How do I know my genre?!?!

So, a L-O-N-G time ago I posted about the novel I’d finished writing, and had this super awesome list of things I was going to do next.  Then life happened and the list items didn’t all ticked off.  Sometimes I find I need a deadline or a reason to motivate me, so I signed up for a Writer’s Digest Bootcamp to have my first ten pages and query letter critiqued by an agent.

The first thing I learned, that got my heart pounding, was that I had to define my genre.   This was #6 on my list from August.   Even back then I knew I couldn’t pick an agent until I completed this step, because agents specialize in certain genres, and I needed to pick an agent to review the first 10 pages of my novel and my query letter.  Oh no.

I’d heard lots of advice.  Figure out the genre of comparable novels and that will tell you your genre.  Okay, I’ve got a list of comparable novels, but my google searches of “Dark Tower genre” led to no useful results.  I looked on Amazon, but there are so many words on an Amazon page that I wasn’t sure what the genre was, because there was nothing that said “Hey newbie writer, here’s the genre!”

However, after searching like crazy, and even buying an awesome poster from Pop Chart Lab on “A Plotting of Fiction Genres” and hanging it up in my study – looking gorgeous but not helpful – I finally found a resource that makes sense to me: The Book Country Genre Map.  This is an amazing, AMAZING site.  I was quickly able to drill down into both Science Fiction and Fantasy and see how each genre was defined and what subgenres exist.  I’ve pegged my novel as a contemporary fantasy subgenre (I think), but definitely in the genre of fantasy.  Now, I may be totally wrong, but at least now I have the vocabulary I need so when I look at the Amazon site and see  Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Epic under The Gunslinger, by Stephen King, I can translate it to Genre: Epic Fantasy.  Sadly, I put this as one of my comparable titles, but I’m not epic fantasy.  Thankfully this boot camp is a chance for me to make mistakes and learn from them so when I go to query agents with a completed novel I’ll know better.

I have to admit, I’m loving this aspect of moving my book to the next stage.  There is so much about this publishing world that I don’t know and it’s fascinating learning the lingo, the rules and the processes.  It’s so different than my day job, but there are really interesting parallels.

Item #6?  Done, and will help me finish #5, #7, and #8!  Now I really need to get motivated to make a big push on the second draft so I can have someone other than me read this thing!

 

 

Periodic Publishing Posts – Self Publishing?

I’m 6 weeks into an 8 week hiatus from my novel, Hallelujah, and have been working through a list of to-do items prepping me to get my book published.  The last couple of weeks have completely flummoxed me.  I went into this wanting to publish traditionally.  I wanted to have Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins or Penguin Random House on the spine.  (Uh, Penguin and Random House merged?  I had no idea.)  A couple of conversations with some friends of friends has made me wonder what my next step really is.

Conversation #1 – Founder of a self-publishing firm

A dear friend of mine suggested I spend my Sunday morning walking with Polly Letofsky.  Thankfully that’s an organized event anyone can join every Sunday, so it wasn’t a weird idea.  My friend knew that Polly had written a book about her experience walking around the world and she thought Polly might have some ideas about how to get my book published.  What she didn’t know was that Polly had moved on to starting a self-publishing project management and consulting firm, My Word! Publishing.

Polly had all kinds of information about what she does and how her company works.  She encouraged me to self-publish.  She threw around a lot of words I didn’t understand about publishing and the process and encouraged me to contact her for a free evaluation.  Basically her company puts together a publishing team for you: editors, marketing people, writing coaches, and whatever else you need.  Polly told me my first step was to start my own company, which I would later use to publish my book.  This was all fascinating and overwhelming.  Here’s what I took out of my conversation with her:

  1. If you want to make money on your book, you make much less per book with a traditional publication (like $1/book) versus self publishing ($12/book).
  2. An average book sells 2,500 copies.  An average self published book sells 250.
  3. You need to understand your own goals for publishing.

The first two bullets are a math problem.  Jojo sells 2500 copies of her first book and makes $1/book.  Anna sells 250 copies of her book for $12/book.  Who made the most money publishing her book?  If you play the averages, self-publishing wins, but by only $500.  However, this is where bullet number 3 comes in.

Once I had time to think I realized that my goal is not to make lots of money.  My goal is to get lots of people to read my book.  In my dreamy dream world I want to publish a book that people want to read, which is measured by them buying lots of books.

