Save the Libraries: A Guest Post With Pages Unbound

July 31, 2014 at 6:16 pm (General) (, , , )

The wonderful Krysta over at Pages Unbound invited me to do a guest post about libraries, and you guys have probably realized by now, I am ALWAYS happy to talk about libraries and how wonderful they are. So check it out, and be sure to chime in through the comments and tell us your favorite thing about libraries.

Permalink Leave a Comment

I Found Treasure in the Library!

June 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm (A Wounded Name) (, , , )

Anyone who’s read through the archives on here knows that I love libraries. I love the accessibility of them, the way they can foster readers, the amazing assistance they can give the public through computer and employment programs. I love being surrounded by books. I love walking in and seeing people–especially children–so excited about what books they might stumble upon that day. I love that libraries are the perfect places to take risks on new books, new authors. I was one of the few kids that knew and conversed with all of the school librarians. I spent large portions of my summers in the main branch library downtown.

Libraries have a very special place in my heart.

A few months ago, my friend Lesley and I made a day out of going to one of the libraries in Ocala so she could look around in prep for an interview test. And can I just say, the main branch of the Marion County Public Library is GORGEOUS? It’s elegant and full of light and space. Their kids area is adorable, with science projects and theme displays, and they have an entire room dedicated to YA, with funky chairs and built-in swivel-top desks. We were scanning the shelves, and all of a sudden, I notice something.

Library1

The audio book of A Wounded Name! It was the first time I’d actually seen a copy of it!

And if it seems weird that the library has the audio but not the physical book, well, I thought it was, too, so I asked (and blushed and stammered over trying to explain that it was actually my book). Turns out, the MCPL has a weirdly specific grant that gives them the ability to purchase a TON of audio books, especially in YA, so they’ve got a significant collection.

And in addition to the first time seeing the audio book, it was my first time seeing the book in the wild! I don’t count my BN as being the wild; we made very sure to order it in. I got to spend a few months seeing my book on the shelf in my store, but being able to see it somewhere completely unexpected was…it was…

Abso-freaking-lutely unbelievable.

There are a million points in the publishing process where your book starts to feel real–the sale, the first edits, the cover, the ARC, the finished copy, seeing it in a store, seeing someone purchase it–but I’m not sure it ever completely feels real. I was reorganizing my bookshelves a few weeks ago and was actually startled at mine being among them (and that alphabetically, I now have like five Carolrhoda Lab titles on a single shelf in one of the cases). I guess it’s just something that will always feel a little bit surreal.

Theoretically, I knew the physical book was in the library system for my county. (Okay, I admit, I totally looked it up on the library website) I hadn’t actually seen it yet, though. I have two branches that I go to fairly frequently, especially since I became unemployed, and I hadn’t seen it in either of them. I also didn’t feel entirely comfortable placing a hold on something I had no intention of checking out just so I could be lazy and not have to go to a different branch. I mean, let’s be honest, I’m lazy enough that I’ll Netflix shows I own so I don’t have to get up and change the discs, so this was me very carefully drawing a line. I would see it or I wouldn’t.

Thanks to Elizabeth Fama (author of amazing books MONSTROUSE BEAUTY and PLUS ONE, as well as all-around amazing person), I’ve been giving audiobooks a fresh chance, because they’re not something with which I ever do. I’ve been so miserably sick over the past four or five days that audiobooks have actually kind of saved my sanity, because taking super long soaks in the bathtub has been the only way to comfortably breathe, and the tubs in my apartment are so miserably proportioned that you can’t read while soaking. But audiobook? Totally works. So I’ve been finding some that don’t trigger my ADD, which is a wonderful thing. This morning I managed to get three whole hours of sleep, the first sleep in four days, and woke up feeling well enough to go out for a little bit. (That wasn’t really an option, though; I needed food. I had none in the apartment, because I’ve been holed up here in my hermit cave of illness). So, on my way to food, I dropped by the library to return a couple of titles and see if anything interesting had pulled up on the shelves. My branch has the audio books separated by section, but also separated from their sections. (Does that make sense? Like each category has, off to one side, its own little audio section, so you go near the end of Middle Grade, you have the Middle Grade audiobooks, etc) I hadn’t intended to go into the YA physical book section, except that I couldn’t remember exactly where the YA audiobooks were, because there was a weird allowance for running out of space in the area.

But my book was there!

Library

Just randomly sitting there on the shelf! And there’s a special sticker on for Local Author! (And a categorization of YA mystery, which kind of cracks me up a little, but whatever)

As wonderful as it is to see my book in a store, there’s something just indescribable about seeing it in a library. I think a big part of that is how much libraries were a part of my life growing up. Seriously, guys, think about everything your libraries do. It’s not as simple as “borrow books”. Libraries provide such a huge range of services. They help teach English to immigrants, they teach computer and life skills classes, and host job search and interview workshops. They do literacy assistance for all ages, from story time with the youngest children to working with adults who learning how to read. They host book clubs and writing groups and drawing classes. They hold a number of community gatherings, from small festivals to council meetings to town meetings. They serve as polls, both for early voting and standard voting. And that’s just a fraction of the services they provide.

Did you know you can request books?

You can! Most library systems have a way for patrons to request specific books, even in specific formats. You submit the request, they’ll consider it, and if there’s repeated interest or they think it’s a good fit (and, you know, they have money), they’ll buy it. A lot of them will even notify you when it’s in, and give you the option to place an automatic hold. If they can’t get it for their own system, a number of libraries are partnering with other counties, sometimes even in other states, for inter-library loan. In a time when libraries are struggling to get the funds to survive, librarians are doing everything they can to increase the availability of books.

Seriously, you should all go hug your librarians.

But ask them first, otherwise it’s kind of creepy.

I saw the book sitting there on the shelf and for a moment, all I could do was stare at it. Then it sank in and I started giggling, only I have no voice right now, so it came out as a kind of witchy cackle, and I think I scared the guy re-shelving books down the row. It was just amazing to see! There are kids like me, kids who rely on libraries because the money isn’t there to buy books for keeps, who can see this book and take it home with them.

I still can’t stop smiling about it.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Cancer Needs An Ass-Kicking

February 15, 2014 at 5:59 pm (Personal Real Life) (, , , , )

Let’s talk about cancer, and about moms, and about moms who have cancer. Specifically, let’s talk about my mom.

IMG_0265

Last April, my mom started having some abdominal pains and bleeding, which might have been easy to explain if she hadn’t stopped that process a few years ago. (Ladies, if you notice anything weird going on with your lady-parts or lady-cycles, see a doctor. Better a false alarm than missing something. Actually, that goes for guys, too. True self-love is checking to make sure all your junk is healthy) A scan showed some shadows on an ovary and a mass behind the uterus. The cancer markers on her blood test were low, so there was a possibility that it was benign. If it was cancerous, they were pretty sure it was ovarian, slight chance it was uterine, and they were pretty sure they’d caught it early.

But, when they went in to remove the questionable bits, they found a very, very different story. They found cancer tissue across her ovaries and uterus, across her bowel, and through her lower abdominal cavity, including wrapping around a few blood vessels. They got out what they could, which necessitated losing some bowel, and sent it on to pathology. My mom’s surgery was near the end of the May; I spent the School Library Journal Day of Dialogue and most of my day at BEA waiting very impatiently for the path report. Not that I was going to be able to do anything from New York (or do anything, really), but not knowing was awful, because this was so clearly not what they were expecting. We’d been expecting the report for days, and every day that passed without a response just made it worse, because it had to mean that it was more complicated.

And it was. What they found was advanced cancer (Stage 4) originating in the appendix. Appendiceal cancer is rare; there have been less than two hundred documented cases since it was first diagnosed as a separate and distinct cancer in 1969. Because of its rarity, treatment options are…limited. Limited and still largely experimental, lobbing chemo agents at it and hoping it works. Chemo couldn’t start until she was fully recovered from surgery, which took a while, because it turns out when you lose portions of your bowel, it makes little things like eating a very chancy business.

My mom was, at this time, enrolled in an online graduate program to become a Nurse Practitioner. Grad school has been a dream near and dear to Mom’s heart for a long time. She was enrolled at UF when we first moved to Gainesville in 1990, but she got recalled to active duty during Desert Storm, and was gone for almost a year, and then becoming a single parent meant that grad school had to wait. And wait. And wait. When she finally got the chance to investigate online programs, we crossed our fingers. When she actually got to enroll, we were ecstatic. The program is hard. It’s meant to be done by professionals working full-time, but you would never know that based on the deluge of assignments and impossible class times. She worked herself to the bone while she was still working. Fortunately, she was eventually approved for a grant that allowed her to leave work and do school full-time. It meant things were tight, but it also meant school was doing well.

UNfortunately, once she started chemo, school got harder and harder to keep up. Chemotherapy essentially poisons your body; it’s why the side-effects are so terrible. You’re literally pumping toxic chemicals into your body in the hopes that it kills the cancer before it kills you. She grew extremely fatigued, couldn’t focus, got extreme sensitivity to cold from both taste and touch. She couldn’t walk barefoot in the kitchen without loosing sensation in her feet. She couldn’t pull things out of the fridge or freezer, couldn’t drink anything that was even cold, much less containing ice. Her potassium levels started tanking (which is, among other things, very bad for your heart). As tired as she was, she also suffered from insomnia. Nausea and vomiting came in waves, and the complications from the surgery meant she developed Short Gut Syndrome. She lost weight at a dangerous speed. And there were other side-effects. Eventually, it reached the point where she had to take a medical leave of absence from school, which was a devastating personal blow. She was later able to return to her old job, which was fortunately willing to be flexible with the hours and her needs, but school is such a deep and driving dream for her.

So why am I telling you this?

At the end of the month, my mom will be going into surgery again, a couple hours south of home. There’s a doc in DC that specializes in developing treatments for rare cancers. This protocol he’s developed, which other doctors also perform, is an aggressive combination of a long, intensive surgery and directly-applied chemotherapy. The side-effects of a direct-application chemo wash are significant, not to mention the incredible strain on the body that a long surgery produces. Provided all goes well, she’ll be in the Intensive Care Unit for several days, and then on the main surgical floor for two to three weeks (also provided all goes well). It’s an aggressive procedure, but it has a decent success rate, and if it does work, it has a significantly higher quality of life standard than continuing traditional chemo, which has thus far prevented new growth but not diminished old growth.

And we have no idea how much it’s going to cost.

Thank God, she has insurance through her job, but we don’t know how much it’s going to cover. We heard back from the office of the doc who’ll be doing the surgery, so we know things are covered on that end, but the hospital is a completely different story. Right now, her two-person household is a three-quarter income household, and once she goes down for surgery, she’s not going to be able to work until she’s fully recovered. She tried to make arrangements to work from home, and the doc was certainly willing to sign off on it, but the confidential nature of the work she does makes her employers unwilling to make the arrangements on their end. She has insurance, but no sick time. Some of her co-workers even tried to give her some of their sick time, but no dice. Her job will still be there when she gets back (and even that is a small miracle) but for the duration of her recovery, both in Daytona and here, there’ll be no income.

