PEOPLE DON’T READ ANYMORE?

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posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

This morning, I awakened to discover the following:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.  Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.”
Steve Jobs–Amazon <Kindle Reader>

Troubling insight from a human being’s point of view and from a writer’s.

Any writer who has been publishing books for a length of time can tell you that the industry has changed mightily in the last decade.  Any reader can tell you that, too.  But their perspectives on those changes are significantly different.

Writers note more writers and fewer publishing slots.  They note smaller print runs.  They note the logical decrease in earnings.   Writers also note fewer books available in fewer places in the market.

At one time, you could walk into stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and K-Mart and you’d find book departments.  Over time, those departments have winnowed down to where some have a single aisle of shelving.  Others still have more space, but nowhere near the square footage in the store that they once did.

Several factors, in my humble opinion, attribute to this.  Stores are interested in their bottom line.  They, too, want to stay fiscally healthy.  So every square inch of store floor space is important to them.  If the profit margin is greater on other products, then other products get more space.  Can’t blame them for that.  They’re in business to make money and managers are accountable not only to higher ups, but to other employees counting on them.

Used book sales have an enormous impact on new sales.  That impact wasn’t as significant before the Internet.  Now, anyone who owns books has a viable venue for selling them and is doing so.  If you look at the income generated in used book sales over the past few years, you’ll see explosive growth.

This is a mixed bag of good and bad news.  The publisher and the writer earn nothing on used books.  But many readers are willing to try new authors in used books who wouldn’t in new ones because of the costs.  Some books are being sold three and four times, and that’s exposure to three or four (or more) readers.

For writers, one sad truth is that many of them are being forced out of writing.  They simply can’t afford to support their families anymore.  I heard from an author yesterday who publishes multiple books a year for two separate and very credible publishers.  Her sales are considered “good” by standards, and yet she’s earning half or less than in years past.  Will she keep writing?  I don’t know.  I hope so; we’ll lose a beautiful, insightful voice if she doesn’t, but she and her family like to eat every day, so necessity might well force her into a different career field.

All of this has me thinking in a broader picture spectrum and I wonder how much new technologies and such have had on books.  For example, now that movies are so readily available through dvd rentals and purchases, how many who once read now watch, opt for video instead?

I wonder at the impact of gaming and blogging.  Many who were once readers now spend their discretionary time writing their own blog or reading the blogs others write.  There’s no expense involved, and it’s entertaining slices of life on whatever topic might interest someone.  I wonder at the impact of online reading, actually.

Many spend their workdays at a computer, reading, and I wonder if the divide between reading stories and reading for work has narrowed to where some hunger for a different experience to differentiate.  Something totally different.

I look around.  We’re collectively heavier, Type 2 Diabetes is up, so we’re not opting for physical activity on a grand scale.  Fewer kids are routinely outside playing.  They’re inside engaged in computer games instead, or doing homework (it seems more is required these days than in the past), or involved in other indoor pursuits.

Compounding the challenge are economic times.  Most are two-income households and discretionary money is a challenge.  But so is discretionary time.  Our days are so full with commitments and “must dos” that we have scant hours for pleasure activities.  This too has to be a key factor.  It’s a “we can do more so we are” type atmosphere.  It’s almost expected that we do the jobs three used to do.  We’re harried and hustled all the time.  That makes it easier to understand why so many are feeling less fulfilled, satisfied, and content (no matter how much you do, it’s never enough) and why so many are feeling stressed to the max (pressure to perform can definitely do that–and cause all kinds of ailments).  We really do need to ask ourselves how much is enough?  And we need to smell the roses and their stems and leaves.

A few decades ago, there were fewer activities clamoring for our time and attention.  There wasn’t 24-hour TV, DVDs, movies on demand, or many other things that are part of today’s life’s fabric.  Most didn’t have computers, and if they did, they were work related and graphics free.  There weren’t online social networks or research capabilities or opinion blogs.  Even the news was “just the facts” and pundits were limited to the written word.

We’re in a different world now.  We’ve chosen it.  And I have to say that this sobering assertion about reading creates worry in me for writers but also for readers.  Reading keeps the mind active.  Stories probe the meat of life.  Books educate and entertain, and offer us windows into other worlds with a depth and richness that don’t exist in other forums.  They fire our imaginations, our desires, our tempers and touch our hearts.  Help us develop our sense of self by the attributes we experience exhibited and elect to adopt.  Things like personal respect and honor and courage and compassion.  They explore the human condition and give us understanding and a sense of oneness with our kind.  Books motivate us to act, to think, to dream.

And I worry for the forty percent at all they’re losing or willingly sacrificing by not reading.

I worry most that they don’t realize the depth and breadth of their sacrifice.  The impact that this will have on them, their children, on their children’s children.  What will help them develop admirable attributes, allow them to plumb humanity?  What will motivate them to act and think and dream?

