Tag Archives: publishing

The Writer’s Cross: Why Writers Need Community

It’s a crazy dark day, the kind we get in Portland in the winter where you have to keep the lights on in the house all day because of the thick gray haze blanketing the world.

It can get into your skin.

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So on this rainy day, I’m pondering about musings. And about how most things in life come down to who you are. What you do with the things life hands you.

Have you noticed?

Take this very post. This way of expressing it. It’s all learned, or more accurately, cobbled together—the language, the choppy sentence structure, the straightforward, hopeful-yet-artfully-detached tone that hopes you’ll read but not presume I care too much. It’s all been stitched into the patchwork I call my writing voice. And I’m just trying to use all I have.

Sure you’ve noticed: it’s those who seem to be using all they have in life that inspire us to be more, to do more. I’m no different. I’ve been impressed by those responding at full tilt to the impulses we recognize and feel but don’t always express so freely and fluently.

This is why a lot of us get into writing. Which is great and perfectly reasonable and good. I think the Inspirer takes what he can get.

But it isn’t long after getting “the call” a writer begins to realize what they’re in for.

And things start to get dark.

Waking Up Dead

Maybe the realization hits them the first night they stay up too late, the blackness outside turning a bluer tinge as they clack away on the keys, inspiration burning off all sense of time and space between them and the inner flash of light.

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They’re a bit nervous at first, but too excited to notice. That is until the kids get up and have to eat and be driven to school before the forty-seven-thousandth trip to the office where the day will really get underway. And the sharpness of the revelation will dissipate in a sour cup of weak coffee, and nodding off in the meeting, and the bothersome business of shuffling around with the other mortals assigned their related cases of self-imposed misery, equally ignorant that they’re the cause of their own lethargy and atrophy.

Scared? The word doesn’t begin to describe it.

How, they think. How am I going to get out of this hole I’m in? They look around at the papers and small office items and think about it—the big leap they know is coming. I should be more grateful to have a job, they think. But last night happened. And now it’s only too obvious they’re no longer their own.

Some voice has woken them up and the memory of it won’t let them go back to sleep.

So what do they do? What should a fresh-faced writer do when they realize they can’t deny the truth any longer? How will they find the strength and courage to commit to the work that will slurp up their margin time, not to mention their family time and sleep time as well?

How do writers remain faithful to the vision they were given?

The Persistent Question

I’ve thought long and hard about this question. As a kid in high-school, I thought the best thing to do was find a mentor, someone who could help me learn to speak the words I felt so strongly, so overpoweringly. My own call came sometime in my sophomore year, though it would be many years before I took it seriously enough to write anything real. In college, I thought books and knowledge would teach me the secret to writing longevity. I figured the books were themselves how other writers had stayed the course, the force of their singular brilliance compelling existence out of finite inevitability.

Like Gallagher.

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When I became an editor for WaterBrook of Random House, I hoped an intense publishing job would force diamonds out as I navigated acquisitions and profit and loss statements, and slush piles and pitches to the execs in the big boardroom.

And each step helped. But none brought what I needed most.

It wasn’t until breaking down again for the forty-seven-thousandth time that I realized what I was missing. What I’d always been missing. It wasn’t an unusual feeling, this ache of emptiness inside. I’d always attributed it to what Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I figured it was an inevitable burden, something given by God for me to carry. My writer’s cross.

But this time, crying out to God, I felt the slightest shift. I felt it change. It was something I knew as head knowledge but had never felt, like so much of my life in church I’d experienced through frosted glass windows, unaffected, unmoved. Something pierced my heart and I heard: This is what it feels like to be a writer alone.

And in my typical fashion, I resisted it. I protested. No, this isn’t that bad. People are suffering way worse than this feeling. What about those on the street or those trapped in sex slavery or the abandoned orphans who grow up never knowing a parents’ love? They’re far worse off.

And as usual God didn’t argue with me. But the feeling remained.

It felt like a kind of death. A knowledge of being cut off and nothing you can do about it. It’s a familiar feeling—we’re all ultimately alone and no one stops living for our death. It all goes on without us. But writers struggle to go places others don’t or haven’t yet, places others shun.

And this is why I believe the thing we writers need most is people. People who, like us, go to places others don’t. The places we’re compelled to go even when we don’t know why.