My mom was lucky enough to form an incredible study-group with some of her fellow Hoyas, and they support each other like you wouldn’t believe. Her phone is always going off with texts, and they moved from study-buddies into genuine friendships. When she had to take her medical leave, they kept her involved in classes by asking for her help editing papers, or helping them go over tests. When the rest of the group had to head to DC for an on-campus intensive for clinical skills, they printed out a picture of her from the previous OCI and Flat Stanley-ed her. They took ‘her’ along with them to clinicals, to meals, to drinks, to the hotel, out on walks, everywhere, and sent her pictures. They’ve committed themselves to helping her study when she comes back from medical leave, and if the procedure is successful and she’s able to join back in summer or fall semester, she’ll actually be able to walk at graduation with them next year.

And they’ve started a gofundme for her medical bills. Cancer is a debilitating disease–physically, mentally…and financially. It’s easy to say to ignore the money and focus on getting better, but that doesn’t work if the money ISN’T THERE. There’s only so much you can put on credit cards before you reach your limit, and all the well-wishes in the world don’t pay the rent.

I’m not really one to ask people for money, largely because I know better than most just how tight money can be. I live well below the poverty line, and am currently unemployed. The one advantage to that is that I can be down there with her at the hospital. But..I am asking. Politely, and with the complete understanding that money is tight, I am asking. If you can give anything to this fund to help my mother pay her medical bills and keep a roof over her head, even just a few dollars, THANK YOU. If you can’t give financially, you can still help by boosting the signal and sharing it with others, and THANK YOU. It’s funny, you’d think I’d be pretty good with words given the whole writing thing and all, but words really can’t express how grateful I will be for ANY help than can be given.

Again, here’s the link to help my mom hopefully kick cancer’s ass and still have her life to come back to when she recovers.

For any donation, for any share, for any signal boost, THANK YOU.

Permalink 6 Comments

An Experiment in Control

February 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm (General, Writing) (, , )

Tomorrow marks two weeks of unemployment for me. I’m not panicking yet- last time I couldn’t get a job, it stretched for a whole six months- but it’s led to a lot of thinking for me, in between the cleaning and procrastinating. Mostly, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about control.

Because realistically, I can’t control my employment. I can put out applications, I can search and interview and do my best, but I can’t control what actually happens. It’s led me to other things I can’t control.

IMG_0401

I can write the best book I can write, but I can’t guarantee that the book will sell. It’s out of my hands, and in the hands of an editor who can decide that he or she wants to buy it. I can do my best, my fabulous agent can do her best, but in the end, it depends on a lot of factors, like what else is in the catalog, like what the current trends are, like the purely subjective likes and dislikes of an acquisitions board. A lot of factors, factors over which I have no control.

IMG_0402

Once a book is out there, the way it’s perceived is entirely out of my control. Books become, to many readers, very personal things. The way we enjoy them, the way we react to them, says a lot about us. I can’t control what people think of my writing. Once it’s out there, I can’t argue with people that I think miss the point, can’t tell them what I meant to do. Hell, J.K. Rowling is a superstar and she can’t get away with it without a furor. And really, that’s as it should be. Once it’s in the hands of the reader, it’s open to interpretation, to personal perception. I can’t make anyone like my book. I can’t control whether or not someone enjoys it. Love it or hate it, it’s out of my hands.

IMG_0405

Publishing is a crazy industry that attempts to balance art and business. It’s a juggernaut, really, that steams along to its own timeline. There are eight million numbers and considerations and factors and none of it is in my hands. I can make my contributions on one end or another, but I can’t control it. YA readers on Twitter the other day may have seen #TheArchivedNeedsaThirdBook. For some context, The Archived is an absolutely amazing book by Victoria Schwab. It’s creepy and atmospheric, exciting, heart-wrenching, unexpectedly funny, with the lyrical, gorgeous writing we’ve come to expect from Victoria. It’s sequel, The Unbound, came out at the end of January, and it is just as good. Where the first book was an external enemy, this book is largely internal; the main character is shattering and struggling to make everyone believe she’s okay. A very large part of this book is the realization that it’s okay to NOT be okay for a while after trauma. The story is such that things can end here; it’s the characters that need a third book, and there was originally supposed to be one, but as we know, in publishing, sometimes things happen. They’re not done intentionally, they’re not done to hurt anyone, but it is, at the end of the day, a business, and a business is about numbers and projects and yes, about passion. The hashtag was a fan movement to try to sway the publishers, but at the end of the day, a trending hashtag isn’t going to make a difference to the business. (It will, however, make a hell of a difference to an author to get that kind of outpouring of love and support). What makes a difference to the publisher is sales. Aside from the contribution of buying books from authors I love so they can hopefully make more of them, I can’t control other books. I can’t control other authors. I can’t control publishers, or timelines, or release dates. I can’t.

IMG_0404

I’ll be honest, Other People as a collective tend to piss me off. Not in a “you’re awful” kind of way, but in an “I don’t want to be dealing with you” kind of way. I am an introvert; I prefer not to deal with people if I can possibly avoid it, because I’m awkward and self-conscious and I hate feeling like an idiot in social situations. But I learned a long time that I can’t control other people. I can’t control behavior, or statements, or preferences. I can take accountability for my own actions, but not for theirs. I can’t control luck or good fortune, or bad fortune, I can’t make other people live with compassion or mindfulness.

IMG_0403

There are so many things out of our control it’s frankly a wonder we can convince ourselves anything IS in our control. There is so much about life that we don’t get to decide. We can’t choose the weather, or the climate (unless you choose to move, but even then, have you noticed how things have been recently?). We as individuals have a say in our government, but we don’t really choose it. We can’t control the jury summons or the illness or the falling in love. We can’t choose a lot of things, and where there is no choice, there is no control. It all seems rather a hopeless business, doesn’t it? But there’s something comforting, in a strange sort of way, about acknowledging how small we are, how generally powerless we are. Because when we admit to ourselves all the things we CAN’T control, we start to understand the things we CAN control.

IMG_0406

I can’t control what happens with my writing, but I can control the writing itself. Yes, there are bad days, where every word is a struggle and I’ll probably end up deleting most of them the next time I sit down to work, but those are generally rare. More to the point, what I can control is sitting down and DOING IT. I can control the process of sitting my butt in the chair and WRITING. I can choose to open the file, the notebook, the book. I can choose to exercise my craft and expand my voice. Whatever comes after is out of my hands, but it is precisely in my hands to shape the story and spill it onto the page.

IMG_0407

I’m not by nature a disciplined person, but I can change that. I can control that. I can make it better. Right now my apartment is slowly getting cleaner than any living space of mine has probably ever been, and it’s kind of creeping me out a little, because everything is getting organized and neat and in its place, and that’s just not normal for me. But I’m making the choice, here and now, to keep it that way. To start the good habits and maintain them. I’m usually someone who waits for the mood to write, or who waits for the day off, but I would very much like to get into the habit of writing at least five hundred words every day. Even if it’s not on my main project of the moment, just so I’m writing SOMETHING every single day. Starting good habits is hard. Maintaining good habits is REALLY hard. But- I can choose to have the self-discipline to enforce them, and right now, I choose that.

IMG_0409

I’m not able to control what happens to my books, but I can choose to keep pursuing the goals I’ve set. I can control whether or not I give up. Determination, persistence, they’re hard, especially because they traverse so close to the border of delusional and trying too hard. Sometimes, no matter how badly we want something, no matter how hard we work for it, it just doesn’t happen, and we do have to accept that. Sometimes that means we have to shift our goals. It doesn’t mean we have to give up. Determination got me my first book deal. I can choose to continue that determination.

IMG_0408

Okay, so this one is actually really difficult. Life has a way of throwing things at us, and it’s hard to control your outlook in trying times. But if I can’t control my emotions well enough to be optimistic, I can at least control them enough to not wallow in misery. I can choose to temper my outlook with a bit of joy and hope, or at least a really sick sense of humor. I can’t control the world, but I can control how I look at it, and I can control how I choose to move through it.

IMG_0410

Because at the end of things, the only thing I can really control is myself. All those other factors, all those other things, that I can claim to control, all those really boil into one single thing: me. And as long as I can control myself, as long as I can choose to make myself better, to do better, I can get by.

And what that also made me realize is something else I can control.

My gratitude.

So.

IMG_0411

IMG_0412

IMG_0413

Permalink Leave a Comment

Sometimes Things Happen

January 28, 2014 at 7:18 pm (General) (, , , )

I’ve been a bit squirrely for the past few months, and there were Reasons, but while I was in the midst of dealing with them on a daily basis, I found I couldn’t come home and explain it online, couldn’t talk about it more, but now I think it’s time for some explanations, largely because it’s also a form of goodbye. Not to you- I’m not leaving- but to my home for the past six years, and a large part of my life for twenty.

On 31st December, my Barnes and Noble closed its doors for the last time. This wasn’t an indication of how the company as a whole is doing, it wasn’t an indication of our store faltering or our local market not supporting us. Boiled down to its bones, our landlord didn’t renew our lease. There were details, of course, but to be honest, things got pretty messy after the announcements and it became a Big Thing, and in the interest of it not becoming a Legal Thing, I’m going to leave it at the lease.

Employees learned about it in September. Our District Manager was up (not unheard of) and she’d spent the day holed up in the office (not uncommon; even on store visits she still gets stuck on conference calls). What made it weird was the sudden appearance of our assistant store manager, who was supposed to be off that day and had been called in. Then the arrival of one of our merchandise managers, who was on vacation (but still in town). Eventually the other merch manager was called in, and then it was my turn, and by this point we were all wondering just what the hell what was going on. And the news was, we’d be closing at the end of the year.

When you hear something like that, there are any number of questions that bubble into your mind all at once, but damned if you can pull yourself together enough to ask them with any degree of intelligence. You want to ask about transfers, about severance, about eligibility for rehire, about insurance. But mostly HOW. Mostly WHY.

And once you get safely home and break down in private: What do I do now?

It was another month before we started telling customers, and even then we eased into a bit. There were a few of our regulars, people who are so much more to us than customers, that we told a few days early, but for the most part, we waited until the first clearance signs went up. We needed time to get used to it ourselves, we needed time to find out what we were allowed to say, how we were supposed to answer questions.

On October 27th, the first of the clearance sales went up. At that point, we had about 125,000 books and product in the store, and about a quarter of it went to clearance, all things that were unable to be returned to vendors. Unlike all of our previous clearance sales (because they happen about every two to three months), the dots marking the products were white, instead of red, and at every sale we had to warn people that these items could NOT be returned. I was actually somewhat shocked at how many people were utterly incurious as to why. But for most, this was where the questions began. The initial reactions were mostly shock and dismay. We were in our location for twenty and a half years, and a fair number of our customers have actually been with us the entire time. We used to have a hugely active preschool and elementary school community that partnered with us for events, and a lot of those kids who grew up in our store had started bringing their own kids in.

I never did the storytimes or the activities, but I was one of the kids who grew up in the store. I was there opening week with my mother, and it was the first time I’d ever told anyone that I wanted to published someday. I spent my allowance in this store, my birthday/Christmas/babysitting money. All of my original books were ruined in a house fire when I was 12, but three years later, I got to drop a couple hundred dollars in our Barnes and Noble (and trust me, I’d EARNED that babysitting money!) and finally got to buy my favorite books, the ones I’d checked out so often from the library that I could almost quote them. I still have almost all of those (some of the paperbacks have passed to friends as I’ve broken down and replaced them in hardcover), and sometimes it’s weird to look at the backs of the books and realize this was when mass markets were rarely higher than $4.99. Money wasn’t something we had a lot of, but when I had it, it tended to find its way to bookstore far more often than not. This store was a home for me, and as a child, I was awestruck by the idea that so much knowledge, so much wonder and imagination, could be contained within a single building.

