Authors are funny folks, and I don’t mean amusing (though I guess some of us do write darn good humor!) It’s hard to figure out what to give them as gifts for holidays and birthdays. You know they love to read, but you don’t know what they might already have read (Note: they have probably already read everything.) Well, gift certificates to bookstores are nice for everyone, not only writers. Just be sure to force the recipient to open a package to get to it, like everyone else has to do!
Nice notebooks are always at the top of a giver’s list, but here’s a secret: Should you ever sneak into a writer’s office or lair and peek inside one of the lovely journals lined up on their shelves (which is a terrible thing to do, and I am not suggesting you do it! But! Just saying, if you ever did!) you would find absolutely nothing on the pages. Except maybe a little note along the lines of: “Wow, this is such a nice journal – I hope I can think of something profound enough to write in it someday!”
We never use our nice notebooks! That would ruin them!
You can’t just write everyday drivel in a gorgeously bound journal – you have to write something eloquent and meaningful, immortal words you would not be ashamed to have as-yet-unborn generations discover and place in a museum, or at least make a fortune from on eBay.
The same goes for beautiful pens. Antique-looking, lacquered pens carved in the shapes of dragons or faeries are nice to collect, but writers don’t actually write with them. That would be sacrilege to the gods of lovely pens! Besides, if you are writing an average of 1,200 words an hour, fancy pens make your hand sore, and run out of ink far too quickly.
An internet search on “what to give a writer for Christmas” will turn up everything from computer bags to herbal tea to socks with famous literary quotes on them. Admittedly, these things are nice (I for one can never own enough socks!) Many of these lists also include mugs with snarky or inspiring quotes about writing. Authors do use these. I am almost as addicted to mugs as I am to socks.
Staff to take care of all the daily interruptions so they can just write for a dodgammed change would also be appreciated by your favorite writer. But if you can’t afford that, there is one very special thing you can give them that is pretty much free.
Writers want reviews!
Preferably good reviews, but even bad ones help.
It only takes a few minutes – less time than it takes to fill up your internet shopping cart, and since you’re already there anyway, why not stop and review one of your beloved author’s books? Heck, you can even perform a random act of holiday kindness and review the book of an author who’s a total stranger to you! Reviews help books rise in the “Recommended” lists, and thereby enable the the author to sell more copies.
Doing this is also a gift to readers, because it helps people find books they might enjoy reading.
Because in the end (and in the beginning, for that matter,) what authors really want is more readers.
The question gets percolated around Twitter all the time: Do you consider yourself to be an author, or merely a writer?
Here’s the thing: it’s not open for debate. The definitions of the words “author” and “writer” are about as clear and precise as the definitions of words like horse, pen, or coffee (she said, looking around the room for objects with clear-cut definitions.)
The word “author” has the same root as the word “authority.” If you have authority over a piece of writing, you are its author. Not aspiring. You actually are the author.
Most people make the mistake of thinking you are “merely a writer” until you get paid for what you wrote, and until then you are an “aspiring” author. Nothing could be further from the truth. I used to get paid to write all the time. I wrote technical manuals, software guides, corporate safety newsletters, website content, all kinds of stuff. And I got paid for it! But I was not the author of those materials. Those materials legally belonged to the company for which I wrote them. The bylines and copyrights on them referred to the company, and my name didn’t show up anywhere on any of them.
On the other hand, when I was a young teen, I wrote dozens of what you might call novels. They were read only by my closest friends and ended up being stashed in a shopping bag in my closet when I left home. I may have been aspiring…to get rich off them some magical day! But until then, I was still the author of those materials. The byline on all of them said “by Kim Beall.” And even though I was just a kid, the copyright to them legally belonged to me the moment I wrote them down. In very fact if anyone had published any parts of those works for any reason, even if they did not make any money from them, if they had not credited me as author they would have been breaking the law.
Note: there is one circumstance under which it is correct to refer to yourself as an “aspiring author.” That is if you are always only planning to write, but never actually do it! Then yes, you are aspiring like crazy here. You will become an author as soon as you start putting words on paper (or disc.) (Or cloud. You know what I mean!) But yes, until then, you are merely aspiring.
