Too Old to Write Your First Novel?

Think again.

Consider, from Rivka Galchen’s rundown in Harper’s of twentieth century author family life and age demographics, among them:

Alice Munro: Two husbands. Raised three children. First book of stories at age thirty-seven.

Toni Morrison: Two children. First novel at age thirty-nine.

Penelope Fitzgerald: Three children. First novel at age sixty. Then eight more.

 

Rock on, Penelope Fitzgerald*.

Read these author’s books, take a walk, and write your own. Bloom late.

write hard

*Author Allison Lynn recently recommended Fitzgerald’s “Offshore,” which went on to win the Booker Prize.

Another to Read: Penelope Fitzgerald biography, “A Life,” by Hermione Lee

And subscribe to Harper’s already.

Platform Shmatform, I Said More Ham: Mysteries of the Traditional Publishing Path Revealed

Last time I posted I was on a toot about the evil, annoying necessity for writers to build platform using inbound marketing, but I think that’s really more essential for a certain type of author.

Authors of fiction, on the other hand, need most to focus on the being of writing. Platform is irrelevant:

“J.K. Rowling didn’t have a blog when she wrote Harry Potter. Does she have a platform? Stephen King doesn’t have a Twitter account. Does he have a platform? Agatha Christie, the bestselling novelist of all time, wasn’t alive when Facebook was invented. Did she have a platform?” –Joe Bunting, “What Fiction Authors Really Need to Know About Their Platform”

My Butler U MFA story structure professor and author of John Wayne: A Novel and The Next Right Thing summed up the mystery of cracking the publishing industry thusly (my paraphrase):

Every morning, agents and editors wake up, get down on their knees, and pray, “God, please let me find a great manuscript I can sell on my desk today.”

Their livelihoods depend on good story, so our job as writers is to know good story and to create one.

To wit: screw platform; write hard.* 

Corky and Dr. Allan Pearl
“Dybbuk Shmybbuk, I said, ‘More ham.'”

 

*And then send me your MS to edit.

Self-Promotion, Platform and Online Presence: a crass, aggravating, infuriating necessary evil

I know a guy who’s writing a book. His career goal is to be a speaker at this type of thing. He is already a subject matter expert with an advanced degree that starts with a P and ends with a D, and he has a solid, healthy career with a reliable customer base. The challenge, according to prevailing publishing wisdom in 2015, is to prove all this to his target audience: agents,  acquisitions editors, and the people in charge of booking leadership conference speakers.

Got the Goods But Not The Ears
image via Social Media Today
image via Social Media Today

Word of mouth works to a point, but there’s no way to connect the right mouths to the right ears. So he’ll need to cast a wider net.

This extremely capable fellow first came to me wanting help with his book—maybe a little editing, maybe a little help working out the structure—he wasn’t really sure exactly what. The beating heart of his inquiry was a yearning for advice on getting his book published, because in his mind (and probably in real life, to some extent), book = speaking opportunities.

What I told him stunk . . .

I’m not sure what he hoped to hear, maybe a magic formula, a referral to someone who could connect him to what he longed for, maybe. What I told him stunk, that I could help him with his book or refer him to another editor who could, but that he needs to ramp up his inbound marketing efforts and all that jazz.

He has a blog, to which he intermittently posts because who has time? But he needs to leverage his online presence to build that dadburn platform. Ugh! I hate that!

Bookstores and Interwebs

It sounds so crass, doesn’t it? Why can’t a person with stellar ideas just write a book and become widely recognized as an expert? That’s how it used to happen, right? I mean, look at Patrick Lencioni and Posner and Kouzes. They wrote books and their popularity and influence caught fire on a massive scale. But no. That was in the ’80s, before Al Gore invented the Interwebs and killed the bookstores. They got in on the ground floor, those thought leaders/authors.

Now you have to Have A Robust Online Presence [gag]. Writers can’t merely show up with useful ideas and a good book anymore. [By the way, even Pat Lencioni and those leadership challenge guys invest in inbound marketing. I know: I worked on content marketing to help their publisher sell their books.] This author is the inboundmarketingest author I know. If those guys need to do it, how much more does the unknown, yet-to-be-published leadership author?

Book BuzzBUZZ THIS!

