Happy New Year! What Will You Do In 2016?

On Being Productive in the New Year

2016 new yearDo you want to get your book written? Finished? Rewritten? Submitted? Are you having trouble putting pen to paper and getting it done? Are you a master procrastinator? Here are some tips for finally buckling down and getting your work done:

  • Kill the procrastination tools.

We know how you procrastinate. The same way we do. Facebook. Twitter. Goodreads. Blogs. Find a program such as Simple Blocker which blocks access to certain domains for a given period of time. You can set it up to work all throughout the business day or just for a two-hour window, whatever works for you.

Find someone you know and trust in your network, ideally someone who at least somewhat understands your work and/or someone in a similar situation who could also use the accountability. Tell them your goals, big and small. Check in regularly.

I believe in this tool so much, I do it myself, along with fellow AAAer Karen. We email each other every Friday with A) what goals we accomplished this week (and what we didn’t), B) what we accomplished this week that we hadn’t planned on and, C) what we plan to do next week. We comment on each others’ weeks and goals, and we meet up quarterly to discuss more in-depth.

  • Tell people your goals, publicly.

This is when Facebook can help instead of hurt. Announce your goal. Give occasional (maybe monthly) updates. You’ll get some cheering from your friends and family, and the pressure of not living up to your public promise can help you get to work and make sure you don’t disappoint.

  • Set manageable goals.

Your goal shouldn’t be: “Write my book.” It should be: “Write 1000 words per day.” Or “Send one submission every week.” Make your goals manageable. Break them down into small chunks so you can get a little accomplished every day, and so you can feel that sense of accomplishment even when progress feels slow.

  • Make it a routine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll do something 2 or 3 days a week. Do it every single day. Something that is routine is brushing your teeth. You never think about whether or not you have time, whether you want to do it. A routine is something you truly don’t think about if you’ll do it. You just do it.

  • Try carrots… and sticks.

I had one client who just couldn’t do her rewrite. She’d put it off for a full year after I’d done her edit. She knew she needed motivation but she just couldn’t convince herself to do it. We devised a carrot and stick plan for her. We picked a reasonable deadline goal. We enlisted her best friend. Then she made a promise that if she completed her rewriting by that date, she got to buy herself two new pairs of shoes. If she did not, she had to buy her best friend THREE new pairs of shoes. You’d better believe her best friend was excited about this plan and would hold her to it! We respond better to punishments than rewards, so be sure you utilize both sides of this equation.

Good luck! And if you need assistance with hitting your goals, we can help.

If you want to know more about what editors do, check out my video this week. It’s about editors at publishing houses, not independent editors, but it can be confusing for authors to know just what editors do and why they’re always busy and why it make take some time for them to call back.

Eight Tips for How to Take Criticism

If you’re lucky and if you look for it, during the writing, rewriting, and submitting process, you’ll get some feedback and advice. In my video this week, I talk about why agents don’t often give any feedback (or even a rejection) these days. So if you get some, it’s valuable. It can be hard to take criticism, even when it’s constructive, so here are some tips:

1. If you can’t take criticism early and in private, you’ll get it later and in public.
If you have a hard time hearing where your book might be flawed from your friends, beta readers, and your editor, pause, take a deep breath, and vow to dive in and deal with it anyway. Because if you don’t fix those flaws, they won’t magically disappear. It’s much better to hear this feedback now, when you can still address the problems, then to read about them in a review, after your book has been published, when you can’t fix it, and everyone can see the criticism.

2. Take it with the intention it is meant
Editors only want your work to be the best it can be. We have no skin in the game if you don’t take our advice and don’t address your manuscript’s issues, so there is no incentive for an editor to make bad or erroneous suggestions. Your friends and family don’t want to see you be embarrassed. Your writing group just wants to help you improve and to give equivalent feedback to what they’ve been receiving from you. No one is trying to demoralize you or put you down. This isn’t about you; it’s about the story (even if it’s memoir). If someone does make personal pot-shots, cut them out of the loop permanently.

