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When friends and family read your books

After I finish writing a novel, I’m excited and eager to share it with the world. I have to tamp down this excitement, though, as I go back and revise, edit, polish. Then, once again, as I’m ready to push the “publish” button or, if I’m fortunate enough to land a contract with a traditional publisher, as the release date nears, a strange shyness overcomes me.

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A book I’m proud of.

I become reticent to have friends and family members read the book. I might be all hip-hip-hooray, buy-my-book on social media, wanting the world to read my story. But if I see a friend or family member weigh in with a chipper “I just bought a copy!” I’m clutched with nervousness. I have to stop myself from saying, oh, you don’t need to buy it and read it. Really, you don’t. 

That’s crazy! I know it. And part of me argues with that other Negative Naomi, saying, of course you want them to read it, silly! You’re proud of it!

As I analyze this sentiment, I think there are several reasons for it. First, sometimes I will know, because of how well I know the reader involved, that this particular story is not their cuppa. So while I’m grateful — very, very grateful — for their support, I don’t want them disappointed when they discover that my book isn’t their kind of read.

Second, though, even if my book is to their taste in storytelling, I cringe at the thought of them not liking my particular brand of that storytelling. Unlike with a stranger who buys and reads my book, these relatives or friends are people I will most likely interact with regularly. Will they feel compelled to offer faint praise? (“I enjoyed your book. It was…different.”) Will they say nothing, leading me to absolutely, positively know they hated it? Will they think less of me if they dislike it, think I’m a…fake?

Reading tastes are subjective, I know. Who hasn’t excitedly urged a friend to read a favorite book, only to be crushed with disappointment when said friend gives that book a “meh” rating? Imagine that disappointment if you’re the author of the meh.

The third reason I am nervous when friends and family buy and read my books–What if they find…mistakes in it? Not just editing mistakes  (after all; a copy editor can’t catch everything. I know — I am a copy editor.) But historical mistakes in the case of a historical novel. Or mistakes in logic in the case of a mystery.

Yes, other readers can find those things and point them out to me via email. But again, having someone in your intimate circle point them out makes you feel like a sham. (Ha! So you thought you were a novelist, did you, the inner Negative Naomi cries.)

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Another book I’m proud of.

So, to all my friends and family who support me by buying and reading my books, I say, thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m really happy you support me in this way, and I hope my stories are enjoyable. And I’m grateful if you keep it to yourself if they’re not!

To my fellow authors, I ask: Do you suffer from these same feelings when friends and family say they’re buying and reading your books?

UPDATE: My daughter, Hannah Sternberg, also a novelist, noted that she feels “naked” when friends and family read her books, knowing they might learn very personal things about her through her writing. I completely agree with this observation, and I’m glad she pointed it out.

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Filed under Book reviews, Jane Eyre, romance, Uncategorized

Beach Blanket Bingo Summer Writing Program

So, this happened: I came across a promotion for a summer writing program at a prestigious college. Curious, I clicked through to see who would be there, what they were offering, and what the fee was. Several literary authors are on the bill, with promises of panel discussions with agents and editors. I recognized some of the authors’ names, but lately I’ve not been reading a lot of what passes for Lit-RAH-chure these days, so most of them were only vaguely familiar. I’m not judging them by my lack of awareness, though. But…

bookbannerParticipants have to shell out, oh, around $3,000 for this ten-day program. And they’re not guaranteed a slot. They have to submit writing samples first, to see if they’re worthy, I guess. And, in the FAQ section of the website, you learn: Participants stay in dorm rooms. Un-air-conditioned dorm rooms. Rooms do not have private baths. Baths are in the hallways. The dorms do not have elevators. There’s no parking. Breakfast and lunch are provided, but dinner, you’re on your own.

Sorry, but I started laughing then. I’m thinking: Why would I want to shell out several thousand dollars for ten days of what will most likely be at least some self-flagellation as I listen to critiques of my work or hear talks on what constitutes great literary effort these days (hint: probably not my stuff) and get to add to this “pleasure” by sweating away the nights in un-air-conditioned dorm rooms with hallway baths, while paying extra for dinners and having no place to park my car?

