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Wednesday
Nov142012

Copycat? 

Question of the day: How do you deal with your story ideas that overlap or are eerily similar to another author's? I have been working on a "do-over" book for the last three years.  I just read the website of another one of my favorite authors who was describing a new novel she has coming out.  It is almost the exact same story as mine. I have been literally sick to my stomach for the last three hours since I read her post.  I thought I would ask you this question not only because I value your opinion, but also because you, too, have written a book where the main character is swept back into the past (LOVED Time of My Life, by the way!). One of my biggest fears about my storyline is believability of what is happening to the character, but to throw the fact that I now feel like a fraud on top of it is crippling me to the point of wanting to chuck the whole thing!  

This is a GREAT question, and please know that you are not alone in your struggles with worrying about originality and being a copy-cat. My dear friend, Laura Dave, often says that there are like, seven ideas in the world, and authors just spend their time writing or rewriting these ideas. Which is to say that a lot of us cover the same themes and same stories, but we all hope to repurpose them in a way that's never been done.

Does that always happen? Well...no. But that doesn't mean that you should quit. For example, shortly after Time of My Life came out, I was told about a book called What Alice Forgot. A lot of readers wrote to tell me that it reminded them of TOML. I hadn't read it, so I didn't know. WAF did gang-busters. Shortly after that, I came out with The Song Remains the Same. A lot of reviewers then compared Song to WAF! And I picked up WAF last week and can definitely see the comparisons. But should I not have written it? No way. I think I put my own spin on the book and (while I haven't finished it yet, so I can't say for sure), I think both books - What Alice Forgot and The Song Remains the Same - stand on their own. 

All of that said, I totally understand your panic. NO ONE wants to be accused of cribbing an idea. But the truth is that unless you share the exact same brain, your book is bound to be different than the other author's. I mean, it simply has to be because you are a different writer. Does this mean that yours will be harder to sell, since she beat you to the punch? Maybe yes (if her sales do poorly or the market for this type of book tightens) but maybe no (it's not as if other vampire books had a tough time once Twilight took off). I guess what I'm saying here is that this shouldn't be a reason to quit. Maybe you'll write a BETTER book than said author. Or maybe you won't. But there will be dozens of reason why your book will or won't be successful - this is just one of them. 

One last note: I used to not read any authors who wrote similar books to mine while I was in the thick of the writing process. I was too worried that I would unintentionally copy them, whether it was their ideas or their phrasing. If there is a book that is already out that is truly very similar to your concept, I might skip reading it, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. Then, I DO think you run the risk of letting that other book get in your head. I've since ditched this rule (for myself) because I've discovered that reading work from my peers really inspires me to get busy writing, but for many years, this rule worked for me, and assured (me) that I was coming up with 100% original work. (With the understanding that you have to go back to Laura's idea: many of us are pulling off of the same themes and emotions - it's what you do with it from there that makes it original and your own.)

Readers - have you ever run into this scenario? How did you handle it? 

Thursday
Nov082012

How to "Draw In" an Agent

Question of the day: Agents have said they love my concept but they aren't "drawn in."  I wrote it in the third person. Do you think that changing it to first person POV will help?

Without having read the manuscript in question, I can offer an assured...maybe. :)

Is that not helpful?

Okay, I'll elaborate. On one hand, yes, I think that there is no doubt that first person POV draws readers in more quickly and is often (not always) easier for the reader to relate to. So if this is truly your only hiccup, then yes, I'd say rewrite it. On the other hand, "not drawn in" may be agent speak for "I'm just not that into you." Agents are people too, and they don't want to have to be the bad guy and say, "Gee, I really just don't like this," so "not drawn in," may effectively be their way of saying they're not interested on taking you on date #2.

Again, I haven't read the manuscript, so I can't say. If you really think this is an amazing concept, and your rejections are simply a matter of execution - and you're willing to invest the time in more or less entirely rewriting the manuscript - then I say go for it. The only thing I will say as cautionary advice is that sometimes, writers have a hard time seeing the forest through the trees. In other words, perhaps this manuscript was a tool for you to figure out how to become a better writer and not the one you ultimately sell. I have one of those tucked away in the figurative back of my drawer, and let me tell you, I am soooooo grateful that it never got published. At the time, I didn't see it that way. But now that I've honed my skills, I can and I do. Not every book you write is necessarily going to be a good one, and this is more often true of first books. So if you can, try to assess the manuscript honestly and objectively, and if you can't do that right now, perhaps step away from it for a few months and return to it with fresh eyes. If you still think it's as good as you do now, then invest the time in reworking it. The other option is to have someone else read it, someone whose opinion you trust, and be okay with his/her honest feedback. Our critique partners often see the flaws that we cannot.

