Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Art of Writing and Taking Criticism

Some deep thoughts on this Saturday…

You may have noticed that on my left sidebar I posted a word count widget. That is to show how many words I have written for my sequel to my first manuscript I call Darkness. I am in the midst of writing Darkness #2 and the amount of words I have written is around 50K. Everyday without fail, I will write 2K no matter if I am feeling up to it or not. Surprisingly the first 25k or so came out of nowhere. I was on a roll. Now that I am right smack in the middle of my WIP I have slowed down.

My writing creative process is not planned out. I have many scenes running through my head and when I sit down and type away on my laptop, I try to the best of ability to get them on paper. I treat each scene like those choose your own adventure books. Did anyone read them when they were younger? If my character decides on a certain action, they must choose “A” or “B”. It reminds me of that scene in the 1986 fantasy cult movie Labyrinth when the heroine Sarah finds herself in front of two doors. She must choose one so she can continue on to castle to save her baby brother who has been capture by the evil Goblin King. She isn’t sure which door is the right one to pick, but she makes her decision anyway, because she can’t just stand there and give up.

Sometimes I get to a point, and I think other writers feel the same way where they want to give up. I am in that mindset where I refuse to give up. Lately there have been some personal road blocks where I am being pushed to give up.

First the positive: The reason I have begun work on my “sequel” is because I received positive feedback from an agent. So far I have sent query letters out to seven agents. I have received six rejections. One of them asked for a partial. Now I know a partial may not be a big deal. The agent may read the first fifty pages of my manuscript and pass. But then the agent may love it and ask for the full. With that in mind, I am trying to be ahead of the game and started working on my second book in this series I have planned. I hope to reach 85-90K but the end of April. Some may think it is a daunting task, but I am up to the challenge.

Now the negative: Lately there has been so much talk about the publishing industry and their woes because of the economy. When I saw this post about the end of the advance on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, I was a bit depressed. I asked myself, especially as trying to make it as a published author, what is the point of spending hours upon hours of writing knowing that your work may not be appreciated enough with the monetary value you are expecting? I asked a few people and one put it into perspective for me. You write because you love it, not necessarily because of the rewards. I want to receive something for my dedication and the product I have created. But does that mean in money or just the thrill of walking into a bookstore and seeing you book on the shelves? Or perhaps knowing that people have read your work and enjoyed it? Again, it is all a personal preference. Right now I would love to be in Audrey Niffenegger’s shoes with her five million dollar advance.

As with any job, and yes, I treat my writing as a part time job, you need to do your research. This may take hours upon hours of figuring out who you can turn to for advice. In the television industry where I work, many get their jobs by who they know. It is called networking. Some will slip a person’s resume to someone on behalf of a relative, an alumnus from their college or an old working buddy. I have been very lucky because in the eleven years I have been working in this industry, I have never named dropped or asked someone to forward along my credentials. Every single job I worked at was because of luck or my experience.

The publishing world is so very different for me. I find myself not sure how to ask for advice. I feel there are some lines you just can’t cross, even if you are friendly with authors, editors, agents and people who work for a publisher. Surprisingly many are very helpful. I showed my query letter to a few authors, and they went out of their way to give me feedback to make it sound better. The same goes for my WIP. I was shocked when one author told me to send my first three chapters to her so she could give me feedback. She went above and beyond. The same goes for those who helped with my query and even my synopsis.

The agent I sent my partial to is also the agent to an author I am friendly with. I didn’t feel comfortable about telling the author who the agent was that I sent my partial to. Again, I felt that was a line I could not cross. It seems when it comes to an author and agent, that is a sacred bond. How could I ask an author to put in a good word with their agent for me? I may think my work is great, but what if the agent thinks it horrible? Then the author is in between a rock and hard place because they supported me.

Unfortunately I had a bad experience with an author who I assumed I was friendly enough to ask for advice. I sent her my query letter for some feedback because again I thought we were on friendly terms. We have shared emails and I have posted on her blog many times. Her response to my request was very upsetting. Part if the problem in her eyes was that I compared my manuscript to hers, which I felt was the sincerest form of flattery and respect. Perhaps she was offended that I dare compare my work to hers, because after all I am nobody. She went onto say that because I review, I better be careful because there are authors out there that won’t be supportive for me as a published author because I may have given them a negative review of their work. From that situation I was a bit bitter and I felt I failed in some way.

