What About Publishing?

book slothLast week, I told you about some lessons I learned about writing. Now, let’s talk about publishing.

For my literary citizenship class this week, Cathy Day assigned us roughly ten million things to read about publishing. I’m not complaining, mind you, not at all. I will take any trusted sources on publishing that I can get. You can get links to about half of the material we had to read on the sidebar of the literary citizenship blog, but I’m going to give you a summary of the 7 Big Lessons I took away from the reading.

1) Publishing is a business.

You might be thinking, “Duh. It’s called the publishing industry. Of course it’s a business.”

The problem is that, as a writer, you might think that you can completely divorce yourself from that and just be the creative artist. You can’t. It’s not just that you’ll have to do some self-promotion. If you go the route of traditional publishing, you’ll lose a lot of creative control over things like the cover and title. You might have to make edits you don’t want to make. You’ll have to realize that, yes, this is a business, and you need to act professionally.

2) If you want a place for your book to go, you’re going to have to buy some books.

Amazon didn’t kill bookstores. We did. We “decided that convenience was more important than community“. We are entirely responsible for keeping the literary world aloft. If you want to be a writer and you want people to buy your books, then you have to buy books first. You have to keep the presses and publishers and bookstores in business.

(Not that buying books on Amazon is bad. It’s not. But still. You can’t blame them for being successful.)

3) Self-publishing isn’t bad.

Confession: I struggle with a bias against self-publishing. A lot of this has to do with what I’ll talk about in lesson #4. It’s hard not to think of people who self-publish as vain, but self-publishing and vanity presses are not the same thing. There are loads of reasons to self-publish. Maybe they want more control. Maybe they want a bigger share of the profits. Maybe they don’t want to wait the years it can take a book to be published the traditional route.

Why should writers be judged for that? Here’s my big resolution to myself: be more open to the self-published.

4) But it does have some drawbacks.

Yeah, there are still problems. While there are certainly high quality self-published books out there, there are also an awful lot of unvetted books. There are books that have been edited maybe a few times, and maybe not even by another person. There are poorly designed covers and bad copy editing, if any at all.

If you want to avoid self-publishing pitfalls, there are people out there who can help you. Take advantage of their services.

5) Then again, so does traditional publishing.

So, you go the traditional publishing route. Let’s assume that you’re okay letting go of some measure of control. What are the other bad parts?

In Making a Literary Life, Carolyn See gives us a look behind the scenes. It’s pretty nervous-making.

When you go the traditional publishing route, the company to a pretty large extent decides the fate of your book before it even comes out. They choose when to release it – some times of the year are much better than others – and how many copies to print. They decide your place in line. Just how much are they willing to spend on you? Just how much are they going to push your book? They decide how to present the book. They send it out for pre-reviews, and those pre-reviews really seal your fate. You don’t have control over any of this. For the most part, you won’t even be told about any of these decisions.

And publicity? Yeah. For the most part, you’re going to have to rely on yourself.

6) No matter which way you go, you’re going to have to do some work.

That’s right. You know that with self-publishing, you have to promote yourself. But the same is true for traditional publishing! No one cares as much about your book as you do. You have to be out there telling people about it. Build up your internet presence, go to bookstores, libraries, book clubs. Have contests and giveaways. There are loads of ways to get the word out, so get to work!

7) You need to really want it.

You might notice that this whole publishing thing is sounding really difficult. There’s no magic spell to getting noticed or published. There is, however, a lot of hard work to be done, and that’s on top of the writing of the book itself!

Publishing takes time. You’re going to get rejected, a lot. You’re going to have people that don’t like your book. And you’re just going to have to keep going.

So. Do you want it badly enough?

I know I do.

Tuesday Reads: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

It’s no secret that I love YA, and I’ve fought with many people about its worth. They think it’s meaningless, written entirely for the financial gain, and contains no substance. Any actual reader of YA would know this isn’t true. YA is just as capable of giving us insight into the human condition as any other form of literature. It represents teenagers from all walks of life, and it doesn’t shy away from harsh topics. Many adults underestimate what teenagers can handle, but YA authors don’t. They know that teenagers are confronted, either in their personal lives or through their friends, with sex, drugs, abuse, eating disorders, rape, suicide, and many other awful things.

It also has a gorgeous cover.

It also has a gorgeous cover.

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff is about a girl trying to solve a string of murders while being haunted by her dead best friend. I went into it thinking it looked good and would be an entertaining ghostly murder mystery. Instead, it kept surprising me. First, I thought that Hannah’s best friend was killed by the murderer, but it quickly becomes clear that instead, she died of untreated anorexia.

At that point I thought, okay, this is a book about eating disorders, and I grew nervous. I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, but I have trouble reading about them. I also wasn’t entirely sure where the murders were going to fit in. I kept going, though, because I was intrigued by the friendship between Hannah and Lillian and I’m a sucker for books about best friends. Then Hannah meets a boy, and I thought, oh, it’s a romance.

It was all of them. It’s a ghost story and a murder mystery, it’s about anorexia and the pressure to be perfect, it’s about best friends and how hard and horrible and beautiful those relationships can be, and it’s about first love. It’s about being haunted by more than just literal ghosts and about figuring out who you are beneath the mask that you put up for everyone else. It’s about finding your own strength.

