Bare List on New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy 2018! After finishing out 2017 by focusing on friends, family, and finishing projects, I’m back and looking forward to a new year with you. In the spirit of the new year, I wanted to share some resolutions for new and seasoned writers.

These are not a list of lofty goals that equate to broken promises by February 1st, but a list of guiding principles to help make you (and me) a better writer by December 31, 2018.

  1. Pick a monthly focus – Writing is so much more than just writing. There’s creating, revising, researching, editing, querying, community building, meeting, marketing, negotiating, conferencing…the list goes on. To be most effective, all of these must be a priority at certain times, but to prioritize all equally everyday leads to subpar results and burnout. Instead, choose a single priority for every month. Maybe January is editing, February is Community Building, and March is Querying. While you will still be accountable for all of the other responsibilities each month, your focus will be priority one. Not only will it help keep you focused, the change in priority will help keep your routine fresh. Because writing/publishing timelines requires adaptability, I suggest planning in three month intervals. After every quarter, reassess your progress and goals and create the next three focuses accordingly.
  2. Create a writing calendar – Whether it’s online or pen and paper, go ahead and make a calendar for the coming year. In addition to all of your writing dates (deadlines/conferences/seminars/speaking engagements) include any personal dates (vacations/family obligations/recurring extracurricular activities/birthdays/anniversaries/etc.) Being able to see where your time will be limited will help you manage your time the most effectively.
  3. Organize your WIPs – Most of us have a pile of works in progress awaiting love and attention. Take the time to prioritize these works. Separate the “promising for publication” from the “needs a total revamp”. Make sure you have easy access to the stories you truly love and decide what two or three works will be your priority for the year.
  4. Read something outside of your comfort genre – As writers and readers, we tend to find a home in a select few genres. Example, I live for literary fiction, crime thrillers, speculative fiction, and biographical humor. I read it. I write it. I love it. The problem is that reading ourselves into a corner can stunt us. While characters, plot development, language, and even formatting tend to be consistent within a genre, they can vary dramatically across them, and that’s why it’s great to gain experience outside of your literary comfort zone. An autobiography can be improved by the influence and imagery of literary fiction, horror epics could take lessons from the quick and cunning dialogue of the cozy mystery, etc.
  5. Do something outside of your comfort zone – Attend an event with people you barely know, run a race, host an online fundraiser, read an excerpt of your story to a group of strangers, jump out of a plane, hell go to the grocery store on the other side of town. Just do anything, big or small, divergent of your normal operating procedure. It will help expand your outlook and imagination.
  6. Get physical – You don’t need to join a gym, run a marathon, or become a crossfitter, but do something regularly that works your body. Not only will it help relieve your joints and muscles of the toils of hunkering over a computer all day, it will help improve your mood, focus, and creativity.
  7. Call that project done – You know the one I’m talking about. You’ve read it 1,000 times, each time painstakingly scrutinizing every single word, each time changing something ever-so-slightly in the hopes that one day it will be perfection. Here’s the deal: It will never be perfection. At some point, you’ve got to let go of that dream and send your work out into the world. Is it the story you want to tell? Is it edited to a professional standard? Then it’s time to get it out into the world. Give it one more read through, and start querying.
  8. Follow agents – Don’t reach the querying stage and send your work blindly into world hoping someone, anyone, hits. Start researching agents. Lookup the agents of your favorite writers, attend writing conferences, follow them on social media. Get to know the people that you hope to be working with one day. This can prevent you from querying unsavory agencies as well as give you added confidence in your representation.
  9. Write – This may seem like a given, but it can be so easy to get caught up in the administrative aspects of the career that the writing, the very thing that got us all here, gets put on the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Write often. Write on your current projects, write new ones, write words that you never wish to see the light of day. Just keep writing.

Here’s to a 2018 filled with words and purpose!

Bare List on Authenticity

Writing for publication can be a difficult road to navigate. The path is fraught with feedback from everyone from peers to publishers and that can make it tricky to create something publishable while staying true to yourself. At times, it’s tempting to sacrifice a piece of your work or characters to be more palatable for publication or to mask or dilute your own voice to appeal to the masses.

Beta readers, editors, agents, reps, etc. will have have changes they want made to be able to better enjoy or market your novel. Some of these changes will be benign and easily incorporated. Hell, many of them should be made. All of us, pros and rookies alike, have room to learn and grow. No work is perfect and no one makes it straight through the road without making changes.

