Is you is, or is you ain’t?

When I was wondering how to know if I were a writer, I scoured the Internet looking for some way to evaluate my work.  Eventually, I accepted that in order to be a writer, one must only write.  So, having written, I’m a writer. Plain and simple.

The next question was, am I a novelist? The general conclusion I arrived at is, one is a novelist the moment one actually completes a novel.  That gave me a second check, I’ve completed three.

How to measure yourself once you’ve become a novelist?  That’s when it becomes much more complicated.  I’ve had a lot of beta readers and while the feedback was far from uniform (some actually detested my story), enough of the feedback gave me confidence that I was reaching my target audience.  My problem was how to identify that audience, something I still struggle with.

I worked with editors to refine my work.  While they’re getting paid, and thus have an incentive to say nice things to encourage repeat business, I nonetheless felt their feedback was honest.  Indeed, I kept trying to get one of them to tell me I sucked, so I could use that as justification to try and quit my obsession.  Sadly (and yes, I did feel that way many times), he refused to do so.

Since I started writing February 4th, 2015 (fiction, I’ve written lots of non-fiction over the years, not to mention lots of business proposals, etc.), I’ve gained the confidence to think, deep down in my psych, that I am a writer.

If you write, rest assured, you are a writer.  If you’ve finished your novel, that makes you a novelist.  Where you go from there is very much dependent on your tolerance for rejection.  No tolerance at all?  Stick your novel in a drawer or leave it on your computer (but please make backups! in the cloud, if possible!).  Low, go with self-publishing as, statistically speaking, no one will read your book beyond a handful of friends and family.  Unless, of course, you want to invest even more time into marketing and promoting your book, setting up a website, a Facebook page, tweeting, getting reviews, etc.  Or, if you’re really a masochist, go with conventional publishing and query agents and publishers (you get to do all the same self-promotion, by the way).

At first, I queried.  While I hate rejection as much as the next guy or gal, I’ve developed a thick skin over the last half century and know that the unasked question always has the same answer.  When querying failed, I did what I should have done in the first place and got beta readers and editors.  I was set to go back to querying, when I was consumed by a new idea, one I thought would be better to be my first (never assume your first novel written has to be your first novel published! writers write; I wrote two more novels while awaiting feedback on my first).  That didn’t go as far as I intended, so thought about self-publishing for a while.

That aspect ground to a halt when I realized we were spending our retirement money (I negotiated a grand-a-book budget from my boss (wife)) with no realistic chances of ever getting that money back, let alone any sort of return.  After wallowing in depression for a while, I decided to focus my energies on becoming a writer/director, so decided I wasn’t going to publish anything at all.

Does any of that mean you shouldn’t either?  Of course not.  If you want to self-publish, by all means go for it.  Several people I beta read did exactly that.  To my knowledge, no one I beta read for has conventionally published, but I only started beta reading in Dec of ’16 and it can often take 12-18 months from when a publisher says ‘yes’ to the book being on the bookstore shelves, so perhaps no one has made it that far yet.  Should you query?  Absolutely, if you’re OK with the process and can be rejected without it destroying your soul.

Or put it on the shelf and write something else.  Writers write, after all.  It’s so damn hard and soul sucking to get people to read your novel. I think there’s no shame at all in simply having a few beta readers love your story and then moving onto another project.  Yes, it’s nice for the world to read your story, but there are so damn many books being published each year, the world has a hard time keeping up.  If you enjoy writing, but not all the stuff that’s required to promote the book, there’s no reason to think less of yourself to just tuck it away and going on to another.  And another.

Good luck, no matter what decision you make!

Yep, Queries

I wrote this a long time ago to post on someone else’s blog, but couldn’t for some reason.  I sent it to a couple of people and just stumbled across it. It’s a perfect thing to put here.

Yep, queries. I feel fairly certain that had I taken the time to learn about what happens after a novel is written, I never would have started in the first place. Unfortunately, I foolishly became obsessed with writing first, then learned about the Everest climb to achieve success afterwards.

Distilling 80K words into 100-150. Be unique, but also follow the conventions. Hook the reader, but don’t spoil the story. Be clever, but not too clever.

Then, even if you somehow manage to navigate this ridiculous maze, you have to have your query reach an agent when that agent is in a good mood, is looking for what you’re selling, isn’t already representing an author with something too close (or, if they’re part of a firm, that their firm isn’t representing such an author!).

And you got, maybe, 10 seconds. In that 10 seconds, you need to impress the agent enough to garner an additional 20-30 seconds to actually finish reading your query. That micro novel that took longer to write and edit the novel it represents (really!). That thing you labored over for so long, taking wildly contradictory input from dozens of people all sincerely trying to help. You got 10 seconds (this is on the good day, when the agent isn’t tired, cranky, hungry, pissed at their SO, just stubbed their toe, spilled coffee down their neck, etc., etc., etc.) to garner those additional few seconds. What are those seconds supposed to get you? A request for a manuscript. Only if you somehow survive this gauntlet do you finally get a chance to impress a gatekeeper with your prose.

