Thursday, April 26, 2012

Leaving the Cocoon

larva noun: the active immature form of an insect, esp. one that differs greatly from the adult and forms the stage between egg and pupa

pupa: an insect in its inactive immature form between larva and adult

cocoon noun: 1) a silky case spun by the larvae of many insects for protection as pupae; 2) a similar structure made by other animals; 3) a covering that prevents the corrosion of metal equipment; 4) something that envelops or surrounds, esp. in a protective or comforting way

If we consider the idea for a novel as larva and the writing of it as pupa, I believe that for most writers we can extend the analogy to include the cocoon.

For most of us, it's a solitary endeavor. The outside world fades into the background as we enter the fictional universe of our own devising and experience the story through the characters. We may struggle, but the conflict is contained within the cocoon until that magic day arrives when it's done.

We stare at the blinking insertion point and realize that it's no longer demanding the next letter, word, sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter. So, is it ready for prime time? And for an indie writer, that means right now, because the process of creating the product is streamlined to the point that it's almost too easy.

And here, we abandon the analogy with the realization that what exists within the cocoon is not an adult, but something far less complete in terms of form and function. There's work left to do, and we have the choice of remaining within the isolated world at our writing desks or venturing into the threatening environment of a critique group.

I submit that the decision to participate is absolutely essential for most writers, and that a novel will seldom, if ever, reach its full potential without accepting the necessity to challenge ourselves by seeking the comments of other writers. For me, writing and revising a novel within the group experience has been well worth the commitment of time and effort required. Here are some observations from many years at the roundtable.

Groups have a communal personality. Like any social entity, they change over time.

Egos have to be left at home. Once a writer begins taking comments personally, benefit suffers.

Writers need a group compatible with their personality and interests. Depending on where you live, this can be impossible or relatively easy. No groups close by? Start one, and remember that in the world of the Internet, you don't have to write in a vacuum.

Roundtable discussions appear at first glance to be the heart of any group, when in reality the outside associations that develop provide the most benefit. Identifying a few writers in a larger group as critique buddies with whom you can trade material on a regular basis is an effective way to be reviewed more frequently.

Participation requires commitment to the idea that each of us learns by acting both as reviewers and being reviewed, because you will spend more time evaluating other writers' material than vice versa. In my experience, the benefits of reviewing flow from two distinctly different aspects of the roundtable.

First, everyone at the table has read the same submission. In almost every meeting, one or more members will comment on something I didn't notice. Each of these tidbits can become part of my craft, and the lessons learned have generally proven to be at least as valuable as being critiqued.

Second, reviewing manuscripts outside my personal reading and writing interests forces me out of my comfort zone. Unfamiliarity with the content and unique structural elements of another genre is no excuse for not doing my best to offer something worthy of another writer's consideration.

Roundtable comments fall into three basic categories:
  • Right on, you know it the minute you hear/read it.
  • Way off, you toss it out as being so far off base that it isn't worth considering
  •  In the middle somewhere, you take time to let it percolate, and over time determine how much of it you will incorporate. 
Roundtable comments also vary by how often you hear them:
  • Some are offered only once, receive no support from other members of the group, and are often the ones easiest to reject.
  • But one member can also see something no one else does, and it becomes an item you immediately accept as right on because it needs no supporting opinion.
  • Unanimous comments are hard to reject because if the group is good enough to stay with, widely held opinions carry the weight of authority that you have already accepted as beneficial by participating.
In summary:
  • Some writers are totally incompatible with any group.
  • No group is compatible with all writers who choose to participate in one.
  • Mutual-admiration-society (fluff) groups are worthless.
  • If you choose to participate, leave your ego at home, wear your thick skin to meetings, stick with it long enough to develop a comment filter that works for you, and do your best to give and receive with equal dedication to the collaborative effort.

 Most of you will be glad you did.

 Tosh McIntosh is the author of Pilot Error and the upcoming Wings on my Words: Tales from the Writer's Desk, Words on My Wing: Tales from the Cockpit, and Red Line, second in the Pilot Error series.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Marketing to little people with no money of their own

My fans are enthusiastic, loving, adoring, and...often do a lot of slobbering.

They are also too poor to afford my books. They are children.

So what do you do when your market is controlled by a totally different market?

Other than dropping your book in a Cheerios box or hawking your wares between episodes of Dora the Explorer, how do you reach these wee buyers?

You find the people who cater to kids.

Last week, my long-delayed story book app, Dust Bunnies: Secret Agents, was suddenly DONE. Out. For sale.

