Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Reflections

It is that time of year when we look back and say, "Wow, last year stunk! Next year will be so much better. Come on the New Year~" We are ever the eternal optimists. Already people are asking: "What are your New Years resolutions or goals?" I haven't made any New Years resolutions in years, not since I figured out that resolutions don't really work for me.
I do like to take the time to reflect on the last twelve months. The first thing I do is find the good things, the sweet things, the fun things that happened, no matter how small. Make a list. 2010 might have been your worst year ever, but there were things that were good about it if you look. The smile of a new baby, the hug from a friend, sunshine on a crystal ice cycle are all good things. Some of the things I cherished about this year: A visit from my parents and son, taking my daughter off to college, discovering a new writing craft book that helped me in a big way, going to a writer's conference and sharing my experience in persevering as a writer, then there were the times I had coffee with friends, the writer's group afternoons, a new book out, celebrating friends with new books out.
Once I make this list, I make a short list of things I've learned, mistakes made that I want to remember not to do again, people I forgot to call, letters I forgot to send, and then I address this list right now, today. I give out a hug. I call a friend. I send a note. So that when I start my New Year, I can start it with my head up and hope in my heart.
Will 2011 be a better year or a stinky year? There is so much about life we can't control such as unemployment, taxes, politics, bad bosses, overdue bills that you simply can't pay, health issues. These are the things that make a year stinky. But they are things we can't really control. What we can control is how we feel about them and how we act. Right now, today, I can decide to find at least one thing that makes me smile. I can decide to try a new thing that can help at work. I can eat one healthy meal. I can walk around my block. I can take five minutes to write a paragraph on the novel of my dreams. I can take one small step that will brighten my future and make 2011 a better year and I'm going to put it on my list so I remember what I did that was good. :D
How about you? Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you set goals? What traditions do you follow this time of year? I'd love to know. Cheers~

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays~

I want to take a moment to wish you all the best and brightest holiday this year. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Thank you all for stopping by every week. I hope I have been helpful sharing what I know and what I learn on my writer's journey. My wish for you is that you never deny your creative self. That you keep learning and growing. That this next year be wonderful.
With that I'll leave you with this list of Affirmations (affirmations are positive true statements) from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way:
1. I am a channel for God's creativity, and my work comes to good.
2. My dreams come from God and God has the power to accomplish them.
3. As I create and listen, I will be led.
4. Creativity is the creator's will for me.
5. My creativity heals myself and others.
6. I am allowed to nurture my artist.
7 Through the use of a few simple tools, my creativity will flourish.
8. Through the use of my creativity, I serve God.
9. My creativity always leads me to truth and love.
10. My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
11. There is a divine plan of goodness for me.
12. There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.
13. As I listen to the creator within, I am led.
14. As I listen to my creativity I am led to my creator.
15. I am willing to create.
16. I am willing to learn to let myself create.
17. I am willing to let God create through me.
18. I am willing to be of service through my creativity.
19. I am willing to experience my creative energy.
20. I am willing to use my creative talents.

Cheers, my friends, may this season remind you that it is okay to take the time to seek, to learn to nurture the person God created you to be.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December's Book Review by Ted

MY First Love!. I'm pretty good at catchy titles, now I have to deliver!
To begin with, what kind of a reader are you??? If you are a writer, what do you expect of your reader??? This is all inter-related. While teaching reading, I have found that many people, maybe most, are word readers. I used to think that I had no imagination...until I began to understand how I read. I am a reader who is part of the scene--I may be the narrator--I may be the hero or heroine ( not a question of sexuality--- I am a male heroine!) We won't pursue that any further. When I read, I am there, the scene is all around me, I am ducking bullets, arrows, plots along with the rest of the characters of the book.
A little background: When I was 13 and in 9th grade, I entered a Catholic seminary to study to be a priest. Didn't make it as Nancy can attest.
I was bored with the classes--we won't go there, but I carried the usual high school load plus 4 years of Latin,3 of Greek, 4 of religion, and 4 of Public Speaking. That was with all the usual expected of all 1950's high school students. So I read books. I think in my 4 years I read about 400 books not required for classes. I used them to escape where I was and what I was doing. I knew I did not belong there, but parents wanted me to finish High school there.
About January of 1954 I discovered " The Miracle of the Bells". I read it at least twice a year for the next 3 years. I fell in love with the female character : Olga......
"The Miracle of the Bells" was written by Russel Janney ( before you ask "WHO?") Let me say it was his first book, his publisher ordered a first run of 125,000 copies ( hardback) and there were 6 more printing in the 40's and 50's then at least 7 paperback printing in the 60"s.) As I investigated I found that Janney was a well know writer of screen-plays and even Musicals that played on Broadway. So while a new book writer, he had a great history. He only wrote 1 more book as far as I can tell.
Maybe it was my nature as an " Softee". or the fact that my grandfather had been a coal miner - though in Illinois not in Pennsylvania. Maybe it was my Softee nature that sympathized with Olga.....But it all came together. I created pictures of the characters in my mind of Olga, "Spats" Dunnigan -a press agent, Father Spinsky and his housekeeper sister who were less than 'holy", the money grabbing funeral director, the weak priest who agreed to anything as long as it brought people to his church so he could try to help them. The Jewish movie mogul who had problems with miracles......
I read it over and over. I loved the dying young girl from the coal town who had Black Lung disease because of where she was raised, the young priest who would knuckle under because he was too unselfish to oppose others..."Spats" who made and lost fortunes for himself and others , and also loved Olga. The Miracle itself, because there was one. But more than one--in fact maybe too many by the end of the book!
I once had a first edition of the book that had notes from press coverage of the book included. It was Number 2 on the New York Times best seller list for 1946 ( Back when that really meant something.) I had a student who did not like to read, I tutored her one summer and loaned her the book---it was never returned!
This is getting too long, but I want to include that it was made into a movie in the 1950's. It is available on DVD...I have one. This was another Hollywood disaster! If you have read books and then seen the movies, you will understand what I mean. The weak priest was played by Frank Sinatra ( A weak performance by a good actor), Lee J. Cobb was the Jewish movie producer- an adequate job, the actress playing Olga is really an unknown- but she looked as I pictured Olga ( my first love), then the crushing blow was Fred McMurray as "Spats" I need to stop there---he was miserable, and I can hardly stand to watch him on reruns of "My Three Sons". There must of been 40 actors that could have been used, but he was picked. The picture was/is less than half good.
I strongly recommend reading the book if you never have. Copies in various condition are available on Amazon or even can be found in old bookstores. The small price is well worth the trip back to coal-mining towns in Pennsylvania and the times when a nobody might have a press agent tell a producer " Give the kid a break!" Olga will always be alive for me. Thanks to Russell Yanney.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The 80/20 rule