I have a better idea. I might try this writing seminar instead. I call it The Beach Blanket Bingo Writing Program (BBBWP, for short). Here are the deets:

For less than a third of what Prestigious Writing Program costs, you can rent a beautiful, comfortable two-bedroom, two-bathroom, air-conditioned condo with great parking on the Bethany Beach coast of Delaware. There is no writing sample requirement for the BBBWP. You are, however, encouraged to bring with you your favorite book(s) about writing, from Anne Lamott to Stephen King, and any novels/short story collections that inspire you. Also bring a computer, as BBBWP does not provide any, but Wi-Fi is available in each condo.

The BBBWP schedule is as follows for each of the ten days:

MORNING

  • Rise early to view sunrise over the Atlantic.
  • Return to condo for yoga, meditation on your own.
  • Breakfast at nearby McCabe’s Gourmet Market on French pastry and coffee while engaging in amiable conversation with the Eastern European workers there.
  • Return to condo for either: reading or writing.

LUNCH in condo (in addition to bedrooms and baths and air-conditioning and parking, the condos also have fully equipped kitchens).

AFTERNOON

  • Spend time on beach thinking about writing.
  • Exercise in heated pool.
  • Nap.

DINNER ON YOUR OWN, either at the condo or at one of the many restaurants nearby.

As you can see, the BBBWP does have some drawbacks–you won’t be interacting with other aspiring writers or published authors or agents or editors. To compensate for this, the BBBWP will provide a phone line consultation daily. Because of call volume, however, you will hear only recorded messages, along the lines of:

  • AGENT RECORDING: “Your characters must be married to theme more.”
  • FAMOUS AUTHOR RECORDING: “The writing was beautiful and you are clearly highly skilled, but you seem to be stretching for a more literary feel than your writing actually achieves (unlike my writing, which is always spectacular and where everyone goes out for cigarettes and commits suicide at the end).”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “I am so impressed. But I wanted more. More plot twists. Or something. I’m not sure – so I’m going to pass with thanks.”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “I do see this working for someone else; it’s so well drawn.”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “Surely some other editor will love this, and it will be a great success.”
  • EDITOR RECORDING: “I was very impressed with your unique premise, well-drawn characters and page-turning plot. But in this tight market, it won’t sell, so I have to pass.”

Most of these recordings, by the way, will have the advantage of being culled from the actual words of real editors and agents!

So, sign up today and get your BBBWP certificate (of need), along with the T-shirt and name tag lanyard (which will not have the BBBWP name on it, but will carry the name of the resort so you can get into the pool and private beach).

All kidding aside, if you do prefer the group experience with its promise of meet-ups with agents and editors, my advice is simple: Join Romance Writers of America (even if you don’t write romance) and go to a chapter conference or the big national one. You’ll find lots of supportive writers there. I’ve never come across a more supportive group of writers than those in RWA. They’re always eager to cheer you on, offer encouragement, suggest publishing routes and share information. As I said, even if romance isn’t your writing thing, you’ll still find something to like here and maybe, just maybe, a door will open. Unless you can be guaranteed one of those things — writing support and open doors — I’m not sure it’s worth shelling out thousands of bucks for any conference. But that’s just me.

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A Lesson from Project Runway

project runwayMost novelists are not best sellers. Most labor for years selling some books to publishers but not all,  making modest advances and little or no royalties. And when they see not-so-good books becoming popular, the authors of which  making tons of money and acting as if sheer talent and not a bit of good fortune got them to the pinnacle, well, it’s hard not to take up residence in the Bitter and Envious Bed-and-Breakfast. It’s awfully hard not to snark at those success stories, wondering why on earth someone who could barely string sentences together or structure a compelling story made it so big when your own works are just as good, if not better.

But this past week, if you’re a Project Runway fan, you had a look at how unattractive bitterness can be.  For those who don’t know, Project Runway is a show airing on Lifetime where amateur and semi-professional fashion designers compete for a chance to show a line of clothing at New York’s fashion week (along with some other prizes). This is its 13th season, and we’re down to just six designers.

