Getting — and Staying Published

All writers who want to share their work with the world want to be published. Some want to self-publish while others would prefer to have the backing — and distribution — of a publishing house.

At the titular panel at WorldCon 2019, George Sandison, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rachel Winterbottom, E.C. Ambrose, and Michelle Sagara talked about the realities of traditional publishing — when you’re not an A-list author.

The Top 3 Ways Writers Make It Hard On Themselves When Getting Published

  1. Quitting their dayjob
    • A publishing contract is great! It’s a huge amount of money. But, look at it as a year’s salary (or 5 years). There is no guarantee your next book will find the same market — or that your current book will perform as well as the publishers hope.

      If you get an advance, there are shockingly few authors who ever “earn out” — or make back for the publishing house — what the publishing house gave them.

      Many authors see their advances getting smaller and smaller, until they reflect what the market will give.
  2. Switching markets
    • Of course it’s always best to write what you’re most passionate about. If you’re forcing the writing, it usually comes through to the readers as a lack-lustre book.

      That said, if you change genres and markets, it can be like building your audience from scratch. Except, without the “like”. you ARE building your audience from scratch.
  3. Getting the wrong agent
    • If you get a contract before you have an agent, it is usually very easy to find an agent. It is always wise to get an agent or contract lawyer to look over your publishing contract, but unless the lawyer specializes in book sales, the agent will likely be better versed in industry standards — what’s expected and what’s not.

      That said, make sure you know if the agent you’re working with is invested in your career, or just here to help you through this single contract. Misunderstandings can leave your career in shambles.

Is It Three Strikes and You’re Out?

Usually, what it looks like from the writers’ end is…

  1. Your first novel? Floats on clouds of hope and optimism — and the traditional publisher advance reflects this.
  2. Your second novel? Well, they like to give writers second chances.
  3. Your third novel? Good luck.

The reality is that publishers need to sell a writer and their voice, not necessarily just one genre. Plenty of authors have more than one type of story in them.

Typically, writers query agents, and agents submit manuscripts to acquiring editors. Occasionally, some publishing houses will be open to unagented submissions. But, once you’ve sold a book or two, a working-relationship can evolve.

Acquiring Editors Can Work For An Author

Editors that select works for publication at publishing houses can have working relationships as close as an agent with a given writer.

And, of course, the more senior the editor, the more clout they have when it comes to deciding what gets published.

Here are 4 ways they can help a writer.

  1. They can go to bat for your novel, versus the publishing board, even if the numbers aren’t there. (i.e. We messed up marketing last time, but this writer is too good!)
  2. Publishers can pitch ideas internally, and bring in the author they want to write it.
  3. Even after a slump, if your pitch is keen enough, they can get you an offer.
  4. Some have success changing by-lines, to re-introduce authors to new audiences.

But sometimes? You need to walk away.

Reasons to find a new publisher

  1. Sometimes, a new publisher is what you need after a slump. The old one has already used all it’s connections and marketing techniques. It’s time to try something new.
  2. Sometimes, the editor you’ve worked with leaves and no one has the passion for the manuscripts they left behind.

But not everything relies on the publisher. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re ready for the market.

Ways To Set Yourself Up For Success

  1. Network
    Make friends in the industry. Hit conventions (if you have the time/energy but no money — volunteer! Or, you can just keep reading my notes).

    But, be sure you’re making a good impression when you do. Everyone knows somebody here, so be friendly but respectful of boundaries.
  2. Be prepared
    Rejection stinks. Seeing friends (or frenemies) succeed while your novel is passed over hurts — whether you’re at the “hoping for an agent” level, “hoping to publish” level, or the “hoping for awards” stage.

    Know that you aren’t alone. Know what you need to keep your passion from burning out.

    Read! Write! Ignore jealousy. Or acknowledge it — and then move on.
  3. Don’t give up the day job
    Even if you do get a huge contract, or tons of steady ones, fear of bills and falling behind can put too much pressure on you, and take away the love of the writing. Remember to take care of yourself.