If nothing does, will they notice?  Or will what is normal for them hide all that they’re missing?

This is what is on my mind this morning… this, and how to encourage more to read…

Blessings,

Vicki
©2008, Vicki Hinze

TACT IN CRITIQUES

Dec
2010
26

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

I stayed up late last night doing critiques.  I thought I’d get three or four done–as always, I have a stack to do.  I didn’t.  I got one done and a solid start on a second one.

Some would cringe at devoting that much time to a single entry.  But writers are a giving lot and helping each other is the norm, so you’ll see no cringing there, though it does make for rough schedules.  But it’s worth it, and one of the reasons I love the profession.  We train our competition–willingly, and take great joy in doing so.  This entry was worth every second of time devoted to it.

You see, storytelling is the sole element that can’t be taught.  I’ve said it many times and believe it down to the marrow of my bones.  You’ve got it or you don’t.  And this entry was written by a wonderful storyteller with a unique voice that captivated.  The story was perfect for its targeted genre.  The characters were well developed, worthy of their story roles.  So with all of this being so right, what was the time-eating challenge?

Mechanics.  This terrific story and these terrific characters were mired down in a tomb of mechanical pitfalls.  When that happens, it jars the reader the way a jackhammer jars your teeth and blows out your ears.  When we read, we do so with that inner ear, and so cadence and rhythm (and pacing) are critically important.

Every year for many years I’ve polled editors at major publishers and asked why they most often rejected manuscripts.  And every year for many years, these same things surface.  Oh, there are the usual rejections because the proposed project didn’t fit on the publisher’s list, and the similarities between the writing of existing authors on the publishers’ lists with the proposed project, but overwhelmingly, mechanical challenges topped the list.

That’s good news.  Mechanics can be taught.

If you’d like to read more on the top mechanical challenges (those that surface again and again on the poll), there’s an article in my website writer’s library  (www.vickihinze.com in the A-P Library.  Common Mechanical Pitfalls).

The pitfalls aren’t what is on my mind.  It’s relaying them, returning pages that contain a multitude of marks and notes.  I’ve received critiques like this.  Ones where I would swear that no one pen could hold that much ink.  I learned early on to develop rhino hide, that comments were not an attack on me but comments crafted to better the work.  But all writers haven’t yet learned these things, and when doing a critique, we should keep that in mind.

My philosophy is that if I’m doing a critique, I bear a responsibility to give that author my best.  After all, this is the author’s dream, his or her vision, and who better knows how much work and sweat and sacrifice went into creating it?  Knowing this, how can one give them less?

But one can be honest without drawing blood.  One can offer those comments and suggestions and recommendations without leaving the author feeling body-slammed to the proverbial mat.  And the good news is that it isn’t difficult.

Here are a few tips:

1. Always tell the author what s/he is doing right.  Knowing what is working is equally important to knowing what isn’t working.
2. Be specific.  If you spot a problem, don’t give a general negative statement that the author can’t apply to a specific area of the work.  Two reasons:  it’s worthless information to the writer, and too often, the writer applies it to all of the work when the intent was to a specific portion.  If something is note of a general nature, then be as clear as possible on the challenge.
3. Cite examples from the writer’s work.  When you run into a challenge, cite it specifically–and then…
4. Offer a solution.  While this isn’t always possible–everyone runs into nebulous “I’m not quite sure what isn’t working, but I feel it.  Ask a reader to take a look.  Often they pinpoint with amazing accuracy on those subtle things that escape the rest of us”, if the challenge is mechanical, it’s easy to site a specific.  So cite the specific and then tell the author, by example, how to fix it.   Remember, if they knew this, there might be an occasional slip but the error wouldn’t be repeated throughout the manuscript.  Guide.  Show the author how to spot the problem and what to do to fix it once they’ve spotted it.
5.It takes extra time, but do tell the author why this is a challenge.  For example, a very common mechanical error is action before reaction.  The author will put the reaction to something before the action causing it.  Take a moment to remind the author that what the reader reads first on the page happens first in the reader’s mind.  So if the reaction appears first, it jars the reader out of the story.  Why?  Because nothing has yet happened to cause that reaction.  The reader experiences the effect of something before the cause.  And that prohibits him/her from feeling the emotional connection (or impact).  Then give the author a tip.  In this case, watchwords like as, when, during, until, before, since, after and those like them.  When you see one of these words, double check to make sure things appear on the page in the order they happen.  This enhances the reading experience and strengthens the work.
6.Remember.  We were all once new writers.  We were all once inexperienced writers.  We have all gotten critiques that were so marked up we would swear no one pen could hold that much ink.  It’s how we learn, it’s how we grow.  And while we’ll never master the task, we can become better than we were at it.  Remember your own reaction, and what would have removed the sting and infused you with the enthusiasm to get busy writing to make your work stronger and better.

