Monday, April 10, 2017

Let's Get Real

Preparing to mentor someone in #Pitchwars has got me thinking about what I have to offer that isn't already out there enough in the writing ether. Here's where I landed:

The publishing industry is amazing, and also brutal.

If you want to be an author (i.e. someone who shares their books with the world, traditionally, or independently) then you need to understand what you can control, and what you can't. Because this industry will take a lot out of your hands. And it's easy to get confused and start blaming yourself for things you shouldn't--but also to not take responsibility for things you should.

I'm going to do my best to give you a realistic picture of how this industry works. And challenge you to own your actions and see yourself through an objective filter. Because if you're willing to do that, you will win at this game.

Are you ready to hear how? (This is where you strap in)


I'm friends with a lot of writers. Some self-published, some midlist published like me, some extremely successful, and some just starting out--agented, or aspiring to be.

After eight years immersed in this industry, I'm beginning to be able to pick who's going to win at this game, and who won't. Because giving yourself the best chance to be a winner in publishing is in your control, even if the ultimate finish-line isn't. Are you ready? Here goes:


What You Can Control (But Might Not Want To)
(As taught to me by people much more experienced and successful than I)

1. You can understand the craft of fiction.

It might seem daunting, or like a waste of time that could be better spent creating. Here's the truth: It isn't.

This is the largest obstacle I see in aspiring authors. I can't count the number of times I've heard people say they don't have time to read instructional books. Or they don't want their writing to become "formulaic". Or they start to read something, find it inspiring, jump back into their manuscript and don't ever go back to the other nuggets of instruction that are available in the book they started.

And the problems that someone else has already given the answers for, or the weaknesses in their writing that someone else has already identified in a craft book, continue in their writing. And they continue to get rejections. And they become despondent.

Take control. Read books from masters about how to become a better writer. Read blogs from authors about the things they see in new writers. Believe it. They aren't sharing that with you for kicks. They're trying to help. But only you can control if you're willing to invest time in your own work.


2. You can allow your work to be criticized so you can improve on it.

This is the second biggest problem I see in aspiring authors. "I can't let other people read it. It's my baby." or "I couldn't take it if someone didn't like it."

I get it. They're afraid someone will call it ugly, or useless, or mimicry. They're hurt by that thought, so they retreat. But here's the time to pull up your big girl/boy pants:

If you ever plan to share your writing--for free, independently, or via traditional routes--someone else is going to read it and inevitably, someone will tell you what's wrong with it. Whether those flaws are massive, or just nit-picky, subjective stuff, is in your control.

If you put out for free, someone will tell you why they don't like it.

If you publish independently or otherwise, people will give you bad reviews. (No one is free of that particular burden, no matter how successful).

If you try to get an agent and/or a publishing deal, it will be critiqued, edited, and changes requested. Probably demanded.

In short: In publishing, a thick skin is a must. And the only way to develop a thick skin, is to allow the criticism to help you do better next time. Don't wallow in rejection, learn from it.

In this industry, criticism and rejection are unavoidable, inevitable truths. So here's what you can control: You can control who gets first pass at identifying problems (because anyone who just says "I love it" isn't helping anything but your ego--none of us are perfect, and none of our books are, either). You can control how much you're willing to revise and work at refining your writing, and your story, to make it better.

Because the better it is, the more likely you are to reach whatever goal you have, be it great comments on your post, high average reviews and sales in self-publishing, or garnering an agent and a contract. Are you willing to take on the initial rejection and criticism, in order to receive less of it later? It's in your control to do so.


3. You can treat writing like a profession, even if you aren't earning through it yet.

Here's what's going to happen if you publish, independently or traditionally: People will have expectations, and you'll be working hard to meet them. And sometimes that will mean working when you don't feel inspired. Or working on a story that's started to die for you because you've read it so many times. 

An amateur gives up, procrastinates, denies (or worse, deceives) those who are demanding more, and makes excuses for why it's not their fault.