So...a murky answer to your question. The bottom line is that rewriting it will certainly prove valuable for you as a writer - it will give you the chance to continue to stretch yourself and flex your writing muscles, but just be sure that you'd still be okay in the end if the manuscript doesn't sell. Even after all of your work. 

What say you readers? Would you recommend that she rewrite the ms? Or do you think she'd be better off focusing her energy elsewhere? Has anyone ever rewritten a ms with a different POV and had success?

Monday
Nov052012

Finding Online Support

Hi guys! I had some downtime, so I'm back to blogging for a bit as a way to keep busy and continue exercising my writing muscles. I'll post a few questions and answers, and I'll try my best to keep this up until one of my projects gets the green light. So if you have questions that you'd like me to answer, feel free to post them in the comments section, tweet me or post them on FB. Thanks!

Question of the day: Which which writers' groups/associations would you recommend joining? As an aspiring women's fiction writer, I'm not sure if I fit in with many of the mainstream groups. I'm looking to find my tribe, beta readers, and a critique group, yet everything seems skewed towards straight romance, YA, or paranormal/dystopian/fantasy now. Which networks have helped you and provided the most support?

I wanted to post this on the main blog rather than answer it on the FB thread because I'm sure that there are some amazing resources out there about which I'm unaware. When I was heavily freelance writing, I found FreelanceSuccess.com to be INVALUABLE. Truly. Possibly the best freelance resource and support network around. I do know that many of their members are dabbling in fiction these days, so it may be worth checking out - last I checked, there was a free week of access available to their forums. If you're looking to break into magazines or websites, I highly recommend FLX.

As far as fiction/books, I used to be a member of Backspace, which has a slew of both aspiring and established authors who weigh in and offer advice/support on the forums. Definitely worth checking out. The administrators often have agents and editors stop by and answer questions, which is obviously very cool and provides a lot of added value.

Those are my two favorites. I'm sure that there are many others that have cropped up since I really relied on forums and networking. Anyone want to weigh in on other great options for critiques and overall support?

Friday
May182012

What Are You Afraid Of?

Happy Friday, guys! 

I wanted to share this piece that I wrote for Monica Bhide's wonderful blog, about the reasons that writers are daunted and/or afraid of writing fiction. I'm so glad that she asked me to write this because it gave me the opportunity to think through some of my own fears and how I got over them.

Click here to read it - hope you enjoy!

Monday
May142012

What Is Now Asked of a Writer

Did you guys see this piece in the New York Times this weekend? Jennifer Weiner tweeted it out, and I'm so glad that it caught my eye. (I subscribe to the Times, but I'll be honest in saying that I don't always have time to read it until a few days later!)

Anyway, it's about exactly what we've been discussing here on this blog: how much times have changed in the publishing world, in terms of what is asked of authors. Publishers used to want one book a year. Now they want TWO. And in between that, they want social media, short stories and a variety of other things. It's no wonder a lot of us are tired. (And I'm not slamming the publishers. They're doing what they must, I suppose, to keep reader interest.)

For me personally, I could never write two books a year. I have friends who do, and I applaud them. But I know that my quality would suffer, suffer, suffer, and I also don't think that I'd have anything fresh to write about. And I think it's really detrimental to write a book for the sake of writing a book. But this may just be the brave new world of publishing. Only the strong will survive. :) 

That said, and I completely understand why publishers want to have new material at hand all the time, I do wonder about oversaturation. Yes, in the article, they say that there's no concern about this, but I still wonder. People buy fewer and fewer books these days, and unless you're a household name (say a James Patterson - who doesn't even personally write his books anymore, I believe), I really don't know if readers can keep up. In theory, of course they can, but do they? I can only speak anecdotally to this but certainly, I had/have favorite authors who produce book after book, and it's not that I'm trying to lose track but I do. I may not buy the new one if I still haven't read the last one. Again, I know that the industry peeps refute this idea, but I don't know...I'd be curious to see data (which I will never see, so I'm only asking this hypothetically) of authors who publish this frequently. I bet this amped up cycle helps the big names, but for the mid-list authors? I'm unconvinced. Which, then, of course, raises the whole other issue: if you're doing everything that the industry asks of you and not seeing your sales bump up to the big time, what else are you supposed to do?

I guess that's the question that everyone - including the folks in the article - are asking themselves these days. What do you think? Is more product the answer to the lagging industry?

Saturday
May122012

You Guys Inspired Me - Thank You!

So after our long, wonderful, complicated discussion a few weeks ago on what happens if we want to redefine ourselves and our careers, I started thinking about writing about this issue and how I was wrestling with it.

The end result is this essay that has just been posted (just in time for Mother's Day) on Psychology Today.

