Monday, November 29, 2010

2 Important Things Writers Should Remember, Part I

I was up at my mom's this weekend, napping off Thanksgiving and generally being pampered in the way that you do when you go to your mom's. I had plenty of time to think, and thought about where I am in the writing and publishing journey. I usually don't talk about where I am with things on the blog, but maybe some displaced end-of-the-year sentimentality suggested it, I don't know. Or maybe I just grow introspective when I have my meals all cooked for me and lots of napping time and free child care.

Either way, one of the things I do when I have a lot of time to think is question what I'm doing, where I am, and how I'm doing. I've queried a lot of agents for one of my novels, a novel that I really love the story of, and both my query and my opening chapters have changed quite a bit during the process. There's been a lot of rejection, a lot of encouragement, and some of the best advice and help I've ever gotten from special, caring, smart friends (you know who you are, and thank you again so, so much). I've had fulls requested, I've had fulls form rejected. I've learned a lot. I've started work on a new story, and put everything I learned into that one.

I've questioned myself many times. Am I ready? Do I deserve representation? Am I ready for the demands that will bring? Can I honestly agree that my novel is good enough for the professional business? Should I give up on the current novel query? I think it's healthy to ask yourself these questions. I also realized two really important things writers should remember. (Note: I am currently unrepresented and unpublished, and I realize that may make hearing what I have to say irrelevant. After all, I haven't been there, have I? How can I possibly have experience enough to tell you what important things you should remember? Just saying I recognize that fact.)

So one of the things my mom does for me when I visit (apart from everything else) is make an appointment for me with her pedicurist (although pedicurist is a shabby term for the woman, Judy, who gives you a whole foot experience with massage, soaking, tidying your feet --a particular joy if you have trouble reaching them because of a growing pregnant belly). Yeah, my mom's house is like my own personal spa. She also pays for my appointment. Take a moment to turn green with envy.

While having my feet pampered by the pedicurist Judy this weekend, I asked her how business was. She works in a small mountain town with a glut of personal service businesses like massage and pedicurists and spas, and she doesn't do any marketing at all. But her business has been steady. In contrasts, her neighbor who does massage with her feet (as in, walks on you), does a lot of marketing and yet her business has dropped off. So how does Judy stay in business? She told me what I think is the first important thing for any artist to remember:

Put all your energy into your intention.

Judy said her neighbor didn't really do that. She diversified her services and didn't concentrate on her massage-by-foot business, putting little time and heart into it and instead letting her marketing signs and brochures do that work. And the result is unfortunate, because Judy said her neighbor is very talented. Judy arrived in the small town 10 years ago and focused on her shop and that was it, and it's paid off.

This is a little bit like The Secret, I guess, but I liked the way Judy said it. Maybe you don't want to put your energy into your intention, or maybe your intention has changed. Maybe you aren't even sure what your intention is, and that's okay. I'm just saying that I know what mine is, and I'm going to continue putting my heart and energy into it. It just is going to be that way.

What do you think? Do you agree that this is an incredibly important thing to remember, or has all the pampering gone to my head?

Come back Wednesday for Part II of this post, where I mention the second most important thing for writers to remember.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Happy post-Thanksgiving Roundup, loverlies! I had a lovely Thanksgiving, stuffing my face full of every thing I could to the point where I was unable to tell what was food and what was baby. Luckily my stomach is getting so big that a big bloated tummy is nearly indistinguishable from Cletus the Fetus, so I was able to get away with pretending I was merely pregnant, when in fact I was carrying at least a 9 pound Food Baby as well.

I always make cranberry sauce and roasted-garlic mashed potatoes every year. This year, I used Barefoot Contessa's cranberry fruit compote recipe (yes, that very one) and it was GREAT. For the mashed potatoes, I roast garlic ahead of time (cut 1/2 inch off the heads so the garlic is exposed, drizzle with olive oil, bake in a 425 oven for 55 minutes and then mash the garlic once it cools). Then I followed this awesome Williams Sonoma recipe for buttermilk chive potatoes and let me tell you: best mashed potatoes I've ever made. (Oh yeah, and add in the mashed roasted garlic before you add in the chives.)

Anyway, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Please know that I am super thankful that you all read my blog--every time I get a comment it makes me smile, and I just love you guys. Also I am thankful that I don't have a partially-formed dead conjoined twin growing out of my neck, or a disfiguring disease, or colon cancer that would require a colostomy bag (awful), or other horrid hardships. Instead, I have a great job, health insurance, my house is not being foreclosed on, I have a really saintly husband who puts up with me, a very very sweet darling boy, and another whipsnap on the way. And I am so excited and thankful that I get to write.

I said this already above, but I'll just say it again: I am thankful for you, my blog readers, who gratify my ramblings and validate my thoughts.