Sometimes, however, those suggestions alter the course of your work and characters. Occasionally, you’ve written a story about a dog and the agent wants a duck, metaphorically speaking. When you feel like you are in a situation that you have to make a serious change to the essence of your voice or your work, I want you to ask yourself a serious question: Am I being authentic? 

Whatever you put into the world will be scrutinized. It will be picked apart word by word. You will see things about your work that are hurtful, cringe-worthy, and downright cruel. It will be easier for you to weather that storm and stay strong against those attacks on your work if you know you were true to yourself in it’s creation. Similarly, people will love your work. It’s the best damn part of writing, unless you feel like you’ve compromised yourself or your story to make it happen. Authenticity is your shield against evil and conductor of glory. 

Because writing is a subjective field, agents and publishers might not always be on the same page as you when it comes to your novel. They may see a lot of promise in your work, but have preferences that are not in line with the core of your work. It is okay and even encouraged for you to step away from a representative that does not share your goal. It doesn’t make you a bad writer or them a bad agent, it makes you two people who are not aligned on a vision and that vision is crucial to your final product. Let them go find another author in line with their interests and goals while you find an agent more in line with yours.

Is this to say that you need to walk away whenever your agent gives you advice? Absolutely not. There is always room for improvement. ALWAYS. Your agent/editor/publishing rep have a wealth of information about your market and have every reason to give you advice and guidance to make your novel shine. In fact, if there is a shared vision across your team, those edits and revisions are going to add value to your voice and reinforce your authenticity.

No matter what you do, someone will hate your work. There is no universally loved piece of literature. If people are going to hate anyway, let them hate your truth, because only by doing that will you have the chance to reach people who love and need it.

 

Bare List on Queries and Christmas

The holiday season is in full swing. Prophet’s Day, Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Wright Brother’s Day…the list goes on. Pretty much everyone has something to celebrate this time of year, agents included. What does this mean for the novel you’ve tirelessly edited and re-edited until it’s final ready for query? Most likely, it means it’s on ice for the next month or so.

What? How could this be? It’s ready for the world, surely someone will look at it! Someone might, but the opportunities are much smaller this time of year. Many agents close for queries over the holidays for a number of reasons:

  1. Agents are people, too. I know it’s shocking, but as it turns out agents are living, breathing human beings who enjoy the opportunity to be with their families over the holidays.
  2. No one likes starting a new year with a full inbox. The last few weeks of the year can serve as a great excuse to not only spend time with family, but catch up on the work that’s been piling up all year. Closing for queries during the holiday season gives agents a great opportunity to catch up on work while not worrying about queries going to the competition because so many people close during the holidays.
  3. They just want to. Everyone deserves a chance to kick on an autoreply a couple of times a year. When you’re an agent, receiving thousands of queries a year, shutting down for a couple of weeks/months is a totally logical move to be able to manage your work flow.

Whatever the reason, you cannot query an agent that is closed. I’m going to say that again because it is wildly important: DO NOT QUERY AN AGENT CLOSED TO QUERIES. Whether they’re closed for the holidays or at random points during the year, you must not send your manuscript to a closed agent. “But I’m so in love with this agent and I want them to see my work right now and I know they’re going to love it!” They’re not. Unless they’ve specifically requested your materials, which puts you outside of the unsolicited queries category, an agent is not even going to see your work if you send it while they are specifically closed for queries. Your hard work will be sent into the recesses of cyberspace as part of a mass “delete”.

How will I know if an agent is closed? It will be listed on their agent page on the agency’s website and their social media pages. 

If you are interested in working with an agent currently closed to queries, it is in your best interest just to have patience. I know, there’s that damn word again. Patience. Get used to having a lot of that as a writer.

Not all agents close during the holidays, so if you are not tied to a specific list of agents, you can submit to any that are not closed. That said, you need to use the same discretion that you would in more open seasons of the year. Research your agent/agency to ensure they are interested in receiving your work. Don’t sling your novel at anyone just because they are open. That’s another quick way to get rejected. You still need to make sure they are interested in your genre/voice/plot/etc.

I know you’re excited to get your work to the world, but don’t let your enthusiasm trump your good sense. Instead, grab a glass of eggnog and use this time to read, get started on another project, free-write, perfect your query letter, do the dreaded synopsis, or conduct a FINAL final revision of your current manuscript. Oh, and also, get in some time with family. Those guys are important, too.

Happy Holidays and Merry Querying (or not)!

