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Friday, May 11, 2012

Finished!

Well, mostly. Just moments ago, I submitted my semi-final draft to my editor.  Right now, I want to turn on Queen's song "We are the champions," and wave an American flag while screaming about the feeling of liberation I feel at having this done!

Oh, this is wonderful! First novel on its way, and more to come.  This is a great moment for me. :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lasanga

On Sunday night, I made lasagna. I called it "faux lasagna" because I cheated: I used lightly grilled corn tortillas as a substitute for noodles. See, my wife and two of our kids deal with celiac (an original driver of the current "gluten-free" movement), so unless we get (or make) gluten-free noodles, we're out of luck for pasta dishes.

Corn tortillas, thankfully, are gluten-free, and I figured, "Well, why not give it a try?"

I've never made lasagna alone, before. This was a new adventure for me. I did a bit of internet research for general ideas, but for the most part I just relied on my own "culinary engineering" skills, developed from years of feeding myself during bachelorhood.

The result? Everyone asked for seconds. It was awesome.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, not much on the surface, but if you dig a bit deeper, my making lasagna is very much like being a first time author: I've never really done this before.  And yet, I had the skills from the past to actually make a go of it.  Have I published? Sure. Self published, but it was a "print on demand" set up that charged ridiculous rates, and I went into it with no intent to ever make money off it--it was just a nice souvenir to put on my bookshelf and give to a few friends and family members.

This time, though, is for real.  No more microwave burrito writing, this is a full-on family meal.  And you know what?  I do believe that after launching this book, readers will come back for more, the same way my wife and kids did with my lasagna.

I've learned a ton from this process, and grown in some really cool ways.  Just like the lasagna, I've found that alternatives exist for doing something the "right" way.  I tend to be "results oriented," and while I don't believe the ends always justify all means, I do believe that often, the final product matters more than how you reach it (unless you're Miley Cyrus, then it really is all about the climb; I like that song).

I would rather have used lasagna noodles for this, but it turned out great anyway, and now I have another option for the future.  Likewise, it's awesome when a huge publishing house picks you out of the slush pile and sells it to the masses, making you an overnight success. That may yet come.  But these days, there are so many alternatives for publishing, and regardless of who I publish with, The Cinderella Project is great fun to read.  It can sell itself (though I intend to help it along).

Maybe I'll try gluten-free calzones next time... hmm...


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Why do I want to author?

I suppose that's really a fair question to ask--if nothing else, it'd be nice that my wife knew, since she'll end up bearing some of the burden of the task. In fact, I dare say that most writers probably share their load with supporting family members and friends, each of whom pay some price for the success of the author, but may never get more than a mere nod in the acknowledgements.

But why write?  The field is immensely competitive. The new ease of self publishing venues virtually guarantees that the market will be flooded soon, if it's not already. Many (most?) of those authors will never get out of the "wannabe" realm. Many of them may not be good enough to get out of it anyway. That's not meant as a slam, but merely a likelihood.  In my observations, merely having your name on the cover of a book doesn't guarantee that you have any real skill, or that your book is actually worth reading.

That's pretty arrogant of me, I know, because with that there's the unspoken notion that somehow, I will be better than tens of thousands of "wannabes."  At risk of really sounding like a snob, however, I can say this: I believe I can write at least as well as several of the authors I've seen in print with a variety of publishers.

Of course, embracing hubris is a quick way to find oneself getting smacked in the face by great reminders of one's own nothingness; life has a way of putting us in our place.  And yet, I'm not saying any of this to brag. I really don't think I'm "all that."

If I have any talent whatsoever, it was given me by a higher source.  Along with that talent has come years of opportunities to develop that talent through practice and the good old "trial and error" method--believe me, I've written some really awful stuff. Lots, and lots of really awful stuff--things I'm ashamed to even have my name on.

Do I have room to grow as an author? Absolutely.  However, I think I've become good enough to fly, and I've seen improvement even over the course of writing my first novel for publication (The Cinderella Project).

Combine that with a number of other circumstances that have pushed me down this road, and I'm finally taking chances I was previously too terrified to take. Seriously, it's 100 times easier to support a family as an engineer than as a burgeoning author.  It's a snap to just punch a clock for a "9-to-5" and be able to expect a decent paycheck every other week.  I'd like to keep my day job, thanks, at least for a while.

