Is Writing a Really Good Book Enough?

I did a chat with the FFP gals last night and for the first time I was tempted to say one of the things I hear authors say that really annoy me.

One of the gals asked how to get published with Carina Press, because they’re really difficult to get in with. I wanted to say, well, they’re really picky and are pushing for a high-quality brand, so write something very good.

As regular readers know, I hate it when authors give publishing advice along the lines of “write a really good book.”

I dislike this advice for three reasons:

1. It’s self-evident. OF COURSE you have to write something good. Nobody tries to write bad stuff. Sometimes we don’t push the story or the characters as hard as we should. Sometimes we don’t revise enough, or polish enough. But everybody wants their stories to be good. This is akin to the advice to send in your best, most polished work. It implies that there’s some kind of external, quantifiable standard for that. Wouldn’t it be nice if writing was like chemistry and the document changed into a different color when you hit the correct amount of revision? Bing! Now it is GOOD.

Yeah, dream on.

2. It’s pompous. I know I’ve been on this tear lately, but it’s obnoxious when authors preen and suggest to the questioners that, to follow in the author’s footsteps, the would-be just needs to gain that level of awesomesauce. If you say “to do what I did, you need to write a really good book” implies that your talent and skill just rises above everyone else’s like it’s ensured by the laws of physics.

And it’s not true, because:

3. It’s not enough to write a really good book. It has to be the right story, told in the right voice, that pleases the right editor, who convinces the right marketers that the right readers are out there to buy it.

So, I restrained myself from popping out the easy answer. Instead I told them what kind of stories Carina likes. I told them what my editor looks for and what my process was. I offered some leads to research their acquisitions editors, because I believe knowledge and networking always gives more power.

And I’m going to work on that answer.

Wild Kingdom

Not the moon, but the sun, seen through the smoke haze at about 7pm.

Today we have some video treats from the wildlife camera. It’s not lions, tigers and bears, but these are some of our daily visitors.

This is a Towhee. They’re very friendly, happy birds. They love to get inside of things. If you open the garage door, they fly right in. They get inside the Jeep when we have the bikini top on it. Funny little birds.

The rock squirrel is what David really wanted to get on film. They’re difficult to photograph because they’re fast and suspicious. You can see this one watching the camera. We think they have babies because it looks like this one is filling up its jowls with water, to take back to the nest.

This looks like just a bit of Towhee, but if you wait for the 5 second mark and watch the upper right quadrant, you’ll see a lizard go by *really* fast.

Wild Kingdom

Not the moon, but the sun, seen through the smoke haze at about 7pm.

Today we have some video treats from the wildlife camera. It’s not lions, tigers and bears, but these are some of our daily visitors.

This is a Towhee. They’re very friendly, happy birds. They love to get inside of things. If you open the garage door, they fly right in. They get inside the Jeep when we have the bikini top on it. Funny little birds.

The rock squirrel is what David really wanted to get on film. They’re difficult to photograph because they’re fast and suspicious. You can see this one watching the camera. We think they have babies because it looks like this one is filling up its jowls with water, to take back to the nest.

This looks like just a bit of Towhee, but if you wait for the 5 second mark and watch the upper right quadrant, you’ll see a lizard go by *really* fast.

Why Writing Is Like a Forest Fire

One thing about forest fires – they make for dramatic sunsets.

A lot of people here are bemoaning the fire. For those not up on Western news, the Wallow Fire is now the third largest in Arizona’s recorded history. The fire covers 486 square miles, has been burning for over a week and firefighters have zero containment. Fortunately they’ve been able to keep it away from the towns so far and let it burn away at the dry forested hillsides.

But people have been saying things like “why do there have to be forest fires?” And I hear them blaming oil companies for global warming.

They really don’t like it when you point out that forest fires are part of nature and play an essential role in the cycle of the forests and fertilization of the soil. Nature isn’t always a pretty, happy place with serene lakes and chirping birds. Sometimes it’s ugly and violent. Plants and animals are consumed and remade. Flames and smoke boil through and overcome everything.

We’ve had to seal up the house, to keep the smoke out. The other night it was so thick, it was like night fell hours early. I worried about the birds, with their tiny lungs.

But in the morning, the hummingbirds were out as usual, feeding in the clear morning air.

David pointed out something to me the other day. He says I said it to him, but I don’t remember it. We’d watched Creation, a really excellent movie about Darwin, with Paul Bettany (yum!) and Jennifer Connelly. In the movie he struggles with Parkinson’s disease, the death of his daughter and a spiritual crisis that threatens his til-then strong marriage. Writing his manuscript is a huge effort.

David used that as an example and said that, when we have an art or a pursuit we’re passionate about, it nurtures us. It’s wrong-headed to think we live our lives to nurture it. Rather, it’s when people lose their passions that they falter and waste away.

I don’t live to support my writing. My writing is what keeps me alive.

It’s all part of nature.