Now:

  • Roni Loren, who was on fire this week, discusses overwriting, and then helpfully describes how not to do it.
  • Jane Friedman's query series continues with post 8 with query letter red flags, and post 9 with actual full queries critiqued.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The World Has Changed

I've been reading with interest and growing horror the whole TSA backscatter X-ray machine thing and its evil twin sister, the opt-out groping pat down. The spate of reports emerging from people who are abused by the TSA for dissenting--and worse, not even dissenting, just opting-out, is disturbing. There are stories of people being arrested, being harassed for asking questions, and being detained. Stories of people being groped. Stories of threats and lawsuits and fines if we don't submit to it.

I'll just say here: I'm pregnant and I don't believe that the full scan machines are safe for my unborn baby. Nor do I feel they're safe for my son, who is four. I don't have a problem being patted down, but my son isn't going to be touched in his groin by strangers. (Note that the TSA has said that children under 12 don't have to submit to this; I heard this on NPR and a spokesperson from the TSA admitted they had "not communicated this to the public very well." WHATEVS.) My OB agrees that the backscatter Xray machine is a no-go for me, which says a lot.

So I'm watching and waiting, and we have chosen not to fly until a solution is found that doesn't involve being groped or put in harm's way. I believe that solution will come, because most people flying today know flying security is now a part of our lives thanks to September 11, but that we won't stand for being groped or harassed or subjected to harmful x-rays. I'm a veteran flier, and maybe it's real easy for me to say I won't fly because I don't have much cause to right now and also because I have a baby coming that will allow me to stay grounded for some time. But come next October, I'm probably going to have to fly for work. And what if something horrid happens to a family member far away? What, am I going to drive across the country?

The world has really changed, hasn't it?

As writers, there's no way to predict what will change. Reading stories with airport travel the old way (no security, no hassle) is quaint now. Likewise, if stories don't mention air travel security (instead, something like "I breezed through to the gate from the ticket counter and boarded the plane. I plopped down in my seat and put my head back, ready to snooze the journey away.") then I'm sitting there going, Yeah, right. It's unpleasant from start to finish.

This is a minor point, but I always find it amusing when I read stories that feature some aspect of air travel and it's all peachy. I find airport security and other flying malarkey like cattle-call lines, the failure to feed or entertain me on long flights, and the unsettling fact that there are no airbags on the flight because airlines don't want to spend room or money putting them in, even though they've been shown to save lives, too unpleasant to even think about. So I don't like to spend time mentioning those details in my stories.

Thoughts? What else dates a story, and how do you feel about using modern references that could reflect our culture's point in time?

Note: after I published this post I found the picture of the above toy set with security--thinking they didn't make any such thing. Scary. That's a Playmobil set, though, not Fisherprice Playskool.

P.S. I am super sorry if you are taking off to go fly somewhere for Thanksgiving.

P.P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, loverlies!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Way We Come Across

Last week, a guy in my company (let's call him "Pete") sent an email to someone else ("Polly"). Polly had asked for Pete to help with the printing of a proposal that would be sent to a customer. Pete replied that our company was on a serious color print and paper reduction campaign and that we would have to think about reducing our color prints drastically. Also, Pete said we should think about reducing the colors we use in our proposals, like removing orange. Orange, of course, being our main corporate color.

Polly (rightly) didn't really know what to say to that, and forwarded it to me. I didn't really know what to say either, since no one had asked ME (I am marketing, by the way) about color usage. The way the email read, someone had made up some stupid rules about color and printing with nary a thought to reality, or funny things like company brand.

I sent some strongly worded emails ("This rule is BS") to Pete and also our IT manager (let's call him "Repeat"), who usually (and frankly, is known for) sets these kinds of rules. Both Pete and Repeat responded quickly all up in arms, telling me there was no need to get my dander up. They both said no one had made the color usage rules and that it didn't exists and it was just a suggestion. And that, basically, *I* was out of line for being all upset.

So, apart from the obvious lapse of total common sense in suggesting such a lame color reduction scheme (perfect fodder for a ragey ahole boss character, no?), Pete and Repeat failed to see how the original email would come across to someone who was merely requesting help with a print job. And then how I took it, having gotten Polly's bewildered email.

It made me wonder about all the times we write a scene or an exchange, and we mean something really important with it, and then our beta readers or critique groups go, "What is this? Did you fall and hit your head? What is this drivel trying to prove right here?" And you go, "Um, I was trying to, um..." but the cause seems lost since they didn't get it. Then later, when you brood over the critique, you go, "But it is there! I was totes trying to make the dragon seem deep, because he represents the struggle of the hero."

I'm convinced that sometimes there's just no way to know what the effect is going to be on people. I would say that in most cases, we try our best to think things through and make sure we consider the different ways in which people take things--and of course this is one of the reasons feedback is so important--but in the end, you can't control it.