A professional works to deadlines (even if they're ones they've set themselves), takes input and turns it into momentum to improve, and is reliable. When they say something's going to arrive, it arrives. When they say they're delivering a sequel, or a proposal for the next book, or the edits on the current one, they do. It's that simple.

Are you making commitments and keeping them, even when it's hard? That's in your control. And if the day comes that you are successful in reaching a goal, the ability to work under pressure, or when the muse is absent, will serve you very, very well.


4. You can be willing to sacrifice to reach your goals.

Another refrain from aspiring authors: "I just don't have time."

In some lives, this is genuinely true. They're working full time, helping kids with homework, and dealing with family matters. If that's the case, forgive yourself, work when you can, and know that this is a season. The day will come when you have structured time to write, and you're so good at being reliable, that's when you'll see the rewards for it.

But many, many others don't.

"I don't have time!" yet they're binge-watching their favorite shows on Netflix.

"I don't have time!" yet they're posting visual diaries on Twitter, and talking for two hours with a friend over coffee about the book they're "writing". Sort of.

"I don't have time!" yet they're in a head-to-head battle with some guy in Norway over top slot on their favorite Playstation game.

Here's the thing: You can choose what you prioritize. If you want to prioritize other things, that's fine. But don't tell yourself (or me) that you don't have time. You do. It's what you're choosing to do with the time that's the problem.

Writers write. Are you? If not, you aren't a writer. But you can be. If you choose it.


5. You can be disciplined and structured about your efforts.

Here's words you'll hear a lot if you get involved in writing communities online:

"I'm a committed pantser."

"I can't outline, it kills the journey of discovery."

"I don't know how to fix this plot problem."

"If I plan a scene ahead, I get bored."

Something that's true: Everyone has a different process that works for them.

Something else that's true: Professional, successful writers have to plan ahead and know where they're going. They have to know what they're releasing before it's in the world. They have responsibilities to their agents/publishers to propose a book (which includes a full plot summary). They have to be able to commit to deadlines (which means understanding how long it will take them to write something, and pushing themselves to reach that goal even when it's hard).

Get serious. If you want to do this for a living, have an agent, get submitted to publishers, you have to be willing to plan.

Here's the cool part: When you start planning, organizing, and structuring your writing time, ultimately you'll write faster, better material, earlier in the process. And with each subsequent book, the material you produce becomes a better product. So you have more success, and get to choose even more things to plan for.

If you aren't willing to analyze, plan, or commit, your writing will get stuck and your career will stall. Your readers will get bored, or not show up at all.


6. You can function as a professional (even before you get paid).

No one says better how the jump to professionalism is achieved, than the master, Neil Gaiman (if you don't have time to listen to all of it, go to 14:10)


Which two are you? Own those. Tell people about them. Be those things. And watch yourself begin to succeed.


7. You can keep going, even when it gets hard.

Okay, serious talk: Some of us are dealing with mental or physical health issues, painful seasons in life, and other obstacles we can't control that will affect our ability to push on. That's okay. That's life. And writing is only good for your life when everything else is working. So take the time you need to be healthy, fit, and ready.

But once you're there, once you're in a place where you know what you want, and you're equipped to pursue it, know this: There are going to be really, really hard days (sometimes even weeks or months). Days when you're convinced your material is crap. Days when you receive just one more rejection from an agent, or just one more note from a publisher that says "close, but no cigar".

Those things all hurt. They hurt all of us. But there's two possible responses: The first is, "I hate this, I'm not doing it anymore." The second is "I need to take a breath, then I'm going to try again."

Guess which one will find you success? Hint: This industry will gut you if you don't have the wherewithal to lick your wounds, then keep going. The only part of this process that you can control is the willingness to take yet another shot.

Thomas Edison said it best. It took him around 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb, and after he did, a journalist asked him "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" His response? "I didn't fail 1,000 times, the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."