There were tears from some of our customers, fury from others. There was a rather depressing indifference from some. But then, there were some reactions that utterly baffled us.

Like the man who said he wasn’t surprised we were closing, because we’d politely refused to place an order on Amazon for him because he didn’t want to bother with his computer.

Like the woman who sniffed and said it was about time, because we’d been unable to send someone to her home to diagnose her router issues.

Like the ones who said no one read anyway, or that books were dying, or that Amazon was a better place anyway. (And do you have any idea how difficult it is not to snap back that Amazon isn’t a place at all?)

But no matter how the conversation went, the fact was, the conversation happened. Again and again and again and again. So. Many. Times. A. Day. And it was exhausting. Because sometimes the conversation twisted around to “What are you going to do now?” and we didn’t know (many of us still don’t know) and it was terrifying and we really didn’t want to talk about the uncertainty of our future inability to pay our bills. And sometimes the conversation turned to “What am I going to do now?” and it was both strange and discomfiting that some people could be so incredibly selfish, when there are SO MANY avenues by which to acquire books. We’d have to explain that no, we weren’t simply moving locations, because those things take time and we didn’t have any. We’d explain again and again until finally we just wanted to hide in the breakroom and talk about ANYTHING ELSE because we could actually FEEL our brain cells dying. We’d get home and I know for myself, I could do nothing more than drop onto the couch and stare mindlessly at the TV. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t do anything that required actual thought, because I was just so mentally exhausted.

The news had come so out of the blue that most of our holiday orders were already locked in, so it took a while for our shelves to start to feel empty. But, slowly, the shipments slowed down. Gradually, our ability to restock the shelves was cut off, vendor by vendor, warehouse by warehouse. Eventually, our ability to order books for customers transitioned to only direct-ship. We had to shift constantly to condense those empty shelves, and as weeks passed, entire sections of the store were just bare shelves.

And as we got into December, the desperation ratcheted up. Our customers were desperate to believe that there was some kind of reprieve in store, that if they just wrote enough angry letters or made enough angry phone calls to our landlord, somehow everything would be okay. As employees, we were torn between wanting to believe that and wanting everyone else to stop believing it.

But, we found ways to entertain ourselves, in a thoroughly giddy, borderline-hysterical kind of way.

Thanksgiving weekend, our assistant store manager decided to gift-wrap the breakroom door. I helped, and then took it further, until all the interior doors save the bathrooms were bright and sparkly (but without glitter, because one of our merch managers freaks out at glitter).

Outside of the Office Door

IMG_0322

IMG_0323

IMG_0324

We even found the polar bears because they make our store manager happy.

I have to admit, I kind of turned into a demented Christmas fairy, because it kept me busy. I made ornaments for everyone on staff. I made a wreath for our inner office. It kept me busy and kept me, a little bit, from fretting.

One night, one of my rare closing shifts, a couple of our cashiers decided to put out scrap pads (recycled page a day calendars) and asked customers to draw what they thought a whalien would look like. Sometimes they’d add a little explanation, but most of the time, they just would just say to draw what they thought it sounded like. I was astonished by how many ACTUALLY DID. We made a quilt of them. (I accidentally deleted that picture, but it was pretty awesome) It hung out at the cashwrap for that final week of business, and then the next couple of weeks of actually closing everything out, then moved to the fridge when we had to take those bays out.

For our final two days of business, our glitterphobe made us a playlist that included titles like “Final Countdown”, “Closing Time”, “End of the World (As We Know It)”, and other thematically appropriate (or inappropriate, all things considered) titles. The final day he included “Dance Magic” from Labyrinth, and “The Time Warp”, and we actually did dance the Time Warp in the cashwrap line. By the last day, we’d reached the point where we had to laugh like idiots because we just didn’t know what else to do and still function. (I’m told there’s video of that somewhere, but I haven’t seen it, so I’m pretending it doesn’t exist).

We closed on New Years Eve at 4 pm, because there really wasn’t much point in drawing it out, and we all trooped out across the parking lot to Ale House and started drinking. (Responsibly, but still, it was a drinking sort of evening).

For most of our staff, that was the end of it. As a store, we had over time transitioned into a staff made of disparate personalities that worked together really well. We didn’t have the big dramas that we’d had in some other incarnations of the staff, we didn’t have the fights. Were there issues? Sure. But we were also a staff that could talk through those problems, or take them to a manager for mediation without it being a tattle-tale situation. As a staff, we’d become very close-knit, family and friends. Saying goodbye that night was like a physical blow.

And yet, if I’m honest, I might be a little jealous of the people who go to leave when the store was about half full, because the actual process of closing out the store, seeing it disappear little by not so little every day, was heart-breaking. (And back-breaking) Day by day, we watched the store dwindle into nothingness.

We had to return all of the books that were left, which tallied up to about 65,000 units once the doors closed. We had to sort them by vendor, scan them, box them, try to get the box packed as efficiently as possible with a 50lbs weight limit in mind, label, them, and stack them. Then, either the guys in the evening, or I the next morning, would move them into the back room and stack them onto palettes. Over time, that equaled over 36,000 lbs. That’s right, over 18 TONS of books. One of those days included me packing up all of our copies of A Wounded Name. In a way, I was lucky- my book was in my store. My dream of seeing my book on the shelf of THIS Barnes & Noble, THIS store that I grew up in, came true, and I got to have my signing. But returning those books was shattering. We got an insane amount done each day, but…

..some days you just had to take a break…

IMG_0369

…and if you sat too long in the wrong spot, you took the risk of becoming part of the furniture.

We had to figure out what was going to other stores, and how we could pack them, and tear down sections to load into the truck, and the information kept changing, constantly, so we never really had a full idea of what was going on. We had to figure out what we could donate to different organizations, what we were allowed to sell to other organizations. One of our poor guys spent about three days doing nothing but shredding, sitting huddled in our cold back room as it emptied around him, because the cold kept the silly machine from overheating quite as often.

IMG_0388

When the demolition crew came in, I think what hit me hardest was the destruction of the theme wall and children’s octagon. Before moving to receiving, I was the Kids’ Lead, and I loved it. Kids books, from board book through YA, are my heart, and watching it get literally torn to pieces was devastating. The sequence was just..GAH.

IMG_0003

This was before, and then there was this:

IMG_0376

IMG_0390

IMG_0377

(Okay, yes, we sent our manager’s grandson down the wall mounting. Okay, FINE, I went down a few times too)

But even when we had moments to rest or laugh-

IMG_0386

-things just kept going away.

IMG_0373

IMG_0374

IMG_0380

IMG_0381

IMG_0383

IMG_0384

IMG_0387

IMG_0389

IMG_0391

IMG_0392

Over the course of seventeen days, we saw a healthy store diminish into an empty space that suddenly, shockingly, seemed as tiny as we’d always sort of known it was. It’s only 12,000 square feet. In terms of bookstore space, that’s minimal. And yet, with the shelves and the books, with the vitality, it seemed so much bigger.

Friday was our very last day. We cleaned, we waited for our equipment to pick up, and then it was time to say goodbye. I worked at that store for six years, but it was a part of my life for more than twenty. And the truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing from here. I had some applications out, one of which got me very excited about taking new paths, but they didn’t pan out. There will be many more applications in the next few weeks. Hopefully something will work out, hopefully it will turn out to be a great thing, a good opportunity in something new, something exciting. But for right now, I don’t know.

It’s hard to go into the plaza and see that empty space. It’s hard to go to bed whenever and get up whenever, because I don’t have any particular place I have to be. My apartment is in the middle of getting cleaner and more organized than it has ever been (or might ever be again), and it’s kind of creeping me out, because I don’t stress clean. It’s also not done yet, but it’ll get there, and I have this awful feeling that I’ll get everything put perfectly in a place and I’ll still be unemployed. It’s hard to walk out of the grocery store and see nothing but this:

IMG_0365

Things end, and sometimes it sucks, and sucks royally, and I’ll be honest, I’m not yet at the point where I can nod and accept that things might yet turn out for the better. I’m not at a point where I can be philosophical or hopeful about it. But, I think I might finally be at a point when I can ask a favor of all of you.

If you have a favorite bookstore, whether it’s chain or indie, let the employees know how much you love the store, how much you appreciate them. Make the decision that the buck or two extra, or the day or two extra, is worth shopping there to support them, rather than Amazon. Write, call, or e-mail the landlords to tell them how much you value the store. Support your local stores, and help them stay where they are, because seriously, while the internet is a wonderful community (most of the time) there’s just nothing that beats having a bookstore as a part of your experience. As much as it hurts now that my store is closed, I wouldn’t trade those years growing up in the store for anything. Bookstores and libraries were- and remain- my favorite places, and I know a lot of you are the same way.

So talk about your bookstores.
Tell the employees.
Tell other customers.
Tell the landlords.
Tell anyone you can think of that might listen.

Things are hard for bookstores right now, because online is so convenient, and usually cheaper, and sometimes faster. That isn’t what happened to us, but it could have been. A bookstore closing- for any reason- is never less than a tragedy.

Permalink 3 Comments

Querying for the New Year? Pt 2

January 17, 2014 at 8:47 pm (Industry, Writing) (, , , , )

So last time, we talked about the first steps towards publishing.

So now, you have a finished, polished manuscript, one on which you’ve received honest and detailed critiques, a manuscript that is the best you can possibly make it.

You’ve done your research- you know if you want to self-publish, sign with an agent, or go traditional on your own.

You’ve done even more research- looked at self-publishing companies, looked up agents and what they’re looking for, looked up publishers that accept un-agented manuscripts.

So what now?

If you’re self-publishing:
There’s not a lot I can offer you from here; this isn’t a path I’ve taken. Just don’t commit to anything you haven’t researched. As you’re looking at different companies that can help you, look at the various prices they have listed, and start to list out your own budget. Go right down the line of expenses: editing, formatting, book design, cover design, publishing, returnable options, distribution, publicity. Decide what you can afford for each category, and where you can give a little on one to gain on another. If you’re not financially ready for this kind of investment, WAIT. You don’t want to put out less than your best. Not only will you be cheating all the hard work you’ve done thus far, but you’ll also limit your options in the future. If your first public effort is less than, um…well, less than good, it’s a lot harder to get readers interested in a second book, and that’s just not how you build a career. Also, if you can’t afford to do it right, you don’t want to ruin yourself financially in the hopes that it’ll be a runaway bestseller and make you tons of money in the first month. The simple truth is- and this goes for any form of publishing- you cannot rely upon publishing to pay your bills. Not at first, and honestly, many authors never make it to that point. Publishing is a dream, yes, but you have to be realistic about it. Having a book out doesn’t mean much if you sacrifice your ability to pay your rent. Or buy food. Explore your options, make your decisions carefully, and when in doubt, look to those who’ve had some success with it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

If you want to submit directly to publishers:
Again, not a path I’ve taken, but make sure you pay attention to submission guidelines. Every publisher that accepts unsolicited manuscripts will tell you EXACTLY what they want you to send them. For some, it will be the full manuscript. Some will ask for a certain number of pages or chapters. Some will ask for a synopsis, some won’t. I know the gut feeling is to say “Screw it, I’ll send them everything, I just know they’ll love the first pages too much to want to wait for the rest!” Yeh, don’t do that. Send them what they ask for, no more, no less.

