Random Musings

Pressure and Expectations: Making it Financially as an Author

Hello, dear readers!
This week, I wanted to write about money, but in a very different sense than what I usually do, i.e., ranting about my lack of it and the difficulty of surviving as an adult in this consistently-increasing-living-expenses-without-an-increase-in-pay society (and that’s without getting into the bullshit that’s going on in the White House right now). No, after reading a couple of articles, something has been sitting with me enough that I need to write about it.
The reality of making money as an author.
For context, it’ll be really great if you could read this article from the NY Times, as it is what really spurred me to write this post. But then, I couldn’t help thinking of this blog post from author Mark Lawrence, because it really cements some of my thoughts here, too.
*goes to sip her flavored water while you read some numbers*
Here’s the thing. It’s no secret that I want to be an author; that I’ve been actively working towards this goal for a really, really long time. I’ve learned a lot and I’m stubborn. It’s going to take a lot of work and a helluva lot of luck and perfect timing, but I do have that belief, in my core, that I’ll make it, one day. I’m very privileged in a lot of ways, not least of which is having the support and belief from my family, friends, coworkers and boyfriend. Having that support means the world to me and I know it has helped fuel me when my demons try and shake that core belief and break it.
But, as much as I appreciate that support and I love having people who believe in me (it’s surreal, honestly), it can be very frustrating to hear comments from my coworkers like, “Remember us little people once you publish and make millions.” Or, “Are you excited to quit your job after you publish?” Or, “Will you still have time for us after you make six figures, after your novel sells?”
Sad Martin Freeman GIF
I know I can’t really blame anyone for not knowing how publishing works when their not in the business. Hell, I’ve been researching the industry for years and half the time, still don’t know how publishing works.** But it is so frustrating for everyone around me to automatically believe that, if a single book sells, suddenly I’ll be rolling six figures for the rest of my life. Oh, how I wish that were the case and not actually what prolly less than 1% of the authors who are out there get to experience (which, of course, have all the wider media attention that reaches even those who aren’t ingrained in the business, so it makes sense this is what those around me see and base their expectations on; I don’t blame them for it at all).
I just want to…debunk that, a little bit.
If you read that NY Times article, you’ll see it’s very much the opposite. It is so very rare for an author to be able to write full time and support themselves (let alone a family) on a sole writing income. Looking at the medium pay reported, I couldn’t live off of that in my current situation. Currently, I need to make, at bare minimum, $24,000 a year to cover all of my expenses (thanks, student loans), if my half of the rent is $700 a month and I don’t spend any additional money outside of groceries and putting gas in my car. That’s no Christmas presents, no book splurges, no traveling for cons and books tours as a published author might want to do. No medical emergencies. Nothing else.

…the median pay for full-time writers was $20,300 in 2017, and that number decreased to $6,080 when part-time writers were considered.

Which, if I’m lucky enough to be in the median group, instead of under it, would still not be enough, requiring me to have a day job and then fit in writing my novels around the day job, eating, showering, sleeping, working out and other daily commitments; i.e., doing a full-time writing job on top of already having a full-time job and attempting to have a life.
Benedict Cumberbatch Lol GIF by BBC
Then, when you bring in Lawrence’s discussion on advances, it helped me open my eyes even more to how publishing works and how “little” an author actually makes, in the grand scheme of things, when, on the surface, their publishing deal announces they just signed a “six figure deal.” Because before reading that post, I just assumed they were rich (because Lord knows I’ve never made six figures and consider that a gold mine amount of money; nowhere close!).
Yet reading Lawrence’s breakdown, you learn a lot. You realize that six figure number is often for the promised trilogy or the series, not each book within it. Plus, looking at how it is paid in chunks over time, not a lump sum all at once, while that does make it a more realistic income ($33,000 per year, as he mentioned), it’s still not necessarily one you can live off of comfortable. Then, still further, adding in that you make no additional money until you pay out your advance in sales and then you take home only a small percentage of that, splitting between the deserving parties of agents, editors and publishers; thus, making the juxtaposition that, while a hefty advance could be really nice, a higher advance means you need to sell more copies in order to earn out.
And that’s if you can do that consistently, year after year, with a six figure advance. But there is no guarantee that you’ll get offered the same advance, thus having that stable income (you don’t, actually, have a stable income writing, usually; it always fluctuate thanks to a lot of things outside your control, like market trends, fighting pirated copies, book sales, reader tastes, following, marketing success, etc.). Not to mention how rare it is, as a debut author, to be offered a six figure advance in the first place. Or the fact that, with getting this advance in larger chunks, in stages that usually happen once or twice a year, now you have to budget at least half a year of your expenses to make sure you can hit all your bills up front, instead of biweekly paychecks.
Don’t even get me started on taxes (which, I can’t even pretend to understand how difficult they are, only that every author I follow on Twitter talks about how difficult they are, so I don’t even want to know, honestly).
Really Hard Benedict Cumberbatch GIF by BBC
Okay, so I just through out a lot of numbers and statistics at you all, and you might be wondering, What is the point of this entire postYou’re not even published yet, Nicole. How does this really tie into people claiming you’re going to be a millionaire? 
It all comes down to pressure and expectations.
You see, being an author has been my biggest dream since I was a kid. At the same time I was dreaming about being a knight or a dragon rider, I was also dreaming about writing about those characters and seeing my books on the same shelves where I maxed out my library card limit week after week; seeing my name on the spine. That’s no secret. Having a support system who believes in me is great and I will never discount that many others don’t have that blessing.
But it also is a Catch-22, because in my mind, those supports expect me to achieve this dream. They tell me as much every time they say, “I believe in you. You’ll get published one day.” Unconsciously, there is this pressure to achieve this dream, so I can justify their belief in me; to be able to thank them for that belief and assure them they weren’t wrong in supporting me, because, Look, I did it. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a people pleaser, so I’ve always wanted to make others happy. How can it be different when it comes to my own dreams and trying to live up to their expectations?
So then, when you add in the element–no, the expectation–put forth of, “After selling one book, after making it as an author, you’ll be a millionaire for life,” the pressure amplifies. Even though know that’s not how publishing works, I also know myself. And even though I’ll be living my dream and happier than I’ve ever been, I’ll also feel like a failure, because I won’t be able to quit my day job. I won’t be taking everyone out to dinner and picking up the tab. I won’t be able to support my boyfriend and the house and life we want on my books alone, like he sometimes jokes about. I won’t suddenly be famous and attending tours and conferences and cons.
I mean, sure, the chance is there, as it is for every author. But that’s not the norm, those are the outliers (and this is not to say they don’t deserve it, because I’ve read some of those big names and they do; just like it’s not to say that there are books out there that didn’t get the same reception but are just as good; trust me, I’ve read those, too). So when everyone around you acts like it’s the norm and expects you to reach it, how will you not feel like a disappointment, even though you’re finally living your dream?
I Dont Understand Bbc One GIF by BBC
That’s why I wrote this post. To offer an…explanation, of sorts, a little glimpse into the reality of writers and authors sometimes experience. There are always special cases, but writing is a job. Publishing is a business. You don’t do it for the money, not like media has often portrayed. You do it for the stories, because you love them and you must tell them.
And you just want someone to read them, and love them, too.
** That said, if anything I say in here is wrong–and it very well could be–it’s because this is how I understand publishing to work to the best of my knowledge, as I haven’t gone through this yet, so I have no firsthand experience, just information from the articles quoted above and research done throughout the years. If something I’ve claimed to be “how it works” is wrong, please let me know and I will update and edit my errors, of course. It goes without saying this is for traditionally published authors, of course. Self-publishing is an entire different world I am still quite ignorant about.
PS: I know I alluded quite a bit about the difficulties of making it as an author and all the financial complications, and the tone might not be very uplifting. HOWEVER, I want it to be very clear that I still want this more than anything. I’m ready for the difficult balance of life, love, day job and writing novels. I’m ready to learn more about how publishing works, advances, sales, marketing, the works. I’m eager to work with a team, learn how to write under deadlines and bring my stories to life for the world to read, if they want to. Please, never think otherwise. I’m just saying it’s not easy to do. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing and I don’t want it more than anything.
Because I do.