(Although I really kind of think Pete could have thought how such a psychotic answer about imaginary color usage rules would come across to the marketing folks.)

Thoughts? Agree, disagree? Do you think there is a way for us to get across a point the way we intend it? Does this happen often to you, where you thought you were showing something only to find you failed utterly?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

  • Llinda Grimes does llamas, illustrating yet again why we llove her.
  • I love this Craigslist ad reposted by Janet Reid a writer took out for an agent. My favorite part is "Compensation: TBD."
  • Are you following Jane Friedman's awesome query series? In last weeks roundup I listed posts 1-4, and here is post 5 and post 6 and post 7. I'm just going to say this: I was reading one last week and something CLICKED with me in terms of query writing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bet You Think This Post is About You

I can’t deny that I was enjoying myself relaxing on the park bench while watching my small son run around in the playground area. The day was warm, and it was my favorite time of afternoon when the light had a golden hue to it and time smacked of relaxation.

And then I saw him.

He came around the main play structure, chasing after a very small girl—his daughter, I surmised. At first, I thought he was this person I used to know, and that’s why I sat up and paid closer attention—taking care, of course, not to be obvious. It took a long time of watching him to assure myself he wasn’t the person I used to know. This was good, because if I knew him, I’d have to possibly get up and go say hi, and I’d be flustered, and not know what to say, and generally make an ass of myself, as I always used to do around him.

But the resemblance was uncanny. Same coloring, same build, same country of origin, even, since I could hear his accent from where I sat. I watched as he called to an older child, a boy, who had a name typical of his home country. The mother of the children wasn’t in view, and I allowed myself to wonder if he’d gotten himself into a situation and not married her, or had divorced early perhaps. What kind of woman had trapped him? Because he was the kind of skittish guy that had to be trapped.

Yes, fine, it wasn’t the same guy, but close enough!

The fact remained this man was like an addictive drug, just as the person I used to know had been my heroin. The way he carried himself, the way he spoke, even the way he looked off in the distance seemed dear. Even now I’m at a loss as to how the two could be so similar. I adjusted my staring and made sure I turned my head toward my son many times—both because I had to as a responsible mother, but also because this man was alert—just as the person I used to know was always alert—and his eyes (oh, his eyes!) darted around the playground often.

Then his wife came into view. My mouth dropped open and I sat up, thankful that my dark sunglasses allowed observation without detection. That was his wife? This was what he’d married and procreated with? Wait, he’d slept with that? He’d shunned me when I’d known him! And now he’d turned to this potato sack? I hoped she was a friend, or a relative, and not his wife, but then she reached over affectionately pulled down the bill of his hat (oh, how I wanted to tug the bill of his hat!), and smiled at him in a way that belied intimacy. His reaction wasn’t satisfactory—not if I’d been her—but then hey. She’d scored and married him.

The two were so mismatched that it was laughable. I felt hideously mean for thinking this, I still do, but there it is. Look, I’ll be plain—I never thought much of myself, never had a very big helping of self-esteem, and it certainly took a dive after knowing the man I used to know. But God, I wasn’t that bad. Not everyone is a beauty queen, but his wife was clearly living a different lifestyle than he was. No one is perfect, but she had stopped caring.

His eyes continued to dart around the playground. Watchful, aware. The two boys my son was playing with kicked each other down and their father told them they were leaving. My son stared forlornly after them, and I decided now was a good time to go. Otherwise, I couldn’t trust myself not to get up and get closer to the guy under the guise of seeing what my son was up to. I couldn’t trust myself not to drool, or make some other unseemly sign from my bench. He’d see it. I could be assured of that. His head turned in my direction when I got up as it was.

It wasn’t until we were in the car and driving away with this man well out of sight that it hit me: he’d been glancing at me, too. His watchful eyes hadn’t darted to other areas of the playground. He’d seen me from afar. Maybe I resembled some woman he’d known before. Maybe he really loved his potato sack, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be with someone who looked human, and whose ideals matched his own. I was that person! Of course I was. I’d always been. Now, we’d both married other people and invested in them--and there are no regrets with my husband, none at all--and we’d had kids. We’d committed to other things in life, to the joy of our own children. It was time to forget all the nonsense of the past and look forward to the lives we’d built.

But damn it if his notice of me today wasn't like water in dry cracks. I could have had him. It would have just taken a twist of quantum physics to put us in a different time and space, and possibly a different man entirely. I was okay with that. I could have had him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mailing Lists: DO NOT WANT

Last week, I received a mass email from someone whose blog I'd followed. The email itself was fairly harmless--a reminder about something going on at the blog. But I'd never opted in to receive an email. Automatically questions arose. Will there be more emails from this person? Will my email address be added to a larger list and used as spam chop-suey? Will the other people cc'd (oh yes, not bcc'd) on the email mine the email list and add my name to spam lists? And where could I opt out? And why, for the love of kittens, why was it necessary to do this?