One of the designers, Korina, has done some good work. She’s even won a challenge. This week, when she designed an outfit using every fabric and notion known to mankind from ancient times to the present, she ended up in the bottom with Char, a charming woman from Detroit, whose body of work so far has been inconsistent, good one week, appalling the next. In fact, Char was eliminated one week, but “saved” and returned to the show through a special dispensation gimmick the show started using a year ago.

Korina clearly didn’t think she should have to be considered even in the same league with Char. She snarked on the runway during the final judging, and she continued to snark while working on a new dress, an assignment given to Char and Korina so they could try to redeem themselves after their awful runway showings. Char won–she deserved it–with a sleek, floating blue dress. Korina lost–with a poorly constructed Mondrian-design sheath.

And when a weeping Korina went back to tell the other contestants she’d lost, she couldn’t resist jabbing at Char, mentioning how she’d been eliminated previously. (Translation: You were never as good as me, yet I had to compete against you, and I lost!)

Here’s a good write-up of the Korina Krack-Up.

But the sad truth of this episode is: Korina was right…to a degree. As mentioned, Char has been an inconsistent designer, with some really bad pieces coming down the runway at various times–bad in design and bad in construction. I remember one monstrosity in particular that appeared as if it had been sewn in fifteen minutes using fabric scraps…while she was blindfolded.

Nonetheless, Korina herself wasn’t brilliant. She, too, sent some real dogs down the runway — she designed a green evening dress that looked as if a beginning teen sewer had chosen the wrong fabric, the wrong color and the wrong Simplicity pattern for her first garment.

Korina was lucky, though, not to be eliminated earlier for some of her flops. She was lucky– just as Char was lucky to be brought back on the show after her elimination. They both have some skill. They both have some talent. They both have exercised poor judgement occasionally. And…they both experienced both good and bad luck.

Korina’s bad luck came this past week. I suspect Char’s will come soon enough.

Authors not in the best-selling ranks probably all have their Korina moments. (And if they’re smart, they keep them to themselves.) You look at author so-and-so selling big, and you think: Really? She made it with her book, but I’m struggling to find an audience or publisher for mine?

She got lucky. You didn’t — this time. There’s no point in dwelling on her good luck and your bad luck. Things can change. And, if you love what you’re doing, telling stories, you’ll keep doing it, no matter how unlucky or lucky you might be.

So, word — don’t be Korina. It’s my new motto.

 

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Tip for YA writers: learn about graduated licenses

I received my driver’s license mumble-mumble years ago in Maryland, back in the day when teen driving regulations were pretty light–no restrictions on number and age of passengers or driving at night.

Since that time, however, many states have adopted “graduated license” regulations that place specific limitations on drivers under the age of 18, who are driving on “learner’s permits” or “provisional licenses.” For example, in Pennsylvania, the state where I now reside, this relatively new restriction exists:

As of Dec. 27, 2011, for the first six months after receiving their junior  driver’s license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger  under age 18 who is not an immediate family member (brother, sister,
stepbrother, stepsister of the junior driver and adopted or foster children  living in the same household as the junior driver) in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If they have not been convicted  of a driving violation or been partially or fully responsible for a reportable  crash after six months, they may have up to three passengers under age 18 who  are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present. If  they have any convictions or are partially or fully responsible for a reportable  crash while a junior driver, they are once again restricted to one passenger.

Other restrictions–such as not being able to drive late at night or not being able to drive late at night without a licensed driver over the age of 21 in the car–are part of some states’ graduated license provisions.

So, what does this mean to an author?

Beware when crafting contemporary stories involving young drivers. Make sure you know the restrictions on young drivers in the state where your story is set. Don’t have your underage driver tootling around the countryside with a car packed full of underage passengers after midnight unless you note he or she is flaunting the law.

Authors who learned to drive “back in the day” before graduated licenses and don’t have any teen drivers in their households might not be aware of these licensing laws. As a copy editor who’s flagged this issue a few times now, my helpful hint to writers of YA (or adult fiction featuring a young driver) is this: save yourself rewrites later and go to the transportation department website to look up the law on young drivers in the state where your story is set. You’ll be glad you did!

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