Monday, February 12, 2018

Sara Says Nice Things About THE VENGEANCE CODE

Guysssssss. I am so lucky to have great friends who have cheered me on through all the struggles, and one of them happens to be Sara Raasch, author of the bestselling series SNOW LIKE ASHES. (She also has another series out this year with pirates!!! Check out THESE REBEL WAVES, coming August 7.)

Sara was kind enough to offer a blurb for THE VENGEANCE CODE, and here it is in its full glory:

McKenzie balances epic esports and fast-paced arena matches with the all-too-familiar brutality of class segregation and violent prejudice. Anyone who’s ever wanted to escape reality will find THE VENGEANCE CODE perilously alluring.  

—Sara Raasch, NYTimes Bestselling Author of the Snow Like Ashes Trilogy

I have all the warm fuzzies. The poor woman had to read the non-line-edited version, so she really is a trooper and I appreciate her seeing the ultimate vision of the novel. Sorry you had to read those extra 7k words my editor cut!

I'm still wading my way through edits on this beast (which is taking much longer than projected due to some delays), but I believe I can stick on my projected release of April 3rd. Fingers crossed!

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Transition From Hobbyist To Aspiring To Professional

This is my fifth year as a published author. Five years! I've been a bit reflecty on all the years I've spent in the pursuit of my stories and sharing them with the world. All the little and big mistakes I've made. All the little and big achievements I worked for. It's never been an easy road for me—it's not easy for anyone, really—but it has been ultimately educational and rewarding. 

And today I wanted to perhaps give some perspective for the others coming up behind me on this lovely little road. 

The very first book signing I attended. Hearing Bree's story
gave me hope for myself.
"A hobbyist writes for fun. An aspiring author writes for serious."
There will be a point along your road where you will want to take things to the next level with your writing. It's part of the process when you're seeking the concept of "authorhood." And in that desire, you will start to do all the things you think proper authors should do. 

Like writing more. And writing more "serious stuff." You may envision that Great American Novel cliche and you being read in English Lit classes for centuries, torturing the next generation with your superior allegories and junk. 

You will start to look at stories not as fun—but instead with a mind to judge them. To learn from them so you can get better, BE better than them. And then you will inevitably reach the phase of:

"I can write better than that. All of these books are flawed and dumb."
It doesn't matter how great the book is. IN FACT, the more the book is praised, the higher the chances you're going to read it and be all, "Psh, I can do better." And for some reason you're going to go out there and TELL people how dumb these books are, as if you are so much more superior than the books and genres you aspire to be part of. 

I still don't know why this is the case. But I did it. I've seen a bunch of other newly aspiring authors do the same thing. So I've concluded it's part of the process, it's a strange way that they convince themselves to keep going and not lose confidence. I wish we didn't have to tear down others to get there, but it's where a lot of us start, in the I can do better than so-and-so camp.

But what the new aspiring doesn't really realize is:

"Oh, shoot, those people I'm dumping on are my future 'co-workers.'"
And the internet is public. And people DO see your crap. And if they don't see it, they will hear about it at conferences and tours and signings. So you have a decision to make and some growing to do. Some writers continue to publicly review and trash on books, others realize that maybe they should keep those opinions to themselves and be more supportive of their co-workers. Because there's a little secret truth in that...people will remember if you didn't like their stuff or you insulted them personally. And you may not get invited to things because of it. Not a pleasant reality, but it's the truth. 

Eventually, you grow out of the "all these books are crap" and into a new phase of: 

These ladies got me through everything.
"Hmm, so writing and publishing a book is harder than I thought."
At some point in your aspiring career, you will drop the ego you didn't know you had and start accepting that you don't actually know what you're doing. You will think about all those sharp jabs you took at other books and authors and realize the next generation of writers behind you will have their guns aimed right at your words, waiting to rip them apart no matter how hard you have worked to improve. 

The closer you get to that Publishable Book, the closer you get to the Dream Agent and the Book Deal and the Debut Author Status, the less confidence you'll have that you deserve anything. You realize this has nothing to do with "deserving" or "being better than so-and-so." It has everything to do with the READER. And the MARKET. But at the same time, envy and comparison will take over...

