Friday, June 24, 2011

Self-Publishing v. Traditional Publishing

My husband is a Bloomberg Radio addict.  All of our AM dials are set to 1130 so that no matter what car he's in, he had immediate access to the latest broadcast of financial information.  It's gotten to the point where my kids cry out, "No Bloomberg, Daddy!"  Despite the controversy, every once in a while I get in a mood where I like to check out what the Bloomberg has to say.

The publishing industry is a hot topic, especially after the Borders bankruptcy.  There's a lot of talk about e-publishing versus traditional publishing, the percentage of people who own e-readers, and the percentage of book sales that are e-books versus paper books.  I add it to the information I have about the benefits for authors of self-publishing over traditional publishing.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a self-publishing company that I had contacted a while back.  They send me emails constantly, and I usually blow them off when they call my house.  On this particular day I decided to stop the calls by politely informing the man on the line that I had decided to go the traditional publishing route for now, with self-publishing being my Plan B.  He thanked me for my time and ended the call.  That solved that, I thought, happy to finally stop the periodic, inconveniently-timed calls.

That's what I thought.

Within an hour I had a looooong email in my inbox detailing for me the perils of traditional publishing, my relative chances of winning the lottery compared to being picked up by a traditional publishing house, and the lost income I would suffer if I settled for inferior royalties.  It took me every red light on the way home to get through the darn thing.  But the message got under my skin.

I'm pretty clear on where I stand.  I'm a publishing snob.  I want the satisfaction of saying that I'm good enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher.  I want to look back on the years of work and say, "See?  It was worth it."

But it's more than just that.  I am not a professionally trained writer.  I think I'm good, and people who read my work think it's good, but what would a professional editor say?  There are two ways to find out.  Hire one out of pocket, or be chosen for representation.

Maybe I've got my priorities mixed up, but financially, I can't afford to hire a professional editor right now.  Maybe if I could, I'd go the self-publishing route.  I've had numerous requests for my book from people who have read snippets and want to see more, but I'm hesitant to put too many electronic copies out there.  The whole thing could change once viewed by a professional and I may end up rewriting significant sections.  I'd rather keep it small until I know I have the official finished product.

I'm not quite sure how to go about the marketing, either, and I'm worried if I create a lot of hype now, people will be desensitized once it's published (regardless of the route).  I want to get the energy and momentum going at the right time and in the right direction.  Again, out of pocket if I go it alone.

However... the instant gratification of having my work out there, available for consumption, is tempting.  The possibility that the quality may suffer is what's not acceptable.

So for now, I'll close my eyes to the warnings in the well intended email I received, and stay my course as a publishing snob.  I have many more weeks of waiting to go before I start hearing back from the agents I queried. In the mean time, between work, home, and writing, I have plenty of things to keep my mind occupied.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Near Mrs. - Rejected!

So......I'm officially part of the club. Who knew being rejected could feel so good?

I submitted my manuscript to three agents I pitched to at the Writer's Digest Conference last January.  And as I mentioned in a previous post, I sat back to wait.  Patiently.  I haven't been anxiously checking my emails for their replies, expecting it would take months before I would hear anything.  Much to my surprise, my first response came two weeks later.

I read it at red lights while commuting home from work.  I may not have been anxiously looking for a response, but knowing I had one, there was no way I was going to wait to get home to read it.  (I've never had that kind of patience, so why expect it to miraculously appear now?)

By the time I got to the last light I was grinning from ear to ear.  She didn't hate it!!  It wasn't for her, but she didn't hate it.  In fact, she mentioned that she enjoyed reading it, and thought it was an interesting concept, but it wasn't for her.  I would have chalked it up to a polite let down, but she went on to recommend a resource to guide me toward an agent that would be a better fit.

Maybe I'm deluding myself, but for an agent to recommend a way to find someone more suited to my manuscript left me with the impression of working with a professional who saw at least some value in what I sent her. I grinned all the way home and sat in my driveway while I emailed my writing group to tell them the good news.  Then I promptly sent an email back to the agent thanking her for such a prompt response and her kind words of encouragement.  She didn't have to do that, and I knew it.

I honestly didn't feel the least bit disappointed by her rejection.  I felt encouraged.  She took the time to read what I sent her and that meant a lot to me.  I'm confident that I'll know a good fit when it happens, and my gut is telling me that this wasn't it.  I'm okay with that.

