Last November, as the Camp Fire was at its worst, I gave a presentation at our local library for those brave enough to venture out into the smoke and haze. Not many, alas. But our library was kind enough to also record the presentation. It’s long—I had a lot of ground to cover. Here’s hoping you find it helpful, or at least amusing.
Here’s a really short explanation of why he’s not Jim (or James) Moriarty in my story “Professor Moriarty and the Demented Detective.”
Bonus: you also get to see Crowley!
Today I’ll be talking to all you writers out there, you hopefuls. You can get the short version in a Twitter thread I wrote:
I read something today about how, if you’re a writer, you’re always going to be waiting for something, so you might as well get used to it–get good at it. Cuz you’ll be waiting for edits and a pub date, etc. BUT, I just want to point out…
— MPL 📚🌊 (@sh8kspeare) September 21, 2018
But I’ll go into a little more detail here.
When you’re querying agents about your manuscript, it’s like walking a tightrope. Without a net. There is an exhausting amount of tension involved as you try not to fall. When querying, that tension comes in the form of hope—you’re hoping all the time that an agent will have a favorable response to your query and/or your first pages. And if they do, you’re then hoping they’ll like the full manuscript. Constant hope is tiring to sustain. And as with tightrope walking, any little nudge—a lack of response, a bunch of form rejections, no sign of interest from anyone—can send you crashing right over the edge.
Let’s say you get an agent. Hooray! Well, now your agent is going to be sending your manuscript out on submission. More waiting, but this time you have a safety net under your tightrope. While your manuscript is in the capable hands of your agent, said agent may also be giving you guidance on what to work on next. You’re no longer alone in this venture.
[Note: I realize many authors will say, “I was never alone! I had critique partners and beta readers and fellow authors!” This may be true. But there is a marked difference between the support of your fellows—which is still a wonderful and lovely thing to have—and the support of people who are actually in a position to submit your work and make things happen on your behalf.]
Okay, so your agent is submitting your manuscript. There’s still a modicum of that exhausting, infernal hope that an editor or publisher will take it, but it’s not as exhausting as querying because of that safety net that is having an agent.
And then! Your book gets accepted by an editor! After you celebrate, you will wait some more, this time for editorial notes, and then more notes, and then more notes, and also a cover, and marketing info, and a finalized publication date. BUT. While this is all very exciting and you may be impatient to get through this process, the hope element is over. Now we’ve moved on to anticipation. Because there is no longer a question of whether your book is going to be published. It’s really happening! No more tightrope. You’re on the ground now, in the center ring, with the circus around you. It’s dizzying, but there is no fear of falling.
Well, maybe you’re a little afraid your book will suck and get terrible reviews. But you have an agent and editor and publisher who believe in you, and that goes a long way psychologically. From those lonely days of querying and hoping, you now have a full support system and—thanks to the guidance of your agent—other books in the works in case this one isn’t as successful as everyone, well, hopes.
Hoping alone, though, is very different from hoping together.
Knowing you won’t bear the sole brunt of the fall, should falling occur—that counts for a lot.
So what I’m saying here, that I said in much shorter form via Twitter, is that when people tell hopeful authors—authors without agents yet—to get used to waiting . . . Well, yes, that’s going to be a big part of the process. But I’ve noticed the people doling out the advice usually already have agents, and sometimes have editors and publishers as well. They’re speaking from a place with a safety net and support system. And while they’ve walked that tightrope that is querying, they are now in a position of privilege that feels out of touch with where querying authors are. Similar to the, “You’ll make it if you try hard enough!” school of encouragement, the, “Just be patient,” school doesn’t address fundamental problems. Like the very real psychological stress of not knowing an outcome. We like to make light of how we check our emails repeatedly and have trouble focusing because this hope takes up so much of our energy, but it’s a significant (and not always funny) issue. “Just be patient” doesn’t alleviate that stress and in fact often adds to it by making querying authors feel like they’re doing something wrong. Like there’s a wrong way to wait.
We’re waiting. We’re being as patient as we can be because, seriously, we have no other options. We’re on this tightrope, and we’d love a safety net. The truth is, we may never get one. That’s a stressful reality. So please, if you’re an author giving this advice, don’t be patronizing. We know you mean well, but you’re not always helping. Sometimes you’re even throwing us off balance.
So I have a YouTube channel now, and I recommend you subscribe to keep up with all the videos because I won’t always be posting them here. The link to the channel itself is on the sidebar to the left. (Scroll down to all my online media buttons.)
I’ll try to get more sophisticated with my recording and editing methods. But for now, enjoy this short video about author Tom Cox’s work. And if you watch long enough, you’ll catch a glimpse of my cat Minerva.
There was a Twitter thread earlier today about “sanitizing” high school parties in YA fiction. It seemed to be referring to some other conversation that may or may not have been going on, a stance that the parties are “unrealistic.” And I think these are two different arguments.
I didn’t party in high school, and I didn’t know anybody who did. (Or if they did, it wasn’t obvious.) I went to a handful of “parties,” but these were not like the movies. No houses packed full of students spilling alcohol everywhere, music blasting, precious items being broken. The parties were somewhat small and fairly tame. There was sometimes alcohol, but there was also stuff like Win, Lose or Draw. (Which is hilarious to play if you’ve been drinking btw.) ::shrug::
Anyway, everyone’s experiences vary. What is “realistic” to one person may not be to another. Aaaand there’s the whole “it’s cliché” angle to these teen parties in books and movies. But to say that a suggestion to remove such a scene is “sanitizing”? That feels extreme.
