Remembering Why I Am So Busy

6:30am – get up, feed all of the animals, start working on three articles that must be submitted to meet deadlines.

8:30 – wake husband, see him out the door

11:15 – admit that only one of the three articles will be ready to turn in, email editors to ask for one more day

11:45 – arrive at part time job in time to shove some food in before my shift

12-8:10 – work, work, work

8:30 – return home to cook dinner and try to wrap up at least one article

For some people, that would be an average Monday. For me, that’s a long day.

 

Lately, I’ve been busier than usual (you may have noticed the months-long hiatus from this blog). Most of the time, I’m careful to build down time into my schedule, but for the last couple of months, I’ve been booking myself completely solid. There are articles to write, a part time job to enjoy, marketing projects to complete…

Being especially busy can be good. It seems like my mind is sometimes more creative when my body is busy. But, if there’s no time to give that creativity an outlet, it just sits there. Finding the perfect (and elusive) balance between creative (usually non-paying) work and work that pays the bills can be difficult, but seems to me to be a worthy pursuit.

This summer, I want to help grow a giant garden, which means spending at least 4-5 hours a week weeding and shoveling and doing glorious physical labor outside. I also want to take a couple of short trips, go to a local amusement park, and spend some time in the woods. All of that means careful time management and the need for funding. It means working some long days so that I can enjoy time off.

I’ve also set a personal deadline: I will publish a novel-length work of fiction by July. I have a first draft, and have begun the second. But it is slow going between the paying work and the fun stuff. Writing a novel falls somewhere in between those two. It’s a big goal, and there are fun aspects, but it is also work.

With all of these goals, the idea of sacrifice has been on my mind. It’s pretty common to read that if you Business owners usually have to make sacrifices to run successful businesses — maybe give up some personal time in order to work longer hours. Novelists, especially ones who have other, paying jobs usually have to sacrifice some time to write. A goal I haven’t mentioned here yet is fitness, and a common thread among people who are very fit is that they spend time shopping, cooking, and working out. Time that could be spent building a business or writing a novel.

One of the most-often clicked on posts on this blog is about pursuing multiple goals. I wrote it several years ago. I’ve never been one to narrow my focus. At this point, it would be painful for me to put my novel aside or to decide to forego the garden this year. Those are the kinds of things that keep me from feeling burned out. Success in any one area spurs me more to reach the other goals as well.

Yet, some days I end up feeling tired and angry. Yesterday was like that. Looking back over what I did yesterday, there was no time to remember why I’m so busy. No time spent on my novel, or even in my flower garden. There was no time to exercise or nurture myself at all.

Is it better to have whole days spent off — writing novels or planting gardens or hiking — and then work long hours on other days? Maybe. Entire days dedicated to fun are important. But, weaving some fun into everyday is equally important. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, a little time to mentally unwind is a necessity.

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Matthew Hubbard Shares His Thoughts on Writing

Today, I am pleased to welcome Matthew Dale Hubbard to the Smiling Tree independent writing series. Matthew is a Chattanooga local. His story about how he reached the decision to self-publish includes the usual agents, rejections from traditional houses, but much more: a life and death struggle combined with an unquenchable desire to help others. 

When I was a child, I did not dream of becoming a writer. Instead, I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, aHubbard_Matthewdoctor, an astronaut. Writing, for me, wasn’t a dream. I didn’t approach it as though it was a sacred and hallow career path. I wrote without aspiration. I wrote for the thrill. Most importantly, I wrote because it was something I didn’t have to think about it. I just…did.

I should have known I was destined to write a novel after I tried writing my own version of Harry Potter, which is hidden safely away on a floppy disk (yes, a FLOPPY DISK) and will never see the light of day again, while in middle school. However, it wasn’t until a college professor pulled me aside after reading a blog post I had written for class that the thought of a writing the proverbial “great American novel” crossed my mind. He said to me, “I think you’re in the wrong major. You would excel with creative writing.” That was unexpected seeing as it was a business class and I was set to graduate the following semester with my Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing.

His words stayed with me over those following weeks, and I kept coming back to the blog post. It was a poem I had written, and I didn’t think anyone would pay attention to my words. After all, it was my first writing piece I had ever put into the blogosphere. The poem was entitled “Drowning,” and it was the firsthand account of drowning with metaphors to life being the undertow. I asked myself why I wrote it. Obviously, I knew why. I was battling depression, but I wanted to know the depths of my depression. I started brainstorming a back story for the poem, and then I started writing. Thinking back, I had no idea the way I approached it was method of self-preservation. By pouring everything out of me in the form of a character, I was somehow able to separate myself from the darkness of my suicidal past.

