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Tuesday
Feb072012

Ignore the Bad, Embrace the Good

Question of the day: How do you deal with negative reviews? I'm a new author, and every once in a while, I read a stinging review, and I just want to curl up and die.

Oy. Look, there are no two ways around it: getting a terrible review sucks. The end.

But here's the thing, much like a break-up or a bad day, I've found that over time, bad reviews are but a distant memory. In fact, within days, you barely remember them. I once got eviscerated in the Washington Post (the review was so awful that my agent called me to ask if I knew the reviewer personally and had, like, stolen her boyfriend or something), and the review was so bad it literally knocked my breath from me. Like, stopped my heart. But what was I going to do? I couldn't do anything. It was one person's opinion, and an unfortunate opinion, sure, but it's not as if my fretting and worrying over it could change one thing that I'd written or any of the words that had been published.

When I get a bad review, I try to remember that many, many other people have enjoyed the book (and many people had to sign off on it on the road to publiciation), and as I said above, that in the end, it's just one person's opinion. Sure, it's one person who happened to have access to a public outlet (though with Amazon and Goodreads these days, this obviously has become a MORE public practice), but that's really it.

And then I try to forget about it. What's amazing is that eventually, you do.

 

Thursday
Feb022012

Green With Envy

Question of the day: I don't know if this happens often to you, but lately, I've been struck with severe pangs of professional jealousy - total envious of other authors' success. Do you ever feel this way, and if so, how do you deal?

I don't think you can be human, much less a writer, and not occasionally feel jealous, when so much of your success feels out of your control. Professional jealousy is almost expected in our industry, but that said, to be honest, I'm not terribly plagued by it. Which isn't to say that I don't occasionally read a highly-praised book and think: really??, or watch a book totally soar in sales or on the best-seller list and wonder just how the heck that happened.

But.

But then I remember how subjective our industry can be. That so much of it depends on what a publisher decides for you or what sort of big review you land or a whole host of things that you'd never imagine. And I also try to remember that one author's success has nothing to do with my own success: that the sandbox is big enough for us all, and if, for example, a woman author does wildly well, then it only means that there's a market for her, and therefore, there may be a market for me too.

Here's the tricky thing about our industry: so much of it feels personal and yet very little of it should be taken personally. One author will always get better co-op, better sales, better attention than you. Seriously. ALWAYS. You will always find a way to compare yourself to your peer - maybe she got a better advance or maybe he got sent on a tour and you didn't, or maybe you're still working to sell your first manuscript and your critique partner sold hers, and frankly, you think hers sucks.

Guess what? TOO BAD. Your jealousy is pointless unless you use it as motivation to work harder. That's really all you can do. You can ADMIRE another's success rather than envy it...and it's still okay to covet that success at the same time. I guess that's the long-winded answer to you question: sure, I sometimes see what happens to others and wish that it could happen to me. But I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm envious, rather I admire it, and I then consider the ways that I can make it happen for myself.

It's okay to be jealous. It's really the question of what you do next that matters.

What say you guys? Do you experience professionally jealousy? If so, how do you cope?

Tuesday
Jan312012

Revising Over Time

Question of the day: I was wondering if the revision process has changed with each successive book? Or has it pretty much stayed the same, honed in part by your background in magazine writing?

Good question and one that I can answer with certainty: YES, absolutely it has changed, but a lot of the reason that it has changed is because my first drafts are so much stronger than they used to be. Which is part of the reason that I always encourage aspiring writers to KEEP WRITING. Because I really believe that you have the opportunity to get better each time out.

Essentially (and this is something that I probably didn't realize in my early days of crafting fiction), the overall structure of a book really doesn't vary from book to book. (At least not in my genre.) Much like a movie, you have a first act, a second act, and a third act. And while I don't write with these acts in mind necessarily (at least not like I write with them in mind as I do with a screenplay, when you have much less flexibility), I DO know that around, say, page 50, xyz has to happen. And by page 150, xxyyzz has to happen. And that with about 50 pages to go, I need to reach the height of conflict, and that the last, say, 30 pages are spent resolving said conflict. Obviously, these are very general terms, but what I'm trying to say is that now, I can craft the structure of a book without too much thought. For my first two books, I'm not sure that this was the case. In fact (and I've said this here before), I ended up axing the first 99 pages of the first draft of The Department of Lost and Found. The page you now read as PAGE ONE in the published book was actually page 100 when I submitted it to my agent. (Seriously!)

That doesn't mean that I hit it out of the park now on my first draft. But I do understand the beats that a book must hit, as well as how to rachet up conflict, and that has really helped. But, for example, in SONG REMAINS THE SAME, I have several chapters that are told in third person. Originally, these were all done in first person, albeit first person of a variety of characters. My editor thought that it would make more sense to switch these all to third person, and thus I did. (And she was right.) So the second draft reflected those types of changes. Additionally, I've sharpened my dialogue skills (I think), so I spend less time writing and rewriting and rewriting those aspects. (Though I still rewrite plenty!)