    Age doesn’t matter, but financial security can affect your approach.
  4. Remember what you’re comparing
    When you see social media feeds and think about all the ways you don’t measure up? You’re comparing their highlight reels to your blooper reel. Take a break if you need to. Step away if you need to.

Audience Questions

  1. How does maternity/health leaves of absences affect your career?

    If you’re writing on a schedule, know this:
    1. Publishing schedules are flexible – but…
    2. Write first — as much as possible, if the leave is scheduled, and drop everything you can to make it happen.

    If you don’t have a schedule, it’s up to you.
  2. Should I self-publish?

    The more niche your book it, the more successful it could be as a self-published book.
  3. What does it take to succeed as a writer?

    Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about the writing.

    Can you write a sentence? How about a paragraph? A chapter? Can you plot?

    There is a huge cliff between a great book and a ho-hum, not bad book. Most are ho-hum.

Portrayals of Mental Health In Genre Fiction

Portrayals of people with mental illnesses have come a long way. From variety to accuracy to ending stereotypes.

In the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Alasdair Stuart, Penny Jones, Dr. Glyn Morgan, and Devin Madson, discussed who gets it right… and who gets it wrong.

Why Are There More Portrayals of Mental Illness In Genre Fiction Today?

  1. People are more comfortable discussing it
  2. Nearly everyone will suffer at some point in their lives, even if it’s just temporary stress
  3. People are being rewarded for opening the discussion
  4. The audience is welcoming

What Informed Older Portrayals of Mental Illness?

  1. Mental illness as a reaction to trauma was accepted — it had an external reason.
    • Rod Serling of the original Twilight Zone’s work was often based on his WW2 experience, characters named after friends he’d lost
  2. Murderers and manic pixies were given mental illness as reasons people could do horrific things

Who Got It Wrong?

Some illnesses are hard to make palatable, like schizophrenia. Some are misused or misrepresented like psychopaths. And some, start off strong, but then stumble and disappoint us.

  1. Sheldon from The Big Bang — seems like an autistic stereotype, but the writers claim it’s not, so claim they’re not negatively portraying autism.
  2. Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy — set him up in the first movie as a great autistic/Aspergers portrayal, but then turned him into mere comic relief.
  3. Fat Thor — Fans debate if he was a punchline or still worthy
  4. ‘Magical lab technician’ – CSI/House/etc – using their illness as a plot device

Who Got It Right?

  1. City in the Middle of the Nights – Charlie Jane Anders – PTSD
  2. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal – Anxiety
  3. City of Lies – Sam Hawke – OCD
  4. Station Blue – (Audio Drama) – Bipolar
  5. The Far Meridian – (Audio Drama)
  6. Bright Sessions – (Audio Drama) – Empathy
  7. Gone – (Audio Drama) – Running low on meds
  8. Sleeping Beauties – Stephen King
  9. Hereditary – Psychosis
  10. American Horror Story
  11. Vast Horizon – PTSD
  12. Brooklyn 99
  13. The Crow Garden
  14. Final Approach
  15. Shutter Island
  16. Planetfall – Emma Neuman
  17. Emma Donahue

What Do People Want To See More Of?

  1. More.
  2. Aspergers
  3. Better portrayals of early treatment — before things hit crisis level
  4. Trauma — is resolved too easily (unless it’s a character quirk)
  5. Relapse NOT seen as a failure, just as a thing that happens and has to be taken care of.
  6. Postpartum depression

Mental Illnesses As A Sign Of Their Time

Some illnesses are triggered by environmental factors. Some are diagnosed based on limited information. The panel discussed how mental illnesses used to be designated and what might the future hold for humanity?

  1. Different diagnoses — we used to think epilepsy was a mental illness. Now we can treat it. As we learn more about the root causes, hopefully, we can help more people live better lives.
  2. Isolation

What about you?

Where do you see genre fiction getting mental illness right? Where do you see them messing up big time?

What do you want to see more of?

And what do you think the future will hold?