Your book hopefully won't take 1,000 steps. But if it does, are you willing to keep pushing yourself on after the first one-hundred, two-hundred, even nine-hundred paces? Because that's the part of the process that you can control.

Authors are writers who didn't give up. Just because you haven't achieved something right now, doesn't mean you never will.

I promise.

So, here's my suggestion in a nutshell: Take control of what you can.

Then, in a few days, come back here and learn to forgive yourself for the things you can't . . .

Your Turn: Any questions? Ways I can help? Talk to me on Twitter at @AimeeLSalter or comment here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How I'm Going to Help You Prepare for #Pitchwars (Even if Your MS Isn't YA)

You guys. YOU GUYS. I've been invited to mentor #Pitchwars this year for YA manuscripts!


I (seriously) couldn't be more excited. The Pitch Wars community is so incredibly supportive, informative, and hilarious. I'm ecstatic to be a part of it.

Since you're already revising your manuscripts and drafting your pitch materials (Right? Right?) I want to help.

THE GOOD NEWS: In the month of May I'm going to offer 20 pitch, 10 query, and 5 first chapter critiques.

THE UH-OH NEWS: For pitch and query crits you have to be willing to have your material posted on my blog (stripped of identifiable author names/titles, of course), along with the accompanying critique, and for the first chapter crit, you need to be willing to have the first 500 words posted, along with the critique. (Again, your name/the title of your book will not be included in the post--only the category and genre, and you'll receive a critique of your full first chapter privately).


Already convinced? 

Great! Go here to sign up for early-bird email notification when I'm ready to collect entries. You'll get a note offering you a chance for a critique before I post the opportunity on the #Pitchwars boards on Twitter.


Want More Information On How This Will Work? Read On!

For the month of May, every weekday I'll post critiques here on the blog to help the chosen individuals refine their entries--and give anyone who's watching insight into how a mentor views and analyzes entries.

At the end of each critique, I'll indicate whether, if I received that entry as-is, I would request pages, or shoulder-tap mentors it's submitted to.

If you're considering me as a mentor you don't have to enter. But keep an eye on the blog. Reading these critiques will show you what I like and don't like, how I critique, and help you decide whether we might be a good fit as a Pitchwars team.

You don't have to have a YA manuscript for me to critique your work. The Pitch Wars community is incredible, and I want to give back by providing helpful feedback in the early preparation stage. There will be a lot of critiques offered in the month leading up to Pitch Wars, so this should help you be one step further down the road to a polished manuscript/pitch before the competition for those critiques ramps up!

I'm an anti-bullying advocate and have comment moderation on my entire blog. No insulting or overly-critical comments will be allowed anywhere, on any of my content. You're safe here. 

When I post your entry on the blog, it will stay there in perpetuity. But it won't have your name or title on it, and you won't have to acknowledge it as yours unless you want to.

If you have any further questions, just ask them in the comments, or use my email contact in the side-bar to reach me directly.

Otherwise, go here to enter your email address to be notified when the critiques are being offered.

See you on the #Pitchwars boards!!!

Aimee

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Have No Fear. You're Safe Here

I was heartbroken last week to read several threads on Twitter in which teens and young women (all readers and bloggers) spoke up about their current discomfort in the YA book community. These threads were then discussed at length by many others who acknowledged feeling the same way. Most stated, in one form or another:

Diversity matters. Politics matter. The conduct of the publishing community matters . . . but the current climate in our YA community had made them feel like they didn't matter.

The worst part? Of the six threads I read, all were high school or college students, and:

- Four were written by young women of color.

- Two stated outright that they didn't feel comfortable even asking questions about books because of the way they'd seen friends, bloggers, and authors treated if they phrased a question "wrong", or the question implied they disagreed with leaders in the community.

- One had stopped blogging completely because she was afraid a wrongly worded review might make her a target.

