No, You’re (Still) Not Ready to Publish

From my 2011 archives…

Don’t you hate it when the Inner Critic is right? After years of being shoved aside and trampled, he gloats over fleeting opportunities to jump up and down and yell, “I told you so!” and it’s so annoying.

It’s not easy to admit, but many of us are probably among the 99.9% of writers who mistakenly thought our brilliantly written and endlessly polished first novels were ready for launching. In hindsight we know better, but at the time we were enthusiastic about their chances in the market.

I read of one writer who said, “Don’t tell me first novels never sell. If I believed that, why would I bother to finish mine?” When we first begin writing, the naïve mindset is like a protective cloak… “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

My husband quotes one of his professors as cautioning, “For the first ten years in ministry, don’t preach on Revelation. After that you’ll know better than to preach on Revelation.”  As writers we could use a similar admonition — something along the lines of, “Write your heart out on the first book but steel yourself to the reality that it’s only a learning experience.”

Reality sucks! But it’s not as if we expect a new surgeon to immediately perform brain surgery, or a beginning athlete to compete in the Olympics, so why do we expect our first novel should be bestseller material?

Anne Allen wrote an excellent post on “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish.” She directed it to those who were tempted to self-publish too soon, but her ideas make good sense for all of us seeking publication. I particularly like the simplicity and sense of her comment, “All beginners make mistakes. Falling down and making a mess is part of any learning process. But you don’t have to display the mess to the world.”

Yes, we worked darned hard on that story and we’d like to reap some benefit from the effort. Well, guess what? We did. The benefit is in the education. We read and wrote and learned. Part of what we learned is how little we actually knew before we began the process. Part of what we will learn tomorrow is how little we know today.

When more experienced writers warned me about the Inner Critic’s unreliability, they didn’t suggest how to react on the odd occasions when he might be right. I’m sorry, but there’s no being graceful in the face of his taunts.

“I’m learning with experience. So shut up already!”

If someone knowledgeable told you the book you are currently writing would never sell, would you finish it anyway, or stop where you are?

~

Ostrich Photo by anankkml
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It’s Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Birthday!

One of my favourite authors is Lucy Maud Montgomery, the creator of the ‘Anne of Green Gables‘ series. I’ve enjoyed her stories because of her wonderful settings and delightful characters. I mean, what’s not to like about Anne Shirley?

I’m glad both of my daughters read her books, too, and followed her escapades during a long-running television series. Megan Follows brought Anne to the screen with the very personality I had always attributed to Montgomery’s creation.

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L.M. Montgomery (1897)

Beyond the magic of story, however, L.M. Montgomery’s writing has something more to offer aspiring writers. There’s much to learn from her. She began writing when she was nine, keeping a journal and writing poetry, but it was many years before her writing was published.

“During her years in Cavendish, Montgomery continued to write and send off numerous poems, stories, and serials to Canadian, British, and American magazines. Despite many  rejections, she eventually commanded a comfortable income from her writing. In 1899, she earned $96.88 – certainly not much by today’s standards but a nice sum at the turn of the century. Her earnings from her writing increased to $500 in 1903.

“In 1905, she wrote her first and most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. She sent the manuscript to several publishers, but, after receiving rejections from all of them, she put it away in a hat box. In 1907, she found the manuscript again, re-read it, and decided to try again to have it published. Anne of Green Gables was accepted by the Page Company of Boston, Massachusetts and published in 1908. An immediate best-seller, the book marked the beginning of Montgomery’s successful career as a novelist.” *

Despite the success of her Anne stories, she was often anxious about how her writing was perceived and disappointed that her poetry never received much acclaim. “Montgomery herself considered her poetry to be more significant than the novels she sometimes characterized as ‘potboilers’.” ** And yet she never stopped writing. She was still journalling in 1942, the year she died.

She once said, “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author.” I’d say Lucy Maud Montgomery proved the value of persistence, of refusing to let rejection or fear deter her from pursuing her goal.

The Green Gables farmhouse featured in her series is a heritage building in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, and I loved the opportunity to see it during a cross-Canada trip our family made in 1980. (Another highlight was taking in a live performance of Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown.)

But there’s another connection our family has with Montgomery’s history, although it’s rather tenuous. In 1911 she married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald, and they moved to Leaskdale, Ontario, where Macdonald ministered in the Presbyterian church until 1926. Half of L.M. Montgomery’s twenty-two novels were written during her years living in the church manse in Leaskdale.