Be honest.  Give your best.  But also acknowledge the writer’s best.  We are each capable of producing the best work we’re capable of producing at the time we produce it.  Few come out of the writing gate with experienced skills.  They are acquired through diligent work and effort on the part of the writer.  And by the efforts of those privileged to reach back into their own journey and offer them a hand.
Hold those thoughts in your hand when critiquing.  Do your part drawing on experience from the head but never without the heart.  The gift you nurture or crush well might be this generation’s Shakespeare.
Hey, he wasn’t born knowing how to write.  He had to learn, too…
Blessings,
Vicki

CYBERSTALKING

Dec
2010
26

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

An FYI

1. It’s my turn to post on Clever Divas today.  The article is on Cyberstalking.  What it is, what is done, what you can do about it, who can help.  Did you know that many victims don’t know they’re victims until danger escalates?  If you’d care to read the article, the Clever Divas link above will take you to it.

2. For the next week, I’ll be teaching an online workshop for ACRA members, CHARACTERS—LIVE!  If you’re not a member of ACRA and would like to attend, please email me here.  I’m not sure of the policy, but I’ll see what I can do.

Back to my cave–multiple deadlines today!

Blessings,

Vicki

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

NOTE:  WHEN WRITING IS TOUGH was first written several years ago, but I’m getting an enormous number of questions (is it an odd moon phase or something?) on this topic, so I thought I’d share this post–and if Norm’s bride is still reading, I hope you’re blessed by memories and peace.*

WHEN WRITING IS TOUGH

During the years I’ve worked on the Aids4Writers program, I’ve often received questions or soul-baring notes from writers who are having a tough time writing and want help to overcome it, or who just needed someone who “gets it” to listen to the tough times they’re having writing.

The reasons are as varied as we are individual, and I hope by sharing this post, when you have trouble writing, you’ll find the subject of it the source of inspiration I’ve found.

There are times when every writer, regardless of how much s/he loves writing, considers writing work and the joy of being able to write is buried under the burdens we’re carrying. Pulling teeth would be easier than crafting words and phrases and sentences that relay cohesive thought.

Maybe we’ve overbooked our schedule, or unexpected events have come up that have upset our apple carts. Life always intrudes. You’re sick, the kids or spouse is sick, someone you don’t know is sick, but you must fill in for them. The committee that was supposed to take 15 minutes of your time a week is taking 2 hours every single day. The group you joined to interact with other writers needs volunteers, and if you belong, you must volunteer for something. Your life is in turmoil due to work, family, friends, circumstances out of your control.

Those are but a few of the countless things that happen and impact your writing life. And all you can be sure of is this: Things are going to continue to happen that make it easy not to write.

Sometimes sheer will isn’t enough to work past them. You need more. You need inspiration.

Inspiration can come in any form. For me, one very strong source was in a man by the name of Norm.

Norm joined the Aids4Writers list shortly after I started it, which was years ago. How many exactly, I’ve forgotten now and it isn’t germane, so I’m not going to stop and look it up. What is important is that nearly from the beginning, Norm was a subscriber.

Norm emailed me often privately, asking questions, sharing antidotes, and chatting about his love for writing. Through the years, we shared life’s up and downs and our work. What was going well, what wasn’t. Techniques, methods, ideas–all the things we writers love to explore.

I admired Norm. Writing wasn’t just hard for him, it was a constant struggle, and yet his love for it shone in his every word. His stories were earthy and real. His characters were people flawed to the core and rich in life. Norm was wise and warm and wonderful.

He had been married for most of his life, and still called his beloved wife, Shirley, “My Bride.” He had goats on his farm. And when one was born and its mother died in childbirth, he brought the baby into his home and tucked it under his electric blanket in his bed, to keep it warm. He and his Bride nursed it and the baby goat lived. Norm respected life.

His life hadn’t been easy. He had a 2nd grade education, which made for challenges in his becoming a writer. But he taught himself and he learned from others. He also had a medical challenge that made reading an exercise in patience. It would take Norm about a year to read a book because of this medical challenge–but read he did.

Norm had to work at becoming a writer–harder than most of have to work at it. He wrote beautiful stories. He started a writer’s group, where they helped each other. He offered his wisdom and insight to other writers in a critique group.

He won the Author’s Friend Award, and accepted it with humility and grace. He continued to write through worsening medical conditions. He continued to help other writers through many challenges.

Norm died a week ago Friday. I’m richer for having had the privilege of knowing him. I’m richer for having had the privilege of reading some of his stories. Writers are richer for having had the benefit of his warm wit and gentle wisdom.

