Wednesday, May 13, 2015

WIFYR Novel Intensive!

New author photos! I'm getting my
use out of them lately:)
I've mentioned this before, but this summer I'll be teaching a week long class about novel writing and Writing & Illustrating For Young Readers. It's a fantastic conference, and well worth the price if you are looking for a lot of personal one-on-one instruction from a professional writer.

Here is my class's description, should you be interested:

Great fiction is all about the lens you bring to a story and how you choose to crop and manipulate what’s on the page. Utilizing my art background, I will teach my students how to compose a novel on every level, from creating a solid world to painting vivid characters to choosing the details that will give your story nuance and flair. Each student will submit 30 pages of their finished novel for critique by the class, and through detailed critique of your work I plan to give you every tool you need to make your novel a masterpiece.

And after I’ve taught about crafting your book, I will give you all the knowledge I have about how to sell your art. It’s a difficult business, both emotionally and financially, and as a hybrid author I can give you an honest look at the many paths now in publishing. Never have artists had so many choices, and I’d love to help you decide what direction is right for you.

If you'd like more info about the conference, check out www.wifyr.com.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Writing, Publishing, & Solitaire

I've been playing a lot of Solitaire lately. Which probably sounds a little weird, but with my Mac devices not having the program it just hadn't occurred to me to get the app or whatever. But my mom recently visited and I saw it on her phone and was like "Oh, I should download that."

Like most people, I used to play Solitaire back on my family's old Dell when I was a kid. It came with the computer and was one of the few games we had, so it got played by all of us at one point or another.  There was something addicting about it, like Tetris.

We all know the game—basically you're organizing cards over and over in the hopes that you can organize the whole deck. You alternate between black and red. You play it all on your own. It is at once boring and somehow entertaining and also a bit challenging.

Because, even though it's a game for one, you can lose.

Who are you even losing to? Yourself? Fate? Chance?

Funnily enough, as I've been playing I've realized that Solitaire is a lot like writing and publishing.

Though it doesn't feel like it sometimes, being an author is really a game you're playing all on your own. Just like Solitaire. Sure, other people are playing the game, too, but they aren't playing your game of Solitaire. They've been dealt a different order of the same cards, which may or may not end in a win for them. And you've been dealt your own cards—it's up to you to follow the rules and see if you can organize them just right.

Writing and Publishing have rules, too, vague ones, at least. But how you get to that end goal is different for everyone…and sometimes a certain deck just isn't going to get you a win no matter how hard you try. Sometimes you just have to shuffle the cards and start over. Hope you get lucky this next time. Maybe all the cards will line up just right next round, or it'll be challenging but ultimately you'll work them into the right order and win.

Most people have accepted this fact in Solitaire. When I hit that point where I know I can't win—the freaking ace of hearts is buried under cards I can't move—I accept defeat and start over without much thought. It's just how the game is. I can't change it.

Well, writing and publishing are the same. Sometimes no matter what you do, a story isn't going to work and you have to shuffle the deck and start over. Sometimes, you get really, really close to publishing a novel but then that one card is buried and you can't move it. And it doesn't feel fair but that's the game and you have to start over whether you got blocked on card twenty or card fifty. Except it hurts a lot more when we are playing Writing Solitaire, and reshuffling that deck can discourage us. It feels, after we've tried and failed many times to get our publishing cards to line up just right, that it might never happen.

But anyone who has played Solitaire knows that eventually your luck will change. Just like you lose against the chances in the deck, sometimes you can win, too. And it's those wins that keep you playing, that keep you thinking, "Okay, just one more game."

You just need the courage and determination to keep shuffling the deck.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When It Feels Like Everyone Is Getting What You Want

It surprises me that people still find my post from 2010 when I talked about being on sub for the first time and how crushing it was to fail. When I wrote that, all I wanted to do was get everything off my chest that I had to keep secret for those long 15 months. I had no idea it would not only go "viral" in the writing community that day, but still have a lasting impact on people. I actually got a sweet email from a writer on sub just today that is triggering this post, because I had so much to say I figured I should say it on the blog instead.