In my limited knowledge of how all this works, I didn’t even consider self-publishing because I do not believe that I could write a book lots of people want to read by myself.  People are not interested in a book with grammar errors, writing issues, and juvenile construction.  I know I need a whole team of people around me to publish a quality book and that meant traditional publishing.  Polly opened my eyes to the fact that the consolidation of the publishing houses means that there are lots of publishing people out there waiting to support self-publishers.  Once I read my book and determine if I want to go forward with it I’ll meet with her and see how her process works.  More on that here when the meeting happens

Conversation #2 – A self-published author

Jamie Ferguson is a friend of a friend and she published With Perfect Clarity in 2013.  I read her book and we’ve had a couple of e-mail conversations back and forth.  Hopefully we can meet in person and chat about her process in detail, but what I found out from her was that she also self-published through her company, Blackbird Publishing.

When I found all this out I did a double take.  This idea of starting your own company to publish a book seemed crazy when Polly mentioned it to me, and here I already had a data point telling me that was what people really did.  Jamie had editors tell her that the book was good, but would be hard to publish traditionally and an agent who was interested, but wanted her to make big changes, so she self published.

Both these conversations were interesting, and at least opened my eyes to what self-publishing means.  I’m not as against that direction as I was, but I’m a little overwhelmed by the thought that I have to write a book and then find a team, and then pay the team to edit, market and publish my book.  (If the averages work out I have $500 I could use to pay all those people and end up cost neutral.)  The flip side is to continue to try the traditional route.  I’m torn, but I don’t know enough yet.  My next steps are to learn more by meeting with Polly and Jamie.

I’ve got two weeks left until the big read, and I’m pretty comfortable where everything stands on my list.  I’ve got some work to do on a CV, and I have two more personal connections to exercise.  (I may wait on both of those until after the first reading, because they are connections I don’t want to use unless I’m really going to publish this thing.)  The only other item on my list is an elevator pitch, and that’s got to wait until I read, because I’m starting to forget the details of my book.  That was the whole idea of this little break.

I’m getting excited and nervous for two weeks from now.

Johanna Levene, aka Afthead in San Francisco

No More Clark Kent – The Afthead Revealed

Did any of you notice the slip up on my last post?  It was right at the top of the Glimmer Train image.  It was my name, and guess what?  It was no slip up.  Yes, dear readers, the bureaucracy is over and I have a signed piece of paper that says, “Heck yeah, you can have a blog, and write a book, and tie it to your name.  We, the big bosses you work with, don’t care.”  Okay, it doesn’t exactly say that, but that’s the gist of the three pages.  So I finally get to turn the Afthead around and introduce you to the forehead.

I wish I had glasses to whip off and a suit to pull open revealing the AFTHEAD superhero costume underneath.  Alas, I do not.  My superhero powers are limited.

My human name is Johanna Levene, but you can still call me Afthead in the blogsphere.  Watch as the two identities meld. If you type in my name as a URL (http://johannalevene.com) you’ll get redirected to this blog.  In the near future I’ll set up something more slick so that typing in the johannalevene domain will take you to an about page explaining how you ended up on Afthead when you typed my name, but for now I am Afthead and Afthead is me.

Why the change, you ask?  If I still want to be Afthead why would I do something like this?  A couple of reasons:

  1. The Writer’s Market book told me to start a blog and to name it firstnamelastname.com to make it as easy as possible for agents, readers and publishers to find me.  I do not want to mess with making things easy for those people.
  2. Right now If you search Johanna Levene using something like, oh say Google, you don’t find my writing stuff.  You find me the person at my job, me on LinkedIn, or me the Pinterst person.  I need the writer me to start rising to the top of my search results which means I need to start using my name on my blog.  Johanna Levene, Johanna Levene, Johanna Levene.  (I can’t wait to see if that changes search results tomorrow.)

It is so freeing combining two of my personalities into one.  I am Johanna Levene.  I’m a writer who just finished her first novel and submit her first short story to a contest.  It’s really nice to meet you.  I hope you enjoy your time on my blog Afthead.

I am Afthead.  (Remember, read that last line with a Batman voice.)

Glimmer Train Submission

Get it Out There – The Short Story Edition

Back in June I blogged about going to see my BFF Neil Gaiman speak and his message to new writers.  Like many other established authors out there, his suggestion was to finish something, then get it out there.  Since that day I have finished a first draft of a short story and my first novel.  While waiting for my novel age, I have been working on nine tasks to get me ready for the effort of creating a second draft of my novel then finding an agent and publisher.  One of those tasks was to polish my short story, The Fisherman, and get it out there.  Well, I actually said “see how I feel about getting it out there,” but honestly, I feel pretty darn good.  It is out there.  Monday night I corrected my last few inconsistencies, paid my $15 and hit submit. My story is now officially in the Glimmer Train Press “Short-Story Award For New Writers.”  Can I get a hallelujah?!?  I’ll find out by November 1st if I win or not.  Time for more waiting.