 

Carriers of Our Cross

We need the people who won’t ask questions. People who will simply nod, knowing it won’t be easy. But not people to try and talk us out of going.

People for whom such a thing would never enter their minds.

People who know we have to go. People who will carry us when we can’t get there ourselves.

Samwise knew.

There are some people who know something important lies that way, something not unnecessary, something difficult to define but no less real and terrifying. People who know no one can go for us. And we can’t go another way because the road is this way.

And we need these people because the normal, sane people, the people who value things like security and stability and maintaining a respectful distance from the unanswerable questions of life, they know we’ve got it all wrong. And they like telling us we should believe that more. It’s in their eyes if not their words.

They’d have us revoke our allegiances and accept the forced servitude and live safe behind the glass. They’d have us recant and abandon the cause, and give up the fight because isn’t it nicer just to live and accept the easier way? But we were born to write. 

We can argue all day if their way is the way of Jesus, the meek way of receiving the moderate blessings of a simple, quiet life. But if somebody says you can’t do something what are they saying but to squash God’s dream for you?

Maybe it’s them who don’t get it. Maybe for us, the way of Jesus is the way of the cross.

And without the community of like-minded explorers to pick us up when we stumble, to wipe our brows and understand our cause if not our destination, we would not make it.

The friends who’ll give up time, money, prestige and sleep so we can seek this strange, exciting adventure, these are the people who protect the dream and make new books live. And we owe them far more than we can ever repay.

Life, jobs, others will tell us to turn from this way. They say it’s not worth it.

But we will not turn. We are writers. We go the way others will not. And we will meet our fate together.

Have you thanked your community today?

 

Gay Talese on the Questions that Guide Us

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Every time I go to a journalism class, invited by some guy at NYU or Columbia, after the class is over, and I’m about to leave to go to dinner somewhere, somebody comes up to me. “Mr. Talese, can I have your address? I’d like to write to you.” I say, “Listen, I’m here now to talk to you, but I’m going back home and maybe I’m going to leave town because I have something I want to write.” Because you know what’s going to happen? They’re going to send me a novel, a short story, an article. And they’re going to want me to place it for them. “How do I publish this? Do you know how I can get an agent?” And what’s going to happen then is I’m going to possibly disappoint them enormously. Or two things might happen: I’m going to read what they wrote and it’s going to be terrible. Or maybe it’s going to be good. Then I have to find an agent or try to place it with an editor. And they turn it down. Then I have to go back to this NYU student who thought I was Ernest Hemingway and say, “Look, I can’t do that anymore because I can’t guarantee I’ll get it published.” C–, I can’t get my own stuff published some of the time! “Ali in Havana” got turned down by 11 or 12 editors. The last thing Sinatra wants to do is to be the godfather to this girl at USC.  – Gay Talese on how he captured Sinatra’s heartbreaking response to an old friend

I don’t share these links often, but there’s so much to glean here. This is an annotated interview with one of the greatest living journalists Gay Talese on a piece he wrote about Frank Sinatra, currently trending on Twitter.

Do you see the golden opportunity here? To learn the all-important questions that guide a master in his craft: why and how and what to pay attention to…

Writers who take the time to listen will learn a lot….

Pick a Fight You’re Willing to Lose

Dear Strong Christian,

How much I’d like to fight with you.

Charlotte fighting

But I suppose the truth is, I’m not that concerned. I know you’ll be fine in time, when life does its work and then God does his. I don’t need you to agree with me, and I don’t care about disagreement. I’m not sure what happened, but when did we start to think Christians all have to agree in order to love and find common ground?

I know there are more important matters than this. I’m not very high on the list of people whose opinions matter and sway others. Nor do I wish to be. I have a quiet life and a simple story to share. I don’t want that to change. I have enjoyable, behind-the-scenes book work to do.

Trying to convince people–even publishers, agents and writers in CBA–of my point is pointless. I do enjoy discussion, though often debates don’t appeal because competition implies a winner and a loser and that opposes my gospel.

It’s my gospel because who can say if it’s yours, however great our hope may be? Real life is not so cut and dry.