I mean, sure, if the person who is suggesting the change is doing it because they feel like they don’t want to encourage that kind of behavior, then they’re sanitizing the story. I can see why that might be considered problematic, but I won’t delve into that here. However, if they’re saying it should be changed because it’s not realistic, then . . . That’s just a personal opinion. I mean, look at most writers and editors. We were the bookish kids, the quiet ones. Parties like that sometimes don’t seem realistic based on our experiences.
The Twitter thread spent a lot of time talking about how teens need to see themselves reflected in the books they read. Agreed. And some of them party and . . . want to see parties in their books, I guess? Some take drugs and want to read about other kids who take drugs? But some of us didn’t party, and we like seeing the quiet kids front and center because we felt so insignificant and overlooked in high school.
Look, teens who party and do drugs and get in trouble with the law—they’re out there. It’s not an experience I can identify with, but I know it happens. And there’s a place for those stories, too. Maybe it’s because I don’t write those kinds of books, so I can’t see where the scrubbing is taking place. Do agents, editors, publishers really squash stories featuring problematic teens and the issues they face? I honestly don’t know. As I pointed out in a previous post, I was told my teen fiction wasn’t edgy enough, so . . . I’ve experienced the flip side of this problem.
Bottom line for me is that I’d want to know the reason behind an author being told a YA party scene (or sex scene, or drug scene) needs to be changed or omitted. Because I don’t think it’s always simply to sanitize the text, or keep the reader “safe” from those things. Maybe it is some of the time—in which case, that should be addressed—but sometimes the reason may really be that the scene isn’t realistic (or the editor doesn’t think it is, anyway), or else it’s cliché. Those are valid opinions. Not everyone shares them, but they aren’t necessarily wrong.
There have always been books, and music, and movies that parents or adults don’t think appropriate for young adults. This is nothing new. And if a publisher thinks, No parent is going to want their kids to read this, then they might not publish it. Not out of spite or a need to whitewash teen experiences, but because they’re a business and want to sell books. And though teens do buy their own books some of the time, parents buy books the remainder of the time. And school librarians. And teachers, if they keep a classroom library. And school librarians and teachers won’t buy books that will get them in trouble with parents or the school district. And a publisher won’t risk their business for something they don’t think parents and teachers and librarians will buy.
Then again, sometimes you’ll find one who hopes the book will create buzz through shock value. They hope kids will buy it in secret and smuggle it to their friends. But one copy passed around a dozen people doesn’t amount to many sales either.
So, again, it might not be that they’re “sanitizing” YA. It might just be that they see no profit in it. If you write edgy YA—if you write parties and sex and drugs and jail for teens—go for it. Prove them wrong.
I’m often asked for book recommendations. So I decided to pull a few of my favorites off my shelves and share them.
So I haven’t done a video in a while because of a laundry list of reasons, but here’s a short thing I did to get back into it. Though the thumbnail options YouTube gave me sucked. I must make the dumbest faces when I talk.
This isn’t about writing, btw. I just unboxed a couple of rosaries I picked up while in Paris. Because I collect rosaries.
So I have a Tumblr that I only recently started seriously playing with. I was using it as a place to shelve snippets of a fanfic. But though some of the “chapters” got attention, it seems to have tapered off. That might be because I’ve been away on vacation (I did post a few pics while away, and I’m not officially “back” yet, but I’m home for a day before going off on the next leg, hence this post). Or it might be because I’m just not very good . . . at writing, or “tumbling” or whatever. Dunno.
Social media is so, so tricky. We’re told we need it in order to succeed as authors (or in other creative fields). Major companies are convinced they need a social media presence, too. But what we’re really feeding is our craving for validation. And we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Or worse. People get more depressed when faced with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. They see others getting all the followers and Likes, and they feel like failures. Comparison is the thief of joy, or so the saying goes, and social media is really just a massive platform for measuring how “popular” you are. Or aren’t.
I have several friends who have recently announced they’re deleting their Facebook accounts. I’m tempted to do the same. A few years back I slashed and burned a number of my accounts and profiles, but it seems to have ballooned again. There’s always some new platform that authors are being told they need to be on.
For those wondering about the fic on Tumblr, it was inspired by my recent reading of The Raven Cycle. I actually indexed the posts on this post. And then there is a post that came after those. Though I know where the story is going, I’m not sure I’ll bother actually writing it. Social media saps the joy and desire from me, forcing me to face the indifference of the world to my work. It perpetuates the feelings we had in school, I think: there are those who have all the friends (and followers), and those who have only a few . . . or none. The kids at the crowded cafeteria table versus the kids sitting alone.
Taking advantage of these last few weeks of summer before the kids go back to school. So I’ll be away from my computer again. I will be able to post on Twitter, my Facebook page, my Instagram, and I think Tumblr (which I’ve had for years but only just started making any use of). Probably won’t be posting any fic on Tumblr (which is what I’ve been doing, kind of), but might post some pictures. So if you hang out in any of those social media spaces, look me up. NYC, coming at you!