Monday, August 30, 2010

Three Easy Steps to Getting Published

If you follow these three easy steps you will surely get published.

1. Write a brilliant novel.  Not just any novel, but one that is an instant classic, a page turner, a tear jerker, and most importantly just like The Davinci Code, complete with a conspiracy theory and complex, yet simple, codes. (And some sex, but not too much --- unless you want to publish a romance novel, in which case you need three sex scenes per paragraph, minimum.)

2. Find an even more brilliant agent to sell said brilliant novel.  This is easy. Once you've written a brilliant novel, agents will be busting down your door.  For Alaskans, this causes problems, because the front door is often not used, or is the first door to what we call an arctic entry --- when this is busted then animals will come in and steal the other animals that you have killed and plan on eating during winter. (Don't say I didn't warn you!)

3. Sit back whilst your brilliant agent sells your brilliant novel to an even more brilliant editor at a major publishing house.

You must complete the process in order, one...two...three.  Two and three can not happen without step one.  Rinse and repeat after you've blown all the money from your first advance.

So there you have it.  A three step plan to getting published.  Idiot proof. (And/or completely idiotic.)

Any questions?  No?  Now, if you're ready to sign the paperwork, one of my YK Delta friends has a icebox and some oceanfront property to sell you...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is Publicity the END of the World?

Before I actually signed the publishing contract, before I found an agent, and before I finished my first novel I had come up with clever ways in which I would help sell my book. Okay, I'm lying. I'd never thought about that stuff -- didn't even consider it, in fact. Beyond a little concern about how terrible my handwriting is and how I would ruin the books people wanted me to sign, I hadn't really allowed myself to dream of what I would do when my first novel finally came out.

Then, after signing a contract with that same goofy signature, I discovered I actually had a ton of work to do before the novel came out. If I wanted people to read my book I would need to work on publicity, of all things! Develop a platform, a website, start a blog, Twitter, and even start a Facepage (which is my mom's endearing name for Facebook).

In the depths of writing my novel I spent an enormous amount of time pondering the apocalypse. To be honest, the self-promotion and salesmanship I would need to partake in sounded worse than the end.

Which brings me to the end of this posting --- as I flounder and bungle my way towards the next few months of publicity prior to my book coming out, I am realizing that this isn't the end of the world. A writer can actually have a little fun with this nightmarish idea of actually working to share one's writing with the world. One might even be surprised about how excited people are to help and share their knowledge and time, even in today's over-saturated media crazy market!

My book doesn't come out until January 25th, 2011 --- last week I spent three days in the Amazon Canada top 100 list. Surely this is a sign of the apocalypse, or I just have friends and family who really love me, or just maybe this publicity stuff won't kill me after all.

(This post first appeared on 8/26/10 on  49 Writers.) 

Monday, August 23, 2010

How to find an agent, publish your novel, and survive a bear attack.

Two bears playing in my yard...
Inevitably when talking with other working writers, aspiring writers, and people thinking about someday aspiring to aspire to write a novel, the question arises,  "So how did you find your agent?"
Of course upon hearing this I smile and/or grin, as if I hold the golden key, the silver bullet, the answer to what that strange gelatinous material in Spam actual is --- when in fact the smile and/or cheesy grin comes from my lack of an answer that will really be of much help for folks...surely a kid from the tundra who landed a killer agent has a secret to share...surely there is some story that accompanies how I managed to pull that off...surely I would be willing to share that secret, if such a secret existed.  People who know me, know that if such an answer existed, I would share it ---- free of charge.
In short, I don't have an answer that will solve this age old conundrum that writer's face.  I just don't. I currently know one writer who has written the best novel I have read in the last ten years and he's having a helluva time even locating an agent willing to read it.  That is bummer news, I know, but this is the world that we writer's face. The good news is that he will find an agent and he will publish that novel and will go on to a writing career that many dream of, and one of these days agents will be calling him. 
The part of my story that might be worth sharing is the hours of work I put into researching agents willing to take new writers, and then putting in the hours to send out emails.  I wish I said I mailed out hundreds of letters, but I didn't --- I exclusively used email. I didn't want to work with an agent who required mailing. At the time I lived in rural Alaska and I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the lag time of waiting for (and receiving) rejection letters.  Rejection email isn't as tangible and, for me at least, not so painful.  Then there is the expense of mailing.  Hence, my choice for agents who accepted email queries.
The next step was to craft a killer letter. One that showed my voice, my style, my subject matter, and at the same time conveyed my stunning good looks.  This took some work. (Mostly because I lack style, voice, and subject matter.)
The rejections began to flood my in-box.  I told each one I deleted they would regret rejecting me and I sent them into the digital ether.  Then one agent replied.  My non-fiction manuscript on unleashing creativity, a theory I had crafted during my own teaching and writing experience, would be great if I was actually an expert in the field.  Being an expert on the tundra meant little.  He was, however, interested to know if I had anything else.  And, like every great aspiring writer, I had a novel I was working on.  I pitched it to him. Then emailed him all twenty pages.  And was summarily rejected ---- but he indicated he liked the writing and if I ever had anything else to let him know. 
Four years later I did, and he signed me.