Random Musings

Why Haven't You Published This, Yet?

So, if you follow this blog, you might know that I try to participate in a weekly book meme called Top Ten Tuesday, where a list is posted, prompting you to list ten books that you associate with that list. This past week, I wrote about all the books I’ve shamefully not read from some of my favorite authors, which just sorta got me thinking. Because at the end of that post, I wrote something to the likes of, Sure, everyone is waiting for their next favorite book to be published, but what about all those books already out there we’ve always meant to read but haven’t? That are already waiting to be enjoyed?
You see, I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to intense anticipation when it comes to a book I really want to read being published. Hell, that’s one of the reasons I participate in another weekly book meme, Waiting on Wednesday, so I can highlight some of the books I’m really, really, really stoked to read.
There are a couple I can list off the top of my head:

  • Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe
  • The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
  • The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso
  • Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet
  • The Third Book in the Epic Failure Trilogy by Joe Zieja
  • Fear the Stars by Christopher Husberg
  • The Burning White by Brent Weeks
  • The Olympian Affair by Jim Butcher
  • The Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss

Trust me, that was just the top ones that popped out inside my head, without looking anything up aside from verifying I got titles correct. I know there are plenty others that I am positively stoked for. I think writing a blog post talking about how excited I am for this book is great, telling other readers they should read the previous books in a series or start following a debut author, also totally fine.
What I wish the bookish community–readers in particular–would do less of is harassing the author for the book to be completed.
Or missing a deadline.
Or pushing back the publication date.
Or asking, over and over and over again, when the next book is going to come out.
Friends, that is just not okay.
Bbc No GIF
Ask yourself this: what do you really hope to achieve by doing this? You’re not making an author feel good, by reminding them that you’re “still waiting” for their next book to come out. You think they aren’t already feeling guilty for missing deadlines, especially when years go by and the book still hasn’t happened yet? Do you think that your prodding is going to be the last key needed in order for the book to magically get written?
Or do you think you’re going to be the final straw that breaks all motivations or desires to try, causing the book to never see the light of day?
Here’s the thing. I think, as readers, we feel a sense of entitlement towards authors when they write a series. We think, you told me this is going to be a trilogy, so you owe me three books. Sure, those are the expectations set. But when purchasing or renting a book after it’s been published, the author has “fulfilled” anything you’ve asked from them. They published a product and you’ve bought it. End of transaction. If they don’t finish a series, sure, you’re disappointed, but they don’t owe you that third book, especially if there have been no pre-orders yet, when it’s still in the stage of being written. Sure, there is the expectation, that hope, that book will show up, but if it doesn’t get written; or it gets pushed back by ten years than the planned/promised due date; that’s the author’s choice. And you haven’t paid for a thing, so they owe you nothing. Hell, I believe many times, it’s completely out of their control, actually, in many respects, forcing their choice of writing and creating to either feel impossible or to choose the opposite.
Because that’s the thing. We don’t know why an author might not finish a series or have major delays. Publishing is a slow business just as the nature of the beast, but we can’t always know the behind the scenes of that business or an author’s personal or professional life. We don’t know if they are suddenly battling depression or impostor syndrome that makes it crippling to write. We don’t know if they’ve lost passion for a project after receiving negative reviews and feeling like their story is nothing. Or, so many positive reviews, they fell crushed by the pressure to live up to such expectations we’ve placed upon them. Family changes, emergencies, suffocating day jobs, so many possible reasons, an endless list of rationale. But more so, it is not our business to know. These are human beings, with lives and privacy and emotions and choices that deserve to be respected.
John Watson Sherlock GIF
So commenting on every tweet and making a joke about how you’re still waiting for that third book–even when that tweet is not even book related–is not only not okay, but frankly, I’d consider it harassment.
Flooding their email inbox or DMs or feed or channel with complaints and questions is not okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made mistakes in this area, too. I’ve ranted about waiting for a book and wishing it was out already. Or questioning why it’s “taking so long,” wishing an author would “hurry up” and finish it so I can find out what happens next. It wasn’t until I read someone else’s perspective and realize how truly damaging these types of comments can be that I realized I needed a change in my own behavior.
Now, realizing this, this type of treatment is always on my radar and I seem to see it everywhere (with some authors more than others) and it just depresses me. Because no creator, who gifted us with wonderful stories and escapes and worlds and characters, should have to deal with this kind of harassment as the price. I don’t think it’s bad thing to get excited, to tell an author you’re stoked for their next book or to find out what happens next. But I think it’s a lot better to add a statement like, “whenever you’re ready to tell it,” or “at your own pace, I’ll always be here to support you,” instead of, “Why haven’t you published this yet? I’ve been waiting for it and you owe it to me!”
Imagine what we all could create and do if, when we hit roadblocks or hiccups, instead of being met with scorn and disapproval, we were met with unconditional, unwavering support?
Just something to think about, fellow readers.