And one way to build a platform and “create buzz” is to create relevant, helpful searchable online content—blogging being just one of many tools that can be used to achieve this goal of inbound marketing.

So I told this guy: “Mr. Author, you are smart. You know how to write and organize your thoughts. You are credible in your profession and lousy with testimonials from happy customers. You do need an editor for your book (everyone does, and I’m happy to help), but to increase your odds of capturing the attention of potential readers, an agent, and an acquisition editor, you need to ramp up your online activity—starting with posting regularly to your blog and being involved in social media. And for heaven’s sake, open a Twitter account. I mean, how are you or your friends promoting your blog posts?”

TWITTER, RHYMES WITH SH*****

My first encounter with Twitter occurred under duress, and I was not a fan. On the front edge of inbound marketing I decided to open and operate a Twitter account for a previous employer. (I was the first Beth Bates on the then-new social media platform, evidently, hence @bethbates.) I dutifully engaged, tweeted, followed, and RT’d, but I did not enjoy it, AT ALL.*

Most writers I know are introverted and would rather not expend energy connecting on Twitter or IG or Facebook or LinkedIn or Goodreads or She Writes. They want to just do their thing, write their memoirs, novels, essays, or how-to books, and that should be enough. But it isn’t enough. Connecting, for most authors, is an onerous necessarily evil.

BUT: A Silver Lining in the Pacific Northwest

But how exciting is it that I can write a blog post and a woman in Australia or a dude in the UK reads it, feels something, apprehends it as something of value, and becomes an ardent follower? Or through a reciprocal blog following I make meaningful connections with a cadre of writers and readers in the Pacific Northwest likely to be buyers of my own book (someday, maybe, when I have created a stronger platform and find an agent with the editorial vision my MS deserves).

How cool is that?! You couldn’t do THAT in the ’80s.

At least that’s what I tell this author. And myself.

 

*Now I honestly appreciate and even enjoy Twitter. It’s a marvelous, low-barrier way to connect with fascinating, otherwise inaccessible folks around the globe. I’ve had meaningful exchanges with memoirist Mary Karr and (LOST) composer Michael Giacchino, to name a few. When I was in the dumps a couple weeks ago, Steve Hely gave me recommendations of books that make him laugh. How cool is that?! Fun!

 

Feed the Lake: Write Your Teeny Weeny Little Trickle

Blue Lakes, San Juans CO
Lower Blue Lake, San Juan Mountains

The Paris Review can’t get rights from the interviewer to print in its entirety the Jean Rhys interview, regrettably, so I’ll just have to quote from dear Madeleine L’Engle Herself.

“If the work comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am, serve me,’ then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve. The amount of the artist’s talent is not what it is about. Jean Rhys said to an interviewer in the Paris Review, ‘Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.'”

This blog post is not my trickle. I fuel my trickle in the margins, when no one is looking or paying attention or reading or critiquing or praising or liking or RTing or sharing. Keep feeding your trickle, sweets.

 

 

Don’t Be Trolling: “A Typo Is Just a Typo”

Kermit T. Frog

I have raised two lovely literary citizens. My teenagers appreciate literature and love to read. They enjoy attending author readings, and the boy’s favorite place on the planet is the public library. My son and daughter care about precision in the usage of English grammar in the written (and spoken) word, and though they are still in the process of learning, they pay attention to rules of punctuation and other matters of style.

The downside: I have raised two grammar rule snobs pained by a grammar-oblivious generation.

grammar-2Jack and Grace gasp at every offending “alot” and noun-verb disagreement they encounter in emails, web articles, and Facebook posts. The nightly news is a heckle-fest. The boy corrects his family members, Brian Williams, and POTUS for the most minute infractions. The girl has been known to correct (boy)friends’ grammar in their texts. In training them in the way they should go, I have ruined them. I have burdened two innocent children with the belief that the people who start their sentences with “Me” (as in, “Me and my buddies are going to spend the day playing Halo but none of us are ever going to read books, ever”) are the huns who will destroy civilization.

