The Unwritten Rules of the Game (Seriously. There Are Rules!)

I love writers.

Seriously. Nobody understands a writer like other writers. Creative people don’t think like normal people. (Stop snickering!) Our brains are wired differently. Don’t believe me? It’s been researched by psychologists, neurologists, and probably a lot of other disciplines I’m currently unaware of. But that’s another topic for another time. Maybe.

Writers support each other. We listen to each other whine and complain when things aren’t going well. We celebrate each others’ successes. We promote each others’ books. We follow each others’ blogs and like each others’ Facebook pages. We retweet each others’ Tweets. Sure, there are always a few rotten apples, even in the literary barrel–those who give nothing but expect everything–but for the most part, we’re there for each other. Years ago, when I was starting out, a group of us got together once a month for dinner, during which we’d share publishing info and bounce ideas off each other. We traveled to writers conferences together. 

One of the best bits of advice my agent gave me shortly after the sale of my first novel was to join a local writers group. She stressed the importance of networking, of getting to know other writers. She was so right. No one, not even a writer, is an island. The more writers I got to know, the more I realized how much I didn’t know about “the business.”

I’ve been fortunate to have had good friends in the writers community throughout the almost thirty years I’ve been in the business, first in traditional publishing, then as a self-published author. And I’ve learned a great deal from each of them….

1. Read each others’ books–and review them! If you expect other authors to review your book, you’d better be reviewing theirs, too. (And if you’re reviewing books in your genre, readers will see those reviews and be more likely to buy yours, so think about that. When I post a review, my name is always followed  by “author, The Unicorn’s Daughter” since that book is now the first in an upcoming series.)

2. Same goes for blogs. If you’re not reading and commenting on others’ blogs, yours is going to be a pretty lonely place. Again, when you’re seen making clever comments on other bloggers’ blogs, their followers are likely to check out yours. That’s how I found some of my favorite bloggers.

3. Promote each others’ books. Invite other authors to guest post on your blog–or interview them. For my Amazon author page, I used an interview my partner in crime, William Kendall, did with me. It was a lot more interesting than the standard author bio!

4. Invite other authors to join you in promotions.  Example: Hilary Grossman, author of Dangled Carat (which, by the way, is now on sale at Amazon!). Hilary is an inspiration. She was working on her book when a rather nasty hurricane named Sandy hit the east coast. I remember Hilary’s struggles in the aftermath of Sandy’s devastation–but she finished her book, published it, and went on to arrange a couple of successful book giveaways–not only to promote her own book, but those of her friends as well. I was honored to be asked to participate–and pleased with the boost in sales I got each time.

A few years back, William Kendall, Mike Saxton, Beth Muscat, Krisztina Williams, Eve Gaal, Shelly Arkon, Mark Richard Hunter, April Morone, Lena Winfrey Seder and I formed Writers of Mass Distraction in the Writers Digest online community, a group where we could laugh, bitch and moan, whatever was needed, and have friendly ears listening and providing sympathy, advice and a few cyberhugs as needed. When the WD community went extinct, we moved the group to Facebook, adding a second group, Writers Mayhem, which we opened to a larger membership than the original group. We’ve had to boot a few bad apples from that group, but overall, it’s been a success.

Get a bunch of writers together and we’ll put a Shriners convention to shame. After being alone with our own thoughts and a cast of uncooperative characters for days on end, we need the release. Be patient with us. Sanity doesn’t come easily to writers!


Interval Training for Writers?

Before I start, I’d like to direct you to my partner in crime William Kendall’s blog. If you want to know the answer to that a-few-years-old question, “Who let the dogs out?” William has the answer!

I’d planned to write about something completely different today…but as I was attempting to catch up on reading the blogs I follow, I came across a post on Talli Roland’s blog that caught my attention (something not easily accomplished these days).

Talli, about to publish yet another wonderful novel, blogged about a post on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Interval training for writers? It was intriguing enough for me to check it out.

As anyone who’s been following this blog with any regularity knows, my inability to actually finish a book in the past four years has been a source of major frustration for me. It’s bothered me that the things that once came easily are now a constant struggle. It goes with aging for most of us–or so I’ve been telling myself. I’m easily distracted. I have the attention span of a gnat. I’m desperate at this point. I’ll try anything.