The Darker Side of a Dream

My boyfriend is really lovely in that he’s super supportive when it comes to my writing career. And it includes all facets of it: cooking dinner so I can finishing up drafting a short story, listening to my confusing ramblings as I try to verbally work out plot holes as I’m editing my novels (even if he has no idea what I’m talking about, as he hasn’t read them), driving an extra hour during our roadtrip so I can finish reading an ARC and get my review posted on time. I am so thankful for his support, both with writing and reading.
Because my writing career isn’t just about writing. Reading–and being a book reviewer–is a huge part of it, too, especially as I’m still trying to break in as an author. Ever since I started working with Titan and Orbit, getting ARCs after starting my book review blog, it’s become a much more prevalent aspect of my life. Not that reading hasn’t always been important, it’s just that I didn’t start writing reviews over the books I read until a year or so ago. Having someone in my life who is willing to help balance other things so that it can always be an important focus is something I will always appreciate and can never be hyped up enough.
The other day, while we were in the laundromat, waiting for our clothes to dry, we were talking about book reviews: my process writing them, how they work, things like that. Somehow, we got onto the topic of me as a writer and, once I become published, whether or not I’ll read all my book reviews, if I’ll avoid Goodreads like the plague or if I’ll see if someone will vet the reviews ahead of time and only let me read the good ones. My boyfriend was surprised to learn my opinion that reviews are for readers, not for authors, and no author is required to ever read any reviews written about their books. I’m not entirely sure how that fits into the overarching opinion, amongst the community, but that’s my take, at any rate.
As we discussed, my boyfriend told me he was worried about me, for when I reached that stage of my career, when people were reading my books and publishing reviews. I don’t, um, have the thickest skin. It’s a lot better than it was, let me clear that up right away. I used to take every bit of criticism of my writing as a personal attack. Obviously, not true. Even though I’ve toughened up a little bit more, since, I know it’s going to be a very different experience, getting “negative feedback” from a beta reader or critique partner occasionally, to potentially getting negative reviews without explanations and one star ratings daily by hundreds of readers (of course, one only hopes to have hundreds of readers, but you see my point). I know I’ll need to continue working on toughening my skin.
But then, the conversation took a sadder turn than I expected.
Basically, we started talking about all the plus and minuses of my dream coming true, of becoming a published author: people are reading my books! People are reading my books. My story is out there! Negative reviews. Getting to go to book talks, readings and cons! Fan-art! Fanfiction! Getting paid for my writing!
Getting sexually harassed or assaulted at cons.
I’m not even sure how we got to that topic, but the way my boyfriend brought it up; the way he said it, not as a fear, but as an expectation; and the way that I didn’t bat an eye, like my brain responded with, Yes, because I’m a female author, of course that’s bound to happen at one stage in my career or another, as likely as a bad review. Guess I have to get prepared for that, too.
That’s…really fucking sickening and really fucking sad.
It goes without saying that shouldn’t be a reality that I might have to face, as a female writer. My boyfriend, also, is ridiculously sweet in his belief in me, always telling me that my books are going to be getting six figure deals, I’ll be able to write full-time, I’m going to be so famous. The realist in me reminds him that’s not at all how the publishing world works and how truly rare that kind of feat is, but his belief in me is sweet, nonetheless. But in discussing the book that we both believe might be the one that opens the door for my career, we couldn’t deny how controversial the main topic (periods) is and how not only will I probably receive negative reviews (especially if I reach the level of fame he so kindly believes I will), but also hate mail, death threats, misogynistic bullshit and sexual harassment, to name a few.
Because how else are men going to respond to a woman who writes unabashedly about periods?
Yeah, fuck that mentality.
I am so excited to start this career. I am so excited to make it, in a field I’ve dreamed being a part of since I was a kid, that I’ve been working towards since I was in my teens. I’m so excited about how publishing is moving forward, becoming much more diverse and accepting. I know we’re going in the right direction and I can only imagine how wonderful it is going to be here in the five, ten years; how many people, from underrepresented identities, races and sexualities, will finally be able to see themselves more often as heroes in the written word, on covers and in books entirely about them.
But I’m also terrified of how likely being abused and harassed is for my future, as a female writer.
I don’t want that to be a reality, for anyone. And it bloody hell shouldn’t be even be a plausible one, ever. But from our discussion the other day, sitting in a janky laundromat dreaming about the future, it already came up as an expectation, rather than a fear, as we discussed different ways to combat it or prepare for it. I’m not really sure how to end this post, only I guess to say that it’s not okay. I truly hope it’s not actually the case and sexual harassment or assault, hate mail and death threats aren’t so common in the publishing and writing industry that they are considered more the norm than simply fears and worst case scenarios.
Regardless of what is actually the truth, we still have a lot of work to do.