I’m really, really glad I submit The Fisherman before tackling the editing process on my novel.  My story was SHORT (1241 words) and my novel is LONG (98,942 words).  Editing my short story was a gut wrenching crabby weekend of work.  If I edit my novel at the same rate I’m going to be crabby for 80 days!  (At one point this weekend I remembered another message from Neil Gaiman where he said people think that writing is ethereal but really it’s wandering around grouchy in a bathrobe.  Yep, he was talking second drafts, I’m sure.)  However, I learned some great stuff that I think will make editing the novel easier now that this effort is under my belt:

  1. I need a reader who believes in me, loves my work, and will remind me why I’m doing this when the bathrobe lady takes over and wants to hide in the basement burning my novel.  I’m lucky enough to have two of those readers.  One of them is my mom who also happens to be my ideal reader and my first editor.  The other one is a dear friend who makes time to encourage me even while she’s living her own crazy life.  Having that really honest joyful reassurance is so important.  Find that person. Buy them presents.  Nurture them because you are going to need them.
  2. I need a reader who is pragmatic and good at the rules of grammar.  My husband had to read my story twice this weekend.  The first time he agreed with my mom, “Yeah, you’ve got a lot of ‘ands’ in this story” and the second time he found two inconsistencies that were nit-picky but the difference between a kind-of-final draft and a final draft. Having someone who will know if your prepositions don’t match is awesome.  He never gushed about my story, but that’s okay.  Other people handled the gushing.
  3. I need a plan.  If the story doesn’t make Glimmer Train, that’s okay.  The deadline for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story competition is November 16th.  That’s where The Fisherman is going next if it doesn’t find a home at Glimmer Train.
  4. I need a deadline. Once I found my competition and realized it was due 8/31 I got motivated.  I couldn’t hang out in the bathrobe too long.  I’m hoping that I can make deadlines for my novel that mean something to me and keep me motivated.  Otherwise I might have to find some weird novel competition.  (Hopefully this means I’ll be good with deadlines if and when someone else ever cares about my stuff getting published.)

Those things are all great, but I also learned one really big writing lesson.  A game changer of a lesson.  I am chickenshit.  Once my mom and Mr. Afthead pointed out all the “ands” in my story I realized what I was doing.  I was making the reader do the work.  Description after description read,

“When the sun is low and the puffy cloud-filled sky is painted pink, purple and orange, and the shadows are deep enough to hide details of faces and bodies, the door will open and he will slip out to join the families on the banks of the river with his rod and reel.”  – 4 “ands” in one sentence

I had 69 ands in my first draft. Let’s pause and consider 69 of 1241 words were AND: almost 6%.  Ugh.  I cut that down to 31 through updates like,

“The sun must be low in a sky filled with orange puffy clouds.  The shadows must be deep enough to hide the details of face and body.  When the conditions are right he will slip out to join the families on the banks of the river with his fishing rod.” – 1 “and” in 3 sentences

What’s the difference between the first and second versions.  Lots of stuff, but in my mind the difference is that in the first version I am paranoid that the reader won’t see what I want them to see.  So I paint a very detailed picture in a very complex sentence.  I give them a magnifying glass and some paint of their own – in case they don’t like what they see – and a guided tour of the picture complete with one of those narration phones you get at a museum.  In the second version I am brave.  I assume the reader has their imagination on and can paint their own picture in their mind and we can move on together.  Are their orange puffy clouds the same as mine?  Do they really understand the conditions?  That is scary, but my favorite part of the story is the magic, but through over-describing (The child is excited and terrified.  The dad is teary-eyed and proud.) I was losing the magic.

Thank goodness by nature I’m a taker-outter and not a putter-inner, so the edits weren’t hard once I knew what they were.  I honestly believe that every reader has “better things to do” than read a book.  They have bills to pay and mother’s to call and a house to clean and kids to bathe and endless ands to stick into their writing.  If I make them work too hard they will leave.  If I tell them exactly what they need to know, and maybe a little less, they will keep reading because they can’t stop.  They will paint their picture in their head and want to know how it turns out.  I want my stories to beg to be read, but if they are tedious because I am scared they won’t get read.  So watch out novel!  I’m coming to you and I am brave and ready to chop you down to size.  I’m bringing my cheerleader readers and my nitpicker with me too.  We are a fierce team and taking on new members if you want to join us.

Only 59 days until I find out if I won the competition or not. 23 days until I can read my novel. Tick Tick.

