Category Archives: jealousy

After the Ecstasy, the Editing

Everything editors, agents, and authors have told me at SCBWI conferences has turned out to be true, particularly the things I didn’t believe would be true for me.

For example, I’ve been told that getting a book deal will not magically transform me into a permanently satisfied, optimistic, and resilient human.  When SCBWI folks said stuff like that, I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m sure that’s true for the other pre-published writers here, but not me. Once I get a book deal, I may still be an easily-exhausted anxiety-prone weirdo, but then I’ll be that weirdo WITH A BOOK DEAL AND THAT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.”

Nope. Sigh.

After the ecstasy of getting “the call” in 2016 from my darling agent and connecting with my talented editor to begin the publication journey for my debut middle-grade novel, I expected to wallow in utter contentment for a long time. Years of wallowing. At the very least I’d wallow through the whole process of getting my manuscript out into the world.

Then the first round of revision edits was delivered to my door, and with it arrived the Mind Games Writers Play On Ourselves (yep, MGWPOO).

I got caught up in such MGWPOO favorites as:Shel Silverstein head

  • I’m Not a Real Writer
  • Before I Can Handle Criticism, I Need to Die
  • Chasing False Measures of Success
  • Envy of All the Other Writers Who Don’t Struggle with This Crap
  • The 33 -Minute Limit of Success-Fueled Joy-Basking Before I Find a Way to Undermine Myself
  • The Permanent Longing for Success That Makes Hope Painful.

 

TheySidecar (4) come roaring along with every new delivery of manuscript revisions, like rumbling motorcycles leaving greasy tire tracks across my soul, and this thousand-pound steel sidecar is attached to every single one: Beating Myself Up for Falling into Mind Games Again.

What’s an anxiety-prone weirdo to do?

First, I think, find another writer somewhere who will tell you that you are not alone in this. (You’ve found me. I’m telling you. You’re not.) Airing out the mind games, bringing them into the light of discussion with your fellow writers shows them up for what they are: common. Common as commas.  I’m beginning to think none of us can publish a manuscript with some of them in the mix.

Editing Kit Kats

Next, it seems smart not to assume the mind games will pass us by.  We must arm ourselves for the ongoing battle; perhaps with weapons of Show Kindness to Fellow Writers and Give Yourself Time and Turn the Nebulous Sense of Mortal Despair into a Concrete To-Do List. I’m still working on this concept as my battle armor currently consists of a jar of Kit Kats.

But I’ve got my MGWPOO out in the open now, here in the light of EMU’s Debuts, and that’s a start.

(Many thanks for the warm wit and wisdom of my agency-mates Anne Nesbet, Ann Bedichek, and Sophie Petersen for convening the Special Committee on Writerly Mind Games and How to Defeat Them. Check out Anne Nesbet’s Middle Grade Mayhem post on the same topic!)


Christina Uss

CHRISTINA USS is a bike writer, bike rider, mother of twins and dweller of Massachusetts. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Help her learn to dodge the MGWPOO at http://www.christinauss.com.


 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anxiety, jealousy, process, rejection and success, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Shoes: The Window to the Soul?

Chris Shoes2

My current favorite and most comfortable “wear everywhere” shoes.

You can tell a lot about a person by his/her shoes. Yes, it’s a snap judgment, a tiny thumbnail of a much more complex picture of heart, mind, and soul.  But still. I like to study people’s shoes, especially writers’ shoes, because I am always fascinated by their choices.

Rebecca's Harry Potter Shoes 005

Rebecca made these to-die-for shoes for her daughter!

Many are comfy, worn in, perfectly molded to the wearer’s foot. Some are impossibly clever, showing off hidden depths of talent (see Rebecca’s Harry Potter shoes). Still others are fancy, or quirky, or bold–shining with character and originality.

The mistake I make is wishing I could wear them all. (Warning: shameless use of metaphor ahead!) At our annual agency retreat, we do readings of works in progress. Even as I listen in awe, I lapse into melancholy over the display of talent. My brain declares: “I could never write like that!” (Or in Metaphor Land: “I could never pull off those strappy three-inch spike heels! I’d trip over my own feet!”)