 

Bare List on Rejection

“Have you ever been rejected?” asked a friend over dinner a few nights ago. “Yes,” I answered without hesitation. Her eyes widened with shock, not just because she’s an awesome and supportive friend who has always loved my work, but because to many people, books just appear. The outside world doesn’t see the struggle of writing: first drafts riddled with red ink, outlines crumpled in the trash can, rejection emails to fill an inbox.

Maybe my friend was shocked because I admitted my rejection so readily. Wasn’t I embarrassed? No. Rejection is a part of writing. In an objective field, a triangle builder for example (no, I don’t think that’s an actual profession but you see the point) rejection may be avoidable. Does it have three sides? Three angles? Congratulations! You’ve built a triangle. Bonus payout if it’s equilateral. Writing, though, is a subjective field. Criticism and rejection are inherent.

It’s totally understandable that my friend didn’t know this because the outside world and new writers don’t often get the chance to look behind the curtain. We hear stories of how 100 agents passed on Harry Potter, but all we see now is the billion dollar franchise it has become. We look past those “failed” queries because all that’s presented to us is the success. Few writers, myself included, talk about the rejections we receive. We will inundate you with news of our first publication or new release, but we are not posting those rejection emails on a daily basis. Which is why I’m talking about it now. Writing is rejection. Know it, accept it early, and respect it if you’re on the outside of the industry looking in. 

The rejection will begin as soon as you begin the journey to bring your work to the world. You will query agents who will not be interested in your work. Most likely, a lot of them. There is no exact number that you need to query, but most “experts” say at least 80 and I’ve seen up to 120 recommended. That’s a lot of rejections. Can you handle it? Yes, you can, because you’re a writer and that means having courage and resilience.

Even if you are of the lucky .01% that have your first query picked up, you will face rejection as a writer. Someone will hate what you create, and most likely they will be very vocal about their position. In fact, the more people love your work, the louder the voices of the haters will be. 

Rejection is the vehicle through which we improve our craft. Queries getting rejected? Revamp that letter. No one wants more than the five pages? Take a break to make those first five pages pop. Agents keep passing after reading the full manuscript? Take their feedback (there will be feedback if they’ve bothered to read your entire work) and put it to work. Popular critics panning your latest publication? Use their critiques to improve your next work (or ignore them, because, again, it’s a subjective field so you are not obligated to agree with them, especially if there are more critics lauding your words).

Most importantly, don’t take rejection as a sign of failure. Is it deflating? Of course. No one enjoys getting rejected, especially for something that we have given so much of ourselves to, but this is your opportunity to learn and grow. This is the “paying your dues” of the writing world, and honestly, being rejected makes being accepted all the more sweet.

So, writers embarking on a career in this terrifying field, embrace the rejection. Cherish it as a battle wound in a hard fought war, or check on openings as a triangle builder.

Have a rejection story? Share it because I promise, you are not alone. 

 

 

Bare List on the Death of Literature

The debate of the future of literature has raged for generations with academics and critics alike claiming novels to be a dying art form. “Thought provoking prose steeped in imagery and symbolism are dead” claim these elite voices from high horses. We are a “receiver” culture these days. We only want to be entertained and produce algorithmic tomes that are easily read and digested over a lunch hour and leave us as quickly as our club sandwich.

I call bullshit. Literature is not dead, in fact, I will claim here and now that literature will never die. I know this because I know and believe in the writer. Giving life to a novel is giving a piece of yourself to the world. It is a grind and the biggest pay off for most of us is that our words can directly benefit another human being. There are far easier ways to make a lot more money than producing a novel. Has it been done? Are there authors churning out cookie-cutter work to turn a profit? Sure, but they are the exception, not the rule. The majority of us wouldn’t toil away, forsaking better reason and judgement to create something for the world to scrutinize for only a paycheck. We do it because we have stories to tell, lives we hope to change, world’s we want to bring to life. We do it because literature affects us as readers and we want the chance to have the same affect on others.

So, why do these naysayers claim our art dead? A lot of reasons, first and foremost being fear. The world is changing, we consume content in ways we never have before and there’s boundless possibilities for how we will consume it in the future. Some older generations speculate that our “entitled” youth will lose patience for sitting down and reading a book. That they will not want to think hard because in the age of Google, you don’t have to. I know this is wrong because I have children. The one old enough to read keeps his nose buried in books most of his waking hours. He’s read a huge chunk of the “classics” and a large selection of the modern masterpieces, and he’s not alone. The vast majority of his young compatriots share his love of reading. It’s not a “dorky” or “nerdy” thing to do as it was when I was young, it’s a center of their conversation.