If you write stuff, you are a writer, regardless of whether your work is advertising copy or fan fiction. If you get paid for what you write, you might be an author, or you might be a corporate asset. Both these things are fine. But remember: if your name is on the things you wrote, you legally own the copyright to it and you are the author, even if you never make a dime. Every court in the land will refer to you “hereinafter as The Author,” should you ever find yourself having to reclaim your work from someone who misappropriated it. This is regardless of whether you or they ever make any money from it.
If you write stuff on which your name rightfully belongs, then stop calling yourself an “aspiring author.” Stop shrinking away from referring to yourself as what you actually are. You are an author. Own it!
PS: Those stories I wrote as a teen and left behind at my parents’ house? My mom saved them for me for decades, and gave them back to me when she knew I was old enough not to throw them out. Bless her – I hope she’s enjoying Heaven, now. Her corner of it, I am sure, has a WalMart and a Gabes within walking distance of a Red Lobster and an Asian buffet!
As a woman who is blessed to have met and married every woman’s dream: a partner who Loves To Talk to Her, I have had to resort to some extreme measures to obtain unbroken time to write without interruptions. These measures include but are not limited to: going somewhere else to write (I love my local coffee shop!) and erecting a large easel in front of my office door with “Shhh!” spelled out in glittery hearts on a large project board. Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how to attach electrified concertina wire to this sign, so it’s all too easy for said beloved partner to just poke their head around it and interrupt “for just a sec – I promise this really is important!” several times per hour.
In an attempt to clarify what actually is and is not important enough to interrupt me with while I am writing, I drew up the following document. I don’t know if it will help, but I offer it here for you to use as a template should you find yourself encountering similar difficulties communicating boundaries to your well-meaning loved ones. (Note: My husband is a consultant who teaches online business classes to adults, so you may need to edit the “Basic Rule of Thumb” to fit your own situation.)
When It Is OK to Disturb Me While I Am Writing
Basic Rule of Thumb:Do not call my cell phone or pop in to personally speak with me except for matters about which you, yourself, would find it appropriate for someone to interrupt you while you are actively in the process of teaching a class full of live human students.
To assist in clarification and choice-making, Specific
Instances of such matters are defined below.
Do not attempt to speak with me during my writing day unless
one or more of the following conditions has been met:
Our house is on fire
The house of Someone I Care About* is or has recently been on fire
The town we live in is on fire
The town I work in is on fire
You have a lead on a new puppy for me but want me to meet it before you commit
Someone I Care About* (see definitions in the “People I Care About” section below):
needs to be bailed out of jail
is in Grave Mortal Danger
(Note: “Grave Mortal Danger” may include but is not limited to being admitted to the hospital or having been in an accident. “Grave Mortal Danger” does not include wanting money to pay bills, has the flu, has an administrative question, wonders where something is, is concerned or excited about the status of Today’s Politics, or has heard a great joke.)
Viggo Mortensen and/or Geddy Lee and/or the ghost of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien are standing at the door asking to talk to me
Peter Jackson called and wants to discuss the movie rights for my book
A movie producer other than Peter Jackson has called and wants to discuss the movie rights for my book AND will rescind their offer unless I call them back before evening
Everything else, including a unicorn taking up residence in the potting shed, can wait until evening. Also, if Christ has returned, I probably already know about it.
* People I Care About
For purposes of the above Instances, the following individuals fall under the category “Someone I Care About.” (Please note that I have additional friends scattered throughout the world, about whom I do care, but these would be most likely to contact me directly rather than through you via our landline.)
my children and/or their spouses and/or their children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
your children and/or your children’s significant others and/or your children’s significant others’ children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
my siblings and/or their spouses or children and/or their children’s spouses or children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
my cousin and her spouse and children or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
my last two remaining aunts or anyone about whom they are concerned enough to contact us (I do not, as far as I know, have any remaining uncles. If someone calls claiming to be my uncle, he is almost certainly a scammer.)