As a YA author, this left me incredibly disturbed. All of us in the YA community (yes, even those who may intimidate you) got into this arena because we want to connect with young people. We want to be a support and encouragement to young adult readers. We all believe that books, and access to information, are a critical freedom, even for minors. Helping young people feel empowered, learn, and grow is why we're here.

So, if you've felt targeted, de-powered, or threatened in our community, I'm sorry. And I want you to know: You're safe here.

As a teen and anti-bullying advocate, a mother, and a citizen, I want you to know that you're allowed to make mistakes here. If you're under the age of 26, your brain hasn't even stopped developing, let alone your personality, heart, and opinions (I'm 40, and still changing my mind...)

You're allowed to disagree. You're allowed to be resolute in your choices -- even if your thoughts, feelings, and opinions don't match mine. In fact, we can be diametrically opposed, and I'll still welcome your questions and discussions. Because I know the only way to learn and grow is to be allowed to ask Why and How? The only way to influence or be influenced, is through calm discourse that analyzes the issue (not the individual). And the only way we can truly stand alongside each other is to accept that sometimes we won't see eye-to-eye. And neither our persons, nor our mutual relationship, is devalued by that.

If you know me, you know I'm not scared to disagree. I'm rarely cautious about sharing my opinion. But I can also tell you, unequivocally, that I'll always make my conversation about the issue, not the individual. And I genuinely believe there's no such thing as a bad question. Especially for someone who hasn't -- or has only barely -- reached legal adulthood. Not only are brains still developing so cognitive reasoning abilities may still be somewhat limited, but there's a lot of life left to learn through experience. None of us understood as much when we were 18 as we do now.  (Gosh, if you'd known me at 19 years old . . . *shudder* The mortifying stories I could tell about things that came out of my mouth, or decisions I made . . .)

So, I'm making a commitment to you: If you want to discuss a book (any book), you can ask your question here. I've placed moderation on the comments so no one will be able to answer your question rudely, or with insults. Every opinion that's worded respectfully--even those I disagree with--will be published. If no other readers can answer your question, and I'm not able to, I'll find someone in the know to do it with respect.

MY COMMITMENT: You will not be insulted, ridiculed, diminished, or marginalized by your conversation here, on any of my personal social media platforms, or in private correspondence with me.

If you have a question about any book or issue in the YA community that you don't feel comfortable asking publicly, either comment anonymously, or email me. My contact details are available in the header of this page.

If you find yourself in the middle of an online storm that you didn't see coming, tag me, tap me, or ask for my help. You don't have to weather that alone.

And if anyone is abusing you--verbally, emotionally, or physically--that's never okay. No matter what issue is at stake. Talk to me, or another adult you trust. You do not have to accept that. Period.

Have no fear. You're safe here. 

Author Confession - Day 3 - What's the best compliment you've had?

I'm a day behind, but I didn't want to skip this one!

#AuthorConfession Day 3 "What's the best compliment you've had?"

There's no doubt that most authors prize the letters, emails, comments from readers who've connected with their books above all other accolades. Knowing a real, live person has read your material and it's found a place in their heart or impacted their life is literally incredible. It's those moment's I've dreamed about since I was a teenager.

Two specific incidents stick out for me, but I'll only tell you this one:

A little over a year ago I was privileged enough to be invited to join a large conference in Portland, Oregon, where librarians, teachers, and youth workers converged to learn from and about YA authors and books. That was my first signing at a conference. I expected to show up and maybe get a handful of librarians who wanted to get my book for the students who'd been bullied. But I never expected this:

While I signed books and met readers, I noticed a young woman, probably in her early to mid twenties, standing off to the side, a few feet away from my table, staring.

At first I thought she was in line to meet the author next to me as she stood closer to that line. But her back was to the people lined up. Was she trying to read about my book? Or just distracted?

Then as my line dwindled, she stared right at me.

A minute later I reached a lull and turned to smile at her. Did she need help?

