Showing posts with label demotivational. Show all posts
Showing posts with label demotivational. Show all posts


I'm taking a week-long break from blogging for this reason. Things should return to their regular schedule next Monday.

Here's a picture of Batman riding an elephant.


I'm in a mountain village (this one), and far away from my computer. So here's a picture of a cat.

I love the internet.

What I Learned From 52 Rejections

A couple weeks ago, I suggested people query their first novel, even though it would probably get rejected. I said this because I think you can learn a lot from querying even a bad novel, and your reputation as an author will be none the worse for it.

Can I put my money where my blog is? Well, yes. Some of you may recall that I queried my first novel and that query got 52 out of 52 rejections.

So what did I learn?

1) I learned how to write a query letter. My first query really, really sucked. But by the end of that query round, I'd done a ridiculous amount of research and revision and actually got professional feedback that my final query did not suck (though the opening pages did).

And if you're thinking you don't have to write a query because you're self-publishing, think again. The back-cover copy you have to write for every book-selling site is essentially the same thing.

2) I can do this. The feedback I got -- a little from professionals but mostly from other aspiring authors -- was encouraging. It told me that, even though I wasn't there yet, I could be.

3) I WANT this. While my query was out, I spent a lot of time online trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, how to make it better, how to write, what my publishing options were. And at some point during all of that, I realized I really, REALLY wanted to be a part of this world.

4) If I want it, I have to keep writing. I can't learn by waiting for 52 rejections or for the responses of beta readers who might never get back to me. I can't learn if I'm spending all my time on promotion. The only sure way for me to learn is to write (and revise) something new.

Could I have learned these same things by self-publishing that monstrosity first novel? Probably. I have no doubt that's the path others have taken. Maybe those first novels with 200 sales are a badge of pride for some people, like my 200 rejections are for me. Maybe that's the motivation they need. But for me, it would've felt like quitting.

Have you written more than one novel? What did you do with your first one? What did you learn?

What To Do With a Bad Review

I once stated that I thought it was possible to respond to a negative review in a positive way (see the first footnote of this post). I am now rethinking that theory. Here's what happened to an author I know.

(Names and most specifics have been wiped, just cuz I don't want things to get worse):

1. A Reviewer posted a bad review of the Author's book on a popular book site.
2. In the comments, Reviewer picked out a couple users who liked the book (and had little or no other activity on their accounts), suggesting these accounts were sock puppets -- created by the author to artificially boost the book's rating.
3. Reviewer's readers agreed and mocked Author for such "obvious" fake accounts.

Before I go on, I want us to stop and think about what we would do in this situation. Assume the review counts (the book hasn't actually come out yet, so any buzz might count). For myself, it is taking every ounce of strength to take the high road right now and get to my point, rather than argue about Internet Immaturity and Spurious Evidence.

Oops. Moving on . . .

4. Author left a comment in the review thread -- not to comment on the review itself, but to mention that none of the accounts were fake (one of the accounts was actually her daughter).
5. Author was told somewhat bitterly that Reviewer is entitled to write whatever she wants about the book (note again, though: Author said nothing about the review).
6. A couple of people who liked the book spoke up in Author's favor (some in the thread, some in their own reviews).
7. These people were accused of being trolls, sock puppets, or both.

Then things got worse.

Friends of Reviewers left multiple 1-star reviews after not reading the book. Hateful comments were left on the reviews of the "fake" accounts. At one point, Author thanked a different reviewer for reading the whole book and being impartial, at which point two commenters blasted her for "dictating" what makes a review fair or not.

It's like this particular group of people has experienced other authors acting badly and assume Author is doing the same thing. They've seen authors with fake accounts and assume that any suspicious account is, likewise, fake.

To user-reviewers then: This is not (always) the Bad Author you're looking for. Sometimes people mean what they say, with no other agenda. Best not to assume.

But this whole thing just proves to me why commenting on bad reviews -- or trying to prove anything on the internet at all -- is generally a bad idea. Authors, don't comment on negative reviews. Yes, there are thousands of user-reviewers who will act professionally, even toward authors whose books they don't like. But it's not worth risking the ire of those who will misinterpret everything you do.

Professor Internet is right: it's better to just chill out and eat a sandwich.

What do you think? Would you have stayed out of it? (I don't know if I would have). Is there a way to step into this without making things worse?