The querying process is really nothing more than a two-way interview.  Am I right for you and are you right for me?  I have experience interviewing, and I feel no shame in saying that I'm very picky.  Interviewing is like people shopping - it's all about fit.  You wouldn't spend $5 on a shirt that wasn't right, so why spend a percentage of your potential earnings on an agent who may not be right for your manuscript?  If it's one sided, no one's going to be happy in the end.  

So for now, it's back to the drawing board and a new round of queries.  And in the mean time, it's time to start going over my notes and gearing up to draft the next project.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Update: China Medical Mission Article

On Sunday, my darling husband pulled an issue of the Journal of Emergency Nursing out of the mailbox.  Knowing that I was waiting anxiously for it, he sent it my way via the child-postal-system.  Translation: my 9-year-old was kind enough to dump it in my lap as she thumbed through her latest celebrity magazine.

There was no way it would be in here.  It was too soon from the final approvals to now, but what do I know about the timeline of academic journals?  Maybe...  I thumbed through the first few pages to find the table of contents.  I scanned for the section I wanted... International Nursing... there!  Nope - not about China.  I guess by "next" issue, they meant the next one to go to print, not the next one to be delivered.  But that's ok, because I've seen what my article will look like.

It's really cool to see your name right next to the word "author" in an officially typeset galley proof. At least, this was my experience.

Back in March I got an email from my editor, Pat Clutter, saying that I needed to submit the permission slips from the people in the pictures to allow them to be printed.  I assembled all of the necessary information, submitted it, and waited.

Some time later, I received another email about disclosure.  Apparently there's a process to ensure that any funding is properly disclosed, presumably to identify any conflicts of interest.  In this case, I wasn't sponsored to attend the mission, much less write about it, but the forms were overwhelming.  Very legal and with a lot of questions about reprints and color copies.

Luckily, I was able to respond with a blanket statement that I was not funded in any way, and that I wrote the article for myself, not an organization.  With that settled, all of the loose ends were tied up.

Several weeks went by with no response.  I started to worry that things weren't settled and there were still loose ends that could derail my article from ever making it to print.  I emailed the contact for the disclosure forms, but didn't hear anything back.  

I was considering emailing Pat again to check on the status when I received an email from her with instructions to review the attachment and answer the few questions at the end.  I ignored everything else on my desk and quickly opened the attachment.

There it was - a beautifully typeset copy of my article about our team's experience on a medical mission in China.  At first, I sat back and admired the layout of the pdf file.  Then I zoomed in to be able to see the title better, and noticed the line right below it - Author: Michelle A. Kobayashi, BSN, RN.  Way cool!

Able to see the details better, I flipped through the pages to see the pictures of us working at the clinics.  The fact that this would soon be arriving in mailboxes across the country dawned on me and that's when true excitement set in.

There were six questions at the end, all related to details within the article that needed to be verified.  Once confirmed, I sent back a response that all was well and I approved of the changes that were made.  A few more emails back and forth and everything was done!

The article is ready and headed to print, due out in the next issue of the journal.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Journey of the Reader

I just finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon, and it really got my brain working.  I'm a huge fan of her Outlander series.  Well, except for book two.  I won't lie - it dragged - but the ending was worth dredging through the monotony of French and Scottish politics.  If you gave up during book two, I highly recommend you finish it.  The ending is worth it, and so are the books that follow.

What I love about this series is that it opened my eyes to an entirely different reading experience.  Typically, once grabbed by a really good book, I devour it.  It took me 18 hours to finish the last Harry Potter book, and I know I missed things because I have a tendency to skip the exposition in favor of jumping from one line of dialogue to the next.  Hence why I typically listen to the audiobook afterward.  I'm forced to listen at the pace of the narrator, and I can't skip ahead.  I pick up on all sorts of great details that I missed the first time around.

If I love the story, I love the story, and I tend to enjoy listening to it over again, each time picking up on something that I missed in previous encounters.  And while I do this with Gabaldon's Outlander series, I'm interacting with the books in an entirely different way.  As gripping as her stories are, I don't feel pressured to rush to the end to get the resolution.

Her books are about the journeys of her characters.  It's not about what happens at the climax.  There are multiple small stories woven in between the covers.  There's a rhythm to her work and I can sense when the tension is ramping up or slowing down.  I will admit that I sometimes rush through certain scenes as I'm gripped by the action, needing to know what happens next, but these moments are short lived, and don't encompass the entire book.  It's digestible, and I enjoy the flavor and texture, not just the action.

It also amazes me how well she handles endings.  This particular book ends with two epilogues.  In each is a fresh piece of information, small in scope, but huge in possibility.  I feel compelled to get the next book as soon as possible so I can continue to journey with Jaime and Claire and company.  What writer doesn't want to have that effect on their readers?

