Decisions, Decisions

IWSG

The idea of self-publishing used to terrify me, but not for the reason one might expect. It had nothing to do with a fear of failure; as an overweight, divorced, bankrupt and often-unemployed woman nearing her fiftieth birthday, I pretty much deal with failure on a daily basis. Believe me, I could write a long and detailed blog post about all of the areas in my life where I have failed.

I fail at a lot of things, and I usually do so spectacularly.

I am not afraid of failure.

But I was afraid to be a self-published author.  You see, I heard all the horror stories. I read the warnings when I haunted the writing forums to learn what the self-published authors were talking about. I learned terms like “carpet bombing” and “Goodreads bullies” and “trolls” and I almost bailed without ever trying.

It was intimidating. No, it was terrifying to think that years of hard work and effort could all be washed down the drain for reasons that had nothing to do with writing skills — or lack thereof. I was afraid to self-publish because I was worried about ending up on the wrong side of the wrong people. I was scared of pissing off someone who might take revenge on my book, because, hey, I read about it happening all the time.

But I have never been able to resist a challenge, so I swallowed my fear and self-published Her House Divided in February of 2014. I made a lot of mistakes and I realized that I had a huge learning curve ahead of me, but it’s been a great ride. A bumpy ride, but still a  thrilling one.

And the people I was warned about? Yep, they exist. Trolls and Bullies and Whackadoodles, oh my!

But I’ve learned that those guys are the minority. A noisy minority, to be sure, but a minority nonetheless. For the most part, the world of self-publishing has turned out to be filled with helpful, supportive, and productive people who really do seem to look out for each other. I have been so warmly welcomed into the community by writers in every genre, at every different stage in their writing careers.

It’s a matter of finding the supportive people and walking away from the destructive ones.

Easier said than done, right?

Here’s how I see it. I can go to the writing forums and spend my time with the people who want to look for the negative in everything. I can argue with every writer who swears Amazon is stealing their money or lying about their sales, and I can end up embroiled in unproductive arguments about every aspect of writing and publishing. In the end, it would be sort of like arguing with a rattlesnake to convince it that it’s a garter snake — it’s an argument I can’t win, and I’ll just end up filled with venom.

Or . . . . I can surround myself with the kind of professionals who understand that we are all part of the same community.That’s been the “bumpy” part of the learning process I referred to earlier. I’ve wasted far too many hours over the past year and a half, spent far too much time around the kind of folks who are more concerned with dragging down than raising up.  

For every author who spends their time mocking a particular genre or writer, there are authors like Marysol James and Mae Martini, who are always ready to offer honest feedback and practical suggestions of what works for them.  There’s an M. Lauryl Lewis  standing by to chit-chat about marketing strategies and share her ideas.

For every author who takes delight in the poor sales of a competitor, there is a Nancy Gideon offering words of encouragement instead.  There’s a Jasinda Wilder reaching out to say “Don’t be jealous of me honey! … Just keep writing. Get the next book out because that is more room on the shelf. I’m rooting for you.”

For every angry blogger posting insults and criticisms aimed at their fellow writers, there are bloggers like Ryan Lanz, Chris McMullen and Kristen Lamb, who use their blogs to offer guidance and support to their fellow writers.  And let’s not forget that Kristen Lamb is also responsible for creating the “MyWANA” hashtag, which is there to remind us all that we are not alone.

We are not alone. That’s what Alex Cavanaugh and his Insecure Writers Support Group are all about. We share our insecurities, and our fellow writers swoop in to offer advice or encouragement, or sometimes just a bit of virtual online hand-holding when needed.

If you go into self-publishing expecting trolls and whackadoodles, chances are good that you’re going to find exactly what you’re looking for. So why not look for something better? Be something better. Surround yourself with those who lift each other up, and try to do a little lifting yourself when you can.

In the week ahead, I want to challenge all of you to step out of your comfort zone and do something nice for another writer. Share a link to someone else’s book. Leave a comment on a blog you’ve never visited before. Reach out and offer a word of encouragement to an author who’s dealing with slow sales or a bad review.

Make a choice. What kind of writer do you want to be?