So, to that aspiring author and all the rest, I'm grateful that I could provide any comfort. It's hard. I haven't forgotten how hard it is because it's still hard for me.

When it comes to being on sub, I wish I could provide some kind of positive quip about how if you never give up it'll happen! But, well, I'm more realistic than that. And I know it's not true. I have only sold my original work ONCE in America. In 2011. Yes, I'm published, traditionally and indie, and I'm still on sub and failing on sub consistently. 

Truth be told, I tried to sell four different books to my own US editor and they all got turned down. Then I went wide with FISH OUT OF WATER, and while it sold in the UK it was on sub in the US for a year and a half. Longer than my first failed sub. And it did not sell. I've been on sub with another project for…7 months? I'm losing track. Hardly a word from anyone. And of course all rejections. So sub pretty much always sucks, unless you are one of the few who makes it big and can sell almost anything. (But even they can't sell everything, I have bestselling friends and know this to be true.)

In the email I got this morning, this heartbroken writer talked about how hard it is to see other people selling in the blink of an eye. How they felt like there was something wrong with them because it hasn't been that way for them. Oh, how this tugged at my heart, because I know those feelings. I've bathed in those feelings for years, feeling insufficient and sometimes an utter failure even now.

I remember watching the success stories when I was on sub for those 15 months, how difficult it was, how conflicting. I was at once happy for those authors and hopeful that I, too, could sell—but at the same time viciously jealous and frustrated that I couldn't sell and had no way to make it happen.

Because it feels like you should be able to make it happen. If you're brilliant enough, if your book is perfect enough, or whatever…and yet really none of that matters when you get to sub. All that matters is the whim of a publisher and a lot of luck. Both are things you have absolute zero power over. And you feel helpless and annoyed that all your work, your whole life basically, every hope and dream, are resting on something as shifting and unstable as the book market. It's enough to drive anyone insane.

Beth Revis. That was the story that killed me when I was on sub, actually. Which is hilarious if you know her full story, but we all have those authors we attach our icky feelings to when we're on sub. Jodi Meadows was also on my list to some extent. (I'm mentioning these people because I know they'll understand and won't be mad at me—I think all published authors get these feelings more than aspiring authors think.) They both got agents around the same time as me. Both sold pretty fast. They seemed like such big deals to me, and on top of that their books were agented and published within the time I was just on sub. All that time I spent waiting…that was all the time it took for them to get what I wanted. And it was hard for me to watch, even though rationally I knew I was being stupid and ridiculous and just plain jealous.

Why am I going over all this? Well, I guess to tell you that in someways is does get better.

Not in a "you will become a rich and famous published author" way, but more of a "it won't hurt so much after awhile" way. The first time I was on sub, I thought about it a lot. I waited and imagined and hoped. The second time—the time I sold—it was really hard but I knew what to expect and I was prepared to distract myself. It worked a little better. Each time…it's gotten a little easier to accept the unknown, to accept the possibility of failure, to be more at peace. This sub? Sometimes I forget it's even happening. I'm not over here crying at the prospect of it not happening like I used to do. It sucks, but it's not anything I haven't been through before. And I'm still alive. Sub hasn't killed me yet despite its best efforts.

I've filled my life with other things. After my first failure on sub, I realized how out of whack my life was, how solely focused on writing I was. I started stepping back, putting other things at a higher priority than my writing dreams. I realized it wasn't the end of my world if it never happened. I still wanted it, but in a lot of ways I made like Elsa and let it go. I didn't have to stop enjoying writing just because I couldn't publish.

It hasn't been a walk in the park. I think that's evidence by all my recent blog posts in which I've vaguely referred to my trying to decide if I really want to keep trying when it seems so futile. But looking back at 2010…that was my rock bottom in a lot of ways. And I'm not that far gone currently and I'm glad for that.

So when you feel like everyone else is getting everything YOU have wanted forever, I know it hurts but don't forget those feelings don't have to rule your life. I won't tell you not to feel that way, because we all go there now and then, but pay attention to how often you go there. If it's more often than not, try to look deep and figure out why. For me, it was a feeling that "all the spots were getting taken." Sometimes it felt like if I didn't sell NOW, that publishing wouldn't be around long enough for my writing to become a book. Which was silly. Publishing is tumultuous, but it's not going anywhere.

