T is for Thrift

The majority of writers don’t make much money from writing. The second biggest piece of advice given to fledgling writers is: Don’t quit your day job. It’s good advice, but not advice I’ve particularly taken. I haven’t had a regular job in over a decade. Eric worked eight years in the semiconductor industry and then quit in 2007 and went back to school. Neither of us is currently employed. How do we do this? A combination of planning and living cheap.

The Eric-and-Katherine plan has always been that I would write and, after five years of working, Eric would go back to school. Since there was a boom in Eric’s industry, five years became eight. We socked away money from the beginning and Eric does a decent job of investing. The hope was that I would be pulling in money from writing by now, but my industry is a gamble. You can’t count on any sort of timetable.

We rent an apartment in the not-so-great-but-still-okay part of Tempe. Our rent is much cheaper than a house payment would be. An apartment also allows us to be more flexible with our future plans and cuts down on improvement and upkeep costs. Our neighborhood is located right off the light rail line and is serviced by free shuttles to campus/downtown. I live a block from a community center with a decent workout area. It costs me $25 a year to use their facilities.

We have one vehicle: a sturdy 1992 Nissan pickup. I don’t drive, so this works out fairly well. Our vacations involve flying back to Nebraska once a year to visit family and maybe renting a car and driving to the coast for a weekend.

We don’t have kids. Or pets. I know for many people this isn’t an option, and that’s okay, but it sure is easier to get along when you only have to worry about the health and well-being of yourself.

We don’t have cell-phones. Partly by choice, partly because the expense wouldn’t justify the use. Monthly, I pay $22 for a landline and $50 for internet access. I don’t have cable, but subscribe to Netflix streaming for $8/mo. Our main entertainment otherwise is EverQuest 2 (or the like), a whopping $30/month for both of us. This is less than my monthly electric bill. I don’t have the latest gadgets. Eric builds a new computer every two or three years. My main computer is still hooked up to a CRT.

I should cook more. We eat out/get take away from fairly cheap places, but if you look at food as something to be enjoyed, aka entertainment, it’s easier to justify $15 for dinner for the both of us. I do like going out for a tasty meal with friends, but I can’t do it all the time. I don’t buy many clothes. I’ve curbed my book-buying over the years. I don’t wear makeup and can’t bring myself to pay much for things like shampoos, hair cuts, manicures and pedicures.

I buy decent toilet paper and Heize Ketchup, but I wait for sales and use coupons. Our families send money and gift certificates on holidays. We have no debt. In general, I’m a healthy, happy person that just happens to turn her nickle over twice before she spends it.

And sometimes, yes, I wish I had a summer house in San Diego, a closet full of cute shoes, and a sloppy dog named Bill. I wish that I could have dinner out every night and not worry about the cost. But it’s all trade-offs.  I could have those things, but I wouldn’t have this: I’m a full-time writer.

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And S is for…

If Q was for queries and R was for rejections, then S is for sales!

My first "sale" was the first story I ever submitted to the first market I sent it to. A ridiculous situation. This was way back in 1995, before good online resources. I had a 1995 copy of Writer’s Market and I *used* that baby. The story was published by a small literary magazine that paid in contributor’s copies. I didn’t mind not being paid in cash-money because I was new to the game and figured that every little step was a step forward. And to some degree, it is. That story is even online. No, I’m not going to link to it here. If you’re curious, break out your google-fu.

In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a few rejections first. I had been a schooly, and an over-achiever when I put my mind to it. I had rarely, at that time, been told that my work was not good enough. The story had been workshopped in a writing class and polished up, but that’s part of the course work. That I got an A and that first story published confirmed that I was hot stuff! Except, not so much.

I knew rejections existed. I knew to expect them. I knew that you kept submitting, because that was what writers do. The reality of rejections didn’t hit me until some time in the future.

For me, a sale (publication in any form) is bittersweet. I hate to be a downer, but in the end it means only slightly more than a rejection. A sale means you did that one thing right and that agent/editor liked it enough to put some of their effort into it.That’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily a better writer than you were yesterday. It certainly doesn’t mean that the next thing written will necessarily be good.