Hope that helps! 

Anyone else want to share if you've become a better reviser over time?

Thursday
Jan262012

Revising, Revising, Revising

Question of the day: How many drafts does it often take you to go from first draft to final draft?

A good question, and one that varies slightly depending how comfortable I am with the overall arc and conception of the book.

The first draft, for me, is really about laying down the skeleton: it is inevitably nothing that I ever want anyone to read other than my editor, agent and critique partner (and sometimes, not even them). I don't aim for perfection; I aim to get the structure and general tone/feel of the book down - it's really for figuring out what the book is going to be about and what it's going to say. 

The second draft is the one that takes the book from decent to semi-good. It cleans up structural missteps, focuses the characters, and sharpens the writing.

The third and fourth drafts continue in much the same way: generally, by that point, I know what the book is about, what I'm trying to say with it, but my characters need deepening, the dialogue may need sharpening, more layers need to be added. That sort of thing. I think these are probably the drafts where most writers get stuck because it's easy to think that you're done right around now...if you published the book on the fourth draft, it would probably be a decent book. But maybe not as good a one as it could be.

I'd say that somewhere around the fifth (or sixth) draft, I'm done. I have gone back in and really, really, really ensured that my characters are totally fleshed out, that every single action taken feels organic. That's what I'm doing at that point: my editor is saying - would that really happen in this scene? Or, I like this character, but she feels too surface compared to the others. Really, really fine-tuning but fine-tuning is critical to make a good book a great one. I remember, for example, in SONG REMAINS THE SAME, one particular scene that my editor just didn't think was realistic - it was a very small paragraph or two but an important one, and she made me change it. The end result was the same in the book, but how my characters got to that result felt more honest. And I think it changed the feel of that chapter for then better.

And then I'm done. 

And then, even now, I'll read sentences that I wish I hadn't included. But that's life as a writer. Even when you're done, you're not totally done.

Monday
Jan232012

The Publishers Weekly Review

So wonderful news in my part of the world: the Publishers Weekly review came in for THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME, and it's perhaps the best of my career. (I apologize if you already saw this on my Facebook page - I'm so happy, I wanted to share it again.) :)

Before I do though, I'll say that this is once again a reminder that you can always get better as an author. I've said this before here, but I thought this book was done about a draft before it was actually done. When my editor told me to go back in and keep editing, I was a little huffy because I didn't think it needed anything else. Guess what? It SOOOOO needed something else. That last draft took a B book to an A book. (Subjectively, of course. Some people will read it and think it's an F book. But you get my point.) Listening to her and taking her constructive criticism pushed me to be a better writer, and four books into this process, I'm very, very proud of this one. That's always my goal: to keep getting better, and that's truly what is SO gratifying about this review. (Understanding that reviews are just one person's opinion, subjective, etc, etc, etc.)

Anyway, here it is...I'm not trying to give myself a pat on the back by sharing (promise), I just think that there are some really gratifying moments as an author (and so many ungratifying moments), and this was one of them.

Bestseller Winn Scotch (The Department of Lost & Found) sparkles in her captivating fourth novel. Nell Slattery, one of only two survivors of a jet crash, wakes up in a hospital in rural Iowa with complete amnesia, surrounded by family and friends. As they present her with pieces of her past, a question arises: who can she trust? Everyone in her life—husband Peter, mother Indira, best friend Samantha, younger sister Rory—wants her to recover, but they are all also determined to rewrite history for their own benefit. Music, which Nell learns was once a passion of hers, helps the past emerge somewhat, as does the other crash survivor and an opportunistic journalist. But as half-truths begin to explode around Nell like land mines, she comes to understand that she can only rely on—or completely trust—herself. Winn Scotch vividly illustrates the confusion, frustration, and anger of not being able to remember or trust. She particularly shines in creating secondary characters—especially Rory and Anderson—flawed but engaging. Readers will love Nell and won’t be able to put the book down until they know how much of her past she wants to bring into her future.

Thursday
Jan192012

Title Help

Question of the day: I'm about to submit my manuscript to agents but am struggling to come with a catchy title. Everything I think of seems so cliched. I'm not expecting you to come up with a title for me, but I guess I'm curious how you have come up with yours.

Okay.

Deep breath.

Here's a secret: many, many, many titles are changed once a publisher gets hold of them. In fact, every single one of my book titles has changed, if you can believe it. ALmost always by my choice, but with the urging of the publisher as well. So do know that just because you've included something on your query letter doesn't mean that it's etched in stone once it sells.

That said, for me, I obviously refer to songs and song titles, since the last three of my books used song names. I always think that idioms or well-know phrases work well to. What I think you're looking for is something evocative but also resonant - something that's not too hard for readers to recall and that also gives them a feel for what's in store. In the past (before I've settled on my song titles), I will often read famous quotes or go to an idiom dictionary to see what sort of references or plays on words that I can find that also encompass the themes of the book. These usually serve as initial inspiration, and then I'm off from there. So that's my advice. What about you guys? I'm sure that some of you have come up with brilliant titles. Where do they come from?

