Thursday, February 26, 2009

Follow The Leader

Several of my favorite bloggers have mentioned that they've lost a lot of followers lately, and most of them seemed to take it rather personally. I can understand why. After all, people follow your blog because for one reason or another, they're interested in what you have to say. So, logic dictates that if someone stops following you, it's because they've lost interest in what you have to say. Whether it's your words, your personality, the design of your background, whatever--you just don't do it for them anymore. And that stings. It's like that guy or girl back in high school who went out with you a few times and never called again.

Fortunately, cleared up the confusion with this explanation earlier this week. There, you see, it's not your breath, after all! Yay! (Seriously though, I lost a follower this week myself, and I thought something was wrong with me, too.)

Anyway, that little wrinkle in the blogosphere got me thinking. Out of all the potential millions--maybe billions by now, who knows?--of blogs out there, how do you decide which ones are worthy of your time? What makes the difference between you subscribing to a blog's feed and you passing on it completely? How do you choose your favorites? Any thoughts?

P.S. Speaking of blog mishaps, a few of you emailed me this week to mention you were having trouble commenting on my page. After checking into it, I've fixed the problem. It seems I changed the comment option by mistake. Silly me! *head desk* Anyway, it should be fine now. Feel free to email me again if it's not.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Will The REAL Writers Please Stand Up?

I've held my peace on this issue for quite some time now, but lately things have gotten out of hand. I'm mad enough to blow my top, and it's time you all knew why.*

Just about all my favorite literary agents have experienced a huge jump in the number of queries they've received this year over last year, and most of them (understandably) are not happy about it. Everyone from Nathan Bransford to Janet Reid to Jennifer Jackson has mentioned it at some point over the last few weeks. Many of them, like Rachelle Gardner and Colleen Lindsay, have had to change their submission guidelines just to keep up with the madness. Some, like Rachel Vater, are no longer accepting submissions at all.

And the reason the query floodgates have suddenly opened up? Most of the above agents seem to have reached the same conclusion: It's the economy, stupid. All the Joe and Jane Schmos out there who can't get jobs have mutually decided they are all qualified to become writers. Why not? They have nothing better to do. How hard could it be?

So, they park their happy behinds in front of their desktops, plunk down some 150,000-word monstrosity and email it off a month later to the first agent listed under a search for "writing agents" on Google. Grr. It's enough to make me want to pull out my hair.

It's not that I can't handle competition. Heck, I've been competitive since kindergarten, when I was the last person to finish coloring my picture because I wanted it to be the prettiest in the class. I have a true Type-A personality; I live and breathe this stuff, man. My problem is a little something we learned in elementary school--it's called following directions. It's something many of these new so-called writers aren't doing, and it's ruining things for the rest of us who actually take this thing seriously.

Look, I get that writing is a weird and mysterious thing. I also get that to people unfamiliar with the publishing industry, the querying process might as well be in another language for all the sense it makes. It can get complicated pretty fast.

But you know what? That's why we have the Internet. Five minutes is long enough to learn everything you need to know about a literary agent--any literary agent. Everything--from submission guidelines to lists of recent clients--is right there at your fingertips, waiting for you to take advantage of it. And yet, because so many writers are too ignorant, too lazy, too...I have no idea do their homework, they're making it that much harder for those of us who know what we're doing to get a fair shot.

I realize I'm probably preaching to the choir here. The people who read this blog are the ones who are not only querying agents properly, but getting requests for partials and fulls and even--dare I say it--that prized offer of representation. You're the ones doing it right, and I salute and admire you for it!

Still, if you could just pass on a message for me to the others, the impostors out there who call themselves writers... Tell them I said not to waste their time. If they can't bother to look up the name of an agent before sending a query, if they can't make the effort to find out what that agent represents, and if they can't find the time to read both inside and outside of their genre, they have no business chasing after the dream of the Great American Novel. Tell them they're better off self-publishing or not publishing at all. Leave the traditional publishing ventures to the pros--people who really do it for a living, not just folks who woke up one day and thought it might be sorta cool.

Being a writer is like most other things:
Just because everyone can do it doesn't mean everyone should.

*Thanks to Julie Butcher-Fedynich over at Fire Drill for inspiring this post with her fantastic rant yesterday!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Need Some PR For Your Book?

Even though I'm light years away from having a book deal or even an agent, I like to think ahead. There's a general consensus in the publishing world that authors need to take on the lion's share of the marketing for their books, so I'm checking out my options early. In addition to following the blogs of literary agents and published authors, I'm researching marketing and PR-based blogs as well. When I do get that prized book deal, I want to hit the ground running before the ink on my contract dries.

The Book Publicity Blog is one of my favorites. It's mainly geared toward book publicists and other publishing professionals, but there are a lot of nice tidbits for aspiring authors as well. Today's post is a prime example of that. Yen put together a fantastic list of freelance book publicists, including each one's website, experience and specialty by genre. Be sure to also read her earlier post about how to hire a freelance book publicist as well.