Email as a communication tool to augment blogging isn't bad in itself. It's the fact that I hadn't given permission for my email to be used this way. Granted--granted!--my email address is listed over there ------> in the sidebar for all to see and use. However, if you should take my address and use it for your mailing list, you would be a spammer.

When I got the email, I tweeted about it. Several people gave me advice on how to handle it. I felt that it required kid gloves because this is social media, after all, and I generally don't like to alienate my bloggy friends. Tawna Fenske suggested saying nothing in reply, but blocking the emailer from further attempts. Still another fellow tweeter suggested replying and gently educating the emailer on the etiquette.

Ultimately, I did nothing, but I blocked the address as spam. I feel that mining your google follower list for emails is such a gross violation of mass emailing standards that there really was nothing to say. I still go back and forth in my mind about it. It's possible the person genuinely didn't know. When I re-read the email, I noticed that it did say "Apologies if you don't want to receive this type of email; if you don't, let me know."

But that puts the action of it on me, and I still have to send an email that is not anonymous. I still risk having "ass" attached to me for doing so. It's like those guys who paint your house number on your curb and then ask for payment. If you don't want to pay for your house number painted on your curb (and why would I, when the cost is exorbitant), then *I* have to go outside, put some kind of notice on the curb, and hope the wind and rain don't blow it away. That assumes I can walk to the curb and bend over to begin with! (I can walk, but bending over--not so easy when you're preggers!)

Forget that. Ask me first or else get relegated to the spam folder, lose a blog follower, and generally piss people off.

Look, as authors or future authors, email lists are a great marketing tool. You should use them. But there are rules that must be obeyed. Because I administrate mass emailings for my company, here they are, in case you didn't know:

  • You may not email people unless they have specifically opted-in for that purpose.
  • You must include a way for the recipient to opt-out or unsubscribe from the email list and you must make it easy to do so (no "in writing" or bs like that)
  • Don't abuse the purpose. Meaning, don't send out mass emails to say hi or that your cat took a dump. Make sure it's newsworthy.
What do you think? How do you think I should have handled it?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

Bit of a shorter roundup this week, but I hope you find these useful.

Special update: I am sorry to have missed this originally, but Samuel Park did a thoughtful post on the whole Nathan Bransford leaving thing, which provoked very thoughtful comments...including a reply from Nathan himself. It's very civil, and makes for interesting reading and thinking on all sides.
  • Carrie Heim Binas gives us the greatest book ever written-- and it's the A-Z Guide to Perfumes. Think she's insane? Read what she has to say. After I did, I placed an order for the book. Seriously. It's that amazing. Every writer requires this.
  • And finally, Jane Friedman is running a fabulous series called The Ultimate Blog Series on Queries. Here is part 1, which covers the 5 elements of a query, then part 2, which tackles the 3 elements of a novel hook, part 3 with a query and hook critiqued, and part 4 - with another query and hook critiqued.
  • And finally, I'm listing my own post from Monday, 5 Reasons You Don't Have an Agent Yet. This post got more hits than any other post I've done, and it enjoyed a far-reaching retweet life as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Tina Lynn Sandoval

Halloween is over, but that doesn't mean ghost stories are out of vogue. Quite the opposite!

To that end, I have a special treat for you today: an interview with Tina Lynn Sandoval. Tina Lynn is a darling of a blogger. She writes YA and is currently revising her novel. If you read her blog regularly, then you know she also sees dead people.

This fascinates me to no end. I've never seen ghosts, but Tina, who until recently even worked in a very haunted hotel, is very sensitive to them. For Halloween, she posted a really chilling short story on her blog. She agreed to talk to me about her experiences. All of my questions below were fueled by an unrepentant curiosity about this because I've NEVER been sensitive to this stuff.

Sierra: I am endlessly fascinated by your real life ghost stories and it seems like I have a lot of questions that you don't always answer. So, here goes: have you always had the ability to see dead people?

Tina Lynn: I'm not sure, but I've had experiences for as long as I can remember. The house I grew up in was very "active".

Sierra: Did it scare you always?

Tina Lynn: Yes.

Sierra: Have you ever found a way to confront them and make them stop? In your story for the Halloween blogfest you describe the act of blinking to make them go away.

Tina Lynn: That works when I'm seeing things, but the noises and the feeling that someone is with you still stays with you. I guess I should correct the above statement. I'm not always scared. But it's never comfortable.

Sierra: That's understandable. I'm a big scaredy cat when it comes to things like that, so I definitely wouldn't be either. What's the worst thing that's ever happened?