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The Presbyterian manse in its original state ****

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The Presbyterian manse (circa 2000) ***

The history of the Leaskdale Manse dates to 1886. It is now both an Ontario and a National Historical Site. I remember being in it at one time, but can’t recall if it was during our cross-Canada trip, or during the time my brother- and sister-in-law lived in it. Murray spent a year as minister in Leaskdale Presbyterian Church in 1972-73 while on furlough from his missionary work in Taiwan. All I remember for sure is seeing a small pump organ in the manse and being awed that it had belonged to LMM.

An encouraging lesson from Lucy Maud Montgomery, and lots of good memories. 🙂

Happy 141st Birthday, LMM!

~

* (Her Life: L.M. Montgomery Institute)

** (Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 *** (Photos: Canada’s Historic Places / Parks Canada)

 **** (The Toronto Star)

LMM Photo: (Wikimedia Commons)

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Choices, choices — so much good reading ahead!

There’s always excitement surrounding the release of a friend’s new book. I’m not sure how one contains all the excitement when suddenly several friends have books hitting the shelves all at pretty much the same time, but that’s what’s happening this month.

In my daughter’s writing group, not one but THREE of the members have books published this month:

Alibi Book CoverKidlit author KRISTIN BUTCHER had a YA novel, ALIBI, published on October 1st by Orca Books.

  • Fifteen-year-old Christine is visiting her eccentric great-aunt in historic Witcombe, where a pickpocket has been victimizing tourists. Aunt Maude owns an antique store and also runs the town’s ghost walk, which gives Christine the opportunity to meet local characters and visitors, including a mysterious young man who seems to know far too much about the crimes. When the pickpocket targets Aunt Maude’s store, Christine is determined to find out who is behind the thefts. Her search takes her through the nooks and crannies of the quaint town full of stories, and she unearths more than one surprise.

Cry From the DeepDIANA STEVAN‘s debut romantic mystery, A CRY FROM THE DEEP, was released October 15th.

  • An underwater photographer about to cover the hunt for one of the lost ships of the Spanish Armada buys a Claddagh ring and begins to have nightmares and visions more compelling than the hunt itself.

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SHARI GREEN‘s debut YA novel, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, was released on October 17th by Evernight Teen.

  • Following Chelsea CoverWalking in the footsteps of a dead girl isn’t easy.After her social life flatlines, seventeen-year-old Anna Richards wants nothing more than to lie low at her new school. But it seems Anna looks an awful lot like Chelsea, the sweet and popular girl who recently died, and Anna finds herself stepping into the void created by Chelsea’s absence.Anna is determined to make the awkward situation work in her favor, because Chelsea didn’t just leave a spot open with the in-crowd; she also left a gorgeous—and now available—boyfriend. But it turns out that following Chelsea might be a lot more complicated than Anna expected.

Foreign Exchange CoverThen, there’s DENISE JADEN‘s newest YA release, FOREIGN EXCHANGE,  just out, too, (along with her non-fiction book for writers, FAST FICTION).

  • Jamie Monroe has always played it safe. That is, until her live-for-the-moment best friend, Tristan, jets off to Italy on a student exchange program. Left alone with her part-time mother and her disabled brother, Jamie discovers that she is quite capable of taking her own risks, starting with her best friend’s hotter-than-hot older brother, Sawyer.Sawyer and Tristan have been neighbors for years, but as Jamie grows closer to the family she thought she knew, she discovers some pretty big secrets—not only from her, but from each other. As she sinks deeper into their web of pretense, she suspects that her best friend may not be on a safe exchange program at all. Jamie sets off to Europe on a class trip with plans to meet up with Tristan, but when Tristan stops all communication, suddenly no one seems trustworthy, least of all the one person she was starting to trust—Sawyer.

Corpse Platinum Hair CoverAnd, if that weren’t enough, CATHY ACE‘s fourth book in her Cait Morgan mystery series, THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR, was released October 14th by TouchWood Editions.

  • Welsh Canadian foodie and criminologist Cait Morgan takes off on a short break to the fabulous Tsar! Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas with her significant other, retired cop Bud Anderson. But before they can start celebrating Bud’s birthday in style at the casino owners’ exclusive private dining room, the death of Miss Shirley — a woman with a colorful background and the acknowledged Queen of the Strip — results in a security lockdown. Cait, Bud, a corpse, and ten possible murderers are trapped in the luxurious restaurant for twelve deadly hours. The bodies pile up, the tension mounts, the list of suspects dwindles — and Cait knows she has to work out who within the group is an audacious killer because there’s no telling who might be next to die.

UnknownRACHEL ELIZABETH COLE‘s newest kidlit, THE RABBIT ATE MY HOMEWORK, is available in paperback now, in addition to the Kindle edition, published by Tangled Oak Press.