On the Ridiculous Idea that You Can Steal an Idea

Stop me when you know what famous book this is:
A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities, who are to be educated in a remote training facility where student life is dominated by an intense game played by teams flying in midair, at which this kid turns out to be exceptionally talented and a natural leader. He trains other kids in unauthorized extra sessions, which enrages his enemies, who attack him with the intention of killing him; but he is protected by his loyal, brilliant friends and gains strength from the love of some of his family members. He is given special guidance by an older man of legendary accomplishments who previously kept the enemy at bay. He goes on to become the crucial figure in a struggle against an unseen enemy who threatens the whole world.
If you said Harry Potter, you're right. But if you said Ender's Game . . . you're also right. This quote is from an article Orson Scott Card wrote, berating J.K. Rowling for this one time she got mad at someone for "stealing" her ideas.

Guys, you can't NOT steal ideas.

Don't believe me? Visit TV Tropes for like two seconds (if you dare). Such a site wouldn't even exist if the tropes listed there hadn't been done time and time again. Not because people are unoriginal, but because we are original, but that does not mean what you think it means.

Being original means we all take the same raw materials -- life -- and turn it into something unique. But it's because of those common raw materials that we all come up with chosen ones and special powers and wise old mentors and unlikely leaders. Because those are the things that move us.

Don't worry about someone stealing your idea, and don't worry about stealing someone else's. Ideas cannot be copyrighted and no one can win a lawsuit because you also made references to the Bible. If they could, the Tolkien estate would own Hasbro by now, and C.S. Lewis's benefactors would have a number of things to say to that guy who tried to sue Assassin's Creed.

Keep moving forward, taking people's ideas and letting people take yours. It's all good, and it'll come back around anyway. Because the goal is not originality or even money. The goal is to show people old things in a new way.

Your way.

Getting better at something is a very, very, slowly, gradually, very, very slow thing

And that's all I have to say about that.

(Totally unrelated, my agent sister Daisy Carter is having a Q&A with our agent on her blog. So if you've got any questions for Tricia Lawrence (and maybe want to win a free book), head on over there!)

What Would You Do If You Had To Give Up Writing?

I wanted to ask "What's your dream job?" But for a lot of us, writing is our dream job.

But what if you couldn't write for some reason? What would you do instead?

I originally decided to write as one of many options. I was at my Office Space job one day, thinking about various projects -- none of them work-related, of course. I had an unfinished novel, a computer game, a couple of board game designs, and a D&D campaign bouncing through my head (and, uh . . . open on my desktop).

And I realized there was no way I could finish all of them to my satisfaction. I wanted the novel to be published, the games to be popular, the D&D campaign to actually get played.

Oh, and I also wanted to write a web comic and make movies.

So clearly I wanted to create, to tell stories, to entertain, and I realized if I really wanted to do that, I would have to focus on one medium and get as good at that medium as possible.

Obviously I chose writing, but if I weren't writing, I'd be doing one of those other things. I'd be programming computer games or designing board games or at the very least running RPG campaigns with whoever I could play with (hint: the older you and your friends get, the harder it is to play an RPG).

What would you be doing if you couldn't write?

5 Reasons to Read Lord of the Rings

[If you haven't entered to win a copy of Silver Phoenix or Huntress yet, go do so now. Winners chosen next week.]

I still find it astounding that some folks haven't read Lord of the Rings. Then again, the book is huge, and I am sort of a fantasy geek (and don't ask about all the classics I've never read). Still, if you're on the edge, maybe I can help push you over.

1. Nazgûl. The undead servants of Mordor. They never sleep, never die, and never stop coming. They're kinda like Dementors, but they aren't scared of a silly glowing stag. And they ride dragons.

2. Gandalf. Every awesome wizard and mentor character you've ever read about was based on this guy. Dumbledore was killed by a silly curse. It took a fricking balrog to take Gandalf down. (And even then...)

3. Frodo and Sam. Bet you didn't know this was a buddy story. Frodo and Sam are hardcore. Think Naruto's tough? These guys walked into hell with the devil's wedding ring (he really wanted his ring back, too).

4. Maps. Harry Potter doesn't have 'em. Nuff said.

5. Epic fantasy poetry.

5. Middle Earth. Beautiful, even if all you've got are Tolkien's words. I'm pretty sure I'd die there, but I want to visit just the same.

So what's your favorite thing about Lord of the Rings?