With this in mind, I began to contemplate my next writing project.  I've had an idea for a middle-grade series for a while now; I've even started writing it a few times, but never really got going on it.  I've been focused on Near Mrs. and actually finished that project, polishing it to the point where I could actually submit it. (see previous post)

This latest reading experience left me comparing the writing of Near Mrs. to the writing of this next series.  Near Mrs. has a fairly linear plot.  There's not a lot of secondary story, and it carries from beginning to end.  I see it as more of a beach read - something fun, light, and easy for the summer.  Not how I would describe the as yet to be written middle-grade series.   

Near Mrs. is focused and driven, much like how I live my life in many aspects.  Yet when I'm reading the Outlander series, I tend to relax, sit back and enjoy the ride.  Each sequence carries its own weight, and I can put the book down to sleep at night, still eager to pick it up again when I have a spare moment.  It's a nice balance, and one that I imagine takes skill to achieve.

As a novice writer, I'm happy with the fact that I finished one manuscript, revised it and submitted it.  It's quite the accomplishment and I still think it deserves to be published.  But my style is necessarily different for this next project.  I've been planning.  I've got character bios that include trivial likes and dislikes, as well as values.  I know what motivates them, what drives them, and how they're going to react to conflict and obstacles.  In Near Mrs., I learned about Hannah, Marc, Olivia and Garrett as I wrote them.  As for the series, Megan, Kate and Ben are already well defined in my head.

I started putting together a synopsis for the series, (before doing any writing) and based on my feelings after reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes, I want to expand it.  I feel like I need to take my time, sit back and really develop and plan the story.  Think ahead about actions, reactions and consequences.  Plan how I want to bring things up and then let them lie, only to resurrect them at some later time to make that the key piece of information that the reader knew all along, but didn't realize they knew.  Do this in both dramatic and subtle ways throughout the story to give the reader those little exciting moments of discovery and understanding.

As I said, I started the bios and the synopsis, but then put down the keyboard, so to speak, and let them simmer.  Now, the ideas are churning again, right down to the last line of the story that will set up the sequel.  I don't want to rush this one.  I don't want to rush the characters, their arc, or the overall story arc.  I want to wind my way through the challenges and really suck the reader into Megan, Kate and Ben's world.  Let the reader get lost and hide from real life for just a bit, while they absorb themselves in the story.

A lofty goal?  I don't think so.  Just where I know this series needs to go.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Road to Publication - Near Mrs.

So, some exciting things have been happening here over the past few weeks.

I finally got my manuscript to the point where I was comfortable submitting it to agents.  First up were those who requested my work at the Writer's Digest Conference last January.  Recently I read a blog post that said if an agent requests your work, you have up to a year before you should consider the request null and void.

I worried about this a lot.  I learned a lot at the conference, (the point of a conference, right?), and felt that it would only be right to apply what I learned to my work before asking a professional to review it.  This took a lot longer than I expected, but I refused to submit shoddy work just to say I responded immediately.

I worried that the delay would send the wrong message, and the recipients would reject me based on that alone.  But I stuck to my guns and did my due diligence and submitted what I saw as my best product.  Let me say, it was an anxiety-ridden experience.

I tend to be a little erratic with my time management.  Sometimes I just get it in my head that I'm going to do something and I do it.  Those of you who follow me know I have a full-time day job on top of being a mom.  On the night that I submitted, I had been working on other random things during the evening, and at 10 o'clock decided that now was the moment.

This was probably a mistake.

My query letter and synopsis were finished weeks before.  My manuscript was finished for several days. The idea of actually submitting scared the hell out of me.  The weekend came and went, and still I avoided opening the query letter or synopsis.  Both needed to be fine tuned, and I put it off, knowing that it was the last step between me and hitting the send button.  It's one thing to be judged by your friends, family and critique group.  It's quite another to be formally rejected by a professional.

Why this hour on this night became the moment to act is anybody's guess.

Ready to go, I pulled the little pile of cards out of my leather folio.  I carefully read the submission guidelines for the first one, gathered the files and put together the submission.  I opened the query and personalized it for the agent.  I saved it carefully with a file name that would prevent me from accidentally sending it to the wrong person.  (details... details... details...)  I briefly reviewed the synopsis, made sure it was all there and saved that, too.

I hesitated, decided that there was nothing else to do, and hit the send button.  I'll admit, I savored the moment.  I had officially submitted my manuscript to an agent and now it was out of my hands.  I was carefully assembling the next round of files when the perfect little bubble I was in popped.