Tuesday
Jan172012

The First Review

Exhale.

The first major review for THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME came in over the weekend from Library Journal, and it's a good one!

"Readers who appreciate women's fiction that investigates serious themes will enjoy Scotch's fine novel. Reading groups will find much to discuss as well."

I'm so, so, so relieved.

Really? You might be thinking. Four books in, and you still worry about reviews?

The answer is yes, at least at first. There is this weird bubble of time after you've written the book but before anyone other than your team at your publisher has read it, when you can't help but wonder, "What if we're all totally deluding ourselves?" And even if you think you've banged out a truly fantastic book, there is still that seed of doubt (at least for me), that I'm the only one who will think that. :)

After the early reviews, I really do stop paying attention (and more on reviews later this week, as I just got asked a question about them), but for now, this is one less thing to worry about. Because veteran authors still do worry, trust me.

Thursday
Jan122012

Tough Love

I just wanted to put up a quick note of thanks for all the comments, RTs and various tweets about Tuesday's blog post. To be honest, I'd actually hesitated posting it. I didn't want to come off like some cynical jerk, but the truth is that in this industry, sometimes, what you need is tough love. I am so, so, so grateful that I have people on my side who offer me a dose of TL when I need it - my agent who breaks the news when things may not go my way; my editor who insists I go through another revision even when I thought the book was done (of course, she was right!); my critique partner who points out ways that I'm going wrong.

A lot of this career is learning what you can improve upon, how you can keep getting better. And often times, coasting just doesn't get the job done, whether you're an aspiring writer hoping to complete your first manuscript, or a seasoned novelist who is gearing up for another book. Coasting just doesn't cut it. There are too many others out there who refuse to settle for not finishing their book, for not pushing themselves to improve. The question becomes - again, for both newbies and veterans - which catagory you're going to fall into. That's what I was saying on Tuesday, and I'm glad that I didn't come off like a jerk in saying it.

No one is going to helm this career for you. Not your agent, not your editor, not your characters who have yet to be written. You. You alone. It's exhausting but it's also gratifying. So go out there and do it. Or don't. It's totally up to you.

Tuesday
Jan102012

Want to Write a Book? Here's My Tip: WRITE IT

So I hope this doesn't come off like a rant, but lately (maybe it's the New Year's thing where people are assessing what they want out of their lives or whatever), I have been repeatedly asked by aspiring authors how one goes about writing a book. Which in and of itself isn't a bad question (at all). But whenever I suggest some methods for doing the actual writing, i.e., writing every day, setting word counts, setting timers, etc, I'm often met with an eye roll and a shrug and an attitide of "I don't have the discipline, and really, can it be that hard?" And then, the person in question says something along the lines of, "But I still think I can really do it."

Here's a newsflash: A BOOK WILL NOT WRITE ITSELF. When you say, "I know that I have a great book in me, I just have to write it," I internally smirk. BECAUSE WRITING IT IS MUCH HARDER THAN CONCEIVING THE IDEA. Seriously. If you want to write a book, for the love of all things holy, please do! I mean that with all of the love and support that I can offer. Genuinely. But do not expect me (or any writer) to commiserate with you because you don't want to put in the work. Because we ALL put in the work if we're going to get published, and that's where you lose us.

Writing is HARD. It is meant to be hard because not everyone can do it, not everyone has the stomach for the rejection or the discipline to sit down each day and craft something from nothing. It is totally, totally, TOTALLY fine if this is not for you. But don't pretend otherwise. Because the thing is, you don't have a book in you if you don't write it. It's that simple. What you have is an idea.

From there, it's up to you as to whether or not it ever comes to fruition.

Thursday
Jan052012

My Resolution: Write Less (Kind Of)

Like many of you, I'm assessing my goals for the year now that we're into 2012. I find goal-setting really valuable, as it gives me something to aspire to, rather than just vaguely work my way through the year, and this year, I've decided that my goal is to write less.

In a way.

I spent last year being pulled in many, many directions. Too many. I took on too many blogs, I took on too many assignments that I wished I hadn't. I wrote a screenplay and got hired to write another one. The one thing I didn't do? Start my next book. Mostly because I couldn't stomach the idea of writing yet another thing, tackling another project, but also because I couldn't even spare the mental energy to come up with an idea that I was so jazzed about that I couldn't think of doing anything else.

So this year, I've decided to step back. When I was at the height of my freelancing, I was very good at saying "no," and I can't help but feel like I've lost my way a little bit when it comes to that. I have to prioritize what's important to me, what I really want to give up my time for, and if that means turning things down or sacrificing blog posts, so be it. I love writing screenplays and I love writing books. I need to remember that, as welll as remember that when I'm doing other things, I may do them at the expense of what I really love.

So that's my goal for this year. What are yours?