Developing a Thick Skin as a Writer – Have I Finally Done It?

 

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Writers are continually told that they must develop a thick skin or they’ll never make it. This is true, but it’s far easier said than done. When I first starting writing, I never used to send out my screenplays or novels for any kind of review because it was too scary.

Big mistake.

The biggest, in fact. If I had only one single piece of advice I could give any writer, it would be to always send your writing out for beta reads/ critiques. Seriously. You’ll shave ten years off of how long it will take you become a professional writer. You learn more in with one critique of your work than you will by reading ten writing books. (Read the books, too, though.)

Finally, I started sending out my writing for review and it was very difficult. It’s hard to have your work torn to pieces, but it really is for your own damn good. This is particularly true of self-publishers. If you’re going to publish your work for the world to see, you’re better off having people tear your work apart first, thus giving you a chance to fix it before it goes public!

In the past, I would really stress out over receiving a review. I’d wait, nervously, for days and sometimes weeks for the review to come in. I would freak out just thinking about it. I stopped checking my email after 7pm each night when I knew a review would be forthcoming soon, because if it was bad, I would be too stressed to sleep. I knew I needed time to deal with the review. Time to be upset, deal with the emotions, and finally feel better. The second the review popped up in my inbox, I had to read it. I had to get it over with. I have terrible, awful, no-good luck with timing on this issue. Inevitably, the worse the review, the more people would be around when I got it. I got one such rejection on Christmas Eve and had my entire family around. That was fun, having to pretend my heart hadn’t just been ripped out. Often, my kids are around me, yammering, vying for my attention when I’m just trying to quickly do the “how bad is it” review. Still, I couldn’t “not” look. I just had to know.

Right now I have several chapters of my novel, SINGLES VS. BRIDEZILLAS, out for review with two beta readers. One came back last week with her critique. Just yesterday, I got around to reading it.

Wow.

That surprised me. I knew the review was sitting in my inbox but it took me almost a week to even look at it. It’s not that I don’t care about the review. I do, and it’s still scary to a degree. I guess it’s just that I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve gotten good reviews, awful reviews, mean reviews, glowing reviews. If it’s a great review – wonderful! Bring on the Schnapps. If it’s bad – terrible even – I know I can fix the story. I’ve done it many times before.

The hardest part of getting a review is reading it for the first time. It’s hard to see your work torn apart, your flaws exposed. It gets better when you start actually doing the rewrites. You’ve dealt with whatever emotions you had and you’ve moved on. The best part is stepping back and seeing how much better the writing has become since you’ve fixed all the bad stuff. That “Wow, that IS better!” moment. You can be so much more confident releasing your work to the world since several people have already told you what sucks and how to fix it.

It just seems weird to me that it doesn’t upset me as much. It’s a good thing, just surprising.

Don’t be concerned if you still get upset about bad reviews. I still do, too, it just doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

Remember, your writing is important to you. If you get upset about bad reviews, it means you care.
– Linda Fausnet 

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Self-Publishing : Taking Our Power Back

 

Dont Care

So I sent out about 70 query letters to literary agents for my middle-grade novel, The Joyville Sweat Sox. The response has been less than stellar. It’s not that the agents don’t like the novel, it’s just that they’re not reading it. So far, only one literary agent requested to read the novel.

I heard back from her just the other day.

The query response rate is never great, but it’s usually better than this. Typically, I will send out 70-80 query letters and about 4-5 of the agencies will request a full or partial of the manuscript. Sure, those four or five will almost surely reject the manuscript in the end, but at least you get a few weeks to dream.

Not this time. This time, only one literary agency requested to read the novel. This was the same agency who said they loved my last novel, said it had a strong chance of publication, and that they were seriously considering taking it on. Then, after two months of radio silence, ultimately declined because they were “too busy”. Given my history with this agency, I didn’t know if was a good thing that they requested this latest book or not. Would they be impressed if they now read two novels of mine that they enjoyed? Would they brush me off again? Would they not like this book?

Oddly, I hadn’t really been giving much thought to this latest submission. Normally, I sit around on pins and needles, waiting to hear back from the agency who will determine my fate. Will this be it? My big break? This time, I found myself forgetting that I even had submitted the book for consideration. I had already kind of made up my mind then when the response came in –  I’d be upset about it for few hours, and then let it go. There was kind of a lot riding on this submission. I really like this novel, I’m proud of it, and this one was the only agency biting. It was either them or nothing.

When the email response finally came in, the one from the agency with my novel’s title in the subject heading, I was overwhelmed with a sudden realization.

I don’t care.

Even before I read the email, I realized I simply did not care what they thought. That may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve spent my entire “career” as a writer living and dying by what agents, producers, editors, and publishers thought of my work. It was totally up to them as to whether my particular story would live another day or die a slow, languishing death.  And it was always death. Always. Over and over, I’ve been told I’m a good writer, told I have talent, and yet they always pass.