Oh. My. God.

Not an expression I typically use, but... things started to snowball.

 There were two typos in my synopsis.  I had changed the content of a sentence and left a word in that should have been deleted.  The other was a word that was spelled wrong, but it made another word, so I missed it.

The little snowball started rolling down the hill.

I realized that I forgot to put in the synopsis header.  It was blank.  No name, no title, no page numbers.  Luckily there were only 2 pages, but still...  NOT professional.

The snowball was growing.

I had left the copyright notice in the footer.  I should have taken it out weeks ago when I was done sending it to beta readers.  I meant to.  I forgot.  Damn.

Then I froze as if flattened by the runaway snowball.

I realized I changed a scene in the book, but hadn't updated it in the synopsis.  To make it worse, it was the first kiss scene.  One would think that the author of said manuscript would at least get that right.

I can't begin to share with you my frustration.  All that time spent polishing and re-polishing.  All that worry about little details here and there in the manuscript.  Ah, well, live and learn.

The good news?

I caught it all before I sent the next submission.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taking a Stab at Pre-Writing

Photo courtesy of
My first manuscript, Near Mrs., was an experiment in creativity.  I knew nothing about what it would take to complete a novel-length story, and fought my way though to the end. It's done, and I'm ready to put together my submission documents to start querying.

But it's not about the end result.  Instead, it's about the journey to reach it. I mostly floundered around for two years until I attended the Writer's Digest Conference in January.  Since then, I've linked into countless blogs to learn more about the process of writing, finding out for myself what works and what doesn't.

While I did manage to complete what I think is a strong manuscript, I certainly took the hard road.

I've had another project in my head for a few years now, and I've tried starting it a few times. The time I've spent on Twitter and surfing author, editor, and agent blogs was time well spent, and I'm starting this project again with a fresh outlook on the process of writing.  Not to mention that this isn't just one story.  It's one story, told three times from three different points of view.  The fourth installment will be a culmination of the three characters working together to save their worlds.

I'm a big fan of the Twilight Saga, and I wish Stephenie Meyer would go ahead and finish Midnight Sun. The limiting thing about first person, is that you only know what the point of view character is experiencing.  Unlike in J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, in which you know what everyone's thinking, there's no way to know Edward's experience - we see it only through Bella's eyes.

That, in my opinion, is the fascination of Midnight Sun.  We want to know how he felt and reacted.  We want to know more about him. With this in mind, my concept for this middle-grade project was born.

My three sibling characters are sucked into their imaginary worlds.  The first story is Kate's.  She needs to negotiate her world, find her sister and brother and get them safely back home. The second story is Megan's. She also has to negotiate her world, but the parallel picks up when Kate finds her and they set off to find their brother, Ben.  The difference is, that while the story is the same event-wise, it's all from Megan's point of view, which is unique to her.

As you can probably guess, the third story starts off with Ben in his world, and doesn't pick up the parallel until Kate and Megan arrive. But we find out what Ben's been up to the whole time Kate and Megan have been searching for him. With this approach, I get to fill in the gaps and, hopefully, provide a more satisfying experience for the reader.

With the struggle of completing Near Mrs. under my belt, I have a better understanding of the difficulty in keeping track of the details. In addition, the voice of each character is key. They have to be distinct from each other.

So I did what I unsuccessfully attempted with Near Mrs.  I created character bios and drafted a synopsis before starting the manuscript. What I learned during my false-starts for this project was that I wasn't sure of how my characters felt about their experiences, and so my story wandered and stalled.  In addition, I couldn't come up with Megan's backstory at all. My confusion even affected the conflicts I was trying to throw into their paths. It was all disjointed and the problems didn't necessarily mean something to the characters, so the character arcs wandered and stalled.

All in all, each false-start was a disaster and deserves to be deleted, forgotten forever. The synopsis I drafted this week is stronger and more compelling than any of the scenes I drafted over the past few years, and I'm excited to finally have some true direction. I have a clear picture of the story's structure, and how each scene is going to fit with the next.  I also have a chance to work out some of the skills my characters will acquire to aid them in their final quest. I'm convinced it's going to be easier to write in these details during the early drafts, rather than rewrite entire scenes to work them in later.

I've never been the type of person to take thing easy and build up to a level of competency.  I'm much more the "baptism by fire" type, and figured I'd just jump in and take on a four-book series with the advice and guidance of my friendly blogging colleagues. I'll figure it out, and with any luck, I'll end up with something worth submitting for representation.