Norm’s stories were never published, yet they will be remembered. And when writing times are tough, I’ll do what I’ve done for all the years he has been with me at Aids4Writers:

I’ll remember Norm’s special hardships and his extra burdens and how he persisted in writing in spite of those things with such dignity and grace.

I’ll remember a man, a friend, who struggled longer and harder and received far fewer rewards, but wrote for the love and joy of it–even when it was hard work. It was ALWAYS hard work.

I’ll remember Norm, a treasured source of inspiration, and I’ll write.*

Blessings,

Vicki

C2008

AWAKENING THE MUSE

Dec
2010
26

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

The longer you write, the more difficult it becomes to write something different.

It isn’t that you lack the capability, it’s that you’ve developed other considerations that warrant significant attention in your selection of what to write.

Your readers have certain expectations, and they don’t like (and you don’t like) disappointing them.  For example, you write romantic suspense.  Then you shift to paranormal novels.  Some readers might make the shift with you.  Some won’t.  You’ll gain new readers for the paranormals—ones who love paranormals but aren’t perhaps enamored with straight romantic suspense.

It’s for this reason that the higher you get on your publisher’s list, the less creative freedom you experience in novel type.  But that doesn’t mean that you lose all creative freedom.  You don’t.  You still can stretch your creative wings and fly—you just do so in that same novel type.

This comes easier to some writers than to others.  They seem to have an endless flow of ideas that both fit within their self-defined boundaries and exceed them without crossing into unexpected territory.

These are the writers who awaken their muse.  The ones who deliberately seek new twists and opt not for the first thing that springs to mind but the third or fourth or twenty-fourth because they know that for the reader to experience fully and become actively engaged in the fictional dream they create, the writer first must experience fully and become actively engaged in that fictional dream.

If your muse is slumbering, coasting along on autopilot, you’ve either reached the dead zone or you’re on a short approach to it.  The dead zone is when writers write from that place where they aren’t engaged, and it shows in the work in thousands of ways.  Some are glaringly apparent (often referred to as lazy writing) and others are subtle (often not referred to at all because the reader can’t peg a specific thing in words but senses those specifics at a deeper level).

My short, stock answer to this challenge is this:  Never write a book you don’t love.

If you, the writer, love it, it shows in those thousand ways.  You automatically stretch because you’re deeply invested. You’re engaged and running full-throttle.  And that, too, shines through in the work in a multitude of ways that can’t be put into words but is felt deeply.

Whether you must give your muse a gentle nudge—being a writer to whom “different and yet the same” stories is natural—or you have to shake the smithereens out of your muse—because you’re a writer to whom “different is nowhere near the same” stories is natural, there is a key to dealing with this creative challenge.

Identify which type of writer you are.  Then nudge or shake; do what you must do to get invested and engaged.  Do what you must do for the work to stay fresh and original to you.  Refill your creative well, keep it overflowing; write about things that matter to you; write about people in situations that intrigue and interest you.  Feed your creativity.

Do that and creativity will awaken the Muse for you.

And you will love the books you write.

Blessings,

Vicki
©2008,  Vicki Hinze

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

“Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions.”                                                                             – Aung San Suu Kyi

No less than three times in as many days have I had a writer tell me:

1.  She was afraid to submit her work because as soon as she did, she’d read a group of things she’d done wrong and wish she hadn’t and she couldn’t be sure she was ready.

2.  He hadn’t submitted his work because he didn’t think he could stand getting back a rejection.

3.  She submitted her work and then contacted the individual and pulled the submission.

If as a writer, you’re waiting for a time to come when you don’t see changes you need to make or ones you wish you’d made AFTER the submission, consider your experience an oddity.  Epiphanies have a way of sneaking in and zapping us after the fact.  Recognize that it’s normal and happens more often than not.  Note it and when the opportunity arises, edit and incorporate.

As a writer, you continually seek to grow and master your craft.  Because you do, you will encounter this challenge–and if you aren’t, you’re either very, very lucky or you’re not studying craft and continuing to grow.  Warning:  that leads to stagnation, and stagnant things die!

I’ve been in this business nineteen years and I don’t think I’ve ever been sure a project was ready to submit.  Yes, I know I love them.  Yes, I do allow them to cool to make sure what I think is conveyed on the page is conveyed on the page.  Yes, I do strive to submit only my best work.  And I have enjoyed many bubbles in the gut that shout, “oh, this is strong.  This really works.”  But to feel that there is nothing–not one word–that could be changed to make the work stronger?

If I ever get there, believe me, I’ll be broadcasting it, so you’ll know.  So far, this has escaped me.  Which is one of the best reasons to solicit outside readers.   It’s true that many projects are submitted too soon–before they’re polished and splendidly shine.  By having a couple others read the work and getting their reactions, you will get a cross-section of responses.

