Writers and Envy

We start this week with a post that I’ve been toying with for a while – you’ll find I do that, my Drafts folder has 30+ posts in some state of ideas or partiality – today we’re going to talk about jealousy, and not as a story concept.

Let’s start today with a trip to any convention, awards show, or bookstore. Doesn’t matter which one. Here’s the scene:

So we’re standing (or sitting) there, and we’re watching other people’s success. Maybe they’re going up on a stage to get an award. Maybe they’ve got a whole room full of people lined up at a signing, maybe the bookstore can’t keep their books on the shelf. We’re right there, watching this, and no matter if we’re clapping or not, no matter if we’re in the line or not, no matter if we’re holding a book to buy it or not, we feel this yank somewhere down around the stomach, and it coils its way back through the spinal cord and its malevolent fingers snarl and hiss their way into our brains, and we start getting this feeling, maybe yours comes with a voice (mine sounds a little like Stewie Griffin if he hissed on his s’s)

That other author, that other creative, it hisses, you could be doing that. That could be you, hell that should be you. Why aren’t you the one doing the winning? Don’t people like your work. I guess not. I wonder who does like your work. Probably no one. I mean, the good work is what gets rewarded, and it looks like you don’t have any rewards right now.

That voice is a real bastard.

You know what? Let’s go one more. We’re in your house, and we’re in your favorite reading spot. You just picked a book that a friend recommended. Doesn’t matter who wrote it or what genre it is. You sit down to read it. Everything’s great until you hit that one sentence. That one damned sentence that expresses an idea so beautifully it hurts. The sentence might be long or short (it doesn’t matter), it’s just exactly what needs to be on that page, and back comes that voice.

You’re never going to write anything as good as that. Don’t you wish you could? Don’t you wish your author-voice looked like that? You know what? Let’s get the Pussycat Dolls stuck in a loop in your head too. You deserve that too.

Total. Dick. Move.

I don’t have a fancy term for it, but it’s envy. We get envious of what other people can do, what they win, what they have, and then as a bounce-back from that jealousy, we start measuring ourselves against it and always find a new way to make ourselves woefully inadequate. Some of us could even go professional in our lack-of-measuring-up-ness. If we could make a living doing it, we’d own mansions and yachts.

Envy is when we look at what other people are doing or what they have and believing that we should have it instead or the other person shouldn’t have it at all. It’s a feeling that in a comparison between us and them, because our brains love to separate along us/them divides, we’re getting the short end of not just one stick, but a whole forest full of sticks.

There’s a few things at work here, so let’s unpack them.

A) It suggests that you think you’re work, incomplete or not, is shit when compared to other people’s work. Fun fact: You can’t measure your unfinished work against someone else’s finished work. They’re not comparable on the same terms. Of course the house still being built isn’t as nice as the fully furnished one. Of course the pencil sketch you just started a second ago where you drew one line isn’t the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Even if it is done, here’s another way to look at it – can you compare a garter snake to a king cobra? They’re both snakes, they’re both found on the planet, they’re both things you can google or run away from, so why can’t I get really specific about weighing them against one another? Because one’s going to kill you and the other is a nuisance in a cornfield.

Authors: your crime thriller and that lady’s epic fantasy novel are both books the same way the garter and the cobra are both snakes.  But aside from being printed on paper, and having ink on that paper, and a few other bits that we use to define them as “books”, the similarities stop. I’ll even give you a pass on them being in the same language and using the same font size. They’re still very different things. A different thing is not automatically a bad thing. Just like how you’re different from me, and that doesn’t make either of us wrong or bad. Unless you’re a clown, because then I doubt you’re human at all.

What we do is different from each other, and that’s one of the best parts of being a creative. We can all take the same writing prompt and tell completely different stories. No one’s wrong that way, just different.

B) It suggests that there’s a reason someone shouldn’t be having the experience (that you’re aware of) them having. This two parts to this one – first let’s all take a moment to recognize that you’re not the one who dispenses permission slips for people to do what they do. There isn’t a person who does that. That’s not a thing. Our individual attempts to control are often efforts to manage a sense of powerlessness. (Johnfession: I had that yelled at me once during a breakup fight, and I’ve kept it rattling in my head since)

You’re not in charge of other people’s experience, so you don’t get to determine if they’re allowed to have it. Now I know there’s a great deal of social controversy in that statement, and I don’t care. Everyone, yes even the people you don’t like, gets to have their experience, because you know, they’re like alive and stuff. Likewise, they’re allowed to create whatever they like, even if you don’t like it.

Second, you’re not them, so you don’t know the whole picture of their experience. You see the end result that got them to that convention or awards stage or bookstore, but you don’t know if the effort to get them there cost them a marriage or they had to do it while dealing with kids and a mortgage or a dying parakeet or a drug problem or coming to terms with the fact they like Ke$ha and Taylor Swift music.

Only they know how hard they worked, because they did the work. Everything and everyone else with a thing to say (positive or negative) is reacting to their own opinion of that work. Opinions aren’t the arbiters of experience, facts are. We don’t have all the facts about how someone worked, so our concept of it is limited. And with a limited picture, we can’t accurately say that they do or don’t deserve the results they’re having.

C) What they’re doing is no indication of whether or not you can do it too. How we create is unique to us. We might all be making books, or phat beats, but how we go about it, even with the same tools in hand, is specific to us. Just because we can all write a sentence using the word “callipygian” doesn’t make my sentence or your sentence better than everyone else’s. We might like certain sentences better for a variety of reasons specific to us, but we’re still talking opinions. About things external to us.

