Monday, December 22, 2008


So they say there's no such thing as bad PR. Is that true?

My publisher once said that I wasn't controversial enough, that I was too laid back and easy going for my own good (career.) That's always stuck with me. Yet I find that I despise drama and headaches, that it detracts, rather than aids, my ability to move forward in any area of my life.

Looking at what has worked for other authors, and what hasn't, leaves me confused.

Frey lied about his book "A Million Little Pieces" to Oprah, and destroyed his career/sales.

The movie version of Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire" disgusted Oprah, and became the Queen of horror. Becoming a born again Christian, however, seems to have reduced her popularity.

How big would Stephen King's career be if the reading public hadn't decided he had a "twisted" mind? What if they just accepted his brand of horror as par for the course?

And what about contrversial figures outside of the publishinge world?

Who knew who Paris Hilton was until she started partying it up and recording her sex life? How many heiresses aren't household names?

What about Britney Spears? There are some that think her public displays of mental instability were merely ploys to keep her career alive.

Does the child-star-gone-bad seem to be a way for adult actors to work their way back into the business?

How did Brooke Shield's battle with Tom Cruise over post-partum depression effect her career?

Even if I chose to follow my publisher's suggestion--what are the odds that I might hinder, rather than fuel, my progress? Is that worth the risk?

Or, is the more tried and true method of working hard and keeping my nose to the grindstone, the one I feel most comfortable with, the better option?

Do nice girls and boys truly finish last?

What do you think?


Sunday, December 21, 2008

How to Get Published

Mostly, getting published is a no-brainer:

Create a quality product the market(s) want to purchase.

Easy, right?

Well, yeah, not so much.

What does quality really mean, especially when it comes to writing?

First--you have to know what you see as quality. I know many new writers get sucked into the life of an aspiring author. They read the works of other aspiring authors in an attempt to exchange critiques and hone their craft. This is a great way to learn to self-edit as well--what you can point out needs work in another person's writing might help you see similar errors in your own.

Aspiring authors usually go through a reading drought--because they are so focused on learning the craft, their critical eye gets in the way of their enjoyment. They see sentences that wouldn't make it through round one of the critique group, or past their creative writing teacher or mentor. Or, they find themselves taking notes on how an author managed to accomplish something they're struggling with.

(The above passes, by the way, so if you're trapped in reader limbo and feeling agitated about missing something you enjoyed immensely, know that this is merely a phase that you're moving through, not staying in.)

So what does the above have to do with judging the quality of a written work?


If your bookshelves are filled with decades old novels, or worse, empty, then you're subjecting yourself to an uphill battle in a career that is already bloody and brutal.

Make it habit to seek out newer releases that are highly popular in the field you write in. Don't worry about it informing your writing. Of course it will, as does everything you do and live. You'll not accidentally begin writing like Dean Koontz or James Patterson--that's not possible. Your voice will always shine through.

In these tough economic times, the library is always an excellent resource. Often they'll have new releases to "rent" in hardcover before the paperback even comes out. Find a way, but get those novels read!

Nothing can replace the first-hand experience of reading a book the market is devouring currently. Once you get about six or seven of these under your belt, you'll begin to see the difference between what you write, what your aspiring friends write, and what is getting published.

Of course learning the craft is an ongoing process. I'm still learning, and will still be learning for the rest of my life. I tend not to take on new projects unless there's a challenge for me in the work--that's what drives my passion--wanting to make every story bigger and better than the one that came before.

Once you begin to discover what your challenges are by reading how the experts handle them (how does Anne Rice write such descriptions? How did Stephanie Meyer work her magic? How does James Patterson or Dean Koontz make science so entertaining? What makes Cussler's Dirk Pitt someone you always want to read about?) you'll be on the right track to creating your own brand of quality product for the market.

If you want to get published, then you need to be an avid reader.

Then of course comes self-discipline and learning to be prolific, but in those glorious developing years where you're free to write what you want, linger where you need to, and explore to your heart's content, take the time to find out what type of quality you're interested in creating--and then practice and practice some more.

Once you have that quality product, you'll need a quality advertising pitch to the publishing house or agent of your dreams. This includes a query letter that'll knock their socks off, and a synopsis that shares just how exciting the plot, characters and writing is in your novel. Making industry friends through attending conferences and such is another great way to get your completed quality product in front of the right people.

I hope this helps and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the blog and I'll answer as best as I can!


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hypercriticism and Spongebob Wisdom

My little one is home sick today with a stomach flu that is going around. Cartoons have replaced my normal musical morning writing time. What's funny, is that I actually got sucked in to this morning's episode of Spongebob.

In this episode, "Artist Unknown" Squidward is determined to teach Spongebob how to be a great artist. In class, Spongebob tries to impress Squidward with what he thinks is art: draing a perfect circle freehand, intricate oragami, and creating a perfect likeness of Michaelangelo's statue, David--using a seashell to cover his privates:)

Squidward refuses to see the expertise in Spongebob's creations. He berates them, and Spongebob, for not creating art along the same lines as Squidward has, namely depicting Squidward's likeness in multiple forms and mediums.

Spongebob, destroyed by this unnecessary and harsh criticism from his hypercritical neighbor, runs away to Bikini Bottom dump and puts a box over his head. Meanwhile, the wealthiest art collector of all time shows up at Squidward's art school looking for a masterpiece and promising fame and fortune to the artist--of the look alike David with the seashell.

Squidward claims the work as his own, but on transport, decapitates the sculpture. The art collector suggests that recreating the sculpture should be no problem for an artist of his caliber and promises to come back the next day.

Squidward then hunts down Spongebob and tries to get him to make another sculpture, only to discover though, that the mental and emotional beatdown he gave Spongebob earlier has destroyed his confidence and made it impossible for him to recreate the masterpiece.

What a wonderful message, I think, for a kid's cartoon! It's something I've seen happen to too many young or new authors. Their talent and inherent voices are so hyper-criticized that they abandon what made them unique and wonderful in favor of following the advice of those with more ego than taste. It's almost criminal, if you ask my opinion, to destroy someone's dreams like that.

Of course there's always the opposite point that a new author is responsible for who they choose to listen to and take advice from. That of course is true, but in the legal world, they have what is called an "eggshell tort." It works this way:

If a perfectly healthy person slips and falls due to the negligence of a business and incures only $500.00 in damages, the business cannot use this as a baseline for all those who are injured. So, if a person with brittle bones (like an eggshell) falls and incurs $500,000.00 in damages, the business liable for those *actual* damages.

In other words, simply because some folks have had the opportunity to develop thicker skin and may withstand hyper-criticism at a vulnerable stage, does not absolve the hyper-critical of respnsibility if they direct that hyper-criticism at a person with more brittle skin.

Personal responsibility doesn't begin and end with the effect our actions have on others--but with the actions we take ourselves. We might get lucky in that when driving intoxicated we don't mow down a crosswalk full of school children--but that doesn't mean the law hasn't been broken. Lack of consequence for bad behaviors is not an indication one should continue those bad behaviors.

So, in my opinion, Spongebob got it right: we lose future masterpieces when we fail to be objective and honest enough to recognize and nurture potential in others. We take on the responsibility to be objective and honest when we fashion ourselves an authority or an expert.

I'll end with this fun quote from Spongebob:

"Squidward, I used your clarinet to unclog my toilet!"