Finding Your Own Pace: A Writer’s Struggle

Flashback to NaNoWriMo 2018! This year, I’m doing a series of short stories. The first week went great. The second week was a struggle. I’m only just keeping pace with my wordcount though. We’ll see how this week goes.

Finding Your Own Pace: A Writer’s Struggle

All writers work differently, but since I started with NaNoWriMo, I’ve come to look at NaNo as my novel kick-off season. Even if it takes me months and months after to finish the story, (not to mention editing, revising, and querying the sucker) I can get at least the first 50,000 words out. Usually.
 
When it comes to daily word targets, like NaNoWriMo encourages, I’ve run the gamut.
 
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo sets the goal at 50,000 words– approximately 200 pages which is a bit short for a novel. Which breaks down to 1,666 words per day, or about 6 pages.
 

Pick Your Pace

I’ve failed NaNo, won NaNo by the skin of my teeth, and done 75k one glorious November. Different stories, voices, and points-of-view write faster or slower for me.Some writers wait for the spirit to be upon them and crank out 30,000 words in a weekend. Some write 5-6k on the weekends and a couple hundred on the occasional workday.

 

This might be you!

Me? Not so much.

 

As I’ve talked about before, I’m not a sprinter, I’m a marathoner, but 1,666 words is usually achievable for me. With the right story? I can hit an average of 2,500 words per day.

But.

I can only do it by writing EVERY DAY. If I wait until the weekend to sprint? I’m doomed.

 
I have NEVER written two-NaNo days worth of words (3,332) in a single day. If I get more than 1 or 2 days behind, I cannot catch up.
 
Left on my own, when it’s not November, I set daily word count goals (or at least weekly ones), but my writing pace (fit in around my day job) is approximately half-the-speed of a NaNo.
 

If you’ve never NaNo-ed before (look, I verbed it!), it can seem daunting. And it feels like there are just people who can commit and do it, and people who can’t.

But just because I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo once (by hitting that 50k target before midnight on November 30th), doesn’t mean I always win.

 

My Past NaNoWriMo’s

I’ve rebelled with half-Nano’s, spent a November edited instead. I’ve started to draft a sequel, but it petered out. My first NaNo win was my 3rd NaNo attempt — at writing the exact same book.
 
Two years ago, I did that nano-and-a-half in November. It was a sequel, so I knew the world and the characters, and how the magic works. Plus? My life was pretty settled that month.

 

Last year? I started a new job, had a full outline I wanted to follow because my story was a Robin Hood variant, and I barely squeaked out my words.
 

When my life is settled, I commit and focus — that’s what it takes for me to win NaNoWriMo.

 

NaNoWriMo18

This year? I’ve got a very rough outline that I need to revamp for the age range I’m writing for.

My story involves school-aged kids dealing with parents. So, that means middle grade or younger. YA typically are coming-of-age stories, where they have adventures without adults.

In prep, I’ve already created a list of about 50 names that fit my world, so I can grab and go. Left to my own devices, picking a name for a character can take longer than my daily allotment of time for writing.

But, placeholder names don’t really work for me. Remember that nano-and-a-half I mentioned? It’s filled with 30 place-holder names and is sitting as a rough draft on my googleDrive. (No offense, but Alice, Bob, Carol, and the invaders from Canadia don’t actually fit my fantasy world’s aesthetic.) I’ve gotta admit, it feels pretty daunting to fix.

I’ve got a few obstacles:

  • I’ve never written for this age range
    • so I’m not familiar with writing at this pacing.
  • I’ve never written a story in this world
    • so I’ll be having to think through the intricacies of the world as I go.
  • Plus, I’ve got a day-job deadline coming up.
  • It might end up being a chapter book
    • Those are typically around 20,000 words.
    • If that’s the case, what do I do?
      • write 2 novels? Start a series?
      • or call it a day

So now? The only way for me to find out what happens to those cool characters I’ve got half-formed in my head though? Is to write it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Background: Class in YA Fiction

In the real world, the social class we come from can have far-reaching consequences into our lives: from the jobs we hold, to the things that worry us, to our long-lasting health. Getting class, and its consequences right, can be tricky to do.

