Eagerly I went to the workshop meeting with the first five pages of my novel, which nobody has read and I haven't talked or written about. The readers had five minutes to read their first pages--those make-or-break pages--and then got a five-minute critique from the audience. I was eighth on the list. Nerves crept up on me. I told myself, "Fear is not real. Fear is all in the mind. Don't buckle. Don't let it win."
As the writers took their turns I saw that each criticism had validity and value. Ergo, that'd be true of the critiques of my work. And I grew nervous again, not for myself but for the transition about to take place: My story and characters have been so much fun to write, but the finished book is not mine anymore. It belongs to readers, and has a whole new face.
There's a myth that writing a novel is very easy. In Peanuts we saw a dog writing a genre novel. Erase that idea; you are now in the Sanity Bubble. It's novelists, the long-distance runners, who most need education in the craft and the business.
I notice that many authors bail out, or want to, when their books are 95 percent of their way into reality. It's not writer's block; it's a more insidious self-subversion rooted in stress and exhaustion, like that of a mother who feels she can't summon the strength for one last big push to bring her baby into the world. True-life examples:
At a recent reading I met Ben Moeller-Gaa, well-published poet who writes only haiku. I had to ask what that was like.
-Tell us about your interesting last name.
My wife is a Moeller and I am a Gaa and when we got married we decided to join our names. The name Gaa is German, and it’s really that short. My family comes from the town of Hockenheim, where there are still Gaas today. I have no idea what the name means. It is a historical question mark.
Writer Carol Bly had a trick for improving and tightening dialogue in fiction and nonfiction. Take a page of dialogue from your manuscript, lay a one-inch-wide ruler on the left margin of your writing, and pencil a line down the ruler’s right side. Everything in front of the penciled line must go.
It is normal for writers to hate their publishers: They don’t promptly return emails or calls. The book, they said, would be out in May but now they say August. You tear out your hair. They choose the typeface and cover, the fun stuff, while you collect copyright permissions and back-of-the-book blurbs (isn’t that their job?), and they demand that you have an author platform and a marketing plan. They want images at 300 dpi. Awful. This is as true of self-publishers as it is of commercial publishers.
The "John 3:16" of rock lyrics is that "Hotel California" line: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." Authors like to quote song lyrics and are often surprised to learn that to avoid being sued for copyright infringement they need written permission from the song's owner, traceable through one of three sources: www.ascap.com , www.bmi.com and www.sesac.com.
I collected all the hard-copy books I've edited or worked on. In press are The Devil Came to Town (nonfiction) by Bonney Patterson, spring 2014, and Icarus Flees the Garden of Earthly Delights (poetry), by Tim Leach, scheduled for publication in May 2015. Two more client manuscripts are out seeking publishers; one is on an agent's desk right now. Eleven of these books were published by established presses with the authors acting as their own agents. I love when that happens.
I will miss seeing Jay Leno; seeing him each weeknight reassured me, as if he were a friend or, God help me, a husband, a good one: worked hard, talked to me for 12 minutes on weeknights, liked laughter, didn’t cheat, maintained his hair, paid for his own expensive hobby of car-collecting – dependable, and devoted (his last words on Tonight were “I’m coming home, honey”), and that added up to a chick magnet for women of his demographic, average age 57.8.
So I was always glad to see him and devoted to him, up to a point. I switched off the TV after Jay performed what had been written or engineered for him: the monologue and the comic segues that preceded the interviews with celebrities--who were as interchangeable as cold cuts, too often flogging their new books.
Even if your work is top-of-the-line and everyone else says so, take time to consider, before entering a contest that asks a $20 or $25 fee (those add up), who the judge is. Most of the time the entity holding the competition is pleased to announce the names of its judge or judges, who are often well-known.
This is a great opportunity for you because the best way to gauge your work's chances of winning or placing in a contest likely to have 400 to 1200 contestants is to look up the work of the judge. If he writes "masculine" hunting and fishing stories he probably likes reading them, and if your story is about a sewing circle, the odds of its winning are not very good. Or if his poetry is super avant-garde and yours is traditional, you won't win no matter how good your submission is. When you and the judge share the same literary values your chances are much better.