Things are different now. For the last year, I’ve been laboring to get my favorite novel. QUEEN HENRY, ready for self-publication. No, it’s not going to be on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, or on any library shelf. But it will be out there. If I get five readers, that will be five more than usually read my work. This time, there’s no maybe about it. As long as I’m still alive in 12 weeks, this is going to happen.

The same day I got the email from the agency, I’d spent the day making some final changes to QUEEN HENRY based on my latest editor’s feedback. I guess I was feeling especially productive and very attached to the material I was working on because I knew it was actually going somewhere come July. Suddenly, it just didn’t matter what the traditional publishing world thought of me because it was totally irrelevant.

The truth is that nobody knows what’s going to sell. Both traditional and self-publishers just make the best guess we can about what’s going to please the reader, but nobody knows for sure. The great thing is that, these days, a self-published author has just as much of a shot of being successful as a traditional published one. Sure, we may not sell as many copies as an author who’s backed by an agent and publisher, but we’re not forking over 80% of our profits, either. We don’t have to sell as many books to be successful. Since nobody knows what will sell, it makes sense for self-publishers to write the best book we can, release it to world, and then get to work on the next one. In the first one doesn’t sell, that sucks, but oh, well. There’s more where that came from. With traditional publishers, the door is slammed shut on 99% of writers before they even get a chance. Who knows how many bestsellers there could be in that large group of writers? It’s not really the publishers’ fault. It’s just business. It’s just not a particularly great business model anymore, which is why it’s failing…

Anyway.

It’s a good thing i didn’t care about what the literary agent thought of my work…

The truth is, they were actually quite complimentary. They said it was really good, funny, well-written, and so forth. They said, however, that it was in need of a “paid professional edit” to make it more accessible to middle-graders and they were more than happy to provide their special editorial services. A quick look at their website for such services revealed their prices were about $1000. At best, this is a conflict of interest. At worst, it’s a scam.

Which means that the best response that I ever got from a literary agent, the time where they “almost” represented my first novel, was a total lie.

I should be devastated.

I’m not.

It’s a combination of world-weariness (15 years as a screenwriter, 5 years as a novelist) and optimism as a self-publisher, but I just don’t care. This is not the first time I’ve been jerked around by a so-called professional in the biz, but it just might be the last. My plan was to query agents with my future novels, and then just self-publish when they all got rejected. Now, I’m thinking maybe I won’t bother. I just don’t really give a damn what the “professionals” think any more. It’s not that Joyville doesn’t need work – I’m sure it does. Being told by an agent that a book needs work is standard procedure. In fact, I would be suspicious of an agent that agreed to take on a work “as is” without suggesting any revision. However, I’ve never heard of an agent saying you must pay for a professional edit. I’ve been writing for a long time and have been read by many agents and producers – no one has ever said my work was not professionally written. This agency just told me that the book needed work in order to be more age-appropriate for middle-graders. This is probably a valid viewpoint and one that I will take under serious consideration in the future if I decide to go forward with publishing the book myself. However, any agency that tells you that you must pay for an edit – and that they would be more than happy to take your money – is not to be trusted.

I found it so liberating that my gut reaction to receiving the email – even before reading it – was indifference. It’s not that I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m in the process of having a couple of beta readers tear my second novel apart and for my own good. I care what they think because I care what my readers will ultimately think. It’s their ultimate opinions that matter the most. It’s just that the opinions of a few, highly selective traditional publishing folks stopped mattering to me somewhere along the way.

Cool.

I keep hearing Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head. “So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”

It’s time to let the readers decide.

– Linda Fausnet

UPDATE

QUEEN HENRY is now available at the following retailers:

Amazon eBook 

Paperback

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble

* All proceeds net of taxes will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation **

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Right-brained, Creative-type Plus Technology Equals HULK SMASH!!

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation. My author page is www.facebook.com/lindafausnet

 

13 Weeks Until Publication 

 

Hulk Writer

 

 

Well, I’ve spent countless hours in the last few weeks completely overhauling my basement office into the beautiful Wannabe Pride headquarters. I assure you, it’s really quite beautiful.

But you can’t see it.

At least until someone smarter and wiser arrives on the scene (paging my husband and sister!!)

I took pictures of my office to share with you on this site, but they are too large to upload and I have neither the time nor the patience to sit here for hours and figure it out. That’s time much better spent writing and editing, which is what I’m about to go do now.

This, my friends, is why I plan to spend money that I really do not have in order to pay a formatter to properly format QUEEN HENRY for e-book and print-on-demand. I simply cannot envision a scenario in which I could properly format my book myself without it ending in tears and smashed computer equipment. I know my limits. Technical crap is my limit. Can’t do it. Won’t do it.

And now, back to being my quirky and creative self.

Stay tuned next week for some Wannabe Pride photos.

Maybe.