It’s all my fault, but I can’t help it. I cringe when I read a friend’s blog and see her misuse of “none” (None IS! None is singular!) and “I” used in place of “me.” I admit it: I used to be one of those people who publicly corrected people’s misspellings and typos on Facebook. It burned my eyes. I couldn’t let it go. Ick on me. I am thankful my friend John-not-Jon Stewart called me out one December, lending me an epiphany that my habit was the height of cyber-douchebaggery. That January 1, I resolved not to edit my friends, not even in my mind, especially on Facebook and even in emails.

Still workin’ on the “in my mind” part.

Creative NonfictionSo when my friend Susan recently gifted me with my very own subscription to Creative Nonfiction, you can imagine my excitement over the promise of an article with the tease Think you can be a copyeditor? It’s more complicated than it looks in the first issue in my mailbox, Mistakes. The article would exonerate me and justify my righteous indignation and panic over the online storm of messed up jots and tittles. As a writer whose job also requires occasional copyediting, with great anticipation I dove into to the article titled (not entitled, hear me?!The Correctors, written by Carol Fisher Saller, the Subversive Copy Editor and editor of The Chicago Manual of Style’s online Q&A. (Squee!)

To me, Ms. Saller is a rockstar. As cool as Clapton, more hep-cat than Sting. As authoritative on writing and editing as Strunk or White, but updated. Anything Saller says, goes. Deep down I expected her to confirm my concern that the grammar hacks of the world will crumble life as we know it… But she didn’t.

She did one better. She corrected me, and chastening never felt so good.

“It’s not all that clear,” Ms. Saller says, “even to the experts, what’s ‘correct’ when it comes to great swaths of language and grammar.”

Whaaa?!

Yeah.

Queen Saller
Queen Saller

This is the queen bee of correctors we are reading here, the corrector of correctors, calling out correctors (including yours truly) for thinking we’re all-knowing.

Copyeditors themselves are not always current on the issues. People who haven’t studied history or engineering or biology since high school or college naturally assume that their knowledge is outdated—that the subject has evolved and changed over time. They wouldn’t dream of passing themselves off as professors or engineers or doctors.

When was the last English class you took? When was the last English class I took? Not this century.

Never mind that whoever taught us in 1992 was probably using grammar she learned in 1972, which very likely came out of a textbook published in 1952: we still believe that only barbarians could question the rules of English we learned in our youth.

Though they may sting a little, these words are the most incisive and insightful I’ve heard or read on the subject, from an ultimate subject matter expert:

First, have a heart. A typo is a typo, not a sign that the barbarians are at the gate. Second, educate yourself. Read the fun and informative posts at Language Log or Lingua Franca or Grammar Girl. Third, if you’re a writer, work kindly and collaboratively with your editor. And finally, resist the temptation to post those “gotcha” comments online, pouncing on every its for it’s. While you’re busy fussing, you’re failing to read for knowledge, inspiration, or pleasure.

“That,” says Saller, “would be the real mistake.”

Listen up, my beauties. Do as Saller says, not as your mother does:

“…resist the temptation to post those ‘gotcha’ comments online, pouncing on every its for it’s. While you’re busy fussing, you’re failing to read for knowledge, inspiration, or pleasure.”* 

 

tumblr_lhgn2k4lnw1qbolbn

*Especially when reading your mother’s work, including this here blog (but also remember the the impotence of proofreading)

The Traditional Publishing Path: a Midwest Writer’s Workshop agented author shares her wisdom, from how to find a literary agent to what to expect while you’re out on submission

Annie Sullivan celebrates Vietnam
Annie Sullivan celebrates Vietnam

With NaNoWriMo coming to a close, you might be wondering what the next steps are. Here is a handy list you can use to figure out how to query literary agents and to trace your path through the publishing industry.

1. Have a completed, revised manuscript.

This means you didn’t type “The End” and then declare the book ready to be sent to agents. Make sure you have other writers read it first to look for pacing issues, plot errors, etc.

2. Draft a strong, attention grabbing query letter. (See link below.)

3. Thoroughly research the agents you want to query.

Find the best agent for you based on location, how many clients they take on, whether they give editorial feedback, whether they give a lifetime contract or a single book contract, etc.

4. Follow agent submission guidelines as mentioned on their agency website.

5. Treat finding an agent like a business.

Start a spreadsheet of what you’ve sent to each agent and the date you sent it. It can also be helpful to record the date you heard back from them in case you want to query them again later you’ll know when to expect a response.