Tina Lynn: That's a hard question to answer. I remember when I was very young my playroom was a scary place. Things moved.

Sierra: Ooh, that is scary.

Tina Lynn: But recently, I experienced my first full figure ghost. I thought I was going to have a coronary.

Sierra: What! I would have.

Tina Lynn: I actually did post that story on my blog.

Sierra: How did I miss that one?!?

Tina Lynn: I don't think you did. You never miss my scary stories.

Sierra: I know, I'm terrible, I'm an awful sucker for your scary stories--as long as I'm not the one actually experiencing them. That's what makes them so fascinating, probably. So where did you see the full figure ghost?

Tina Lynn: It was at the hotel. A friend of mine and I have been discussing the possibility that I brought something back with me.

Sierra (getting chills on back of neck): What do you mean, "with you"? When you were born?

Tina Lynn: The house I live in has become "active". It didn't used to be.

Sierra: Ahh. Like you're drawing them to you, almost.

Tina Lynn: Exactly.

Sierra: Maybe they're like the ones in The Sixth Sense, they know you can see and hear them, so they flock to you. What do you think about that movie? (I'm sitting here making comparisons between you and that movie which might not be fair, so feel free to scoff.)

Tina Lynn: LOL. That child was much more sensitive than me. Children tend to be more sensitive. And cats. Our cat knows.

Sierra: Definitely. I think you mentioned before that your kids have the ability to see as well?

Tina Lynn: My oldest has been having many experiences over the course of the last few weeks.

Sierra: Out of the blue?

Tina Lynn: Yes.

Sierra: How does she handle it?

Tina Lynn: She had experiences at our old house (which was a terrible place), but here it's new. She's terrified. But she knows she can come to me. So, that's good for her.

Sierra: Have you ever looked into finding someone who can help you through it?

Tina Lynn: No. I've always just dealt with it.

Sierra: If you could choose, would you have it stop?

Tina Lynn: That's a good question. I think short answer is: yes. Long answer is: If I can't ever make it amount to anything, I'd prefer for it to stop. But if I could help someone, I wish I could. Dead or alive.

Sierra: Have you ever tried to help anyone, or maybe a better way to ask that is, have you ever felt like you had the opportunity to do so (dead or alive)?

Tina Lynn: I've asked before. One night at the hotel, I begged the entity to let me help it if that's why it was bothering me, but perhaps I am not sensitive enough for it to communicate with me. I never heard anything from it.

Sierra: That's interesting and kind of leads to my next question: do you think they are conscious? Do you think they think?'

Tina Lynn: I think it varies. I think some are fully conscious. Not in the way we are, but I disturbed one once, and she made no secret that she was pissed. Others I think just carry out the same motions.

Sierra: So they have emotions.

Tina Lynn: Oh, yes.

Sierra: Maybe like us living, some are more engaged than others.

Tina Lynn: Perhaps. This particular girl stays in a stall in the women's bathroom in the hotel lobby. I can see her shape in the mirror. I always check the actual stall to make sure she isn't really there. She didn't bother me. She is just present. Which is scary.

Sierra: Yes. Especially when your pants are down.

Tina Lynn: LOL! Yes.But one time, I couldn't check the stall because the door was closed. I opened it to check to make sure, like always.

Sierra: What do you mean? The door was closed already, before you came in?

Tina Lynn: The door to the stall is usually open.While I was ahem doing my thing, she started banging.

Sierra: Did you yell at her? "Hey, I"m trying to PEE here!!"

Tina Lynn: No. I sort of finished and booked it out of there. Not sure if I had my pants completely on either.

Sierra: Have you ever shouted at them out of frustration?

Tina Lynn: Once. Only once.

Sierra (getting chills again!): What happened?

Tina Lynn: Sorry. I'm a bit distracted.My oldest has a "baby". And she's crying.

Sierra (thinking Tina means a ghost baby): WHAT! HOLY COW! Right now?? Maybe I shouldn't make you talk about this. I see that now. !!!

Tina Lynn: For sex ed, they now hand out simulation babies to discourage teenage pregnancy.She's plenty discouraged right now.

Sierra: Oh. PHEW. I thought you meant a GHOST! Is the sim baby programmed to cry at intervals? Hopefully it doesn't do that during the night. THAT would be realistic.

Tina Lynn: It just cries all the time.

Sierra: Modern sex ed: "We teach you how much it SUCKS."

Tina Lynn: That's why my daughter is crying now. She's frustrated and tired.

Sierra: Yes, well. I hope you reminded her that this is how YOU felt.

Tina Lynn: She asked me how in the world I did it. THREE TIMES. I think it's a bit different when you love them though.

