5 Things I Learned on the Way to Publication by Lisa Alber

Me, NYT bestseller Susan Wiggs, fellow debut author Stacy Allen

Me, NYT bestseller Susan Wiggs, fellow debut author Stacy Allen

On March 18th, KILMOON, the novel that has at times rendered me into a weeping ball of self-pity, will fly free. I can’t control how well it sells, and I can’t control what readers think about my creation. I’ve got to let it go and continue my education—which is why this week I come to you live from the Wordcrafters Conference in Eugene, Oregon.

It’s interesting to be sitting in a writers retreat with mostly aspiring novelists. Now that I’m officially a published novelist (close enough anyhow), shouldn’t I feel differently? Apparently not. In fact, this heads up my list of five things I’ve learned on the way to publication.

#1 When it comes to the work-in-progress, I’m just like everyone else.

I’m participating in a workshop led by New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs, and let me tell you, published novel or not, I feel the same old doubts about my current work-in-progress as I have with previous WIPs. The fact that I have a novel coming out means nothing. The blank page is the blank page, and the messy draft is the messy draft.

#2 Publishing contract? Now it really begins!

So you think you’ll glide off into the happy sunset when you finally get the thumbs up for your first novel? HAH! Dream on, my friends, dream on. That’s when the work really starts. You are in the publishing machine, and this is true whether you have a traditional deal or you self-publish. You must get through editing, copyediting, and proofreading, and you must, as “they” say, “build a platform,” which means getting out there on social media. Publishing houses big and small have all kinds of expectations about platforms … sigh … So basically you’ve now got two jobs: sweatpant-wearing storyteller and “author.” (I used parens because that’s the way I think of it my head.)

And, let’s face it, most of us still have our day-jobs while we’re doing all this stuff.

#3 No matter how well you think you’ve gone over your story, typos and other gaffs still happen.

This has got to be one of the most aggravating aspects of the publication process. After editing, copyediting, and proofreading, I STILL found typos when I read the galley proofs. In case you don’t know, galley proofs are your typeset novel pages as they will look in the book. Reading the proofs is your last chance to catch typos. And I couldn’t believe what I still saw! Grrr. For example, a car door that was locked for a zillion drafts? Uh, no, it’s supposed to be unlocked. Or that character outside the house? No, Lisa, she’s been outside the church since the first draft!

#4 I have an issue with dashes.

I like to create compound adjectives and nouns. It’s just my thing. Here’s a list of just a few the copyeditor corrected.

hen-pecked –> should be –> henpecked
mid-air —-> midair
wolf-like —-> wolflike
under-lit —-> underlit
old-world —-> Old World

Nouns

bog-hole —-> bog hole
web-porn —-> web porn
sofa-bed —-> sofa bed
line-up —-> lineup
screw-up —-> screwup
half-mile —-> half mile

#5 Reviews: They matter, yet they don’t.

I’ve received some good and very good reviews. At first I was disappointed by the average-ish good reviews. But a well-established novelist friend pointed out that as long as you’re not panned, it’s all good. Lesson: Celebrate your average reviews!

Also, reviewers/readers read the craziest things into your words. One reviewer said KILMOON was romantic suspense. All I can say is that the reviewer must have some pretty dysfunctional romances under her belt.

Last but not least, one-star ratings happen, and I guarantee you that most of the time those reviews have nothing to do with your book. There are lots of trolls out there who love to be a-holes. I have a friend who received a one-star review because her protagonist’s wife is morbidly obese. You can’t tell what will set readers off.

In the end the only thing you can do about reviews is let them go and commit to writing what’s in your heart rather than writing to the market. Because, I’ll tell you what, one-star ratings are like typos: they happen.

So, it’s been a whirlwind, and I keep saying I can’t wait for KILMOON to launch because THEN I’ll be able to relax. No, a wise woman friend said, that’s when the self-promotion really begins!

The Art of Writing Short Fiction

By Sarina Dorie

If a short story falls under a thousand words (1500 words in some markets), it is considered “flash fiction” or “micro fiction.” With a number of new markets out there publishing flash fiction: Penumbra, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online being a few among many, it is a plentiful market to send to. Because writing short, succinct stories is a skill I wanted to develop, there is a high demand for flash fiction, and it takes less time to write flash fiction than a long story (in theory) I decided I wanted to take a stab at it. When Daily Science Fiction opened about three years ago, Wordos, my speculative fiction writing critique group in Eugene, Oregon decided we wanted to dissect flash fiction in order to hone our skills and see what makes a short, short story work. It isn’t surprising that because of our critiques and dissections, quite a few writers from our critique group went on to sell flash to Daily Science Fiction.

What we noticed about these stories is that they were tightly written, with limited details, often had an interesting idea, a twist or punch line at the end, and were emotionally powerful or shocking or funny. The format these stories had been written in ranged from someone telling a story to a friend, in the form of a letter or letters in an epistolary fashion, were written like a fable, joke or essay, or used some other unusual writing device to tell a story. Many of these stories weren’t even traditional stories in the sense that there was a character arc, plot or conflict. Still, there was something that happened in each “story” that made it catchy, edgy or worthwhile. These are just my observations, as well as some that I remember from members of Wordos. My advice to someone genuinely interested in breaking into the flash fiction market is to read and analyze lots of flash fiction and decide what it is about each piece that made the editor choose it.