Could you have strung together the same words and done the same as some other author? Not necessarily. Remember that when we’re looking at that convention or stage or store shelf, we’re seeing factors beyond the words – there’s the audience, the marketing, the cover. That success they’re having that you wish you were having is a confluence of a lot of factors. You have your own factors, and that’s where I suggest we take this post so we can wrap it up.

It’s so tempting to look at how well someone is doing and knock ourselves down a few pegs because of it.But we’re not capable of having their experience, at best, we can have a version of that, provided we do the work to get us there.

Want an audience like that other creative? Go build an audience.
Want a book cover like that? Find an artist, make it happen.
Want to do a signing? Finish the damned book and arrange one.

Yes, of course it always come back to the work. As in doing the work. Not using other people to chart and justify and reference your position. Positions are too motile and fleeting. The minute you put down another word, make another blogpost, meet another person, you’re in a different place than you were. They’re ever changing. Learn to roll with that, and take advantage of it – today’s hard day is often the catalyst for tomorrow being a better one.

And of course, I believe in your ability to do the work, no matter how well someone else is doing.

 

See you later this week. Happy writing.

Social Media for the New & Anxious, Part 3

Good morning. Here we are on Friday, the day that for some will end with margaritas, pantslessness, and a few “Woo”s. If you’re among that number, I wish you and your liver all the very best. If you’re not going to Señorita Yolanda’s for their 9 shots for $2 happiest of happy hours, I’ve got some potato skins we can share.

Before we rim our glasses with salt and get ready to shout over Tex-Mex techno (this imaginary bar is of course infamous for Selena remixes), let’s continue our series on social media. I mean, we’re here, we might as well talk about something while we sit in offices and wait for the end of the day.

We’ve talked so far about being new, we’ve talked about what goes into a message, so let’s look at another thing that happens with social media – mistakes.

We all make them. And when we do, we’re all sure that death by immediate asteroid impact to the face would be preferable.

See, I don’t mean the mistakes where you accidentally send an email to Tom A when you meant Tom B, and they’re just too close together in your Gmail. And I don’t even mean the time you spelled a person’s name wrong, because those are trivial mistakes in the grand scheme of things, and they’re easy accidents. Any apology would be quick and simple.

No, I’m talking about the times you really step in it. Like when you write that email in anger and in that automatic way you click ‘send’ rather than delete. Or when you suggest that the someone enjoys sexual relations with their mother. Or when you pointedly tell someone to savor the flavor of your genitals to the point of orgasm in their mouth. You know, good proper gut-wrenching mistakes that can dog you.

Did you know I used to use Twitter as a fancy text messaging service?

Did you know that I once told a room full of actors they could all go have violent sex with themselves using broken objects because I didn’t like what they were doing to the genius I had spewed onto the page?

Did you know I once sent all the angry emails I used to store in my Drafts folder to all their respective addressees?

I bring these things up because I own doing them. Even if I don’t remember writing the tweets, and only have a hazy recollection of telling actors what to do (interesting – one of them went on to do several years on a hit TV show), I did these things. There’s no doubt. I wasn’t hacked by Russians or Republicans. I didn’t leave my computer on so my wacky roommate could take over. I straight up did really stupid shit that affected me personally and professionally for months and years after.

I say this because you’re going to make mistakes. Own them. You don’t have to flail and objurgate afterward, you don’t need to withdraw for a 60-day isolation period. No, you’ve got to one harder – admit you were wrong and sincerely make an effort not to do it again.

And no, it’s not easy. Responsibility is not always easy. But it’s the better path to take if you want to move forward and onward in a better way towards your goals and towards repairing relationships. Hashtag realtalk. Hashtag adultmoment. Hashtag burritoface.

See, here’s the thing about mistakes. Saying, “Yes I did this, and I’m sorry I did” (or the like) is actually a good thing. Yeah, there are consequences, and even after you handle them, some people might not be so willing to change their minds about you, but then again, you’re not in charge of how they think and you can’t control how they think. So, politely, tell that bit of anxiety it too can go have sex with itself on this Friday morning.

One of the problems with mistakes I’ve seen people make and am guilty of myself is that we sometimes inflate them to Macy’s Thanksgiving proportions. We enlarge and engorge what we did wrong, the assumptions we make about how the fallout will be, and what the appropriate punishment and restitution might be. It’s really hard to put a mistake into  perspective, because there’s an emotional component (“I can’t believe I did that!”) we need to first contend with – yeah, you did do that – before you can work the problem into a solution.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are going to be people out there who will spend a great deal of time, energy, and emotion giving you a lecture about what you did wrong, so that you understand the depth of your wrongness presumably so that you feel informed/guilty as to never do that sort of thing again. Rather than take a tolerant position that if you know it’s wrong you won’t do it again because you’re a human capable of understanding error, they break out a soapbox or pulpit to tell you what’s wrong while implying their fecal matter is without odor, or that they’re a better brand of person who could never make the same mistake as lowly you. This, to me, is applesauce and horsefeathers. We all make mistakes. The lectures can be spared and people can trust each other to do what’s right.

There’s a side note here that sometimes those corrective lectures come from an opinion, and we might not all agree with all opinions, but there’s a difference between recognizing that two people have differing views, and one person telling the other person that they’re subjectively wrong because reasons great and small. There’s nothing wrong with correcting an error, provided there are grounds and substantiated ideas to prove it was an error. (Again, we’re talking bigger problems not typos.)

