September 22, 2009

Writing Matters

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:50 pm
Watchung Booksellers That’s the title of the series I’m co-hosting at Watchung booksellers in Montclair, NJ. As you know from other posts, I am a huge fan of independent bookstores, and this is one of the best. Passionate staff, all the books you go to look for interspersed with ones you never knew existed (but will love), and a nice, nooky atmosphere for poring over your finds.
Writing Matters
Writing Matters
Plus, of course, a willingness to host our series, A Dialogue on the Craft & Business of Words. The first panel, on publishing short fiction on line, was SRO on a rainy Friday in July and led to a rousing discussion about new and old media.
We’re hoping for a great turn out when we feature three authors speaking about Alternative Routes to Publishing Your First Novel. Please come by if you’re free on Friday, September 25th at 7 pm to discover some great new books and hear their authors tell the stories behind them.

September 21, 2009

The Greatest Books of All Time

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:17 am

How’s that for a title?

Loyal blog reader SapphireSavvy asked how I’ve gotten in touch with “famous” authors, by which I think she and I mean authors who dazzle and humble and inspire us. It’s a good question and relevant to perhaps the central theme of this blog: the road one takes to publication. What to do along it.

That’s the question behind my Made It Moments forum, and it’s what the backstory posts all add up to.

So I want to answer Sapphire’s question here in a day or two. But as a segue into that topic, I thought I’d post a link to author Lee Child’s 40 Greatest Books list. You already know that I love Lee Child (one of his Reacher novels would definitely be on my top 40 list) and I found his selections a hodge podge of books I know, books I now want to get, and books I wouldn’t have put on there myself.

What about you? What goes on your top 40?

September 18, 2009

Do I write trash?

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:54 pm

As y’all can probably tell from the title of this blog, I love commercial fiction. To me this is a euphemism for a good story well told. How can you argue with that?

But people do.

Genre fiction, according to some, is a lesser beast then say, literary fiction. National book award winning fiction. New Yorker fiction.

This article offers a counter argument. What makes for a good read? Is it trash if it’s not hard to digest? Or dissect?

I would offer a grayer distinction. I’ve read literary fiction that seems like so much puffed up tomfoolery, albeit with a great deal of flashy, showy sentences. Or sentences so pared down you wonder where the writing comes in.

And I’ve read commercial fiction so deep I’m still trying to climb out of the chasms into which the authors drew me. There is no deeper meditation on death than Pet Semetary as far as I’m concerned. And probably no subject deeper than death.

Is this just a simple question of one camp–and I mean that in the little kid, neh neh neh neh sense–saying, We’re the best, and the other trumpeting, No, we are? Is there a real distinction here at all?

Read the article and tell me what you think.

September 17, 2009

Back to our regularly scheduled program

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 8:51 pm

Actually, back to the story of my still fledgling career as a writer. (In my darker moments, I call it my non-career.)

After I received that wonderful call from the agent at the oldest literary agency in the country, I actually received something else as well. My very first email. Yes, up until this point I did not use email.

At all.

Can you recall a time when that could be said?

Of course, I still don’t have a cell phone, which may or not be relevant.

Suffice it to say that there were enough people not using email that my soon-to-be agent asked, Do you have email?

But this email, which sat unchecked for about a week since I wasn’t used to having the…thing. Or stuff. Or whatever you’d call email. Anyway, it came from another agent, a newer, greener one, who’d been a novelist herself. She was also offering to represent me. Only thing was she was offering to rep my other novel.

Yep, by that point I’d written two. It took me about eight months of querying to get my first offer of rep, and in that time I both wrote another book AND got frustrated enough with the wait to begin querying on it.

Oh man. I didn’t know what waiting was.

In the next post I’ll tell you how I chose which agents to go with. (Believe me, I realize I was lucky to have a choice.)

But you might think me less lucky when you hear how the Wait, the real wait, began.

September 16, 2009

After You Get an Agent (a list of things to do)

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:44 pm

I used to think that once you got an agent, your book would sell and your career would begin. Now I realize that getting an agent is one step along this journey of a thousand miles. Sometimes your book sells right away. More often, though, you get feedback from editors and you revise. Or you get passes and your agent recommends that you begin your next book. Or you and your agent figure out you’re not such a great match and you look for another agent.

In case any of these less than immediate scenarios applies to you, I came up with a list of things to do AFTER you get that shining offer of rep.

1. Begin your next book. The great Lisa Unger swears by retreating into the next work to cope with sub purgatory, and I myself can’t stress the importance enough. Not only will it occupy your mind during the anxiety of they submission process, but it will look good to editors who are considering your work, and in the immortal words of Jodi Picoult, possibly even sell first.

2. Write to authors whose work you admire. When I started doing this, I had to write actual snail mail letters (and possibly looked a little stalkerish, since coming up with addresses sometimes took, uh, a certain degree of wile). But my letters were nice, since I felt genuinely humble in the face of such talent, and a surprising number of people were kind enough to write back and even agree to provide blurbs for my unpublished novel. Even if you don’t receive blurbs in advance of publication, by beginning an occasional correspondence now, you will have people to contact for them when your book does sell. And it’ll be easier for you than it was for me, since most authors accept contact by email. (If you do send a real letter, don’t hand deliver it, or bring a bunny along to boil, or what have you.)