Any of our immediate neighbors, or anyone (except Donald Trump) about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
Any former member of my son’s rock band, including Hunter’s dog Zappa, or anyone (except Donald Trump) about whom they are concerned enough to contact us
Our cats (but not the chickens. I mean, I care about them and all, but their demises are rather too common to be remarkable anymore.)
Note that I do not include my parents or your parents in the above list, as they are deceased, but if any one or more of them attempts to contact us for any reason at all, please do feel free to interrupt me!
No, seriously. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t find any comps for my own work, and that is a Big Problem. So I would be delighted if you could prove me wrong.
I am trying to find a way to say all this without being negative, but I’m having a hard time not going into rant-mode. Thank you for bearing with me as I try again.
Conventional advice, for authors who want to be traditionally published, states that I need to read, read, read so that I can demonstrate my knowledge of the market and so that I will know, when the time comes, what books and authors to use for comps. And! That’s not good enough: said books need to have been written within the past five years; said authors need to have debuted in the past five years. It’s the latter part of this I’m having tremendous trouble with.
I have tried! I have tried and tried and tried, over the past five – OK, more like ten or even more – years, to find a new author, new books to love. I have, for the most part, failed. I even joined a book club that specifically reads and discusses fantasy books. They have introduced me to award-winning books by modern, traditionally published authors once a month. I have paid good money for these books, and forced myself to try to read them. I confess, I have finished few of them. My unedited gut-response would have been, “I enjoyed cleaning my toilets this week more than I enjoyed reading this book” if I weren’t trying to be nice at book club meetings.
Part of it is that I have reached an age where I realize life is too short to spend what little free time I can find, forcing myself to read or watch “entertainment” I am not enjoying. But, since I have started writing books, myself, much of my difficulty is that I utterly fail to understand why I should “just give it a chance. It finally stops being dreadful and begins to pick up and get good around page 100 or so…” when I know that I, as an author querying my own work, could never, ever, ever get away with that sort of thing! (I’m sorry, Meg La Torre, but I hated Nevernight. I really, really tried, but I haven’t been able to pick it back up since I put it down somewhere in the middle of chapter four.) It makes me want to tear my hair and yell “WTF!” Only, not the acronym.
I have, of course, also heard people in the publishing industry saying “OMG you should never let anyone in The Industry hear you saying you think everything coming out today is crap! That’s an insult to them and to all their clients and readers. How can you expect them to support you when you just got done insulting them?” And this is a legit point! But I’m not saying the books coming out in recent years are crap. They’re just not for me. I’m saying I really don’t think I could, or should, force myself to read, and then write, stuff I have never enjoyed and almost certainly never will, in order to obtain representation by claiming my own work is comparable to said other work. And I don’t think there’s an industry professional out there who would advise me to try to do that, anyway!
But it’s not like I’m not a reader and therefore don’t understand good storytelling. I used to read voraciously! From the time I was a pre-teen (um, that was in the 60s) until recently, I would literally read two or three books per week. Even when I was a parent of young children, living paycheck to paycheck and had to get up and go to work at 5 a.m., I would stay up late to finish that book, because I was enjoying it so much I couldn’t put it down.
These days, though, it feels like I’ve already read everything I might ever have enjoyed, and nobody is writing anything new for me. I swear I am not speaking in hyperbole when I say I would literally rather re-read a book I already own, over and over (and have done so) than read most of the stuff that is coming out nowadays. Did I say “most of?” I would actually settle for just a handful of new books I could enjoy, once in a while. Would, say, three or four a year be too much to ask?
Unfortunately I have, in the past five years, read two – count them: two! – traditionally published books I actually enjoyed. They were really good, too! I recommend them to everyone I talk to about books. One was Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, and the other was John Dies at the End by David Wong. But I can’t use these as comps because neither of them is 1) in the genre I write in or 2) published in the last 5 years. (I have also enjoyed several self-published books, to which I have been exposed through networking with other writers. But I can’t use those as comps. Or can I?)
So, is it that there literally aren’t any good books coming out these days, or is it just that I’ve grown old and am unable to adapt anymore to “all that stuff kids today seem to think is so keen – get off my lawn!!!”