6. Wait. (And start working on something new!)

7. Revise your query/manuscript based on agent feedback.

8. Get an offer.

9. Inform all other agents that you have an offer.

10. If you receive more than one offer, select the best agent for you and negotiate a contract.*

*If you don’t get an offer with your first book, always write something new and start over again at step 1.

11. Sign contract and celebrate.

12. Revise based on agent’s thoughts.

13. Go out on submission to editors.

14. Wait some more.

15. Either get an offer or get a rejection.

If it’s an offer, celebrate. If it’s a rejection, decide if you should revise, and then submit to more editors.

Why Choose the Traditional Publishing Path?

1. An agent to bounce ideas off of and who knows the market.
2. Direct Access to the “big” New York publishers.
3. More time to write (because you don’t have to deal with the business side of things)!!!
4. Advance Money
5. More marketing and publicity support.

 Helpful links:

1) Literary Rambles
• Great for finding Young Adult and Children’s agents

2) Absolute Write Water Cooler
• Find out what other writers are saying about agents

3) Query Tracker
• Find out what other writers are saying about agents

4) Preditors & Editors
• See if an agent is legitimate

5) Query Shark
• See examples and get advice on query letters

Annie Sullivan graduated in 2012 with her MFA in creative writing from Butler University. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnel’s. Her novel won the Luminis Books Award at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop, and she is currently working with her literary agent to get it published. She lives in Indianapolis and loves traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s working as the Publicity Coordinator at Wiley, a 207-year-old publishing company based Hoboken, NJ.

Connect with Annie Sullivan –
Twitter: @annsulliva

Read Annie’s flash fiction story “Blarney”.

Stretch, Run and Cheer the Murakami and Tudor Way: “If Only Virginia Woolf Had Done Yoga”

Writers, as you know from the first four installments of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to Bridge the Worlds of MFA-Candidate and MFA-Wielding God/Goddess so graciously offered by Butler MFA-wielding goddess Eliza Tudor [this is the summary part with links to the brilliant Tudor tips you missed the first time]:

  1. Lit Mags fuel a writer
  2. Writers submit their work
  3. Writers write
  4. Writers friend and poke, and they make pipe-cleaner puppets.

I trust you’ve benefited from the series and leave you now with Ms. Tudor’s final nuggets of wisdom from beyond the MFA . . .

6. MOVE

I think writers should try and fit in a little exercise every day.  It’s a sanity thing.  If only Virginia Woolf had done yoga.  It’s hard—especially for writers.  You think, “I could be spending this time working” (especially if you only have a few minutes to fit everything in).  After I finished the program, I dusted off the yoga mat, I started running more, and it helped.  It’s time to think or not think.  And, if Murakami does it, it has to be good.

7. FORGET ABOUT IT

Stop thinking about others as competition.  It’s hard sometimes to ignore what others are doing, but nobody’s path is the same.

  • Do your work.
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Try as hard as you can not to look over your shoulder.
  • This is the perfect time to take some new risks in your writing.
  • Ignore the crowd.
  • Applaud others.
  • Do what excites you.

Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart and is scheduled to appear in Annalemma Issue 8.

Thank you, Eliza, for your generosity and for giving us something to hold onto as we press on toward the goal. xo, BB

Post-MFA Writers Facebook, Hobbify and Goof Off

As you may have caught in the first, second, and third installments of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags fuel a writer, writers submit, and writers keep (anyone?) writing. Step 4 is brief, so it shares a post with step 5 (out of 7—you’ll love 6 and 7).

4. CONNECT

Join Facebook even if it scares the living hell out of you.  Keep in touch with your lit gang.  Make some new lit and non-lit friends.  Let people into your writing life.  It makes it less lonely.

5. CREATE (outside of writing)

Rediscover, in this post-MFA world what else you like to do besides writing.  I got a little stale during my MFA years—there just wasn’t time for everything.  This is the PERFECT time to say hello again to hobbies.