Tam's Shoes

The lovely Tam’s purple sneakers

Mylisa's Shoes

Mylisa’s smart, sassy heels

And so it goes: Why aren’t my topics more edgy and why don’t they matter more? Why can’t I write with that much honesty? Why don’t my adjectives sparkle like that? Why can’t I be that original and important and WORTHY?  Why, why, why?

The truth is, there are too many kinds of shoes in the world to wear them all. But some shoes suit us so well! Others we have to try on and walk around in for a while before they feel like a good fit. And some we’re just not meant to wear. But that’s okay. Our shoes writing should reflect the unique, fabulous message that only we have to offer.

Jenn's Spiderman Shoes

These kick-butt Spiderman shoes were Jenn’s favorite growing up

It took me a while to come to terms with this. I devoured ghost stories as a kid. I loved mystery and adventure. Maybe, just maybe, I could even write my own mysteries when I grew up. When high school pulled me away from the books I loved to read Important books, I was devastated. Partly because I thought it meant I had to leave my favorite books behind, and partly because so many of those Important books were so dang bleak.

Chris Shoes1

The costume party platform shoes. I know, right?

Yes, we must stretch ourselves, read everything, learn, grow, discover, rise up, reach out, all those things. But if there is no passion behind the things we write about, no love, no personal truth, then what’s the point? There, I said it. My personal truth is writing about things that go bump in the night. Maybe there’s a deep psychological reason behind it. Maybe I just enjoy books that send a shiver up my spine.

Megan's Shoes

Megan’s killer boho sandals

I certainly don’t think that writers should limit themselves to just one type of “shoe.” What a ho-hum world that would be! In fact, I bought a pair of vintage Italian platform shoes for a costume party and ended up falling in love with them and wearing them out in public. Who knew? But there are certain types of shoes I will probably never buy or wear. (Anything with an animal print comes to mind.) And there are certain genres and topics that just aren’t for me. I have made my peace with it. Thank heaven there are enough writers and books and shoes for every possible occasion.

Chris Shoes3Right now we’re on vacation in northern Wisconsin. After a summer of line edits and working on a book proposal and ferrying kids around to endless activities, it’s nice to recharge and give my brain a rest. I can squish my toes in the sand, sink into the sound of lapping waves. Ideas come and go as they please, a gentle ebb and flow without the pressure of plot or  the structure of story.

Sometimes it’s nice to just go barefoot.

 

Lindsey's Shoes

Lindsey’s chic red shoes with pedi to match

Penny's Shoes1

Penny’s fancy shoes that are not as comfortable as she hoped

Penny's Shoes2

Penny’s super comfy writing slippers, with books as the perfect accessory!

Laurie's Shoes

Laurie’s honeymoon shoes, The Most Comfortable Shoes EVER

Amy's shoes

Amy’s funky-cute awesome sandals that I want to steal

Donna's Shoes

Donna’s versatile I-can-do-anything shoes

 

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ChristineHayespic2 (534x800)Christine Hayes writes spooky stories for middle grade readers. Her debut novel, THE MOTHMAN’S CURSE, is due out June 16, 2015 with Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, jealousy, Satisfaction, Writing, Writing and Life

Waiting by Rebecca Van Slyke

Waiting

Lord, please grant me patience. And I want it RIGHT NOW!

 

Last month I wrote about getting The Call. As with most deals, I had to wait until it was official to be able to share my joy with my family and friends. When I could finally announce something, I got the same reaction over and over: “That’s WONDERFUL! You certainly have waited a long time for this to happen!”

Yes.

Yes I have.

I’ve been waiting to be a “real author” for a long time. When I was four years old, I discovered that books were made by real people. I wanted to be one of those magical people called “authors” and “illustrators.” So I wrote stories on my Big Chief notebook and drew pictures on typewriter paper.

Skipping ahead to college, I took an educational literacy class where the professor offered us this choice: write a research paper, or write a children’s book. That was a no-brainer for me. I spent happy hours writing and illustrating a picture book. The professor liked it so well that he gave me an A… and passed the book along to his publisher. Unfortunately, they did not publish picture books, but it was all the encouragement I needed. The next thirty-mumble years were spent sending manuscripts out. I started with the first story, but gradually added others. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I joined SCBWI. I learned. I wrote. I sent out new manuscripts. I read. I went to conferences, to classes, to lectures. I learned more. And I waited. Every time I sent out a manuscript I knew that this could be the time.  And it wasn’t. Again and again it wasn’t.