"They got the agent. My friend just got a book deal. When is it MY TURN?"
By the time you've gotten close to crossing over from aspiring to debut, you've probably met a lovely group of writer friends who've been cheering you on while you've also been supporting them. And as you all begin to cross the bridge, it can be difficult to be "left behind." It makes you want to push harder. It makes you feel so close but so far away. You don't want to be jealous, but you are. They have what you want—it's natural. But it also doesn't have to be ugly and it often isn't. Writer friends are happy for each other, and they hurt for each other's struggles as well because we have all been in that dark places. 

Signing my first book contract, back when I had time
to be thin;)
Then one day it's happening to you. It feels unreal, and you don't forget it. It was summertime when my first agent called to offer representation. The day my second agent called about an offer for a book deal, I was driving to the dentist on a nice spring April day. It will feel amazing, a culmination of hard work and luck and not giving up. 

"But so-and-so sold for more and got hardcovers and series and and and..."
After the elation comes utter dread. And reality. For me, I quickly realized my book I dreamed of being a "lead title" or a "bestseller" would never be so successful. I wasn't even getting the pretty hardcover I envisioned, but instead would be a paperback debut. Part of being a debut is facing the harsh reality that the publishing industry has a ranking system. All you wanted was to be that published author, and suddenly it doesn't seem like enough. And you feel guilty about that, wanting more when you've already gotten so much. 

The lead up to the debut is filled with so many emotions, so many firsts. I leaned heavily on other debuts as we all navigated the rocky path. Everything felt so important. There's a pressure to market and social media and you fully believe you can have a massive impact on how well your books sells. But post debut, a new reality sets in:

Debut day! Seeing that book on a shelf was
unreal at the time. Still is.
"I don't actually have any control over sales. Or anything really, except the writing."
Debut hits. The books starts selling...either well or not well. If well, relief sets in but also a new sort of pressure to continue delivering. Because you know how easily is can all vanish. If you don't sell well, it hurts and new barriers to more sales can crop up. 

Fear of being forgotten sets in. You see how your advertising doesn't really give a lot of return in actual sales. Even if you end up "lucky" with good sales and more book deals, you will watch friends struggle and that will hurt you, too. You start to become jaded as you become part of the brutal machine that is publishing, which will soldier on with or without you.

The first five years of being published...haven't been easy. As an aspiring author I pictured this part of the journey as "smooth sailing," but it is anything but that. The fight never ends, and that is the reality newly published authors have to face. 

"Where did everyone go?"
The support of a debut...changes, to put it nicely. The friends and family that came out for your first book may not be there for your second. And by the time you're on the third or fourth? Well, it'll wane even more. The hope is fans will be there, but that "cheering section" goes quiet once you finally hit the status of "published author." Your writer friends get busy with their own demanding schedules. You non-writer friends are like, "What? Another book? You're still doing that? I thought you had like nine of those already why have more?"

Some people stick with you through everything,
and these two babies are still cheering each other on.
It's gets a bit lonely. And, at least for me, I felt like no one was still listening. No one cared anymore, and it was hard to keep going. In a lot of ways, it's like going back to the very beginning when it is just you and the words. You have to rediscover the love of writing in a way, and realize that was why you got into this whole mess to begin with. 

"I don't know anything but I will keep going because I enjoy this."
At some point, you'll realize all the advice you thought you were wise enough to give is...not worth much. Writing is so personal that everything tidbit working for you may not work for the next author. And you're not wrong. And they're not wrong. The envy and the judging fall to the background as you finally embrace the idea that there are many ways to write and there are readers all over who can embrace lots of different styles. They matter more than anything else.

"Do you."
It will never be easy, but as some point the craziness will die down a bit, you will find a place that works for you. It probably won't be what you expected when you dreamed of it long ago, but it'll be good nonetheless. And then you'll be the old vet watching all the youngins, trying to have patience with them as they navigate the journey. You'll give them advice. They won't listen. And the cycle will continue on.