Facing Our Fears

One of the top ten fears in the world is the fear of rejection.

For writers, especially new writers, it’s probably in the top two. Why? Because we have to face it head on. There’s no way to avoid it. It’s an integral part of what we do. I’m not talking about rejections from agents and/or publishers, although that’s going to happen if you are trying to break into the traditional publishing market.

Today, I’m talking about the rejections we get from readers.

Through our blood, sweat, and tears, we take an idea and craft it out of the void into something tangible, something dear to us. Then we release it to the world for anyone and everyone to read. The very nature of this effort produces rejections. Some people just don’t get it. Some people are mean spirited. Some people just don’t like what we write.

And there’s nothing we can do about it.

Writing and reading are very subjective. There is no way we can please everyone. Nor should we.

I’ll say it again. Nor should we.

The best writing polarizes people because it reveals truth or makes a statement. There will be those who get it, who love it, who are moved by it. At the same time there will be those who hate it, who revile it, who want to bury it. There are many reasons for these reactions, but they are inevitable.

So, how do we deal with this? How do we prepare ourselves to boldly release our work to the world and keep our heads held high despite the inevitable rejections we will receive?

First, accept that rejections and negative feedback will come. Period.

Second, and this is the hard part, take feedback professionally, not personally. Writing is intensely personal, as is reading.

Dealing with feedback successfully is not.

Feedback is an opportunity to identify areas for improvement as much as it is a confirmation of existing strengths. Look beyond the “I liked it” or “This is hog vomit” for the WHY. We love to hear people say, “That was awesome!” It’s an ego boost, but it’s just as useless as someone saying, “That was the worst piece of trash I’ve ever read.” Both responses are purely subjective. We can’t work with that. All we can do is smile and say, “Thanks for the feedback.”

It’s when they say WHY that we’ve hit pay dirt.

If someone dislikes a story because my craft was sub-standard, or my descriptions were bland and uninspiring, well maybe they’ve just identified a blind spot where I can improve. On the other hand, if someone says my action sequences were so powerful they couldn’t put the book down, or if a particular scene drove them to tears; wonderful – I’ve confirmed an existing strength I can leverage in the future.

The why of feedback may provide nuggets of truth.

Or not.

Some people still just don’t get it, or they’re just mean-spirited. Take all feedback with a big grain of salt. Judge it on its merits and either learn from it or set it aside.

In the end, you’re the judge that really matters.

This is hard to do, but it’s as necessary a skill as learning to develop powerful characters, craft a valid story arc, or write good dialogue. If you don’t, you can be crushed by negative feedback.

And remember, you are writing because you love to write. You hope other people will enjoy your work, but their reactions do not define you. Keep that in mind, and it will help shield you from the negative criticism that might otherwise beat you down and intimidate you into giving up your writing.

How have you overcome the fear of rejection?

 

ThrillerFest, ePublishing, and Getting an Agent

I recently attended ThrillerFest.

It was a four day event. Last two days are panels of famous authors and lots of awards. I saw Ken Follett speak and met and spoke for a while with Larry Beinhart. The first 1.5 days were called CraftFest, and consisted of three tracks of great panels from highly successful writers in the Thriller genre. At the end of the CraftFest was AgentFest. It was like a speed dating event, but you’re pitching agents. (Forgive my metaphor, as it’s the only one I knew offhand).

The CraftFest portion of the event was very enriching. Lectures covered topics such as “How to develop your voice”, “keeping the reader in suspense” and “point of view, psychic distance, and passive voice”.

Probably my favorite lecture was from Stephen James who had a very fast delivery style (he was covering “nine characteristics of the modern thriller”) and who had an odd technique of literally hurling free books AT the audience, and even his handouts were distributed essentially spraying a cascading fan of paper over the front few rows.

There was tons of advice given, but I heard these basic lessons reiterated and I think they are still the most valuable to give to anyone entering the field:

1) READ READ READ, good and bad, in your genre

2) WRITE WRITE WRITE

Simple no?

ePublishing

Over the last year the volume of press about self-publishing and e-publishing has been deafening. Working and writing about technology in my other life, I was very familiar with the rags-to-riches stories that had been told about application development for mobile phones, and some of these same themes were being explored in eBooks.

During the last year the here’s what I heard through all my sources — all the rumors, discussions, opinions — about e-publishing

  1. There’s no longer a stigma to being self published
  2. Publishing is transforming to digital faster than it did for music or movies
  3. E-publishing is now 20% of the bookbuying market. or 30%. Or something like that.
  4. Amazon sells more e-books than normal books
  5. Not really, Amazon sells more volume because many books are cheaper
  6. Spam eBooks are killing Amazon, and then you’ll need a filter, which will be… traditional publishers
  7. Only Amanda Hocking and Adam Locke did a million and you’re not them
  8. Borders is going bankrupt because eBooks are the future
  9. Barnes and Noble’s new focus is toys, gifts, coffee table books, games, puzzles, DVDs, CDs, and scones
  10. The way to succeed with eBooks is 1) social networking 2) writing half dozen acceptable quality books in rapid succession
  11. Literary agents have been infected with the Hollywood virus and are now out to steal your soul and all your royalties because they no longer work for you they just want to own your back catalog mwah hah ha
  12. E-royalties suck and aren’t fair in traditional deals
  13. Publishers never did anything for midlisters anyway it was all up to them to market themselves
  14. Don’t get an agent you can do it all yourself
  15. Don’t get a publisher you can do it all yourself
  16. You just need to spend a few grand for an editor and somebody to make you a good cover
  17. Oh wait, if you focus on learning social networking and building up your audience you may not have time to write
  18. If you self publish successfully you can get a traditional book deal and sell to people who don’t have e-readers and a few of those still exist
  19. $0.99 to $2.99 ebook pricing is devaluing books
  20. People can’t find your book in a bookstore if it’s e-published
  21. There’s no longer a stigma to publishing traditionally on paper