It would be so easy to write about these topics and make it clunky and way too after-school special. But Yovanoff weaves it all together seamlessly. I spent the book stressed out by the growing impact Lillian was having on Hannah, giddy over Hannah’s new romance, and consumed by empathy for both girls, dead and alive. When Hannah starts to worry that her crush may be the killer, I felt her fear.

I haven’t shared Hannah and Lillian’s exact experiences, but I know what it’s like to love your best friend more than anything but also to hurt them and be hurt by them over stupid things. I know what it’s like to watch your best friend fade away and do any little thing you can to help but feel like it’s not at all enough. I know what it’s like to have a huge crush on a boy and then start to wonder if you can trust him at all.

Paper Valentine is the most painfully human ghost story I’ve read. If someone reads it and still thinks that YA has no substance, I’m not sure they’ll ever get it.

Favorite quote: “Our whole lives, it was like we were always trying so hard to be perfect – for our families and our friends, for each other – when the funny thing was, we didn’t have to. In the end, we were better than that.”

Medium: Kindle

Stars: 5/5

The End of the Black Parade

TW: MENTIONS OF SELF-HARM AND SUICIDE

mcrOn Friday, My Chemical Romance released this simple statement on their blog:

Being in this band for the past 12 years has been a true blessing. We’ve gotten to go places we never knew we would. We’ve been able to see and experience things we never imagined possible. We’ve shared the stage with people we admire, people we look up to, and best of all, our friends. And now, like all great things, it has come time for it to end. Thanks for all of your support, and for being part of the adventure.

I can only speak to the reaction on Tumblr, which is where I learned about the news and then proceeded to post and reblog 16 posts in quick succession, from varying levels of grief and humor. The post that struck me the most, though, was this one that had gained over 3000 notes at the time I reblogged it two hours after its original posting:

Hey guys! I know that MCR broke up and everything, and I know that most people are upset about that, considering the band’s music helps you a lot. But, please, please, PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELF! I REPEAT, DO NOT HURT YOURSELF! The music they had published is still out there, and remember, if Fall Out Boy can get back together, can’t MCR do the same thing in the future? Either way, please don’t hurt yourself! And if you need to talk to anyone, I’m here for any of you!

MCR is generally seen as an “emo” band for whiny, dramatic middle and high schoolers. That was definitely the opinion that I had before I started listening to them in my junior year of high school. It’s so prevalent an opinion that I hesitated to post on Facebook and Twitter about the break-up. I didn’t want to be judged for blasting “Welcome to the Black Parade” and crying over the fact that MCR just broke up. I posted anyway, but with apprehension and a decent amount of defensiveness.

But here’s the thing: That post up there? That plea made to the MCR fandom? That’s important. Not everyone who listens to MCR is at risk of suicide or self-harm. They don’t all suffer from depression. But plenty of them do, and for many of the fans, MCR was the difference between taking a blade to their arm or working through it.

I speak from personal experience on that. Whenever I’m so sad or angry or feeling anything so strongly that I can’t function, that I don’t want to exist and I’m tempted to hurt myself, I listen to My Chemical Romance. I use their music to drown out the voices in my head. They distract me until I can breathe again. No other band does that for me.

I know I’m not alone in that. There are a lot of people who gain strength from their music, and who are feeling hurt and betrayed and are in mourning. Maybe that seems silly to you, and maybe in a few years some of them will laugh at how they feel now, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that what they’re feeling right now is very, very real. I’m upset and I cried, but for some others, this is a tragedy.

So, here’s my request to you, readers. If you see someone mourning the loss of their favorite band and it’s a band that you think is dumb or worthless, don’t mock them. Don’t make fun of those fans. Respect their feelings. If you can’t say something supportive or sympathetic, then just walk away.

I truly believe the world would be a better place if we took that attitude in most situations, not just the end of a band.

Now, for my farewell to My Chemical Romance, here’s the song that has been my biggest comfort for many years, simply for the lines: “I am not afraid to keep on living/I am not afraid to walk this world alone”. It seems especially appropriate now. Goodbye, My Chemical Romance. Thank you for everything.

7 Writing Revelations

sloth_student_by_funnysloth-d4xmd5hIn the past week, I’ve gone to a panel on grad school for creative writers, a Q&A with essayist Elena Passarello, the In Print reading with authors of recently released first books, and a panel on writing and publishing. If I managed to go to all that and not learn anything, there would be something seriously wrong with me.

I talked yesterday about the experience of helping to promote In Print and the importance of participating in literary events. Today, I’m going to tell you seven things I’ve learned in the last week and hopefully further convince you to go get involved.

1) Ask questions. Answer them. Push farther.

This is something that I did semi-unconsciously already. I don’t know if you can write anything without asking questions of yourself. But in the Q&A with Elena Passarello, she talked about how her essays often come about because she starts asking questions. More importantly, she keeps asking them. She said that her first questions are usually pretty dumb, and it’s not until she keeps pushing for answers and more questions that she gets to the heart of her essay.

