Accountability Tuesdays – Week 29

Before I get on with the accountability today, I want to mention a couple of things.

First, a huge hug to the new followers I’ve been getting on this blog and on Twitter. I’m not sure exactly what I’ve been doing lately that suddenly has people sneaking in out of the shadows toward my sites, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Welcome, thanks for coming, and I hope you stick around! 🙂

Second, on a whim I recently tried Googling myself, and I was quite amused to find that the first three results were actually me. I rather don’t need my 9gag profile popping up on Google, but I was happy to see that the second result was this blog and the third was my 750Words.com account. It’s a good sign when your real persona pops up on Google, right?

Third: a call out for info and/or advice. I’ve Googled this problem many times but I can never seem to find anything that quite matches my issue. I’ve been having trouble sleeping again (it seems to happen for several weeks at a time, a few times a year), and the issue as far as I can describe it is that I spend an inordinate amount of time in dream sleep (REM sleep), meaning that my rest isn’t, well…restful. I’m waking up feeling like hell even when I sleep 9 or more hours, and it’s very wearing. I’ve consulted my doctor before and his only suggestion was to try antidepressants, which I thought was a little silly and insulting since I’m pretty damn confident that I’m not depressed. So since I can’t seem to find any information on my own, I thought I’d ask here on the off-chance someone may know something or suffer from similar. Help?

Okay, on to the accountability.

Health and Body Image Goal

If I’m totally honest, I’ve plummeted miserably on this one. I’ve been doing no form of exercise and have been eating rather terribly. It doesn’t help that I’m experiencing sleep issues, as mentioned above. I keep trying to convince myself to get up a little early in the mornings (before it’s scorching hot out) and do my zombie runs, but I haven’t been able to manage it because I’m so damn tired. I need some motivation, terribly, and that’s a fact.

Editing Goal

It’s been a surprisingly busy week so I haven’t managed to sit down at my laptop for very long periods of time, but I’m still (slowly) plugging away at my supernatural romance. Really, really looking forward to finishing so I can submit it to a publisher and move on to my zombie apocalypse.

1,000,000 Word Goal

It hasn’t been a great week, but I did manage to get a few words in. Between blogging and a return to 750Words, I managed to get in 4802 words this week. I’m hoping to ramp it up this week through a series of ideas I’ve compiled, one of which is to use 750Words.com in the mornings to empty my brain of the dreams I’m plagued with every night. It might be a pro-bono situation…I get extra words, and maybe writing down the dreams will make them go the hell away. Starting this Sunday, as well, I plan to start reading The Artist’s Way and work my way through the 12-week process, so look forward to that.

29 weeks down, 23 to go. Here’s hoping the remaining 23 start to look up a little!

Be Brave. Stand on the Edge of the Cliff.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it is my belief and experience that writers (and artists as a whole) are a naturally self-depreciating bunch. Oh sure, we all have our moments when we feel on top of the world and are convinced that our writing is the most brilliant thing to come into this world since Shakespear, but the majority of the time we’re meak little creatures, hiding in a corner and insisting that if you just give me more time it’ll be perfect and then you can read it, I swear! Admit it, fellow writers: does this sound like you?

There are two major downsides to this kind of attitude. One, no story ever written was perfect, especially from the writer’s point of view, and trying to make it perfect will only drive you insane. Two, if you never get to the point where you’re ready to show you work to another human being, you’ll never go any further. Sometimes you have to be willing to put yourself out there, if only to know that you were brave enough to do it.

A little while ago, when I wrote my first “Things I Know About Kids” post, I had a thought…the kinds of things I was talking about (and planning to talk about) seemed like the kinds of things that belonged in a parental magazine like Today’s Parent. I considered this concept for a little while, even going so far as to look into how one would submit an idea to a magazine, but in the end I didn’t do it. Why? Because, like many writers before me, I look down on my own writing. I thought to myself, “There’s no point in persuing this idea because it’s never going to happen. Why would any magazine want to publish my awful schlock?” Admit it again, fellow writers: how many times have you thought this exact thing when considering a submission or query?

It wasn’t until three days ago that a little light flicked on in my head. I recalled a ridiculously cheesey quote that my husband once brought up back in high school: “You always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Yeah, it sounds hokey, but it’s true. You can’t succeed if you don’t set yourself up for the possibility of failure. That’s just the way things work. Not many people in this life are lucky enough to be “discovered”. Most of us have to put in the hard work, put ourselves out there, and risk failing. And when we fail, we have to pick ourselves up and go through it all over again. Glamorous? No. Necessary? Yes.

So with that on mind, on Friday I took some time and wrote a query letter that made me cringe, but that I knew to be more-or-less the proper way of doing things, and I shot it off to Today’s Parent. I’m not expecting to have my idea accepted (though it would be nice!) but what I realized was that there was zero chance of it being accepted if I never put it out there.