This has been my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group. If you are a writer struggling with insecurities or just in need of a little support, please check out this FABULOUS group of wonderful people!  http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

BBA or Not BBA?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite authors was a woman named M.V. Carey.    She was the only female writer on the list of professionals writing for the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series that I loved so much, and she inspired me more than any other writer at that point in my life.  In fact, the pen name I have chosen for myself is sort of an homage to her.

I wrote her a letter once, asking her a lot of silly questions and giving her all kinds of suggestions for storylines that involved abusing my favorite character, Pete.   And she actually answered my letter!  I don’t remember the specifics of her response, but I remember that it was kind and gracious and oh-so-encouraging.

Fast forward nearly forty years.  I am an author now.  Not a hugely successful one by any means, but an author all the same.  Over the years, I’ve contacted other writers via email, and I still get that same fangirly rush when I hear back from them.  I can hardly believe it when writers like Jasinda Wilder and Nancy Gideon take the time out of their busy schedules to answer questions and offer encouragement to a nobody like me!

Let me confess right here:  I actually cried for a minute or two when Nancy Gideon started following me on Twitter.

Yes, I get emotional like that sometimes.

Basically, I’ve been spoiled.  Up until recently, my interactions with other writers have been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve been proud to call myself a writer.  It was a huge step for me to go from “I want to be a writer” or “I’m trying to be a writer” to “I am a writer.”

Right now, I’m not so proud of the writing community.

Maybe it’s because of the immediacy of the internet; maybe it’s because of the politically-correct positive-reinforcement brainwashing that has tried to convince us that we are all wonderful.  Perhaps it’s because not all of us have examples like Carey, Wilder, and Gideon.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of authors out there who need a visit from the Reality Fairy.  They’re referred to as BBA’s, or Badly Behaving Authors, and they are an embarrassment to the rest of us.  Upon getting a bad review, they whine, complain and cry about cyber bullying or harassment or the unfairness of life in general.   They rage against reviewers and book bloggers with accusations and threats that are sometimes laughably over the top.

Like me, some authors are also bloggers.  And in recent weeks, they’ve been coming out in droves to throw in their two cents’ worth in certain high-profile situations involving authors and reviewers, most notably the Kathleen Hale/Blythe Harris kerfuffle.  Everyone’s got an opinion, no matter how ill-informed; everyone’s got to jump right up on that bandwagon.

Several book bloggers have joined forces this week in a blogging blackout.  In other words, they are taking the week off from reviewing new books in their blogs.  Bloggers all over the place are standing up to join forces or to criticize the effort.

My first impulse?  Move over; make room for me on that bandwagon!  Sure, I’ll take a week off to show solidarity.

But . . .

I’m not a book blogger.  My joining them would be meaningless because I don’t use my blog to review books, and because I often go weeks without a new post anyway.  Going a week without reviewing a new book in my blog is sort of the status quo.

The world isn’t exactly going to tremble in response to my saying that I want to be part of a blogging blackout.  My joining in at this point would, in a sense, minimize the efforts of those who really do have a stake in this.

I don’t know what’s true and what’s been exaggerated out of proportion about BBA’s like Kathleen Hale or Maggie Spence..  But I do know that the authors I admire, the authors I respect, the authors who have inspired and encouraged me . . . well, they don’t answer their reviewers on Amazon.  They don’t argue with book bloggers who don’t like their work.  They don’t write tell-all articles for The Guardian about the time they stalked a reviewer.  They don’t complain about being cyber-bullied or harassed.

They don’t show up in articles about Badly Behaving Authors.

They write.  They write books, and they act with dignity in the face of the occasional bad review or criticism.  They treat fans and detractors alike with equal grace and courtesy.

They act like grown-ups.

I’ve written two books, with a third one almost finished.  They aren’t perfect; I still have a lot to learn.  Of course, I want to “make it big” and be remembered as a great author!  But if people are talking about me twenty years from now, or even fifty years from now, I want them to talk about my books, not my behavior.  I want to be remembered because I made people laugh or cry with my words, not because I acted like an ass in response to criticism.

And since I just got my first 1-star review, I guess it’s time to find some Toblerone and go practice what I preach.

Punching The Clock

Well, it happened.

I got the email. The big one. The one I’ve been waiting for, hoping for, dreaming of. Okay, well, in my dreams it’s a phone call or an actual letter as opposed to an email, but I’ll take it.

It’s an open invitation from a real literary agent for all finalists to submit a full manuscript.