And, even if I, personally, don’t like the kind of stuff the
kids on my lawn like, surely there are other readers out there my age? I’m a
fekking Boomer, FGS! You would think there should be lots of readers like me out
there, and other writers writing for their huge market-share. What are my contemporaries
reading? Are they reading stuff they don’t enjoy, either, just to have
something to read?
I am quite serious when I say what finally pushed me over the edge, after decades of intending to write a book “someday,” was the fiftieth or so time I left the bookstore disappointed and empty-handed because I could not, even with the help of the knowledgeable staff at my lovely indy bookstore, find anything I wanted to even take a chance on reading. That was when I realized I had to write it myself. Surely I can’t be the only person in the reading world who is looking for the kinds of things I’m looking for? In fact I know I’m not, because people (of all genders, but also of different ages) have told me they really enjoyed my work and hope there is more of it coming. (Only a couple of these were relatives, so you can stop right there with that line of response!)
What, exactly, am I looking for (and writing) then, that is in such dearth out there in the world that I not only have to write it myself, but also can’t find any comps in order to traditionally publish what I write? Because you know what happens when an author dares to say “But I can’t find anything like it.” The response is always:
“Oh, don’t be so precious. You are not that unique! Everyone thinks they’re writing ground-breaking stuff that nobody else has ever thought of before!”
But no. Seriously. I literally, honestly, absolutely am not kidding or even exaggerating when I say I Can Not Find anything like 1) what I want to read or 2) what I write.
So FYI, if you’ve made it this far and think you can help
prove me wrong (and believe me, I want to be wrong about this!) here is
what I want to read / am writing:
First and foremost, it is written for adults, with adult protagonists. There’s a reason, dammit, why 70% of readers who purchase Young Adult fiction are actually Adult Adults. It’s because there are so many adult readers who want magic and wonder in their lives. They are forced to resort to the children’s section of the book store because Everyone Knows magic and enchantment cannot happen to grownups. At least, if it does, said magic can only be dark, miserable, painful, and end in dismay, making you regret for the rest of your life ever having wished for magic in the first place. To expect real enchantment without having to pay a dire price for it is childish, right? Once you grow up, you need to accept the fact that life is only about horrible things winning in the end. I think this is a terrible message the modern world is trying to ram down our throats, and the statistic above bears out my belief that I am not the only one who refuses to accept it.
The magic (within the context of the book) must be real. Not some kind of Scooby-Doo trope where it was all just someone tricking the protagonist all along or, I don’t know, the fact that the protagonist was nucking futz the whole time.
The female lead has to have a brain. Usually when I beg people to please, please, please direct me to a book or author who writes according to the first two criteria above, they inevitably say “Oh, sure! There’s this author who writes this whole Wacky Witch series!” and I go to Amazon and “Look Inside!” and realize it’s chick-lit. The entire plot revolves around the female lead being unable to stop making ditzy mistakes. Kind of an anti-Mary Sue sort of thing, I guess. If she had a brain, there’d be no story – it’s a laugh a minute. I honestly have no problem with chick-lit and a little mindless entertainment once in a while. I’ve even read a few of these stories, while floating in the pool with a margarita in my hand. The trouble is: it’s not what I write, so I can’t use it as a comp. Maybe I could do one of those cross-comp statements like: “My work is Kim Harrison meets an MC who is smarter than a hairbrush.” Might that work?
Gore for the sake of gore, gratuitous violence, rape, incest, and (especially) suffering or endangered children are RIGHT OUT. Also I am completely over vampires and werewolves and other shifters, serial killers, and demons who have OCDs about not letting people’s guts stay inside them. I want (and write about) paranormal magic and entities, yes, but it is not automatically necessarily evil. Regardless of what Ed and Lorraine Warren tried to teach us, ghosts and demons are not the same thing. Get a dictionary! Anyway, a ghost does not have to want to rip your lungs out for you to be afraid of it, when you first meet it. The supernatural naturally frightens humans, just because we are not comfortable with The Unknown. It is this sense of “there is more to the world than we can possibly know” that I am after – not just the fear, for its own sake, which this realization initially causes. Besides, when a story becomes all about lovely people dying in grisly ways, for me, it is no longer scary – it is now tragic. I feel more pain than fear when forced to read or watch this stuff. If I wanted to pique my jaded modern emotions with profound sorrow, pain, and tragedy, all I’d have to do is turn on the news.