3. Meet booksellers, especially independent ones. (Indie booksellers make authors into stars.) You can do this merely by going in and browsing in the store. If you can afford it, buy something. Support an author, the store, and print publishing. Then look around for the person behind the information counter, and say hello. Mention that your own novel is on submission. Always get the person’s name and tuck it away. I never visit a friend, go on vacation, or take a business trip without finding every bookstore within a certain radius. (Yes, I have nearly bankrupted us since I practice my buy-a-book preaching.)

4. Start a website and begin blogging. You’re reading this. ‘Nuff said.

5. Be nice to your agent. S/he is working for you for free out of pure faith, passion, and commitment. Send holiday cards or small gifts and remember that if it gets frustrating, your agent is in the trenches, trying to get you out.

I would love to see your additions to the list!

September 15, 2009

Writers Night Out

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:51 pm

I’d like to invite all and sundry to a fun night out at an indie bookshop in Montclair, NJ. Authors James LePore, who is published by one of the coolest independent presses I’ve come across, formerly self published sensation Maryann McFadden, and award winner Stefanie Pintoff will be on hand to discuss their Alternative Routes to Publication.

And by “discuss” I mean a true discussion…lots of give and take and an opportunity to get to hear from writers up close and personal. Been dying to ask someone what it’s really like beyond that Published wall? Come out on September 25th and do so! Want to vent about the state of the industry? We welcome that too–and may even have some tips for you.

If you need any extra incentive, refreshments will be served. In fact, we’ll be sampling cake from another independent–a dessert maker who’s recently set up shop in one of the sweetest and most tempting bakeries I’ve ever visited.

This event is the second in the writers series I’m co-hosting at Watchung booksellers, one of the fine stores that is hand selling books, leading readers to great stories, and making authors’ careers. I hope to see some of you there! Readers of this blog, please make sure you come over and say hello.

September 9, 2009

Advice to a young query-er

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 3:35 pm

I wrote the gist of this in response to a friend who feels down about the state of things. The process. The I-want-to-be-published-one-day game. And I thought I’d reproduce it for anyone else who might feel the same way, and also anyone who sees it differently, and would be willing to say why.

One thing i have learned…never, ever (ever EVER) take one person’s opinion to mean the ms is flawed. Or even five people’s opinions.

Don’t go back to the drawing board. Don’t open up the document and drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to change it so it wouldn’t have gotten rejected.

If you get the same specific criticism from two or more people, my advice is to consider that seriously, see if it resonates with you. But if it’s only vague “didn’t fall in love” type rejections, or specific reasons that don’t match other specific reasons you’re getting, just keep sending it out.

This business is so subjective, and bottom line, I think editors are looking for a book they would want to pick up in a store–not necessarily something other people would want to pick up in a store. So you are trying to find the one editor (or agent) who is going to adore your particular book.

If they’re passing it doesn’t mean your book isn’t saleable–it just means that one person didn’t love it. And so it’s a matter of throwing enough spaghetti till a piece sticks.

Go with your gut. If a criticism causes a spark of recognition–or better yet, excitement–by all means sit down and revise accordingly. By the same token, if one feels totally, completely, my eyes-are-tearing-up-at-the-thought-of-doing-that wrong, don’t change a thing.

(Unless you know you’re the type who always resists what’s really right for your work. In that case you may have to sit with rejections a while, until that initial impulse has passed.)

I guess I would add for the purposes of this blog–I know my friend’s work is good, so this caveat wasn’t necessary for her–that it’s a well recognized truism that most everyone thinks they can write a novel. And most everyone can’t. So if you’re querying and you’ve gotten upwards of fifty (maybe even twenty) form rejections without one personal note jotted down–keep at it; this is good, but not for us; try my friend Josie at such and such; I know you’re going to succeed; or the like–then it might be time to hone your craft a little more.

Take an online class. New York Writers Workshop or Writers Digest or Gotham all offer them. Look into workshops or conferences that focus on craft. Two I know of are Writers in Paradise, which features more bestselling legends than you can shake a stick at, and Algonkian. Go over to your local community college and see if you can audit a creative writing class. Find a writers group through your local bookstore or community center.

Otherwise, I would say keep contacting agents. Or if you’re represented, let your agent keep contacting editors. I heard recently from one author whose agent worked a year and a half before making a sale. Don’t get down hearted. And most particularly, don’t give up.

This is how the game is played.

September 4, 2009

New York is waking up

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:01 pm

Once Labor Day weekend draws to a close, the world of publishing will be coming to life like a cranky old grandpa shaking off his afternoon nap.

Or maybe like a newborn babe, wide eyed and beaming, excited to face whatever’s new.

I’m hoping for the latter.

I realize I’m jumping ahead in my story a bit, but my novel is on sub now, and I do wonder what the future will hold.

The wonderful writer Joshilyn Jackson once was kind enough to answer an email I sent her. (More on such emails another time.) She called submission a special kind of hell. It’s true if hell is being totally out of control, filled with hope, fear, and anxiety, counting on a dream that may not come true.

Or is that just life?

Weigh in with your own sub stories, please.

And here’s to the end of a beautiful summer!

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