If you've ever thought about hiring a publicist for your book, you'll want to refer to these posts. If you're even remotely close to securing a book deal or know someone who is, they're must-reads. Take a look-see and let me know what you think. Would you consider hiring a book publicist in the future? Why or why not?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Breaking Up (With Facebook) Is Hard To Do

Disclaimer: The following post is rife with sarcasm and hopefully a good dash of wit. Please be advised. Those without a decent sense of humor need not read any further.

Before I had this fantabulous blog, and long before I began Twittering my life away, I was a Facebook junkie.

I was in undergrad when Facebook first exploded onto the online social scene, a sleeker, more sophisticated (read: "adult"-like) version of MySpace. University students signed up in droves, creating profiles complete with their weekly drinking/club-hopping escapades for all to see. And who doesn't want in on that? So, after months of fighting off the peer pressure from my buddies, I finally jumped on the bandwagon and created my own profile--minus the alcoholic binges. And thus the madness began.

In the early stages of our relationship, Facebook was everything I never knew I always wanted. It allowed me to cyberstalk my friends without actually having to--ya know, speak to them--and they could do the same with me. I could "friend" people I had never and would never meet in real life under the guise of so-called "networking," all without having to worry about someone filing one of those nasty restraining orders. Yay! L0000ve it! And of course, the biggest reward of all, having all the intimate details of my early-20's published on a profile that could be viewed by everyone from my grandmother to potential employers. Fantastic!

Once the honeymoon was over, however, I realized that my beloved Facebook wasn't quite all it appeared to be. It developed ugly web applications that allowed total strangers to know what I was doing at every minute of every day. It made my information easier and easier to spread around, and at the same time, it made my privacy harder and harder to protect. And when I complained about the changes it had made, Facebook responded with chilling indifference. This is the way things are, it replied, so you'd better get used to it.

I was mortified, but I loved Facebook dearly, so I stayed faithful and convinced myself that I could make it change its ways. We fought a lot, but it seemed like we were making progress. We were going to work things out. Or so I thought.

And then, this ridonculousness happened (yes, I did just make that word up).

Ugh. All I can say is, why, Facebook, WHY?! Why do you hurt me so? Why do you insist on pushing me away? We have so much history together, and yet, when I confronted you about your behavior, this is all you had to say.

Was that supposed to make me feel better? Stealing my time wasn't enough, so you had to steal my privacy too, is that it? What's next, selling pictures of my kid to the highest bidder?

I don't think I can take anymore of this, Facebook. This just might have been the last straw. I love you, you're one convenient piece of work, but unless I start seeing some major changes in you very soon, I'll have to move on. I really do deserve better.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When The Unexpected Happens

Whew! What a week. I'm still a bit disoriented, so if this post seems to ramble a bit more than my usual ones, bear with me. My head isn't quite screwed on right just yet.

On Tuesday, my mother called to say that one of my uncles had passed away from brain cancer. Haven't yet figured out how to feel about it. I didn't see him very often, but he was more or less a constant fixture in my extended family life. He came from Arkansas to Texas for my high school graduation. He played with my son the last time our family got together for Thanksgiving, and we saw him again last summer at the family reunion. He wasn't a talkative man, but nevertheless, he was there... And now he isn't.

Mainly, I'm shocked at how quickly it all happened. He was just diagnosed in November, and now he's gone. Bam. Just like that. How very fragile and short this life of ours is.

These are the moments when I'm most grateful for my faith. I'm not ashamed to call myself a Christian, but I don't shout it from the rooftops, either. I also don't knock anyone else for believing differently from me. But I'll tell you one thing: I don't think I could function in times like this if I didn't believe people have a place to go when they die. This life is far too brief; it can't be all there is. That's my thinking anyway.

What frustrated me most this week was the fact that I couldn't seem to write anything. Not. One. Word. I, a writer, one who plays with words for a living, could not pour out the words to say what I feel. I didn't want to grieve; I wanted to write, and I couldn't. Even writing this post is hard. My mind feels tired.

I know what you want to say. You have to grieve. Grieving is healthy. It will help you move on. It will help you cope with what's happened.

Um, 'fraid not. Writing helps me cope. It is how I move on. It's what keeps me sane. Writing and faith. I have the faith part down, but the writing is slow in coming. So I'm waiting for it to come back. Just waiting.

Everyone faces the unexpected, both good and bad. It's part of life. The question is, how do you take your personal tragedies and transfer them into your writing life? How do you turn life's lemons into writing lemonade? I'm still working on that. I'll let you know how it goes.

What about you all? How do you write when life deals you a crappy hand? How do you write through illness? Financial disaster? The loss of a loved one? What keeps you coming back to telling stories?

P.S. Sorry for the depressing post today, folks. I like to uplift people, not bring them down, so hopefully this stuff will be few and far between for me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!

This week, I received not one, but TWO wonderfully pleasant surprises. On Tuesday, Jenn Johansson granted lil' ol' me the Premio Dardo Award! And then today, Michelle over at The Surly Writer did the exact same thing! How cool is that? Thanks, Jenn and Michelle!