Lastly, and often accompanying the lecture is someone saying publicly that they’re unsubsctibing, blocking, unfollowing or otherwise not engaging with a person who’s made a mistake. The publicity of their statement is often the telling element – why do they have to make a show of their action? What’s to be gained other than adding potential fear and shame to the mix? You, as the creative on social media who made the mistake in the first place, cannot control what other people do. You cannot and should not sweat the loss of one person because for all you know, people come and go without saying a word. Social media is a river with a current, and sometimes people float away. You’re not responsible for their actions or decisions, and you’re under zero obligations to keep them around. They want to go, let them go. Others will come. (Also, if these people are leaving over a mistake that other people have forgiven, and the majority of people have moved on, are you really concerned?)

This post ran a little long, so let me break out a TL;DR – you’re going to make mistakes. Own up when you do. Make the apologies and amends where possible, and move forward making every effort to be better. You can do this. I believe in you.

See you guys next week. Happy writing.

A quick flurry of ideas about a thing

Note: This post originally went up on Google+, but since I can no longer set it (or rather can’t figure out how) to public. I reprint it here.

Pardon me while I get some tap dancing out of the way. I have spent quite a few hours trying to find words to express these thoughts without specific citations of companies and people, out of maybe a naive or anxious fear that in straight calling them out, I lose some opportunity in the future.

I suppose the benefit to occasionally feeling like I’m often on the outside looking in is that I don’t know opportunities at a distance, so I’m less shocked when I don’t have them.

Having said all that, here are some thoughts.

1. There is a model of industry development that I frankly find abhorrent – it’s the model where price points are absurdly elevated to create an atmosphere of rarity or exclusivity, so that a feeling of missing out can be exploited – you don’t want to miss your one/only chance to have this thing, so do please fork over more than a few dollars. If there’s a flaw in the crowdfunding model becoming more of an accepted practice, it’s that FOMO is the fuel rather than a passionate excitement for production (not to say people aren’t thrilled to be making a thing, but the number of happy makers is smaller than the number of consumers who want to feel included).

2. Continuing from that point, as price elevates, it seems reasonable then to question – where does this money go? As someone who often gets paid out of crowd-raised monies, I know that money goes to production and shipping costs, with the remainder usually becoming a birthing pool for future material. However, that deals with the money going out. Let’s question the money coming in – in a crowdfunding model, how are tiers determined?

While I’m sure there is a formula, as well as I’m sure that sometimes it also comes down to “making it up”, I think it’s important to look what the price point suggests to the potential customer. Let’s step out of gaming.

Cars. Car manufacturers have long had certain prices associated with even their most basic models for years – it’s why we can mock Kia and Bentley as ends of a spectrum – and we can with some manner of comfort ballpark a range of dollars for a certain type or size of car. This expectation is prevalent and not really questioned. We can apply this same idea to gaming – we can roughly ballpark the cost of a book based on its size, cover, art content, binding, etc. This expectation can help us as consumers when we stand in stores or look at digital shopping carts.

So what happens when our expectations collide with elevated prices and a fear of missing out? Dissonance. Static. A variety of emotions. We look at a higher price and assume higher quality, when quality is tied to production, not sales point – you can score a sweet deal on an expensive item and the item doesn’t suddenly degrade. So why pay more?

3. Here’s where we start dealing with the human element. There’s a level of vanity involved. We’re often told to value ourselves highly and not to settle for lower income. But there comes that tipping point where the perceived value is unattainable – I believe my work to be worth a thousand dollars an hour, and it reduces the number of people able to afford that, which can send a message to the people who can’t afford it that I’m something of a jerk with an inflated sense of myself, or that there’s something wrong with them because they don’t value themselves like that or can’t afford it.

In this way, we create barriers, not bridges. Going beyond the social element of inclusivity, there’s an economic consideration to be made. If few people have access to a thing, how is that supposed to help expand the population of people with access to it? The assumption they’ll share is based on the assumption that the people are connected to each other somehow (all part of the same group in addition to the group of owners).

Economics too often becomes a barrier for consumers – they can’t afford things like conventions or products so they don’t spend that money, which can lead to fewer available sales, because the people who can afford things already have them.

With fewer sales, people can either reduce prices to hopefully draw in people, or raise them, thinking that higher prices will make up for the population decline – but that’s the barrier. Raising prices just expands and cements that gap between those that have and those that don’t.

4. From another side, that barrier of expense can create scarcity among creators and producers, since only a finite number of people can work on expensive products. Sure, yes, there’s a nice boost from being known as a “company person”, but there too comes a point when this barrier creates an echo chamber – the haves against the have nots can so easily turn into the people who “get it” (whether that’s product or the concept of what people are trying to do) versus those that don’t. The more you cement that barrier, the more distant you appear. And distance from audience is seldom reparable through a few chummy tweets or a smiling selfie.

The echo chamber is a dangerous place. It is the influx of new people that drives creativity but adding not just criticism but motivation. And I’m saying this as a guy who at times is part of a small echo chamber himself. Think of how the barriers established by price and production and FOMO can exclude people from thinking they can even reach a similar level. The great giant named companies didn’t start out as the behemoth but at some point there’s a conversion, a metamorphosis into something that is not, and cannot be what it was before. Gone are the shoestring budgets and gone is that hunger when high prices were the dream. A new reality comes in as one of the haves, not the have nots. And quick is the erosion of the idea that they’ll “remember how they got there.” It’s smoke. It leaves on a good breeze too quickly.