There’s a great Louis Armstrong quote about making a life.  I’m paraphrasing here in a big way, but make your life your work and it will make your writing better.  And this is exactly the time to do it.  You’ve finished your MFA, you have a project to work on, you’re figuring out how to be a self-employed writer (even if it isn’t your only job or your only other-other job).  Figure out some new obsessions.  Revisit some old ones.  Goof off a little bit.  It will bring freshness to your work.

Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart and is scheduled to appear in Annalemma Issue 8.

Question from your host: Writers, what do you do to connect and replenish?

Got My MFA. Now What?

As you may have read in the first installment of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags are the Wheaties that can power a writer. In Survival Guide 2, writers submit. Step 3…

3. HAVE A PROJECT READY TO WORK ON WHEN YOU GRADUATE

I did my thesis reading and a few hours later I was on a flight with my family to move across the country.  No joke.  The next morning, I looked at all the boxes in this new house, in this new state, with no friends, no childcare, no stinking coffee and I knew only one thing: I had writing waiting for me.  I bought a new calendar and made some deadlines and I got back to work.  I didn’t do this because I loved it (exactly).  I did it because I didn’t just want to be someone with an MFA, I wanted to be someone with a shelf of books and short stories and screenplays with my name on them.

The fact is you will be much grumpier if you don’t write than if you do.  You’ll feel better after you’ve written.  We all do.  And writing begets writing.

Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart and is scheduled to appear in Annalemma Issue 8.

Writers Write, Submit and Make Nice with Rejection

As you may have read in the first installment of the Eliza Tudor Survival Guide to bridge the worlds of MFA-candidate and MFA-wielding god/goddess, Lit Mags are the Wheaties that can power a writer. Next on the list . . .

2.  SUBMIT

Start submitting work before you finish the program.  Not only will you prove to your partner/spouse/children/parents that you actually do something, you’ll also prove it to yourself.  Sure, you’re going to submit work before you’re ready, but that is okay.  Keep submitting work.  New work.  Re-revised work.  Whatever.  Work on it, make it the best you can, have more than one piece going out, and GO.  Keep a running guide of where you are submitting and the answer (much easier now with online submissions and your favorite spreadsheet program).  Thumbs up or ding, whatever.  Be professional about it: keep track, write thank you notes, be nice.  This is your job.  Also set yourself a set amount of submissions per week or month and hit it.  You’ll look back sometimes and think, “Okay, I NEVER should have sent that out.”  But really, who cares.  Do it!  Do it again!  Writers write.  They revise.  They submit.  They get rejections.  They move on. They keep working.

Keep Working

Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart.

Post-MFA Survival Guide Part 1: Read Lit Mags

As I approach the final few classes of my MFA program, I find myself panicking. How does a writer keep producing in the shadows, in the absence of the light and accountability of the MFA workshop? Former Butler U classmate and MFA-wielding goddess Eliza Tudor was  kind enough to share her 7-point survival guide, to be published in installments here on Writerly. Part  1 . . .

A Survival Guide to Bridge the Worlds of  MFA-Candidate and MFA-Wielding God/Goddess

1. READ

Make sure you are reading.  Books, literary magazines—in print and online, newspapers, ANYTHING…but make it NEW. You have to be a consumer of new writing as well as your oldies but goodies.  About halfway through the program I had a mad case of MFA-burnout and began asking writer friends for suggestions.  This helped.  I began reading new magazines, new writers, listening to new podcasts and visiting new sites.

The Great Outdoors
Read lit mags! (Eliza's in this one)

It does make me want to get a little smacky-smacky when I hear writers say, in whispered tones, “I don’t really read literary magazines.”  Well, that’s a problem.  The fact is there is a lit mag for everyone—slipstream, genre-based, anything and everything.  Look online!

Also backtrack: find a writer you love and see where their work was published—then look for another story in that mag that you like—then look and see what other mags that writer was published in.  Ask your program for a stack of magazines.  Ask a mag you like for back issues.  Get subscriptions for your birthday.  We all get in reading ruts, but the thing is you can’t stay that way.  Read something new.  Think of it this way if it helps: NO ONE WILL PUBLISH YOUR WORK UNLESS YOU SUBSCRIBE TO AT LEAST THREE LITERARY MAGAZINES (and you must read them).

Eliza Tudor is a writer in Silicon Valley. She received her MFA from Butler University. Her work has most recently been published in PANK and Hobart.