I just went back and re-read this last paragraph and realize how pathetic it sounds. Good gravy, what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I give up? Thirty years without a nibble? That right there is some special kind of stupid.

Except I was making progress, I could tell. I finally took the plunge and decided to do more than take an occasional class. By now I was a teacher, and I did what teachers do. I went back to school. I got a master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. That led to getting an agent. Now I was guaranteed to get an offer.

But the offers didn’t materialize. I watched classmates sell a book. Or several books. I had several near-yesses. I tried not to be jealous. I kept writing. I kept waiting.

A quote from Anne Lamott’s book, BIRD BY BIRD helped:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.

So while I waited, I watched and I worked. I cheered on my published friends. I became more involved in my regional chapter of SCBWI. I started giving talks on writing. I critiqued. I mentored. I didn’t give up.  And the dawn DID come. I switched agents, and, after still more waiting, I got The Call in June.

So now that the excitement has settled down, what am I doing? Waiting. Waiting on revision notes, decisions on illustrators, opinions and decisions on new projects.

I have several friends who are waiting to get The Call. They’re close, I can tell. I know because they’re showing up. They’re waiting, and watching, and working.

Some of you reading this are in “waiting for The Call” mode. I need to tell you not to quit. Keep waiting, but while you’re waiting, keep watching for the next opportunity. Will it be a class? A conference? A chance to help someone else on the journey? Keep working to improve your craft. Write. Read strong literature. Illustrate. Study. Read craft books. Show up. And never, never, NEVER quit. Because The Call could be waiting just around the corner for you, too.

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Education, jealousy, Rejection, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

They Just Don’t Get It–The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Note: Keen readers of our blog will have noticed that Wednesday posts are often written as a response to the previous (Monday) post. I wish to make it perfectly clear that this time that is not the case. The reader is advised that the following article is in no way connected to Kevan Atteberry or to his charming introductory post and any effort to corellate the two should be regarded as an exercise in futility. Thank you. ~~CB 😛

OK, so this writer (whom I just made up) writes a story that is, he is convinced, quite good. Breakout novel, in fact. Bestseller, that sort of thing.

20130613-194804.jpg

“I’m talented, ain’t I, Dad?” “Almost as talented as me, son, and that’s danged talented.”

At some point, he joins a critique group. He sizes up the other writers when he arrives. Hacks, he thinks, every last one of them. They’ll probably be gobsmacked when they hear my piece read aloud. They’ll probably applaud.

His turn comes. He reads. When he finishes, silence. Frowns.

Where’s my applause? Where are the gasps of amazement, the eager handshakes and pats on the back? What the heck is wrong with these people?

Then the questions come from the group. What is the reason for the loquat argument on page 3 …? Why does the main character shave her …? How will the disconsolate yeti help her to win the …?

The new writer gets defensive. After every remark, he impatiently explains why he wrote it the way he did. He’s like a goalie on a one-man team, blocking each shot. And inside, he’s thinking, These people are morons. Dilettantes! They don’t grasp my artistic vision!

Chances are, if you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve run across someone like this. I have, more than once. It’s the reason so many groups adopt the Author Is Silent Rule. These writers come to critique group ostensibly asking for feedback, but they never agree with any comments anyone makes and they never even seem willing to try the suggestions given. Well, almost never. They waste your time asking for feedback they will not even consider. And often, they rip your piece to shreds when it’s your turn.

So, what is with these types?

Most of them are relatively normal, just suffering from a little beginner’s arrogance. Be patient. They’ll come around after they go home and think over what’s been said. If not then, well, a few rejections should squeeze that arrogance out of them. (Or they’ll self-publish and forever sneer at you and the world of “traditional” publishing, but that’s another topic.)

But some of these writers, an unfortunate few out there, are under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and these poor people will probably have a much harder time ever producing a publishable manuscript.

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence. — Psychology Today (link below)

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Funny thing, this Dunning-Kruger concept, how well it seems to fit so many incompetent people working in so many different occupations. It’s the computer programmer who believes that her code is superior to others’ but everyone else can see that her code is convoluted and full of bugs. It’s the restaurant chef who cooks up unpalatable dishes and blames the patron who rejects them, saying they just must not know how to eat. And it’s the writer who refuses to really stop and think about why the readers of her draft have questions about it. She simply cannot believe that others don’t recognize her genius. And others, quite likely, view her as an untalented writer.