5. Combine these things together: the expense, the discouragement, the FOMO, the barriers, the distance, and it’s easy to see the jagged edges where very few people finish what many people start.

The upsetting part for me is that this challengingly simple to fix. Not easy, but a series of simple steps:

Shift the focus of production to consumer growth, not income – offer a greater number of reasonably priced products more frequently than single high ticket items. Either that, or change the production schedule to take longer with fewer products. Let time be the arbiter of quality, not expense.

Pay people fairly – Receiving better wages does wonders on this whole system, making them able to afford more things, as well as be encouraged to do more work.

Shed some ego (remember: this is me saying this) – This includes all the things from name reliance to virtue signaling to micro-managed solitication of feedback that discounts criticism. The only way that barrier between consumer and producer recedes is through resolute focus on WHY people do what they do, and HOW they can do it better, not what they gain from doing it.

Jettison some fractious thinking – To think that the more successful do not in some way have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to be more active beyond being up on a pedestal as “things to be like”, is to discredit the potential people have to genuinely affect change and growth through creativity. A rising tide does lift all boats, and if someone has the ability to shift ocean currents, then how self-absorbed must they be to see people wanting to improve yet hold back potential aid?

I just don’t get it. I love this industry. I love making things. I love helping people make things. I don’t know when so many other elements like politicking, popularity contests, and division came around, I guess I was out that day.

If we can’t go back to how it was, then let us go forward to where it could be if we make some bridges and raise some tides.

Social Media for the Anxious & New, part 2

Welcome back to Monday. I keep trying to develop portal technology so that we live in a reality where it’s only ever Thursday and then there’s always a 3-day weekend, but all my efforts get thwarted somewhere around the moment I realize I only know about advanced math from Futurama and Rick and Morty.

Let’s get back to work then, okay?

The series on social media use continues today. On Friday, we talked about how mistakes are gonna happen, and how I really believe you can do this, and today we’re going to get detailed about what exactly goes into a tweet, a blog post, and a status update.

Before we get into this, I want to point out that if you’re thinking someone else (from a publisher let’s say) is going to handle all this for you so that you don’t have to, even if you pursue the most traditional route of publishing possible, you’re going to be in for a huge shock – the publisher’s marketing department does not solely exist to relieve you of the burden of being an author, and yes, in (insert current year here), part of being an author is being able to interact with an audience in an actionable way. Let me further burst that bubble by saying that writing is a part of what an author does, and reaching out and informing/building an audience is another part of the author-effort.

Sure, yes, you can farm this out via some services where you pay a person half a world away to tweet for you or update your blog for you (a lot of “work few hours make bank” systems operate this way), but when you farm off part of what can help you connect with an audience, how is that going to help your audience see you as more than a book dispensary?

Audiences want and have come to expect more than just the author-machine who cranks out somewhat formulaic books and slaps a name on it without breaking new and interesting mental ground, treading forever on their name and established reputation rather than doing what got them their name and reputation, the writing interesting stuff part of author-effort.

I think by breaking down good composition of social media elements, it can demystify them, and it can make it easier to do and more relevant to an author, even one who is still working on book one or someone who’s stuck a few books in when their publisher folded up their tent.

This doesn’t have to be scary. This doesn’t have to be burdensome. Also, assume in every one of these cases that communication is a two-way street. You do your part by bringing information and personality, the audience can do their part by responding. You can encourage that response, but you can’t force it. And when you’re just starting out, yes I know, it’ll feel like you’re talking to nobody, but keep at it. Like a corn field and Ray Liotta, people will show up.

We’ll go one step at a time through this:

A Tweet

I’m a huge fan of Twitter for getting out morsels of information at a good pace. I think it’s great warm-up for writing the longer things I do throughout the day, and I like the gratification of seeing people respond in near-realtime.

Because a tweet is capped at 140 characters, concision becomes the chief constructive element – and that 140 count includes spaces and punctuation and links to things, so first and foremost any tweet that builds around a link (whether that’s to a blog post or an Amazon page or whatever) has to more substantial than just the naked link dangling out there.

Before the link, include some words so that your audience knows this isn’t spam from a Nigerian who’s happy to part with gold he can’t show you in exchange for all the banking information you can manage. The act of being personable in a concise way, ahead of the link, renders the overall effect of the tweet to not be blatant in its salesmanship. Look, selling and linking are part of getting eyes on product, we all know it, but we don’t need to do it in some cold and dry way.

Putting your personality into even a few words, and making sure that you don’t repeat that every few hours once you figure out what that string of words is, will go a long way to conveying to the audience that yes, in fact, you are a real person, really trying to do a real task while appearing really vulnerable.

What words, you might ask? The ones that sound like you. The ones that you say, the ones you think. And while there do exist plenty of books of words about selling things, and some of them are even worth reading, any word that sounds like you and is an honest expression of who and what you’re doing is going to beat out any magic sales-word. In fact, it’s the melding of the sales stuff and your own stuff that’s going to help you establish your non-authorial author voice, which is the voice you’ll use when you’re talking about what you’ve done or what you’re doing.