This post pretty much states my “position,” if I have one. And the blogosphere could do well to remember it:

http://www.thechurchofnopeople.com/2013/04/everyones-orthodoxy-is-someone-elses-heresy/

Striving for answers is foolishness beyond the one Jesus offered. There are many things he didn’t talk about that get a lot of people upset. They wish so much he’d said more, but they’re missing the ones he did say. Make peace and you’re blessed. Accept suffering for another’s sake. When we’re focused on being right, too often we’re wrong. So many of his “answers” focused us on the bigger questions—it’s as though he’s saying, “I know it’s impossible, so what will you do with what I did say about trusting me?” Is that putting words into his mouth?

He wasn’t merely evasive; he was patient and unrelenting. But he knew answers too often barricade the high and the low, the insiders and the outsiders, and his work was leveling all of that out. He was okay appearing wrong. Appearing weak.

Who will be that hero?

A Better Way to Sell Out

Writing makes me happy. NovellaBag

But I have something of a strained relationship with publishing. Being an introvert, I don’t want the spotlight, though being human, I do like being well-regarded. Publishing is legitimizing, but it’s also exposing, which depending on your personality can be invigorating or shall we say unpleasant, as in fly-unzipped-on-laundry-day awkward.

So if I’m going to do this—publish I mean—I want to know that what I’m showing off is something larger, or more substantial, than just me showing off.

Discounting the inevitable derision could present a challenge otherwise.

I want what I wrote while blissfully ignorant of any exposing to be unmistakably and unavoidably not simply mine.

The trouble is, overexposure has become the norm, if not the expectation for modern authors in our manic, addiction-inducing culture. And having conceived the work in such a sacred exchange, slapping on the sandwich board to hock it as so much product feels a little like spitting on your grandma. I’m not so much worried about the gut-wrenching agony of being imprisoned in the hype machine. It’s more the fear that I’d be forced to become my own stalker-murderer and suffocate myself with my promotional monogrammed book bag.

So I’ve been thinking this through because I could publish anonymously or with a pen name, which seems attractive until it comes to interviews and such. There are ways to avoid detection and “live off the grid” as it were with things like voice scramblers that writer of the Fourth Realm trilogy “John Twelve Hawks” used. But somehow rejecting publicity to such an extreme feels more like a publicity stunt…

No, I think if I’m going to do it, publish, I need a better reason to sell out than hoping to sell out.

“Unscrupulous people fake it a lot; honest people are sure of their steps. Nothing clever, nothing conceived, nothing contrived, can get the better of God.” (Prov. 21:29-30)

A little later, the sage says, “The payoff for meekness and Fear-of-God is plenty and honor and a satisfying life.” (22:4)

I don’t know if not putting a price on the product of our inspiration is necessary, but it’s certainly advantageous. Making writing your livelihood is a perilous prospect, though not unmanageable. In the end, “Do your best, prepare for the worst—then trust God to bring victory” (21, final verse). The nut to be cracked here seems to be in what you “prepare” for, whether to provide for your own needs or for others’.

So I’m still wrestling. But I’m also praying, believing there’s a right path for everyone moving forward with the call to get the WORD out.

Interview with author/editor Brandy Bruce

LooksLikeLove I've been excited for a while to have the chance to interview a friend of mine, Brandy Bruce. Her experience as an up-and-coming YA author is unique (of course) but her decision to self-publish after shopping her novel to publishers makes me extra eager to tell you about her journey. First, the bio.

Brandy Bruce holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Liberty University. She currently works as a developmental book editor for Focus on the Family. When she's not chasing after her two-year-old daughter, she spends much of her time reading, editing, working with authors, and trying to keep up with deadlines. She's the author of the newly released contemporary novel Looks Like Love. Brandy makes her home with her husband and daughter in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Me: Brandy, thanks for being brave and pioneering. I figure, despite my initial reservations with self-publishing (as a long-time publishing establishment guy), your decision is a great example for others who are debating this choice. Tell me about (1) your journey from writer to published.

BRB: I've been writing stories since the sixth grade. Reading and writing have always been my outlets for creative thought. I knew from about the time I was in high school that I really wanted to somehow work with books as my profession. I became a developmental book editor and I still love it. But writing has always remained part of that creative outlet for me.