Sierra: Did you say, "But for the grace of God!" Also, they're warm and you know they will grow out of babyhood. Of course real babies take massive dumps, too.

Tina Lynn: yes!

Sierra: That's not so good. And they puke everywhere. Nothing like projectile milk vomit all over you, your chair, the carpet, and your books.

Tina Lynn: Yeah, and my daughter was a spitter. Blech.

Sierra: Oh yes, my son was as well. OK, back to my hard-hitting ghost investigative journalism.

Tina Lynn: LOL

Sierra: By the way, right now I am eating a grape flavored Tootsie pop, and I must say it is entirely pleasant.

Tina Lynn: Yes, I had one yesterday.

Sierra: Although I would normally murder for chocolate, I do not prefer the chocolate ones. I like grape and strawberry and especially cherry.

Tina Lynn: Oh, we are so so alike.

Sierra: We are, Tina, we are indeed. Ok so: Do you ever get the sense of how they died, or why they linger?

Tina Lynn: No. Never. That's why it sucks so bad to be me. I'm sensitive enough to know they are there, to sense them, to see them, but I can't do anything about it. I've been encouraged to try and strengthen my sensitivity, but I really don't want to.

Sierra: Strengthen it! Why, so you can play bridge with them? Holy cow, what would you strengthen it for?

Tina Lynn: So that I could help them.Or get them to leave.

Sierra: Yes but then you'd be running all over town to solve their problems.

Tina Lynn: LOL. Yeah, maybe.

Sierra: And you have a family to worry about! And a plastic crying baby!

Tina Lynn: Oh, boy. Poor girl. She's going to have a loooooong night.

Sierra: Yes, but she'll think twice now about unprotected sex.

Tina Lynn: Yeah, right.

Sierra: Just whatever you do, don't tell her that its actually easier the younger you are, cause you have more stamina for the all-night sleep deprivation.

(Then followed a long tangent about labor, babies, and pregnancy, NaNo, writing, and the Bay Area, with the following comment mixed in somewhere: "Applesauce with steroids, now THAT is good.")

Thanks, Tina! It was fantastic to talk to you about this stuff. Anyone have any questions for her and her amazing ghost-seeing ability?

Monday, November 8, 2010

5 Reasons You Don’t Have an Agent Yet

Not me, as in Sierra (although in point of fact I do not have an agent). But everyone. I bet many people wonder this, especially if you have friends or fellow writing buddies who have agents. Lots of people probably suffer from Agent Envy (and those who have agents but no book deals probably likewise suffer from Book Deal Envy). I think this is natural. I also think everyone who suffers from the envy probably tries to hide it. But it’s there, isn’t it? Especially if you’ve gone through the exhaustive query thing and done everything right and revised and fixed and followed rules and were ultra-professional, where God where are the agents knocking down your door?

Usually when I have some neurosis like this, it turns out that lots of other people have it too. So with that, here are my reasons as to why you (or me) do not have an agent:

1. Your or your book isn’t ready yet.
Everyone is at a different stage in their growth. Just because you and your friend are mind-twins in terms of brilliance doesn’t mean you’re both at the same place of writing maturity. Maybe she is and you aren’t. Or maybe you are and she isn’t, but she had a super hooky commercial fiction and you went the way of a slim volume of poems about dried up rose petals. Get over comparing yourself.

2. You write for a different market than your peers.
Maybe you write for one that's way slower, or has much more stringent requirements as to what you can submit and have accepted. Know your market, and adjust expectations accordingly. Don't compare to other writers in other hot or popular markets.


3. Everything is perfect except some unforeseen stupid ass first chapter crap that you should have known better about.
No one’s perfect. You learn. It’s okay. The key is discovering the crap part and fixing it, then picking yourself up (or scraping yourself out from under the fridge, if necessary) and carrying on. Writing a good story that is well formed in every way is hard.

4. Your book isn’t as good as you thought it was.
Look, even Jonathan Franzen’s FREEZE could have benefited from a critique group. Everyone makes mistakes. Just go forward, because if you give up then you won’t go forward. Consider very carefully whether your story is as interesting as you thought it was. If you aren't enjoying it after 107 read throughs, then maybe the book isn't really that great. Just move on.

5. Your time hasn’t come yet.
Or everything happens for a reason, in its own time. It could be that you are similarly clever to everyone else to has an agent, and that your book is dynamite. But as someone (super apologies for not remembering who) said recently, finding the right agent is like online dating. It’s going to take a while to make sure that right chemistry is there. Maybe you, in your life right now, aren’t quite there yet. It’s okay! You will be. Just later.