And here we get to the part of the text where I tell you to tweet often. And not just the sales opportunities, I mean the life stuff too. About your dog, about your dinner, about your feelings on dystopic pudding. The caution here is that while dispensing what I imagine  are your numerous opinions and 140-character rants, be mindful of who’s seeing that stuff. Just because you only have 4 followers, don’t think that the word can’t travel to those people you’re cattily talking about. This is not a schoolyard, you do not need to assert dominance with virtual urine so that someone will take you seriously.

A Status Update

In other forms of social media, you’ve got much more space to operate in, and depending on your relationship with that medium, you can easily use it to blog. I’m not a huge fan of the practice, because I have this blog, but things like Facebook and Googe+ are other tools in the toolbox that can make social media a bit less ornery and a bit more mainstream for your creative life.

It’s important to remember here that you’re working with a signal-to-noise ratio that’s different than what you see in Twitter. The pace of Twitter turns its messages into burst transmissions and you can easily blink and miss things. In other media, there’s a volume of information happening simultaneously and it’s easy to get lost in the tide. When the world is a awash in Pokemon, political memes, and those photos from last week’s party, it’s hard to stand out.

Stand out by having something to say that’s more interesting and communicative than provocative. Anyone can write a few hundred words of hypersensitive invective, anyone can erect a soapbox in the center of a three-ring circus. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of attention-grabbing like it’s some rare and finite thing we’re all competing for. When you put your guts on the page, when you say what you need to and don’t churn up people just to churn them up “because even bad attention is attention”, you’ll build that audience out of sterner stuff than people who check you out to see what the latest outrage, tragedy, arrogance, whining, or problem-you-have-with-the-world-that-demands-it-change-not-you is.

Again, this is authorial voice on display. Talk about your work. Talk about the work-in-progress. Talk about the strides and stumbles. Don’t think the audience will run at the first sign of things getting tough for you, people love a good success story as much as they love to be supportive.

A Blog Post

We conclude today with the largest of the three pieces of social media – the blog post. Loads of people write them. You’re reading one right now, if you hadn’t noticed. (Or maybe you got this emailed to you thanks to the signup box over on the right)

Here’s an entire blank canvas, available for free, to do with as you like (okay, I’m paying for this site so I can get the dot-com I want, and so I can get some bells and whistles that help me, and there are some restrictions on content if you use a host like WordPress or Blogspot).

So what do you write about? My answer to this when it gets asked on panels is, “Yes,” because you can write about anything. Look at  this blog – I talk about mental health, addiction, semicolons, recipes and kitchen stuff in between all the posts on queries and publishing and motivation.

There’s no wrong answer here, so long as you’re sharing your worldview and your creativity in an active way. Yes, you can use a blog to track the dates on a book tour, or as a respository for your guest posts and snapchat takeovers. But if you want to do more than just archive your efforts, an audience is built out of the breadth of content partnered with a voice and perspective broadcasting it.

You’ll develop that voice, that perspective, and ultimately that audience through consistency. Post often, post authentically. Practice, just like the tweets and status updates above. It does get easier.

And to answer the question of “How long should a post be?” I have no good answer for you. I’ve written posts that are a few hundred words and had a huge reception. I’ve written super long posts and had an equal reception. I’m starting to think that even though a shorter post is easier to knock out, like so many other things in life, it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it.

*

I encourage all of you, and I believe in all of you. You can do this. Keep at it, even when it’s tough. Even when you’re sure that no one is reading. (Small note: one of the ways you can have people reading is by telling them that you have something they can read – they won’t know you’ve done a thing otherwise.)

You can always find me on social media (on Twitter, on Google+), and I’ll be your audience.

Let’s meet back up here on Wednesday when we’ll do part 3 of this series – what to do when you make a mistake.

 

See you then. Happy writing.

Social Media For The Anxious & New, part 1

Good morning. Welcome back to the blog. (I’m saying that as much for myself as for you)

As promised on Twitter, today we start a new series: Social Media for the Anxious & New, where we’re going to talk about how authors can use social media in productive proactive ways without sinking hours they may or may not have into it. We’ll also look at some pitfalls and strategies for avoiding them.

Now this post came about in the wake of the ‘Getting Rejected’ series, and was further germinated by my week at GenCon, where I talked to rooms full of writers who thought social media was about as easy to do or as necessary as brain surgery in the dark with your eyes closed.

Previously, I’ve talked a bit about social media, but it was brought to my attention that in that discussion I forgot a significant element – that people aren’t as ready to go running out into oncoming verbal traffic and build their own place to work from. I will admit now that I usually make a conscious effort to look past that part, because getting wrapped up in the assumption that people won’t easily take to a new tool in their writer toolbox is a great way to kill creative inertia and get aimless really fast.

I don’t want people to feel overwhelmed, but that does not mean the only prevention means the tiniest of baby steps. That’s a gross simplification and misjudgment of people’s talents, and I just won’t do it. So, here, writers, this is what I’m saying:

You can do this. You can get better at it if you’re doing it already. You can start if you haven’t already. Yes, it’s important. Yes, you should be doing this. Let’s talk about how to do this.

Take a deep breath, and we’ll get into the first part of this.

Item 1 – Making Mistakes

The first thing we’re going to talk about can be summed up with this image:

LEARNMISTAKESPNG
I bet you didn’t know I had access to outdated Adobe products.

There’s no shame in making mistakes. We talk about this up front, because a lot of writers assume that when they do something involving social media, because of that pesky word ‘social’, that whatever they do has to be PERFECT. Like flawless. Like it should be a model for all future generations and species.

It doesn’t. It can’t. Do not pressure yourself by thinking that every missive is the perfect embodiment of information. You’re not perfect. It’s not perfect. There is no perfect.