3. Get multiple opinions—do they all agree?
One of us had a client who had a big flaw in his book. He didn’t take her advice. But he mentioned that another reader had pointed out the same problem. So he ignored two readers’ suggestions to fix it. He was later taken to task for this error in a review. Moral of the story: if multiple readers are pointing out the same problem, then it really is a problem and you need to look at it more closely. If more than one person isn’t getting something in your story, you haven’t made it clear regardless of how you meant it to read. Feel free to get a second opinion. Multiple readers are a great idea. What more than one of them points out is something you need to pay particular attention to.

4. Do not respond in the heat of the moment. Do not.
Sleep on it. Sit with it for a few days. The immediacy of hurt will fade and you’ll be able to see the issue more plainly and without the clouds of emotions. This is especially true if the criticism is something in public such as a review or an online comment. Don’t address those at all. They never end well. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

Letters From People5. Do not awfulize.
Criticism does not equal “I hate it.” The longest editorial letters I write are for the books I really love. There’s a thin line between love and hate. The opposite of love is indifference. That’s where the real danger lies. But if I have a hundred issues I pointed out, that doesn’t mean you’re awful or the book’s awful or you’re never going to get published. It just means you have a hundred issues to look at and think over.

6. Listen to this podcast about dealing with criticism

7. Read this book about hate mail: Letters From People Who Hate Me by Steve Almond 

8. Rone_star_amazon_reviewsead these scathing reviews of books that are now classics.

Appreciate that there are people who want to help your writing improve. And it will. Writing is a skill and it gets better with practice, and with coaching. No one is born writing like Shakespeare, not even Shakespeare himself.

Is a Small Publisher Right for You?

Most writers, when they think of publishing through traditional channels, think of the big guys: DalkeyHarperCollins, Random House, and the like. And to get in those doors, you do need a literary agent. But what happens when you start hearing a lot of “No” from agents? Or hearing nothing at all? Is your reaction, “Well, then I guess I need to self-publish!” Hold off, because there is a vast area in between. In my video this week, I talk about three reasons you should very seriously consider going with a small press before turning to self-publishing.

There are an estimated two thousand publishers in the United States. Many of them belong to the Independent Book Publishers Association (which is why it has been confusing for self-publishing to John F Blairstart calling itself “indie publishing.” There already have been independent publishers around for decades.) Many if not most small publishers do accept unagented submissions. Many have very targeted publishing focuses, which can make it easy to find the right publisher for you. They can take more risks, and you can be a big fish in a small pond instead of the reverse. Small presses might haveMilkweed a regional bent, might be not-for-profit, might be affiliated with a university, or might be on the verge of growing into a major player.

When looking for a small publisher that might be right for you, keep these three questions in mind:

  1. Who does their selling and distribution? There are a number of distributors for small presses, and those distributors are very important in allowing the small presses to get appointments with and sell into the bookstore chains, major independent bookstores, and libraries. Their warehousing and shipping consolidation makes your publisher seem more like one of the big guys. You want to be sure your publisher’s relationship with their distributor is strong and firm—and not likely to change right after your book has released.
  2. What other books do they sell? Who will be the other books in the catalog next to yours? What books will your book be next to? Is their publishing philosophy one your agree with acrCoffee Houseoss the board? This isn’t the time to get desperate and go with the first offer that comes your way—check out their other books and see if you think the editorial and production values are what you want, that the website is up to snuff, and that they give the professional feel you are looking for.
  3. Is this a stepping-stone or are you looking for a lifelong relationship? Plenty of authors stay with the small publisher that believed in them and gave them a chance, while others move on to greener pastures when they have the clout to do so. Which future you prefer should affect the contract you sign with the publisher. If you will be unagented, read carefully the options clause and see if you’d like it to be more narrowly defined. Or you can try to get a two-book deal. When you don’t have an agent you need to read up on the aspects of a publishing contract and fully understand the various clauses and what they will mean for your career.Forest Ave

So before you give up on your dream of being traditionally published, you need to fully understand everything that falls under the umbrella of traditiGraywolfonal publishing. This is not a business for the impatient; keep submitting, keep researching, keep trying, as there are hundreds more options than just The Big Five. Small press publishing just might be right for you.