Another gut feeling is to send the first few chapters through such a strenuous polishing process that those first pages are AMAZING- but then the rest of the manuscript hasn’t gotten that kind of attention. Agents and publishers both see this a lot. The first chapters have been workshopped to death and the rest just can’t hold up. You want your submission to be balanced, to be equally strong the whole way through.

Once you’ve sent it off, resist the impulse to send follow-up e-mails every ten minutes. This is hard, I know. Still, you’ve got to resist it. The process takes time, and harassing them with follow-ups isn’t going to persuade them to read your submission any faster. In those agonizing weeks and months while you’re waiting to hear from them, do something else. Go on a reading binge. Work on a new project. Learn how to knit. Something to help distract you from sitting and stewing about it. Keep track of your submissions, including when you sent it off. You don’t want to send out one, wait until you get a response, then send off a second. Send in bunches, small enough for you to keep track of, large enough that you’re not wasting time.

If you want to query agents:
Welcome to the query letter! Also known as the strangest level of hell since the invention of the resume cover letter. Which makes sense, given that they accomplish much the same thing. There are thousands, perhaps even millions, of sites out there with advice on how to write a query letter. I looked at a lot of them while I was querying. What I can share with you here is my own distillation, what I found in my experience worked the best for me.

Step One
Get the agent’s name right.

No, seriously, this does actually bear emphasizing, because too many people don’t bother. This is how your letter is literally opening. This is the agent’s first encounter with you. Do not say “Dear Agent”. You want to personalize it, you want to address it to the person you are actually talking to. At the same time, you don’t want to be overly familiar. Don’t use just the first name, or a nickname. Use the name he or she has listed on his/her website.

A note on titles: when it comes to using Mr, Mrs, Ms, or Miss, there are differing opinions on that. Mr. is usually pretty safe (so long as you are very VERY sure that you are addressing a male; names can be tricky things), but the feminine titles can cause problems. I know some people prefer to use the titles, insisting that it’s more respectful, but I honestly prefer to use the first and last name as listed on the websites. There’s less chance of causing accidental offense that way by using the wrong one.

Spell the name correctly. It’s on the personal website, there really is no excuse for getting this one wrong. This is one of the very few things about a query that is black and white right or wrong.

Step Two
Hook your book.

Different websites and books will give you different opinions about the order a query letter should go in, but this is the one I prefer. You’re writing to the agent to talk about your book, so start with the book. This is a single paragraph, sometimes two if they’re short, that should spark interest in your book. It’s not quite a back cover copy, but it’s more than a twitter pitch.

(side note: don’t pitch on twitter unless specifically invited to do so during a #pitchmad or similar contest; it’s rude and out of place and tends to really piss people off. On the same note, don’t pitch on facebook. Or in the comments of a blog. There are specific avenues acceptable for querying, and you need to stick to those.)

This isn’t the place to go into detail. You don’t need to say everything about your book, every plot point, every character, every twist. This is your book in the most general terms. Think of this as the elevator pitch. You have 90 seconds: GO.

(Personal example: Hamlet Danemark V, Headmaster of Elsinore Academy, is dead and buried, but some secrets seep past the grave: the poison of a man who murders his brother to claim his wife and position; the poison poured into a son’s grief and twists the sorrow bloody; the poison of pills meant to strip away a world no one else can see.

For Ophelia, poison is just another way to drown, and she’s drowned before. When Dane makes a promise to avenge his father’s murder, she knows she’ll drown again- in his pain, in his rage, in his play at madness that becomes all too real. Revenge, after all, is a messy business.)

Step Three:
Define your book.

This accomplishes two things: first, it tells an agent what they should be expecting; second, it tells them you know what you’re talking about. Or, if you don’t do this carefully, tells them that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

This is where you say the title, the word count, the genre, and where appropriate, the category. (I say that because Young Adult and Middle Grade aren’t genres, they’re age categories. Calling a book Young Adult tells us the age it’s meant for but not what type of book it is; it doesn’t tell us if it’s paranormal or romance or thriller or what.) This is fairly succinct, almost a stats listing.

Titles aren’t the be all and end all. A good title can be intriguing, and the ability to come up with good, compelling titles is a definite plus, but titles change all the time. You have to put SOMETHING down, and you should try to make it good and appropriate, but the fact is, titles are hard. A bad title is not going to kill your chances.

Word count tells an agent how well you know you category. Genres and categories tend to have ranges of word counts. YA, for example, generally runs 75K-100K. There are always exceptions, of course, either shorter or longer, but a 140K word YA novel is going to make agents a little leery. Sometimes that means there’s too much story for one book. Sometimes that means there are just too many words, and the manuscript is in desperate need of red pen and a machete. But sometimes, it means that it’s a tight, fast-paced, well-written story that tricks you with its length by coming off as a much shorter book when you’re actually reading it. Word count, as long as it’s reasonably near range, isn’t an automatic disqualifier. If you go over 200K for anything other than epic high fantasy or in-depth non-fiction, you’re probably in the auto-reject pile.

This is a bit more like a twitter-pitch. You don’t have to keep it 140 characters or less, but it is short, and it is to the point.

(Personal example: Complete at approximately 99,000 words, Elsinore Drowning is a haunting, modern retelling of Hamlet through Ophelia’s voice for a Young Adult audience.)

Step Four:
Let’s talk about you.

No, seriously, this is where you get to talk about yourself. Agents aren’t after your life story, but they do want to hear a little about you. What do you do, what makes you the best one to tell this story. If you’ve ever won awards for writing, talk about them here. Member of any writing societies? (Preferably official ones). If you’ve ever published anything, here’s the place to talk about it. If that something is self-published, you might want to include sales numbers (if they’re respectable). Do you have a blog with millions of followers, or some other Cool Thing that means people might fall over themselves trying to buy your book? YOU SHOULD MENTION THIS. All of this relates directly into your sellability as an author- your brand, as it were. If you have a devoted following, you have the beginnings of a devoted readership; agents like to know these things.

Be aware that most agents will google the crap out of you if they’re even remotely interested. If you’re full of BS, they’ll spot it.

And this is where good behavior on the internet becomes a really, REALLY important thing, because agents (and editors) pay attention. If you’re ranting and raving about rejections or the slow pace of things, if you’re throwing tantrums, if you’re insulting to other writers, authors, reviewers, or bloggers, you’re not winning yourself any points. Agents and authors don’t have to be best friends, but they do have to be able to work together; if you’re showing yourself to be an unholy terror, don’t expect too much interest.

One of my best friends had a first conversation with an agent and was shocked when her wedding pictures came up as a subject- they were on her facebook. This isn’t stalking, this is research, the same research you did before you queried agents. They want to know who they’re dealing with, and people, seriously, the internet never forgets. Make good behavior a habit now if it isn’t already and save yourself a lot of heartache. Rant and rave and cry and pout in private ALL YOU WANT- it can be a very healthy stress relief- but don’t do it online, don’t do it where anyone and his mother can see it. You’re presenting yourself as a professional. Act like one.

(Personal example: I come from a mixed background of theatre and writing and for several years have worked at Barnes and Noble and a Kids/Teen Lead, where I gush about amazing books, want to purchase far too many of them, and do a happy dance very time a kid comes back for more adventures. I am not yet published.
My writing awards were, by this point, really out of date, so I didn’t talk about them. My background in theatre was directly connected to the fact that my book was based on Hamlet, working in a bookstore gave me additional knowledge and audience. Is it a ton to go off of? No. Which is why it’s VERY SHORT.)

Step Five:
Why this agent?

Some people prefer to put this first, or to put it right after the definition of the book, but I prefer to put it here, because it leads directly into the list of what’s included with the query and allows you a graceful way to close out.

This is where you’re telling THIS agent why you’ve chosen to query him or her. You can- and should- create a query template for yourself, wherein the bulk of the letter is the same every time, but the initial greeting and this paragraph should be personalized for every single agent. Yes, it’s time consuming, yes, it’s work, but it’s worth it.

But please, for the love of God PLEASE, make it appropriate. If you follow them on twitter, GREAT, you can say so, but if you’re going to talk about it, make sure it’s relevant. Talking about how cute their kid is? NOT A GOOD IDEA. Besides being unprofessional, it’s also a bit creepy. But mentioning that they participated in a twitter wishlist and requested “A YA that has X, Y, and 3.5″, and here’s why I think mine fits, hey, that’s a very good use of it. Same with things they’ve specifically mentioned on their blog or website. If you met them at a conference and they requested this, give them a gentle reminder here (and if you’re sending the query as an e-mail, put THE NAME OF THE CONFERENCE+REQUEST along with your title in the subject line, unless they specifically tell you to do otherwise- this gives them the heads-up that this is something in which they’ve already expressed moderate interest).

Querying an agent is not like picking a substitute teacher. You are not going down a list of more or less equally skilled people who simply need to fill a space for a day. This is not a case of “are you warm? Are you breathing? Good enough”. You are seeking a highly skilled, specialized individual who with whom you will be able to forge a solid working relationship. You need to know why you’re querying this agent, and not that agent, and you need to be able to say that.

Also, list what you’ve included with the query. Agents will request different things from you- it’s highly personalized, and you need to be able to keep track of it. At one time, one of my submission lists had query only, three pages, five pages, five pages and synopsis, ten pages, ten pages and bio, three chapters, fifty pages. You have to know what you’re sending to which agent. This also tells the agent that you’ve paid attention to their submission guidelines. Avenues of research are useful, but only to a point- books are very quickly inaccurate, unofficial websites that gather information can be wrong or outdated. When it doubt, always go with what the agent says on his or her website. If there is nothing listed, only an address that says send queries to, just send the query. Some sources will tell you to default to five or ten pages, but honestly, if they want to see past they query, they’ll ask.

Do not send more than they ask for.

Send everything they ask for.

If an agent does ask for material to be included with the query, paste it in below the query in the e-mail. Do not submit the materials as attachments unless specifically instructed to do so by the agent. Attachments are terrifying. Attachments are risks. Most agents aren’t going to take that kind of risk on a query they didn’t ask for. Save yourself an auto-delete, and don’t do it.

(Personal example: While researching your agency, I saw that you were interested in stories with a unique voice, something I hope you’ll recognize within Ophelia. Below, please find the first five pages, a synopsis, and a brief bio per your site request. If this piques your interest, further material is available upon request. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Note that I’m not the most graceful individual when I’m conducting professional correspondence. I’m awkward and self-conscious, so I’m a bit stilted, and as long as you’re basically socially functional, you can probably be forgiven for a little awkwardness. You want to smooth things out to the best of your ability, but if you come off as a little stiff, don’t fret about it. That isn’t going to be the thing that sends the agents running for the hills.

Step Six:
Sign off.

This is another one that might sound strange, but the way you end your letter is just as important as how you begin it. Do not sign off with Yours Truly or Love or Always Yours or anything remotely of that nature. No. Just don’t do it. This is still professional communication.

That being said, I really hate signing things Sincerely. I am sincere, of course (usually, but always in professional circumstances) but I tend to sign off with Respectfully. Not Impatiently Yours or Impatiently Waiting or Desperate To Be Published. If you go with something other than the traditional Sincerely, it should still be professional and respectful.

And of course your name.

SOME TIPS

Just some things to keep in mind.