It’s a scary thing putting yourself at the edge of a cliff with the chance of being pushed off, but if you don’t do so you can never see the view. No, I honestly don’t believe that Today’s Parent is going to write be back and tell me I had a brilliant idea and they want to publish it immediately, but it still feels good to have taken that step, to prove that I’m brave enough to stand on the edge of the cliff. And should I, in the following weeks, recieve a kindly-worded (or even not-so-kindly worded) rejection letter, I shall do as many before me have: I’ll print that sucker out and stick it to my wall, because each rejection is just a step toward acceptance.

If you’re an unpublished writer, have you ever submitted anything for publication, or sent a query to a magazine or other venue? How did it make you feel? If you’re a published writer, how many rejections did you get before getting something published? Do you keep your rejection letters? Please share!

Contesting Your Writing

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

99. Writing Contests

To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t been such a long time since I first discovered that the world of writing contests actually existed. Mind you, I knew of the concept of writing contests, but I didn’t realize it was such big business, so to speak. Do a quick search on Google and you will find sites upon sites upon sites toting contests for those brave enough to submit a piece of work. There are contests for short stories, contests for poems, contests for drabbles, contests for every type of genre. There are fun contests amongst fellow writers and serious contests with prizes and/or publication on the line. There really is no way any one writer could even consider them all, never mind enter them all.

Personally I haven’t been able to pluck up the courage to enter any such contests yet, but for those who might be interested I offer this little nugget of advice: research the contest first. Anything with prizes, in particular, is likely to have a laundry list of rules, terms and conditions, and possible sneaky ways to bite you in the ass. A contest from a publisher, for example, may have a clause hidden in the terms and conditions that states that the publisher retains legal rights to reprint your submission without compensation. I’ve heard a few horror stories about things like this, so I urge you, do your homework before submitting to a contest.

And if I ever do pluck up the courage to enter one myself, I promise you will all be the first ones to know!

Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Oh, the cruelty…

Had to make a post to share this submission I saw on FML.com today:

“Today, I came home to find two letters from a publishing house that I’d submitted my manuscript to. The first was congratulatory, stating that my book had been accepted for publishing. The second was apologetic, stating that the first letter had been intended for someone else.”

Tell me that’s not, like, a writer’s worst nightmare right there. Usually FMLs make me laugh, but this one genuinely made me cringe.

Synopses are Boring :P

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

44. Mistakes to avoid in synopses

This is an area in which I have absolutely no experience. Since I’ve never submitted anything for publication or attempted self-publication, I haven’t written a synopses since I learned what the word meant back in grade school. Because of this I’m cheating a little on this one and giving you a link to a site I found via Google that explain just this sort of thing quite well:

Synopsis Tips

I’ll try harder later, I promise. 😛

Call This Help?

It appears that the only problem with pre-scheduling my posts for during the work rotation is that when I get home for my off-days I forget that I have to, you know…manually post some entries. I’d like to try and fix myself of this issue if at all possible. One of the big reasons (I suspect) that I’ve been unsuccessful with blogs and the like in the past is because I have no concept of “regular updates”, which as it turns out is a bit important.

In my defense, I had a friend visit from away for four nights, and during three of those nights we devoured a large, large amount of alcohol. A large amount. I may be recovering for another three or four nights.

But I digress. This is an overdue post that I should have made about a week ago when it was originally relevant.

About a week and a half ago there was an article in the local newspapers, detailing a rather frustrating issue with our province’s apprenticeship board. Without going into a great amount of detail, some lawyer (of course) apparently discovered that the apprenticeship board does not actually have the authority to accept work hours that were obtained in other provinces. As an overwhelming number of Nova Scotia apprentices work outside Nova Scotia (i.e. where the jobs are), this is a bit of an issue. It was a topic of much contention out on the work site. But it’s not the main point of the article that bothered me so much…what really bothered me was a quote by an apprenticeship board spokesman that stated how they were trying to help apprentices through this issue and that they were “all about” helping apprentices through to completion of their apprenticeship.

In response to this quote I wrote an emphatic FaceBook status about just how “helpful” I’ve found the apprenticeship board to be over the years. My husband then pointed out that the spokesman I was addressing was unlikely to read my FaceBook page and suggested I submit my status to the newspaper. I did so, expecting nothing to come of it, and was contacted by a family friend a few days later to let me know that he’d just read my letter.

Not the most enormous deal in the world, but pretty exciting to me since it’s technically my first real publication. 🙂 Confidence!

If anyone is interested in reading the letter that I wrote, I submit to you the link to the online version. My letter is third one down, entitled “Call this help?” and signed (obviously) Tracey Tobin.

http://thechronicleherald.ca/letters/130162-voice-of-the-people-august-27-2012

Dear lord, my head!