Vary these readers.  One who loves to read this type book.  One who is familiar with the subject matter in the book.  One who is sharp on writing craft and construction and novel structure and characterization and mechanics.  Barter.  I’ll read and comment if you’ll read and comment (with another writer).

On rejection.  Understand that if you’re a writer, you will be rejected.  Not you, the person.  Your work.  Accept it and then press on.  I know only two writers who haven’t received–and I mean all during their career no matter how high up on the career ladder they’ve gotten–rejections.  And both have multiple readings and edits before their work is ever submitted.  I know no one who has penned the perfect book.

This is why we create and then edit and edit and edit.  We’re striving for the best we’re capable of producing at the time.  Then we have others read and we shove (or smother) our egos, hear and listen to what they have to say.  What we agree best serves the story, we incorporate.  Only what we agree best serves the story do we incorporate.

Often agents ask for revisions.  Then editors suggest revisions.  Then copyeditors ask for more.  Often more than once!

So do strive for perfection, but don’t expect that your perfection is perfect.  Others will see things you miss.  Know things you don’t know.  Catch mistakes that save the book, save your backside, and sometimes they’ll save your hair–spare you from pulling it out by the roots in frustration.

Develop rhino hide, understand that revision recommendations are given for a single purpose:  to strengthen the book.  Everyone involved in the process (and no one more than the author) wants the strongest book possible.

Rejection might not be about the work, but about what best sells to the readers.  Marketability.  List balance.  Suitability.  House focus and/or direction.  A million other things.  The point:  it’s not about you.  And it might not be about the work.  It might be connected to strengthening the salability of the book.

Writers get rejections.  That’s what happens when they submit, stretch and grow and experiment and make all manner of effort.  This is not a bad thing and it rarely has spit to do with the author so it should never be taken personally.

There are times and situations in which a writer pulls a submission.  Shoot, there are times when an author contracts a book and then buys the book back.  But this isn’t something you want to do or something you do without considering all aspects of it and the consequences.  Tread lightly.

Remember, first impressions are just that.  One-shot deals.  You don’t get a second chance.  So if you must pull a submission, make sure it’s for an excellent reason and that you don’t make a habit of it.  And be wary of the second-guessing trap.  It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking something is awful and unfit–especially if it’s a purpose-driven novel.  If you must do this, be extremely judicious.  And it goes without saying to do all you can to make sure you’re ready to submit before you do so initially.

It takes courage to put yourself out there.  If you do so with a realistic view on potential, then you’re in a far better position to cope with the results.  Understand what rejection is and isn’t.  Understand that continued growth nearly promises you’ll have post-submission epiphanies.  And understand that the best way to avoid having to pull a submission is by doing the necessary work and expending the effort before submitting.

Blessings,

Vicki
©2008, Vicki Hinze

ART V BOTTOM LINE

Dec
2010
26

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

 

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

Writing is an art.

The artist creates a world, peoples it, and draws readers into that world through the senses so that they might experience the story.

Writers write for as many different reasons as there are types of writing.  Each brings to the artist’s palette his or her universal qualities (human beings, those things most of us consider good and valuable and bad and destructive) and his or her own unique qualities (his or her unique perspective, collective experiences, insights and attitudes, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes–all the things that are specific to that one writer).

These assets are reflected in the writer’s voice.  And that is the heart of that individual’s art.  It can’t be replicated or duplicated or copied in whole by any other artist.  Another might attempt it, might copy the artist’s style but it can’t be maintained through the novel because no two people will make the exact same choices each and every time a choice is required or made during the course of creating a book.

Remember that when a writer writes, s/he is creating something from nothing.  Everything, even those wherein the writer is basing the novel on actual events, is created.  What I mean by that is the author chooses what to write–the events, the people, the conflicts, the results, where events occur, who is present and why they are present.  The writer chooses what details to reflect, and cues the reader on what those details mean–to the person perceiving them.  To the persons present, informed of them, impacted by them.

The writer manipulates the emotions of the characters and readers’ reactions through choices.  The tone of the scene, the events occurring in them, the reactions infused into the other characters.  It is the writer’s depiction that makes the rest of us fall in love, fear, doubt, feel humbled and/or awed.  It’s the art.

Whether you’re writing literary or commercial fiction, all of the above holds true.  We write because we have something to say that we want others to hear.  The format in which we do so is also a choice.  And regardless of which choice we make, the very moment we choose to sell what we write, we take on a whole new set of choices.  Those have to do with things like reader appeal and marketability.

Some refuse to include those considerations in the crafting of the novel.  Some have learned that including those considerations and crafting the novel around specific marketing expectations greatly enhances their ability to sell the novel once it’s written.

It’s a personal choice for each writer.  How much emphasis is placed on the purity of the art and on the purity of marketability of the art.  A healthy balance can be found in respecting both.  Love the book you write, or change it until you do, but also consider the marketability of what you write when you’re constructing and building your novel.