In the titular panel at WorldCon2019, Marieke Nÿkamp, Avery Delany, Caroline Hooton, and Victoria Lee discussed the ways their class upbringing compared to their current social class, and the implications inherent in that.

How The Classes Differ

Most of us are not rich. But the differences between working class and middle class can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention.

When the working class is even seen by those outside it, it’s typically through a political lens: either the lazy bums, looking for a handout. Or the poor, unfortunate who needs charity.

Working class

  • Social mobility is rare
  • You don’t always know where your next meal is coming from
  • Your parents are more likely to need help with bills than be able to help you out in case of emergency (groceries, sudden bills, job loss, ER visits)
  • One bad week is the difference between a rented home and life on the streets
  • Accents and expected behaviors are different — and failure to adhere can cause people to discount you
  • Attendance at events that can help your career can easily be beyond your financial means
  • Health conditions, because of inadequate health care, not enough time to rest, and/or physically demanding jobs
  • Transport is either public, rides from friends, or a car that isn’t in great shape
  • Don’t always have hot water. Or electricity.
  • Accent and speech patterns are looked down on, and seen as something to hide when not home
  • Diverse

Middle Class

  • Social mobility — down or up (at least as far as upper-middle class) is normal.
  • When things are bad, you eat cheap non-nutritious meals
  • If something goes wrong, your parents can usually help. (Car repairs, rent, bail, or at least a bag of groceries)
  • Far more homogeneous

How Is Class Represented in YA?

Often, we’ll see either the aristocracy, the middle-class, or the temporarily poor. Almost always the main characters are able-bodied and cis-gendered (their gender matches what they were declared at birth).

The ending or resolution almost always involves elevating the main character out of the working class. Implying strongly that the character growth and work deserves an “improvement”. That the working class is not something to be proud of, to strive for.

And? After one or two snafus, the ‘uplifted’ character seems to fit in seamlessly. Not finishing their meals because they’re ‘stuffed’.

If there is a diverse character, they’re usually not intersectional. They’re not disabled AND working class AND a person of color. They have one token diverse trait.

Who Is Writing? And For Whom?

Books in general and YA in specific is written by those with the time and energy to do so. Books are sold by those who have the money and energy to promote their works. Leading to very few working class authors.

Publishers look at past sales and, if they don’t see any, they assume there isn’t a market and don’t buy working class author’s works. After the success of The Hate U Give, there’s been an upswing in more working class books. But, they’re seeing them as a niche, as an issues driven book. And publishers typically only acquire one book per niche per publishing cycle.

What agents and editors see as a neutral environment, in an industry run on unpaid internships and publishing companies that are a net loss, labor of love, isn’t. People without a social net don’t even have a chance.

Many of the guest speakers from working class backgrounds, only made it to WorldCon thanks to grants and school funding. Others were denied Visas, so couldn’t even be here for the discussion. Money talks, and without it, you’re left on the outside, not even able to look in.

Worldwide, there are millions of people without access to education, much less to libraries. Think of all the stories we’re missing, because those people never had the chance to share?

How Can You Help Working Class or Diverse Writers?

How can you help mitigate the class segregation inherent in the publishing industry?

  • Share their work
  • Promote their work
  • Leave room at the table for them
  • Buy their work
  • Borrow from the library
  • Review them on Amazon
  • Contribute to their Patreon
  • Donate money to con scholarships
  • Read more diverse works
  • Host a writing workshop for them
  • More paid internships — especially remote ones
    • New York and London are expensive and challenging, even for people with money and connections.

What YA stories have you read that explored class? What did they get right? And what did they get wrong?

Do you have any other suggestions on how to help encourage diverse writers?

So You’ve Decided To Write A Novel – Here are 7 Tips To Get Started

[Throwback Thursday: Just as true as when I first posted. And? Those placeholder names are still in that rough draft I’m scared to touch.]