In the past year, the only “new” releases I’ve had are actually reissues of my old Berkley books in ebook format. I have several works in progress, but nothing completed. Anything longer than a blog post is a challenge equal to climbing Mount Everest!

It took me ten years to complete Chasing the Wind. I’ve been working on the sequel, An Army of Angels, since 2008. I’ve considered switching genres. Romantic comedy is easier to write and usually of a shorter length. I’ve gone back to writing first drafts in longhand. I’ve even done a bit of research on circadian rhythms.

And I’ve wondered if I should just give up. Retire.

But this just might work. Even my wandering brain could probably manage two or three 90-minute sessions daily. I might even turn out something good….

"I’ve Promised My (Fill in the Blank) You’ll Get Their Book Published…."

In my previous post, I wrote about authors being approached by friends, family members and others who expect us to write their books for them. There’s one incident, however, that I didn’t mention.
Years ago, when I was at my lowest point, unable to write and trying to take care of my mother following her stroke, I was levied by the IRS. I could not access what income I still had coming from my books. Thankfully, our Congressman at that time, Dick Gephardt, came to the rescue and got the levy removed, but it was tough for a while–so tough that we had to go to a food pantry.

The pantry was within walking distance, so Collin and I went once a week, when we had someone to stay with Mom. We got fresh fruit, vegetables, and a pizza. In applying for the pantry, I of course had to tell them what line of work I was in. I didn’t forsee a problem. I assumed that, being affiliated with the United Way, they had to follow the rules regarding client confidentiality.

I assumed wrong.

The people who worked there always seemed professional to me, and the woman who ran the place was always asking questions about my books and writing. Idle interest? Not exactly. When Collin and I arrived one afternoon, I was handed a slip of paper with a name and a phone number on it and informed that this person was waiting to hear from me.

The woman whose number I’d been given was the secretary of the pantry manager’s husband. She had been promised I would get her book published! I was to phone her ASAP. It was difficult not to laugh. I hadn’t been able to produce anything remotely publishable myself in some time. I was getting help from a food pantry, for crying out loud! But I was supposed to be able to open doors for this woman I didn’t know? I had no idea if she could even write.

The next time Collin and I went to the pantry, the pressure was on. The manager said the would-be writer had told her that I hadn’t called yet. She demanded to know why. I explained that I had not been able to–we had no phone then, and I couldn’t just go off and leave my mom for something that wasn’t urgent. I realized this was going to be an issue as long as we kept going to the pantry, so I decided we’d just have to get by without it.

But it didn’t end there. One day, several months later, I decided to drop off some plastic grocery bags we’d accumulated. I knew they needed them, and I thought I could just slip in, give the bags to one of the staffers, and leave. That would have been nice, but no–the manager must have seen me coming. She confronted me in front of everyone the minute I walked in the door, berating me for not dropping everything to get this unknown book published. “How would you feel if I had refused you food when you needed it?” she demanded.

I pointed out that the two circumstances could hardly be compared. And walked out. I gave serious consideration to contacting the United Way, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. I never went back and never saw her again.

I wonder if that book ever got published?

This is Your Lucky Day! I’m Going to Let You Write My Book for Me….

We’ve all had family and friends ask us, “When are you going to get a real job?” Some writers even hear it after they’ve made their first sale. But some of us also hear this one: “I have a great story to tell and I’m going to let you write it for me.”

Sound familiar? Either we’re not taken seriously at all or we’re taken for granted. Those who realize we are professionals and have real careers as writers will often assume we’re just sitting around waiting to write their story. We don’t have ideas of our own–or if we do, we can just set our own works-in-progress aside to write whatever they bring to us.

About a year ago–I’m not sure exactly how long (this is just a guess, as I’ve been trying to forget)–I got an email from a longtime friend. Her brother had decided to write a novel. Never mind the fact that this guy would be reaching to write a grocery list, he was going to write a novel. Let me rephrase that: he had an idea and I was going to write his novel. If it sold (and let me say here that this project had worse odds of success than being struck by lightning), we would split the profits. 