Digital Publishing – What a Long, Strange Year It’s Been

Today is Carina Press’s one year anniversary. Word-Whores is hosting one of Carina’s executive staff, Aideen O’Leary-Chung, Director of Digital Commerce for Harlequin and Carina Press. If you hie over there, you stand to win some pretty fab prizes.

It’s funny that it’s been a year since Carina launched. So much has happened since then. Reading through the various posts (there are 20 in all), it’s interesting to hear the reminiscences of the Carina folks. It makes me remember how it all appeared to us, from the outside.

Today is the anniversary of Carina’s launch – when they debuted their first books to the world. But we first heard about Harlequin’s new digital imprint quite a bit before that. The news astonished everyone because, *gasp* Carina would not be offering advances.

This sent RWA into a frenzy. The Romance Writers of America non-profit corporation is one of, if not the most, powerful writers organizations in the world. The venerable standard of RWA has been, for decades, that to qualify as an approved publisher, they must give their writers advances. This has been a non-negotiable standard that, really, any legitimate publisher could meet. It was a low bar for a very long time.

And then the world turned and times changed.

With the advent of electronic publishing, paying the author up front no longer made so much sense. Instead epubs offer authors much higher royalties (~35% for most as opposed to 8-10% for print). Carina chose that business model.

Well, this turned into a BFD, because Carina was an imprint of Harlequin, which means just a subset of the overall company, and Harlequin has been the queen of romance publishing for longer than RWA has been in existence. And boom! Harlequin could no longer be an approved publisher by RWA.

At the time, no one could understand why Harlequin was doing it. They were accused of vanity publishing (where authors pay to get published). People thought they were completely nuts to potentially compromise their publishing empire for, what? some stupid ebooks??

They sorted it out. I believe (and someone correct me if I’m wrong) Harlequin satisfied RWA by legally separating themselves from the Carina digital arm. Harlequin is approved. Carina is not.

And look what the last year has wrought.

Ebooks are now the only part of the publishing market that’s growing instead of losing money. More and more people have ereaders. Everyone wants to digitally publish. I’d love to see a list of all the epubs started in the last six months.

I set my sights on Carina because they have the forward-thinking excitement and savvy of the electronic market founded on the Harlequin rock of excellent business sense. I’m so pleased that Sapphire will be published by them in October.

Happy One-Year Anniversary Carina Press!

Why Me?

David had a classmate, Marjorie, who died of cancer this last winter.

I never got to meet her. Not for any particular reason. At first we just weren’t in the same place at the same time. Then her tumors came back and she finally withdrew from the acupuncture college. Because I wasn’t a friend, I didn’t go visit her when everyone went to say good-bye. It just didn’t seem right.

But I felt like I knew her, because David liked her so much and often related to me the things they talked about.

One thing that stuck with me – she told David that she finally had to get over the idea that she was a bad or negative person because she developed the cancer, because it ultimately defeated her. See, when you’re in the natural healing world, there are strong ideas that your mental attitude governs your health. Negativity or bad emotions promote chronic disease states is the thinking. Positive thinking creates health and healing.

All of this success stuff comes from similar philosophies. “I create my own success.” Your life becomes what you envision it to be. Anything can be yours if you simply envision it, be positive and make it happen.

The flip side, of course, is that if you don’t get what you want, it’s because you failed. Failed to envision enough, be positive enough, what have you.

Like with Marjorie. She failed to cure her own cancer. But she ultimately decided to refuse to accept that as a personal failure.

She lived ten years past her initial diagnosis of terminal cancer. She enjoyed her life and continued to follow her passions. Part of that meant coming to terms with not seeing herself as a bad person because she got sick. How she dealt with the disease truly showed her strength of character. And she died surrounded by friends and loved ones, both animal and human.

This is what I was trying to get at on Friday. I’m not sure I did a very good job.

(Either that or everyone was out enjoying their summer weekend, which is all to the good.)

I absolutely believe we have a hand in our own successes. But I think there’s danger in believing we can control fate. It would be nice, sure. Tempting to try. Ultimately, though, the universe goes where it goes and takes us with it. Sometimes beautiful summer days fill our weekends. Sometimes tornadoes hit. The weather falls equally on the good people and the bad people, the positive thinkers and the bitter, angry ones.

The differences show in how we handle it.

We love to tell stories about grace under pressure. The heroics, large and small, that shine when disaster hits. We rarely talk about how well someone handles success.

My favorite religious studies professor, David Hadas, who I quote often, pointed out to me that, when tragedies occur, we look up to whatever gods we follow and ask “why me?” Rarely, he said, does anyone look at some amazing bounty they’ve received and ask the gods, “why me?”

It’s easy to believe that, when our efforts are rewarded with success, it’s because we are so wonderful and deserving. But that’s as much of a trap as believing that we deserve cancer. Or tornadoes.

The true test is how we handle it.

On Fires and Hubris

Smoke in the valley today. There’s a 60,000 acre fire near Alpine, Arizona. The smoke and ash blew in on us last night. Our patio cushions have ash all over them.