You Could Call Me Stubborn (And You'd Be Right)

Last week, I received my first rejection over Artemis Smith and the Virtuous Marriage Quest.
I won’t lie.
That sucked.
Granted, it was different from any rejection I’d received before. I’d only queried my first trilogy, The Destiny of the Dragon, before this book, and I probably received around thirty rejections total, before I stopped querying it and decided to start working on something else. Most of those rejections were silent, though I got a few form rejections, too. One, however, that particularly sticks out to me, the agent included a line about how they hoped that, even though this book wasn’t for them, I continued to query and search for the right agent who was, which was really sweet and absolutely encouraging (obviously, since I still remember it to this day).
Yet this request was an exclusive full request, meaning the agent wanted to read it and have a chance to respond with their decision before I queried anywhere else. I was over the moon. My first request ever and a full, at that!
It’s not surprising that I cried for a little bit, after receiving that rejection.
But I also wasn’t surprised as to why it was rejected.
I wrote a book that’s the first in a quintet about an unpublished writer, Artemis Smith, whose service dog, Ruff Mutt, gets terminal cancer. Artemis, at a loss of what to do to help save his dog, meets a magician named Jack Kitsune, who offers him a deal. If Artemis agrees to enter into a fairy tale story Jack has the magic to create, he and Ruff Mutt will become characters within that story, successfully pausing Ruff Mutt’s cancer until they return to the real world. Yet there’s a catch: in order to ever return, Artemis must somehow fix the tropes within the fairy tale that Jack’s placed him in–a feat he’s never been able to do with his own writing, which has been rejected countless times for being riddled with tropes. If he fails to do so, Artemis and Ruff Mutt will be stuck in the fairy tale forever.
To save Ruff Mutt’s life, Artemis agrees and they enter the story, thus beginning their adventure.
As you can see, it’s a…quirky premise, for sure. I’ve always been concerned about that. And even though I’ve gone through rounds of edits, including beta readers, and received a lot of positive responses, I worried about how this book would sell, as an fairy tale inside an urban fantasy, being the start of a series, from a debut writer.
And right now, there isn’t a market for that kind of book.
Which is why, in this instance, it got rejected by my dream agent.
It isn’t the first time a professional in writing mentioned to me they worried about this book’s marketability (only the second time, sure, but still). A totally valid reason for it to get rejected and a really great reminder to me, as a querying writer, of exactly how many elements go into querying and factor the book’s chance of getting represented (most of which, outside of writing the book, are out of my control).
It’s so easy to forget that publishing is a business. There are so many things agents have to consider: market trends, audiences, what editors are wanting, other books currently coming out and how they compare to the books they are pitching, timing, on top of so many other elements I’m either forgetting or don’t understand. Agents can’t just represent books they like. And I was so excited that this agent liked my book. The story excited them and they loved my writing. No agent has ever told me that.
I was ecstatic to read that.
But sometimes, that’s not enough.
Because a book also needs to have the potential to sell.
And right now, mine doesn’t.
Which left me with a really big question.
What do I do now?
Well, after receiving that email, I cried (because that’s what I do with any emotional situation, let’s be honest). And then I worked out, because I was bummed out and I needed those happy endorphins to be released. I showered.
And then?
I went back to my laptop and opened up book two in Artemis’s quintet, Artemis Smith and the Steam Powered Fallacy, and then met my word count goal for the day.
person calligraphy GIF
You might be wondering why I did that. Why would I continue working on the sequel of a book that might never sell because the basic premise is just so quirky that it might not ever be plausibly marketable? You might wonder “why”even harder when I admit that I still plan to write the entire quintet.
There’s quite a few reasons, actually.
One, is I absolutely love this story. I love Artemis and Ruff Mutt. I love the adventures they are going on. I love the main narrative they will experience. I love the basic plot of each book, which I have already mapped out. Even if every agent told me it could never be published, I’d still write this story out until completion, editing each book to the best of my ability. Because I want to find out what happens. I want to see the ending. I want to see how the story morphs and evolves and changes as I continue to write it, because already, just writing the first book and the first 35,000 words of the second, it has changed and grown in ways I never imagined, when I first sat down to write this tale.
Because, first and foremost, this story is for me.
Two, just because it’s been rejected once, doesn’t mean it always will be. Perhaps the market will change a year from now and everyone will want more urban fantasy. Perhaps I’ll query an agent with more contacts in that genre or one who has an idea they are excited about with how to market this series. Hell, perhaps I’ll query again and no one will like it, so I’ll decide to self-publish it on my own, simply because I want people to have the chance to read it. It may just be the hopeless romantic in me, but this story’s fate is long but decided.
Three, I’m just too plain stubborn to quit writing. And right now, this is the story I want to write. And I refuse to let one hiccup stop me from chasing my dream.
So I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to continue writing Artemis. I plan to work with an editor on book one, to make sure there aren’t any other major issues that might prevent an agent from liking the book, so Artemis has the greatest chance of winning their heart like he has mine. I’m going to continue writing the series. I’m ahead of my writing goal to have at least 80,000 words written of book two by March 31st and I plan to meet that deadline. I know there’s another stand alone fantasy I want to write this year, too, so that’ll give me a break from Artemis, but I have no plans of stopping his story.
Right now, my priority is to keep up my writing consistency and then finish a draft of book two, before going back and looking at how to elevate book one even more, if I can. Then, I’ll query it more widely, as I work on my new book. I’m even considering editing the trilogy I first wrote, to see if I can make that trope riddled series even potentially marketable (though that’s much more doubtful than this one).
I’m not sure how I’m going to achieve my dream of being published, of being read and, hopefully, writing stories that readers will enjoy. But I do know one thing for certain: I can’t achieve it if I give up now, or after any hiccup that comes up.
So that’s the last thing I’m going to do.