And, who knows? It could happen. You could eventually sell a book, or a few. And then suddenly you've only been published for 2 years but you have 7 books out in the world. Maybe I'm not a huge bestseller, but that's what happened to me.

If someone told me in 2010 that I'd have 7 books published by 2015, I'd have laughed in their face and maybe called them insulting things for being such a sunny positive person raining sunbeams on my negative parade.

You just never know. That's the hardest thing. We can't see the future, and we hate waiting. But we have to wait. For who knows how long. I'm sorry for that. Truly. It sucks.

But at the same time, you don't just have to sit on your hands and watch your email until it happens. You can do other things. You can keep growing as a person (which I've found has made me a better writer). I've found solace in exercise (yoga, running, biking), in my family, in cooking, in drawing and playing video games and gardening and Kdrama and anime and traveling and hanging out with good friends. I've filled my life with all sorts of things I enjoy that have become just as important to me as writing, and some more so. You might be waiting for one thing, but you don't have to pause the rest of your life or withhold your own happiness until that one thing happens that you think will make everything better.

Spoiler: It doesn't make it better. It won't fill that hole you're carving out in your heart as you want and want and want. Publishing is great, but it comes with its own bucket of crap.

So, if you can, find the joy now. Find ways to laugh and accept and relax. It might be hard, but try anyway (just like with writing!). You'll need those skills in the future, if and when you do publish. Hang in there.

Luv,
Natalie

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Checking Out For A While.

All that spring cleaning I've mentioned in the previous post? Yeah, it's getting done and it's wonderful but hard. I feel like I've been learning a lot about what I do and don't want in my life in the last couple weeks, and I'm seeing more and more that social media is something I really *don't* want around on a large scale.

I have to admit to myself that it's not fun for me anymore. It's not helpful in my career like it used to be. It stresses me out when I get online and see all the STUFF. Just so much stuff. Clutter. I can't handle clutter right now.

I'm not the writer I used to be. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about writing and publishing and a big part of me is considering ending my pursuit of it all. I'm in a really negative place about it all. I have been trying not to feel like that, but it's not stopping. Every time I think about anything writing…I just don't want to deal with it. I get anxious and I feel the panic attacks coming on.

I don't know what it all means. I don't want to go into all the details of my ugly feelings in public. All I know is I need to step back in a big way.

So that's what I'm doing. In all aspects of my writing life. I have no contracts, which means it's a good time for me to take a break and see if I really want to keep doing this. I will of course keep my current event schedule, but that's about it.

See you when I see you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring Cleaning

After I turned in my secret book at the beginning of March, I lay on the ground in this daze of mental exhaustion. Last year…guys, last year. My goal for 2015 was to slow down, and I started off the year writing a book in two months under contract. It was an unexpected opportunity, one I was happy for but knew would kill me. And it did.

I've been saying a lot that after that book, I would quit writing. Lots of people thought I was joking, but I wasn't entirely kidding. I put out four book last year. I've already put out one this year. A break? I really, desperately need one of those. Not because I don't want to write anymore per se, but because my creative wells are depleted entirely.

I need a lot of time to fill up again.

That's the thing about writing, about creative professions. There will be writers who claim that it's a job and thus you must approach writing practically, but there is a creative, muse-like aspect that I think is unhealthy to ignore. If you take it out completely, writing becomes lifeless, flat, lacking that spark that makes someone connect with your work.

So it's time for me to not write, to absorb all things that inspire me and remind me that I love to tell stories. It's time for me to clean out my house and explore and think. Doing those mundane things…it's incredible how much they make you ponder life. And it's nice to have a clean space.

Clean spaces are like starting over.

Well, at least for a clutter bug like me. When I do Spring Cleaning—it's like a huge ordeal. I go into this heartless, purging mode where I just start throwing away all sorts of things. I guess that comes from living in a small space. If I'm not using it enough, it has to go. And then there's room for new things.

