Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Is this publishable?"


People often ask if their mss. are "publishable." I used to think that was a question editors, agents, and even other authors could answer accurately -- about a finished ms. or even an idea.

But the more time I've spent in publishing, the more strongly I believe that the only person who can REALLY answer that question is an editor in a position to offer you a contract. And even she can only say (in effect, the answer is rarely this blunt):

"Yes, we'll publish this"
"Maybe, if you....."
"No, we won't."

If she doesn't say yes, the reasons she gives or the editorial suggestions she makes may or may not apply to other publishers.

I think, too, that it's tempting to interpret what is essentially a polite rejection as "maybe," or to take comments made without much thought, commitment or hope of seeing your ms. again too seriously.....  For how to interpret letters that don't say yes (sometimes they really do mean "maybe" and say why!), see Alvina's wonderful post, Decline Letters 101.)

Writing a novel takes a long time and huge amount of work; it would be nice if there were a way to tell before it's finished if anyone will ever publish it. But  the only way to find out is to finish it (really finish it -- a first draft may not even hint at the final version!), send it out, and see what happens.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

value & hype

Recently, the pursuit of filthy lucre has been on my mind.

Perhaps it's because of my decision to have an original art trunk sale.  Even though I am starting to feel stressed as I watch my expenses rise as my income (due to limited work time) lowers, I also feel guilty and confused about how to price my art.  People are weird about art--what is expensive to one person is a bargain to another. What I consider deeply discounted, others might think is still too much. And, if I discount the art too much will it devalue it? In art school, I remember vividly teachers telling students never to sell their art or skill cheaply. "If you don't value your own art, how do you expect others to?" they said.

But, what I want most is that the art ends up with people who love it, regardless of how much they paid. In a way, I'd almost rather just give it away--especially after I watched this Ted Talk by Amanda Palmer:

But I'm not sure how it would work. So, I guess right now, unless something better comes to mind,  I'll stick with the trunk sale and just try to muddle through (by the way, there's still time to sign up to be on the trunk sale list; I'm aiming for the first batch of art to go on sale the first week in April).

And related to my path of money-grubbing thoughts, I also read this interview of Neal Pollack which contained this  quote:

I spent a lot of years trying to turn myself into a brand because they told us self-branding is a way to success. And I kind of believed the hype. It’s just not true. To this day, I see writers publishing their first book or their second book and I can just see them going overboard with the marketing and getting all hyped up about it. You just have to write. 

 Even though he is an adult author, I thought it was an extremely interesting. The article indicates that the coveted hype around a book  just might not be that valuable after all. Which I found both hopeful and disheartening. Hopeful because I think it just shows that the only real success one can can have being an author is writing something you truly love. But disheartening because that success may never pay the bills. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Excuses, prize (book or chocolate) and new end date


I've asked the other Blue Rose Girls, and the contest now has a prize and lasts longer:

  • the prize is the BRGs book of your choice, signed and  of course mailed to you OR  chocolate, dark or milk, also your choice.....if you want to stay anonymous, you can still enter -- if you win, just email us your name, address and prize choice.
  • the new end-date is  April 1.

Send us your 50 word story as a comment -- all (or maybe I should say, ANY! -- it's two days and no one has entered anything) entries will then be posted all together so readers can vote. The winner will be announced on the blog.

How long does it take to write 50 words???? When my friend emailed ME about the contest, my first reaction was to start an email explaining why I couldn' second was just to write the damn thing.

That took less time than the excuse.

Perhaps I can extrapolate? I can and will -- and even if no one enters the contest, something good will have come out of it for me (if I remember this the next time I am telling myself why I can't write).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

a Girl Scout Storyteller

All the way in December, which seems like years ago,  a videographer came to film me for a little movie for the Girl Scouts. When they first requested the filming, I was completely honored however I was also in a bit of a quandary about where to shoot. Should I wait until the studio was set up in the new house? (Good thing I didn't as it's still not set up yet). Would we be able to clean the studio to a degree of decency in the apartment? In the end, Lexan, the understanding videographer filmed me strategically in the living room so that we would only have to straighten up a few shelves.
Here's how the video turned out:

Thank you, Lexan! Thank you, Girl Scouts!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Writing contest imported from Scotland


In Scotland every month they have a contest: write a story in fifty words. They always give you a prompt-- this month, it was "Use ‘Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave') Op. 26’ by Felix Mendelssohn as your starting point."

I found out about the contest from a friend, after the deadline -- she suggested that we do it and email each other our 50 words, just for fun.

We did -- and it WAS fun. Would you like to join us and post your story in the Comments? I will cut and paste them all into one post next week -- with or without real names, as each author prefers.

My Scottish friend wants to remain anonymous. I will tell whose is whose when I  post all the stories next week....if no one sends any, I'll still say which is mine--or maybe you know me well enough by now to guess?

And for the non-Scots (I am considering myself McLibby these days): these notes may make our stories more comprehensible.  "Island bred" could mean ANY island, but Staffa (where Fingal's Cave is) makes it one of the Hebrides....."turbine" means wind turbine. These provide much of the country's electricity and are a source of bitter controversy (and complaining) on many of the islands. Anyhow, here are our stories.