How do I know I don’t have this? Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? I don’t know. If you have it, you’re unable to recognize it. But I figure I’m safe because, believe me, I question my ability often. I spend a lot of time feeling pretty sure I don’t really know what I’m doing and hoping no one finds out (the impostor syndrome).

How do you know if you’re Dunning-Kruger free? You’re D-K free if you’re always trying to improve, and you not only listen to advice from other writers, agents, and editors but you really consider what they’re saying. If you’re willing to try out their suggestions even when you’re pretty confident that it’s really not going to make your story any better, just because you know you’ll learn something by trying it, you’re probably Dunning-Kruger free.

Awesome!

Awesome!

Bottom line: Because we recognize our weaknesses and faults, we’re probably way more competent than that writer with the attitude at crit group who defends his manuscript on every point.

It’s comforting, isn’t it, to know that our insecurities about our writing ability may mean that we’re actually pretty good–or that we’re on our way there?

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Filed under Advice, Colleagues, Controversy, Editing and Revising, jealousy

The Upward Spiral

On Monday, Joshua McCune talked about whether advertising our failures might be as helpful to the community as touting our successes. And I agree. As much as I love to hear about friends’ book deals and blog tours (and I really DO love hearing about that stuff), sometimes what I need is to email a writer friend and just say, I CAN’T WRITE and have her answer, ME NEITHER, WE’RE STUPID.

millionaire

We need other writers — our people — as Pat Zietlow Miller points out. We need a psychological support system. The whole process of inventing, creating, selling, and publishing a novel is predominantly just a series of rejections, starting with our own heads.

brain

It’s no secret on this blog that once you get The Call, your problems don’t magically disappear. The Call is awesome, don’t get me wrong. It’s like Falcor and Ellen DeGeneres and a basket of puppies all singing gumdrops into your ears. But remember your non-magically-disappeared problems? And remember how, on top of those problems, you probably have new problems?

One of those new problems is guilt.

Not shame. Not regret. Nothing as major as that. Just this vague, dull discomfort that wiggles in your brain when you start to articulate any of these new problems. The little voice that says, “You got A CONTRACT. Do you know how many HARD WORKING writers, who are BETTER than you, are still waiting? How DARE you complain about anything!”

writinglife

“What, now I have to REVISE? This is bull$&!t.”

For most people, each step on a writing career path is a struggle. So reaching the next Thing (publisher, grad school, completed manuscript, agent, National Book Award) is a huge deal. And each step upward can feed our self-doubt.

Whenever I feel stressed, my brain starts on this “It Could Be Worse” path ad absurdum. A kind of Upward Spiral. Nothing that’s worrying me has any business being relevant, because someone has it worse. I mean, think about it —

You could still be waiting for your editorial letter.

Your contract could have fallen through.

Your agent could have given up on you.

You could still be waiting to sign with an agent.

You could still be finishing your novel.

You could still be starting your novel.

You could be one of those Ladies of Wrestling who have to wear bikinis all the time.

You could have accidentally broken that reclining shepherdess figurine Great Grandma brought over from the Old Country.

You could have leprosy.

YOU COULD HAVE YOUR HEAD ON A PIKE.

pikehead

Still wanna complain about your cover art? I’M SURE MR. PIKE HEAD WILL BE VERY SYMPATHETIC.

I’ve spoken to writers with amazing deals and established careers who have big problems. Big worries that they would love to commiserate with their friends about, but the guilt gets to them. It’s isolating.

Here’s the thing, though. You know that stuff that’s stressing you out? Revisions, deadlines, launches, reviews, sequels. The “Oh, man, I wish I had your ‘problems'” problems. That’s real stuff.

Just because good things have happened to you doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to ever have worries in your life again. It’s okay to be stressed by the challenges that come with each step of your path. And your friends will support you. Really. No matter where they are on their own journey.

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Filed under Anxiety, jealousy, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, The Call, Writing and Life

Gotta Do It Write Away

I love Melanie Crowder’s post about the Colorado fires, comparing them  to her own desire to get a draft done in the summer when she is free from school obligations and the forthcoming pressures of having a book on the verge of release. Oh, the stress we place on ourselves! I gather than most, if not all, of us Emu’s are feeling the strain of wanting to get another book done (and preferably sold) before our first one comes out.