If you’re writing in genre, you should observe the conventions of the genre.  Otherwise, you violate reader expectations.  No artist wants a disappointed reader.  So the balance is to write a story that you love that respects the genre dictates.  Can you stretch the boundaries?  Yes, you can.  Can you try to expand the current genre by introducing a new element?  Of course.  New sub-genres are formed in these ways.

Note “sub-genres.”  That means the writer followed the genre dictates but added something new.  That something new didn’t toss out the old.  It added to it.  For example, the paranormal romance.  In 1988, I wrote a book that was what today we’d call a paranormal novel, MAYBE THIS TIME.  In attempting to market the book, I spent more time trying to explain what kind of book it was than I spent pitching the story.  Publishers were resistant.  They had to be.  There was no defined marketing niche for a “Romantic Fantasy” which is how I tagged the book.

Publishers love books.  They love to buy books.  But they can only buy books that they can sell.  It’s a significant fact worth remembering.

Anyway, with no defined market, getting someone to read that book was a challenge.  It took several years to sell it.  Editors read it, liked it, tried to get it approved in committee, and failed.  Four years later, one managed.  Two years after that, the book was released and it did well.  And a few years later, my “romantic fantasy” because part of a new sub-genre, the paranormal romance.

Today that sub-genre is mentally equated to things like vampires and shapeshifters and ghosts and such.  That book contains none of those things.  It’s a reincarnation theme, which just wasn’t heard of at the time.  So not considering the marketability, while elating from an artist’s perspective, wasn’t a brilliant career move from the marketing perspective.  I knew that when I did it, and elected to do it anyway.

And that’s the point of this article.  I made a deliberate choice to upset the balance between art and marketability that I knew carried bottom line consequences.  I gladly paid them because, frankly, I loved the story more than compensation for it in sales.

When you’re deciding what to write and how to write it, how you resolve the balance between art and the bottom line is wholly your call.  There is no wrong or right answer.  The important thing is to understand that there is a balance and to deliberately choose what it will be in your work.  It’s equally important to know that neither art nor marketability is mutually exclusive.  One need not be forfeited for the sake of the other.  They can function together in harmony.

Remember, you are artists.  And artists are creative.  If a way exists, use it.  If not, create one…

Blessings,

Vicki

C2008

JUSTICE

Dec
2010
26

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

Inside us all, there is a deep-seated need to know justice.  We see injustice and it unsettles us, makes us wonder what’s wrong with the world and those in it that they can’t see the wrongs and seemingly don’t try to avoid them.  We ache for others who are victims of injustice and often when others come to us and speak of it, we have a relatable tale of an experience of our own that mirrors their experience in some fashion.

Injustice is universal.  Everyone has experienced it, or believes that they have experienced it at some point in time.  And no one can relate the wrongness in it and all of the tentacles that came with the injustice–in ways intended and expected and in ways unintended and unexpected–and not strike a chord in others.

We rail against it.  We oppose it.  We might even go to extraordinary lengths to prove it and rectify it–sometimes to self-destructive levels.  We aren’t idealists (though some of us might like to be) and yet there is that mighty pull in us that demands fairness and what’s right (as we see it).  That pull demands justice.

And for that reason justice is a powerful tool for a writer.  Universal (in that we all want it and we all have at some time gotten it or not gotten it) and therefore identifiable to the reader, significant in triggering emotional empathy and relevant to us all.  Yet unique (in that we’ve all experienced justice and injustice in different ways on different things in different situations and with different results.

Justice, or the lack of it, is a rich source of conflict in characterization and specifically in motivation and goals.  The struggle for or against it and the lengths some will go to for it can be the core conflict in any type novel across genres.

So when you’re crafting characters and creating plot lines, consider those mighty, universal tugs like the one we feel for justice.  It, and other universal resources like it, have strong backs in storytelling and can carry a lot of weight.  Characterization, conflict, plot, goals and motivations are all served well simultaneously, and that’s a story element that is working overtime.

Blessings,

Vicki

C2008

WRITING MAGIC

Dec
2010
26

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

WARNING:  This is a no-edit zone…

A writer asked me a question yesterday that I’ve been asked many times:

“Of everything you’ve learned about writing, what is the most important thing?  What’s the secret?”

My response:  “The magic.”

That answer was as simple to me as a new writer as it is now–though for very different reasons.

As a new writer, I knew that a story I wasn’t wholly invested in didn’t captivate me. I liked the story, I was interested in the story, but it didn’t keep me up at night or worm its way into totally unrelated conversations on topics that had nothing to do with the story.

That made the writing more work.  It required more effort and discipline and I wasn’t as eager to get to my desk or wherever I was writing to get back to it.