The Point of Trying

Writing has been hard, lately. Admitting that and looking introspectively at the reasons why has been even harder. There is no doubt that I’m a writer. I still don’t doubt that writing is something innate within me, like a predator’s instinct or a person’s ability to breathe without thinking about it. But in the past month, the doubts have overtaken me once more, and, regrettably, painfully, proven stronger.
Sure, you love writing, but is that enough? Are your stories even worth telling? Who would care to read them? How could your words matter? You’ll probably offend everyone, anyway, with what you write, even without meaning to, even when all you want to do is write enjoyable, complex stories for readers to enjoy, no alternate agenda attached. You’d have to get published, of course, for anyone to even pick apart your work. But how could that even happen? You still have so much work ahead of you. You aren’t as far along as you thought. Querying is a dream now, instead of something to write on next week’s To-Do list. Sure, you love your stories, but is that enough? Are you enough? 
All writers–all artists, I’d argue–deal with this cruel Devil, this self-sabotaging doubt, just as we all are blessed to interact with the inspiring Muses. Unfortunately, the Devil probably shows up more often and is much more counteractive. And usually, I can push past it. Usually, I can ignore it and write anyway. I’m just too stubborn to do anything else and my characters, bless them, usually won’t shut up, so I can’t avoid writing even if I wanted to.
But this past month has been…rough, to put things gently. Depression has weaseled itself back into my life, nowhere near the power it once held over me, but still with a surprising strength. Stress is a constant companion. Fear has been prevalent. My emotions have been everywhere and tears have been free flowing. I’m just now getting back into other things I’m passionate about, instead of sleeping too much and struggling to get out of bed: reading, writing on both blogs, freelance editing and working on my internship. I’m slowly battling, every day.
But I haven’t been writing.
Worse, I haven’t even been trying.
I tell myself I need to write. It’s NaNoWriMo, after all. And that was such a transformative experience, last year, opening my eyes to how powerful creating a writing habit could be and how possible writing every day actually was, if I gave myself permission to do so. Hell, I’ve written three books in less than a year thanks to NaNoWriMo. And I honestly have the time to do so. I may be busy, but I’m actually very lucky to not be lacking in time, which is usually one of the hardest obstacles to overcome. And that freedom of time has an expiration date as my search for a second job comes closer and closer to reality. Yet I don’t even try. I don’t even open that Word document. I find other things to preoccupy my time, come up with excuses, anything to not think about the fact that I’m avoiding writing head-on. Yet I am. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, because I’ve been afraid.
But afraid of what?
Of failing? I’ve failed thousands of times in my life but I’m still here and I’m not bloody done yet. Afraid of not being good enough? A falsity I have believed about myself in numerous aspects for too long, but something I’ve never believed, truly, when it comes to my writing, no matter how many times doubt and cruel mindtricks try to convince me otherwise. I’m damn well not about to start now, not when I’m making slow strides to believe I’m good enough in every aspect. Afraid of never getting published? Is that truly the end goal? Sure, I’d love to be well-loved and well-known author, but is it really failure if I don’t get published? Not even remotely. I write because I must, not for a paycheck. And even when–if–paychecks become involved, that isn’t the main motivation. It never was. It shouldn’t be now or ever. Afraid of writing something poorly or ill-received? You can’t edit a blank page and just because someone hates your work doesn’t mean that someone else might not only love it, but need it.
What am I truly afraid of?
Nothing. Everything. The answer changes, depending on the day and the mood and the circumstance. But the scariest idea, at this moment, is that I’ve been avoiding what I love most because of so many fears and other emotions and other aspects of my life have bled into my belief in my own writing,  tainting it and corrupting it until I scared myself away from even attempting to write at all.
I’m not certain about many things, but I am certain about the obvious: no matter what fears I have or what dreams I have, none of them matter if I don’t try. Without trying, my fears have won out, even if some of them are avoided from being experienced by not working towards what I want. Without trying, my dreams are impossible to achieve. I am the greatest advocate of my own work. I am the greatest chance my dreams have at becoming reality. I am the sole breath that creates life in my stories. I am their only hope.
The only thing that is stopping me, at this moment, is myself.
So eff-it. Eff the mind games, eff the doubt, eff the depression, eff the loneliness, eff the fears, eff the stress, eff the struggles, eff the darkness in the world, eff everything. I have stories to tell. And I’m tired of letting all of these elements, all of these emotions, dictate whether or not I should tell them. I’m tired of giving into my own demons and succumbing to my own fears. I’m taking care of myself. I’m pushing forward and I’m becoming stronger, despite what life throws at me. But the best way to take care of myself is to stop denying, stop hiding, stop avoiding and stop fearing what makes me whole and what makes me, me: the stories I have to tell and my ability to write them.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a NaNoWriMo project that’s sitting at 12,000 words that deserves my attention and my belief. And you probably have a dream that deserves your attention right now, too.