Being followed by the countdown clock…

Why is this? Are we afraid of being a One Hit Wonder? Or could it be that the insecure guy on our shoulder is hissing into our ear that our first book might fail miserably, and if we don’t get something lined up quickly, we might not ever get another chance to sell again? OK, so maybe these are my fears. I don’t really believe them, but that insecure guy has a mind of his own and he doesn’t really listen to rational explanations.

Like Melanie, I am in a race to finish a book before my first one releases this fall. But despite my hopes, summer has been a frustrating time to write. The kids are home, with different schedules, making me the official Carpool Camel. Just when I settle into my first paragraphs, the youngest comes up and gives me a sad, “Why are you always on your computer?” look and asks, “Mommy, will you play just one game of Sorry with me?” Working from home is challenging for a lot of reasons, but when the kids are around, too, the laptop becomes a source of jealousy for them. Hence, not as much writing is getting done as I’d like. At one point, I actually had to lay down some serious cash to check myself into a bed and breakfast for three days so I could write for more than an hour without interruption. I wrote more in those three days then I have all summer.

Melanie’s situation is more difficult than mine. She has the added pressure of having time off during the summer with which to work, while also having to balance Real Life. What little time we have seems devoted to preparing for our debut launch, rather than writing. This, combined with an urgency to get something else in the hopper before the debut book releases, makes for some craziness. I get the feeling that most of the pressure comes from a self-imposed state of anxiety.

But yes, the days of leisurely writing for a few hours a day over a period of years seems over. Now we must produce to keep our readers, agents, and publishers happy. Now we must produce to keep that insecure guy as far away from our shoulder as we can get him.

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Filed under Anxiety, Book Promotion, jealousy, Writing and Life

The Curious Phenomenon of Evolving Self-Perception

My AALB bookshelf - still the alpha shelf in Chez Jung, yo.

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES belongs on the Arthur A. Levine Books shelf! Yes it does!

As the release date for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities approaches, I seem to be going through some changes in self-perception. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking – “Mike, you’re clearly a megalomaniac, which means you’re not capable of changes in self-perception!” Here’s a little secret: I’m not really a megalomaniac. I’m actually a quivery ball of emotional insecurity, which makes it a bit strange that lately I feel…good about my writing career? And not in a spoofy “I’m the king of the world” way, but in a “oh wow, THAT just happened” kind of way, or a “perhaps all this good stuff happening to me is justified” kind of way.

For example, I now have advance reader copies winging their way out into the world, and I was asked to whip up a list of suggested readers. I asked a bunch of people who I know to one degree or another, which was hard enough, but in a burst of uncharacteristic real-world bravado I also asked one of my very favorite kidlit authors if I could send them an ARC. Someone who I don’t actually know at all – no email, no Facebook conversations, not even a single-tweet exchange on Twitter. Nada. And that person said “sure, I’d love to take a look.” At which point my head suddenly – oh wait, I think it’s about to happen aga–

The ARC of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES!

Oh man, ain’t that pretty?

*head explodes*

Uh, sorry. I’ll clean that up later… Anyway, the fact that this person is willing to read my ARC is FANTASTIC! It’s fantastic partly because it’s something that seemed so far out of reach three years ago, when I was scuffling through the query process and revising in what often felt like a state of intense psychological isolation. I have the best critique partners in existence, but it really isn’t the same as working with colleagues in the publishing industry the way I do now. I partially defined my writerly identity with terms like aspiring, up-and-coming, and just plain unpublished. And the word I’ve used more than any other is, of course, writer. But now I find myself growing increasingly comfortable with a different term, one that I’ve always perceived as having a certain air of untouchability: author.

Starred-review-collecting EMU J. Anderson Coats touched on this in her early post on how we answer the question “What do you do?” It’s funny how loaded one little six-letter word can be, isn’t it? Writer, author, author, writer, which one am I, oh I don’t dare call myself an author, etc. One of the things I appreciate most about the kidlit world is that people are clearly invested in living the self-examined life – logically enough, since it’s a prerequisite for the writing process. There’s a widespread awareness about how we project ourselves as public figures, assess our place on the continuum of children’s literature, discuss potentially sensitive topics, and affect the feelings of our colleagues and friends. I value this tremendously.