Over the course of a few months, I crafted a first person story a mere 30,000 words in length based off of the poem which started this whole process in the first place. There’s a high you get when you finish writing a term paper, and then there is a high you get when you finish writing a book. That feeling floods your body and mind with such a rush you want to run around and scream and demand the world acknowledge your accomplishment, but you can’t; you can only sit there, not moving a muscle, and stare elatedly at the screen while trying to remember how to breathe. I can remember the high I felt as I typed the last word in the last sentence in the last paragraph on the last page. I felt alive, but most importantly I felt free.

It was then I decided I wanted to be published. Research provided me with enough to know the length of my story was considered a novella at best. I never questioned the faith I have within myself until that moment. A resounding, “Trust you can do better,” answered my thoughts. The story plot needed work and revision—a hell of a lot of revision. I brainstormed and, after realizing how much more of myself I have to pour into it, decided to widen the perspective to four voices each told in third person.

After a few months of rewriting and ironically in time with my 2010 college graduation, I had a manuscript of 97,000 words in length, which I appropriately entitled DROWNING with respect to the initial poem. I then queried literary agencies for representation. Now, this is where everything simultaneously starts and stops for my newly established dream of being a writer.

I received so many rejections from agencies. Some were generic responses with a generic rejection that resembled other generic rejection from other agents. Some were downright rude and telling me I would never have a career (which I saved in hopes they would eat their words). Some were a pleasant sandwich of a rejection with compliments on my writing encasing the firm concern of me being too risqué for the current marketplace.

I took it all in stride—all 258 rejections. For each denial from an agent, I would send out ten more queries. While I was waiting on something to come up, I tried to ease my mind two ways: (1) Looking for a job with my then recently acquired BS in Marketing, and (2) Honing my writing ability.

I must admit, during that period in my life I began to slip back into the wallow of depression I had endured previously. At the time, the economy was suffering and I couldn’t find a job to support myself. Everything I tried to do turned out wrong. For the life of me, I don’t know how I managed to keep my chin up and persevere.

I channeled all my frustrations into a short story based on a grocery store in my small town. This time, I wasn’t writing in order to write a novel. I was writing for myself. It was a self-reflection project of fiction. After I wrote the story, which I was calling “Subterfuge Grocery,” I began to ask myself what happened next in the storyline. I have nothing else going on in my life, so I set out to find an answer.

The short story turned into a chapter. Then another chapter. Then another chapter. Before I knew it, three months had passed and I had a novel so personal it read like my journal. I had two novels written and was yet to be published. I was waiting for DROWNING to be picked up by a literary agent, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to submit what I’d just written.

I submitted the second manuscript under the name “I AM” to a handful of agents to start with—I had no expectations. I was shocked to discover one of the agents requested to read the whole manuscript. I worked with her for several months, revising and editing my manuscript. She eventually signed me with her agency, and we set out shopping for publishers.

At this time, I had completely forgotten about DROWNING and focused all my endeavors on I AM.  The process with the agent lasted for more than a year. The feedback from publishers was astounding.  Some elite houses part of the “Big Six” complimented my manuscript and said I had a true talent for writing, that my story was engrossing, that I had a voice. However, all of the publishing houses considerately rejected I AM because it didn’t fit in with the themes for their upcoming releases. Feeling defeated, my agent and I mutually agreed to dissolve our contract for I AM. It was an amicable parting, and she was one of my biggest supporters.

I never expected the literary world to have themes about what they would be releasing. Perhaps it was my naivety, but I was under the impression that an author’s hard work would garner attention if the story had that “next great American novel” quality. Not that I’m saying I possessed it, but all the compliments led me to believe I had talent…just not enough to warrant a risk. All these publishing houses with their preconceived notions leading the way for authors…the more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off.

The only solace came from a quote by one of my favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald: “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” What did I have to say? I asked myself this question as I stood on the precipice of “what happens now.” I didn’t give a damn about vampires or zombies. I didn’t care if I was worthy of a risk for a big time publishers. I didn’t know what was going to happen in time. All I did know was the hardships of suicide and depression and coming to terms with my sexual orientation, which is what I wrote about in DROWNING. Those struggles affected my life tremendously and shaped the man I am today.

I decided to focus on something bigger than myself. Like Fitzgerald, I did have something to say, and I finally realized what it was. I had a personal message to share with the world—a message of survival and strength and hope to those who felt like the only way out was suicide:

EVERY LIFE IS WORTH LIVING

I remember saying to myself, “It’s the 21st century. The game has changed and is changing and will continue to change. Where do I fit in?” I didn’t want to make a profit; it wasn’t about the money. I wanted to make a difference—an impact. I came to the conclusion that I was my own man, I didn’t have to play by the rules, I didn’t have to be traditional with my publishing choices.

I decided self-publishing, aka “indie publishing,” would suffice. I wanted to get my name and message out there. I wanted to be a voice for those who were too scared to ask questions. I wanted to speak to all the souls struggling to swim. I wanted to be unapologetically honest and open about my depression and suicidal past. I wanted to be.