Prequels, Problems With

Prequels are not always bad. Just want to throw that out there. But in general, when I hear a new book or movie is a prequel, I'm immediately less interested than I could be. Why?
  1. Because sometimes the prequel is not the story I want to know more about. The original was. Example: Phantom Menace. (I really, really, really don't care that Anakin built C-3P0, even if you could solve all the plot holes that represents.)
  2. Because sometimes the questions raised in the original are best left unanswered. Example: Phantom Menace. (Midi-chlorians. Nuff said.)
  3. Because the prequel's story often ends near the inciting incident of the original -- usually an unsatisfying place to end. Example: Phantom Menace. (I know Anakin is Obi-Wan's apprentice. I know he becomes a great Jedi then betrays Obi-Wan. I know he's corrupted by the Emperor. This is not the cliffhanger you're looking for.)
Maybe the prequel's should've started here instead.

I don't intend to ever write a prequel, but if I did, I would ask myself the following questions:
  • Is this a story I would want to tell, even if I'd never made the original? Example: X-Men: First Class. I don't know about you, but for me, the relationship between Magneto and Xavier has always been one of the main draws to the X-Men story.
  • Does this story answer questions that need to be answered? Better yet, is it about separate events entirely? Example: Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom. Yes, this was a prequel (having occurred before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark). It might not have been as good as the other two, but it didn't try to answer stupid questions like: "Where did Indiana get his whip and fedora?" *
  • Could this story stand alone without the original? Would it be satisfying? Example: Captain America. Technically a prequel (having occurred before the events of Iron Man and directly leading to the upcoming Avengers movie), but pretty dang satisfying on its own. (Except for the fact that he probably could've avoided getting frozen in ice).

So, prequels. What do you think makes a good one? What else is wrong with Phantom Menace?

* The Last Crusade did answer those questions, but because it was a flashback, and related to the rest of the story, I was cool with it. What I didn't want was an entire movie with River Phoenix Indy.

The Sadistic Choice

One of the things that can make fiction compelling is an impossible, sadistic choice. Like in Hunger Games, when you want both Katniss and Peeta to live, but you know only one of them can. Or like I said about Open Minds, where Kira has to decide whether to lie about having no mind powers, to mindjack everyone she loves, or to tell the truth and put herself in serious danger.

An impossible choice keeps you reading, because you don't know what you would do in that situation, and you want to know what happens. BUT, there are some guidelines.

Erasmo must decide whether to eat mango or papaya for breakfast. If he chooses the mango, the papaya will go bad, wasting his money. But he hates papaya. What will he do?

Compelling? Not so much.

Erasmo recognizes the cab driver as a convicted serial killer, but if he doesn't take the cab to work he'll be fired. What can he do?

How about call a different cab (and the police)? Nobody likes a dumb protagonist.

Once at work, Erasmo's boss forces him to clean the bathrooms with a toothbrush or he's fired!

Neither option is pleasant, that's true, but it's not hard to figure out what he'll do.

Erasmo reads Hunger Games to see who Katniss will choose: Peeta or Gale. He waits. And waits. And waits...

Putting off a decision is valid and practical, but there should be either a reason ("We're at war! Now is not the time!") or consequences ("I didn't choose either and now they both hate me.").* Don't expect your compelling, sadistic choice to carry the reader through your story by itself.

* For the record, Hunger Games did both of these, but I still felt like Katniss was leading the guys on unnecessarily.

After everything he's been through, Erasmo takes the day off. He'll have to make the same decisions the next day, but I don't want to write about it.

I guess this could be a wacky literary ending, but I've never been a fan of those. If you do leave things unresolved, do so very, VERY intentionally (see Inception; seriously, go see it).

At this point, it's important to mention how the Sadistic Choice is usually resolved: with a previously unconsidered Third Option. It needs to be said, because it's easy to drop a Third Option out of nowhere and think you are, by default, being original. You're not.

As soon as you present the choice, your very intelligent readers will be looking at all the options, including the ones you haven't presented as possibilities. Especially the ones you haven't presented as possibilities. This makes it very hard to do something they don't see coming (which is, after all, the goal). How you do that is up to you.

Or else it's another blog post. I don't know. I haven't decided.

Writing When You Hate Writing

Some days, this is exactly how I feel.

Sometimes it's the novel's fault. As I plow through the draft, crap gets built on crap, building into a gargantuan pile of whatsit that I'm just going to have to fix later. Mistakes and weak plot points devolve into puzzles I no longer want to solve. And I've already used all my stock phrases and have to think of new ways to make people look, shout, cry, and laugh.

Sometimes it's the query process' fault. Being a tad insane, I've been charting my rejections and requests. There is a strong correlation with my mood. Like in August, when I got a bunch of requests and was writing 1,000 words a day, and the beginning of this month when I got some hard rejections and hit a bit of a slump.*

Sometimes it's just life's fault. Social workers come to visit. Kids are home on a day I expected to have to myself. Family issues just send out negative waves.