What you’re doing instead is communicating. Openly. Messily. Honestly. Imperfectly.

And because it’s imperfect, there are going to be mistakes. You’ll have a typo. You’ll skip a word in a sentence because you’re typing too quickly. Autocorrect will turn your statement into some bizarre mention of camels (or something).

But mistakes are not where we stop and give. They’re where we stop, regroup, repair, and try again.

Item 2 – Being A Person

I don’t know how to explain this to you, but if you want to make the most of your social media experience, you need to be a person. I mean, you need to share your human experience with other humans, and not just spit out “Buy my book” every 8 hours as automated by some scheduler.

We’re all tired of reading spam, we are all annoyed by bots and form letters, so why would you resort to those tactics to get attention?

rock-1996-movie-review-nicolas-cage-goodspeed-flares-ending
Yeah, I know, it can feel like this.

Before I try and tell you that you’re going to get something something flies and honey, let me point out that it’s not a fast process. You have to know this going in. It’s going to take time. I’ve got 1667 followers, and I’m far from a celebrity or even a “known” commodity in writing. I do what I do in a little corner of the internet, and I am always thankful when someone likes it or shares it or replies to it.

That encourages me to keep doing what I do, which I can summarize the following way:

a) Share my life, however imperfect, even when it’s not just about editing or coaching or publishing
b) Make sure that the words sound like me. No fancy polish. No trying too hard to be anything other than me.
c) Use social media often (and yes there are times when I’m more comfortable with it than in conversation, and no I don’t think that’s inherently a sign of the end times)

My challenge to you is commit thirty days to social media, and I’m going to put together this series of posts on how you can punch, strangle, and chase off the anxiety and put a really strong and versatile tool in your writing toolbox.

See you next week. Enjoy your weekend. Happy writing.

Writing and Your Inner Five-Year-Old

Oh man, it’s Monday. Wage slaves and oppressed workers unite, or at least go have coffee together before rallying behind your natural rights to be awesome. And while you’re rocking your lattes and morning wake-up calls, let me talk about something I’ve noticed in the last few weeks.

There exist writers who have allowed their inner child to get locked into tantrum mode, and the tantrum about whatever topic seeps into the creativity, turning an otherwise pancake-loving, mac-and-cheese-devouring inner five-year-old into a dervish of complaints, wailing, and aggressive not-listening.

No, this isn’t where I say “If you can’t think of an example, then you’re that writer” because the chances are that you aren’t that writer. Many of the writers I talk to or meet aren’t tantrum-engines and aren’t three seconds and a rejection letter away from slamming themselves to the ground and pounding the world with closed fists and screams about how the world is both unfair and out to get them.

But, since we all have an inner five-year-old (mine hangs out with my inner ten-year-old and they play a LOT of video games), I thought today would be a great day to sit them down, crack open some juice, and have a chat.

The creative world is hard, and it might not be easy or quick, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Remember that time you were at the playground and you couldn’t reach the monkey bars, or that time you sat in the spinny seat-thing and went around and around until you weren’t sure you’d be able to stand up straight? Remember how you got really mad at the bars and the seat, like they had besmirched your honor and you were ready to take them to Weehauken at dawn?

It wasn’t their fault. They’re just bars and chairs. They can only be bars and chairs. The systems for traditional and indie publishing are just like the bars and chairs – they are how they are, and sometimes you’re not going to be able to fully enjoy them at the time you’re there.

This is where rejection comes in. Not reaching the goal isn’t the goal’s fault. Just like the playground, it’s all in your approach. Maybe you’re a bit short (query misses the mark) or maybe you’re not seated properly (you’re not building an audience as effectively as you could be). And maybe you need help getting onto those bars.

(I’m loathe to suggest that a ‘grown-up’ help you in this metaphor, since I don’t want anybody thinking there’s some great deficiency or immaturity or subordination. This is more about accomplishing the goal, not the child-parent power dynamic.)

Just because you need help does not mean you have failed in some way, and just because you needed that taller person or kid to hold you up so that you could grab those bars does not mean you shouldn’t be on the playground at all. Which leads me to the next point …

Just because you need help does not mean you’ve failed. Creativity is seldom a solo endeavor in a vacuum. We might all work alone, we might work alone while surrounded by other people, but our creativity is not a single-player game. Some of the things that influence us, inspire us, and motivate us happen outside of our thoughts. We see other people’s books on shelves. We hear other people on podcasts. We read their books. We see their films. We remain creative but there is so much other stuff in the world that can fuel and encourage and challenge us. And sometimes in order to make our goals happen, we can only get so far before we ask for help.

And there’s ZERO wrong with that.

Whether that help comes in the form of coaching or an editor or feedback from a writing group or notes from beta readers or divination via tea leaves, there’s nothing wrong with needing it, seeking it out, or receiving it. Ideally the help is going to benefit you, even if the process for gaining those benefits involves hard work (rewriting a part of the book can be stressful and tough, but it can ultimately lead to a stronger book) and takes time.

You’re not a failure because you weren’t flawless and perfect the first draft, the tenth draft or the seven billionth draft. You’re not a failure because you had to ask someone for advice. You’re not a failure because you googled a few things. You’re doing whatever you need to do to make your work the best it can be, and that’s to be celebrated, not shamed.

Having said that, here’s the last point of the day.