With that in mind, I initially published DROWNING as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. I then published it in print using CreateSpace. I created the cover using a picture I had taken, and I did all the copy-editing. My debut novel is 100% me—what I wanted to portray, the vision I had the book itself, my heart, my soul (cheesy but true).

The attention I’ve garnered from social media has been astounding. I partnered with Goodreads and held a contest for 5 signed copies (which was open to 17 countries and had 1,400+ entries!). I encouraged readers to post pictures on social media and hashtag my name and book title. I would repost every photo with a personal message to the reader thanking him/her for reading. Aside from the United States, DROWNING has been spotted in Italy, Belgium, Brazil, and Panama. It amazes me every single time I receive photos and messages from readers. I cannot believe this is my life.

In addition to a locally owned bookstore, a local Barnes & Noble agreed to carry a few copies of my novel since I was from the area. The original plan was for me to come in, sign them, and leave it at that. However, they sold out before I could come in and sign the copies. Impressed with this, the store booked me for a signing—which went successfully, and I was invited back for another signing! Now, DROWNING is available for in-store order at all Barnes & Noble locations.

I have a few speaking engagements lined up, including a high school’s Gay-Straight alliance which is being featured on local news. As for what’s next? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I’ll see where tomorrow takes me with my second novel, I AM. All that is for certain, however, is that I want to do good in this world. I want to make a difference and an impact and be the inspiration for those who feel as though they are drowning. I want to write for a cause and have my readers read for a cause. I pledge to donate portions from the proceeds of each copy of my debut novel to The Trevor Project—the leading national organization focused on providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. Every life is worth living. For more information on me or my social media sites, please visit www.matthewdalehubbard.com.

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Indie Publishing After a Traditional Career

NaNoWriMo brought things at Smiling Tree to a screeching halt! However, November is almost over and we should return to the regular, two posts per week schedule soon.

Today I’d like to welcome Jennifer Lawler. Jennifer is an accomplished writer and has published both fiction and nonfiction, used various pen names, written under her own name, gone the traditional route, and self-published. In this post, she shares her reasons for choosing to self-publish after a successful, traditional career. 

I have to say that traditional book publishing has treated me perfectly well. I’m the author or coauthor of more than twenty-five

Jennifer Lawler

Jennifer Lawler

nonfiction books published the traditional way, with a publisher, an advance, bookstore distribution, even publicity provided by the publisher. I’ve worked for book publishers as a book development editor and as an acquisitions editor, and I also worked for a stint as a literary agent.

So why did I decide to go the indie route for the second edition of Dojo Wisdom for Writers, a book that was pretty successful the first time out (it was originally published in 2004)?

First and most important, the book was out of print and the rights had reverted to me. That meant it wasn’t available for purchase (except on the used book market, and I didn’t earn anything from resale). I felt like the book still had relevance (particularly if I updated it, which I planned to do) and I wanted to bring it back into the world.

But I knew that the world of publishing had changed a lot in the nearly ten years since the book originally came out. The editor who’d originally published Dojo Wisdom for Writers was long gone, as was the editorial director, so it wasn’t like I could just drop someone a line and see if they had any interest in a revised and updated version of the book. My agent had just retired, so that shortcut was out, too.

I briefly thought about querying agents but I’ve been focused on my career as a novelist and an essayist, so if I got an agent, it

Dojo Wisdom for Writers

Dojo Wisdom for Writers

would be someone who could help me with that. For a one-off, I wouldn’t get many agents interested in representing me. A second edition is a hard sell to traditional publishers because most review outlets don’t review second editions and publishers worry that the sales potential has already been exhausted. But I’d be happy with sales of a few thousand—even a few hundred!—copies of the book. A traditional book publisher would consider that a failure.

I also knew that I wanted to explore indie publishing for a collection of my essays, Travels with Jessica. My essays are popular with a core of readers, but the gatekeepers of traditional publishing have responded to them with a collective shrug. So I knew indie publishing was where my publishing future most likely lay.

I didn’t want to experiment with that collection, though; I wanted to know what I was doing so that the details of publication didn’t get in the way of writing and promoting the book. So, I used Dojo Wisdom for Writers as a trial run. I bought ISBNs, I figured out how to format the files for CreateSpace, I dealt with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Program.

So far, so good. The second edition of Dojo Wisdom for Writers came out in August. I’ve figured out what to do, I’ve earned royalties, and I have Travels with Jessica set to release in early December. I’m glad I was able to figure out the learning curve with Dojo Wisdom for Writers. Although I spent some time updating and revising the material, I was able to shift most of my attention to the process of

learning indie publishing, making it easier than it might otherwise have been.

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Jennifer Lawler is the author or coauthor of more than twenty-five nonfiction books. She writes romance under a variety of pen names. Find out more at www.jenniferlawler.com.