  • Eleven-year-old Drew Montgomery has not, does not, and will not ever want a stupid old rabbit. All they do is sit in their cages, eat carrots, and poop. Then his annoying little sister blackmails him into hiding a bunny in his closet. She knows what really happened to his “stolen” bike and she’s threatening to tell. Now Drew’s in a real jam. If his “No pets!” parents find the rabbit or, worse, his sister blabs the truth, he’ll be grounded till Grade Seven for sure.

    And if that’s not enough trouble, two girls at school drag him into a prank war that goes from bad to worse–and it’s all the rabbit’s fault. Plus, the weirdest girl in his class wants to be his science partner. If she tells him she wants to be his girlfriend, he just knows he’s gonna die.
    Drew must find a way to outwit the mean girls, wiggle out of the blackmail deal, and get rid of the rabbit before it destroys his bedroom and his life.

perf5.0625x7.8125.inddAnother great new children’s story is from DARLENE FOSTERAMANDA IN ALBERTA: THE WRITING ON THE STONE.

  • Amanda is delighted to show Leah around Alberta during her visit from England. They take in the Calgary Stampede, go on a cattle drive, visit Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, spend time with the dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and explore the crazy Hoodoos.
    When Amanda finds a stone with a unique mark on it, she doesn’t think it’s important until everyone seems to want it – including a very ornery cowboy. Is this stone worth ruining Leah’s holiday and placing them both in danger? Spend time with Amanda as she explores her own country while attempting to decipher the mysterious writing on the stone and keep it from those determined to take it from her.

There are even more! If you’re looking for stories to start getting into the mood for Christmas (you didn’t hear me suggest that, did you?), the HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Contemporary Collection is out with inspirational novellas from Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, Audra Harders, Missy Tippens, Sandra Leesmith and Tina Radcliffe, with the HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Historical Collection available for pre-order. The small town holiday romance, MIDNIGHT SPRINGS, Book 4 in the Springs series by Elena Aitken, is also available for pre-order!

I’ve probably forgotten to mention somebody’s book baby, so feel free to mention other new releases in the comments. But what an abundance of choices… something for everyone, and it totally boggles my mind. I don’t know where to start. Oh yes, I do! My daughter, Shari’s book, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, was the first one I reached for. You’d expect a mom to make that obvious choice, wouldn’t you?

 

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Will it be survival of the fittest or of the most diligent seeker?

Nobody’s very happy about it. When a bear and her cub found their way into our back yard last week, I knew it was past time to put away the bird feeders for the summer. But you should see the looks I’ve been getting…

1-Junco

 

Jay

 

Flicker

 

Grosbeak

 

Thrush

Sorry guys, but this lunch counter is closed for the season. There’s lots of nibblies out there, but you’re going to have to find them for yourselves.

 

Squirrel
Ah, c’mon now, it’s not that bad. After all, the one who’s responsible for the sudden closure managed to find an acceptable alternative.

9-BearGrass

If there’s to be any kind of writing application in this, I’d say it has something to do with accepting that there’s no free lunch along the road to publication. We simply have to knuckle down and put in the work ourselves.

 ~

Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.

Genesis 1:29-30

 

He has given food and provision to those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever and imprint it [on His mind].

Psalm 111: 5

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Judging books by their covers…

Do you judge books by their covers? We’re admonished not to, but I have to admit that’s the first thing that attracts my attention when I’m browsing for a new book to buy.

Certain covers instantly catch my attention in either a negative or positive way and I’ll either reach for it, or turn to something else. My hubby says this is true for him, too. Taste is dictated by personal ideals and I know what appeals to me doesn’t necessarily appeal to someone else, but I don’t really understand why. That’s probably the reason I could never make a career out of designing book covers.

Oh, but wait! I DID design one! Now if I could only figure out why I chose certain of its elements perhaps I might better understand why some covers appeal to me and others don’t.

Johnny_Front_CoverThe book, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICK, was the dream of my aunt, Norma McGuire who had collected the fanciful stories told by her late husband to their three boys, and decided it would be nice to make them available for others to read. I assisted with the editing and a year-long process of querying various Canadian agents and publishers, but then decided the uncertainty of obtaining traditional publication wasn’t worth the indefinite wait. With a son-in-law in the printing business, there was another option — self-publishing.

In this case, it became not-self-self-publishing because it was done by the family as a surprise Christmas gift — and what a surprise it was! — so I couldn’t consult with Norma about any of the decisions she normally would have made herself.