I'm really looking forward to new things and clean spaces and more time to do fun things that aren't work. I'm looking forward to a new story cropping up in my imagination, something that gets me excited about writing again. Now that I'm cleaning out all the cobwebs, I know something will come up.

I used to be scared that there'd be nothing there after Spring Cleaning, but now I know it's the opposite. Somehow, there always ends up being more. And that's exciting.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Piracy: Basically, You're Stealing My Kids' Lunch Money

I know, I know, when you download that book illegally it doesn’t feel like it matters. It doesn’t feel like it’s hurting anyone. Authors are rich, right? No one will notice that one little book.

But here’s the thing, *most* authors are not rich. I couldn’t survive on the money I make from writing—I’m lucky to have a spouse who brings in the income that helps us scrape by. My income? Well, it can hardly be called that currently. With no book deals in my immediate future and my advances from previous ones paid…this year I will be earning the least amount since I sold my first book in 2011. In fact, I am honestly considering not writing anymore because I cannot afford to.

So today I’m just hoping to put piracy into a little perspective. I’m sure people who steal books won’t care and I’ll still get flamed, but hey, I’m an author. I care about this. Piracy literally threatens my ability to feed my kids.

Here’s the hard numbers:

On my traditionally published US paperbacks, I make about .69 cents per sale. Yes, not even a dollar of that $9.99 price point goes to me.

On the traditionally published US ebooks, I make 25% of list, which is anywhere from $0.49-$2.00 depending on sales and how they choose to price the book.

On my indie books, it’s much more…but I sell drastically less. So we’re going to say it all evens out.
My kids’ lunch costs $1.75 each day.

I currently have TWO kids in school, so that’s $3.50 a day currently. When my last joins his siblings in school it’ll be up to $5.25 a day.

That might not sound like a lot to many people, but it is a lot to us. Some people might even say “Oh, well if you made lunch it’d be cheaper”…but I’ve priced that out and it’s about the same. Trust me, I try to save a buck when I can.

Let me throw more numbers at you. If I paid for this school lunch for all twelve grades, what would be the cost? Well, school here is about 180 days, so accounting for absences let’s say 165 days a year I’m forking out $5.25 for my three kids to eat lunch at school (and it’ll probably be more when they hit Jr. High and up and want to buy the fancier stuff).

165 x 3 kids = 495 school lunches a year

495 x $1.75 = $866.25 a year for school lunch

$866.25 x 12 years = $10, 395 just to feed my kids one meal a day

Add in school clothes and supplies, extracurricular expenses, doctor visits, college funds (which I can’t even begin to create)…supporting a family is hard. You think authors are rich? Honestly moment—I did not make 25% of that $10,395 sum last year.

Most days, I don’t even sell a book. If I had to feed my kids on what I sold each day…they would starve. Or one would get a meal if they were lucky. So if we’re cool with piracy because it doesn’t impact authors, please just remember that most days, I don’t make enough money on my writing to even buy my kids school lunch. When you pirate my book, maybe imagine that you are taking a meal from my kids. You’re kinda like that punk on the playground going around stealing kids’ lunch money because you’re bigger and you can and you don’t care. Maybe you even get away with it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt people.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dear 20 Year Old Me

So, 20 Year Old Me, it’s been 11 years since I was your age, and today I’ve been thinking a lot about you. There’s this thing on the internet (you haven’t gotten into blogging yet, but just you wait you will know way too much about “social media” very soon) where people write to their “Teen Me.” But I think I have a lot more to say to you, 20 Year Old Me, than to myself as a teen.

Besides, Teen Me wouldn’t have listened anyway.

But you? You’ve at least figured out you don’t know what the hell you’re doing (Sorry, I say “hell” now, you are surely appalled). And I know you thought the whole “being an adult” thing would be a lot easier than it has been thus far.

You’ve been doing well in college—something no one is surprised about. School was always something you could figure out, with your high GPA and over-achieving ways and crushing guilt at not turning in assignments. (You will probably be shocked to know I do not miss school one bit and would never go back now.)