Finally, I leave you with a metaphor I’m shamelessly stealing from Kristen Lippert-Martin's extremely mega awesome query manifesto series (Part 1 and Part 2, git over and read them if you haven’t--they are BRILLIANT). Kristen tells us a story about doing a bike marathon thing and going up a heinous hill and nearly puking from it, and wanting to murder all the people whizzing down the hill in front of her, only to realize when she got to the top that all those people had had to struggle up the hill first, just as she did, before they got to whizz down. Read her version, it's better. But still, you see what I'm saying. All those people who have agents? They did the struggling--your struggling--already.

What do you think about these five reasons? I know lots of you are in this limbo field where you're querying...does any of this make sense? Care to add any?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Google Reader Roundup

First off: a bit of business to take care of. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Tootsie Pop discussion on Wednesday. The winner of a box of Tootsie Pops is......(drum roll)....Terri Anne Stanley! Although I dearly loved all the stories, Terri Anne's roller skate girl who lived upstairs was too great to withstand. Terri Anne, congrats! Please email me (address at right in sidebar) with your address and I shall dispatch the Pops forthwith.

Now.

  • Nano dos and don'ts, in a very well-written, no-nonsense post by Chuck Wendig. The man is a fabulous and amusing writer--one of those who make you green with envy. I mean, with phrases like "protoplasmic snot-waffle novels" where can you go wrong?
  • Whoa, Kurt Vonnegut! Tell us how you really feel! James Scott bell has a fabulous post on the use of semi colons in fiction, something I am rather free with; I use them with abandon. I've had an affinity for the semi colon that hasn't ebbed over time. Seriously, great post. Probably a must read.
  • Carrie Heim Binas has some choice words for an anti-NaNo article on Salon. Carrie makes excellent points--although I have never done NaNo, I can't agree with her more than it's important to support people who are trying, writing, and sweating their passion. I mean, hello. NaNo is like a marathon or a bike race--people who love doing what they do, coming together to do it together. I see nothing wrng with that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tootsie Pops and Customer Service

I must say, I have enjoyed several Tootsie Pops out of my whippersnapper's bucket since Halloween. Tootsie Pops, I explained to him, are the creme de la creme of lollipops. I pointed to the Dum Dums and said, "Those are subpar." He looked over at my Tootsie Pop pile and I realized my ghastly mistake.

"But Dum Dums are really good, too," I backpeddled. "In fact, they're better, because they're smaller and fit in your mouth." And then I clinched the deal by offering him a Dum Dum while surreptitiously scooting the Tootsie Pops under the rug and out of his sight.

Anyway, do you remember the story of how you get could a free Tootsie Pop if the wrapper had the Indian chief and star on it? Surely you do. Well, according to urbandlegends.com, Tootsie Roll Industries says this is a total myth and they've been sending form rejections to people since the 1930s who've written in requesting their free Tootsie Pop because they got an Indian Chief and star on their wrapper.

Oh yes.

But then, urbandlegends.com reports, "since 1982 they've also enclosed a short work of fiction called 'The Legend of the Indian Wrapper,' apparently intended to serve as a sort of consolation prize." Now, I'm not one to decry a bit of fiction as a prize. In fact, if you ask me, that's a WIN. But surely they could send a free Tootsie Pop, too. What are they, 25 cents? For God's sake. Use your customer service muscle and give people a free one. Because guess what? They'll buy more if you do!

Oh sure, you say. Then people will save up the Indian chief star wrappers and take advantage of the program and Tootsie Roll Industries will go out of business fulfilling free orders for Tootsie Pops. Well, duh, print fewer of the wrappers! They currently appear on like a third of the wrappers, so make it like one in 500,000! Make it a prize worth buying tons of them for! Make it like a golden ticket!

What a fantastic promotion, and a way to engage with your customer base! Who's the Dum Dum now?

It's the same way in social media for business. Engage with people. Engage and offer something back. It gets them wanting more of your product, and it leaves them feeling all warm inside because you reached out.

And for writers--how can you engage with readers to make them want more? Give them yourself. Interact with people. (As opposed to just blasting stuff out at them and not responding or engaging.)

What do you think? Did Tootsie Roll Industries fail at this opportunity? I'll tell you what-- you tell me what you think, plus add in what you think the story is behind that Indian Chief and star. The most amusing answer will win a 20-count box of Tootsie Pops. Winner will be announced Friday on the Google Reader Roundup.*

* Do you hear that, Tootsie Roll Industries? I am doing your customer service for you. Sheesh.

Monday, November 1, 2010

QR Codes for Writers

Because I work in marketing, I feel duty-bound to pass best marketing practices on to you, since so much of what publishing is about involves marketing.

One of the latest --and coolest--trends I've seen in print media is the QR code. Today I'm going to tell you about them. Forgive the long post, but I hope you'll be as interested in their potential as a tool as I am.

You might not have noticed these unintelligible little squares of black and white pixels, looking like a very poor resolution bit of photocopied enlarged artwork. But these codes contain information--indeed, anything you want. Usually they have web links encoded.

