainly encountered this culture (and found much to love in it, btw) as a lifelong lover of science fiction and fantasy. But I’ve also found people who are willing to look critically at the world, to ask the big “what if?” questions, and to join in deeply exploring this thing we call life. Although reading sci-fi and fantasy is certainly not a prerequisite for friendship with me, I find that all my closest relationships are, indeed, with other speculative fiction readers–because they are willing to “boldly go” into new territory of the mind, and bring a continued sense of wonder to the world.

Thus, I think it’s a shame that fantasy and sci-fi writers with a somewhat literary bent distance themselves from this rich community, reinforcing stereotypes that it is not real literature (as opposed to their own story about an alien). I, too, strive to infuse my fantasy and science fiction with literary conventions; plot tends to emerge as secondary behind writing and characters for me. But when I publish, I will wear the label of fantasy/sci-fi writer proudly, and have no doubts about the good company I am in.


Fantasy … Less Worthy of Publication?

August 5, 2013

Through my library work, I have access to Penguin’s “First Flights” program, which features interviews with first-time authors. A little over a week ago, I was listening to the interview with Derek Sherman, author of Race Across the Sky.

During these chats, the interviewer almost always asks the author about his experience of getting his first book published. (Most of these authors explain the process as “unexpectedly easy,” which is rather depressing to a passionate, unpublished author! Does this have anything to do with the fact that these are the books the publisher has chosen to promote? Was publication “easy” because what they wrote “happened” to be just the sort of thing that publisher was looking for and wanting to publish? At any rate, I hope this isn’t a truly “representative sample.”)

Beware the dragons’ wrath!

When the interviewer asked Derek Sherman this question, he mentioned how Googling “I’ve just written a novel, what next?” brings up a lot of blogs from disgruntled authors complaining about how it’s impossible to get anything published unless you’re already famous. Then he added, “Then you find out they’re all writing novels about dwarves, and dragons …”

As a writer of fantasy, I wasn’t sure exactly how to take this comment. As he contrasted the “ease” with which he was published against these “disgruntled” authors, was he saying that the reason such authors weren’t getting published is because they’re writing fantasy? Is this a genre that is somehow less worthy of publication, or new talent? My husband suggested the most positive take on this comment, which was that perhaps he was saying that particular field was already so “flooded” that it was hard for new folks to break in. But I don’t think so — despite breakout successes like Harry Potter and classics like Lord of the Rings, I still think that fantasy and sci-fi remains a very niche genre. At least, through my work in libraries over the past several years, I’ve noticed that few library workers read sci-fi/fantasy (among a sub-population who are very big readers), and the sci-fi and fantasy aisles are decidedly smaller than the “mysteries” or “general fiction.”

I’m curious about other potential interpretations of this comment. Is writing about “dwarves and dragons” a justifiable roadblock in and of itself to publication? I don’t think so, and it rankles me that any author would summarily dismiss unpublished authors in another genre, while he basks on his pedestal of publication.

As for me, I’ll keep writing about dwarfs and dragons, and reading about them, too. And I’m going to pass on Race Across the Sky.


Don’t Write Until You’re Excited?

September 17, 2012

The September 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest features an interview with Chris Cleave, author of the best-selling Little Bee. When asked for his advice to writers, he says this:

“Make sure you’re excited about your work. When you research a story, it should feel like life and death. And when you come to writing it, it should feel like, It will be devastating for me if I don’t make this story as exciting as I know it can be. You should get up every day and think, If I’m not super excited about the 2,000 words I’m going to do today, how can I make it so I am super excited? It should never feel like a chore. If it ever gets boring, the reader can tell. You need to put the pen down and change something, and not come back to the desk until you’re excited about the line or chapter you’re about to write.”

I always read Writer’s Digest with a pen in hand, and in the margins next to this paragraph, I drew a big question mark. I think I disagree with Chris on this one. While I think it’s definitely a good idea to try to psych yourself up and to get excited about what you’re going to write, and to examine your piece closely when it does start to bore you, I don’t think it’s safe to leave the work alone until you are excited about it. Nor do I think the reader can necessarily tell where your enthusiasm has waned. I’ve often had the rude awakening of reading back over work I wrote full of excitement and inspiration, only to find that it’s no better (and is sometimes even worse) than scenes I’ve written where each word felt like it had to be wrenched out of some quicksand pit in my mind to be put on the page.

It’s fairly common for writers to experience a “lull” mid-story, when the initial excitement has worn off and the momentum of the end being in sight hasn’t begun. One of the biggest challenges facing new writers is getting past this and finishing their stories. Many writers who lose their “excitement” over a work in progress end up starting something new that feels more exciting; until that one becomes boring, at which point there’s another new beginning; until soon you have file drawers full of half-finished manuscripts with none of them anywhere close to being ready to see the light of day.

So my modification of Chris’s advice would be this: If you’re not excited, see whether you can do something to get excited (brainstorm ideas in your planning notebook, take a walk to mull over your story, read over a scene that you’re really proud of, journal about what made you want to write this story in the first place). But if you can’t get excited, write anyway. The last thing we writers need is one more excuse to abandon our craft.


Get it Written

June 4, 2012

While I was traveling after my wedding, New Moon Girls members were chatting with Victoria Holmes, better known as Erin Hunter (or the “main” Erin Hunter, as it were, since Erin Hunter is a pen name for a team of writers), author of the popular Warriors series for middle grade and young adult readers. Although I wasn’t able to attend the chat, I read the transcript afterwards.

One of the best parts of my work with New Moon is that I get to bring authors and the girl readers of their books together about once a month — and the conversation that ensues always ends up inspiring MY writing, too. About one third of the way into the transcript, Erin insightfully asks:

How do you motivate yourself to write when you don’t feel like it? That’s where I have trouble.

You and me and probably almost every other writer on the planet, Erin! Throughout the years, I’ve come up with various tricks to keep me writing (many of them involving guilt), but I think it’s a testament to Erin’s maturity and understanding of the craft that this is the question she chose to ask. In the question is the implication that she understands something very important about writing: namely, that you MUST write to be a writer, and as such, you must learn to do it even when you don’t feel like it — because you don’t always feel like it.

Victoria Holmes’ answer to Erin is just as valuable:

I tell myself, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

In fact, I read this at a time when I was still leaning on the crutch of the recent transition in my life to “excuse” my lack of productivity on the writing front. This reminder, so practical, standing for no excuses, was just what I needed to shake me out of it. (Mind you, I’m still writing this very blog post about two weeks behind schedule, BUT I’ve been writing again just the same. I’m finally revising that Rumplestiltskin story, meeting with my writers’ group, and making my deadlines for the Young Adult Catholics blog.) And as a reminder that productivity does invite more of the same, when I started writing again was also when I learned that SUNY Press will be publishing Unruly Catholic Women Writers, Volume II, in which I have an essay entitled, “Where I First Met God.” And the reason the essay is being published? Because back in 2008, I got myself to sit down and get it written.

Thanks for the reminder, Erin and Vicky.