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On Being a Beta Reader

Recently, a Twitter connection was complaining about how none of the people he asked to be beta readers had time to read his new novel. Since I love to read, and especially love to read free stuff, I offered. He enthusiastically accepted. And, I realized something:

I love the idea that my comments might help make a book better.

That may seem like bragging, but isn’t that what beta readers do? Offer feedback that will help the author publish their best possible work?

As it turned out, the writer seemed to sincerely appreciate my comments. It was a good experience for both of us. I’m even going to read the book again, after revisions. And the author has asked if I would be willing to read his future work and make similar comments – for money! That’s right. He Too Dark To See Coveroffered to pay me to do something I love doing.

(It was a really good book, and since I now feel connected to it’s production in some vague way, I’m going to recommend that anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers, stream of consciousness, or books about people on the verge of psychological breakdowns look for Too Dark to See by Jay Chastain in the next couple of weeks. It’s good stuff.)

Given that reviews can sometimes hurt a book’s ratings and/or sales it’s much nicer to think that my “review” as a beta reader is solely for the author rather than for public consumption. Using Google docs makes is a super simple process, too. The author can respond to my comments or ask questions.

What about you? Have you ever been a beta reader? How did you feel about the experience? Would you do it again?

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Bad News for Everyone: A Guest Post by Charles Barouch

When my daughter, Lore, and I did our writing workshop at Otakon, we divided writers into four broad categories: Private, Protected, Public, Published. The categories are actually stolen from the Delphi programming template but they fit so well. Here are the quick definitions:

Private writing is the sort you do in a journal or diary. It is not meant for anyone but yourself.

Protected
 writing is written for your own circle. These are the people who hear you say “Aunt Jean” and they know that you are referring to that

Charles Barouch

Charles Barouch

incident with the pantsuit. These people know and like your jokes; they *get* you. You won’t be getting a lot of negative feedback with this audience.

Public
 writing is very different. Just like the Private and Protected levels, your work is available for free. This blog post is an example of Public writing. What makes public so different from the previous two is the risk of bad reviews. You are out there — completely out there.

Published writing is one step bigger. This is when you expect people to pay for the chance to read your writing. With the first three, you can treat writing as a pure art. Once you put a price on it, you are obligated to treat writing as a craft. Craftsmen build to meet a need. Artists don’t. The best authors are able to be both things at the same time.

* * *

What does all this do with the title: Bad News Everyone? I’m a published author. That means that I get negative reviews — bad news. Who gives these people the right to have an opinion on something which took me weeks, or months, or even years to write? I did. When I put my work in the public or published levels, I gave everyone the right to have an opinion.

I got panned this one time — by the owner of this blog, as it happens — and this is what was said:

This could be a long review, but I will limit it to a list of things that annoyed the crap out of me:
1. The author’s almost fanatical avoidance of ending a sentence with a preposition. Yes, I understand it’s proper grammar, but when using proper grammar makes the language so stilted and odd that the reader loses focus on the story, it’s a bad thing.

2. There are way too many characters. New characters were still being introduced near the end of the book. It was impossible (and unnecessary) to keep up with them all.

3. There are too many plots, most of which don’t matter. 

I was aggravated the whole time I was reading, and can’t really recommend this book to anyone. The worst part? I paid for it. It wasn’t even a freebie. Grrrrr….

Here’s what most people would see:
She doesn’t like me.

Here’s what I saw:
She wrote about how I handled the later parts of the book. That  means she *read* the whole book. I did a good enough job that even a reader who felt frustrated still felt compelled to read it all. That’s huge.

Secondly, she had specific issues with the writing. Unless you are done writing, you are not done growing as a writer. Specific feedback, positive and negative, helps you grow. Does that mean we blindly accept every negative feedback? No. It should make us think but it has to be evaluated. How about positive feedback? You can’t just take that as gospel either.

What do I do with this review?
I decided that I mostly agree with her assessment of the dialogue. I was over precise. Do I think it broke the story? It seems to have for at least this one reader. Something I need to think about.

Too many characters? Too many subplots? I disagree. The scope of the topic is global. I feel that this sort of story needs a large cast with a lot of stories to tell. Having said that, she is not the only person to call me to task over cast size. Something I need to think about.

Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t debate this review with the reviewer. If the book doesn’t make my case, it doesn’t matter if I can make it separately. I did contact her to apologize for the fact that she didn’t like it. Why apologize? While she spent less time reading than I took writing, she did take time out of her life to read what I had to say. She invested in me by reading my book.

If you don’t care about what the readers think, stay in the Private or Protected levels. If you are going to go Public or Protected, then you asked for this. Embrace it.

Charles Barouch is a Publisher, Writer, Editor, and Journalist. His works in print can be found here: http://hdwp.com/r/cdb/.

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