Well That Was Stupid

So here's what not to do. You remember those posts from the beginning of the year? If not, scroll down the page and take a gander. I haven't posted much this year so they're still easy to find. To summarize, I was all enthused about my novel FAMILY JEWELS. It turned out great, it showed wonderful progress in my own skill as a writer and was receiving positive attention from agents. I insisted, even if this one didn't work out, I was on my way. I would not be defeated.

And then I did something stupid.

I bought into the attention. The attention was strong and it was quick, and it was from people whom I wanted to receive attention. You know those lists you're not supposed to talk about where you have your favorite agents (pieced together from their clients' works, their online presence, and perhaps meeting them at conventions despite the fact they may not be the best fit for you). Yeah, we all have that list. Well the top of my list jumped on my query. Multiple full requests, private messages over Twitter, the whole thing. It's the kind of story published authors tell later. "I thought my early work was so awesome but it was shit. But I kept working and working and when it really was ready, it all happened overnight." And it certainly did feel like it was happening overnight. Two days after my first round of queries, I had multiple full requests. Holy shit, ride that roller coaster! And they were from people on my top five. Including the agent I've wanted to work with most since before she became an acquiring agent and was still an agency assistant. This is IT! Woo hoo!

So I did something stupid.

I waited for my happy ending. I stopped querying other agents, because I was about to get my happy ending. Why would I want to dangle my genius in front of them only to yank it away to work with the person that as about to ask for a call at any moment. I waited. I started my next book. Actually, briefly, I started a sequel to FAMILY JEWELS, but I'm superstitious about that kind of thing, so I started a new novel. And then I waited.

Then I focused on the beginning of the roller derby season and I did a LOT of roller derby. Also, I waited. Then I followed up because it had been a couple months now and I hadn't heard anything, which was odd given how so many people were interested at the beginning and that all of them should suddenly fall silent at the same time. Did the internet break? I didn't get the memo. That's all right. I have this new novel and I have roller derby.

And then I did more derby. And I did less new novel. And I did MORE derby. And I did less new novel. And then I stopped writing.

Because I'm stupid.

Four months of silence from people who showed an interest in my work more effectively killed my creativity than five years of rejections. If this is how the people who like your work treat you, what's the point? Of course, that's just my brain pouting. People have reasons. They get busy. Their actual clients need attention. They change jobs. Who knows, but it's wrong to think it's malicious. (And less wrong to think they brought it on themselves, but we all have obligations, so I don't hand wave that away as easily. I allow a grace period where "overworked" becomes "unprofessional" and I'm still trying to figure out where that line is.)

Either way, I started writing again yesterday. I started by deleting 250 words and then writing 500 or so. They weren't very good. They weren't very bad. But they were more than I had written in the weeks before. Last year, I was hip deep into my second draft. In years before, I was usually on my second novel. This year, though, I'm still on a first draft, and for all my inability to ever give up writing, my enthusiasm for professional publication has been smothered by months of silence.

I'd say I almost prefer rejection, but that's stupid. There's still that chance I'll get an email saying, "Sorry about not responding for forever and a day, my hamster had cancer and things have been hectic here. I loved what I read. Is it still available?" and I'll be able to answer, "Strangely enough, it is."

A Whole Different World

Being a digital generation, it's easy to get trapped in the notion that who people are online is who they are in real life. And not to say that they're liars or phonies, but when we're on Twitter or Blogger or Facebook, we only see a fraction of that person. I never "market" myself, meaning I always write/speak the way I would if you met me in real life. Joseph L. Selby the internet person is the same as Joseph L. Selby the real-life person. BUT, I don't tweet my trash talk during board games. I don't Facebook my tears while I watched Brave. So, yeah, more to me than these words. More to you too, I should hope. Otherwise you need to close your computer and go outside.