Be patient.
Keep track of your submissions, and note what an agent says his or her response time generally is. Also note one very important thing: NOT EVERY AGENT RESPONDS. There are a (large) number of agents who tell you to assume that no response means no interest. If the response time has passed for these agents, assume they’re not interested, and move on. If the agent promises a response, note the time span. Then, if the time has passed, give it a couple more weeks and then send a polite, non-pushy email with your query information in the subject line along with FOLLOW UP, and simply state that you submitted your query on such and such date, and simply wish to inquire as to the status now that such amount of time has passed.

Be organized about it. I can be a little OCD, I admit it, but I have a notebook for every project. These notebooks are where I do my brainstorming, my outlining, my character explorations, excerpts, writing stats, and these are also where I (used to) put my query lists. Agent name, agency, how I found them, what they said they were looking for, what they wanted submitted, date of submission, expected response time or no response. Then, as I got answers (or didn’t) I updated the notes. I also kept separate folders on my computer. In the folder for that manuscript, I had a submissions folder. Every batch of submissions I sent out had another folder with the date, and within that folder, every agent had his or her own folder, which contained the personalized query, as well as whatever other material they requested. This way, I knew at a glance what I’d sent, knew exactly what date to use as start date. Anal much? Yes, probably. But you know what, I never lost track of any of my queries. And honestly, it reassured me, knowing roughly when to expect things.

Being patient isn’t easy. This is our dream! This is all we can ever think of in a day, and every minute that passes, we start biting our nails or drumming our fingers or whatever the nervous tic du jour is, and we want to KNOW. More to the point, we want to SUCCEED. But once we hit send, it’s out of our control. We can only control our behavior and what we submit. We can’t control agent reaction. We can’t control rejection or acceptance. So be patient. Find something else to do. Don’t pester, don’t nag, don’t rant and rave at every moment.

Don’t query before you’re ready.
This breaks down into two parts. First part: do you have your materials ready? And not just whatever it is they’ve requested. I know the common joke is that agents take forever to respond, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they come back five minutes after your query is sent and they’re requesting the full. If you’ve polished and polished and polished the first few chapters on the expectation that you’d then have weeks to get to the rest of it, YOU CAN’T TRUST THAT. You have to be prepared.

Second part: are you mentally ready for this? I’ll be honest, querying is exhausting. It is an emotional roller coaster. It’s one thing to SAY that we understand that a rejection is a lack of interest in our manuscript, not a personal cut. Sure. We can say that. But rejection is HARD, y’all. It is. And when the rejections start piling up, it can become overwhelming.

And here’s the thing: you’re allowed to be overwhelmed. You’re allowed to have a meltdown and start sobbing into your pint of Ben and Jerry’s. You’re allowed to have a freak out that you’re nothing and you’ll never be published and oh God what were you thinking. And you know, you can even rant about how agents clearly have no idea what they’re missing out on. Just do it in private. Do with it a friend or family member, someone who has the sense to listen and not try to say anything (and more importantly not share anything). Just don’t do it in public.

The process of querying is this crazy zigzag of hope and ecstasy and anticipating and fear and worry and despair and anger, and you have to be ready for it. You have to go into this knowing that very few people have everything fall in place easily, that for most people, there are many rejections, many silences. You get a request for further material and OH MY GOD IT’S AMAZING but then there’s a whole new level of fear.

Don’t be afraid to re-write your query.
There are so many drafts of my query letters it’s kind of ridiculous. I wrote seven or eight drafts before I ever set out the first round of submissions. Then, as I started to hear back from each round, I worked on tweaking my query, trying to tailor it better, or make it more intriguing. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I wasn’t. Always keep a copy of the query you actually sent out, but it’s okay to make it better for the next round of queries. You learn by doing. You learn by feedback. Improvements are never a bad thing.

Don’t be jealous.
This one is hard. We all hear about the people who send out one query to their ‘dream agent’ and get signed, and then six weeks later there’s a huge multi-house auction that lands a three book deal for seven figures and everyone is watching with green eyes and a large vocabulary of curses. The fact is, we hear about these things to such an extent BECAUSE THEY’RE RARE. Most of us have to slog through round after round, and maybe even project after project, before we get a little bit there. It’s easy to be jealous of other people. Don’t be. Luck will always be an element, but sheer determination factors in there too. Rather than dwelling on what other people are doing or getting, focus on what YOU can do. Look for the stories that don’t invoke Cinderella, the ones where it was patience and determination and persistence that got them to their goal.

It took me three years and three projects to sign with an agent, and now that I am where I am, I can be grateful for it, because Sandy is amazing. We’re very well paired, and she gets the dark and twisty products of my imagination. I am where I need to be.

Don’t give up.
You want this- so go after it. Learn from each experience, make it better for the next round, but don’t take those rejections as proof you should tuck this dream back into the corner of the mental closet. You can’t get anywhere by giving up. But, on that note:

Know when to give up.
Not on the endeavor- but maybe on that specific manuscript. If you’ve queried everyone you can think of that accepts your genre and category and not gotten anywhere, maybe this isn’t the manuscript that’s going to sign you.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

Because you’ve kept writing, right? You’ve got something that, built off your experiences, is stronger. Better. Something that you can work on to make even better, and even stronger. And when you’ve reached the point, many MANY MANY MANY queries in, that maybe that first project needs to get shelved for a while, you have something else. And you can start over.

Except it’s not starting completely over, because the experience has taught you a lot. You have an advantage this time: you’ve done this before, and you know more or less what to expect.

Like I said, I queried three different projects over three years. It broke my heart to shelve those earlier projects, but I knew it was the right choice. I knew what I had waiting in the wings, these things I’d written while trying not to go crazy while the queries were out, I KNEW these things were better. I knew they showcased my writing better, that I’d learned and grown and expanded into characters and story and pacing.

Each time, you have the chance to get better, to improve not only your writing but your querying. As long as you’re willing to honestly assess yourself and your writing, you have the opportunity to improve your chances.

Don’t beat a project long past any chance it has to attract someone- know when to put it away and put out something better.

Last tip.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The internet is a wonderful thing. It gives you access to a TON of people who have gotten where you want to be- so when you need to know something and you can’t find the answer- when you need to be reassured- don’t be afraid to ask. A lot of authors, especially in the YA community, have ask boxes on tumblr. They have blogs where you can leave comments. So ask.

Be respectful of the space and circumstances. There are times when it’s not particularly appropriate to ask some things; let common sense guide you.

But we’re here, on tumblr, on twitter, on facebook, on blogs. There are interviews and newsletters and signings and panels, and you know what? For as much rejection as we have to experience, even after we get those first steps in the door, publishing is a ridiculously inclusive community. People cheer each other on, because when people are reading, this is good for ALL OF US. We want you to succeed. We want to cheer you on when you announce your sale, when you have signings and events and features. We want to celebrate your successes with you.

So consider this post an open thread for any questions you have. I’ll answer what I can, and I’ll try to point you to others when I don’t know what to say.

Work hard, be patient, and the best of luck to you all.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Querying for the New Year? Pt 1

January 14, 2014 at 7:50 pm (Industry, Writing) (, , , , , )

Welcome to the middle of January! When the New Year’s Resolutions are just beginning to flag and we’re starting to curse ourselves for making them in the first place!

No, but seriously, this is the time when our resolutions start meeting reality, and we begin to understand just what we’re getting ourselves into. And for a lot of people in this community, those resolutions have to do with publishing: get an agent, sell a book, have a book come out, etc. These are dangerous resolutions, mainly because: you can’t control a lot of that. A resolution is something you’re supposed to accomplish within THAT year, and if publishing is a realm of hopes and dreams, it’s also a land of harsh reality. The simple fact is, try as you might, even if what you put out there is your absolute best, you may not get to where you want to be in a single year. Sometimes there are miracles and your dream comes true right away, but for most of us, it takes patience and persistence.

BUT.

For those of you that are tackling this mountain this year, whether as a goal or as a resolution, here are some things to keep in mind, things I learned from my own process.

Are you really ready?

It’s incredibly tempting to say “Yes, oh my God, I was BORN READY!!!!”-

-but don’t. Take the time to really step back and look at your manuscript. Are. You. Ready.

-Is the manuscript finished? With very few exceptions, almost all of them non-fiction, your manuscript MUST BE FINISHED. This is for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to start a project than to finish one. Whether you’re submitting to agents or publishers, they need to see all of it. They need to see that your writing stays consistent, that you have a full grasp of the story and character arcs, that you can maintain the pace to a satisfying conclusion. There’s not a lot anyone other than a critique partner can do with an unfinished manuscript. If your manuscript is not finished, this is your first step: FINISH IT. Sit your butt in the chair and get it done.

-Is the manuscript polished? The only people who should see your first drafts are your critique partners. First drafts are full of mistakes and gaping holes, with many, many things that need to be fixed. That’s why they’re FIRST drafts. You don’t want to flash around anything that isn’t your best. Whatever you’re hoping to accomplish, whether it’s signing with an agent, selling to a publisher, or self-publishing, your manuscript needs to be the best you can possibly make it. The BEST, not “good enough”. If you’re satisfied with good enough, you’re cheating yourself, cheating your work, and cheating everything you hope to achieve. Editing is work- HARD work- but you owe it to yourself and to your story to do a solid job of it.

-Who else has seen it? And perhaps more importantly, are the opinions legitimate? I know that sounds kind of weird, but if the only person who’s seen your manuscript is your mom, you need to get some more feedback on it. Moms (and dads) are pretty much obligated to adore you and everything you do, so unless you are very, VERY sure that your family members will give you an honest and detailed critique, don’t base your good feelings about your manuscript purely on their approbation. Find people with experience writing, with experience critically reading. Maggie Stiefvater has a Critique Partner dating service from time to time, and if you’re in the market, definitely keep an eye on her blog for when the posts come up. If you can’t find a CP, especially if you can’t find a critical reader, consider making the investment to have a freelance editor look at it, for correctness if nothing else, but if you can get a detailed crit, that’s wonderful. If you’re writing Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult, check out Manuscript Critique Services, run by four YA authors who know their shizz. (They’re by no means the only critique service out there, but they’re GOOD- and they give you a way to test the waters before committing to a full shebang). If you decide to go this route, do your research- there are a lot of freelance groups and individuals out there, at varying levels of skill, experience, and services offered, and you need to really decide what’s going to be best FOR YOU and FOR YOUR WORK.

If you’re planning on self-publishing, chances are you’re going to have to put money down; this is how most of the self-pubs operate. You’re making the investment on the expectation that you will sell enough to recoup that initial cost and hopefully then some. Given that, if you are self-pubbing, USE AN EDITORIAL SERVICE. An error in a blog post is one thing (still tacky, but hey, it happens, and it’s not the end of the world). Errors in a finished book also happen, but it’s rare to find more than two or three in the final copy. This is because humans make mistakes, and as much as we’d love to believe we catch everything, things happen. However, the number of mistakes and errors and screw-ups that get caught through the various stages of the editing process is staggering. Editors and copy-editors are invaluable, and if you choose not to go with traditional pubs, you should really consider making this investment. A good editor, freelance or otherwise, isn’t just looking for mis-spelled words or crazy commas. They’re looking at agreement, at word choice, at sentence structure and cadence, at consistency, at usage. A very good editor is also looking for correctness- do you know what the hell you’re talking about. One of the biggest reasons a lot of self-pubbed books get dismal reviews is because people can’t get past the lack of proper editing to get into the story or characters.