Apparently it’s worse in the valleys. People in Albuquerque were calling 911 to report fires. They were broadcasting bulletins to tell people to knock it off, that the smoke was from Arizona.

Where there’s smoke, there’s not necessarily fire.

Not right *there* anyway.

It’s a funny thing, how what happens to our neighbors affects us. We forget that things are different for people just a state away, the weather, their politics, disasters. Until it spills over into our own lives.

A friend of mine is up in Yellowstone right now and it’s been snowing. She’d asked me for advice on the best route home. Then she found out that one direction isn’t a possibility because the roads are still closed due to snow. I lived in Wyoming for over 20 years and already I’ve forgotten that early June can still mean snow there.

How quickly we adapt, focusing on our immediate world.

I think it’s easy to fall into this pattern, thinking that how things are for us is how they are for everyone.

Maggie Stiefvater, who is a very successful author of young adult novels, and at quite a young age herself, wrote a blog post the other day that kind of took me aback. I agree that jealousy is a worthless emotion and something to be overcome. However, the relentlessly self-congratulatory tone is a bit off-putting to me. It can be a trap, I think, to believe that your own success is a direct result of your awesomeness.

Clearly, if the juice is lacking, you have little to go on. Still, success in any endeavor is made up of many factors. Timing, serendipity, personalities. It’s like wondering why one woman is able to have babies easily while another is infertile. Is it because fertile woman is a better person? Because she deserves it? Why does one guy develop pancreatic cancer and another live to be 106? We like to try to trace cause and effect, but there isn’t always one.

With producing art, we’re talking about something that necessarily grows out of the deepest parts of ourselves. Sure, a writer can try to target what sells, but if the story isn’t genuine to her in some way, it’s not going to work. Not everyone has the story that becomes a phenomenon. That’s just how it is.

We all follow different paths in life. Our joys and sorrows, failures and successes are part of that. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what hand we’re dealt, but rather how we play it.

Not everyone gets to be a bestselling author. Not everyone gets to live to be 106. Some people die young. Some can’t have babies. Some artists are discovered after they die.

I sometimes wonder if I’d take Jane Austen’s lot – to be so revered long after my death and never get to enjoy it myself.

Maybe so. Hubris is a poisonous thing. Not getting too excited about one’s own awesomeness can be dodging a bullet. Hard to control a raging ego, once its been overfed.

More and more I’ve come to believe the real test in life is not how well we do, but how we handle what happens.

Remembering that not everyone sees the same thing when they look out the window is part of that.

Craving the Pain

We bought rain barrels. Plastic ones that won’t, oh, fall over and shatter. Not as pretty, but far better for the long term.

We’ve realized that last year, our first year in Santa Fe, spoiled us terribly, with all the snow and rain. This year is far more dry and we fell behind on watering. We’re catching up now, and the flowers are coming along. Fortunately, as children of the West, David and I are both habitual water-savers. We just need to adjust our thinking, take it a bit further.

I am thinking longer-term in many ways.

I mentioned yesterday that I’m not willing to take The Body Gift to self-pubbing, or even digital publishing yet. See, I have a Plan. This is a Plan suggested to me by a lovely agent-friend who can’t take me on as a client right not, but offered me unlimited advice. (I’m not sure if that’s just her very gracious way of saying no while remaining friendly and supportive, but I don’t care. She also told me I seem to be doing just fine on my own and you know where flattery will get you with me. Hey, I’m a Leo – I can’t help it!)

At any rate, she suggested that with each new novel, I shoot as high as I can, walk it through all the Big Show venues and then, if no one bites, offer it to digital. I like this plan. I know many scoff, because it’s still clinging to the traditional route, which so many are forsaking. Why put myself through the pain of the Big Filter when I could just skip all the rejection and waiting, go straight to Smashwords or one of the innumerable start-up epresses that seem to snap up all and sundry.


I want the filter.

I want the writing I put out in the world to be the very best it can be. Even though I hate the pain, I want my work to receive ruthless editing and the stern eye of marketing. I know NYC can have a narrow view. I also know traditional publishing has been putting out incredible books for my entire life.

I want that to be my books.

And I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve been reading a lot of less-than-stellar stuff lately. Digital publishing is coming up in the world and some of the digital imprints seem to have pretty high standards. Others…. erm. Not so much. As much as I would love someone to embrace my book and publish it, I don’t want it at the price of quality. I’d rather revise.

I know it’s hard to know these days, what a press’s standards are. But if you look around, you can figure it out. Read their books and you’ll know. The ones who haven’t put out any books yet are a bigger gamble. Every publisher has some lemons, or books that you hate. More than once I’ve wondered what Ace was thinking, or who is reading some of what Kensington puts out. I also know they have exhaustive acquisitions processes, so I figure I’m not their reader.

So, I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t want to belong to any club that would stoop to admitting the likes of me, but I do want to make the grade.

I want to be part of the Big Show.

And I won’t stop until I get there.