I got the email at 7 a.m. and was awake in a flash, dashing to my computer what exactly? Blog to babies? Tweet to tots?

Salvation came in a message from a baby store asking me to do a story time there. What a gorgeous place! What a stroke of luck. They'd found me by my blog and their timing was impeccable.

They had the kids. I had the story. So I thought: If I can do it once, I can do it again.

Some quick emails got amazing response. I'll be taking my story to an elementary school nearby for their early grades. I'm targeting local libraries now with their summer programs.

I've already brainstormed a take away for the kids--a Dust Bunny stick puppet they can color, one that will have the information about the app on it should parents act on their progeny's enthusiasm. It's a bit of extra work, cutting the shape and taping them to wooden sticks.

But that's what *my* children are for.


Deanna Roy is the author of the iPad story book app Dust Bunnies: Secret Agents and middle grade book Jinnie Wishmaker. She is a member of SCBWI and a regular presenter on digital publishing.

Friday, April 6, 2012

From Wannabe To Indie Author By Way Of Traditional Publishing

My journey (from wannabe to published to has-been to indie) might be helpful for others who are going through similar angst. This is long, not because my life is so fascinating, but because it marks all the stages of the metamorphosis of my attitude toward writing.


I started writing fiction in 1981 when I got a computer. Like a lot of other wannabes, I wrote complete crap. Slowly, and I do mean slowly, I got better.

I made a brief attempt to get a kid's book published in the late 80s. I was also living the American dream by working three jobs and still going into debt.

After several months, I realized I was spending all my free time managing submissions and rejections and not writing. I also realized that my odds of getting published were worse than winning the lottery. I decided to quit using my precious writing time doing what I hated (clerical work) and instead doing what I loved (writing).

I abandoned the thought of being published and continued to write, as I always had, for the sheer joy of writing.

In 1991, my stuff fell in the hands of Robin Hardy, bless her heart. She liked it, pitched it to her editor, and it went nowhere. I forgot about it and continued to write for the joy of it. Ten years later I'm in Honolulu. Robin tracks me down, tells me she has a new publisher and a new editor. He liked my stuff and wanted to talk to me. Six months later I had a contract. That book is dedicated to Robin Hardy.


Welcome to Fred came out and I was elated. I was a published author! Woo hoo! But, like most newbie authors, I became frustrated with the marketing efforts. No knocks on the publisher. They did everything they said they would. My frustration was mainly due to my unrealistic expectations and lack of industry knowledge. Living with Fred and Escape from Fred came out. It was nice to have them on the shelf, but over time I became less gruntled as they stayed on the shelf instead of flying off it.


Fred was done. I had no new contracts, my own fault because I had no idea what to write next. For the previous five years I had been either writing or releasing a book. I liked being able to say, "My next novel comes out in May." I needed to have a book in the pipeline. I became desperate and borderline depressed. I panicked, came up with a story, threw together a proposal, and my agent sent it out to eight houses that either ignored it or rejected it, and rightfully so. It was crap.


So here I was, desperate and depressed because next year there wouldn't be a new book with my name on it on the shelf. Then one day, while I was feeling sorry for myself, I had a realization. I'm a published author! There are books out there with my name on them. They may be in bargain bins and cutout racks and used bookstores (and my attic), but they are real, published books.

In the 80s if somebody had told me I'd be a multi-published author, I would have been ecstatic. But here I was, having had the joy not only of writing these books, but of seeing them in print and win awards. I'd achieved something that only a small percentage of the population will ever do, and I was depressed. What was wrong with me?


I realized that I was unhappy because I was no longer writing for the joy of it. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy writing the Fred books. I enjoyed it immensely. But joy was no longer my motivation. Seeing my name on another book on the shelf had become my motivation. And it was making me miserable. I was resentful when I should have been grateful. Then I realized I had already solved this problem 20 years earlier.

I abandoned the thought of being published and returned to writing for the sheer joy of writing.


I came up with some new ideas and wrote my butt off, producing three novels, all in third draft or higher. It was wonderful. Then I had to decide what to do with what I had written.

During the interim the Kindle had revolutionized publishing. I spent all of 2009 and 2010 debating the question of whether to look for an agent or go indie.

In 2011 I decided to pull the trigger on the indie market and spent the year polishing one of my new novels, Muffin Man. It was released on April 1, 2012. It may take off or it may tank. Either way, I know one thing will be true.

From here out I write for the love of writing and not out of desperation to get a book with my name on it on the shelf. Because, that's not why I write. Not anymore. Again.

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and Muffin Man.