(It's never my fault, apparently. That would just be silly.)

Whatever the reason, I feel like things will never get better and I'll never get out of it. That's crap, of course, but it doesn't change how I feel.

So what do I do when this happens? Usually I try to plow forward, and sometimes I can. Other times, I have to take a break. Even though I know accomplishing something in writing will make me feel better, sometimes I have to accept that's something I can't do yet.

But what to do on that break? Man, I don't know. Sometimes playing a game works. Exercise. Mostly, though I just have to get off the internet and remind myself what my life's really about.

What do you do?

* I'm better now, but I don't think October will be breaking any records.

So You Think You're Ready to Query...

When I wrote my first novel, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could finish a whole novel. After 4.5 years, I did, and when my one of my two beta readers said, "I can't believe you wrote a novel! And it's good!" I thought maybe I could actually publish it.

It took me 8 months, 52 queries, and 0 requests to realize I wasn't ready. This is the post I wish I had read back then (though I probably would've ignored it and queried anyway).

Is the story basically the same as it was in the first draft? I don't mean prose and grammar. I mean big things: motivations, characters that need to be cut or added, scenes that need to be rearranged. Have you deleted/rewritten entire scenes and chapters? I barely scraped the sentence structure with my first novel, and it showed in my rejections.

Of course, it's possible you wrote something good enough the first time, but it's unlikely. I'm the most obsessive planner I know, but even I have yet to write something where I didn't delete whole scenes and rewrite entire chapters.

Do they love it yet? If not, it's possible they might be wrong, but chances are they're not. Revise it until most of them can't put it down.

And who are your betas? Are they friends and family, or are they writers who are trying themselves to get published? Friends make fine betas, but nobody knows the business like those who have already gotten their butts kicked by it. Network. Swap critiques with people who aren't predisposed to like your work.

I thought I did. I'd read books like Left Behind and Randy Ingermanson's Trangression and Oxygen and thought, "Hey! Christian sci-fi is a thing!" I was wrong.

That doesn't mean you can't write what you love, but know what you're getting into. If Christian SF was my one true love, I would've focused my attention on that market and figured out how to become the exception. But I'm easy. I shifted my focus to secular SF/F and ultimately to YA. I'm still writing what I love, but my chances have greatly improved.

This is assuming you're going the traditional publishing route (although a lot of book bloggers require query letters too -- can't escape, can you?). Have you written one? Have you revised it a bazillion times? Have you read hundreds of examples, both good and bad, and then revised yours again?

Have you had any of your stuff (query, opening pages, etc.) critiqued online by anonymous strangers? It's scary, and you're likely to get conflicting advice and people that don't get it. But this is a good way to see how agents or the general public might respond to your stuff.

If I could do it all over again, I'd join an online critique group and milk it for all it's worth, critiquing and getting critiqued until every beta said, "I can't see anything wrong with this! I love it!" I'd spend hours at Query Shark, Evil Editor, Matt MacNish and JJ Debenedictis' sites reading queries and submitting my own until people were saying, "This looks good! I'd request this!" I'd do it right.

Ah, who am I kidding? I'd do it exactly the way I did. I was so excited. I couldn't help it! I just hope one of you will learn from my mistakes without making them yourself.

Veteran writers, what would you have done differently the first time around? (Assuming you got rejected. If your first novel got published, I'm not sure I want to hear it!)

What the Agent-Author Relationship Actually Is

I have to follow-up Wednesday's post for a sec, because Natalie Whipple clarified a critical point that I had trouble getting in my head until now. From her post:
It seems the vast majority of querying writers are of the opinion that the "no response" policy is rude. There have been comparisons to agents being employees, and that writers have the power even if it may not look like it at times. There have also been comparisons to "customer service," and the fact that it's just bad business not to respond to a customer.

I think writers are kind of missing the point.

Because the agent/writer relationship is NOT an employer/employee relationship. The agent/writer relationship is a partnership.
Natalie does a great job laying out what that means in her post, and I'll try not to repeat her (though repeating her makes me sound so smart, so I might a little).

A business partnership is fundamentally different from the producer/consumer or employer/employee relationships we are used to. It is symbiotic and -- here's the most important thing -- EQUAL.

Not equal as in both sides have equivalent abilities; that would be pointless. Equal in terms of power. Each side wants something the other has and is willing to give something up to get it.