I hope you'll take a moment and click over. All of your comments on guilt and work and stress and ambition really resonated with me, so thank you for the help and the inspiration!

Happy Mother's Day to all of you out there who are wrestling with the same questions, and to those who aren't too. :)

Click Here To Read

Wednesday
May022012

Glamour Magazine - Book Pick for June!

I've been a Glamour reader for as long as I can remember, so this is a true thrill. Yay!

Wednesday
Apr252012

I'm Back! And Questions About What's Next

So...that didn't last long, did it?

:)

Okay, so I'm back. But I can't promise much. Here is what I'm thinking. I want to have a place to talk about the writing world and to talk with all of you, but I'm not yet sure how to manage that place. Is there something that you would like to see in this space that you can't find elsewhere? Because there are already so many good blogs out there. I'd like to find a middle ground where we can all still come together to chat, to share, but where I don't have to update three times a week or feel like I haven't fulfilled my duty.

I really realized the value of this space over the past few weeks of the book launch. The truth is that - and I've talked about this over probably the course of the past year - I'm a little burned out. But I've realize these past few weeks that burn out isn't the right term for it. What I think has instead happened is that my priorities have shifted...and the reason I'm raising it here and opening it up for discussion is because this is happening to so many other writers. It is what many of us are talking about behind figurative closed doors: what else is there to do besides write novels?

And it's not because we love to write any less but because the business has shifted to a point where what comes next (after writing a book) is exhausting and (at least for me) not enjoyable. With every book (and this takes nothing away from my amazing publishers and the amazing team behind THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME), authors are asked to tap-dance a little more. And for me (again, just personally speaking), I have started to ask myself: at what price? I have young kids who are at an age when they are really interesting to me...I want to be here, be present as much as I can. I didn't want to go out on tour for this book because I wanted to stay home. I don't want to lose sleep at night over what else I can be doing because I don't want to be crabby for them the next day. I don't want to read to them at bedtime and not even remember what I read because I'm so distracted with the clutter of my day. 

And yet, because this is simply what the industry demands (and this is not me complaining!), in order to really get the book out there, I should probably be doing all of the above. It is getting harder and harder to convince people to buy books. Which means that with every launch, authors have to tap-dance more furiously. All of which is fine. There are a lot of authors who will do that - AND THAT IS TRULY AWESOME. I mean it. For my last few books, I did, and I'm glad that I did. 

But now...is it that I care less? I don't think so. I believe that this is the best book I've ever written. I want it to be read widely and well. But also...I have discovered that I care more about other things too. This is the plight that many working moms experience, to be sure: what matters more? What fills me up more? There are no easy answer, the lines are always blurry. Writing matters so much to me, but - and maybe this is me getting older or maybe it is just me getting tired! - but my ambition doesn't seem nearly as important .And perhaps most on point, that "success" comes in a lot of different measures. I always knew this (of course), and we've talked about it here before. But what happens - for you aspiring writers out there - if you never get published? How will you redefine your idea of success? What happens - for all of us - if we don't write another novel? How do we redefine ourselves? 

I don't have the answer to the above question. I'm trying to figure that out: I've been wrestling with it for a while now (as some of you could probably tell on here!). :) Some of this means that I'm branching out - as I've explored screenwriting for the past year, and some of this has come as I've spent more time with my kids and decided that I wanted to have a firmer definition of who I was outside my writing. I don't yet know what that is. But I do know that a lot of writers are asking themselves these questions too. If you aren't up for the hustle and the highs and the lows of book publishing, how else can you fill yourself up? 

For me, right now, I believe that you have to be proud of what you wrote, put it out into the world, and then go home and move on. I am super-proud of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME, and that is where it begins and ends. That's all I know. As for what's next? I'm not sure, and I know that a lot of my friends aren't either. But maybe we can all talk about it here. What do you think?

Wednesday
Apr112012

A Big Week With Some Big News!

TOMORROW IS THE DAY! THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME hits stores everywhere, and I sincerely hope that you will all go out and grab a copy. (More on that below.) 

In other news, I also have a semi-big announcement: after six years of blogging, I'm going to be taking a break from Ask Allison. I'm not closing down the blog necessarily, but to be honest, I think it's time to put this to rest: I think I've answered every question that can possibly be asked on publishing, and there are so many other amazing blogs out there that now help aspiring writers on their way. When I started this there weren't. I can't tell you how much I've loved connecting with all of you over the years - truly, this is like a nice, little community, and I am so, so, so appreciative of all of your comments and emails. But, well, like any good thing, you'd like to go out on top, and I kind of feel like this is the top for me. And that as I get busier and busier, I'm bound to lose momentum.

