When I first became aware of self-publishing, I dismissed the idea, figured it would last about as long as I <3 Boobies bracelets did at the high school where I teach.
As a writer, I’ve always said I didn’t really care if I got published. It would be cool, of course, but what I want is to write moving stories, to make art that people might connect to, which does require getting my work out into the world. That being the case, there was no way I planned on taking the easy way out. But my efforts have been too far between and too fruitless. What markets are out there for my work pay little or nothing and I can’t stomach one more article about the miniscule number of manuscripts that will ever make it through the supposed quality control that is traditional publishing.
Self-publishing turned out to be no flash-in-the-pan and as I feared it did open up a venue for really bad writing to ooze out into the world, adding to the pace already set by the Internet. In the past two months, I’ve seen three manuscripts from people within spit-wad distance of me for sale on Amazon that can’t possibly have gone through any significant revision. My first response to this was to stand my ground, a higher ground. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to do it the right way, damn it!
Here’s why I’ve changed my mind:
The line between a self-published writer and a traditionally published writer has blurred beyond recognition. The amount of self-promotion most writers have to do even if they are picked up by a tradtional publisher these days practically looks like self-publishing anyway.
I’m not looking to make money. I want to write and be read. I want to be part of the conversation that is fiction. I have a full time job where I have to answer to bosses and meet standards. Why should I waste the little time I have to make my art mucking around in the proverbial slush pile building rejection letter shrines?
I have high standards. I meticulously edit my work. Who do I really want to decide whether that work is worthwhile?
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I just finished yet another edit of my novel and am about to write a synopsis. At this point, I’m starting to send out queries to agents. I’ll write the synopsis (some agents require them), send out as many queries as I can and leave the book alone for a while.
I’ve been working on this project so long, that it’s hard to think of what’s next, especially since I also finished up the short story collection that I’d been working on compiling FOREVER.
So, what am I looking forward to? Compiling some poetry chapbooks and writing some new fiction. Sitting here at Border’s with my niece (her nose in a book), the sun warming me through the window, I’m feeling optimistic. Earlier, while the two of us were rummaging through the not so organized bookshelves at the Goodwill, I came across a copy of Wild Mind, which I bought for her. She says she loves to write. This book and Writing Down the Bones were so crucial to me as a young writer who was all desire and little talent.
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Here are a few sources on how to write a synopsis:
The Writing Life
I attended the Field’s End Writer’s Conference this past Saturday and though I’m still processing it all, I came away with SO much more than what I paid for. Really, though at the end of the day I was tired and, frankly, grumpy, I woke up this morning with ideas for revising my novel clamoring for attention and with fresh ideas about keeping my practice alive and productive.
The conference ran from 8:30 to 6 PM at the Kiana Lodge. There was an Opening Address (Stephanie Kallos), a Keynote Speaker (Roy Blount Jr.), a Closing Speaker (Timothy Egan), and three breakout sessions. The shore was right outside the window and the smell from the bay a few strides away, which seemed to me a perfect setting for reflections on the process of writing. The food was good, particularly the coleslaw served with lunch. No mayo. The way it ought to be.
Jennifer Louden explained her process of “Writing Naked”. She was overflowing with ideas to inspire us, to get us writing more and more often. There were ideas that I hadn’t heard before, or at least had not heard in that way. She explained “shadow comforts” and “time monsters” and offered tips to avoid these traps. She encouraged us to lower our standards—yes, lower—and preached, “It matters, but it’s not precious.”
Some ideas for stepping up my practice that I came away with is to make a commitment to write for at least ½ hour everyday (she says even five minutes will do), to make a couple of mix CDs just that long to write to, and to write about writing in my morning pages. Those are just the nuggets that I pulled from what was an inspired, organized lecture. I also bought a writing hat to wear to let my family know when I’m writing and would rather not be bothered, but that was not something she said directly, just something that came to me while I was listening to her.
This lecture balanced out the upbeat you-can-do-it tone of “Writing Naked”. Alice Acheson described how to create a pre-publishing platform and provided some very useful handouts. Her main point was to communicate that the author ought to take an active, leadership role in their own promotion. She came to us with loads of experience and expertise, and I will pull the packet of stuff she provided out again when I’m ready. One tip she offered that I will absolutely begin immediately, is to start a marketing folder for any piece you are hoping to market NOW, the minute you write the first word.
For this Page One workshop, I submitted one page of my novel At The Pump. As many pages as we had time for were read aloud by actor Ron Milton and critiqued on the spot by Alice Acheson and Laura Kalpakian. I would have felt better at the end of the day if my page (which did get read) had received glowing reviews. It did not. Not at all. But in the end, it helped me to see a change I’d made for the wrong reasons and helped me to see the path before me clearly. I’m going back to my original opening. It also helped me to unravel some knots I’d been picking at in the plot. There’s nothing like fear of drowning to wake up the creative spirit. After the critique, I was faced with two options: let the project die or resuscitate it. There might have been a third option—flip Laura and Alice the finger—if I hadn’t agreed with their critique, but they were right and I knew it.
Sunday, I printed my latest draft and put a paper clip on each chapter, then made some notes about what I wanted to add or change. This evening (Monday), I’ll lay out those chapters, and begin my third revision.
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