R is for Rejections

"Rejection slips are badges of honor.
Purple hearts.
They mean you’ve done your duty. You’ve written your stuff and sent it out.
You’ve done your part.
Show me a writer who doesn’t have a stack of rejection slips and I’ll show you an unpublished writer."
~Richard Laymon, A Writer’s Tale

After rereading Laymon’s chapter on rejections, there’s not much that I can say that he doesn’t. Unfortunately, copies of A Writer’s Tale are few and far between. (I just realized that I have a signed and numbered copy. How did *that* happen?)  I’ll rehash:

A rejection may mean a number of things:

  • It could be the story, novel, or concept isn’t ready to be submitted. Writers need to continuously hone their craft. Maybe there’s a plot hole that was overlooked. Maybe the writing could sparkle more.
  • It could be that the market isn’t ready for the story. If the crux or style of the story is a little "out there," it could be a hard sell. 
  • It could be that the agent/editor isn’t interested in the story or doesn’t personally think he/she can sell it. If an agent mostly reps thrillers and the submission is kinda thriller, but mostly romance, the odds of a rejection might be high.
  • It may be that the agent/editor just agreed to sell/publish a story that is very similar. Subbing a teenage vampire romance to Stephanie Meyer’s agent, might not go well.

One thing is clear in all these cases: a rejection isn’t personal. Yeah, I know. It’s a rejection of the work, personal work!, that we do, but we need to be a little like coral. Let the submission be a finished fragment that can go on alone, separate from the whole. Most rejections are form letters. Heartless? Maybe, but understandable. If a rejection is more than just a form letter, take heed. It’s a rare sliver of advice.

Publishing is becoming a different place with the independent movement. I’m still in favor of the traditional route because, well, it’s what I know. Rejections have made me work harder than I might have otherwise. As always, my experience is my own.

RoW80 Update & Q is for…

RoW80 Update:

My goal for April is the finish a 10% cut edit on Divine Fire. Since the manuscript in its current form is 413 pages, that broke down to getting through about 100 pages a week, or 20 pages a day. Strangely, I find the 10% cut to be the least arduous form of editing. Having that goal gives me power to be ruthless with my chopping. Die, darling, die.

I’ve been counting pages post-editing, so that’s given me some padding. And I knew I was going to need some padding because there’s a few things that I still need to all-out rewrite in Divine Fire. I’ve done 55 pages this week and, as of right now, I am at page 303 in the manuscript. And I’ve come to one of those areas that needs to be reworked instead of cleaned up. So, doing all right.

Update: Or I’ll just finish my 10% cut edit and come back to it…which feels like the better plan.


Q is for Queries

As I mentioned back at "A", I think most advice concerning the publishing industry is useless because it’s based on anecdote. I’ve read query letters that resulted in publishing contracts, and then read blog posts by agents and editors that advise against the very things that made those successful query letters successful. A "don’t" can become a "do," or vice versa. I firmly believe that the process is much more subjective than objective. Sometimes, it’s going to be a matter of presenting to the right person on the right day.

So, what *can* I say? Be professional. Follow the guidelines.

If an agent only wants a query letter, only send a query letter. It doesn’t matter whether you think that your work is better served by sending the complete manuscript. That’s not what the agent is asking for. Agents are people, they have their job to do, and I trust that they know their job. Don’t query your idea. That’s wasting everyone’s time. Write your book. Polish it up. If you receive some personal feedback about a submission, take heed of it. (This is something I an resistant to and Eric jumps all over.) If you don’t receive feedback, well, that’s not the job of an agent or editor at this point in the process. For the sake of all that is good, don’t argue with a rejection. Nothing good can come of it.

I know it’s easy to get frustrated with the process. It sucks when the guidelines advise space-and-half 11pt Couier on egg-shell paper and you’ve researched an agent to the point of knowing her favorite breakfast cereal, but the rejection letter is a quarter sheet of paper addressed to "Dear Author." It’s not nice, but that’s how it goes. But in the end, if you want the traditional publishing route, this is part of it.

And, in any case, nothing happens if you don’t get your work out into the world. You have to do it somehow.