SO. That said, I will ask a small favor, something I don't think I've ever done (or perhaps done once) in the course of these six years. And that is to go to a bookstore or to a website, and purchase THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME this week or next, during these early critical days of the release. If you don't want to buy my book, buy someone else's. I mean it. What has become abundantly clear to me over the past few years, as I've learned more and more about the industry, is that all of it, everything, hinges on readers. And as writers and aspiring writers, we have to be the ones who support and sustain this process. One day, every reader on here will hopefully be in a position of asking others to buy your book, and if they do not, or others do not, well, to be blunt, you won't be a published writer for long.

That is the truth of the industry: if you are a writer, it is in some ways almost an obligation to support others. I do. If I know an author, I will buy his or her book. Almost without fail every single time. This means that I buy a lot of books that I never have the chance to read. (And I know I'm in a fortunate position to be able to afford this.) But it also means that I have done my part to help sustain our industry and to help support my friends.

Look, again, this isn't a plea for my personal book sales. (Although, I won't complain if you want to nudge them along!) :) This is about ALL of our careers, and I hope it doesn't come off as opportunistic or guilt-inducing or manipulative. It's none of those things, I promise. It's simply the truth: authors need people to buy their books. So this weekend, buy a book or request one from your library. Any book: there are so many good ones out there. Remember that you're not only boosting that author's sales, but you're boosting the industry - the one you are part of or hope to be part of - too. 

Anyway, this isn't goodbye! I will be back here with some author interviews and news and surely, some other blog posts. (In fact, if you have suggestions, by all means, post them below.) But for now, I'm going to take a breather. The blog will stay up, so you are always welcome to come back and search for tips or advice, no worries about that. And do click on the links in my blogroll - there are some fantastic sites out there for writers.

Thank you so much once again for six years of fabulousness. I hope I've helped steer a few of you on your way. I know that you have certainly helped enrich my own life and writing these past few years too.

Monday
Apr092012

The Difference Between Book One and Book Four

So THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME is offically out on Thursday (more about that later this week), but I'm guessing that a few of you will be able to find copies a few days early. Yay! I finished this book a year and a half ago, and needless to say, I'm excited for it to make its way out into the world. I think, of my four books, I might be the most proud of this one, so I do hope you'll pick up a copy!

What's been interesting this time around - and a few of you have asked me this, as have some friends (and my parents, who have remarked that I am noticeably MORE SANE with this release) - is how different my approach is to the release. There is a lot to be learned between the publication of book one and book four, and I feel like I'm reaping the benefits of experience right now.

Namely, this is what I've realized: there are very, very few things that are within your control when it comes to a book release. Authors don't like to hear this, and even more so, they don't like to accept it. I wonder if, by nature, authors are control-freaks. I tend to be when it comes to my work. We ruminate over tiny words, tiny changes we'd like to make. We want things to be just so, with our phrasing, our characters, our intonations, our...everything. And thus, it is a very difficult lesson to learn that once the book is out of your hands, in many ways, it's no longer yours. Your cover will be determined by someone else, your marketing will be determined by someone else, your budget (for co-op, ads, etc) will be determined by someone else. And of course, your reviews are entirely out of your control.

Are there things that you can try to do? Well, of course! You can hire publicists, you can (and should) get your agent to advocate for you every step of the way so that said budget (the specifics of which you won't be privy to), said cover, said attention, is best played in your favor. You can send out early copies to all of your book blogger friends, you can ask people to review it as widely as possible. 

HOWEVER.

(And this is the part that authors don't like to hear.)

Despite all of this, there are still many, many bigger factors that come into play once your book is out into the world. Like what other books are released that month. Like what news breaks that shrinks the review space in People magazine. Like whether or not your publisher buys you co-op, and even if they do, whether or not it will be long enough to make a huge impact. Like whether or not the sales rep at Barnes and Noble liked your cover, and even if he or she did, if he placed a big enough order for readers to find the book at most of the stores. Like if bad weather hits and people decide not to go to the bookstore (or perhaps - good fortune - they decide TO go to the bookstore). Who knows? There are a million reasons why books do well and don't do well, and this is what I've learned by book four: I'VE GIVEN UP TRYING TO QUANTIFY ALL OF THESE REASONS.

Honestly, I mean it. I hope to high hell that THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME sells a bajillion copies. (Please, please go get your copy now!) But I can't say what is in the cards for it because too much of it is out of my hands. If it were up to me alone? Well, sure, it's #1 on the Times list. :) But it's not up to me alone. 

This is the lesson I've learned. It's a hard lesson, but most veteran writers eventually learn it too. You go out and you hustle, hustle, hustle. And then, there's nothing else to do but pray. :)