So you see, I don't have that answer about how to find an agent any more than I have the answer about how to survive a bear attack. Perhaps I could teach you more about how to survive a bear attack.  There is a certain body position one takes when actually being attacked by a brown or grizzly bear. You drop to the ground in a ball and cover your neck by clasping your hands together at the base of your skull, staying on your knees and bracing yourself with your elbows.  In this way you play dead and protect your vitals.   There is a metaphor in there somewhere.  Just remember that playing dead might get you through a bear attack, but I guarantee it won't get you an agent.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

And so it began...

Two Bethel Ravens
People around the world revere and admire ravens.  I am no different.  I grew up with ravens, immersed in a culture that reveres and respects the bird --- so much so the Yupiit's very story of creation attributes our own human existence and all we need to survive here on earth to this magnificent creature.  In many ways, I suspect they were right. 
Take my own existence as a writer for example.  I've been writing and loving writing for as long as I can recollect, yet things didn't really start to fall in to place for me as a working writer until I experienced something that I'll never forget.  An image, really, that I've never shaken from my psyche, and an encounter that started a cascade of events that have brought me to this point.  The event?  One afternoon while walking on the snow-crusted tundra with the incredible woman who would become my wife I stumbled upon something stark black and rumpled in the snow.  I  approached and realized the pile of black was a dead raven.
I didn't know what to do. The whole situation was odd. I'd never seen a dead raven, and I didn't know if there was some cultural protocol or old Yup'ik rule about what one should do when encountering a dead raven.  To be honest, I was a bit scared. 
I headed home, leaving the raven there, where it fell --- out on the wide expanse of tundra near my home in Bethel, Alaska.
When I got home I wrote a poem or two, nothing impressive, as I tried to shake the image from my mind.  I didn't want to believe that witnessing the dead raven was bad luck, instead I thought it might be something important. Perhaps some sort of sign.
That night I browsed the web, thinking about the raven and my new poems and checking out various writing sites I frequented, probably trying not to think about the piles of high school essays I needed to grade ---- and I spotted a strange advertisement.  The ad had a photo of one of my favorite authors, Daniel Quinn, the author of Ishmael, a novel that I taught to my high school English students.  The advertisement offered Quinn's service as a "Writing Coach."  I was sure it was some sort of scam, using Quinn's name without his knowledge, but I wrote him anyway.  I told him who I was, what I wanted to do with my writing and that I probably couldn't afford his services on my meager second year teacher's salary, but I wanted to know what he charged nonetheless.
The next morning, the day after my encounter with the raven, right there in my in-box, sat an email from Daniel Quinn himself.  I was to send him some of my writing, and, if he approved, he would become my coach.
And so the journey to publish The Raven's Gift began.  It would start with a simple promise (one that I will write about in later posts), and continues to this day.  This blog will take you along as I recall the journey and share some of what I've learned about writing and life, as well as what I continue to learn each day. 
Ironically, I might add, this blog post itself wouldn't have existed without that same raven --- I visit that image in my mind once again and am only reminded of something I still need to learn, just in case I stumble upon another dead raven someday.