Rolling with ‘role model’

Last week I was featured in a Huffington Post blog post about self-publishing literary fiction. It was exciting watching the likes and positive comments pile up through social media. A few called me a “role model” for other writers.

That makes me a little nervous. Every writer’s choices along the path to publication will and should be different, according to his or her goals, talents, and plain old luck. Everyone’s mileage will vary along that path, too. I like to share my experiences in the hope others will learn from it. (That lesson could very well be to steer clear of my path.) Just so someone learns.

But I do feel like a role model in another sense, one that didn’t make it into the HuffPo piece. Back in April I visited a new-to-me independent bookstore and inquired whether they would consider carrying my novel in their Michigan authors section.

“Who’s the publisher?” I was asked.

“Me,” I answered.

I was told, very politely, that they didn’t stock self-published titles.

I’d heard of such across-the-board policies before, but in a year of marketing Sparrow Migrations it was the first time I’d been told directly. I won’t lie, it hurt to be dismissed outright, especially based on an assumption I believe is outdated and overly general. (And a shout-out to the half-dozen indies who eschew that assumption and stock Sparrow.)

But I respected it. Rightfully or wrongfully founded, it was their decision to make. I browsed the cozy store a bit longer. At the cash register, I bought two books and chatted easily with the same person who told me no. I walked out with my head held high.

Last month I was in another new community with an indie bookstore: Snowbound Books in Marquette, Mich.. This time I did have a foot in the door. I’d been invited

Sparrow's northernmost outpost

Sparrow’s northernmost outpost, Marquette, Mich.

to do a presentation at the library across the street. Still, my ego was a bit raw. Mustering up my courage, I went in to Snowbound Books and asked.

This time, I got an assent. Less than two weeks later, I had a check and an order for more books.

So If I’m a role model, I hope it’s mostly for this: For believing in my writing enough to take the risk to ask, and for persevering when told no. It amounts to a literary interpretation of the Serenity Prayer, which hangs on my office wall.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. (Which might be that the first draft, or even the nth draft, isn’t ready to publish.)
The courage to change the things I can. (You can take the time to revise it and make it better.)
And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other. (It’s really hard to be objective enough to be wise about your own work. That’s where editors, beta readers and critique groups come in.)

Fellow authors and aspirants, I wish you serenity, courage and wisdom.

- The letter L brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.


Memo from revision-land

Virgina Woolf famously wrote that to write fiction, a woman needed a room of one’s own.

This summer, I’ve updated that line for the twenty-first century. To write fiction, a woman needs a user profile of her own.

Back in June, when my day job went on summer hiatus, I embarked on the goal of polishing my first-draft manuscript, written during NaNoWriMo last year, into second-draft stage by Labor Day. I’d made child care arrangements for my kids that were supposed to afford me 10-12 hours a week of uninterrupted writing time. My room–a corner of our basement TV room/play room - violated Virginia’s recommendation, but with the kids elsewhere, I thought it would do. The 11 weeks of summer shimmered like an oasis.

Then I realized that, right out of the gate, the 11 weeks drop to nine because day camp for one child didn’t start til the second week of summer and ends a week before school starts. Then the second week of summer, my day camper came down with pneumonia. My writing window shrank to eight weeks. As soon as he was healthy, the daycare provider for my younger child was struck by a minor injury that put her out of commission for a week. Down to seven.

Finally, mid-July already, everyone was healthy, everything’s up and running –and our one-week vacation arrived. The shimmering oasis was rapidly becoming a mirage, with almost half my writing time gobbled up by sickness and scheduling changes, all out of my control. My best-laid plans had gone awry and I felt cheated and discouraged.

Fortunately, I’ve also been reading Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur this summer. This line jumped out: “The key to writing is the willingness to grind, polish and perfect your manuscript under lousy circumstances.” Cue Plan B.

First I modified my goal. The uninterrupted hours simply were not occurring. So when we

Accountability plus a lucky charm - my "Z" coffee mug.

Accountability plus a lucky charm – my “Z” coffee mug.

returned from our vacation, I made my goal to write 250 words per day, or to spend 90 minutes editing. I knew I could fit that in before the kids woke up or after bedtime, and deliberately set the bar low, to insure I could build success. To insure accountability, I recruited a goal partner, who I stay in touch with by daily e-mails. I also keep a running “writing day” tally on our dining room white board. My daughter’s become another accountability accomplice, updating the figure for me.

I also changed my work space. I couldn’t contrive a room of my own, but I got the next best thing: a user profile my husband created for me on his laptop. When I log in, I can access all my cloud-saved documents like I was working on my own desktop. There is an Internet connection, but it doesn’t have my bookmarked websites and saved passwords for social media sites.

Moreover, it’s upstairs, out of the kid flow and away from the to-do lists and bills and other distractions that bog down my basement office space. And voila, my word counts and time goals started flowing past the mandatory minimums I established.

So here in revision-land, I can report Virginia was right. With a footnote that head space is as important as work space. Thomas Edison said that many people miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work. The Muse doesn’t come knocking on your door; or at least not on mine. I have to create the conditions and then go more than halfway to meet her. But with three weeks of summer left, I’m headed toward a happy ending. 

- The letter V brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.


Be the early bird: Discount for writers’ conference thru Aug. 18

These days, there’s angst aplenty in the worlds of publishing and writing. From the Amazon-Hachette sturm und drang to the anxiety that comes with sending a query letter to the dreaded waiting for replies from agents or editors, this is a business fraught with drama and disappointment.

Yet if success came easily, everyone would have it, right? I’m here to tell you there is also delight and reward in publishing and writing. I experienced such an evening in the lovely Lake Superior

It was fun and flattering to be in the spotlight at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, Mich., but a long road to get there.

Fun and flattering to be in the spotlight at the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, Mich.

community of Marquette, Mich. two weeks ago. I’d been invited to speak at the public library, and the event  happened to fall on my birthday. That night I arrived to a warm reception by an audience that included one reader who voluntarily identified herself as “your biggest fan,” AND a homemade birthday cake.

Last week came another library lecture, in Northport, Mich. Again, a full house sat attentively, asked good questions, and bought books. As a bonus, I learned  the library’s book club has selected Sparrow Migrations for their November read.

Behind both evenings, though, was one heck of a lot of work. Two and a half years of writing and editing. Nine drafts. Beta reader feedback. Agent research. Query letter writing. Manuscript sending. Manuscript rejections. Soul-searching. Self-publishing. Was it worth it? Though I had my doubts at times, the answer is yes, absolutely.

So I love the title of Quit Whining, Start Writing, a writers’ conference set for Oct. 17-18 in Grand Rapids, Mich. Whether you’ve previously published or are an aspiring author, there’s a session that can help you move forward with your writing, publishing and marketing goals. I’ll be presenting “Getting to The End: The Arc of Novel Writing,” a session designed to help fiction writers finish a manuscript.

Early bird (by Aug. 18) registrants save $25 and are registered to win a Kindle. So get thee over to the registration site and sign up.

- The letter T brought to you by Daily Drop Cap.