Getting An Agent

The main reason I had gone to the event was to learn about getting an agent. Here’s what I learned about THAT:

  1. You need an agent because they can submit simultaneously instead of you slowly pitching your manuscript slowly, one publisher at a time, over many years.
  2. You need a “log line” – a punchy one-line hook about your book
  3. Loglines are too Hollywood ; those are for scripts. You need a pitch line and a query letter.
  4. You need to work on your pitch a lot to make your query perfect.
  5. You must address your query letter to the agent and research the agent and address them by name and call to verify their name but you can’t nag and you can’t do anything strange or unusual in your query letter.
  6. Actually you don’t need a query letter they’re too slow. You need to go to conferences and meet an agent and pitch your book. Then they’ll ask you to send the manuscript.
  7. If the agent doesn’t like your pitch, because your one-line description of the book wasn’t short enough and perfect enough.
  8. Wow this is going to be really hard.
  9. Actually you’re interviewing the agents and you need to see if you can vibe with them.
  10. Oh wait, the right agent will like your pitch if your story is good because they’re interested, and will ask for the manuscript.
  11. If the agent doesn’t like your pitch you can simply move on. There are other agents.

Summary

The event was amazing (I’m writing spy thriller and some scifi thriller so it was a good fit for me) and I plan to go next year as well. To recap:

  1. There’s no longer a stigma to having a literary agent
  2. Read in your genre
  3. Write a lot

Historical Mythology: Don’t worldbuild without it

In preparation for the next volume of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve been rereading the series so far, and it struck me how much the historical mythology he has created helps his world live and breath. It made me want to write this post about how important historical mythology is in creating a fully realized world.

Now, when I say historical mythology, I’m not necessarily talking about religion or explanations of the natural world. What I’m talking about is the how people use history to explain the here and now. It’s the mythologizing of real historical events and people. It’s putting a spin on what happened to come up with a why and a how that serves the present.

We all know that it’s as important to know what happened before a story began as it is to know where the story is told. No story takes place in a vacuum. There has to be a “before” if there is a “now.” How deep you go into that history depends, of course, on what genre you’re writing. A Paranormal Romance will give history less weight than an Epic Fantasy.

But knowing knowing the history is only part of the process. The other is how that history becomes part of a person or places mythology. Historical mythology is one of the building blocks of backstory that I think people forget. Very often we treat what we write as truth, and the reader will read it as truth. In that epic fantasy you’re writing, you might have an extensive historical time-line of what really happened. But people don’t remember history as what really happened. We remember history by being told about it from others, and as the old adage says, “History is written by the victors.” Historical mythology is how that real history is remembered over time, and it applies to the world, such as with wars and social changes, but also to the personal, such as with what happened to a father and son that caused them to stop speaking.

One of the truly interesting thing that happens when you start looking at history from a mythology standpoint, is that you see how it can change depending on the point of view. Using Martin as an example, one of the more important moments in recent history is the war that made Robert Baratheon a king. This war was sparked by Prince Rhaegar Targaryan running off with Lyanna Stark. A Stark would say that they went to war because Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna, but a Targaryan would argue that the two were in love. Ask someone not of either family, and the whole issue might have been just an excuse to dethrone Rhaegar’s completely insane father. One makes the war about vengeance, another love, the third justice. In this way, the mythology aspect simplifies the incident and gives it meaning. Over time these varying points of view will perpetuate, merge, and come in conflict with each other. We can already sense the impending conflict when the last of the Starks finally meets up with the last of the Targaryans.

In a way, this sort of humanizes the world. It makes the history of the people and places as frail and faulty as the people who live with it. I don’t know about you, but I’m still reading Martin to find out if any of the points of view above are what really happened.

So, when you’re writing that personal story, whether it takes place in an epic world or down the street, think not only of the real history, but how that history can be simplified, misunderstood, or all out mangled. Then, look at how that altered version affects the characters you’re writing about. Not only can this make for great conflict when the various versions meet up, but it gives the world you’re creating a more realistic, human scope.

How Do You Write?

Some people have the luxury of being full-time writers and hopefully make a living at it. Many, however, have to squish out time in the morning, evening, weekends, lunches, from the family, or whenever they have a few moments. All of these options are perfectly valid. We all have to do what we can do whether it’s 20 words, 2000 or more. Recently, I felt as though someone was disparaging my ability to produce with a comment about how much they produce daily. I’m glad that this person has the ability to get the words out. Right now, I am not able to. It bugged me enough that I felt compelled to say to all my writerly type friends – to each their own. 

There are days when I am in the zone and not running a thousand errands and I am able to produce great words in good quantities or even good words in great quantities. But, then there are times when I have family concerns, medical issues, time constraints (plug in whatever in life is slowing you down) and I am unable to produce anything. When I can work, writing a short story might be no problem. When life is in the way, I’m doing good to write an email or a blog. 

Is this a problem for someone who wants to write full time? Of course it is. And, do we all have to find that balance to have a family, day job, friends and… write. Yes we do. Sometimes, we even succeed. Sometimes, we don’t. But only we know if we are doing all we can or not; only we can hold ourselves accountable. 

The point, I guess, is – you know what you can do and when. No one else is privy to the distractions, both serious and frivolous, that hinder you from you’re writing endeavors. So, do what you can, when you can and don’t worry about anyone else.