Rebranding: Periodic Publishing Posts

ANNOUNCEMENT!  ANNOUNCEMENT!

The feature formerly knows as “Weekend Writing Update #x” is being rebranded to “Periodic Publishing Posts.”  This move is being made for several strategic reasons:

  1. The posts are not about writing at all.  I am writing the posts, but I write all my posts.  It is the nature of posts.  The posts are about publishing and the steps I am taking to get my work out there.  So the new brand more accurately reflects what in the heck I’m taking about.
  2. Weekends are terrible for blog traffic.  I don’t know if you other blog writers see the same thing, but my readers just aren’t interested in reading over the weekend.  This does not surprise me because personally I have time to type a post over the weekend, but no time to catch up on my favorite blogs until the week.  I’m busy babysitting chickens (yep, that’s a real thing,) coaching soccer, and setting up obstacles for our backyard “Kids’ American Ninja Warrior” game.  So my weekend post may become a Tuesday or Wednesday post.  I’d pick the proper alliteration day of the week, but none of them start with “P”.  Any foreign speakers out there that can tell me a day that starts with “P?”
  3. Update is the most pointless word I have ever put in a blog title.  I’ve used it twice.  That is enough.

Guess what all is up in my publishing process?  Still no approval paperwork from the office.  I’m getting annoyed, while trying to understand that my bosses boss probably has more important things to do than sign a piece of paper approving me to work outside of the office.  Still, I’d like to start moving on my new domain and my CV.  Bureaucracy.  Annoying and hard to spell.  I hate it.

I’ve made other strides though.  Tomorrow, or Monday at the latest, I’m sending in an updated version of my short story The Fisherman to Glimmer Train for their Short Story Award for New Writers competition.  I spent one evening this past week searching through the contests and awards in the 2015 Writer’s Market trying to find something that appealed to me.

Stop.  Funny aside here.  I can submit an optional cover letter with my story.  I am a staunch believer in cover letters.  When I hire for a position I am unabashedly biased against people who do not include a cover letter.  In the first version of my cover letter I said, “After perusing the Writer’s Market I decided that Glimmer Train had the right combination of openness to new writers and success producing excellence that I wanted.”  Both my mom and my husband said using “perusing” was shorthand for “I’m a smarty smart with a big vocabulary.”  So I came up with some other wording options:

  • After slogging through the Writer’s Market…
  • After being overwhelmed by the Writer’s Market…
  • After contemplating the Writer’s Market….
  • After scanning the Writer’s Market…
  • After waking from my nap and wiping drool off of the Writer’s Market…
  • After scouring the Writer’s Market….
  • After removing the breakfast dishes from the Writers Market…

Guess which one I went with?

After scouring through the Writer’s Market, I had a list of 23 contests I felt my were a fit for my story, but I decided on Glimmer Train.  Why?

  1. They only take unsolicited work.
  2. They have a new writer’s contest that closes August 31st.  This forces me to do something right now.
  3. The contest is only $15 to enter.
  4. I love why the publication exists.  They want to discover new writers.  They read 30,000-40,000 stories a year and publish 40-50, but every story gets a chance.
  5. I love the tone of their site and the stories that they publish.  I rush ordered Issue 92 of their magazine this week to read it and make sure my story is a good fit.  I think it is.
  6. They accept simultaneous publications, so that means if I want to chase after some of these other contests it’s okay with them.
  7. They’ve got a pretty good track record of their stories going onto bigger and better things.

I’m waiting for a final review from my mom editor, and then I’ll submit.

Stop.  EEEEK!  I’m going to submit a story to a publication that receives 40,000 stories a year and publishes 40.  (Worst case scenario.)  That means I have a ONE IN TEN THOUSAND chance of getting published.  If you like percentages, that is 0.1%.  I didn’t pursue an acting career out of high school because there was only a 5% chance of making a career out of it.  I do not do things that are this unlikely.  What am I thinking?  Deep breath.  I really am quite glad that I’m not an actor.  Deeper breath.  I have a 0% chance of getting published if I don’t submit my story.  Deepest breath.  It’s okay.  The worst thing that will happen is my story will not get published and that’s exactly where I am right now.

I also started doing some searches about finding an agent and found this gem from our own WordPress community.  The Color the Books Blog has all kinds of great information. Want to know how to search Twitter for what topics agents and editors are looking for?  Search #MSWL for Manuscript Wishlist of course.  Or just check out http://manuscriptwishlist.com/, which I also learned about from this blog, and it will just aggregate all that information for you along with tidbits from agents about what they want.  Oh yeah, that’s kind of handy.  He’s also got stuff about how to keep track of your queries and what tropes are popular.  (Prior to this blog I didn’t know what a trope was.)