It reminded me of a small exercise we did at Alpha, where they gave us a prompt – just a short phrase – and said, “Got your first idea? Okay, now throw it out. Your first idea is the one that everyone else will think of. Keep going. Keep pushing.” I don’t push myself nearly enough sometimes.

2) If you go to grad school for creative writing, don’t take the shortest path. Savor the time.

The panel on grad school for creative writers included five BSU professors that all had at least an MFA in creative writing and, in one case, a PhD. The big lesson that really struck me was that just because there are two-year low residency programs to get your MFA doesn’t mean they’re the best choice. For some people they might be, but the panel made a good point. It’s a time in your life when you’re really getting to just concentrate on your writing and nothing else. That’s not something that exists in the real world. It should be savored. Get a three-year program, or a four-year if you can.

Also, two-year programs don’t generally give out a lot of money to attend them. So that’s something to think about.

3) Stop thinking of your book as a book. Just write it.

The panel at In Print got on the topic of this fantasy that writers get into about their first books. We think about how beautiful it’s going to be and clearly everyone will love us. We conduct interviews with ourselves in our heads. We put ourselves on a schedule – “Have to get published by 25, then this by 30, this by 35…”

Problem is, that can really hinder your writing. You’re seeing your book as this glorious object sitting on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or nestled into an Amazon box. You’re putting a lot of pressure on it, and you’re not really writing. Across the panel, all of the authors said that once they stopped seeing their book as this idea, it was much easier to write. This is a lesson I really need to learn.

4) If you’re always drawn to the same topic, stop fighting it.

At the Q&A, Elena Passarello said that she went into grad school thinking, “I’m going to write about trucker’s wives!” Eugene Cross wanted to write about anything but his hometown of Erie, PA.

That didn’t really work for either of them. Elena kept drifting towards other topics and had to force herself to stay on trucker’s wives. Eugene wrote about other towns, but they all sounded like Erie. Eventually, they stopped fighting it and ended up much happier for it. Sometimes you just have to write about something. Let it happen.

5) Stay in touch with your professors.

This qualifies both for grad school and for writing in general. If you go to grad school five years after you get your undergrad and you need letters of recommendation, will your professors remember you? Did you talk to them at all after graduation?

Professors of creative writing tend to be published and active writers. That means that they aren’t just teaching you about lyric essays and Freitag’s pyramid – they’re a connection. They know the writing world. They’ve been where you are, and they might help you get your foot in if you keep in touch with them.

6) Go to readings, panels, everything.

I talked about this yesterday, but seriously. Go to all of them. Go meet writers that you would never have heard about if you weren’t at a reading in an indie bookstore. Go to panels and learn something new, or go, “I can do better than that,” and get on a panel yourself. Participate. Learn.

7) I really, really want this.

It’s not news to me that I want to be a writer. I’ve known that since I was ten. What In Print and meeting Elena Passarello, Eugene Cross, and Marcus Wicker taught me is just how badly I want it. I want to improve my writing until I’m good enough to captivate an audience with my words. You know that giddy, floaty feeling you get after you finish a really good book? I want to give people that feeling. I want to meet people who have read my book and like it and I want to talk to them. That’s the world I’m meant to be in. I just have to get to work and really make it happen.

What about you guys? What are some things that you’ve learned in the last week? Hit up the comments below.

The Importance of Being Literary

Sloths love both community and Oscar Wilde references.

Sloths love both community and Oscar Wilde references.

I’ve talked before about my literary citizenship class with Cathy Day, where we learn about why, as writers, we should be making an effort to be part of the literary community and how we can do that. For the class, we all had to participate in organizing a literary event. I was in a group of five (click for their blogs) that helped to promote Ball State’s 8th In Print Festival of First Books. If you happen to be in the Muncie area, In Print continues tonight with a panel on publishing and writing. Student Center Ballroom, 7:30 PM, be there or be square.

I have to give a quick plug for the attending authors – Elena Passarello, Marcus Wicker, and Eugene Cross – because they blow me away with their writing. They reminded me just how badly I want to be a writer. I dream of being able to manipulate words and shape stories – in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry – the way they do. Go read them.

Part of this assignment was to blog about the experience of organizing a literary event. I’ve spent weeks trying to figure out how to do that with promoting In Print. What do I talk about? Brainstorming places to advertise? Writing the article for the Muncie Voice? Blowing up Facebook and Twitter? What would be the point of that post? I didn’t want it to read like a homework assignment.

It was a classmate in my nonfiction class that unwittingly gave me my post. On Tuesday, she came up to me and said, “You know about this In Print thing, right? Where do I go?”

She just wanted the information because our professor was giving out extra credit for attendance. She had no idea what she’d done for me. At that moment, I finally felt connected to the festival. I was a person to go to for information – a trusted source. Compared to the huge amount of work that went into putting In Print together, I did very little, but suddenly it felt like it was mine. I was proud. My part in this amazing event may have been minuscule, but I was still part of it. It was on the inside of the literary community and it felt so right.

If you’re a writer or a reader, go get involved. Volunteer and spread the word. If you can’t find an event to be part of, go make one. Help your fellow writers. Be a literary citizen. You won’t regret it.