I had the opportunity to speak to someone yesterday, an agent that very successfully uses social media to her advantage (no, it wasn't "the" talk, don't get excited). I thought I had a pretty good handle on who this person was, what our dynamic would be like if we worked together, etc. We've been interacting for some time now, right? You learn things about people and that allows you to inform decisions. I do it. You do it. They do it.

BUT HOLY HELL! That phone call was a thousand times more awesome than any conversation on Twitter or Facebook. That was some professional-level awesomeness that just blew me away. So a lesson I learned, Social Media is only a glimpse. And while sometimes a glimpse is enough (I still won't query the agent that uses her Twitter to make fun of how people are dressed), most times remember that there's a lot more to that person than what you're seeing. Wait for the phone call before making up your mind.

If your call was anything like mine, they might just end up blowing your mind.

The Assistant

Everyone always calls agents the gatekeepers. This is silly. Agents aren't gatekeepers. Agents' assistants are gatekeepers. So keep that in mind the next time you think an assistant is beneath you.

Okay, really, no one reading my journal right now is a Douchebag McAsshole that would condescend an assistant. But some day I'll be popular and shit and there's always that percentage that think it's okay to treat the assistants like crap. These people are dumb. Not the assistants, the Douchebags McAssholes. So I'm talking to you right now, dumb person. Be nice to the assistants. They've earned it. And it's in your best interest.

At my day job, I sit across from an editorial assistant. I work hard at my day job. I do a good job at my day job. And that assistant is there before me and she's there after me. I actually check in the morning just to make sure she's wearing different clothes. The day she spends the night at work, we're having an intervention. Assistants work a LOT. They do a lot of the work we thank agents/editors for. They're the horses that pull the plows. Don't just thank a farmer for your sammich. Without those horses, he couldn't have even planted the wheat.

But you think to yourself, assistants are young and inexperienced. What do they know? I will grant you that an assistant is typically an entry level job1, 2, but they're inexperienced for about the first week. Then they've logged enough combat time that you can call them veterans, so get off your high horse. And really, what's the point of being shitty to the assistant anyway? Don't you have manners? Are please and thank you so hard? Cut them some slack. They're clocking 90 hours a week and have to live with four roommates to keep a roof over their heads because they don't make any money, so a mistake or two will happen.

Still not buying it, eh? Then let me tell you a story. I finished a book a couple years ago. I queried that book. An agent requested a partial. Then he requested a full. I never spoke directly to the agent. I spoke to his assistant. See where I'm going? No you don't.

The agent eventually passed on the manuscript. Asked for a partial of my next one. I never spoke to him. I spoke to the assistant. Eventually passed on that one as well. Two full manuscripts, 260,000 original words, and I never spoke to the agent. I spoke to the assistant. Think what would have happened if I had been a dick on that first manuscript. You think he would have asked for a second?

Still not convinced? Well, a couple years later I get an email. Hey, Joe, remember me? I was the assistant for so-and-so who read your stuff. Of course I remember you. You are awesome! Thanks, well, I have a confession. Agent so-and-so wasn't reading your stuff. I was. Now I'm an agent in my own right. Do you have anything new to share?

Oh well yes I do.

Pause and ask yourself if I would have ever received that email if I had been a dick.3

All right. Go now, and try out these new manners. Remember that publishing is a small world and people who were once low can grow to be mighty (and can do so quickly). There are a nice batch of awesome agents that were only assistants when I started querying three years ago. It makes things fresh. It makes things exciting. As long as you don't screw it up at the beginning.

1 With the changing economy, the entry-level position is actually becoming the intern. The assistant is the intern that had the chops to keep going, so they have more experience than you'd think. They just don't get paid for it. :)

2 Don't ever think just because it's an entry-level position that it means they don't know anything. Those positions aren't just thrown out to anyone. They scratch the eyes out of the competition to get those jobs.

3 The answer is no. No I would not have received that email if I had been a dick. Neither would you. It doesn't matter how much of a genius you are.

