Friday, September 23, 2005

I Think I Can, I Think I Can...

I feel a lot like The Little Engine That Could these days, hoping to overcome a mountain of self doubt as I try to convince myself that my writing doesn't suck and that it's fully worth my time and effort to launch yet another novel project, knowing it will consume huge amounts of my time and energy over the next bunch of months. It shouldn't be that hard because I love to write and I have plenty of exciting stories and characters in my head just waiting to be committed to paper (or maybe I'm the one who needs to be committed??). The hardest part should be deciding which story to work on next...and that is hard, but not for the reasons it should be.

I just spent the better part of a year completing my latest novel. It's a story I carried around in my head for several years and I was anxious to get to it as the premise, the plot, and the characters fascinated me. I felt, and still feel, it has great market potential. I approached it with high enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed the journey of writing it, except for that mid-book slump phase where working on any book feels about as exciting as writing a research paper on dirt. It's a great story, one I truly believe has potential.

I think.

Self doubt keeps creeping in. Who am I to determine what is or isn't good, what does or doesn't have potential? My taste in things has always been a bit off plum and while I sometimes agree with the masses, I just as often find myself part of a very small minority. My doubts aren't helped by the fact that the novel is currently trapped somewhere in submissions purgatory, bits and pieces of it spread about New York in hopes of finding a fan somewhere in the literary world. It has already been rejected by a handful of agents, and while those rejections were softened by some very kind and flattering feedback in a couple of cases, my skeptical side can't help but wonder if those agents really meant what they said about the book and the writing, or if they were merely being kind.

I'm realistic enough to know the book may never find any home other than a shelf in one of my closets. But acknowledging that on an intellectual level is a hell of a lot easier than accepting it on an emotional level. It's hard to justify spending the better part of a year on a project that may never see the light of day, particularly when it's a labor of love. And all of my books are. I wouldn't write them otherwise.

All this musing and self doubt makes it hard to begin my next book, knowing I may be sitting here a year from now thinking I've just wasted another chunk of my life and committed myself to the wrong project. But I've begun it nonetheless...several times in fact. I keep searching for that perfect launching pad, the right tone in the narrative, the right feel to the characters. I know a lot of writers who recommend just jumping in and writing, not worrying about the beginning until you're well into the story. But I can't do that. I need to play with the beginning until I get just the right mix of story, tone, and character. It's a getting-to-know-you stage, a required step for me if I'm to attain the right level of commitment, zeal, and enthusiasm for the project. I can't always define what it is that makes the beginning right, but I know it when I see it.

And yesterday I saw it. So I'm off and running, trying to push aside all thoughts of my other child, who is doing the literary equivalent of trying to find a prom date, and trying to ignore all my self doubt and fears. Because I have to; not writing isn't a choice for me. And even if none of my books are ever published again, I will continue wasting a year here and a year there, visiting with the stories and characters living inside my head. Because that childhood mantra from The Little Engine That Could has been a guiding force throughout my life: I think I can.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Warning! Rant Ahead

I dedicate a lot of my time to trying to help aspiring writers learn the ins and outs of the publishing industry and some of the basics of good writing. I do this because I've made a bit of progress myself but I never would have gotten there if it wasn't for lots of generous and talented writers over the years who shared their wisdom with me. I feel like returning the favor is the least I can do and there are plenty of aspiring writers out there who are eager for the help and willing and able to learn.

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of writers out there who are totally clueless. I'm not sure why I beat myself over the head time and time again trying to get these folks to see the error of their ways...I suppose it's the same stupid stubborness that wouldn't let me give up on getting published after years and years of rejections.

My latest frustrations stem from a small group of writers on an author's forum started by a woman whose book has been published by the ever-controversial Publish America (PA). I was invited to this forum by its owner because an issue of my newsletter from last year was quoted as an evidentiary source in a law suit recently filed by Encyclopedia Britannica, claiming trademark infringement by PA's British entity, which was calling itself Publish Brittanica. The owner of the forum told me she felt the sources I cited in that issue of my newsletter were unfairly biased against PA and if I wanted to see more open and balanced opinions, to come and visit her forum. So I did.

What I found there was a bunch of ostriches, people who have been "published" by PA and proudly claim themselves "published authors!" in posts that demonstrate they have absolutely no clue how to write a grammatically correct sentence, much less write a readable book. Clearly these people are interested solely in some perceived prestige they think comes along with the label of "published author" and have no interest at all in writing with any level of skill. Despite numerous posts pointing out the flaws in their logic (not to mention their writing!) these people persist on doing the cyber equivalent of plugging their ears and singing, "lalalalala, I can't hear you."

The latest debacle from PA is their claim that they are going to make all their books returnable. Given PA's past actions and their reputation, many (myself included) suspect this is merely a thinly disguised way to get PA authors to buy a bunch of their own books, thereby filling PA's coffers with some new cash just in time for the payment they will have to make to Encyclopedia Brittanica come October.

But don't let me persuade your thinking, check out the forums for yourself and decide. You can visit the aforementioned forum here: Author Forum

For a more balanced and realistic forum, check out the Bewares and Background Check section of the Absolute Write forum here:

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


I've decided to join the blogging bandwagon (say that three times really fast) to share my thoughts, musings, trials, tribulations, and anything else I feel like (so there!). My main focus will be on writing and publishing, but I reserve the right to bore you with anything else that strikes my fancy.

A brief introduction: I'm a published novelist -- three thrillers that were issued as paperback originals by HarperCollins in the late nineties. I am no longer with Harper and my original agent has retired. I spent a few years with another agent who tried to sell a mystery I wrote, but alas, to no avail. We parted company a year and a half ago, I decided to self-publish the mystery to see what all the POD/self-publishing woo-hoo is really all about, and now I've completed another thriller that is desperately seeking a home.

So at the moment I'm in the middle of trying to find a new agent and sell a new book. Though this is something I've done before, it's been a while and I forgot just how humbling (humiliating) it can be. And given the fact that I'm no longer with Harper because they dumped me a few years ago when they acquired Avon, my ego isn't exactly hanging out in the stratosphere. I've long felt that misery is easier to bear when shared, so that's part of what I'll be using this blog for. That, and musings on this crazy industry called publishing.