P is for Pie

"My life’s a shambles. I need pie." *

I’ve spent the majority of the last ten years working as a full-time writer without pay or promise of pay. Indeed, most of the feedback I receive regarding my work is of the negative sort. I have no medical/dental benefits, no 401K. There’s no home/office dichotomy. I can never "go home" from work. If I take a sick day, I’m still at work.

Don’t get me wrong, I *am* living my dream. But sometimes, I need pie.

Pie is very important, whether it’s literal pie or figurative pie. To me, pie is what’s needed to keep going when things get rough. It’s a break. It’s a recharge. It’s a little comfort when the week included writer’s block, an allergy attack, a rejection letter, and a broken toilet. Sometimes, sitting down and having a piece of pecan pie à la mode and coffee is the best option. And, heck, sometimes pie is going out for a run on a beautiful day, or spending the afternoon in a dark movie theater. Or picking up a  book or having a beer with friends.

When life’s shambles, don’t forget the pie.

* Between the above quote, "I like pizza. I LIKE IT!", "We’re gonna eat a dolphin! " and several others,  Multiplicity is probably my most quoted movie.

O is for Outline

Planner v. pantser. To outline, or to wing it. The eternal argument. Obviously, considering the title of this entry, I lean toward planning, if not necessarily outlining.

Usually, our projects start with an idea. A concept. The stories themselves are character-driven, but we generally have a skeleton of what will happen and how a story will end. Sometimes less so. With Luck for Hire, we had the concept, the character, and high-jinx. The plot ironed out as we worked.

In a collaborative relationship, details need to be coordinated to some extent. On one hand, the whole process seems to work better the longer Eric and I talk about the minutia of a scene. When I wander too far off the path, I’m moving away from my plotter’s view of the story and often away from the story itself. In the Weordan books, a misplaced detail could throw the world-building off kilter. On the other hand, occasionally interesting things happen when I go "off-script." There’s the infamous (to Eric and me, at least) tinder box in Lucinda in the Window, and the character of Balito in the book that would become Divine Fire. In the former, I planted a plot device that I had no plan for and Eric had to work out its purpose. In the later, I created a character to do a job and he became an intricate part of what needed to occur.

As with just about everything in writing, there’s no one right way of doing anything. The process varies from person to person and even project to project. I think the best rule of thumb when planning stories is to be flexible. It’s easy to spend a tremendous amount of time planning and never get to writing. And vice versa. Sometimes, it’s so good to just write that the tale gets lost.

This Hermit’s Corner of the Internet

I’ve been in vaguely depressed extreme hermit mode for the last couple of day. It happens. I’ve fallen off the "A to Z" wagon. When I barely feel the drive to get real work done, blogging not only takes a backseat but gets left at the side of the road. Not to mention I get tired of my own yammering. Quiet is good.

Today is the rest of league finals. On Thursday night, Eric’s team beat my team 15-0. We couldn’t get anything going against their zone defense. The loss (and the score) doesn’t bother me. I’m not sure I’ve ever played other than hard and (mostly) smart on any team I’ve ever been on, whether we’re in league finals or its pick-up on a Wednesday afternoon. It’s not the first bagel I’ve been handed, nor will it be the last. Today, we have two more games. I want to play hard and smart, and then have a burger and watch my friends play. Maybe Eric’s team will make it to finals.

On Friday morning, an internet kerfuffle broke out surrounding The New York Times‘ review of the new Game of Thrones series. The reviewer, female, makes some pretty ignorant comments about the nature of the series and then disses female genre fans. Apparently, women would only choose to watch Game of Thrones for the sex… Who knew that we were such pervs, huh? Anyway, SF Signal has pretty good list of response links in addition to a link to the original article. I don’t have much to say that’s already been said about the issue, but I make one observation: We need to remember that our perception is subjective. While the majority of women I know adore sci-fi and fantasy, the majority of women at large might not. We can’t go making grand statements about anything (and back them up) when we only have our anecdotal world to pull data from. Does Ms. Bellafante of NYT reflect my views? No. Should she presume that she does? In this case, no. She’s working from her own perception of the world, which is apparently filled with women who would only watch Game of Thrones for the sex.

Now, I’ve got to go shave my legs so I don’t look like a Wookie while I hold my own on the disc fields.