The agent gives up their unpaid time and the writer gives up a percentage of their profits. That sounds like one is paying the other, but there's a subtle and significant difference. In a partnership, neither can tell the other how to do their job. And if either one fails in their job, neither gets paid.

Writers query specific agents because they believe they would make a good partner. The agent has expertise and connections you want, and you like the way they work. If "no response means no" means you don't like the way they work, then (as I've said many times before) don't request their partnership.

Agents take on writers because they believe they would make a good partner. The writer has skills and stories the agent can sell, and they like the way the writer works.

This is why there's "a call" when an agent offers representation. It's not about the book (they've read that already). It's about the person and whether or not both of them feel they can work well together.

Business partnerships don't work well if one partner believes they are better than the other. They can (it's still business, after all), but eventually one believes -- rightly or not -- that they don't need the other and they part ways. Sometimes badly. Sometimes so badly that other agents hear of it, and the writer finds that nobody wants to work with him at all anymore.

Don't laugh. It happens.

So this sense of entitlement I keep railing against just closes doors unnecessarily. It reduces your chances of finding a partner who will work with you. You probably wouldn't want an agent who treats his authors like sweatshop workers. Guess what makes most agents not want to work with you?

Okay, I'm done now, I swear.

Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet?

A couple weeks ago, blog reader Lexi left this comment:
I'm interested in why you guys aren't self-publishing.

It needn't stop you querying agents, if you're set on that. Meanwhile, you could be making money from your writing, and if you do well enough, agents may approach you. Win/win approach.
 It's a totally valid question, and I answered briefly in the comments, but I thought it deserved a bit more explanation.

Understand, of course, that this is just why I haven't self-published yet. I can't speak for anybody else.

(1) I still believe I can make it traditionally. I got zero requests for my first novel. The next novel got five requests -- it was rejected, but three of those agents said they wanted to see revisions and/or my next novel. This round (which is really a revision of the second novel), I've already gotten significantly more interest than last time.

That tells me I'm getting better and leads me to believe I will continue to do so. Until I hit a wall (like where the statistics are no longer going up), I'll still believe I can do it.

(2) Self-publishing is still, statistically, a lot of work for not a lot of gain. I have no doubt the numbers have increased since I ran through them a few months ago, but I haven't seen a lot to encourage me. I'm still not convinced that self-publishing should be more than my last resort.

(3) Pursuing traditional publishing stretches me. I talked about this a couple of years ago, when self-publishing still wasn't quite legit. I think one of the reasons for the growth curve of (1) above is that I've actively gotten feedback and tried to get better. I might still do that if I self-published, but I know myself. More likely I'd revise less and sacrifice quality for churning out novels.

(4) Poor sales on a self-published novel could affect my chances of getting traditionally published. At least according to Rachelle Gardner. I'm inclined to agree with her. For me, making a little money now isn't worth killing the dream. Speaking of which...

(5) Self-publishing isn't my dream. I once had a friend who tried to shoot the moon on every round of Hearts. He lost points most of the time, but he won overall (and won big). But he didn't change his strategy even when I started sacrificing points just to take him down. When I asked him why he kept doing it, he said, "The game's just not fun otherwise."

I kinda liked that.

Traditional publishing is changing, we all know that. But it hasn't actually changed yet. It's still here and larger than life, and so is my dream. So I'm going to keep shooting and see what I can hit.

Besides, what's the worst that could happen?

For you, have you self-published or are you still shooting for traditional? Tell us why in the comments.

Unique isn't the Same as Good

One thing I love about So You Think You Can Dance is how similar the audition process is to querying a novel. It's got everything: the people who are okay but just not strong enough, the wackos who may or may not have stepped into the wrong theater, the ones who think they're awesome but aren't, the dancers who are good enough for Vegas (I'd call that a full request), and the very very few who make it all the way to the Top 20.

Much like agents, the judges say they're looking for uniqueness, something that stands out from the average dancer. Unfortunately this has resulted in folks coming in on stilts and roller skates, dressed in drag or weird unitards made by someone's mother. Yes, these are unique, and they do stand out, but not in the way the auditionees hoped.

The writing equivalent might be a query written in first person, a literary graphic novel about a man trapped in a white room, or a query about unicorn/bovine romance written in verse. Unique, maybe. But totally weird and not what most people are looking for.

So don't use gimmicks to make your work stand out. Learn the craft, get critiqued, and write the best dang novel you can. Then let it stand out for itself. Remember:

Just because you are unique does not mean you are useful.