Sometimes though, you do have to play alone. It can be a lot of fun to interact with others, talking shop and finding the good gossip. It can be encouraging to spend time among your tribe of writers, steeping in a creative atmosphere to recharge or re-align your productivity. But there comes a time where you can’t wait for other people to show up in order to initiate whatever you want to do. Yes, I know I just said that people don’t create in a vacuum, but people also don’t create in a swarm of bees either.

Or at least I hope not, because that sounds terrifying.

For all the fun of freeze tag and “chase me while I giggle and sweat and ignore parental directives to slow down or look where I am going’, there does come a time when you need to get your butt in the chair, close the door to whatever room you’re writing in, and get to work. The MS isn’t going to miracle itself out of your brain without the investment of time and some kind of effort.

Creativity is work, even when it’s fun work. But since fun is often shorter term than work (remember that time you thought it would be way more fun to start that new project and buying supplies was a hoot until it came time to actually DO the project?) we can often end up chasing it which can lead to a string of started things left unfinished, and a lot of work abandoned by the side of creative roads before it really was given a chance.

As I think about it, it’s in some ways a necessary part of creativity, to mark the path you take with the husks and guts of jettisoned guts. Every project is a teaching tool, and every effort improves craft.

Over the last twenty years, I have not found a productivity substitute for actual work. And as much as I love my friends, as much as I enjoy lunches and snack time with other editors and publishers, in order for me to get work done, I need to close the door, get myself in front of the keyboard and make it happen. By myself. I just work better than way.

I’m at GenCon later this week, so this blog will likely be quiet until after I’m home.

 

Happy writing.

Why Am I Getting Rejected? Part 3

Today we conclude the series on rejection. We’ve talked about rejection from the query, we’ve talked about rejection from the manuscript, and today, we’re going to look at rejection caused by other things, because yes, there are other sources of rejection that aren’t the query or the manuscript.

It’s unfortunate, and this is the part about rejection that’s really difficult – some of this stuff is under your control, and some of this stuff isn’t. The big giant red flag here is that people often read the “some stuff isn’t” and take that as a permission slip to blame their rejection on somebody-else’s-problems and not address any of their errors that might actually be in the query or MS.

This is where I propose a bold step – ask for feedback on the query or manuscript following rejection. Maybe you won’t get it from every publisher, but there are those of us who will. And yeah, it’s an emotional risk to take, since you’re admitting you missed the mark, but I see it also as a huge point of courage and strength – yeah, you missed the mark, but you don’t want to miss it again. You’re going to try again, you’re not going to give up.

Don’t let what I’m sure may be quite a few voices saying publishers don’t have time or that feedback is not in their job description be a reason you won’t take a bold step forward in producing your MS and getting it out into the world. Yes, a lot of people are going to just say the query and MS aren’t for them, say something dismissive, and leave you hanging. But there are going to be publishers and individuals (hello!) who would be happy to work with you to take a look at what you’re doing and give you pointers. You’re not going to know until you ask. And you are good enough, and you should believe enough in your work, to ask.

Now, onto our list of 5 things that aren’t your MS or your query that can get you rejected.

Issue 1 – Your query and/or MS is good, but it’s not what someone is looking for.
This might be the most discouraging issue in the list, because there’s no explicitly wrong thing to point out. It’s not that the query was vague or the manuscript was too wordy, it just didn’t meet the other person’s criteria. Criteria, I should point out, that you as the author aren’t going to know and couldn’t possibly predict.

Yes, you can write in-genre, your story can be well-constructed, the query can be gold star material, and the other person can still say no. And that’s on them, not you. Maybe they don’t think they can sell it. Maybe they just got a directive from their superiors that they need to look for submissions going in a different direction. Maybe they read your MS and query about 15 minutes after they spilled coffee and cherries on their only good top and they have less than 6 minutes to send an intern to the bodega for club soda. Who knows … but it means they can’t say yes right now to that manuscript.

It sucks, but it happens.

Issue 2- Your social media presence is very controversial (due to an agenda or attitude)
Okay, here’s a Johnfession: I spend a good deal of time on social media. Usually that’s Twitter, and when I’m having a good hair day and don’t feel like I should climb back under a bridge to harangue goats, I’m on Snapchat (johnwritesstuff). And because I’m on Twitter so much, I say a lot (at the time I’m writing this paragraph I’ve got 55.3k tweets). Some of what I’ve said, and some of what I’ll likely say isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I don’t agree with some ideas, be they professional or social. I have thoughts and ideas about a whole lot of stuff, and social media gives me an outlet to express those thoughts. I don’t do it with the express intention to be shocking (my shock-jock era was over at least a decade ago), but I know that I can’t control, nor do I want to control, how other people perceive my expressions. Other people’s outrage is not my flock to shepherd.

This means that there are times in my life where what I’ve said has cost me friendships, jobs, relationships great and small, and even (gasp!) opportunities for free swag. And I’m okay with that. I don’t muzzle well, and I think I’m actually getting better at expressing myself with slightly fewer daisy chains of profanity.

I’m willing to stand by what I say, what I think, and what I’ve written in places. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It might controversial. And it’s the bed I made, so I shall be laying in it.

When I go check out an author, before I go send the MS up whatever food chain, I check to see if the author is on social media and if they’re active. Are they active enough that I can trust them to do their own promotion of their book? Are they active enough that they’ve built an audience? Are they saying anything particularly -ist or -phobic that I might need to damage control or is it bad enough to disqualify them? Looking for those red flags is a pain, and honestly yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t have to, but to ignore the potential means I be having to spend more time fixing situations rather than doing what I’m paid to do, which is helping make books happen.

