Learning to Love the Loneliness of Writing After My MFA

From The Literary Hub:

When I went to grad school, I brought Harold. Harold is my dog. He’s 80 pounds, a pit bull terrier mixed with something larger than a pit bull terrier, meaning most of the few pins on the Craigslist rental map that “allowed dogs” would not allow Harold. So I had to settle with renting a tiny standalone house a few miles from the university and, more importantly, outside the neighborhood where many of the other students in my program lived. This made me nervous. I worried that I would struggle to find my footing in the community.

Which is odd, considering that the solitude of it is what drew me to fiction writing in the first place. I’ve always enjoyed having the freedom to build out, refine, and reshape my ideas on my own, seeking input only when I myself deemed something ready to be seen. Writing fiction is one-pot creativity. You take your ideas into a room, you let them stew, and what comes out is not the starter for another thing that involves other ideas and other processes; it’s the thing, the whole thing.

The problem is it gets lonely. Crushingly so, at times. But crushing loneliness can be dealt with. Emergency protocols can be initiated, loved ones contacted. I’m privileged to have this vocabulary, but I have it nonetheless. What I struggle with more is the lesser loneliness of writing, when every word I put on the page is fine but not great, when every song I try and listen to fails to hook me, when I get up to do the dishes and find only a mug and a bowl in the sink, because I’ve already used this as an excuse to stop doing the thing I should be doing. It will feel like the days themselves are suffering from a low-grade sinus headache, and all I’ll want is to get out, and be around people whose mutual desire for escape will confirm that I’m okay, actually.

. . . .

This was what I sought from a writing community: not connections but a connection to something bigger, a network of people who “get it.” And despite Harold, despite the small standalone house, despite the distance, which some nights, on the way home from the bar on my bike, seemed to double or triple—despite it all, I found it. I experienced the elusive IRL writing community, experienced having a phone full of numbers to text when I needed reprieve from sitting by myself staring at a Word document, and places to go if not one of those texts yielded a concrete plan.

In my workshops, I received a lot of advice that I’m still not entirely sure what to do with. There often seemed to be a sinister trade off at play. The notes of my peers alerted me to my strengths and shortcomings as a writer and made me really consider what I wanted and didn’t want to do with my work. In exchange for this insight, they padlocked the very projects they were in reaction to. Many of the stories I worked on during those two years remain unfinished, residing on my hard drive as individual files or as part of a collection that I tried and failed to sell with an agent I don’t work with anymore. Upon graduating, I shipped a large box of marked up stories to my new address. When it was lost in transit, it felt like divine intervention.

Which is all to say, the things that occurred outside of class—the time spent in bars and crowded rooms filled with those who knew both the exhilaration and profound itchiness of writing—was not a neat side effect of attending a writing program. For me, it was everything. And for some time, I was content.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG is reminded of law school students who decide they hate the idea of working as a lawyer after they graduate. These folks tend to have huge student loan debts from their undergraduate and law school educations that could best be paid by getting a high-salary job, but they don’t want to be a lawyer with a high-salary job. (There are many lawyers with jobs that aren’t so high-salary, but we’re talking about paying off student loans.)

PG doesn’t know enough MFA graduates well to know if there are similarities between the law school graduates and MFA graduates who decide they don’t want to do what they spent a lot of money preparing for. However, as a general proposition, if anyone asked PG whether they should enter a career-oriented course of graduate studies (anthropology doesn’t count) without being convinced they really wanted to do work as a lawyer or writer/editor, he would suggest they find a job and see how they feel about writing or law in a couple of years.

Participating in the adult working world will introduce most college graduates to occupations and business lives previously unknown to them. They may surprised to discover that they really enjoy helping people find the right life insurance policy.

There are more than a few mature adults who discovered a wonderful field they had never considered entering while they were in college. PG has always been happy as a lawyer (save for dealing with one bizarre senior partner and a couple of crazy clients), but had no idea that he would ever find legal work interesting until he had been out of college for a few years.

These observations and accompanying advice are definitely not original with PG. During the spring of his senior year in college, PG’s academic advisor, an older woman who was greatly respected in her rather exotic field of study and was always addressed as “Miss Lee” instead of Doctor or Professor Lee, called him into her office following a class.

Miss Lee asked PG what he was planning to do after he graduated. He threw out vague possibilities that included traveling to Africa or Sweden and looking around when he arrived there.

Miss Lee’s response was direct and forceful. “You need to get a job. Here is the address of the student placement center. Go there right now and tell them you want them to help you get a job.”

PG followed Miss Lee’s advice and, a couple of days after graduation started a job he hadn’t previously known existed. That job lead to another job which lead to law school, etc., etc.

PG hasn’t been to Africa or Sweden but, to this day, has been exceedingly grateful for Miss Lee’s advice and acknowledges that his life would not have been nearly as rewarding had she not told him to get a job in a manner that persuaded him to promptly follow her advice.

How to Kick the Next Book Blues

From Publishers Weekly:

In the literature biz, there is no rush like a debut. Before that first book hits, anything seems possible, the improbable feels likely, and that proposed media blitz seems like it might just actually work. Also: that starlet with the production company could (let no doubts linger) love your plot and—even more flatteringly—your prose. That photographer charged with freezing your face for all time will (there’s no stopping hope) trick your age out with the lights. The airport bookstores will stock your book, Trevor Noah will slot you in for an interview, conference organizers will rain their keynotes down upon you, and there are just so many prizes to be had.

Indeed, there’s no rush like a debut.

It’s the aftermath of the debut that crowds the heart and head—not all the time, but mostly. It’s then when we writers take stock: we stumbled or we didn’t; we were seen or we were not; we were loved, we were not loved, we were neglected; our emails were answered or they were ignored. Failure is one thing. Success is something else. Success breeds the need for an even better next book.

All of which requires hyped writers embarking on their next books to find a quiet room in the house inside their heads—a place where the imagination has not been spent, diffused, defected, defeated, harassed, minimized, bullied, or drowned out by the story already told, the book already made, the praise already compressed, the expectations already sparked, and the rumors of other superstar writers who somehow wavered in the shocking aftermaths of success. What, after all, kept Harper Lee from finishing a second novel for all that time? How much, precisely, did F. Scott Fitzgerald suffer in the afterglow of early fame?

. . . .

But what if the writers of series grow desperate to move to a new writing room inside their heads? I’m not suggesting that all do, of course, but, what if? What if what they want to do next is not precisely within their lucrative, reliable brand? What if their next is, to the Ps and the Ls, a most terrifying risk?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG notes that indy authors can make their own decisions based on how they feel and what they think their readers would enjoy.

In PG’s exhaustively impartial opinion, smart authors are better at marketing their books effectively and efficiently than whatever sort of people are going to work for publishers these days.

Lessons in Waiting for Yes

From The Millions:

I used to be in a band.

We played more than 600 shows in our roughly seven years together. We lasted seven years and 600 shows and three full-length albums and four EPs and two tapes, and dozens upon dozens of sessions, interviews, and videos. We weren’t the best. We weren’t the coolest. We weren’t the hippest. But we were good. . . . And we outworked everyone. Beyond any music we ever created, we became most known for that work ethic. We were the Road Dogs, the writers said, the Working Man’s Band, the Hardest Working Group in Rock ‘n’ Roll.

. . . .

Yet all of that hard work yielded nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true. It yielded seven of the greatest years of my life, the majority of which were spent driving around the country, playing my guitar every night, making new friends and fans, seeing old friends and family, watching our small but devout fan base singing words that we wrote right back in our faces, and spreading our beer-soaked gospel in every corner of the country. We got to see our world in a way few people get to see it, and I’ll never suggest anything other than our being amongst the luckiest people on Earth.

But in the end, it resulted in nothing other than fond memories and a lifetime of experiences. As far as tangible returns on our years-long investment, we had nothing to speak of.

And yet here I am, starting at the same point I started at almost a decade ago. Only now, in place of a guitar and a bunch of songs, I am armed with a laptop and a bunch of stories.

I’ve decided to parlay my life and career from (arguably) the hardest industry to break into to break into (arguably) the second-hardest industry to break into. I’ve decided—thanks to a resume whose main body attempts to explain how being a “guitar player” can bring value to your company—to try and get paid doing one of the few things I know I can do well: writing.

Because being a musician—a decade of noes and passes, of agents and managers and labels and distributors and venues and bigger bands and producers telling me (in their kindest boilerplate language) that they’d rather not work with me—wasn’t enough, I’ve decided to have another go at failure in an attempt to start a writing career.

. . . .

I write about sports and about wine. I write about the local flair of my adopted hometown and about the Italian-American food that is my family’s heritage. I write about my son, 18 months old and nearly half as tall as his mom.

Last summer, I pecked away every morning at a story about him, about her, and about me, and emerged with a 45,000-word manuscript of which I am very proud. I wrote it for myself. I wrote it for my mom, who’s been dead half a decade, and for my family, who are still here. I wrote because I felt that I had a story I had to write. I wrote for all the reasons the half-cocked self-help gurus tell you to write; “Don’t write the story because you want to get published. Write the story because you need to write the story.”

I needed to write that story. But I also wrote it with the intention of selling it to a publisher.

. . . .

But first I have to wade through another cycle of the endless noes and passes, as the 50-plus literary agents whom I’ve queried and the 50-plus more that I’ve yet to query tell me in their kindest boilerplate language that they’d rather not work with me.

Link to the rest at The Millions

YouTube Adpocalypse is No Surprise

From The Illusion of More:

YouTubers call it the adpocalypse.  It’s a word is used to describe the steady erosion of YouTube’s support for small and independent creators by demoting or demonetizing their channels in favor of more traditional, mainstream material.  Julia Alexander at the The Verge wrote in April of this year …

Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers, and performers who were able to make the work they wanted and earn money in the process…. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like Jesse Ridgway, and dozens of other popular creators started noticing that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the community to indicate when something had triggered YouTube’s system to remove advertisements from a video, depriving them of revenue.”

While not directly related to copyright, I would include the adpocalypse in a chapter about the broader copyright debate because one of the underlying premises of the “copyright is obsolete” narrative is that the new opportunities created by the internet could replace traditional licensing regimes with legacy “gatekeepers.”  With an evangelical zeal, some of the loudest copyright critics sermonized that the internet was replete with untapped sources of revenue for creators, and YouTube was their Zion—a place where creators could slough off tired notions of ownership, share their work with the world, and earn a living from Google’s advertising machine.

The fact that people were making a business out of being YouTubers—ranging from profitable side-lines to multimillion-dollar payouts for a handful of stars—was sufficient anecdotal evidence to bolster the talking point that concepts like copyright were anachronistic and regressive.  The lecture at old creators was a general theme that they should stop “whining” about lost sales, piracy, devaluation and embrace the unprecedented prospects before them.

. . . .

That was a theme my fellow luddites kept reiterating—that YouTube will “empower” new creators until it is no longer in its business interest to do so, at which point the company will change the rules without warning or transparency.  That was the underlying absurdity of the entire line of argument against creators’ rights—the illusion that a company like YouTube was liberating new creators, even making them feel a sense of ownership in the platform itself and that this apparent symbiosis would last indefinitely.  “The golden age of YouTube — the YouTube of a million different creators all making enough money to support themselves by creating videos about doing what they love — is over,” writes Alexander.

Perhaps.  But I wouldn’t think of it as the party is over so much as a party to which most YouTubers were never going to be invited in the first place.  The promise of millions becoming YouTube entrepreneurs was never attainable, or at least sustainable.  “96.5 percent of all of those trying to become YouTubers won’t make enough money off of advertising to crack the U.S. poverty line,” stated a 2018 article at Fortune.com. YouTube was always a casino, and Google is the House.

. . . .

More than a few of my fellow luddites have mentioned that YouTube’s monetization in not about creators, and never has been.  As composer Kerry Muzzy describes in a sit-down interview with Neil Turkewitz, “So far I have identified 97 million views of videos with my music in them, representing 303 million minutes of watch time. Those 97 million views happened before Content ID located my music in them and under YouTube’s policies, I can’t monetize them retroactively — so YouTube and the uploader made a small fortune in ad sales on those videos, but I got nothing.”

This post is not a gloat.  I legitimately empathize with most creative people, and YouTubers are no exception; but one thing the “old” creator can tell the “new” is that very few favorable tides last a lifetime, which is one reason owning copyrights in successful works can be so critical for so many creators.  Like the aging jazz musician whose royalties in a pre-1972 sound recording just might be her medical bills for the year.

Link to the rest at The Illusion of More

PG suggests the same pattern has applied/will likely apply to indie authors on Amazon. The idea that writing and publishing an ebook is a sure path to financial success and security was an initial Amazon meme.

Plenty of one-shot-wonder “authors” may still receive small payments from Amazon each month, but long-term success for indie authors requires hard and smart work – writing good books, promoting them well, keeping readers involved to the extent they want to be involved, building and sustaining a brand that equates with quality, understanding the segment of the book market in which you exist, etc.

That said, PG would feel better about the long-term well-being of indie authors if Amazon had more successful competitors for online ebook publishing and sales. No disrespect to the variety of start-up publishers who provide good service, quality ebooks, and fair treatment for authors, but PG hasn’t seen anyone who seems to have the ability to scale up to become a second Amazon in terms of sales and reader mindshare. (He would loudly cheerlead for anyone who looked like they could pull off such a difficult feat.)

For all its childish grumbling about Amazon, major publishers and the infrastructure that surrounds them are likely as dependent upon Amazon as indie authors are. Other than in a handful of high-income neighborhoods that support all sorts of retailers that exist nowhere else, and perhaps a few college towns, PG thinks the physical bookstore business is on its way to financial oblivion as well. PG hasn’t seen any credible demographic study of consumers who regularly visit physical bookstores and purchase from them, but he suspects it’s becoming more and more of a niche group.

PG also suggests that the lending of ebooks via traditional libraries is another potent force that will impact the bookstore market. For PG, borrowing an ebook via the local library system isn’t quite as frictionless as Amazon’s purchasing experience, but it can still deliver a quality book from a traditional publisher to PG’s ereading device at 11:00 PM when he’s not quite ready to go to sleep yet.

Advice for Women with Book Advances

From Publishers Weekly:

My first love was in a band. His advice about music translated easily to the writing life—or I made it fit, those nights I was killing time backstage in dive bars during sound check. “Leave them wanting more” was his advice on playing. So I won’t drone on when I give readings, erring on the side of reading too little.

“All money made by the band goes back to the band” is another one of his sayings—easy to follow when I made only $10 here and there publishing poems. My first three books were poetry, published because they had won contests.

I put that prize money back into my band—back into my writing—using it to print postcards, to enter contests, and, importantly, to acquire gas and food as I traveled around giving readings. That was back when writing wasn’t my full-time job. It is now, by necessity. And the world is different now, fueled by a gig economy seemingly hell-bent on driving us into the ground with exhaustion.

Elizabeth Gilbert famously used her book advance to travel while writing Eat Pray Love. V.E. Schwab says she spent her (more modest) first book advance on, “in order: Rent. Groceries. Bills. Self-promotion.”

Schwab was responding to a Twitter thread on advances. Writers’ responses to what they had spent or would spend advances on included college, a new roof, and an adoption, as well as on evergreen expenses such as bills and insurance and paying down debt. Michelle Belanger said her “book advance story speaks to the failure of U.S. health care”; she spent it on oral surgery, which she had to pay for out of pocket.

These responses were overwhelmingly practical. And the responses overwhelmingly came from women.

The idea is that you spend your book advance on the living expenses accrued while writing the book. But many people have already finished a book before it sells. And most of us aren’t paid enough of an advance to live off it, or at least not for very long—not in our era of sky-high rents and insurance costs.

. . . .

A few months after the novel sold, I was laid off from my job. My coworkers and I were in the process of joining a union, and I didn’t receive severance. As soon as he learned I had been laid off, my literary agent, Eric Smith, suggested I polish up the next book he knew I was writing. He said we could sell it on the strength of sample chapters and an outline. And he was right.

The idea of spending all of a book advance with the expectation of future earnings that may or may not ever come is dangerous. But I did spend every cent of an advance once. And it was the smartest thing I have ever done.

That advance, for a novella, was the first one I earned. And I can tell you exactly what I spent it on: I hired a lawyer. Because of that advance, I was able to get a divorce, get custody of my child, and get child support established. That advance saved my life.

. . . .

My advice for all women writers: save your advance. Save every single penny you can. Because your survival is not guaranteed—as a writer but also as a person who is still thought of as less than in this world.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

A Comprehensive Guide to a Content Audit

From ReadWrite:

In content marketing, it is always the 80/20 rule. 20% of content brings 80% results. This holds water for every content marketing audit I have done. A handful of articles pull the maximum number of clicks and conversions. When we talk about content marketing, the first thing should be to create and distribute content that often we don’t reuse.

According to a study, most content marketers don’t feel the need to audit, which is strange as it helps improve content marketing strategy.

What is a Content Audit?

It is a process of systematically reviewing all the content on your website. The process allows you to pay special attention to the optimization efforts and see whether you meet your business objectives or not.

If performed adequately, you can find gaps in your content which can be fulfilled to serve your target audience better. Finding your target audience will not only step up your content game but will also help mature your digital strategy following the dynamic industrial trends.

. . . .

Before creating content, you must ask yourself who your audience is? What is your audience looking for? How can you solve their problems? All these questions will help you to write a clear and crisp copy that is as relevant to your audience as possible.

Once you’re done, you’ll be all set to write content copy that can move mountains. Every content marketer has their way of creating and publishing high-quality content, but there are a few things you must ponder before creating a writing piece. The first one is the audience.

Your content should resonate with your audience, so they keep on coming back to you. Seek feedback from your current customers through social media pages, emails, and surveys.

. . . .

Identify where your SEO stands:

  • Identify your high ranking web pages and keep them aside from the low ranking ones. Take the help of Google spreadsheets or any other spreadsheet while doing so.
  • Understand what content you need to remove or update on your website.
  • Check for backlinking and interlinking.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Authors Break Silence with Complaints About ChiZine Publications

From File 770:

ChiZine Publications, the Canadian horror publisher run by Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, has been under fire from writers this week for slow payment and nonpayment, accused of bullying and blackballing an author who complained, and in connection with remarks made by some individuals associated with CZP of a sexist and racist nature.

The social media outpouring seems to have been precipitated by the sharing of what passed between author Ed Kurtz and ChiZine Publications. I haven’t sourced the beginnings of this conversation (which may not have been public), but the details appear in CZP’s denial and Kurtz’ rebuttal below. But before turning to them, it’s helpful to look at one of Michael Matheson’s posts.

Matheson’s comments on Facebook include:

…Just now catching the edges of what happened with Ed Kurtz and CZP. And I can’t even begin to say I’m surprised. Honestly, I’m just glad we’re finally as a field starting to talk about the problems with CZP a little more publicly.

If you’ve never had a problem working with/for them, that’s fantastic, and I know it’s true for a number of people. But having been on the inside of that company for two years (2013-2015, longer if you count time spent working for Chiaroscuro Magazine doing reviews and review management before that), the issues that are coming up around Ed aren’t unusual. These are longstanding issues, spread across CZP’s interactions with writers, editors, interns, publicists, cover artists, agents (some who flat out won’t allow their clients to work with CZP), multiple distributors, several book printers, and they’re not going to get better.

…Long story short, you could not pay me to work with CZP ever again – not least of all because beyond the collected freelance payment of $3,200 for working on 30 books in whatever span it was (which I think was also in the two years I worked directly for them), I never did get paid. Nothing like hearing “Oh we’ll be able to pay you a salary/stipend when we get the Book Fund,” for two years running.

ChiZine Publications has publicly responded to charges about their payments to Ed Kurtz and allegations of mistreatment.

Given the recent discussion on social media about our professional relationship with author Ed Kurtz and other authors, we feel some of the mis-statements that have been made need to be corrected.

In 2018, Ed approached us, asking about monies due him from a Russian translation of his novel. At the time, we told him the monies had not yet been paid to us, and we checked with our foreign rights agent, who confirmed that they had received no monies either. We did not receive the translation rights monies until late April of 2019.

Once we received the translation monies owed, we paid Ed within 48 hours.

Earlier this year, we were approached by the Horror Writers Association to mediate the situation—and we do acknowledge that Ed’s author royalties were late at the time, which we regret, and which situation was corrected promptly. ChiZine Publications remains a small press run by two people, and while we do our best to stay on top of the business, we occasionally fall short. This is not something we take lightly—our author relationships are important to us.

Ed Kurtz’s royalties are currently paid in full. Any other monies he might be due will be paid on his next royalty statement, which will be in spring 2020.

As to an accusation that we, along with other small presses, attempted to blacklist Ed Kurtz, or threaten him in any way—that is categorically untrue, and we deny it. We were proud to publish Ed’s novel and were eager to publish his next one, as per our contract option. But when he wished to withdraw that novel, we respected his wish.

At no time has Ed ever asked for a rights reversal, although of course he is entitled to do so. We are happy to revert his rights if he makes that request.

We are aware that this discussion has brought to light instances of late royalty statements or payments, and we believe it is important to address this with our authors.

Accordingly, over the next four to six weeks we will be reviewing our financials, and reaching out to our authors and/or their representatives, to ensure that royalties are up to date, and promptly address any shortfalls.

If any of our authors have any specific questions—whether regarding royalty statements or any other business-related concerns—please contact us and we will do our best to provide answers in a timely fashion.

. . . .

Meanwhile, there is concern that the authors will unfairly receive the brunt of the punishment when customers stop buying books from CZP, or reviewers don’t cover their CZP books (as a couple online critics have already announced they will refuse to do in the future).

Link to the rest (in a much longer post) at File 770 and thanks to SFCN for the tip.

Expect Failure

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Not too long ago, I made a suggestion to someone I’m working with. I thought we should send our project to a Big Name Magazine, for consideration in one of the many things they’re doing. (Yes, I’m being deliberately vague.)

The response I got from my partner on this project was purposely discouraging, questioning my desire to even try because Big Name Magazine gets thousands of submissions. I pushed—hard—and the project got submitted.

I’m not sure I got angry about that response, but I did get peeved. I personally hate it when someone refuses to try because thousands of other people are trying too. Guaranteed failure, that’s what that attitude is, and not the good kind of failure.

It’s the kind of failure that shows a lack of belief, either in the self or the project.

A lot of people refuse to try anything because they’re afraid of failing. And I find that ironic: because failing to try is failing.

. . . .

“Expect Success” is all about attitude, about approaching everything—including submitting a project along with thousands of other people—with the idea that your project could succeed. Be optimistic and try.

The other point of expecting success is to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and keep pushing until you do succeed.

But if you do that, then the subtext is this: you will fail.

A lot.

And for some reason, most people see failure of any type as a failing.

So imagine my delight when I was reading an article in, of all things, a magazine that I get for free because I went to the Consumer Electronics Show. In the May/June issue of I3, entrepreneur Jake Sigal explores something they do at his company, Tome.

Tome both shares and celebrates failure. Sigal writes:

We have a fail brick with our logo that is earned. Whenever anyone fails, we post a message on Slack and show off  the brick on our desks as a badge of honor.

Why? Because Sigal’s company “encourage team members to push personal technical limits, without fear of the consequences of failure….Failure is not only tolerated, it’s expected. We use it to decommission certain techs while others are prioritized.”

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.