It’s the life stuff that you have always struggled with. Making friends. Going out and trying new things. Meeting guys and attempting dating. Having a career or whatever. You have but a year of your undergrad left at this point, and you are fairly terrified of what happens after you don’t have school to focus on.

You’ve just gotten out of an emotionally abusive relationship. Though you broke up with him three months ago, you are only starting to realize how messed up it all was, how scared you were of a guy you thought you loved.

It wasn’t really the best way to experience your first kiss, first relationship, first thoughts of spending your life with someone.

But hey, you dodged a bullet, and you will forever be grateful to that roommate who sat you down, showed you the cycle of abuse, and told you that you needed to get out and not marry that guy. And I promise that you will start dating an awesome guy, get married to him, have kids, and do all those things that seem completely impossible to you right now.

In fact, you already know the guy. You just don’t think of him in that way yet. And you might have sworn never to date someone with feet as ugly as his…and you will be eating your words.

What I really want to tell you, though, my dear 20 Year Old Me, is that you will make it. All those things about being an adult that seem like you’ll never get? You get them. And it’s pretty awesome. I’d tell you to stop worrying about it, but I know you won’t stop so I won’t waste words there.

Here’s the thing, though—it’s not going to be easy. Actually, your 20s are going to be probably the worst decade of your life. I don’t know what’s in store for us in the future, but I’m hoping things even out.

Because getting all those things you want is just plain hard. And being the wife, mother, and author you want to be is hard. (Yes, I said author, you’re probably freaking out now. One sec.) Achieving your goals has been easy for you up to this point—you have never really failed at school or work or anything, but you’re about to learn a lot about failing. You’re gonna become a pro failer, and somehow that’ll be more fulfilling than all the time you spent being a pro over-achiever.

You’ll be a mom, but you won’t be nearly as good at it as you thought you’d be. It won’t be natural. You won’t want to be “just a mom” like you expected. You’ll want more and it’ll be confusing and guilt-inducing. You’ll get over it. Kind of.

And then you’ll start writing. Because it’s always been your dream and it will never go away like you hoped it would. You have always wanted to be practical and you know writing for a career is not…and you will be very right about that but you’ll do it anyway because you must. You will try your ass off (sorry, I say “ass” now, too). You will fail just about constantly.

And all that failing at motherhood and writing will break you. Like, actually break you. You will contemplate leaving everything you love, emptying the bank account, and disappearing a la Breakfast At Tiffany’s. You will resent your family and faith and wish you’d never tried to do anything with your life. You will…start hitting your kids though you know you shouldn’t and you’ll feel horrible about it. You will stop going to church, stop wanting your husband, stop wanting anything you used to love. You’ll be consumed with escape, with being someone else with less problems. You will, for some stupid reason, still think you’re okay.

Until you realize you’re not, and that the pressure in your chest isn’t normal but panic attacks. They’ll happen daily, and you’ll get so used to it you don’t know it’s a problem. You’ll be really grateful to that doctor who explains to you that you have anxiety, and you’ll admit you need help and it’ll be shameful and liberating all at once. The medication will save your life and the life of your family, and you will be able to cope for the first time since you turned 20. I just wish it wouldn’t have taken so long for me to figure that out, and I’m sorry you have to suffer so long not knowing there was anything wrong with you.

I’m sorry that it has to get as bad as it got before things get better.

But hey, things do get better. And though you aren’t some huge bestseller, by the age of 31 you are the author of multiple books. That have been on store shelves. That have been published in other countries. That have been read and loved by some people. I know, 20 Year Old Me, that this is a big deal to you. Sometimes I forget it’s a big deal, but then I remember you and your dreams that felt impossible and I am living the life you wanted. You even have friends that have stuck with you through all this. I know how hard it was for you to make friends, but here we are—we even have that. And don’t get me started on how incredible your husband and kids are.

It’s awesome.

So hang in there. It’s going to be terrible for awhile, but so far the 30s are treating us much better. I really like the 30s. Or maybe I just like not being in that horrible 20s decade. We made it, okay? And that’s what matters, even if the journey was messy.

Love,
Natalie

P.S. Just dye your hair red now—it’s better that way and you never go back to blond.