A controversial social media presence can give a publisher some pause. How you define “controversial” is subjective, and I’m probably one of the more permissive people, because I don’t want a silent author but also don’t need one advocating for the abject murder of people based on gender, race, orientation or identity for instance.

Issue 3 – The author has zero social media presence and (bonus!) an active disinterest in using it.
I think this one bothers me moreso than the previous issue. This seems so outdated, so out of touch, especially when some of the best ways to fix the problem are free and don’t take more than a few minutes a day.

Maybe this stems from the idea that there’s an expectation that the publisher will just pay the author to sit somewhere and sippy froo-froo drinks while they do “their part” and promote the books that the author churns out from various bungalows on various tropical beaches. Maybe it comes from the idea that because building an audience takes time and isn’t automatic or easy then it shouldn’t be done. Maybe it comes from a fear that someone doesn’t know how to do it. Whatever the case, I run into a LOT of people who want to be traditionally published while remaining wholly averse to the idea of promoting any percentage of what they’ve done.

No, the audience doesn’t immediately come running. No, they’re not going to suddenly ‘just know’ that you’ve done a thing and it’s available without you saying something. No, marketing and audience development is not a part of the writing job/career that you can afford to skip out on.

Pushing back on using social media and doing anything other than dropping a sales link in a tweet every other day (the old “Buy my book LINK HERE” sales tactic) can very often sound like you’re just about to join the Old Person Doesn’t Want Kids On Lawn Club or you just got your subscription to the Back In My Day newsletter. Social media isn’t scary. That fear that you’ll be exposed and shamed or ignored? We all have that. We use the media anyway.

That audience gets built because you sound like a person, preferably you sound like yourself, and you start talking to people and interacting over and over, regularly and naturally. You can do this.

Issue 4 – The market is saturated in material that looks a lot like the manuscript.
Faerie courts. Werewolves. Zombies. Grizzled soldiers back from war to avenge dead brides. Long lost heirs to kingdoms and riches. Prophecies about one person making a global difference because of some very small character trait they have. The market is cyclical, and eventually everything swings back around.

Sometimes, people are ahead of that curve, so it doesn’t look like they’re catching trends. Other times, they’re adding one more manuscript to a caravan en route to inboxes already full of the same material.

The author has zero control over the cyclical life of trends. Even without meaning to, even while working in secret, late at night while the house sleeps or in the wee hours while it’s just you and a cat, you can be writing X right alongside a ton of writers also writing X. And then you all finish at the same time, and you send the manuscripts off at the same time, and then the publishers have stacks and stacks of X. How can they differentiate? What’s going to make yours stand out?

If you said “Query letter!” and “A strong engaging manuscript!”, thanks for paying attention, but let’s suppose that everyone else also said it too. In a big pool of X, X-number-81 or X-number-23 are going to get rejected, even if they’re not bad. Because there’s a load of factors outside authorial control and market saturation and the affect of a bloated inbox on a reader are two things that no amount of great chapter 1s can fix.

No, that doesn’t mean you have to give yourself aneurysms trying to make the most original original-thing possible so that there’s no doubt that you’re not chasing a trend or being routine. It means you need to get comfortable with your craft and your voice and make decisions that put your creative self into situations where your work is going to stand out when it’s in the big pool of X.

Issue 5 – There’s no reader checking the inbox where the MS and query are sent.
This happens a lot with smaller publishers, and you wouldn’t think that would be the case, because you’d think a smaller publisher would be super pumped to see any submissions. And small publishers are pumped for submissions, but there are some small publishers who don’t have any interest in publishing, they just want to say they’re a publisher, all while engaging in predatory behavior that colors part of the industry as a crooked bunch of wheeler-dealers, while forcing authors to be overly cautious and assume that the bad folk outnumber the good.

The bad folk exist, just like they exist outside of publishing (like those mall kiosks that wash your hands with salt), and you should try and avoid eye contact (this also applies to the salt kiosk people), but you can’t assume that everyone out there is coming to get you and your manuscript too.

Sending your work out into the world and not hearing back even a “Thanks so much for submitting” or a “Expect a reply from us within # of days” can be disheartening, but like everything else in this series, don’t take that as a permission slip to give up.

Yes, it’s possible that you send your MS and query to a dead mailbox. Maybe the contact info changed, maybe no one thinks to check it because it’s an off-week and the boss is away, maybe it’s pushed off for someone else to handle “later.” But none of that should stop you. Keep writing, keep submitting. Keep persisting.

Track who you send it to, track the response, and follow the hell up. Seizing that initiative is going to have way more and larger benefits than passivity or negativity.

To wrap up this series, I want to say that in no way have I covered the whole of the bell curve as to why manuscripts and queries get rejected. But I wanted to at least point out the big ticket items, and maybe hopefully help you with a map through somewhat otherwise hazy territory.

The response I’ve gotten to this series is huge, and not just in terms of number of readers, but also who has been reading it. Editors, publishers, published authors (all of whom I’d get super nauseous and panicky about saying hello to if not for the comfort of social media), as well as writers who wouldn’t speak up normally have all checked out these posts, and I’m grateful. It’s a big deal, and I hope that some of you out there stick around to see what’s coming, and go check out the archives to see what else I’ve done. Thanks for taking the time to read my words.

I’ll see you guys next for more. Happy writing.