But then I took in stride and came to the conclusion about something else. The funny thing with the on-line world and with the people you interact with there is that you may become close with whomever because you share countless emails about each other’s lives and what not. You begin to assume things. I can’t help but raise the question how can someone be “BFFs” with another person on-line if you have never met one another? I admit I have made some great relationships with so many on-line. I am even going to see one great on-line buddy and they even live on another continent! A word or warning- those on-line relationships may not be lasting, especially when and if you finally meet face to face. So was the case when I went to RWA this past July. My overall experience was fabulous. I met so many spectacular people. I also assumed some things, especially about certain authors that I have a great on-line relationship with. I thought when meeting these certain authors, the way we would act toward each other would be very much the same as when we shared emails or in other forms of communication. That was not the case. I went out of my way to introduce myself, so very excited and nervous. They on the other hand treated our introduction very differently. They were polite and nice, but other then the initial introduction, that was where it ended. My assumptions were so very wrong. I felt like I was shafted. Again this was another learning experience.

I try to place a positive spin on everything that happens to me because what is the point in harping on the negative? So is the case with my writing, the on-line community that I am involved with and those who give advice, but needed and unneeded.

Sounds a bit scary, right? I can’t help but always return to my special mantra when I find myself down and things become a bit too hard to handle. As I have said countless times before:

For those who say to you, you can’t; well I say, yes I can.



rebyj said...

There are also articles like this. lol.

Regardless of the market right now you have to keep your creative muscles exercised!

As to advice, approach it like new mothers should. Everyone has advice to give, you pick and choose whose you want to consider. It's your baby and no one knows it like you do.

MB (Leah) said...

Katie that's a really interesting post.

I think you just have to keep putting yourself out there with your work and you have a good attitude about it. Some people will help and others won't. That's just the way it goes.

About author/reader relationships, yeah it can be a bit weird sometimes when you get a bit closer. I've only gotten close with 2 or three authors. And while I post a lot on many more authors' blogs/facebook and such, I keep it impersonal because we are coming from different places no matter how friendly it gets.

And meeting people who you click with online is interesting as well. I've gone to a few peep meets for people who hang out on a certain message board and pretty much those that I clicked with online, I clicked with IRL. But in that situation we are all on the same page as it were. There is a disparity between author and reader.

I went to a signing recently and I just went in got the books signed and left. There was only one author that I had had a more familiar connection with but I didn't feel comfortable hanging out more than what it took to get my books signed.

It's why I have no real desire to really meet authors IRL. It's nicer to keep it on the here and there distant chit chat basis.

Good luck with your book!

KMont said...

((Hugs)), Katie. I'm glad you got your thoughts out on all of this. I agree about a lot of what you've said. Being online seems to create this kind of buffer at times that will either make it easier to communicate with people or harder, depending. Hopefully it's the easier route. I've never had the good fortune to meet in person some of my online friends, but I really hope should it happen that we'll all be polite and genuine with one another.

I agree with Rebyj on the advice score - listen but choose which one works best for you. And for the people that are putting you down, don't let them get you down. Something stuck in their craw.

And if there are authors just sitting there waiting to "get" book reviewers that worked hard to be published? Well, that author would look like the sadder party. I cannot believe this person implied such a threat. Book reviewers can too be published authors. Tons have reviewed before being published and tons still write reviews after being published.

Keep your chin up and keep writing. You'll get there one day.

Jaci Burton said...

Katie - Great progress! There's nothing like setting goals and sticking to them. Really, it's the only way to achieve what you want. Keeping my fingers crossed for you on that agent submission.

As far as the online I chalk it up to real life personality. I think there are a lot of people who really are who they say they are...who they are online is who they are in real life. And then there are quiet a few people who portray what they want to portray online...but in reality? A whole different ball of wax. Unfortunately we don't find out about that until we meet those people face to face...then disappointment results. But that's their shortcoming...not yours.

I've met some awesome people at conferences and in real life situations that I first met online. People who are exactly the same no matter the venue. Those are the people I cherish and hold close to my heart. They do exist. You just have to pick through the trash sometimes to find the treasures. Know what I mean?

Julie James said...

Hi Kate-- what an interesting post. I got a little frustrated, hearing about some of the negative experiences you had, though... grr... I agree with Jaci-- I suspect some of that has to do with some people having a different persona online. I also agree with her that I've been fortunate to meet some really awesome people through the on-line community (and I've only been doing this since October!) So they do exist...