My Awe of Literary Agents

I’m 95% convinced that literary agents aren’t human. They are some sort of genetic hybrid combining the telepathic abilities of mind readers and the inhuman strength and perseverance of superheroes. What makes me draw such fantastic conclusions, you may ask?
I’m glad you did, because I have answers.*
In case you’re unfamiliar, a literary agent is basically a member of society that holds the key to the gateway that is traditional publishing. They guide the complicated path of book deals, keep writers (both debut and experienced) from drowning amidst the dangerous waters of publishing houses, contracts and foreign rights, and make it possible to start the quest that results in finding the Holy Grail (that Holy Grail being your published novel in your hand).
By this description, I’d actually argue that they are more like wizards.
You can get by without a literary agent, through routes like self-publishing, but I think the benefits of acquiring one outweigh the work–and inevitable rejection–that is required before you connect with one. Personally, I am absolutely stoked for the day that I get to announce, through a lengthy and probably incoherent (due to excitement), GIF-filled blog post, that I’ve found representation. That’s almost the bigger dream than getting published, at this stage, because I know if I can find that agent, then my dream of being read will follow, in time.
You see, a literary agent is so much more than a knowledgeable resource of the publishing world (as if you need more than that; that’s worth it in itself). They are the people who go to bat for your work. They are the ones who always stand in your corner. They are the ones who see your potential, even when your draft isn’t 100% there yet. They are the ones that help your draft get to that 100% (or even surpassing your expectations of where you thought you could go), putting in hours of work, pointing you to numerous resources and constantly being your rock throughout the entire writing process. An agent is a stable foundation where you can build your entire career.
Obviously, I think you can see why I cannot wait to sign with one.
Less obviously, you might still be unsure on how these people aren’t actually human, but are instead alien-inspired super robots.
They obviously are superheroes. Everything I mentioned that they are able to do (and that’s just what I’ve seen or heard talk about doing; I don’t even fully realize the full potential of their power), they do for every one of their clients. Every author they represent, they represent 110% of the way, with 110% dedication. They must somehow have the ability to warp time or have inherited Herminoe’s time turner.
They are obviously telepathic mind-geniuses because they have to be able to predict what the market is going to enjoy years before the books that are going to be in said market are published. If I signed with an agent tomorrow and somehow my book got picked up by a publisher in a warped-speed-like process, my book still wouldn’t be getting published until 2018-2019, maybe even 2020. Yet the agent is the one be taking a risk by believing that readers are going to enjoy my work, even if it is years from now. And they are going to put all that work into my story, despite that risk.
So I think I case rest my case. Literary agents are superhuman.
But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether literary agents are simply extraordinary people with amazing talents or super biotic organisms that blend in with the human species. Regardless of either reality (I’m rooting for option B, personally, but I’m just weird that way), one truth remains:
They deserve better.
I follow a lot of agents on Twitter, which is the closest thing I have to interacting with them. Most of whom I follow represent the genres I write (SF/F), but I also follow some that I know I’ll never query, but love to learn from, regardless. And I’ve discovered, especially recently, that despite all the amazing things literary agents do for us writers and authors, that we always don’t show the gratitude and appreciation that we should.
Usually, it’s when unagented writers get rejected.
I won’t sugercoat it. The query process is difficult. Battling in the query trenches is grueling. I’m made my fair share of mistakes and am still learning how to navigate those waters. And yes, it sucks to get rejected. It sucks to be told your story isn’t ready yet, it won’t sell, it’s overdone, it isn’t right for the market, they’ve already received nine queries about a Shakespearean-retelling featuring puppies, so yours just isn’t going to cut it. Yeah, that’s a bummer. But that’s reality, also.
And it’s no excuse to be an ass in return and publicly humiliate or shame an agent. Or respond to their email with complaints and name calling. Or personally attacking their person, personality or appearance, i.e., things that have nothing to do with the quality of your novel. Or bitching to all of  your followers about how horrible these agents are and why you’re going to go self-publish.
Recently, I’ve stumbled upon a handful of writers who have done just that: called out the agents who they queried or pitched to at conferences and personally attack them. I won’t link any examples. They don’t deserve the attention.
Because that type of response and treatment is ridiculous.
Aside from the fact that it’s a shitty thing to do to anyone and reflects poorly on you as a person, to respond so immaturely, it blows my mind that anyone could feel anything but gratitude and awe toward a literary agent and what they do. Their career, the sole purpose of their work, is to find writers and stories they connect with and help get those stories told. They take a risk with every author they sign. And it is a job. It is a business and literary agents are people, too (despite probably enhanced with extra awesomeness). They need to get paid so they can live, just like anyone else.
They have a right to be picky. They have a right to turn down stories that don’t make them jump up and down with excitement, because they are going to spend a lot of time working on that story. Not only that, but do you realize how knowledgeable these professionals are? Sure, I may love my trilogy that hits every fantasy trope in the book, with one cruel twist, but I’m not following the trends in the market (even though I should). I have no idea how I would figure out whether my book would be successful or not. Agents do. That’s their job.
You’re willing to trust the agents you query to represent your work. Why can’t you trust them to know when your work isn’t ready?
Though I crave to find my partner in crime, I am so thankful I have been rejected the past two querying rounds I’ve done, because that book wasn’t ready. And even though I wished I could understand specifically why, so I could improve–as most rejections were form letters or silent rejections–I understood why the rejections came in those forms. Because on top of everything agents do for their existing clients, they also have to make time to find new ones. That means reading queries and pitches and synopsis’ and pages; attending conferences and pitch slams; requesting partials and fulls. And, of course, all of this is on top of actually, you know, having lives.
So an agent wants to reject my work through a form email because they don’t have time to personally respond to every one? Yeah, that bloody makes sense, because their lives are busy and I should respect that. Not respond by mocking them or calling them out or writing passive aggressive (or downright aggressive and vindictive) blog posts talking about those rejections.
Who am I to talk about this subject? I’m a passionate and stubborn writer, unpublished but working to change that. Yeah, I don’t have an agent myself and a lot of what I’m responding to is based on what I’ve observed and witnessed, mostly through social media. I may be a nobody, in some regards, but I realize this: the job of a literary agent isn’t easy, it isn’t for the weak and it isn’t without risks. A lot of risks. And while I know there are so many of us writers out there who appreciate and are grateful to these agents for doing what they do and being the person that make our dreams come true, there are plenty more who hide behind keyboards and treat such an amazing and talented profession with petty disrespect and harsh reflections. And I just think there should be a bit more positivity surrounding these agents, instead of this whirlpool of negative thoughts and personal attacks. That’s all this post was meant to do: shed a bit of positivity and gratitude back to the professionals who help the writers that I love, the writers I haven’t yet discovered, the writers still dreaming and one day, hopefully myself, tell the stories we were born to tell.
Thank you.
* And by answers I meant observations, because all of my information is based off of creepy stalking harmless observation, as I’m not lucky enough to be signed to an agent. Yet.