I'm no expert as to how these awards work, but here are the details (via Jenn's and Michelle's blogs):
"This award acknowledges the values that every Blogger displays in their effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values with each message they write. Awards like this have been created with the intention of promoting community among Bloggers. It's a way to show appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."
And here are the rules of the award system:
1. Accept the award (absolutely!)
2. Post it on your blog together with the name of the person who granted it to you.
3. Link to his/her blog.
3. Pass the award on to 15 other blogs of your choice.

I did a double-take on that last one. 15 bloggers?! Do I even know 15 bloggers?! Geez Louise, that's a lot of people! After taking a minute or two to think about it, however, I realized it wouldn't be that hard to find award recipients after all. In the five weeks or so that I've officially been in the blogosphere, I've come across some really fantastic writers. Folk that easily put my humble writing space to shame. And I'm happy to have the chance to give them their due.

This list is in no particular order. Although I love all the blogs on my normal blog list, these ones put that extra spring in my step. They're the ones I really look forward to reading every day. They make me say, "Hmm," or "Wow, I didn't know that," or "That's such great advice!" Some just make me laugh my head off every single day. I know some of them have gotten awards already, but they deserve more, trust me. These guys and gals are just stellar:

1. Erica
2. Jon aka "Lurker Monkey"
3. Spy Scribbler
4. Amy
5. Angie
6. Lori
7. Jenn (you know I had to give it right back to you! hehe!)
8. Michelle (you too, ma'am!)
9. Melissa
10. Debra
11. Anita
12. Carole
13. Kathryn
14. Brian
15. Shelli

Hmm... Okay, can I give this award out to MORE than 15 people??

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Waiting Game

Lately I've observed that quite a few of my fellow writers have taken that brave, brave step we all hope to make someday: querying literary agents. Yikes. I have yet to tackle it myself, but I've heard that the whole process is one big, ugly, scary beast, no matter how many times you face it. Even the jargon is intimidating; queries, partials, fulls, exclusives, contracts... Ugh! I can see why so many people opt for the self-publication route. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to take my manuscript to the nearest Kinko's and hand out copies of it outside Barnes and Noble.

But no. I, like many of you, have chosen to take the road less traveled by. The traditional route, with all its wrinkles and hangups and inefficiencies. Say what you will about traditional publishing--it's still the best thing we've got, at least for the time being (although if Nathan Bransford's post today is any indication, that may change sooner rather than later).

As I read about each writer's querying experience, they all touched in some way on the agony of waiting, which was often compounded by the sting of rejection whenever it came. All of them also had different ways of coping while they waited. Debra "kept on truckin'" with other writing projects, while Michelle made light of the situation with hand drawn pictures and a fun discussion with her blog followers. When things didn't go in his favor, Jon kept his perspective by looking at the bigger picture.

Personally, I found all of their stories inspiring in different ways. They made me think about how I'll handle the inevitable waiting that happens during every part of the publication process. I hope when my time comes, I'll have the patience and grace to cope with it as well as these writers do.

What about you? Are you playing the waiting game right now? How are you coping? How do you plan to cope when it's your turn?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Are You Up For A Challenge?

Greetings, all! When it comes to freelance writing, I pride myself on working efficiently and producing high-quality results. However, it seems like whenever I pull out my fiction projects--which aren't paying me a dime--the right side of my brain seizes up and refuses to cooperate. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a recovering procrastinator. *sigh*

Fortunately, all is not lost. I've discovered a simple treatment for my condition, one that makes it much easier for me to release the stories inside me that are just dying to get out. I need accountability. That's why I've been able to commit to this blog (more or less) for the past month, even though I've failed at every attempt I ever made to keep a journal. I don't love writing any more now than I did when I wrote my thoughts in a secret notebook. I just keep at it because I know someone out there is watching me.

It's also the reason I've done so well during National Novel Writing Month. Although I've never "won" by writing the full 50,000 words, I write more during that contest than at any other time of the year, simply because I have a support system. I have people cheering for me, urging me forward, and I do the same for them. We all have the same goal, and we're rushing towards it at full speed.

Well, now I get to have that experience all over again, thanks to fellow writer Melissa Marsh. She created an event called the Just Write Challenge, and I like to think of it as a smaller, more customized version of NaNoWriMo. Instead of everyone pushing to write 50k, we each get to set our own writing goals for the month. Those who reach their individual finish lines will receive fabulous writerly prizes. It's like a marathon where you can run as far and as fast as you want; in the end, everyone wins!

I love the concept, so I jumped on board as soon as I found out about it. My goal is a simple one; I want to write 1,000 words per day on my current WIP, a YA sci-fi novel that I started last November. I'll be chronicling my JWC adventures here at RLGL throughout the month so you can take part in every step of the journey.

Thanks a bunch to Angie Ledbetter over at Gumbo Writer for spreading the word about this great event! Check out the JWC info page on Melissa's blog for all the details. It's not too late to get involved. I just got plugged into the JWC blog yesterday, and everyone there has been wonderful. So, what do you say? Are you up for joining me in the Just Write Challenge?