If you can’t get an MS request, you can’t get representation. It’s that simple and that basic. The query’s only purpose is to convert that 10 seconds into 20-30 seconds into a request for the MS. All that work. For 10 seconds. Why the hell did we start writing again?

The Seeds of Winter: Artilect War, Book One – A.W. Cross

Andrea and I have become friendly, exchanging a number of emails on a variety of topics.  She has a diverse background that has some parallels with mine.  One of the reasons, I guess, she asked me to beta read for her.

Amazon link; my review:

I initially read this when it was in beta. I purchased a copy, to support a fellow author, but also to reread and give a review from the published version.

This is a complex novel, covering a lot of different events from many different viewpoints. It’s a challenge the author has overcome, with wonderful style, as the story is engaging and easy to read, despite the complexity. It’s not easy to predict how the story unfolds, but as it unfolds, all the elements make sense.

I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Full Dive – T M Rain

I’m big into scifi, probably 80% of my bookshelf over the years, so was excited to read “Full Dive.” As I title my review, I “Retained [the] sim[ulation] even after reading.”

Tom’s website.

Amazon link; my review:

I beta read for Mr Rain, then, because I loved his story so much, bought a dead-tree version to reread.

I found myself so immersed in the story, that, for several minutes after taking a break from reading, I saw my real world overlaid with the simulation he produced in my head. I don’t think I’ve been that immersed in a story for years, possibly decades, and can’t wait for his next novel so I can do the same.

Stolen Things – Stephen Parolini

Full disclosure, I used Steve as my development editor for my Contract Killer novel.

I was actually depressed for a while after I read it, thinking if he couldn’t get someone to take on that beautiful gem (he self published), how could I ever find anyone to take on my stories. Eventually, though, I settled on (or grasped upon) the lottery notion of success.

Website for the book.

Amazon link; my review:

When I started reading this book I expected it to be good, but planned on reading it slowly over several days. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, I wasn’t able to do so and wound up reading it in a single day. Now I’ll have to reread it several [times] so I can enjoy it longer.

I love the mystery and I particularly love that the mystery isn’t resolved. Berry is the most engaging 12 year old I’ve ever spent a few hours with and her imagination was very real to me.

Thank you Steve!

Latte Girl – Katia Rose

I’ve read a number of romance novels since I started beta reading through Goodreads.  Not something I’d likely ever pick up off the shelf, but that’s part of what I like about beta reading: exposure to new things.

Katia’s website.

Amazon link. My review there:

I started reading Latte Girl as a beta reader for Katia, but didn’t have time to finish before she published. I bought a copy, not just to support a fellow author, but because I wanted to finish and wanted the final version. I’ve read several romances now, and found Katia’s approach fresh and appealing. And her sex scenes are steamy! I like how her happily ever after doesn’t make everything perfect, and shows that Hailey and Jordon are starting a long road, but with support for each other.

Thank you Katia for a lovely story! I look forward to reading your next work!

Screenplay Editor – Lindsay Howard

Lindsay is a writer/director and does screenplay reviews.  I also picked her brains for some ideas I had and she was very helpful and encouraging in her feedback.  She’s shifted focus professionally and took down her website as she can’t devote as much time to screenplay review and beta reading that she once was able to, but did say to email her if you were interested.  As some Captcha encoding, remove the dashes, then add gmail at the end: howard-lindsay-25.

Screenplay Editor – Jennifer Heins

I was given Jennifer’s contact information from Jacque when I mentioned to Jacque my intention to do some screenplay work.  Jennifer gave me amazing, excellent advice on my murder mystery script; I feel the second draft is at least 10x better.  I decided to ask her input on my Contract Killer adaptation and she also gave excellent advice.

Jennifer also has an IMDB page.  I expect to use Jennifer’s services for a long time and encourage anyone else interested to contact her.  I’m told she’s interested in working with authors as a developmental editor, though haven’t worked with her in that capacity.  Given her level of feedback on the scripts I sent, I can only assume she’ll be great with that as well.

Editor – Jacque Hamilton

I first contacted Jacque (“Jackie,” for those like me, who keep hearing the French man’s name in their head), with her SoapBox Editorial Services, in May of ‘17 about a novel I considered a romance (at the time), but had been getting the feedback it violated too many tropes. Jacque looked at my synopsis and gave me excellent advice, without any expectation of anything more. Later, when I hit on the idea of a murder mystery, and recalled that was another area of her expertise, I worked professionally with her on my synopsis. Once I had my first draft done, she gave me excellent feedback.

Jacque also has experience in the world of movie making, even having an IMDB page.  She gives excellent advice on screenplays as well and I’ve used her in that exact capacity.

I have continued working with Jacque and have recommended her to several of my author friends.