-Can you write the back cover of your book? This may or may not be something you end up ACTUALLY doing, depending on the path you choose, but you need to be ABLE to do it. The back cover is what you’re telling people who ask you what it’s about. The back cover is what you’re including in query letters or cover letters. The back cover is what gets people interested. It also says that yes, you know EXACTLY what your book is about, that you can sum it up succinctly, that you can make it a straightforward pitch. If you can’t intrigue someone with this, chances are, they’re not going to read on, and you’ve wasted an opportunity. If you self-publish, this is something you HAVE to be able to do for yourself.

Checks down the line?
Next up, we have:
Choose your path.

Publishing has, in many ways, become a Choose Your Own Adventure book. There are so many options out there, and you really need to be sure of which way you want to go, because it does change how you approach things. No matter what path you ultimately choose, the first step is the same.

-DO YOUR RESEARCH. Here in the age of the internet, there is so much information available for remarkably little effort. There are writer resources all over the place, there are author blogs, agent blogs, editor blogs. There’s twitter, and tumblr. It’s actually pretty easy to drown in the information, there’s so much out there. Do a LOT of research, and make sure you can understand what information is useful and what isn’t. Towering rages against traditional publishing by someone who sent out two unsolicited submissions to publishers who don’t accept the genre? Not useful. A point by point breakdown by someone who’s done both traditional and self-publishing, and what they liked and disliked about both? VERY USEFUL.

The thing is, you need to understand the decision you’re making. Too many people think of self-publishing as a cop-out, as something you do if you can’t make it in the big leagues. Too many people think traditional publishing is a dead form bent on sales at the expense of quality. Neither is true. Self-publishing is a completely valid way to go about getting your book out there, BUT: you need to be aware that all of the responsibilities that are normally shared within a publishing house will all fall on you, and you need to be prepared for that. Any path you choose requires a hell of a lot of work and commitment.

Something I will say- as a bookseller, not as an author- is that self-published books can be very difficult to get on the shelves. (And being completely fair, a lot of traditionally published books can be difficult to get on the shelves, if they’re a smaller house or smaller title). However, for a bookstore, the traditionally published books are a safer risk. Almost every traditional publisher has a returnable feature on their titles, which means that after a certain period of no sales within a store, the store can send it back to the distribution center, where it can cycle out to other stores (or wait ignominiously to be marked down to bargain, as sometimes happens). The store gets credit for the return, the book sits at the warehouse and go out again at a later point. Everyone wins. With self-publishing companies, the returnable feature frequently costs extra (sometimes a lot extra), and a lot of authors don’t make that additional investment. That means that if the bookstore brings it in and it doesn’t sell, we’re stuck with it. We can’t move it to make room for newer merchandise. It sits on a shelf or in the back room and waits to be marked down to clearance. Most stores aren’t willing to take that risk, because it costs us money.

Some questions to ask yourself: what are my expectations? And be honest with yourself about this. What is it that you want? What are you willing to put into it? This should be a financial consideration, yes, but it should also be a degree of work. How hard are you willing to work? How much time and effort are you willing to put into it? Be honest about your skills, and about the skills of those you may ask for help. For most people, putting out a book is a long-cherished, deeply-held dream, and yes, the package is a part of that. A bad cover, bad formatting, bad editing, can kill a book far more easily than most of us want to believe.

-Make a decision. After you’ve done your research, after you’ve asked (and answered) a lot of difficult questions about yourself, your manuscript, and your expectations and dreams, it’s time to make a decision. Do you want to self-publish? Do you want to traditionally publish? Do you want to sign with an agent?

For myself, the answers were no, yes, and yes, and that’s based more on my evaluation of my own shortcomings than any sense of snobbishness about self-publishing. I know what I can do- I also know what I can’t do. I can’t design a book to save my life. I can’t do a good job packaging. I can’t catch all of the errors and tweaks, I can’t find the things that another set of eyes and experiences can make amazing, and let’s be honest, I suck at self-marketing. I try. I do…badly. Even if I’d had the money to make the investment into self-publishing, it would not have been a good fit for me. Plus, my dream for as long as I can remember has been to go into a store and see it on the shelf. It may not be on many shelves, but it can be, and to me, that’s extraordinary. As for the agent, this was a no duh for me personally. I don’t have contacts, and while I know a lot about the industry, it’s not enough. More to the point, I don’t want to tear my hair out going over contracts and negotiating and trying to make sure all the numbers are right and the payments are done correctly and this and this and that. You know, the business stuff, the stuff that goes right over my head. Or under my feet, depending on how head-in-the-clouds I am on any given day. A good agent isn’t just evaluating the likelihood of your manuscript selling, isn’t just pitching it to editors with the valuable contacts and experience he or she has accumulated. An agent is also helping you manage all the business stuff. That being said, ALWAYS READ YOUR CONTRACTS. Read everything you’re signing. Read everything you’re sent that’s even remotely official. Just because you have Agent Extraordinaire managing the business aspects doesn’t mean you can be clueless. This is your livelihood. Well, part of your livelihood.

There are a few (few) agents who take on self-publishers, mostly in the business and loosely editorial realm. It’s a unique stance, and we’ll see if that widens or not in the next few years. So self-publishing doesn’t immediately mean that an agent to protect your interests is outside the realm of possibility- again, it comes back to doing your research and deciding if this is a good fit for you. If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, an agent is going to get you in far more doors than you’ll find open on your own. Most editors aren’t going to look at unsolicited manuscripts. Editors trust agents to show them things in which they may have interest, things that fill well on a list in a catalogue, things that show the agent has paid attention to the editor’s history and preferences. I’m not at all saying that trad. publishing is impossible if you’re unrepresented, but I am saying it limits your options.

Have you made your choice?
Guess what, it’s back to:
Do your research.

I know, you thought you were done with this, right? But now that you’ve identified the best path for you, you need to pick the right door.

-So you want to self-publish? There are a lot of companies out there that can help you. Or, if you want to create and distribute entirely on your own, there’s a lot you need to be aware of. Look at your options. Look at the quality of the products that come out of it. Look at the accessibility of product- will you be available to major retail websites? Major retail stores? Will you be able to sell through your own website? Look at the contracts- not every publisher will allow you to see even a boilerplate contract unless you’re signing it, but google the companies and see what users are saying about them. You want the best bang for your buck- the best product, the best terms, the best accessibility. Don’t just jump on the first wagon you see.

-So you want an agent? Check out the Writers’ Market guides, or Query Tracker, or Agent Query. Check out writers’ forums. Flip open the books you’d be most likely to use as comp titles, books you think would pair very well with your own, and check out the acknowledgments- agents are frequently listed as the lifesavers and mental health companions that they are. Check out agent blogs. Check out agent and agency websites. Follow them on twitter.

Follow.

Do Not Stalk.

Agents are very vocal about whether or not they’re looking for anything at the time, as well as WHAT they’re looking for. KNOW YOUR BOOK- know its age range, know it’s category or genre (s), know how you can compare it to things. Look at what the agent is saying they want- does your book fit? (Personal example: on the L. Perkins Agency website, the Fabulous Sandy’s bio said she was looking for things with strong voice. Ophelia has her faults, God knows, but a lack of voice isn’t one of them.) Where your book meshes with what they’re looking for is what you’re going to want to put in your query. Look at what an agent has sold- do they have sales? Recent sales? Do they represent people you’ve heard of? Every agent has to start somewhere, and a brand new agent isn’t the same as a bad agent, but you want to pay attention.

DO NOT SEND MONEY TO AN AGENT TO READ YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Agents make money when you do, and not before. There are a ton of very good, very reputable agents who aren’t part of the official association, so a lack of membership isn’t a red flag, but if they’re charging you up front? BACK. AWAY. Writer Beware is an excellent resource for known scammers and frauds. Trust your instincts- if you’re getting hinky feelings off something, you’re probably right in thinking that it’s sketchy. Then back your instincts up by checking.

I’ll talk more about querying below, but as you’re researching agents, start making a list of possibilities, agents you think might be interested, agents you’d love to query. Along with their names and agencies, write down pertinent information- website, query email, authors or books they’ve represented that made you think of them, what they say they’re looking for, submission guidelines. This way when you’re actually ready to query, you have all the information right there, instead of making a second desperate search all over creation (also known as the Internet). Agents are not all created equal. They have different personalities, they represent different things. You don’t want to spam every listed agent whether they represent your stuff or not. At best, you’ll be ignored. At worst, they’ll be pissed off, and remember you. That is not how you want to be remembered.

-So you want to submit to publishers without an agent? Yup, you’ve got your research too! And to be honest, yours may be more difficult than anyone else’s, because your information is a little more buried. Your task is to find houses willing to look at unagented manuscripts. Some editors will open to unsoliciteds for a time (like Editor Andrew at Carolrhoda Lab did for this past week) to see if there’s a golden find. Some will let you send it and not immediately shred it for mulch, but it’s kind of on the understanding that the only way it’ll ever be read is if someone gets REALLY bored in the bathroom. The ones you’re mostly going to be looking for will probably be smaller houses. Check websites CAREFULLY. Submission guidelines will be there somewhere.

Let’s leave it here for now, because this is a monster post that’s probably getting a little hard to read, and I’ll be back in a few days with Part 2: Prep Your Shizz.

And I’m going to spend most of the few days writing it trying to come up with a different title, because I can’t take that seriously.

Until next time~
Cheers!

Permalink 3 Comments

How’s the Book Doing?

December 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm (Industry)

I think this is a question authors get more than any other. Probably even more than “What’s it called?” or “What is it about?”, it’s “How’s the book doing?” And the thing is, and most people don’t realize this, it’s actually a super rude question.

I mean, think about it. When you ask someone how a book is selling, what you’re really doing is asking them how much money they’re making. It’s like going up to someone in a doctor’s office and asking them their salary. Most people who ask this aren’t intending to be rude or nosy. They just don’t think about it, about what they’re actually asking.

I get this question from friends, from family, from co-workers, from customers, even from complete strangers who happen to overhear part of a conversation where it comes up that I have a book. “Oh, how’s it selling?”

My usual answer is that I have no idea, and it’s true. I don’t. I haven’t asked, I don’t intend to ask. Perhaps it’s cowardly of me, but frankly, I don’t feel like knowing a number or a range is going to do anything productive. It’s not magically going to make sense or give me context. And the thing is, while it won’t do anything productive, it is very likely to do something catastrophic.

Okay, not catastrophic, precisely, but still uncomfortable and damaging.

Because there’s a transition between writer and author, where we suddenly have to confront the fact that we no longer write in a bubble. Before publication, there’s this…serenity, of a kind, in approaching a new project. It might be scary and overwhelming and more than we think we can handle, but the only pressure (and the only perceived pressure) is what we put on ourselves as artists. Within that bubble, it’s just us and the characters, and maybe critique partners. Maybe there’s a part of our brain dreaming of bestseller lists and foreign sales, but it’s a small part, and most of our attention is fully immersed with the store. Our expectation is on what happens next to our characters, to our world, and not on what happens next to the book.

I’m the first to admit I’m a quirky writer. I mull over a project for weeks or even months before I actually open the first document to start. What that means for me is that I tend to draft very quickly. The first draft of what became A Wounded Name took twenty-three days. That being the case, I tend to write three or four projects a year. Not all of these will go on to become anything (in fact I’d guess a good half of them never will, and I’m okay with some of those) but it’s a very strange year that I have less than three complete novels written.

In 2012, I signed with an agent and sold what became A Wounded Name, but the number of people who actually saw the manuscript was still pretty small. It wasn’t out in the world yet, there was no sense of expectation, so I wrote as I normally do and never really noticed a difference. There was maybe a new excitement, a new hope, but I was still in that bubble.