I won’t say it was a drag to do; writing has never been that to me.  But I didn’t feel the irresistible tug to write my heart out.  And when I didn’t feel it writing it, I didn’t feel it reading the book.  It didn’t evoke that bubble in the gut that insists you keep going.

So I quickly learned not to write those stories.  And I tore the stories up trying to figure out why they were more difficult and less fun to write than the others.

What I discovered was that while I was interested in them, the difficult stories just didn’t have the magic.

What is the magic?

The magic is that x-factor in a story that ignites and captivates the storyteller in the writer.

For me, the work lacking it was competent.  The story fair enough.  But writing it, I got stirred, not shaken and tumbled and all tangled up.

That’s when I set the criteria on what I would write.  I share that criteria as “I won’t write a book I don’t love.”  But the more practical (to other writers) explanation of that is:  Don’t write a story that doesn’t totally grab the storyteller in you and shake you like a dog shakes something by the scruff until you’re breathless.

If the story doesn’t intrude on your thoughts, if you’re not eager to get to the writing to see what happens or how things actually work out (versus the way the writer in you thinks they’re going to work out), if you aren’t awakened in the middle of the night with thoughts about some element or character in the book–if you don’t feel that bubble in your gut–then the story lacks the magic.  So do something to infuse it, or write something different.

Instinctively, I got the importance of this early on.  Now, there isn’t an atom in my body that doesn’t know that gut-bubble is critical.

You see, there is only one aspect of creative writing that can’t be taught.  It’s storytelling.  You either have it or you don’t.  Everything else you need to do this can be learned–structure, mechanics, grammar…  But just having the gift of being a storyteller doesn’t mean you should tell every story that comes to mind.  No, be more selective.  The time it takes it write is your life; be very selective.

Maybe you’re not prone to intuitive reactions, or you can’t relate to gut-bubbles, so let me try to explain a little differently.

In selecting/writing stories, you know you’re on the right track when…

1. You’re shopping for food and see a jar of pickles.  The first thought that comes to mind isn’t how the pickle tastes, it’s that the brine it’s in would make a wicked brew to die for–or to die from.  (Right track?  Absolutely.  Your mind is wide open and in receive mode.  That’s a very good sign.)
2.You’re getting your car repaired and while it’s up on the rack and you’re staring at its underbelly, you don’t ask the mechanic about the car or bill.  You ask him how you can screw up the steering without ditching the fluid–so there’s no trace of tampering.  (Um, be sure to tell the mechanic you’re a writer.  Otherwise, expect a visit from your local police.  [Yes, been there, done that.])
3.You’re in with your doctor having a checkup and you brush right past your condition and ask him if you were to kill someone using a specific method how long would it take them to die.  Will they be lethargic–if so, how soon–or shouting?  And on a pain scale of one to ten, how would he rate this method?  (Be sure to tell the doc you’re a writer.  Otherwise… you know what happens.  And, yes, really have been there and done that, too, though I honestly thought he knew it before I started asking questions.  And another tip, if you bring people like this a copy of your books, it spares you from this type of thing.)
4.You’re in the shower and the perfect–I mean, the perfect–solution to a problem with a plot element strikes you…  If you have to get out, wrap in a towel and run to look for a pen, you’re probably new at writing.   If you write it on the wall with a bead of shampoo or conditioner or shaving cream, then you’re learning. You know ideas flittering through your mind can be lost forever if not immediately captured.   If you’ve got a pen stashed within reach, you’ve been at this a long time.  And if you discover you’re out of paper and write on the shower stall wall, you’re a pro and don’t need to be reading this. :)
5.You attend a party with people you really like and you still sneak into the bathroom to write.  You’re definitely on the right track.
6.Your need to know outweighs your reluctance to ask.  Never been to the place your book’s set?  Snag a phone book, call a stranger and ask.  (Do mention you’re a writer, and do remember to thank them in your book’s acknowledgements.)
7.You’re in create-mode, one of your beloved children interrupts, and the first thing that goes through your mind is someone had better be bleeding.
8.You’re in create-mode, the phone rings, and your beloved spouse/significant other answers, takes a peek at you, and without a word tells the caller, you’re not there.  You’re in la-la land.  Extra points if the person phoning doesn’t require an explanation and knows what “la-la land” means.
9.You forget to eat, to run important errands, to pay taxes on the due date.  Or if you so much as  consider writing on your novel and fake taking notes while sitting on jury duty.  (Please don’t do the jury duty thing.  That you’d think about it is the “right track” sign.)
10.  You’re so caught up in the work you agree to do something you’d never do if you weren’t.  (Writers beware:  your loved ones will catch on to this quick–and they’ll use it!)

There are tons more indicators that let a writer know s/he’s on the right track.  Most of them, writers tune into instinctively.  A few are learned as we go.  Regardless of how you tag them, when you lump them together they translate to the work having the magic.