Enthusiasm can be cited as another reason for the death call of literature. Thomas Wolfe proclaimed that “New Journalism” would replace novels, meanwhile his fellow Merry Prankster, Ken Kesey, wrote some of the greatest literary works of the 20th century. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion (possibly my favorite novel of all time) were both published amid speculation that literature was dead (1962 and 1964). Did Wolfe believe that Kesey and Thompson were creating mindless dribble that would put the death nail into the novel? No, he believed that the escapades he was embarking on would change the literary world to an extent that novels as we knew them would cease to exist. He had right to be excited. What Wolfe, Thompson, Kesey, and others did was amazing and they have inspired generations of authors and journalists. Their combined works changed the landscape of literature, hell, society, but it didn’t replace literature. It added to it.

Plain old generational snobbery is another factor that keeps the debate alive. The older we get, the more we judge the youth living in our present. Nostalgia and experience dull our senses to accepting new and different ways of doing things. We lose understanding of how Harry Potter could evoke the same emotion as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the same across arts, really. Older generations long for the simpler comedies of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show to today’s Modern Family and New Girl. Does that mean that the sitcom is dead? No. It means that they have changed, evolved. I’m of what I like to call “The Nick at Nite Generation” so I will watch and laugh at any and all of those, but older generations will cling to the first as hard as some younger may cling to the second. It doesn’t make any entity inherently better than the other, but quality is in the eye of the beholder.

Also, and finally, some people are just pretentious little shits who like to claim that all work today is crap because it makes them feel smarter than everyone. These guys are just jerks.

Great works of literature can be entertaining. In fact, it’s best if they are because then they can reach and affect more people. Books are not pain. They are not elitist works meant only to be enjoyed by the academically gifted. They are powerful mechanisms of change. Thought provoking prose and enduring symbolism can be found in many great works of our time. Lives have been changed by thousands of books that have been published this century.

Literature is not dead because writers/readers won’t let it die. If you’re working on the next great masterpiece in literary fiction, keep working. Don’t be dissuade by the condescending voice of the few, write to reach the many that need your words.

Bare List on NaNowWhat?

A week has passed since the #amwriting community closed on NaNoWriMo 2017. You’ve given 30 days of your life to pounding out words, diligently bringing your masterpiece to life. It’s gone from a concept dancing in your brain to a living document awaiting your love and attention. So, now, what do you? Your heart is racing with anticipation for the future of your manuscript. There’s so much work to be done, but where to start? Recruiting a critique circle? Beta readers? Editing? No. None of those. What you’re going to do now with that precious piece of yourself you’ve worked so hard to make happen is break up with it.

Yes, you read that correctly. Break the hell up with your manuscript. 

But why? I love my novel! I’m ready to dive in and make it perfect and watch the future of this perfect prose unfold! I know you are, and that’s why you’ve got to give it a break. You are too emotionally attached right now, too entrenched with your characters. You’ve been involved in a hot and heavy romance with your words and you need some time to cool off. You and your work are going to be involved in a super committed, long term relationship, so you deserve time to sow some wild oats before you’re ready to march down the aisle.

Right now, your work needs to sit. I know you have a lot of ideas bouncing around in your head and probably a stack of notes on what you want to improve, but right now, the work is best served by you forgetting it exists for at least 30 days. I know, it’s horrible to think about. You’ve not worked so hard on this to put it in a drawer and forget about it, but your novel will be better for it. Looking on your work with fresh eyes will give you the opportunity to have a truer sense of the story you’re telling and a more honest regard for the words on the page. You will be pleasantly surprised by some of your choices and mortified by others. That’s the process. If you delve into the editing while you’re still fresh on the heels of every decision you made, you will still have an attachment to those decisions, some of which may be detrimental to your work. You may be in love with something that needs to go or cut something you forced in for deadline that is actually really beneficial. Time helps avoid that.

I know everything in you is screaming at me. You’re already finding ways to sidestep this important part of the process. You’re objective enough, you only need two weeks, you can have beta readers be objective. No, friends. At least this first revision, the responsibility is on you to have that self-restraint and let your novel sit.

So, what can you do while your manuscript simmers?