The odds are stacked hugely against me.  I'm  a tiny, nameless fish in a massive and growing sea of literature, and it may well require a miracle to ever make enough money off writing that I could pay my bills and care for my family from this endeavour.

And yet, I'm willing to try, even knowing that it's going to be a long, hard road that's far more likely to end in failure and obscurity than in fortune and fame (really, I'm fine with just making ends meet and having a little to spare; it's nice to have some extra cash to help people who could use it).

I'm writing because I feel I'm ready for it, and because I feel called to it, even if that seems like a silly thing to say.

Somehow, I really do believe I've got a shot at this.  My support network is pretty amazing. :)

Learning curves

Life is all about learning, of course.  I got a chance to get some life lessons just yesterday as I ventured out to see what it would take to get someone to accept my book for sales.  Considering the sheer volume of new authors and new titles that are pumped into the literary stream each year--especially now that it's ridiculously easy to self-publish--I wasn't surprised that people weren't jumping up and down to represent me.

I started out with a local library.  It's in a town of about 100,000--not too big, but bigger than my immediate stomping grounds.  Likewise, the library that services that town is about five times the size of the one just down the street from me. And that might be an understatement. Suffice it to say, the library recently hosted no less than Rick Riordan, author of the famed "Percy Jackson" series; they typically host events that pull in several hundred people. Small change compared to "big" libraries (county systems, etc.), but it's enough that the library turns away anyone not represented by "The Big 6" publishing houses (e.g. Random House, Simon and Schuster, etc.) or one of their subsidaries.

Considering that Breezy Reads is anything but "The Big 6," well... at least the lady was polite with me (and very friendly, actually) when she turned me down flat.

I learned something from my meeting with the library events director: who your publisher is may be even more important than who you, the author are, especially if you're a first-timer.  I think I'm safe in assuming that the truly "big name" authors probably wouldn't be visiting a local library to request an event anyway--they're too busy, and that's what agents and publicists are for.

Speaking of publicists, that brings me to the next stop of yesterday's short quest: a university bookstore.  It just so happened that I graduated from this university, and I thought it would be cool to be selling my book (eventually "books") there. In reflection, my encounter could easily be written into a book.


I approached the information desk, where a college-aged blond and a large, older gentleman occupied the zone with what looked very much like disinterest.  The blonde was closest, so I talked to her first.

"Hi," I said.  "I'm interested in learning how you choose which books end up on your shelves. Who would I talk to?"

She looked at me as if I were an unexpected line item that just appeared on her "to-do" list. Hooray for "service with a smile."

"You'd have to talk to him," she said, not bothering to point to the guy sitting next to her. He didn't so much as look up from what he was doing; I was pretty sure he was aware of my presence anyway.

"Okay thanks."

I took a step to my right, and addressed the portly man. Though I was certain he knew what I wanted, I repeated my question for politeness.

His enthusiasm couldn't have motivated a fire to burn a dry field. "We mostly get our material from catalogs." He held one up. "I read through about four hundred of these each season. There are three seasons. We also get recommendations from publicists."

He went on to tell me that the economy brought about a policy change that effectively cuts self-publishers (e.g. those who use CreateSpace and similar venues) out of the loop for consideration, let alone sales. He mentioned a couple of times that problems can arise when they buy from entities that don't have a return policy, which is a common ailment among self-pub authors these days.

To his credit, he was nice enough to throw me a bone. "If you'd like your book to receive special consideration, you can bring it to us, and we'll look at it."  Reading between the lines, "Please, I'm overwhelmed by the pile of work behind me, and I really don't have time to deal with some punk kid printing from a fly-by-night operation."

Honestly, I can't say that I blame him. Breezy Reads is small by age and be design; I could be any one of tens of thousands of other "no-names" out there.

But this is just the beginning.  Time, effort, and a healthy dose of Divine intervention tend to be game changers.  Here's hoping for that Divine intervention, eh?


And thus begins my journey into the land of the "actually published," as opposed to my previous two works, which were self-pubbed through an online venue that charged ridiculous rates (which is why I knew I'd never sell more than a handful of books; but that was okay--I was doing it simply for fun anyway).

More anecdotes to come, certainly.  Much legwork still to be done.