It fires the imagination and fuels the creativity in you, the storyteller.  You feel it, are eager to express it, and few things will inhibit you from doing so.

So get selective, storytellers.  Don’t settle for stirred when shaken and tumbled and tangled up is there just waiting.  The difference for you is remarkable.

The difference for your reader is immeasurable.

Capture the magic, and then write.

Blessings,

Vicki

C2008

posted by | on My Kitchen Table |

“What should I look for in a professional relationship?”

I’m asked that question often, and my response is always that the first thing to look for is within.  It is how you view the relationship.

Many will say your editor isn’t your friend.  My experience says I’ve been friends with every editor with whom I’ve worked.  I’ve been closer with some than with others, but friendships have formed.

Many will say your agent isn’t your friend.  My experience says I’ve been friends with every agent with whom I’ve worked.  Closer with some than with others, but friendships have formed.

A lot depends on both people involved, and a lot depends on the nature of the work.

In writing, we create something from nothing.  If our partner shares our vision, we’re more apt to be closer.  Because sharing that vision requires a meeting of the minds.  This is, in my humble opinion, the number one reason to form this partnership–because you do share a vision and you believe, and the potential partner believes, that together you can make it manifest–and do so in a way that is above and beyond what either of you could do alone.

So the marriage partnership has a lot in common with marriage.  You look for specific things in a professional partner just as you do in a life partner.

What are those things?

That varies person to person.  But a rule of thumb on the top three in my book are:

1. Vision.  You share a common vision on the work.  The purpose, the reach, the projected result.  You share a vision on strategy, on abilities (both individuals), on capabilities.  You know what you wish to accomplish and agree on a realistic plan to accomplish it–and you agree that those goals are attainable.  Together, you develop a joint vision that is compatible with personal goals, ambitions and desires.  This, I believe, is singularly the most crucial of all considerations because it is the foundation upon which everything else is built.
2.You respect each other.  Without respect for the other’s opinions, ideas, abilities and skills, no partnership can survive much less grow into something magnificent.  If doubt or investment in the partnership exists, it undermines focus.  Mutual effort is splintered and precious time and energy that could be used building momentum is wasted on worry about the absence of being totally in sync and/or focused on the goals.  Respect granted and accepted means questions are asked and answered without upset.  And you often extend faith in your partner and need their faith in you.
An example.  I was writing a book that fell outside what was normal for me at the time.  I had the utmost respect for my partner–in this case, my editor–who had expressed faith in me by agreeing to support me, tackling this project.  It was an act of faith.  A one-page overview–thumbnail sketch, really–was all she had to make this call.  And she did.
I didn’t want to disappoint her.  I wanted her to love that book as much as I did.  And because she had taken that leap of faith, I wrote and doubted and wrote and doubted.
Three times during the writing, I phoned her and said, this isn’t going as planned.  I love it but it’s different.  Do you want to see it now?  And three times she said “Quit worrying and just write the book.  If you love it, I know it’ll work.”
So I worried and wrote the rest, but I did it knowing she had faith in the creator in me.  That was an asset money can’t buy.  I stretched the boundaries on that book in several ways, and I sent it in–and admittedly prayed she wouldn’t be disappointed, she’d love it as much as I did, and I kept sweaty palms until she read it.  Thank God, she was fast.  Less than two weeks later, she called all excited.  She didn’t like the book, she LOVED the book.
Would I have dared to push those boundaries as far without that faith?  I doubt it.  That’s the value of the expression of mutual respect.  (And the book did well, and won numerous awards, including a gold medal.  So it did exactly what we’d hoped it would do. Whew!)
3.You communicate honestly and openly.  Crucial to all relationships, but this absence in professional relationships can be destructive in ways that exceed the work and intrude on a broader scale.  I’m not suggesting you raise hell or become an obnoxious diva, or that you tolerate that type misconduct from anyone else.  I am saying there’s merit in frank discussion.  Asbestos suits should never be required.  Rhino hide might help. :)  If you keep in mind that in your professional relationships both of you are after the same thing, then the odds of yours being reduced to an adversarial relationship are far less likely.  There are enough challenges without deliberately creating them.  Open your mind and heart and hear and listen, knowing your goals and vision are mutual goals and your joint vision.

As I sit here, I think of more and more tips from the trenches on professional relationships.  But with each of them, as I break them down and really look at them, they’re all covered in one of the above three things.

To have a good partner–and the author/agent or author/editor relationship is a partnership–you must be a good partner.  That’s the bottom line.  It’s not complex, it’s not difficult.  Just seek a person with whom you share a vision, respect them, and keep the lines of communication open and honest.

Blessings,

Vicki

Vicki Hinze

C2008