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been considering using CreateSpace to self-publish my zombie novel. I’ve been reconsidering that stance lately for a few reasons. One is that as it turns out you have to jump some hoops if you’re a Canadian because CreateSpace claims tax for the IRS. Another reason is that it just plain seems like a more impressive accomplishment to be published by an actual publishing company. It’s like being accepted to university…you feel somehow better about yourself than if you’d just decided to take one of those online “become _____ in only _____ weeks!” courses.

But here’s the thing…I’ve been looking into how you submit a manuscript. I’ve been looking into it in depth. And my head seriously feels like it may explode. It’s not that submitting a manuscript is, in theory, that complicated. The problem is that the publishers make it complicated by each having their own set of rules and regulations. Some want the manuscript emailed in a Word document format, others want it printed and mailed to them. Some want the full, completed manuscript while others just want a synopsis and an excerpt. Some don’t allow you to submit to anyone else while they’re looking at your manuscript (this is one I can’t stand) while others couldn’t care less. Some are only looking to do print books, some are only looking to do ebooks, some are looking to do both, and they all have their own rules about what you can do regarding the formats they don’t plan to use. And they all seem to have their own version of how the manuscript and your query letter should be formatted, and they have the right to basically throw your manuscript away if you haven’t formatted it properly.

For example, one publisher I’m looking at that deals in a lot of horror stories wants the manuscript emailed, in full, in a Word document, double spaced, justified format, with a particular type of title page and author info page. They don’t care if you submit to other publishers at the same time. They’re only looking to print in ebook format and don’t care if you want to use another venue to do print books. They estimate 30 days to get back to you on whether or not they’re interested.

Another publisher I’m looking at wants the manuscript printed and mailed to them. They have their own formatting rules that are different from the publisher above. They only allow you to submit to them, and if they find out you’ve submitted to someone else at the same time, your manuscript is automatically tossed out. They’re only looking to do print books, but they don’t allow you to do ebook format with another venue while you’re under contract with them. They estimate 90 days to get back to on whether or not they’re interested.

Now, looking at those two publishers, you’d think the first one is the more attractive-looking one. They get back to you quicker, allow you more freedoms, etc. But here’s the caveat….they pay a lot less. Their estimate for an advance and royalties is considerably less than the second publisher. So then you have to try and decide, would you rather have a better chance of getting published, or have a better chance of actually making some money when you get published?

It’s a surprisingly difficult decision. Yes, just getting published is more important to me, but it’s also hard to look at the differences in possible monetary compensation and feel good about choosing the lesser. It’s no different than any other job…you want to have some fun and freedom in your workplace, but a higher paycheck definitely makes it easier to deal with a little bull, if you know what I mean.

So now that I’ve done a bunch of research, read a ton of submission guidelines, and made my head thoroughly angry at me, I believe I’ve come to a very important conclusion about how to publish my book.

That is: “Stop worrying about the publishing details until you finish the damn thing already!

Good advice, me. Good advice.

On Publishing

For a while now I’ve been looking into different publishing options. What I’ve found is that I just don’t get it. It’s strange, really. I’m sure it’s probably all a lot simpler than my brain makes it out to be, but whenever I research into things like traditional vs. self-publishing, how to properly submit a novel to a big publisher, and what an accepted author can expect to earn, my head always ends up throbbing and I have to walk away from the computer for a while. Funny, right? I can dismantle an industrial valve that’s almost the size of me down into it’s tiniest components, and then turn around and put it all back together again (and have it work!), but when it comes to information on how to publish a book my mind shuts down on me and refuses to comprehend anything.

The main issue I’ve been battling with is whether to go immediately to self-publishing or try to submit my novel to one of the big publishing companies. I’ve read tons of information and advice on this argument. I’ve understood very little of it. There are a few things I’ve picked out, such as the idea that you’re more likely to make decent money if you go with a big publishing company, but then again you might go through years of rejections before getting accepted (or worse, never get accepted). With self-publishing you have to do most of the work yourself and you might never make a red cent, but your book will be published. It all comes down to what is more important to you…having your book out there, or eventually making money off of it.

For me I think it really comes down to impatience (of which I have a great deal). It would be nice to see my book printed by a big publisher, to see it on the shelf of a big-box book store, and to make some genuine money from it. But at the same time, I have the impatience of a hungry two-year-old…I want my appetite to be satiated now. The idea of spending months or years submitting my manuscript to publishers and sitting at home twiddling my thumbs while I wait for a response fills me with dread and makes my eye twitch maniacally. I’m just not a waiter; I hate waiting for anything.

So in the end I’ll almost definitely self-publish. I’m just so close to finally finishing one of my novel ideas that I can’t stand the idea of waiting any longer to have it (maybe) be published. While it would be amazing to make actual money doing what I’ve wanted to do since grade school, it’s more important to me to actually complete a novel from start (conception) to finish (printed book), and I want that printed book in my hands asap, thank you very much. 🙂