“All finalists”. That includes me. I’m a contest finalist. I took third place in my category in this year’s Launching A Star contest, and I have a chance to submit my manuscript to an agent. It’s not an acceptance or a contract, but it’s a foot in the door.

Holy crap.

I’ve written here about waiting for the results of this contest, and about my procrastination when it comes to actually finishing my book. But I didn’t think it would happen this quickly.

I understand that this invitation is not an offer to represent me, or a bid to publish my work.  I realize that the agent is likely to reject my novel; I googled her, and she has a reputation for being both fair and tough.  I am realistic enough to know that this is nothing more than a chance to get my manuscript on her desk.

A manuscript that isn’t done yet.

The first thing I did after reading the email (after text-messaging The Big Guy  and saying “OhMyGod” several times) was send off a quick message to the amazing, fabulous, knowledgeable Ms. Nancy Gideon. I asked her what I should do about the offer, since my novel isn’t ready for submission yet.

Her answer, in a nutshell: congrats, don’t panic, take your time, have fun. Of course, she said it better than that, but that’s what I took away from it.

Now comes the fun part . . . Because writing is fun.  That’s why I do it, and I don;t want to lose sight of that.

One of my favorite writers is Douglas Adams, who was one of the world’s greatest procrastinators. He famously said: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” This was a man who had an astonishing imagination and unfathomable talent, but who couldn’t finish anything without basically being imprisoned by friends when too many deadlines had whooshed by. It is saddening to think about all of the things he could have written before his untimely death at age 49.

I would be grateful to have even one ounce of his talent, but I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to die with computers full of ideas and partially finished books. I want to finish something, damn it! I want to realize my potential, whatever it is. I just hope that my potential is to be more than a middle-aged mom tapping out essays about writing without ever actually writing anything.

And so I start working on Monday. Writing is my job. While my kids are at school and I am alone all day, I am going to write. If I want to play on the computer, I’m going to have to do it in the evenings, like all of the other working people in the world. No more cruising Listia, farewell to the gossip on Facebook. I’ve got a full-time job now.

It takes work to make dreams come true, and I am now officially on the clock.

My Big Five

If I could be the average of the five people I spend the most time with, I would surround myself with people who know how to laugh, who persevere, and who are good-hearted. Some of the people on my list are no longer on this Earth, and some are celebrities I will probably never meet, but it’s my fantasy list. I can manipulate reality all I like.

The first person I would choose would be my father, because of his sense of humor. Dad lived a hard life, and I’m sure he had a few regrets at different times, but he always seemed to bounce back from life’s hardest hits with a smile and a joke. The jokes weren’t always funny, but he always made the effort to laugh – and to make those around him laugh, too.

If I’m lucky, I’ve inherited at least a portion of his ability to see the funny side of every situation, no matter how horrible.

I would choose my big sister next, because she has all of the organization and initiative that is so lacking in my life. She never misses appointments or forgets to return a phone call; she sends birthday cards on time; she works an incredibly high-stress job and runs her household and still makes time to read and improve herself every day.

She’s Super Girl – but still human and likeable.

She’s . . . a Big Sister, even if she has told me repeatedly that we are the same age now that we are over thirty.

Christopher Reeve would have a place on my list, too. Really, he should be on everyone’s list. I’m sure he had moments of despair after his accident, but the other moments were stronger. The moments when he faced the facts about his paralysis and went forward with his life anyway. The moments when he moved forward help others with spinal injuries.

Next on my list is Nancy Gideon, one of my favorite authors. She writes her books while working full-time and raising her children. She also makes time to help aspiring authors any way she can. If I could just gain the tiniest bit of her motivation and ability to follow through and finish things, I might actually be published.

Comedian Mark Lowry is the final person on my list of five. Once again, I could benefit from spending time with a person who is able to see the funny side of every situation. But Lowry also has a deep faith in God and family; his unique way of explaining God’s word has helped me through many situations when I was full of questions and short on belief.

Lowry has also dealt with ADHD, and many of his routines are about the impact this condition has on adults and children. Whenever I get frustrated because my train of thought has left the station for points unknown, his comedy routines help me remember that my ADHD also gives me the gift of creativity and makes me who I am.

Dad, Big Sis, Christopher Reeve, Nancy Gideon and Mark Lowry. What a group.