Have you, fellow newbie writers, found yourselves completely changing your approach with each subsequent manuscript? Was it for the better or worse?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Near Mrs. - excerpt from Chapter 7

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for a glimpse of the final manuscript, I have a short excerpt here. The final draft is out with readers now in hopes that they are able to hunt down and point out all of the typos that the gremlins have let back into my file. I no longer trust myself to distinguish between words like "form" and "from." Enjoy! 

Cover Art courtesy of Becky Schmelzer

“You? A bridezilla? I find that hard to believe. Aren’t those the girls that get into fistfights with the caterers and stuff like that?”
“I’m not that bad,” I said, defending myself, “but apparently I’m a little focused on the task at hand.”
“What bride-to-be isn’t?” he asked incredulously. “From the minute you girls get that ring you live and die by your wedding magazines.”
I laughed, “I didn’t even wait for the next day. I stopped at the convenience store that night and bought every wedding magazine on the display. Marc expected me to be fawning all over him and all I wanted to do was look at the dresses.” I smiled to myself at the memory. I looked up at Garrett and explained more seriously, “I don’t have a fancy wardrobe and I wear a uniform to work. I’ve been looking forward to picking out my wedding dress since I was in high school. I’m a pretty simple girl. I think I deserve this one day.”
“And he doesn’t think so?”
“He’s a little put off by the amount of time I spend working on the wedding plans. Recently he started in on me saying that at the rate I’m going, there isn’t going to be anything left of our relationship come time for the vows.”
Garrett raised his eyebrows. I shrugged and ate some more of my salad.
“You’re serious?”
“Yup,” I said popping a chickpea in my mouth. “But we had a nice night out last night, just the two of us, and I think he realized I’m no different than I was a few months ago when we got engaged. Maybe he’ll even start helping me with the wedding.”
“Well, what is he in charge of?”
I laughed and nearly spit the chickpea across the table. Luckily, I slapped my hand over my mouth in time. I carefully chewed the little bean and swallowed, careful not to choke. 
“He’s in charge of getting himself to the church on time.”
“Hannah, you have to give him some things to do. You can’t keep control over all of it and expect he’s going to feel involved.” 
 “I wish that was the problem. At least then I could do something about it. I’ve asked for his help and looked for things that would be easy for him to do. I’ve even tried asking him to do things with me. He’s not interested. For all he cares we could be married by the justice of the peace at town hall in our jeans and sneakers,” I spat.
“Is he serious?”
I paused, basking in Garrett’s incredulity. Maybe he would know what I should do. He was a guy. Maybe all I needed was a guy’s perspective. 
 “According to Marc, the wedding should be about me and him, and what we wear and eat means nothing.”
I felt stupid saying it. When Marc explained his points, they all made sense. But now that I was explaining it to Garrett, it sounded ridiculous. A dull pain resonated in my gut followed by an urge to call off the wedding. Was this what people meant by cold feet? Before I really freaked myself out, Garrett interjected his opinion.
“But it’s your day to celebrate. If he’s not putting anything into the day, how is it his wedding, too?”
“So I’m not crazy? That’s what I was trying to tell him, but he wants nothing to do with it. If it weren’t for my sister, Olivia, there wouldn’t even be a wedding. She’s helped me with everything I expected Marc would help me with, and she doesn’t even like him.”
“So, your sister doesn’t want you to marry Marc?”
“You could say that.”
Garrett didn’t say anything. He sat there, eyes unfocused, lost in thought. Several minutes passed before he spoke again.
“Are you ready?” he asked. 
I nodded and before I was standing he had taken both trays.
“Why do you do that? I can clear my own tray,” I insisted, but I was talking to his back as he walked toward the tray carousel.
“I’m sure you can, but I wasn’t raised that way,” he said when he walked back toward me.
“And neither was I,” I huffed, “I’m not helpless, you know,”
As he walked past, he bent his head and whispered into my ear, “I know you’re not.”
I stood there for a moment, dumbstruck, considering what he said, and slightly distracted by how close his face had come to mine. 
“Are you coming?” he asked, stopping a few steps past me. My face must have registered my confusion because he smiled and said, “Chivalry isn’t dead, you know. Some of us still know how to treat a woman.”
He stared at me with his warm brown eyes, which were surprisingly not mocking me. Instead they were soft and sincere. He actually meant what he was saying. It wasn’t some line, it was simply a statement.
I shook my head and sighed. Men like Garrett only existed in movies, fiction novels, and my imagination. Yet here he was very much real and alive.