The thing is, I also struggle with this. I’ve struggled with it before, but now it’s happening differently, probably because the advent of my career as a published author feels so much bigger than anything I’ve previously experienced in my professional life. I’m struggling with the balance between being sensitive/diplomatic/cautious/humble and being expressive/optimistic/risk-embracing/celebratory.

I don’t want to be a jerk, you know? I’m entirely too capable of being a jerk. But I also feel really good about my place in the kidlit community, optimistic about my book’s prospects, and confident in my own abilities. Back in my pre-published days (which are still pretty recent), I started making a very informal list of things I wanted to happen during my journey to publication. They were things I thought I’d really love to experience and were contained within the big dream of publication, but they also qualified as dreams in their own right. And those things have actually started happening!

Broadcast News, one of the best movies of the 1980s

Really good movie, BTW.

In a scene from the old James L. Brooks movie Broadcast News, William Hurt’s character says, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Albert Brooks’s character responds, “Keep it to yourself!” That’s not an uncommon sentiment, and I do want to be mindful of the pitfalls of excessive self-adulation. L.B. Schulman touched on this in her early post on “Spreading the Good News.” I know the danger of being perceived as a braggart is real – in fact, the danger of genuinely becoming a braggart is real. I’m both a writer and a library professional, so I spend a lot of time in the company of people who share my don’t-be-a-blowhard concerns, which I think is much more positive than not.

But.

There are times when these tendencies have inhibited me. There’ve been moments when I may have robbed myself of joy and satisfaction in the pursuit of diplomacy, and that by trying not to irritate people through excessive self-regard I’ve unnecessarily put myself down. That’s the last thing I want to do right now, because I have this extraordinary feeling that my professional life is metamorphosing into something that has more purpose and meaning than it’s ever had before.

I keep returning to the great warhorse in my stable of quotes, Marianne Williamson’s astonishing insight into our deepest fears, and realizing that I don’t want to play small. I want my light to blaze like the sun! I’m very happy, and I’ve tried to be open about expressing it. The infancy of my career has been more than a dream come true: it’s been an entire series of dreams come true. I’ve driven myself like a plowhorse to get here, and I’ll continue to drive myself as my career progresses. I’ve described myself as many things during the journey to publication. I’m a newbie! I’m a wannabe! I’m a dreamer, a writer on the verge, a burgeoning creative professional! Now I’m adding one more thing to the list, yes I am, right out there for the entire world to see.

Look alive, world. I’m an author.

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Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness, jealousy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness

Covers: The Wisdom Behind the Obsession

Jeannie, I love your cover for KATERINA’S WISH. It’s colorful and gorgeous. Even if there wasn’t a girl on the cover, I don’t think it would convince a boy to read a “girl” book, though. I don’t know who said it, but I once heard that if Harry Potter were Harriet Potter, it wouldn’t have been the smash success it is. Boys prefer to read about boys, so my guess is, you probably lost the majority of that gender from your first line. The good new is, your book could be a huge success with only a small percentage of female readership!
I am happy to see that you came to love your cover more over time, once you got over your disconnected status. It truly is lovely. And bottom line, you want people to buy your book, so whether or not it looks like the character you had in mind is not so important. What’s crucial is that it grabs the readers’ attention as they browse the shelf, and I believe it does that.
Now, I must admit that I am jealous! You have a cover and I don’t. Waaaah. This had led me to do the awful thing we writers sometimes do: compare. Ah, I see J. Anderson Coats has a cover for THE WICKED AND THE JUST, as does Michelle Ray (her wonderful book, FALLING FOR HAMLET, is already out!) Oh, and look, so does Mike Jung with GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES. But that’s not all, look at Cynthia Levinson’s cool cover for WE’VE GOT A JOB. Lynda Mullaly Hunt has a cover for ONE FOR THE MURPHY’S…I think that only leaves Natalie Dias Lorenzi and me, but she has an amazing cover artist, which is very cool. (Note to Natalie: You don’t have a cover yet, do you???) Now I am not evil jealous or anything. Perhaps envious is a better word. We writers must choose our words precisely.