Tropes and Clichés

I’ve been thinking a lot about tropes and clichés lately. Between editing a previous trilogy with a  foundation built on tropes–including everything from the Chosen One to vampires and werewolves to old men who know all yet tell nothing–and planning a new series that uses even more–and this time, purposefully–plus simply observing the dialogue surrounding the industry, with the constant desire to have something new, without clichés and tropes, grace the bookshelves; it is hard not to think about these things and form an opinion about them. Are using clichés and tropes good? bad? Do they help or hurt your writing? Does writing become less if they are incorporated?
I don’t have an answer to those questions. Opinions, sure, but no answers. Because every answer to them is subjective, like the opinions that help form those answers. Here are my subjective musings:
I’m very thankful for the tropes and clichés I’ve incorporated into my writing, because they have taught me a lot. I know the Chosen One plotline has been done a lot in fantasy. That didn’t stop me from writing a book about a boy who was chosen, through luck and unfortunate circumstance, to save the world. It also wasn’t the reason I wrote that book, either, to incorporate those clichés. Instead, I simply wrote a book about a kid named Darryn, who just so happened to fit the Chosen One mold. As I learned more about Darryn, that was what he fit into. That is how the story took shape and I went with it. Does that make him and his story cliché? Absolutely. Does that make him impossible to be unique?
I don’t think so.
Yes, his story incorporates a ton of tropes. Yet he is still different because it is a new story. It is a story written by my hand, with different characters and a different world. Will it feel familiar, one day, to readers, if it ever makes it that far and has a chance to be read widely? Yes, definitely. Yet will they find something they still enjoy, something to complain about, something they hate, something they love, regardless of how many tropes I used?
I hope so.
In my quest of querying and publication, Darryn hasn’t gotten the light of day due to the tropes that build the foundation of his world. And I understand that, 100%. It isn’t the most original storyline. Though I wish Darryn would get a chance, I haven’t given up hope on him yet. One day, I think his story will be read. And that will be exciting, tropes or no tropes. To be quite honest, however–and show my own naiveté–I didn’t realize how many tropes I incorporated until I started trying to get it published. And while I have my own spin on them, they are still tropes and they are still roadblocks, currently, in my publishing journey.
But in my writing journey, they have only opened doors.
You see, like many creative souls and many people in general, I doubted myself and I doubted my craft. I still do. Even as I began mapping out Darryn’s story, discovering what was going to happen next, I doubted whether I had the chops to make it happen. It took me a long time to start writing it, because I doubted myself as a writer. So perhaps, unconsciously, tropes surfaced in the story to give me confidence; writing something similar that I have read dozens of times and enjoyed might help convince myself this “writer thing” isn’t a fluke. I don’t know. I never really thought about it. And despite having the dream to get published one day, I didn’t write Darryn’s story to get published. I wrote it because I had a desire to tell it and that desire outweighed any other fears or doubts or tribulations. It was the story on my heart and so I wrote it. And then I edited it. Over and over again. I tried to craft it in a way that readers would enjoy reading it and maybe, yes, one day, it would get published.
And then it got rejected. Over and over again.
Too long, they said. Too generic, too cliché. Not original, not unique. Try again next time. 
Though the rejections hurt at first–and the doubt that I could never write anything original and would always be a cliché-writer took hold–eventually, I shook off the negativity and continued Darryn’s story. It might not be “good enough” to be published, but he certainly wasn’t done with me. So I wrote the second book. Then, the third. Two prequel-type books linger in the back in my mind. Seeds have been planted to allow for a sequel-series, if I wanted to explore that avenue. Then, editing all the while, I moved onto a separate book, in a new genre, new age range and an entirely different plot. And I finished it. And now, as I slowly plan out the bare minimum for a nine/ten book series, eager to start writing it despite having no idea where it is going, I’ve shared the central idea with a few people; friends and family and a few writing colleagues. The initial response:
Wow, that sounds awesome! Or: It’s going to be a lot of work, but I can’t wait to read it once you’re done. And, my favorite: That’s so unique. I love that idea.
Unique, they said. Calling one of my stories unique, when my first work has so many tropes, it was as if I was trying to pack them all in, instead of being completely unaware until after the fact. Of course, I recognize all this is biased praise, looking at the source. Yet it got me thinking and here’s what I conclude:
Clichés and tropes aren’t for everybody. They have been around for ages and at some point, they worked, enough to become the elements in stories that, now, agents groan over and audiences beg for something different. Some people label them as overdone. Some people hate them. Some people use them as the mark of a “poor” writer. These people may be right. I do agree that branching out and trying to create new, engaging storylines is never a bad thing. I hope to write stories that reach that calibre, one day. At the same time, a little familiarity never hurt me, and also, excites me, in a way. When I read a new book with tropes and clichés as center-pieces for the plot, it makes me wonder: if I’ve read this plotline a dozen times and here it threads again, what did the author do to make it different? It’s almost like a game, setting up my expectations through familiarity and then suddenly changing them when the twist hits. I think that is another way to make something unique.
Personally, I will always be indebted to clichés and tropes. They helped build the first novel I ever attempted and didn’t give up on, but instead, finished. They helped me thicken my skin through the rejection process. By unknowingly using them and suddenly having them pointed out to me, I became more aware as a reader and a writer, and started challenging myself to think outside the box. And now, as I begin work on my next series, they have been the direct inspiration–and will play a major role–within that series; a series that has already been coined unique (even biasedly-coined) and I haven’t even written a page yet.
Should you use clichés and tropes in your writing? That’s up to you and the stories you want to tell. If you want to be published, the more creative you can get and the more outside-the-box you can think, they better your chances are. You might want to stay away. But if you have a story in your heart where tropes abound, write that story. Sure, it may not get published. But it matters. It is your story and it will help you, in some form. Tell the stories in your heart. Listen to advice and criticism, but never abandon yourself and your work. Stay true to that, keep fighting, keep writing, keep learning, and you’ll make it, in whatever form “making it” takes.