  1. Write – Never stop writing. You established that you can put the words on the page, so keep doing it. Free write, join writing challenges. December is National Novel Finishing Month, International Plot a Writing Month, and International Story a Day Group. You can join those (and many more all year long) to keep you motivated or start your own.
  2. Read – The best writers are readers. There’s no better way to spend the cold winter months than snuggled up in a cozy chair reading, so hunker down and get to it.
  3. Research – If you want to stay involved with your work, spend your time researching its future. What does the market look like for your genre? How can you best promote your work? What agents best align with your novel?
  4. WIPs – This is a great time to focus on any other work you may have in progress. Edit a novel you loss interest in, expand on that short story you started in free writing last year, send out your older work to some beta readers.
  5. Workout – What? What sweating have to do with writing? A lot. Creativity, focus, and mental stamina are all improved by a healthy workout program. Writing is great for mind and spirit, but sitting at a computer all day is bad for your joints, circulation, and muscles. So, get up and get moving. Yoga is great for flexibility and focus, core training will help save you the back problems inherent of a career in front of the computer, and cardio will give you a chance to brainstorm your next work or get to know your characters a little better.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Share them in the comments.

Bare List on Writing for Free

There’s this insane misconception in the writing world that it is acceptable to be paid in “exposure”. Are there situations where this may be true? Certainly. If the Rock asks you to write a piece for him to endorse and share on his media outlets solely for exposure, do it. Here’s the thing though: Dwayne Johnson is not going to ask you to shlep your craft for free because he is an artist and he recognizes that it takes a lot of work to create something meaningful.

You know who doesn’t respect your hard-earned words? Big content companies like Huffington Post and LA Weekly who want to exchange your grind for the bleak chance that you will be able to build a fan base while earning them the big bucks. I know, as an aspiring author/journalist it can be INSANELY tempting to submit to any outlet that offers the possibility of seeing your story in print. This post isn’t about shaming anyone or getting on a high horse and proclaiming that wanting to work for free makes you a “less than”. It’s not that AT ALL. I completely get why aspiring writers would gravitate towards these outlets. It’s part of paying your dues? There are unpaid internships in every industry, this is no different, right? Wrong. Being published by media corporations hoping to lower their labor cost by piggy-backing on your hard work is not the equivalent of an unpaid internship. Here’s why:

  1. You’re not learning the industry – Media outlets, publishers, agents, etc. do not follow the same process as Content Monsters that just ask you to submit work for them to publish/reject. Internships/apprenticeships/first jobs are meant to give you experience in your field. To grow your knowledge base and make you more comfortable in that world. Free content contribution is like being a cashier at McDonald’s when you aspire to be the next sous chef for Emeril: they’re in the same industry, but it’s a long, complicated road to get where you want to go.
  2. You will not build a network – These companies sell young writers on the idea that by being published with their outlet, they will have the opportunity to gain exposure and that’s more valuable than money. Exposure is valuable, especially when you’re starting out, BUT a microscopic amount of writers actually gain communities from these outlets. You will work your ass off for maybe three extra Twitter followers. However, the outlet still gets money. It’s not a symbiotic relationship.
  3. Your resume will not be boosted One of the MAJOR benefits of internships is that they look good on a resume when you head out into the world to find a job. Being an unpaid contributor to a Big Content outlet will not do the same for you. Agents, publishers, journalists, etc. are familiar with these organizations and 99% of the time will not be impressed that you’ve had work published there.
  4. You risk hurting your work – These companies have a formula for what they want to publish, and often times it is below the grade that you are capable of writing. They either want easy reads that are easily shared or emotionally charged rants that care more about evoking rage than stating facts. This is not what yo want your potential employers to see.
  5. Your work is worth getting paid for – Yes, you are new. You have no credentials and writing is a hard industry to break into for a lot of people. I get that. I do. But hear me: your words are worth money. Your plots may still need work, your voice may need refinement, but you are in this world working and striving to get better, and that’s how I know you are going to make it one day. Do not sell yourself short because you are afraid of going for the paid outlets. Do not be deterred because you’ve got a stack of rejection letters the size of a doctoral dissertation. THAT’S PAYING YOUR DUES. That’s your unpaid internship: submitting, getting destroyed, and getting back up again. Taking the feedback that people who respect writers are willing to give you and moving forward until the RIGHT outlet(s) are ready to publish your work. Believe that. 

Writing is a hard industry. It comes with a lot of rejection and self-doubt and Big Media Corporations prey on that. They know that you are willing to work and grind and do whatever it takes, and they’re looking to get a paycheck they have not earned off of your blood, sweat, and tears. Don’t let them. Your words are worth more.

Do you have experience with any of these media corporations? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.