She gripped the straps of a tote bag with white-knuckled fists and seemed to shrink in on herself. But when I smiled at her, she walked hesitantly up to my table, no longer meeting my eyes, instead digging in her bag.

"I-I have your book already. Will you sign it for me?"

I was flattered. "Of course."

Her hands shook as she passed me the book and I realized she wasn't distracted, or uncertain. She was terrified. (Of me? Of the crowd? Who knows). Painfully shy, she'd been standing off to the side trying to drum up the courage to come to my table. She'd been waiting for there to be no one else in line.

I smiled again to put her at ease, took her name and asked her if she wanted me to write a specific message. She shook her head and glanced around, checked over her shoulder. But she was the only one in front of me--a fact for which I'm truly grateful, because I believe if she hadn't been, the best compliment I ever received would have stayed firmly stuck in her throat:

While I wrote a pithy dedication in her book and thanked her for bringing the book, she stepped close enough to lean slightly over my table. Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"I already read it. I w-wanted to thank you for writing it. It . . . it really helped me. I kn-know you were bullied." She wasn't the first reader to communicate this, but I'm always grateful to hear it. I met her eyes, smiled widely and thanked her, sincerely.

Then she said, "I came here to meet you because I wanted to tell you I think it's a really important book." 

She had tears in her eyes.

I was stunned. I'm pretty sure I stumbled over something very insufficient, like, "Wow. Thank you! Were you bullied too?"

She nodded, but didn't say anything because a handful of new readers chose that moment to arrive at my table. They respectfully gave her a few feet of space, but their movement and hubbub behind her caught her eye, then mine. I glanced at them over her shoulder, then turned back to speak to her again, still fairly dumbfounded. What was her story? Was there something specific that had resonated for her? But I never found out because she gave a shaky little wave, turned her back and walked away.

I still have moments where I wish I could find her and talk to her--not so she could tell me about me, or my book. But because I was so touched by how clearly difficult it was for her to be there, to be surrounded by people. Yet she'd urged herself to come to talk to me. 

It was easy to see the pain and fear in her eyes. I wish I knew her story. I wish I could encourage her, and befriend her, and support her through what is clearly a life that remains somewhat traumatic.

Instead, she gave me the best compliment I've received yet. And I'll always remember her.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Author Confession Day 2 - What's the WORST Thing You've Written?

For the month of February I'm taking the #AuthorConfession challenge. Day 2 is "What's the Worst thing you've written?"

This one has been kind of fun for me. I went back through my backup files to find the original version of my very first book. It isn't without potential, but some of my descriptors and internal narratives are cringe-worthy.

Here's just a couple examples:

"As I stepped up the center aisle I peeked out from under my bangs to see if I could identify the person I’d be spending a semester copying from and found myself frozen in the glorious gaze of Carl’s warm brown eyes. I swallowed again, this time to move my heart back down to its correct anatomical position. I tried not to walk faster, but the relief was overwhelming. Carl saw me coming and smiled, which required another severe swallow to keep my heart in place."

"Michelle couldn’t believe it when Carl took his shirt off. He was such a show-off! And she hated how her pulse raced and her stomach starting flipping around as she took in the perfection that was everything about him. She swallowed hard and glared to hide her attraction. He needed to get a grip!"

Lesson? Adverbs, exclamation marks, and purple-prose do not a compelling story make. My characters sound years younger than they are, and the descriptions of around around them often sound as if they fell out of a ridiculous SNL sketch (not the good ones). 

When it comes to descriptors and scene setting, less is more, Aimee. Less. Is. More.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Author Confessions, Day 1

I ran into this on Twitter and thought it would be a fun way to reconnect.


Day 1 is pretty easy for me: I create playlists for every work in progress as soon as I'm sure it's a story I'll pursue to completion. Current protagonist and the tone of the book lean heavily towards Blink 182 and Green Day.

See you tomorrow for a rather more revealing post...