Patience is a…Reward?

Out of all the famous and clichéd phrases, one that I live the most by (or the one I think about most often) is “Patience is a Virtue.” My Aunt taught it to me when I was a young, impatient thing while we were at the bookstore and I just wanted the next book in the series she was buying me to be out (I think I was also impatient regarding the line wait time and how we had to wait at a restaurant later when my stomach was trying to eat my spleen and very vocal about it…) Needless to say, I’m not impatient now, thanks to her scolding (made more powerful by the fact that she never scolded). I actually like to think I’m a rather patient person. But sometimes, there are these cute little reminders that tell me I’m not always patient, even when I really need to be.
Particularly when I want to pitch my manuscript yet I know said manuscript needs more work. Being patient becomes especially hard after I’ve been editing it for ages and don’t particularly want to edit it any more.
I’ve edited the manuscript in question over a dozen times (and more often than not, the word count increased instead of decreased; weird how that happens). Looking at where the story is now versus where it started is such a mind-blowing transformation to me, on how much it has improved. And that isn’t me trying to be cocky or claiming I’ve written the next great American novel. That’s me recognizing where my story started and appreciating practically five years worth of work being put into it to improve it. Plus, I can’t imagine trying to get the first draft of the story published. It wasn’t near ready. I knew it then and I knew it now.
So that’s why, after trying to get the numerously-edited version represented and realizing that it still isn’t ready, makes me a bit impatient and makes me groan inside.
As I’ve started entering into more contests and queried more agents (thus, receiving more rejections), I’ve realized that despite the leaps and bounds my manuscript has taken, it still isn’t ready, for various reasons. I’m still learning about this manuscript and this story, which is both invigorating and insane, considering the work I’ve put into it. And as a recent contest popped up that I wanted to enter–and planned to–it took conscious effort to realize that I shouldn’t be entering it when I know my manuscript isn’t ready. I just didn’t want to do the work involved. So not only am I being impatient with my work, but I’m also being lazy.
Talk about a slap to the face to a project I’ve spent five years on–and I’ve slapped myself, no less!
Because here’s the thing: yeah, there are a lot of writing contests going on that I would love to enter, particularly for the communities that surround them and what I can learn from them. Yeah, I’m itching for an agent to love my story as many readers have (again, not trying to be cocky, but confident) so I can take the next step in making my dream come true. But rushing it not only hurts my manuscript and ruins a possible opportunity, but it is also disrespectful towards the work I’ve already put into it, as well as any work others have (and still are, bless them). This story is the first I’ve finished on such a scale (a trilogy!). Yes, editing is a never-ending progress, so eventually I will hit a point where it is ready “enough” and I’ll query again. But until then, I need to respect the story and respect myself enough to be patient and put in the work, to give my all to a story I love so much and to give it the best chance it can possibly have of being told. Because once it is ready–truly ready–it will get picked up. It will find representation and it will get published.
Respect yourself. Respect your work. Give it the time and attention it deserves. Listen to the feedback and the lessons and then actually incorporate them. Don’t just rush into the next set of queries or the next contest because that is more exciting or the thought of reading through that chapter again makes your head hurt. Your patience–and the work you put because of said patience–will reward you, in time. So take breaks. Let your manuscript breathe. Find critique partners to read it while you write something new, rejuvenate your mojo. And then get back to it, refreshed and energized–even if that means you spent six months doing so and will spend a few more editing, before you can enter the query trenches again. Don’t put a deadline on dreams. Instead, believe in them and believe in yourself enough to work for them, so one day, you can watch them come true.