My journey to publishing isn't exactly traditional. A few years ago I started working on a story about a girl starting over after a bad break-up. I showed my book proposal to an agent (Chip MacGregor–Google him.) who liked it and decided to sign me as one of his authors. Then came the hard part–selling it. We received some positive feedback and came close with a couple of houses, but in the end, we just didn't get a contract. That was disappointing, of course. I'd put so much work into my novel that I didn't want to give up. I started thinking about self-publishing. I talked this over with Chip, and he was really supportive. A turning point for me came when my husband reminded me that in today's world publishing is an attainable dream for anyone. I know that publishing is evolving. I know that anyone can have his or her book in an e-format in minutes. I decided to explore my options for doing it myself, and finally, I decided to self-publish with WestBow Press.

Me: So what kind of marketing are you doing?

BRB: When it comes to marketing self-published books, authors have to be even more pro-active. I talked to other authors who had self-published for creative marketing tips. I created bookmarks to send to friends and family when the book released. WestBow sent out a press release, but I also created a press release to send to bookstores and influencers. I had a friend create a book trailer for me and put it on YouTube. I promoted my book on my blog, twitter account, and facebook and recruited friends and family to also post the link to my book on Amazon.com. And I set up a blog book tour the month after my book released. I arranged some blog interviews and encouraged people to write reviews for my book on amazon.com. People don't realize how beneficial good reviews on Amazon.com are!

Me: So true. One idea I've seen an author use recently is offering signed "book plates" for those who write a review for you. Contests are another good idea–offer a chance at a gift bag for people who post a review. What are you hoping for from this publishing venture? What’s something surprising you’ve learned?

BRB: Before I ever self-published I really examined the why behind moving forward with it. For me, having a book of my own was something I'd wanted for a long time. I never felt the deep desire to be a famous author or the need to sell scores of books. I will say that now that my book is out, every time I receive good feedback, I'm just so thrilled to hear that someone read my story and loved it. That's enough for me. Publishing my book was a goal in my life that I wanted to fulfill. I'm proud of every book I edit and I find a lot of fulfillment in helping others create books that made a difference. I know people self-publish for lots of different reasons. But for myself, I just had a story that I loved and wanted to see in print. I've been lucky with how supportive people have been. I had authors I greatly respect come alongside me and offer endorsements. I had fellow editors help polish my novel before I sent it to press. And I've had my wonderful family and friends help get the word out about Looks Like Love. 

Me: So one last question: What played into your decision most? Did feedback from publishers play a role? Did your insider publishing knowledge convince you you could do it better than your average writer just starting out? If you could, help people differentiate the real pros and cons about this really complex decision.  

BRB: Publishers' feedback did play a role in my decision to self-publish this one. I was in touch with other editor friends so I knew when places like Bethany and Kregel and Cook took the book to pub board. I had editors give me positive feedback (Tyndale for example, I met with the editor who reviewed my proposal while we were at a conference). Chip sent me a response from another editor who said the book wouldn't work for them but she loved my voice and would like to see something else. If I'd been hearing mostly negative responses from editors I respect, I doubt I would have felt it was worth it to publish it. I assume Chip probably shielded me from negative feedback anyway, but I told him I wanted to hear what editors had to say about it. And like I said, most was pretty encouraging. And I took what I heard seriously. When an editor made recommendations, I definitely listened and made changes.

And of course, my being an editor helped me feel a little more confident as I moved forward. Also the fact that I'm a consistent reader. I read so much Christian fiction that I felt I knew my genre well. I'm comfortable checking proofs; I know what to look for. Writing back cover copy is something I do all the time. I knew that getting endorsements could really help me. Anyone can self-publish, of course. There are people there to guide you every step of the way. But my personal experience made me more comfortable throughout the process.  

Also, I'm not planning for this to be a series. I am hoping to shop the YA fantasy series once it's ready. I'd love for that to get picked up since it's meant to be a 4-book series.

Me: Is that what you're working on next? What's keeping you busy (besides marketing and publicity on this)?

BRB: Well, I've got a toddler running around, and I'm editing two books so that keeps me pretty busy. I haven't stopped writing though. My sister and I are working together on a fantasy YA series that I'm super excited about.

 

The Book: Looks Like Love by Brandy Bruce

The awesome book trailer.

The author.