I also spent some time building a list of books I love that were first books for the author and reading through the acknowledgements and about the author pages to see who their agent is and looking them up.  Nothing concrete happening there yet, but it’s an interesting list.

Finally, I’ve almost finished reading the book that my friend’s ex-wife wrote.  When I’ve read that I’ll ask for an introduction.  I’m also going on a walk with another friend of a friend who published a memoir.  I’m working the network, because four weeks from now I will have just finished reading Hallelujah for the first time and will need to figure out my next step: copies for all my friends from Kinko’s or moving toward publication.

Pile of books and magazines on a table

Weekend Writing Update #1

It’s time for my first Weekend Writing update, where I let all you excited blog readers learn what steps I’ve been taking to inch my way toward blog publication.  Last week I came up with a list of nine items to get me started.  Shall we see how things are going?

I start all new projects at the bookstore.  I know I should start at the library, but I love owning books, especially when they are books I am going to need for some time.  Also, just the mere permanent presence of books in my home makes me better at things.  The whole shelf of parenting books with uncracked spines lead me to be a caring, disciplinarian, listening, happiness inducing ninja of a mom.  It’s a form of osmosis I think.  But, I digress.  These writing periodicals and books have already been opened and perused.  (Okay, the top three in the pile have been opened and perused.   The others are feeling jealous.)  Here is what I have learned from my study this week.

  1. If I don’t have a blog, I should start one right now.  How awesome is that.  I HAVE a blog.  Check off that item that wasn’t even on my list.  One article said I should make lists in my blog.  Yep, I’m making a list.  I’m awesome.
  2. My blog’s URL should be firstnamelastname.com to make it easy for agents and publishers to find my blog.  Uh oh.  Well I’m keeping Afthead and purchased my name URL to redirect to Afthead.  If anyone is interested in the land of domain registration and how you redirect multiple domains to you blog let me know.
  3. There are short story competitions out there, and you can only publish stories that have not been published before, except on a personal blog.  What!?!?  This means I can dust off The Fisherman and submit it.  That’s my plan for the next couple of weeks.
  4. The Guide to Literary Agents freaked me out at the beginning.  All the examples of “new authors” seemed to be “Joe Smith has worked as a freelance writer since he was born, and has been editing 18 periodicals since he was weaned. He was approached by his best friend, who happened to be an agent, who asked to represent him when his novel was a mere 1000 words long.”  Translation: the only “new” authors that get published are people who have been working with words their whole life.  Downer.  However, I skipped to the back of the book and started looking at the listing of agents and lots of them take new writers.  That made me feel better.
  5. I read a fascinating article in the Novel Writing magazine about the genre of magical realism.  I’m thinking my book could be in that genre.  (Previously I was thinking science fiction or fantasy.)  The downside is that the magical realism genre is “controversial” so I should be aware of that.  I am always amazed at the specific areas of controversy sprinkled throughout all aspects of humanity.  The other plus of this article is that I realized I LOVE magical realism books and now have a whole new list of books to read.
  6. My meeting with my boss was put off for a week, but I’ve filled out our “Conflict of Interest” and “Approval for Outside Activity” forms.  Once those are signed I can actually set up my name URL and formally tie myself to Afthead and stop living this crazy double life…OR I could get a cape and a mask and start introducing myself in my best Batman voice, “I’m Afthead”.
  7. Once I’m out of the writing closet at work, I am going to see if a colleague will introduce me to his ex-wife, because she just published her first novel.   They are still friends, so this is not a completely weird request.  Before I ask him, I want to read her book.  That seems polite, right?  I’ve got it next to my bed to start tonight.
  8. My mom found an online class at our local community college on getting published.  I just missed the start date for the August class, but may sign up for the next session in September.  It’s 6 weeks and covers some things, like copyright, that I haven’t even considered.  September is an easy month at the Afthead house with school starting, coaching soccer, playing soccer, and normal work stuff., so I’ll have lots of time to take two online classes a week.  Tee hee.

Things are moving along on this adventure.  My book is still hiding in my desk, calling out to me when I’m in my study.  I am ignoring her though.  I reread On Writing again, and am convinced this is a good path forward for me.  I’ve still got some work to do on my pitch and CV, but that will wait for a couple more weeks.  For now I’m enjoying my little dips into this new world of publishing.  Hopefully by next week I’ll have identified a contest or two to submit to, have my paperwork done and my new domains set up.

Have a great weekend and enjoy whatever adventures come your way.