As a result of studying the market and trying to think in the “short” mindset, I wrote about twenty flash fiction stories in a few months. Some of them I submitted to my critique group and got feedback on, some of them I later turned into slightly longer short stories, and some of them I left unfinished because there wasn’t enough there to create a story—but I didn’t feel guilty about not finishing because they were so short and I considered them experiments. Though I had been submitting stories to magazines for several years, it was my flash fiction stories that first sold. The four pieces I first sold in 2011 were “Zombie Psychology” to Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, “A Ghost’s Guide to Haunting Human’s” (which won the Whidbey student choice award, “Losing One’s Appetite” to Daily Science Fiction and “Worse than a Devil” to Crossed Genres. From there, I went on to sell slightly longer short stories as well as more flash. After building up my resume with short stories, I sold my novel, Silent Moon and then my novella, Dawn of the Morning Star.

Sarina Dorie

Sarina Dorie

DEPRESSION | Yeah, Yeah, But I’m Hosting a $$ Giveaway!

by Lisa Alber

Commercial Interruption

So much new stuff this week. A book cover! As seen on my newly redesigned website HERE! To celebrate, I’m raffling off a $50 Amazon e-gift certificate. Starting tomorrow, over the next week, you can enter the giveaway by going to my blog HERE and leaving a comment.

Back to the Main Attraction: 5 Debut Authors. 5 Novels. One Big Dance Toward Publication — Please No Depression

This week is launch week at the Class of 2014 debut(ante) author blog, The Debutante Ball. I’m honored to be one of five authors who will be blogging for the next year. I’m a little nervous too. When you think debutante, what do you imagine? I picture fresh-faced young women waltzing their joyous ways into the next stage of life. All is light and bright and ideal. I’ve been invited to be an authorial version of a debutante. I’m not scared because of the work involved with the group blog. I can handle that. What lurks, ever present in the deep recesses of my brain, is depression. I live with uneasiness that the switch is going to flip, and I’m going to fall into a dark mood that could last for weeks. The lurking grayness is always with me, even now, when things are going well.

Folks who don’t suffer from depression don’t understand how the chronic uneasiness can taint your worldview. Call it the Eeyore Syndrome. This isn’t to say I don’t think optimistically and have faith in the good. I’m not a dour person, but I struggle to remain upbeat, to set aside the uneasiness, to remember to be grateful and bring myself back to the moment. It takes a lot of brain energy, and I often get very, very tired and have to retreat from the world (and this is when I’m NOT depressed).

Over at The Debutante Ball all is upbeat because we’re five debut authors blogging about our journeys toward publication. Amidst this fun, my darkness lurks. What’ll happen if I fall into a depression? Will I be able to blog at all, much less with metaphorical tiara and pearls in place? If I sink into the abyss, will I have the guts to be honest about it over there, which will mean straying off the week’s designated topic?

I suppose I will, because I have a hard time faking it. It just makes me uneasy is all, mostly because the abyss is out of my control. I can hope, and I can do what I need to do for my best mental and physical health, but when the caul falls, it falls.

Funny thing is, here on ShadowSpinners, I don’t worry about it. The name of this group blog says it all. I can be as dark as I need to be. But hopefully I won’t need to be.

Killer Matchmaker, or Is He?

By Lisa Alber

I’d planned to respond to Christina’s post about her dark-man dreams, but then I remembered that I haven’t mentioned my debut novel (March 2014! Yay!) on the ShadowSpinners blog yet. Self-interest trumps soulful introspection this week.

My novel, KILMOON, features a dark man, but he hides behind a charismatic smile and his role as a celebrated matchmaker in Ireland. He’s not your warm and fuzzy matchmaker, that’s for sure, and that’s what I love about him. In literary parlance, he goes “against type.” I didn’t set out to do this. I didn’t say to myself, Hey, I need to turn a stereotype on its head so that my story will stand out, be original, and answer the question, What’s special about your novel?

Pfft. I liked the idea of a purveyor of love and matrimony and happily-ever-afters who has a murky past, who might be guilty of something, who might tend toward sociopathy.

Or maybe he’s just a flawed man with a tattered but good heart. I’m not telling.

The notion of a dark-man matchmaker got me started on the novel, and I’d forgotten about that until I read an essay about one-sentence elevator pitches. I was intrigued by the essay writer’s #1 tip for creating an elevator pitch: try to remember what originally excited you about the story. Your original idea before the story took on a life of its own.

It’s basically the “What if…” question. For me, the what-if began in Ireland. I happened to be in Lisdoonvarna village for its annual matchmaking festival. Talk about randy, Guinness-drinking Irishmen. It took me awhile to discover that most of them were about the unencumbered shagging, not the matrimony. That said, the matchmaker was, probably still is, a celebrated figure in County Clare.

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to wander to the dark side. What if the matchmaker had a murky past? What if he wasn’t what he seemed? Bingo! The matchmaking festival might have inspired another novelist to write a tale of romance or maybe women’s fiction. Not me, no, I’ve gotta get a little of that sociopathy in there.

So what’s my elevator pitch for Kilmoon? Hah! You kidding me? There’s nothing more excruciating than creating an elevator pitch. But, OK, off-the-cuff? Here it goes:

Desperate to mend her troubled past, Merrit Chase seeks out a celebrated Irish matchmaker–the father she never knew–only to get ensnared in his deadly past instead.

For a proper description of Kilmoon, check out this page.