“Leave the iPad behind!” 
 My island-bred kids are sullen.  The speedboat will deprive them of cyber-fun:  “Been to Staffa before… Too cold…. Get seasick….. ”
Slumped, reluctant shoulders are slowly, inadvertently uplifted into sea- spray, wind and sunlight as the boat jolts through glistening waves, then planes – exultant - towards open sea.

# 2

The Hebrides switched off with his computer. Relieved at the excuse to stop writing, Hamish pretended only electricity had been needed to complete a masterpiece.
His wife said nothing to his turbine tirade; he got a beer.
“While it’s still cold,” he added, expecting disapproval --  not the meat ax.

Friday, March 08, 2013

learning school's limitations

The more I travel the more I learn about schools lesson plans, librarians' likes and dislikes, and what schools won't accept.

When I was in Georgia last week I was surprised when the librarian explained that she'd ordered a series of nonfiction books on animals... and pointed to one on seahorses. She explained that the seahorse book was going back to the publisher.


Because of the page on mating.

It had a very similar photo to the one below:

The text for the book series was VERY simple. I didn't read the one on seahorses because it was put on the "return" cart and sent away. But I read the rest in the series. It was for very young kids, with one sentence per page... so the sentence with the seahorses probably said something like, "And seahorses mate." 

The librarian's assistant told me she couldn't believe that the library couldn't have the book. Moreover, she said that the book couldn't be at the high schools! What? I said, "But don't they have sex education?" She said yes, but that the kids need to bring in permission slips, etc. etc. Then I commented that what is on TV on a daily basis is FAR worse than seahorses leaning into one another. She agreed whole heartedly. 

So for us authors writing nonfiction it becomes a debate: do we risk some school systems not carrying our books or do we play it safe and not include certain subjects?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Authors and their characters

A few weeks ago, while waiting for comments on my book,  I got addicted (not too strong a word) to a Swedish detective series, so addicted that it got in the way of my own writing and life.

When I reached the end of the series, I started the books, which weren't nearly as good -- not only because of the great acting on the show. The tv series was based on story ideas from the author, and it seemed to me that he had lightened up and allowed his hero to have and be things he hadn't given him in the books.

An interview in the Guardian said the author sounded "irritated" when he talked about his main character. The author admitted that he was irritated by him -- that he didn't even like him and his serious, pessimistic ways!

Maybe the actor playing the hero influenced the author's feeling. The second series started with the hero laughing at an outdoor party to celebrate something he'd wanted all his life and now had: a house by the sea. He'd bought a dog he loved--something he'd wanted for years. His colleagues were fond of him and he of them, he found a promising potential partner. Things were going far better for Wallander than they ever had.

So I was shocked and horrified by the hopeless ending of the most recent book, one written AFTER the second series. An even worse Epilogue said this was absolutely the end of the story, that the rest of the detective's life was his business and no one else's.

Maybe the author will relent -- a third Swedish series which I THINK takes place in time after the other two  will air sometime this year. Conan Doyle did after all kill off  Sherlock Holmes -- and then write more stories about him.

Final or not, though, this ending and epilog ended my addiction. I'm back into my own novel (and have stopped berating myself that it's not like this detective series, mine has something it doesn't: HOPE -- was it you, Alvina, have said that was one thing children's books had to have, and one thing that made them different from adult books, which might or might not end on a hopeful note?).

But Mankell did know how to create a character. It seems odd to me for an author not to like being possessed by a character he created. (I've always wished that would happen to me.) But I know some authors don't like it. Agatha Christie found Poirot a burden at times and used to have arguments with him:

"What IS an egg-shaped head, anyway?" she'd say.

Whether the authors like it or not, though, I bet that kind of possession is what creates characters who take on a life of their own, outside the book, in readers' heads and on TV and in movies, even  to people who have never read the books or seen the movies, but know who the characters are. And maybe that's what makes the authors bring them back to life, too, even after they've killed them off: the characters stubbornly refuse to die.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Original Art Trunk Sale

As you know, I'm moving! One of the things I've been thinking about is lightening my flat files. They are just stuffed with art and I can't fit anything else in. It's time to make an art purge!

But what to do? At first I thought I'd just give it all to an archive like the Dodd Center  but it does seem a little sad to think of all of it just sitting in a vault (not that it's doing much more in my flat files). I'd love the art to be seen and enjoyed.

Then, my good friend Janet Wong suggested that I have special online "trunk sale" of my artwork for schools and librarians. I could offer them  the opportunity to purchase my art at a discounted price, it  would be displayed instead of put in a vault AND I it would be financial aid for our move!

The first 12 pieces will go on sale in a couple of weeks and I'm making a special list for it. If you are a teacher or librarian* and would be interested in purchasing my art, please sign up to be on the list HERE. There will be a choice to be on my newsletter list or the trunk sale list---make sure you click "Original Art Trunk Sale"  to be on the list but feel free to sign up for both (I have special giveaways on my newsletters, too).

Please spread the word! If you are a PTO member, please let your teachers and librarian know and have them get on the list! Tell your public librarians. I'd love for my art to be at your library!

*if you are a collector yourself, you are welcome to put yourself on the list, too.