Now we are getting into “preference” territory. That is to say, what follows are things I would love, love, love to see in books I might potentially buy, but am unable to find, no matter how hard I look. So I write them instead, which is why there really, literally, actually are no comps available, in modern literature for me to use. (Please prove me wrong! I would be so happy if you did!) These things are:
The stories take place in the modern age. Not in ancient Ireland or in some dystopian future. (I was over dystopia almost before it ever hit the scene, anyway.)
The stories take place in an ordinary setting wherein any one of us might find ourselves through no extraordinary means.
This ordinary setting is even, oh my god, is it even possible? In the good ol’ US of A! Rather than in some inaccessible, magical place such as Through A Portal or in the Cotswolds or some other place like that which doesn’t really exist. (No, I don’t believe the Cotswolds actually exist. After all, MS Word doesn’t believe they exist!)
The stories happen, as I’ve said, not only to actual grownups (with brains, remember) but to ones who are over twenty nine years old, who have some life experience. Maybe even have grown children of their own!
I could get away with using a story as a comp if the protag
is only 27, or if it takes place in, say, modern-day Madrid, or ancient Ireland,
or on another planet. One difference like this could work – two or more would
be stretching it too far. With just one difference like this, I could do a
combination-comp, along the lines of: “My work is like Amazing Positive
Adult Fantasy That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland meets Contemporary Small
Town USA. All I have to do is somehow find and read Amazing Positive Adult Fantasy
That Takes Place In Ancient Ireland, published within the last five years. And
I am legit having real trouble doing that.
The point I am trying to make, with my work, the sense I am trying to create, is that you, yes even you, a grown-ass adult who is successfully slogging through a standard adult life, could accidentally stumble at any moment into a world of magic and wonder. You can find out that dragons exist. Right here, right now, in your podunk little boring town. When you do, you will be able to bring your life experience to bear to not only survive this strange, new life, but also defeat the dragon, or maybe even make it your ally.
If you can point me to a book like that, I might be able to use it as a comp. Even if it wouldn’t work for me as a comp, I would be grateful because I would finally be able to read a new book all the way through!
If the kind of book I’m trying to buy/read/write is not edgy enough for you, fine. You do you. I am not writing for you. If you think the only people who like this sort of thing are laughable, weak-minded children, get off my lawn.
A long time ago in a universe far, far away, I sent a copy of my debut novel to one of my favorite authors of all time. I sent it for no reason other than to thank him for inspiring me by writing some of the most enjoyable fiction I’d ever read, and also to thank him for his support. His support had come, many years before, in the form of what is, to date, still the best writing advice I’ve ever received. That advice, to paraphrase quite heavily, is: “Qwitcherbitchin’ and write!”
Imagine my excitement when I received an email this past June from the editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine (to which I have been subscribed since I was a teenager – and I won’t tell you how long that has been!) The email asked me to review, before release, a copy of an overview of Seven Turns this favorite author of mine had written in his “Books to Look For” column for the July/August issue. I’ve been bursting at the seams ever since, dying to tell you all about it. Now it is finally July, and I can tell you!
The overview of Seven Turns is the third listing down, right between Philip K. Dick and John R. Little … seriously, am I allowed to yell “Squeeeeee!” now?
My favorite part is where he refers to some of the spirits Cally encounters in Woodley as “deities.” I wouldn’t have expected most people to recognize that’s what they (some of them!) are, but of course Charles de Lint would know a deity when he sees one!
Naturally I also immediately sent him a copy of Moonlight and Moss. Not sucking up for another review or anything, but I want to see if he recognizes the other deities, because this volume deals much more heavily with the denizens of the faerie side of the meadow gate. (Oh, who am I kidding – he’ll not only recognize them, but is probably on first-name terms with some of them.)
Now, if you are one of my fellow writers in the #writingcommunity and you are wondering how to get your inspiration flowing, how to find time to write, wondering if you’re just a hack or what, here is the best advice I can pass on to you: