May 19, 2010

A Brand New World

This week there are two very good pieces available to anyone who’s a writer. Joe Konrath has his say here. Jason Pinter has a great rundown of pluses and minuses of the precedent here. Both have elicited much commentary. I suggest you read them both.

Confused? If you’re an industry watcher, chances are you have a definite opinion. If you’re a published author, chances are you’re wondering about how to take advantage of the e-book phenomenon. If you are a Writer, Bless you. For the purposes of this opinion piece Writer is defined as an individual who’s been writing but whose work has either not been published yet or has self-published a story and or manuscript.

I have one very small point. It is a point people have heard me utter in person, via this blog or Crimespree time and again. “ If you are a writer who wants to become an author; you owe it to yourself to work with an Editor.” It really is that simple.

I’m not talking about copy editing. Spell Check and a careful read can help you with that. I am talking about the joy of working with an editor who will gut your story when it needs to be gutted. I am talking about the Editor who will ask you how your protagonist got from New York to Vienna in ten hours EST. I am speaking of the Editor who will ask, “ Are you sure you want to use six points of view when I only hear one voice?”

This is the only experience that turns a writer into an author.

I understand the frustration. All of it. You want to see that book. You’ve tried to get an agent but they want you to have a publishing deal first. You’ve tried to get a publishing deal but they want you to have an agent first (BTW there are several contests to help with this conundrum) . You found a great freelance editor. They polished your manuscript for 700 dollars and old you how wonderful it is, better than the latest from best seller A or B. The manuscript has been rejected. A LOT.

This is the crazy world you entered into when you typed your very first line. You may be thinking, “well that’s easy for her to say.” It isn’t, it really isn’t.

I am a reader. I don’t read 100,000 books a year but I had I high of 400+ one year. This year it looks like I’ll weigh in at about 300. I started to not finish books about the time the Magazine was first published. Maybe they’re bad. Maybe they’re too dense or too fluffy for my state of mind. Perhaps I’ll start a tale that just isn’t my cup of tea but I know someone who reviews for the magazine who’ll really enjoy the book. Sadly, I’ve also got a large pile of “favorites” who are doing really well and don’t need Crimespree’s help to get the numbers. They are the books that will make retirement wonderful. I probably “see” over 1,000 books a year through the first chapter. Still, I know I miss a lot of books that I’ll regret not having seen. It is as a reader that I say, get ye an editor.

I’m one of the publishers of Crimespree Magazine. We have access to many facets of this world of publishing. Across the board, the crème de la crème of any prism in this gem of an industry agrees.
Having an editor who loves your writing is a godsend.

Finally, I am a frustrated writer. My frustration may be the same as yours. It may be different. But I’ll share my story here in a public forum. Three? Four? years ago, I wrote a satirical short story. It wasn’t unique; it wasn’t O’Henry or our beloved Ed Hoch but I thought it was the best short story I’d written. It had a voice that didn’t belong to anyone else. I also knew it couldn’t get published. There was no print forum for this story. I sent it to my sister Jennifer who is our short story editor. She liked it too. We both felt Crimespree wasn’t the place for it. We both agreed it needed work.

I bit the bullet then. To date it is my one and only true writing exercise. I sent “Little Blue Pill” off to three friends who are brilliant writers and also great teachers. “It needs to be in a different tense,” “You’ll have to make it more descriptive.” “Take out the adverbs”. The process took over four weeks. Finally, the story was better. I was happy. My tutors were, if not in agreement it was the best I could write, at least content I had taken their mentoring seriously and worked hard.

Fast forward. Jennifer Jordan decides there needs to be an anthology of stories that can maintain a theme without fitting into a rigid structure. “You’re in the book”.

I was very happy. I was about to learn a hard and valuable lesson. EXPLETIVE DELETED was published by Bleak House Books. I was about to be edited by not only Jennifer Jordan but also Alison Jannsen. For those who don’t know Alison (now of Tyrus Books), she has the distinction of having three nominated entries in different Edgar categories’ in a single year. Jennifer & Alison took out my favorite thread in “Pill” and made it a better story.

It was good enough that I sent it off to some of my favorite Authors. People who had said, “you should write and if you ever do…” Pats on the back came, including a missive from my favorite writer. I received a note back, but not for three weeks. At first I waited daily for the e-mail to come. Then came week two and the “oh, he hated it” thoughts. Week three had me wondering whether to resend it. I realized the silence might be deep. Insecurity abounded. I agonized. One day I checked my e-mail six times and the next day I told myself to let it go.

“Thank God it didn’t suck.” The best review ever. The encouragement of all the people who’d read this little story had made me forget what it must be like from the other end of the e-mail. My friend had no idea I had written something. He knew he could only give me truth. He circled around that e-mail for days wondering if he should read it at all. He did read it.

I continue to write when I can. I’ve written several short stories. I finished a book. It had a great concept. It sucks. I’ve loved this idea for eight years now and I cannot make it work. It’s original. It’s based on a true story. It will sit on my hard drive until the laptop dies.

I’m a reader & I’ve made a home in the crime fiction community. When I believe whole heartedly in something I’ve done again I’ll go through the painful process of laying the work on the table. I’ll ask my two favorite agents to look at it. If they like it enough to respond to it with criticism, I’ll work it out.

So, I do have the dream. I also know that reading time is precious for everyone. I have a lot of people who believe in me. Someday; if I write every day… respect the history of words and our genre? Can stop the run-on sentences and bad grammar? I’ll allow myself to share again. I’ll go through the heart wrenching process of trying to make my baby the best it can be. If I’m really lucky the first blurb will be “Thank God it didn’t suck.”

For now, I have the memory of signing with Laura Lippman and Libby Fischer Hellman. It’s enough.

So read what Joe and Jason have to say. They’re both talented. They both have firm arguments. They’ve both worked with and have been editors. Read your work. It’s your path. Good Luck.

1 comment:

Ricky Bush said...

Hey, this was great a great story, Ruth.