Then, in early 2013, the first ARCs came out. People were reading my book, the first reviews were coming online. And suddenly no matter what I sat down to write, I was suddenly wondering what other people would think. What would readers think of this character’s action? What would reviewers think of this twist?

AND IT’S CRIPPLING.

I wrote two things this year. TWO. One of which was a strong foundation but will need a complete rewrite, and the other was itself a rewrite. But seriously, just two. Which probably isn’t weird for anyone other than me. But I kept questioning myself as I was plotting, as I was drafting, and it made things choppy and awkward and most importantly, made me full of self-doubt. I couldn’t write like that, and as the year went on, as the other stresses added on, it made it impossible to write at all. And then the book actually came out. Suddenly The Question was coming a great deal more.

Because when someone asks The Question, it isn’t merely that there’s a person asking me about potential income. Because in the moment between The Question being asked and my managing a response, there’s a steady stream of “What if it doesn’t sell enough to earn out? What if the sales are so spectacularly bad that no publisher will ever want to buy any book I ever write ever again? What if this is the only thing I’ll ever publish? Oh God, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do and what if I never get to make a career out of this and–” and then I remember that I’ve just been asked The Question and I smile painfully and say that I don’t know.

The conversation moves on but my thought process doesn’t. Even hours later, I’m still stuck on this crippling fear that I’m not doing enough, and I get home and I try to write and nothing comes out. I stare at a blank page, a blank screen, and nothing happens because where dialogue and narrative and story should be, there’s only fear and doubt.

I know what I need to do. I need to find a way to reclaim the process, to make it just for me again, at least until a story is mature enough to send out into the world by one means or another. I need to forget about the expectations, about the pressure, about the possibilities, and write only for me. It’s the only way I’m going to manage anything productive. I made a good start on that, today actually, but I know I’m going to backslide, and a large part of that is people with perfectly sweet, supportive intentions asking me how the book is doing.

If you know an author with books out, please I am begging you don’t ask them how the book is selling. Ask them how their current project is going; this is always a safe inquiry, because even if they aren’t actively writing or editing something at the moment, they’re still mulling over something. Maybe it’s only in its larval stages, but every writer has a current project. Always. Ask them what comes next- not what book comes out next, what comes next. Maybe it’s a different kind of project, a different genre, a different tense, a different age group. Maybe it’s a book of poetry, or a self-help guide, or something completely unexpected. Hell, maybe it’s a vacation, or research.

But please don’t ask how their book is doing.

Permalink 8 Comments

Discovery Friday with Rick Yancey!

November 18, 2013 at 8:59 pm (Appearances) (, , , , )

This is another one of those posts where I do a shameless plug for my workplace, but it also means good news for anyone in the area, because we have author Rick Yancey coming back to the Gainesville Barnes and Noble!

If you live anywhere near a Barnes and Noble, you might want to drop in this coming Friday, November 22nd. BN is kicking off the holiday season with Discovery Friday, a full day of activities, giveaways, contests, storytimes, and author events. You can even enter to win a $1000 shopping spree! You can check out the full array here, which will give you the listings for stores in your area.

Our location is thrilled to have Rick Yancey back with us for a talk and signing for The 5th Wave. We’ll also have the Monstrumologist and Alfred Kropp series books available. The talk will start at 7pm, followed by the signing.

If you can’t make it out? Well, we’ll miss you! But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Call the store any time between now and 645 pm on Friday, and you can order a personalized book over the phone, and we’ll get it shipped out to you. You can probably make it happen during the event itself, but be careful: you don’t want to call too late. We’ll have signed stock after the event, so you can still get signed (but not personalized) copies afterwards (HINT HINT: they make excellent gifts through the many approaching holidays).

If you have any questions, you can call the store, and keep an eye on the BN facebook page and the #BNDiscoveryFriday tag on Twitter for more updates and information on the giveaways and activities. (Or ask here, and I’ll answer what I can, remembering always that I am not an official spokesperson for Barnes and Noble and that my words do not represent the company, I’m getting so good at these disclaimers.)

Permalink Leave a Comment

Allegiant Survey Recap Part 1- SPOILERS ABOUND

November 10, 2013 at 6:13 pm (General) (, , , )

Okay, so obviously, if you haven’t read Allegiant, DO NOT READ THIS POST. Unless you have absolutely no intention of reading it, in which case spoilers aren’t really going to affect you one way or the other. But seriously, pretty much the entire post is made of SPOILER.

How this is going to work: I want to evaluate the responses I got to the survey, but I also want to talk about my own responses to the book. So. The questions are going to be written in bold, the gathered responses will be discussed straight out, and my own responses are going to be italic. And just as a warning, this will be a very long post.

If you were living in the city, what faction (or lack of faction) would you choose?

Unsurprisingly, Dauntless won out by a large measure, almost twice as much as any other faction (40%). Next up, and fairly evenly matched, were Erudite (24%) and Amity (21%). Abnegation followed at 11%, and Candor came in last with 6%. There were a couple of fluke answers (again, the Star Wars, and one that thought I was asking if they’d choose to have factions or not), but I have to admit, I wasn’t shocked by Dauntless winning out. Part of that is our main characters coming from or choosing that faction- we naturally sympathize with our main characters, project our values or virtues onto them and vice versa, but we tend to cling to that even against honest assessments of our own characters. What did surprise me was that Abnegation came ahead of Candor. Selflessness is a difficult concept to live up to, and honesty-especially the frequently tactless sort of honesty Candor espouses- can seem a great deal easier.

I’d love to say I’m the type of person to choose Dauntless- not the cruelty, not the recently enforced and inescapable hierarchy of brutality, but the courage and the resourcefulness and the sense of protection that strength can offer to others, that appeals to me. More honestly, however, I’d have to say Erudite. There’s something very safe about knowledge. Even when we’re overwhelmed by how much we don’t know, even as our understanding of the world makes us feel very small and insignificant, knowledge and its pursuit is still a very safe place, like we can run from all the problems in the world so long as we can only find a way to research and produce an answer.

What is your favorite book of the trilogy?

The response was fairly overwhelmingly Divergent. The third book got several votes, and there was a lone call for the second one, but for the most part, it was decisively the first.

For me, it’s also the first one. The first one was something fresh and amazing. It introduced a distinct world with the factions, but also introduced an element of choice. Tris was a character who didn’t know her own strength, who would be forced by her own choice into a series of circumstances that would not only test that strength, but also force it to either grow or break. The language irritated me a little-it felt a little formal, a little (unintended pun) stiff, very much a product of an MFA program, if that makes any sense. That feeling intensified through the second book, and even more into the third book, and the sense of audience expectation, of strain, even of the stress of writing under a deadline, also manifested into something that felt like it needed a great deal more editing. Of the three, the first was by far the tightest in story and character.

From 1 to 5 stars, how would you rate this book?

Excluding the outliers, as an average across the gathered responses, it came to about 3.6, which is actually pretty on par with the larger spread. On Goodreads, for example, across 38,694 ratings, it has a 3.78 average. (By outliers, by the way I mean the Star Wars and the number with so many digits I’m not even sure I could read it out loud) From those nearly 40K ratings on GR, it splits out to: 13,223 5s (34%); 11,275 4s (29%); 8435 3s (21%); 3827 2s (10%); and 1924 1s (5%). (Compare this to the feedback on Amazon, with 2,395 ratings and an average of 2.8).

Also interesting to note is the difference between that and the average for the first book. Granted, Divergent has been out for two and a half years, so it’s had time to garner a lot more ratings, but on the whole, those rating are also a great deal more positive. On Goodreads, Divergent has 446,070 ratings and an average of 4.38 (5/231,618/52%; 4/122,488/27%; 3/43,715/10%; 2/10014/2%; 1/3792/less than 1%).

I find that interesting mostly because it supports the numbers of which book of the trilogy was each person’s favorite. I’m honestly not very good at the whole data analysis thing, one of many reasons psychology and sociology were struggles for me in school, but I like when the numbers don’t make me feel like a complete idiot.

My initial response was a 5, but that was mostly out of a knee-jerk reaction to the ending. After thinking through it a bit more, I would probably go for a 3.5 or a barely-4. It was a fairly scattered book, in my opinion, in need of much tighter editing, and the science felt specious and rushed. The characters felt rather inconsistent and there were a lot of things that were dropped. I think what it really comes down to is that I spent most of the book bored. For me, the ending is what saved it, both as a book and as a trilogy.

Who is your favorite character in the series?

Unsurprisingly, nearly all of the responses came back as Tris and Tobias together. They’re the main characters, after all, so it makes sense. Behind them, though, came a strong showing for Uriah. Christina and Caleb both got a couple of votes, and there were some strays for Johanna, Matthew, Zeke, Will, and Marlene.

Honestly I don’t think I have a favorite character, and there were a few of those in the responses as well. If I had to choose one, I’d probably choose Cara, for the way she adapts, the choices she makes, the way she can take the same overexposure to the outside world that shatters Peter and instead make it a new motivation for a larger life.

What was your favorite part of this book?

Fairly overwhelmingly, the answers all focused on Tris and Tobias, on their relationship. The actual moments varied- drinking soda for the first time, the picnic, the kissing, etc- but far and away the most common response had something to do with Tris and Tobias together. Following that were moments with Tris and Caleb, especially when they played Candor.

Somewhat surprising, though, was the number of responders that said they had no favorite part, and I can’t help but wonder if that would have been their response had they been stopped before the ending and asked that question. That is, did a general disappointment in the ending discolor the entire book? And looking across the line of responses, those who responded with none were in fact incredibly disappointed or even angry with the ending. There’s not enough to support a direct correlation, but it’s a theory I enjoy.

My favorite part was actually right at the very end, when Tobias went ziplining to spread Tris’ ashes. The fact that it took him so long to recover enough to have that sort of ceremony, the fact that he did it in such a way as to make it exceedingly appropriate for her even though it terrified him, that moment made a massive impact. It’s bittersweet, certainly, but it also has a sense of rightness that ripples back to the climb in the first book.

What was your least favorite part of the book?

This is another non-shocker: many of the responses were directly connected to Tris’ death, followed by Uriah’s death. What was interesting, though, was how many of the responses mentioned the writing. “The dual narratives were confusing at times”, “The middle info dump”, The shaky science”, “It felt rushed, the characters all felt like they’d lost their personalities”, as well as the inconsistencies in Tobias’ character. These things came up in the responses again and again. As far as the narration, one of the responses hit in right on: the voices weren’t distinct enough. They both had the polished, slightly over-formal feel that struck more of MFA than of Abnegation stiffness. The genetics came up frequently in the responses as being rushed and confusing, or as feeling incredibly out of place. A good fifteen to twenty percent of the response dealt with Tobias. “Tobias’ personality morphed a bit”, “Tris and Tobias spent the whole book fighting, showing no character growth”, “How weak Four seemed at times”, “Four seemed like a different person”.