The mantra for my cover

I also just read an article about the obsession with cover art on Publisher’s Weekly called Real Books Don’t Die by Marc Schultz. The take away is that the author of the article believes that  people will always prefer physical books. He also thinks they will appreciate them more for the brilliance inside than for the beauty of the cover. Hmmm. While I agree with the viewpoint from an adult perspective, I have to say that I’m not so sure it’s true for kids. Call me a cyncic, but….Kids are way more technologically savvy than us adults. This means they may, someday, feel more comfortable with the latest and greatest electronic book toy than an actual book. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t. I worry that no matter how much adults like the concept of a physical book, kids are open to different presentations and change may be inevitable. Only time will tell how this all plays out. I pray for the book; I really do.
But back to cover art. With kids, I think the cover design is crucial. Yes, we adults may read the New York Times book reviews and carefully select our list of To-Reads, but I bet we’d all be hard pressed to find a kid who does the same. The closest they get to research comes via Goodreads. But most kids still go to the library or book store and take out many books, glance at the covers, and put them back or…joy of joy, flip it over and read the jacket copy. In my opinion, here is what typically happens before a kid will buy, or get Mom to buy, a book:
  • Cover design must be intriguing.
  • Jacket copy has to be engaging.
  • Inside cover copy has to add more detail while keeping interest high.
  • A random paragraph inside the book must interest the reader.
  • Kid must have extra money from Grandma from the holidays or have a parent willing to shell out $16.95-ish.
Then, at long last, the book gets bought. This tells me that cover art is worth all the obsession. Sure, we writers toil over words, working through endless revisions, to get it all just right, but if the cover is boring or the jacket copy is ho hum, most kids won’t progress to the buying stage. Adults may slap down the Visa, perhaps with bad-cover-blindness because they know something about the book’s outstanding quality ahead of time. But kids? Not so sure. For them, I think the cover is Almost Everything. And I think authors, when they score a good cover, should thank their lucky stars.
I hope my cover is as nice as yours, Jeannie. Look at the shading! Look at the beautiful sunset! I want to hang it over my fireplace, seriously! I feel certain that your cover will sell books, and that is the cover’s number one job.

When one is waiting, email is the devil's tool

Now excuse me while I go back to chewing my nails and checking for a certain email with the subject line: COVER!

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Filed under Book Promotion, cover art, jealousy

Green Eyed Literary Monster

I get jealous. I admit it. When I see a notice about someone’s book deal, I’m jealous. When someone wins a writing award, I’m jealous. When someone gets a good review, I’m jealous. When a book I hate sells really well and is getting all kids of press, I’m jealous. (Also annoyed.) And when someone gets a starred review from a publication that was mean about my work, I’m more than jealous. I’m sort of a crazed green-eyed literary monster.

But . . . why?

Why am I jealous? I have no right to be. None at all.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry about “Dayainu” (Hebrew for “It would have been enough”) about how each step of my writing journey has been incredible and has surpassed expectations. I never expected to be published. Never expected to love my agent, to be so encouraged by my editor, to be supported by my publisher, to have friends celebrate whole-heartedly with me, for readers to ask what I’m working on next because they want to read more.

So how can I be jealous of others?

I could go with my I’m-a-flawed-human-being theory and be angry with myself. But I think it’s just plain human nature.

Years ago I read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, a magnificently funny, validating book about writing and writers. So much of it rang true, and it gave me the courage to try getting published again after I’d been rejected by yet another round of agents. And then I got to the last section of the book, which talked about writer jealousy. I didn’t get it. She talked about the secret glee at seeing another writer’s books be remaindered, the anxiety of one’s publishing experience, and about the fleeting nature of the joy of one’s own success. I thought to myself, “If I every get published, I will be joyful. I would never be petty. And I will never, never forget how lucky I am.”

Ha.

Now listen, I know I’m lucky. And I am happy for other writers when they find success. And I read reviews to see what might be interesting to pick up next. And when I hit “like” on a Facebook announcement about a friend’s deal or positive review, I do it out of happiness and the desire to support. Seriously, I do.

So I will try to forgive myself for my all-too-human and really-unproductive-and-unearned-jealousy. I will try. And I will fail. But I will try again. Just like when I’m writing.

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Filed under Celebrations, Controversy, Happiness, jealousy, Satisfaction, Writing and Life