Formatting the interior pages was a straightforward task, but the cover…? All the book’s illustrations were paintings or sketches done by my aunt and there were any number of the story’s whimsical characters who could have been featured… but which to choose?  Copies of the book wouldn’t be on real shelves in bookstores for children to select, but would be available for ordering online or directly from Norma, so it seemed wise to also make the cover appealing to the adults who would buy the book for their children and grandchildren.

Since the stories were about a young boy and an old fisherman and mostly took place on a fishing boat, the fishing theme was a good place to start… except Norma hadn’t created any fishing illustrations that would fit the vertical cover format. That’s when I asked for assistance from my daughter, photographer and fellow writer Shari Green, who lives in an oceanside town. With camera in hand she visited a local marina and shot several photos, one of which instantly caught my attention and became the chosen background.

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Photography by Shari Green

There was an island in the background, and an island also plays a prominent part in the stories. There were colourful elements that could be repeated to make the text child-friendly. Voila! A cover was born. Do I know why it appealled? No, but I trusted my eye and instinct.

Another fellow writer and graphic artist makes a business out of creating covers. One of her e-book covers just won first place in a cover design contest. Maybe I should ask Rachel Elizabeth Cole of Littera Designs for her opinion on what makes a good one.  I think that may be a subject for another post. 🙂

What elements of a book’s cover appeal most to you?

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Fearing the transformation… writer to author

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Writers sometimes fear the very thing they earnestly desire… becoming a published author. It’s not a conscious fear, but a subtle concern over facing the unknown.

Writing in obscurity is easy. There are no expectations, no commitments, no deadlines. Some may putter for a decade or more on one or more manuscripts because it’s less stressful to keep writing than to try and put those words out where they will be scrutinized. There is worry about being judged and coping with their very private, introspective world becoming public. Yet the dream of publication remains.

Fall Leaves 1

All changes, even the most longed for,
have their melancholy;
for what we leave behind us
is a part of ourselves;
we must die to one life
before we can enter another.

(Anatole France)

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The thing is, even published authors face doubts. They wonder about their ability to write another marketable book — one that is better than the one before — or was the initial achievement just a fluke? Can they fit the writing of something new into the daily schedule that now includes promoting the earlier book(s)?

There’s no magic remedy for the fear. Changing the status quo takes courage and effort. (I have to keep telling myself that! How about you?) There is no possibility of failure if an attempt at success is never made.

Fall Leaves 2

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The Frustration of Misunderstanding

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To be misunderstood can be the writer’s punishment
for having disturbed the reader’s peace.
The greater the disturbance, the greater the possibility of misunderstanding.

Anatole Broyard

~

Lilacs

I read agents’ blogs for several reasons. One is to learn as much as I can about the publishing industry. Another is to learn what separates one agent from another as an author’s representative. I’m naïve enough to believe I’m eventually going to find the agent that God has in mind for me – that one person who believes in my work and wants to help me refine it, then be an advocate for it with publishing houses.

The agent/author relationship strikes me as being much like a marriage. There’s need of good communication, mutual understanding and appreciation, trust and commitment, and the willingness to apologize when necessary.

Until this past weekend I don’t think I’ve ever come across an agent who said, “I messed up royally,” but those are the exact words of Books & Such agent Rachelle Gardner, along with “I completely miscommunicated.” Personally, I didn’t think she messed up at all, but her blog post entitled “Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?” in which she attempted “to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published,” set off an explosion among her readers. Several of them misunderstood her stance and took offence.

Such an outcry! But rather than show frustration with those who clearly missed her point, with her usual grace Rachelle accepted the blame for miscommunicating and took the time to respond to several commenters and write a second post* to clarify her words and correct the misunderstanding. What a wonderful example of Christian humility and patience!

Human nature often makes us want to defend our choices, to justify and argue. It’s not easy to take criticism, or to say, “I’m sorry. Let me try and get it right this time” when you weren’t wrong in the first place. In an industry that’s all about words, communication and relationships, Rachelle Gardner has demonstrated the qualities that set her apart as an extraordinary agent and author advocate.

What’s the one most important characteristic you would hope to find in an agent representing you and your work?

~

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating
than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

A tender answer turns away rage,
 but a prickly reply spikes anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (The Voice)
 ~

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* EXCERPT:

“On Monday I wrote a post in which I attempted to explain the publishers’ concerns in this new age of hybrid authors who are both traditionally- and self-published. But I messed up royally.

“In my effort to illuminate the publisher’s perspective on things, I inadvertently came across as completely defending the publishers’ viewpoints, and somehow being on the side of “Big Pub” (as some commenters put it) rather than being an advocate for authors. That was my mistake. I badly miscommunicated, and I regret it because it led to so much misunderstanding.” (Rachelle Gardner)

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