Up for Air

I have a blog? Oh that's right, I do! And here I am posting to it. Let me tell you, it's a sign of how much I love you that I'm spending my precious few minutes of free time to say hello.


All my December titles have already turned over. What's that? It's April? Yes, yes it is. Welcome to publishing.

I've been cranking it out lately. Ten-hour days plus four-hour commutes. Not the worst I've had in my career. I've done 15+ before, but still, 14 hours out of a 24-hour day doesn't leave a lot of leisure time.

Thankfully, this sort of thing will only last a few more weeks and then things settle back down. What distresses me most is not the amount of time spent working, but the drain it puts on me. Yesterday, trudging my way to the train station, I had to make a choice, write on the way home or watch Stargate SG-1 on my phone. Stargate won out. And it's been winning out a lot lately. Today is the first day I can remember in the last week where I had the energy to write both in the morning and the evening train ride home.

I'm not losing the rhythm of the story, which is great, but the word count is going up sooo slowly. I chopped out 20,000 words (a kick to the nuts but much needed). Then I rewrote the 20,000 words. I've only managed another 8,000 since then. Not bad, certainly, but normally I hit that number in four days.

I have no plans on being a full-time writer (in that full-time denotes having no other job). My benefits at my company are top notch, and I wouldn't want to give those up to be on my own. But there are times, times like this when I'm burning the candle on all ends, that I wish I had more time to devote to writing and less time to publish something in four weeks that would otherwise have eight.

Beware the Gimmicks

Here's how you market your book: You try to build as large a following on Twitter and Blogger as you can while remaining true to yourself. You publish a book. You contact all the people you've become friends with and ask if you can do a guest post on their blog. You post frequently to Twitter about your new book and your guest blogs. Then...the contest! You know someone with "cred." You will leverage that cred to draw people to your blog, exposing them to your new book while they try to use you to get access to this other person.

How do I know this is how you market your book? Because this is how everyone is marketing their book right. Traditionally published or self-published, it doesn't matter. My Twitter feed is awash with hourly posts reminding me to check out one's book/blog/guest post. Multiply this by the number of people I follow (which is small compared to most people) and you can understand how Twitter is becoming less and less fun. It's like that scene in "Demolition Man" where they have a radio station that only plays commercials. I do not go to Twitter just so I can read your commercials all day.

Now, the first answer I always receive is "that's what lists are for," which is technically correct but misses the point. It's not about whether or not I want to read about your self-published opus with the conflicted hero who has to go on a killing spree to find himself. It's that in your effort to reach everyone, you're drowning those you already reached. Overexposure is worse than underexposure, I think. Overexposure turns off people that might have otherwise given you a try, and does so with finality. Underexposure allows for a trickle down later. (And really the goal is to hit the sweet spot where you're exposing yourself without prefixes.)

And then there's the contest. Oh there are so many contests, most of which smack of nothing more than a cheap gimmick. First there are the unethical contests (rate me on Goodreads for a chance to win!). Then there are the hassles (follow my blog for two points and tweet about my contest for one point..!). Then there are the false promises (my agent will read a random person's manuscript--oh wait, she's too busy). There are two simple rules to contests: 1) The participant needs to be the winner not you. 2) The participant needs to actually win something. If people participate in your contest and you can't deliver on your promises, it's not an unfortunate mistake. It's fraud. You defrauded people. Maybe not intentionally, but you established conditions and reneged on your promises. At best that makes you a liar and at worst it makes you a politician.

What does this all boil down to? With the flood gates of self-publishing open, there are a metric shit ton of people peddling their literary wares and most of them are trying the same things to get your attention. Simply shouting louder than everyone else in the room (metaphorically speaking) is not the way to win that contest. It may be hard work, but find some new way to get people's attention or you may find yourself losing the attention of those you've already won. And if you are starting to say, "But I don't have the time..." shut up. This is publishing not play school. If you can't make the time to do anything more than spamming Twitter you need to go find yourself a new hobby. I hear thumb twiddling is fun.