– Linda Fausnet

On Commanding Respect as a Self-Publisher

 

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If you want to be taken seriously as a self-published author, you’re going to have to prove yourself worthy. People are going to assume you weren’t good enough to make it as a “real” writer. People are going to think you didn’t work hard enough to call yourself an author. People are going to think that your writing isn’t as good as “real” published authors.

Far too often, they’re going to be right.

Being a self-published writer does not necessarily mean that you weren’t good enough to make it in the traditional publishing world. I was recently rejected by a “small” publisher that publishes 30 manuscripts annually. They receive 20,000 submissions each year…. This does not mean that 19,970 of those manuscripts were bad. Surely, some of them were, but an awful lot of truly great books are gonna go down with that ship. It’s not the publisher’s fault. That’s just business. Still, that kind of experience coupled with literary agents who state that they reject up to 99% of submissions makes me realize that any writer, even a truly great one, could live ten lifetimes and still never make it. That’s quite a depressing thought.

Enter self-publishing. Though self-published works rarely become blockbusters, there are plenty of opportunities out there for a midlist type of author who may not sell millions of books, but may sell enough to make some decent money. The trouble is that anybody and everybody can self-publish, so there are an awful lot of people out there who fancy themselves authors and who have absolutely no intention of learning the craft. How hard can it be to write a good book, right?

If you’re a real writer, self-published or traditionally agented/published, you should be rolling your eyes right now. We all know people like that. People who “have a book in them” and reason that they can just sit down and write said book and upload it to Amazon and wait for the money to roll in. “Writers” like that make me crazy because they make all self-published authors look bad. I am passionate about promoting indie writers and helping them get the exposure that they weren’t able to get from traditional publishers, but some of these writers make it awfully hard. I follow thousands of writers on twitter and I’m always looking for good indie books to read and promote. Sometimes I have to click on four or five self-published books to find one that’s not awful. The first step is to read the description or blurb that describes the book. Far more often than not, the blurb contains choppy writing, run-on sentences, and incorrect grammar. To quote Saturday Night Live’s critic Jebediah Atkinson – next! If the blurb is bad, the book will be worse. If the blurb looks okay, I will then go ahead and download the free sample and skim that with a very critical eye. I imagine this is what literary agents and publishers do. Skim the writing sample quickly and at the first sign of trouble…NEXT!  I refuse to waste my time with bad writing and so will any of your potential readers.

If you are going to be a self-publisher, I implore you to do it right. You must do your homework before you decide to publish any of your writing. If you’re new to this whole writing gig, it is imperative that you read as many books in your chosen genre as possible, as well as nonfiction books on the craft of writing before you even begin to write your first book. Then, after you’ve done lots of reading and writing, it is vital that you find one or more critique partners to tell you the truth about your work and who will point out flaws that you simply cannot see. Following these steps is really the only way to give yourself the best shot at success. Otherwise, you are wasting your time.

You’re also wasting mine.

With the influx of truly bad writing being published every day, I am no longer simply competing with writers who are better than me. I’m also competing with lazy writers who didn’t bother to put in any time or effort into their work. I may be willing to wade through a bunch of bad writing samples in order to find a good one that I can promote, but you can bet that most readers won’t have that kind of patience. The average reader might click through two bad self-published books and then say NEXT! And head to the library and the bookstore. Can you blame them?

What happens if a reader clicks through two bad books and gives up? They’re never going to get to mine, that’s what. I can damn well guarantee you that I did my homework, paid an editor, and, while my book may not be 100% perfect, it was professionally written.

I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide I was gonna be a writer. I started out wanting to be a screenwriter, so I spent about a year reading screenplays and books on how to write a screenplay. Then guess what happened? My first screenplay was optioned by a production company in Los Angeles (Mega Films, Inc.). It was optioned again later by another company (Runaway Productions). Years later, when I decided to try writing novels, I spent several months reading books on how to write fiction and I read dozens of middle-grade novels. I did this even though I was simply adapting the aforementioned screenplay into a novel and already had the entire plot and characters worked out. I had several agents look at the book, and one even expressed serious interest in representing me.

Now, that I’ve published a novel myself, you damn well better believe I did my homework. QUEEN HENRY was also a screenplay first (and a finalist in a national screenwriting competition). I wrote and revised the novel for at least a year until I finally got it right. Then, when I decided to publish, I gave myself an entire additional year to learn the self-publishing process so I could hopefully do it right.

It’s hard to be patient, but I believe it ultimately pays off. This is why it makes me so angry when I see people who simply do not take the process seriously. Writing is my passion in life, and I have little patience for people who refuse to give the craft the respect that it deserves.

It’s a real uphill battle to be taken seriously as self-published authors, and the lazy hacks are making us all look bad.

I want to help promote indie authors, but only if they’ve done the hard work and have respect for the craft.

To be successful as a self-published author, you must command respect by writing a quality, entertaining novel that is professional written and free from errors.

Once you’ve done that, contact me. I’ll help you promote the hell out of it.

–       Linda Fausnet

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