I think part of the dissatisfaction with Tobias is that suddenly we’re inside his head. We’ve only ever seen him from Tris’ eyes before, and now we’re getting his thoughts, his doubts, in a way he wouldn’t necessarily have voiced to her before. We’re understanding him in a much closer way, so naturally our perception of him is going to shift. The science I completely agree with; it felt rushed and very gap-toothed, like the frequent repetition of something was going to suddenly let it make sense. The serums came into massive significance but they were also let loose rather without consequence. The actual plot felt rushed in order to give Tris and Tobias plenty of time to fight and make out. I think this is probably one of the very few books where I’ve ever thought “Oh God, they’re kissing again?” because it seemed less like tender moments between characters deeply connected than it did a constant, low-buzz distraction, like the fly going around the room. It dragged at the pacing. This is a big book, but it reads very slowly and with an effort. I felt like I was trudging through it, because the pay offs on the action were so few and far between and it felt like there was so much extraneous activity (like Four and Nita going off on their little trip- where was the payoff?).

Would you read this book again?

This was a solid mix of everything from OH MY GOD YES to HELL NO and everything in between. Many of the responses were actually split within themselves, some of them coming to “everything but the ending”. Of all the questions, this one had the strongest mix of responses, and while the yes answers were fairly straightforward, the nos were incredibly passionate (for example YES BUT NOT BECAUSE I HATE THE ENDING I AM NOT EMOTIONALLY STABLE, caps and all, NO WAY too heartbreaking, which came across more than once).

I will eventually, because in a few years I’ll want to read the trilogy as a complete entity, but the only one I’ll reread more than once will be the first one. That one I enjoy revisiting from time to time, but Insurgent and Allegiant both drag too much for me to want to read them at all frequently.

What are the biggest things you look for in the ending of a book?

There were two responses that came up more than any other, and nearly equal to each other: closure, and a happy ending. Nearly half the answers wanted a sense of closure, the resolution of characters and storylines, perhaps not answering every question down to the last detail but weaving together the important things. Nearly the other half wanted a happy ending, either veiled in a theory of redemption or just flat out stated as a happy ending, no strings, no conditions. Satisfaction and a sense of purpose came through, and there were frequent mentions of cliffhangers being evil. Also mentioned was the desire for cliffhangers for books that don’t end a series. I think my favorite response was “for me, a book needs to leave you feeling lost, or it hasn’t really done its job of making you feel a part of the story”.

The question was meant to be general- what are the things you look for in the ending of any/every book? But a fair number of the responses tailored specifically to this book and this series, or tailored to what they DON’T want in a book.

I have to agree with the first half of the answers: I want a satisfying resolution that makes sense within the story, characters, and world, something that wraps up the loose ends without leaving stray holes but also opens up an imagined future for the characters beyond the scope of the story. I don’t necessarily want to know what that future is. Seeds, perhaps, at most, but mostly I don’t want to pretend that the world stops when the story does. Part of that is the fanfic writer in me. I love the world beyond the story. But part of loving that world means loving the stories and their resolutions. Do I mourn when a character I love dies? Absolutely. But what I’m looking for is for that death to make sense within the story. I want that sense of completion.

What are the biggest things you look for in the ending of a trilogy/series?

For the most part, the answers here mirrored the responses above: closure or a happy ending, though happy ending made an even stronger showing here. What surprised me, though, was the number of people what wanted an epilogue. Something that shows the characters two, ten, twenty years down the line, a la Harry Potter or Hunger Games.

The same thing that many people were asking for- the epilogue later on- is the biggest thing I hope I won’t find in a series ending. For the most part I look for the same things as the end of a book, except on a larger scale. The individual threads, the ones new to the final installment, should be wrapped up, as should the threads of the series. It’s part of what makes the ending of a series so challenging, trying to wrap everything up and not let any of the balls drop. I want to believe that the characters’ stories continue after the story we’re told, but I don’t want to details of them. I want my imagination to be given to the greater possibilities.

Do you feel authors have a responsibility to provide their readers with a happy ending?

I kind of loved this set of responses, because it was fairly evenly split between yes and no, it was the way the answers were given that really just gave me a kick. There were a lot of nos that immediately complained about how the ending wasn’t happy. There were ones that said no but it’s a young adult book so it should have a happy ending. “No, but I feel they should have an emotional connection to their characters, and much more of that than the reader(s). Because of this, they should feel responsible for what happens throughout the book”- this is one of my favorite responses, largely because I really wonder at where the perceived irresponsibility comes from. Because Tris died? Because Roth pulled a strong emotional response from her audience?

Another very passionate answer “No. Authors are the creators/writers, and they can do anything they want. It’s fiction. BUT. As a reader, I expect SOMETHING. ALLEGIANT broke a trust I didn’t realize I had until I read the book. And that trust is that certain characters are safe and untouchable, and trust you that, in the long run, they may get seriously injured and all that, but they will LIVE. And ALLEGIANT broke that. Anyone can die, but I expect THE Main Character and THE Love Interest to live together forever, happily ever after, the end” So that is an expectation. It says no, but all the rest of the answer says yes, I’ve been betrayed by the lack of a happy ending. We can’t feel betrayed unless we feel someone else has gone against their responsibility. I’m not sure where we get the idea that main characters should always live, that everything after a certain point should be rainbows and unicorns.

Most of the no responses were conditional, and most of those conditions directly negated the fact of the no. I’d love to see a genuinely psychological survey and study on this, because it seems like no is the instinctive response, the “I”m a rational human being” response, but that the actual gut feeling is YES. We’re owed this for reading, for buying. We’re owed certain outcomes. But there were some that were incredibly emphatic no, such as “Hell no. That is a profoundly stupid idea”.

And, of course, there was a lot of YES. This idea that because we’re invested in a character or characters, because we’ve trucked along with them, cared about them, we’re owed a positive outcome. An author’s responsibility becomes our emotional well-being. They’ve asked us to care, and we care, and we’re owed some kind of reward for that.

I detest the idea that authors are responsible for anything more than producing a well-crafted book with compelling and consistent stories and characters. An author’s job is to serve the stories and character. Not the reader. It’s where the line between art and product blur. Because we put money into purchasing the book, because we put time into reading it, we think we’re entitled to a certain resolution. I think it’s BS.

My favorite books are rarely overall happy endings. They’re usually bittersweet at best, the happiness of the resolution shadowed by the consequences of the actions it took to get there, and the price that was paid for them. In other words, my favorite books are usually those whose patterns mirror the world in which we live. The ones that feel the most real. I find deliriously happy endings to be forced, usually a cop out, and a compromise of the high stakes of the rest of the story. And because those bittersweet or even tragic endings mirror our reality more closely, because they’re the ones that feel more real, they’re the ones we tend to remember. Shakespeare’s tragedies are far more well known than his comedies. People who don’t know Shakespeare all that well, people who haven’t studied him or read him for fun, can usually name the tragedies. A lot of them can’t name the comedies. But we remember Romeo and Juliet twined together lifelessly in the tomb, we remember Horatio sitting there surrounded by corpses as it falls to him to explain everything that’s happened, we remember MacDuff carrying MacBeth’s head back onstage on a pike, even as he knows that death won’t bring his wife and children back from death. We remember the endings that carry with them a high emotional toll, whereas happy endings tend to blur together.

The author’s only responsibility to the readers is to produce a GOOD BOOK. If a happy ending contradicts the story and the characters, if a happy ending cheats everything that’s been sacrificed and won and lost, it’s an author’s responsibility not to reach for the cop out. Even when it’s hard, even when it causes a backlash by people who cannot comfortably separate reader expectation from author responsibility.

Do you feel proprietary towards characters?

This was a fun one, because even though most of the specific responses were no, many of the responses across the lines said yes, very much so. Where people said no, some of them echoed that idea all across the line. No, an author isn’t responsible for a happy ending. No, they’re not enraged by Tris’ death. No, they wouldn’t change it. It’s a consistent answer. But a LOT of the answers to this question were no, even where there is a clearly proprietary rage and dismay across the individual’s other answers.

And this was, perhaps, the one question where people didn’t answer it. They sidestepped it, made a comment on something else, something that should have been different, should have been changed, and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t like the honest answer they came up with.

Because admitting that we feel proprietary about someone else’s characters feels an awful lot like stealing, right? We can take the half step back and remember that they don’t really belong to us. Except…when we get that emotionally invested, we can’t take that step away, we can’t get that little bit of distance, but there’s still that part of our brain that says no, this is not a rational way to behave. So rather than listen to that voice and confront the dissonance in behavior, we avoid it.

I’m not sure if this comes out of being a writer or a fanfic writer, but no, I don’t feel proprietary towards any characters other than my own, and even then half the time I have to admit that they’ve somehow moved beyond being mine at all. When writing (or reading) a fanfic, there’s a disclaimer at the top of every story, usually every chapter, reminding the reader that the writer is not claiming any of this as their own. They don’t own this. This is not theirs. You put the disclaimer up there for legal reasons, but it also serves as constant reinforcement that you’re playing in someone else’s world. This carries over to readership as well.

If your answer to the previous question was yes, do you feel the urge to lash out at the author?

Like the previous question, the single most common answer was “No but”, then some conditional reason why they really did want to lash out and yell at the author for This or That. Of these, the most common answer was that the respondee had no desire to read another Veronica Roth book in the future. Equally common was no, but I will make my displeasure known in a review/blog post/rant.

What I saw in a lot of these responses was a desire for an explanation. People wanted answers from Ms. Roth as to why she would do this, why would she hurt characters this way, why would she betray readers this way.

My first response would be not applicable, because I don’t feel proprietary towards the characters, but I’ll add to that by saying I don’t understand the impulse to lash out at authors. Get pissed at an author? Sure. I get that. But the lashing out, that I don’t get. When the ending to the last Sookie Stackhouse book was leaked, Charlaine Harris actually received death threats.Death threats. In what way does that make sense? Books can be an escape, books can be entire worlds unto themselves, but they’re not OUR world. To invest ourselves so heavily into fictional characters that we’re willing to offer harm to another REAL human being…I don’t understand that.

If your ‘ship doesn’t work out, does it automatically lower your overall rating of a book?

Given the incredibly passionate responses to the other questions, I was fairly surprised to see that this was mostly answered with no. There’s a scattering of yes, some “it depends”, but most were no. Favorite response? “Piss on shipping. What a stupid way to read.” Most of what I saw was “No, as long as it makes sense why it didn’t work out”. Again there was a request for an explanation, this idea of “It’s okay if it doesn’t work out as long as you tell me why”.

I tend to ‘ship less than anti-‘ship, as strange as that sounds. I’m willing to accept the pairings as given as long as they make sense to me, make sense within the story. Where I tend to get a little ranty is when the pairing doesn’t really make sense. Like Hermione and Ron ending up together. That irritates me, mainly because their personalities, as given, are not conducive to a functional long term relationship. But it’s irritation, and I can ignore it if I focus on the story rather than what comes after. Because the thing about relationships is, even if we call it true love, most pairings wouldn’t actually last that long after the story is over. They’re puppy love, or high-adrenaline love, a relationship based on high stakes events and intense circumstances, where disparate personalities can do better together than in more restful times. Which, if I’m honest, is what I would have expected had Tris lived. If Tris and Tobias both lived and got to pursue their ever after, I don’t really imagine them staying together more than a few years. The friction we saw between them in this book wasn’t going to just disappear once this story finished; it just would have found different ways to manifest. Are there teenage relationships that last a lifetime? Absolutely. But they’re rare, which is why we tend to hear a lot about the ones that do work and last.

There were four more questions, but I’m going to save those for next week, because these are the ones where responses get very unique and I don’t want to gloss over them (and because this post is super long already). These are the questions that focus very specifically on the ending, and I’m definitely looking forward to sharing them with you.

Until next time~
Cheers!

Permalink 1 Comment

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 463 other followers