Who uses them?
Currently, smart phones use them. If you have an iPhone, an Android, or a Blackberry Touch, then you can download a free app (just do a search for QR Code in your app store-- make sure it's free; there are plenty of free ones) and then you focus your phone on the code, it snaps a picture, and voila! Bob's your uncle.

What does it do?
The code leads your phone to a website, usually. However, at work I have created them for vcards--those electronic files that contain your business card info, and PDF files that live on my company's web site. In the future, I predict business cards will have QR codes as a standard feature so you can snap it, then have the person's info instantly in your phone, which then syncs with your address book on your computer. I've already tried this. It doesn't work perfectly, but it definitely worked. See? So cool.

OK, so why do I care?
QR codes are starting to make their way into general print media. Those of you who get Pottery Barn catalogs in the mail (*cough* *cough* No! Not me! *cough) may have noticed in the fall/winter preview issue that there's a page with a house covered in snow and Christmas decorations of the sort that you could only do if you had a mansion in Connecticut and were independently wealthy. Anyway, when I saw the house, I thought, interesting. How did they do that photo shoot with all that snow? You know Pottery Barn didn't do that in winter...they probably do their shoots in spring or summer. Well, lo and behold! Just after that thought crossed my mind, I noticed a little QR code at the bottom of the page. Next to it said, "Want to see how we did this photo shoot in the snow?" And I was all "YEAH I TOTES DO; DID YOU READ MY MIND?!?" and then it invited me to snap the QR code to watch a video. The QR code opened a You Tube movie....and voila! (Here's the link if you're interested...short video. They did it in 90 degree California weather.)

Now, Pottery Barn has really made a big push to be active with social media. They have a twitter account, Facebook, etc, and very much want you to join. Whether or not they actively engage with customers, as a company is supposed to do with social media, is another question (no judgement; I just don't know). But the QR code use is a great way to augment that program.

Then the other day I received a direct mail postcard in the mail from Kaiser Permanente, a leading healthcare system in California. Kaiser has a fantastic advertising campaign going on called Kaiser Thrive, in which they encourage their members to "live well and thrive." The program is successful in that it positions Kaiser as a caring, loving, and resource-providing company, and I'd even say that I bet that those three words are stated in their marketing plan.

But anyway, this postcard was about sleep. Specifically, how they want you to thrive with better quality sleep. To help you, they have provided a series of podcasts on a number of subjects--including just nice soothing songs. The kicker? Access it with a QR Code. Below is a scanned-in image of the back of the postcard. (You can use the QR code in this scan, too; click on the image to get a bigger version which might make snapping the code easier.)



Naturally, I tried it, and was delighted to find a whole list of audio links that played without trouble when I chose one.

That's all very nice, but how do QR codes relate to writing?
Good question. Well, since the world is clearly moving to a small, mobile, extremely capable phone platform, we're probably all going to have the ability to use QR codes pretty soon. I found it interesting that big companies like Pottery Barn and Kaiser were banking on it, in fact. I recently started using them in my company's marketing materials for trade shows. I created a QR code to download a special PDF for a certain service in our company. For the guy who runs that service's division, I printed stickers with the QR code and he put them on the back of his business card so people would essentially get his brochure on his business card (if they clicked the QR code). I also put codes on our brochures that were printed at the show, so people could go directly to our web site and look at our completed projects by snapping the code.

There are tons of possibilities for QR codes. The most obvious use is in enhanced e-books, where having a QR code next to the text could allow you to click it, then watch related video, audio, or informational sites. You could click the author's QR code for more info about that author-- or even for a sneak preview of a new book, exclusive to QR code clickers.

How do I create one?
Easy. There are a lot of free generators on the web. I like this one, because it's super simple. Try it. Paste in a web site into its URL field and click Generate. To save the code image, just right-click on the code, select View Image, and then save that image to your hard drive. Yes-- the image will still contain the encoded info even if it's sitting in a folder on your hard drive. Now you can paste it into a Word doc, or a blog post, or even print it out.

Some of the things I like best about QR codes are that they're cool, they're new, and you can use them to encourage exclusive rewards--which is a great way to market.

Now for a special present for you-- a short story
I've created a special one for you, embedded with a short story that I wrote specifically for this post. (Dang, did I go all out for this!) Aim your phone at the screen, click it, and read away. This piece of fiction, called Gravity, is about 1600 words long and is something I dashed off for this post so forgive me if it's dreck. Still, it's short, and that's the main thing. This short story is not linked anywhere but through this code, so this is available only to those of you who use the code to access it. I welcome feedback about it (sierra [at] sierragodfrey [dot] com), but please be kind.


Did you know about QR codes? Can you see the potential in them?