7 Tips for Preparing to Write A Novel

For Pantsers AND Plotters and #NaNoPrepMo

Whether you’ve just decided it’s finally time to write that book you’ve been thinking about on your own or you’ve been bit by the NaNoWriMo bug, starting a novel can be intimidating!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), a plotter, or something in between, there’s still stuff you can do to prepare yourself before you start writing.

Plotters, you have your to-do lists, but even you can get stuck. Here are some things that may be on your list, and a few things that might not be.

Pantsers and plantsers? You might not want to do all the planning that the plotters do. You might be just along for the journey to see where the story takes you. BUT! That doesn’t mean you have to be left out of writing prep!

That said, here are my top 7 writing prep activities.

1. Outlining

Clearly, the plotter’s first choice and the fear of every pantser, but outlining can be as extensive — or as sparse — as you want it to be.

– You can have 10 pages of notes for every chapter
– A basic “[Main character] wants [objective] but [obstacle] stands in their way.” statement
– Just pre-write a query letter!
– Even most pantsers find having a starting point and an end target at least moderately useful.

(Here’s my level of outlining)

2. Beat Sheets!

The cousin of outlining. These help you check your pacing — whether you’re going for a 3 act, 4 act, or another sort of structure.

Jami Gold has a great collection of Beat Sheet Worksheets to help you plan out your story’s emotional arcs AND plot arcs.

OR — save the beat sheet and use it when you’re pantsing to decide what to do next!

3. Mood Boards

Gathering together pictures that suggest your characters, your settings, your wardrobe, and your world.

You’d think this would be most helpful for those writers who are more visually oriented — literally helping them see their story. But, my imagination isn’t very visual, and I say that mood boards can be INVALUABLE for those of us whose imaginations are more conceptual.

If you have a vague idea in your head of a character’s look or the settings, you can google image search until you have something that works for your story — then you can use that image to help describe your people, places, and things to your readers.

4. Character Sheets

It’s official. I’m a geek. I’ve been playing D&D and its cousins since 2000. But even if it’s not a true ‘character sheet’, writing out your characters strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits is very helpful when you’re deciding during the story how your character will react.

You can use things like Myers-Briggs designations, star signs, or zodiacs to help flesh out your character and keep them consistent.

5. Creating a List of Names

I can spend weeks picking the perfect name for a main character. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve definitely lost hours of writing time trying to come up with names for characters, places, and my magic system.

Two NaNos ago, I decided to save a lot of time by just giving everyone placeholder names: Alice, Bob, Carol… I went through the entire alphabet and ended up naming the enemy country Canadia. It helped me accomplish a NaNo-and-a-half, but it had consequences (yep! 75k!). The editing this is going to require has me scared off starting that rewrite. Don’t make my mistake.

This year? I intend to have a list of at least 20 random names that fit my story and world that I can grab-and-go with once I start writing. So far I’ve got 6.

6. World Building

Is your story happening in the real world or a made up one? Do the laws of physics work the same?

Having a good idea of how far apart places are, the transport times, and key landmarks is super helpful.

I spent a couple hours last NaNoWriMo figuring out how far it was from Loxley to Nottingham. And the number of times I’ve redrawn my fantasy map because of average pilgrim walking paces versus bicycle paces… is more than twice.

I also have 2 moons in one of my worlds, so I keep an eye on the tides and the moon fullness in regards to the aforementioned travel times. It can get tricky!

7. Minimize Real World Distractions

I’ve mentioned this before, but for me? Having a stocked fridge, clean clothes, and straightened house when NaNoWriMo starts means I can ignore those things for longer while I dedicate more time to writing.

It usually takes a week or so after a good clean for my house to start really getting piled up.

I try to keep my calendar light, preload the Panera app on my phone for write-ins (getting hungry? Keep writing and the food will come to me), and work hard to build up momentum. Once I’ve got a good streak going, meeting that daily word target, I don’t want to break it.


And that’s it! Are you starting a new novel? Tell me about it!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Feel free to friend me: morganhazelwood!

( Are you new to NaNoWriMo or an old hat? )