Publishing is an impossibly slow business. I think you can safely say that you can take the time it took you to write and polish the book and multiply it by four or more. That is the time it will take to sell the book. Then on average add 18 months for the publisher to do revisions, copy edits, galleys, pre-release publicity and put the book on the shelf. What is a writer to do while they wait? Well, write another book, of course, says the prevailing wisdom. And I agree. Writing another book allows you to keep up the practice and perfect your craft. But here is the thing you have to accept about that truth. For the average writer, only twenty percent of the manuscripts you write will actually become books on the shelf. One of the Professors at my MFA program stated this statistic in a class. I sat down and figured out how many books I've written over the years versus how many are on the shelf and it came to exactly 20 percent. Huh.
Knowing this many writers say, well, I won't write past a partial then because why waste my time on a book that will never sell. This is a self made trap. Why? 1) It used to be you could sell your second book on partial, but the business has changed so that nine times out of ten even midlist authors must write the entire book before a contract is written and the book sold. 2) If all you do is write beginnings, you miss out on the practice and perfecting of the middle and the end of stories. You miss out on knowing where your personal pitfalls are and how to deal with them.
Other writers write entire books, for example: I average three books a year. In today's economy many paying publishers are buying one book a year. Even if you sign a three book contract those books will usually come out one a year. (Unless you are working with a company whose business model goes with three books in one year such as Sourcebooks or Harlequin.) The point being that many prolific writers have mounds of inventory-remember on average 80 percent of their works are not published. This can lead to desperation and attempts to fling that inventory at editors and agents as fast as you can. Okay so you rejected that one, here's another. This desperation leaks into the work and the industry's perception of you. I know, you would think that an agent would want to sell every book their author writes, right? Editors should want to publish every book their author writes. Fact: this is a false assumption. Agents and editors want to sell books they think they can make the most money on and will not even try to sell books they think they can't market. Remember publishing is a business. Publishers, editors, and agents are in it to make money. They are your test market. No matter how clever the idea, if the agent can't get an editor to bite, if the editor can't get their marketing department to take a risk, then they have wasted their time and efforts. Fact: sending an agent four different books in one year is a waste of their time--no matter that the rejection letter said they would be happy to see your next work. Unless the concept is really happening, fresh, and now, you need to wait at least three to six months before you query with your next work.
Some authors think. Fine. I know my inventory is good. Why should I wait? I will publish it as an e-book. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if you have years between paying books. But you have to understand the simple truth about e-books. They are a dime a dozen and, unless you work really, really hard on marketing, your book will be lucky to earn you more than $50. (I made $0.73 last quarter on my two Wild Rose Press romantic suspense books.)
So what is a writer to do? Relax. Keep writing. Look at the 80 percent of books that don't sell as hours of practice. Keep reading craft books. If you find yourself getting frustrated or desperate, stop. Live life. Try something new. Most importantly don't beat yourself up for books written but not sold. Don't curse your agent or editor for rejecting 80 percent of your work. It's how the average writer's journey goes.
For those of you out there who will say these facts aren't true. Who will say that you write and sell every book and sometimes three or four books a year, I say, good for you. You are on the other side of the bell curve. You are not average. It doesn't mean you are better than an author who publishes only 20 percent of their work. It simply means you are either a) working with a publishing model that plans for more than one book a year; or b) you are able to repeat marketable ideas and themes for your publisher; and c) you don't need to read this blog which is meant for the average writer.
As for the rest of us, I'm not writing about the 80/20 rule to discourage you, but to encourage you. To help you relax and not feel so desperate that you send a new book out to agents every six weeks. To help you understand that the 80 percent of your work never read is not wasted effort to grieve over, but fun, joyful practice that allows you to craft great stories for the 20 percent that sell. Remember it really is all about the journey, no matter where it takes you. Cheers~