Your thoughts about approaching authors with your query letter and manuscript struck a chord with me. A few years ago, right after I had written my first screenplay, I was fortunate enough to be put in contact through a friend of a friend with an Emmy-award winning screenwriter. The first time we talked on the phone, I kind of hemmed and hawed, just talking to her about the business, and she said bluntly, "You should ask me to read your screenplay. You should've asked me five minutes ago." Her point was that it's okay to use the contacts that you have. Maybe the Hollywood community is more open with this than the literary community... I'm new enough to the latter, I guess, to say that I don't know. But my gut tells me that if you feel comfortable asking someone to take a look at a query letter, a few chapters, etc., then you should do just that. Of course, anyone soliciting a critique/feedback should prepare themselves for the possibility that the other person might not like it, and that can sometimes be tough.

Of course, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you keep plugging away at that WIP! And definitely don't let anyone tell you that you can't.

orannia said...

I'm going to echo the others commentators on what an interesting post this is. What struck me right off was your integrity - it leapt off the page. To make your way by your own merits - I think that's amazing.

ANd can I just say YAH about the agent asking for a partial! I will be keeping my fingers crossed for you on that and on writing your curent WIP!

Carolyn Jean said...

Great post! Very good subject.
I sort of wonder, on the online thing, being sort of shy myself at times, and I know authors are notoriously shy, that could it be shy people seem more gregarious online, and in person, could they come off standoffish, when they are more nervous about the crowds and remembering who everyone is? I mean, I wasn't there, so obviously I have no idea. But just to be devil's advocate....

Oh, good luck with the partial!!! Yay!!

Jill Sorenson said...

Keep it up, Kate! 2K a day is huge. More than I do.

If some whinypants author doesn't want to support you because you review, that's just lame.

Agree with CJ that authors can be shy, and RWA is chaos. I had to introduce myself to the same people many times, because no one remembered me! Doh.

Aymless said...

((Katie)) I agree with the others!

and keep writing because your book will be awesome and I'm gonna buy it (so that one book sold right there!)

When you get down, remember your on-line friends. We're here for you whenever you need us. To pick you up with a joke or to chat with about whatever to help clear your mind.


Shannon said...

Damn girl! Look at you being the writing machine. I think just need to send you my WIP so you can write it for me ;) My poor manguishing WIP...

I am going to agree with some of the other comments. Part of the whole Net/RL disconnect can be a shyness factor or (as mentioned) a "persona" effect. It is easier to be fake online where you have the time and distance to allow yourself a chance to phrase what you want to say in exactly the right manner. Those people who are genuine will be just as great in person as they are on here. I have had the chance to meet in person a handful of folks from this online community (one of them this afternoon) and have found most to be even lovelier than I had thought.

Good luck navigating the world of publishing. This is such an exciting opportunity. Take advantage of the opportunities and connections that come your way. Remember, if you ask for help the worst they can say is no. But just imagine is they say yes. The feedback and advice could be invaluable.

Bridget Locke said...

Hey, KB. First of all, congrats on being such a writing dynamo. I'm envious. I'm writing, but nowhere near as much as you are. :)

As for the authors who were snarky or whatever in real life, eh. I've been lucky (so far) in the meetings I've had with authors. Meljean in particular. A nicer person you cannot imagine. If they're not nice to your face, they're not worth worrying over.

And for the author who wouldn't support you because you also review? That's a bunch of baloney. Just because a person reviews doesn't mean they can't also be a writer. In fact, in a lot of ways I think being a reviewer can actually make you a better writer because you know what does & doesn't work.

It really bugs me when people get holier than thou b/c they're insecure. They suck. Just my two cents.

Bridget Locke said...

PS. Katie Allen is over on Good & Bad. :) She liked your review of Breaking the Silence. :D It's on her blog.

Anyhoodles...hugs & such

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Bridget: Really? I must go visit her blog and stop by yours :D

Everyone, thanks for the kind words.

Amie said...

You know...*yes you do because we've chatted about it LOL* even as an author it's weird for me having online friends who are readers/reviewers. I never forget that line--though it's starting to finally fade with you and Jen. I still don't know if it'll ever completely go away.

As far as the publishing industry goes--the only thing you can control is the writing. Even if you sold tomorrow, your book would be a year to 18 months from publication and a lot can happen in 18 months. By then the economy could be on the upswing.

It's a hard lesson to learn (trust me, I know. I'm still working on it) but you really REALLY can't sweat the small stuff. And of course, I'm here anytime you want to vent :D

Also...what CJ said about us being shy--it's totally true. I have to really work hard to put myself out there --luckily books are good common ground!!! But yes, not everyone you meet online is the same in person - that's true in the reader/writing community and outside of it--hellooooooo online dating? It's hard to remember that not everyone is their real self, that people lie and again, the only thing you can control is you sweets. When the time comes, you'll know whose genuine and who isn't nad go forward accordingly.