I told her, as politely as I could, that I was not interested. I had projects of my own in the works and did not have time to write his too. That didn’t work. I discovered that he had contacted a family friend, asking for my phone number. He’d had his nephew contact the same friend, also asking for my number. When she didn’t give it to either of them, he turned up at my MySpace page (one of the reasons I ditched MySpace). Then he showed up at Facebook. Finally, I got enough.

I sent him a message. He could leave his manuscript and $100 in cash with Collin at the restaurant and I would read it, critique it and tell him what he needed. I never heard from him again. Thankfully.

He’s not the only one who’s brought ideas to me, but the other two were well-meaning friends who wanted me to put worthwhile true stories into words for people who couldn’t write them themselves. It’s not easy to say no in such cases–but I’m a novelist, not a nonfiction writer. This may surprise some people, but most writers are one or the other. Rarely can we do both. I’m strictly a fiction writer. I’m no good at coloring inside the lines–bios and memoirs are not my thing. And I already have a full plate. Make that an overflowing plate. I have one ebook edition of  a backlist book about to be released and three more to be scanned and reformatted (not an easy job, believe me) and three more waiting to be done, plus four original works in progress. Add to that the fact that my eyesight is so bad that I have to compose on my phone or by dictation because when I look at my computer screen, all the words seem to run together. No fun!

I’d have to be cloned in order to have time for anything else….

Writers Karma: What Goes Around Really Does Come Around

Above all, writers need readers. But we also need each other. The support and camraderie shared by writers is invaluable…after all, no one understands the highs and lows of this crazy business more than other writers. Rejection? We’ve all been there. The frustration of finding an agent? Not many writers get signed with the first one they query. Getting published? The wait for a contract can be the worst experience we’ll ever have. Especially if that contract never comes. When I wrote and sold my first novel, I didn’t have that kind of support network. I didn’t even know there were any local writers groups, and we didn’t have the internet. It was my agent who taught me the importance of networking…and I’m so glad she did!

Now that we have a new option–self-publishing–there’s a whole new set of issues to deal with. There’s choosing how to publish and with whom…making the books available…marketing…social media…and now, more than ever, we need each other.

Most writers understand this. I’ve been fortunate to be part of a wonderful group of writers who support and encourage each other. Right now, one member of the inner circle is dealing with overwhelming family issues. The rest of the group has offered her understanding and whatever else she may need. Another is about to launch a new book and wants to do a blog tour. Several of us have offered our blogs to get him off to a good start. Collin has designed most of our covers. William does my editing and Beth’s. Mike knows more about promotion and marketing than any of us. Beth formats the books. We all buy and review each others’ books. Yesterday, I finally got around to getting a start on my Pinterest page. I started with book covers–my own and friends’ covers. So did Beth. 

But as in any other profession, there are divas–writers who are all about themselves. They don’t buy or review other authors books and try to claim we only give each other good reviews because we’re friends. After all, we couldn’t possibly be giving honest reviews if we didn’t give them five stars, right?

They don’t comment on others’ blogs, but they wonder why no one is commenting on theirs. They don’t buy others’ books but can’t understand why we aren’t lining up to buy theirs. When asked to use their blog for a blog tour, they expect to be paid–even if the blog in question doesn’t have enough traffic to warrant payment for its use.  (“But I have to charge you. You’d be taking up MY valuable time.” What an ego!)

Yesterday, I had an experience that was beyond stupid. I made a mistake with an idiotic Facebook quiz that resulted in a baby diva making a complete fool of herself rather than simply deleting the unwanted posting.  A non-issue became an issue. The baby diva was rude and unprofessional. “Please don’t post anything on my Facebook page that doesn’t directly pertain to ME. When people visit MY page, they have to see ME. Just ME! Why don’t you love ME????” 

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is the gist of it. Princess has to be the center of attention. Even if she has to stomp her feet and act like an idiot to get there.

I won’t say that no successful writer has ever been a diva. There are more than a few…but they became divas after achieving success, when people were (for the most part) willing to put up with their behavior. Diva behavior in someone before they’ve achieved success is usually the kiss of death for one’s career. What goes around really does come around…and when the author karma train derails, look out!

What goes around really does come around…good and bad!