I’m looking forward to speaking at their April 2014 conference. It’s a fantastic conference ”” educational, fun, and incredibly friendly. I’ve been to a dozen of them, both as an attendee and as a speaker, and never fail to meet fantastic people who nurture my career as well as give me personal joy. I come home after four days, drunk with information and new ideas to move my writing and my writing business forward. If you’re not going this year, start making plans to go next year. It’s in a gorgeous setting, nestled at the base of Pikes Peak, always in the perfectly delightful month of April.
This year I’ll be doing a 3-hour workshop with the always charming DeAnna Knippling called THE FIVE Ws OF INDIE PUBLISHING: Who, What, When, Where, Why and WTH?!
The second workshop I’m doing is Support Your Fiction Addiction – How NOT To Be a Starving Artist
Looking forward to both! Also looking forward to meeting bestselling authors and new BFFs Chuck Wendig, Gail Carriger, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Jim C. Hines. (Just don’t tell them. Wouldn’t want to spook ’em.)
If you’re there, let’s hang out in the bar or have a meal together! Be forewarned, though. I really love the Marriott’s cheesecake and am not above stealing yours.
There’s been a conversation in one of my book marketing groups that I’ve been finding interesting. Authors have been discussing their Amazon reviews.
They’ve told some ridiculous, hilarious, and infuriating stories about getting 1-star reviews. Things like, “I bought this book by mistake so I’m giving it 1 star.” Or “I don’t like thrillers” even though the description clearly said it was a thriller. I even heard of one outrageously negative review because the author’s name was similar to her ex-husband’s. Not the same, just similar. The entire review was an ex-husband rant.
My favorite ballsy review starts, “I didn’t read this book, but …”
I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor schlub got a 1-star review on his masterpiece because a cranky reader “missed the bus today.”
Scuttlebutt is that Amazon is clamping down on egregious reviews like these. Hope so. But that’s a topic for another day.
The conversation the last few days swirled around 3-star reviews. Some authors hated getting 3-star reviews, others didn’t much mind. And it led to the question of how authors rated books. Some are brutally honest and will give 1 star to a BFF. Others never review books at all. Ever.
But most of us fall into that hand-wringing middle ground. Much of what we read is written by people we know and we want to love everything with the white-hot intensity of ten thousand suns. But sometimes we don’t. Then what do we do? Many of us, myself included, fall into the ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ category. Plus, just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that you won’t. It doesn’t even mean there’s anything wrong with it.
Personally, I don’t think a 3-star review means it’s a bad book. It entertained me for most of the allotted time, didn’t require heaving it against the wall, perfectly solid. Fine. Okay. Average.
But I never give 3-star reviews to people I know.
First, because it will probably bring down their average. No way, no how do I want that on my conscience. It’s hard enough to be a writer without your friends sticking their foot out when you’re lugging packages up a steep hill. Or some writing metaphor.
And second, I don’t know how they view a 3-star review. Everyone knows that five stars means spectacular and one star means craptacular, but what about those pesky middle numbers?
I read the restaurant reviews in the newspaper and am flummuxed. They only have a 4 star system and much of the time the restaurants only earn a one or a two, so I don’t think the food is very good. But when I look closer, one star means it’s good. Two = very good, three = great, four = exceptional.
The nuance is as subtle as their house Chardonnay.
But the book review discussion roused my curiosity. My world revolves around books, authors, reviews, and Amazon in a million different ways. Yours probably doesn’t. So, I want to know …
What are YOUR definitions of the five stars in an Amazon book review? Do you even read book reviews? Do you assume all 5-star reviews are written by the author’s besties and family members? If you were contemplating buying or reading a book and you saw it had a 3-star average, what would you think? Would it be different if it had a lot of reviews and a 3-star average, or just a few reviews and a 3-star average?
That reminds me … must go see if I have new reviews!
My new book is finally in print. It seems like it took forever ”” I guess because it freakin’ DID ”” but I can take a breath and reflect on the journey, now that it’s over.
First, if you have a hankering to publish a book, do it. Do it, do it, DO IT! There’s nothing quite like the joy of seeing something you created right there in your hand.
I know what you’re thinking. “But Becky, what about kids? You can hold newborn babies in your hands too.”
True. But you can’t hold ’em forever, you can’t give them away, and you certainly can’t sell them. At least nobody ever wanted to buy mine, no matter how much I lowered the price.
I joke, of course, but honestly? It’s a similar feeling. And frankly, a book is more of an achievement. I mean, any dope can birth a baby, but not everyone can write a book. Getting pregnant takes ten merry minutes ”” twenty if you’re lucky ”” but a book takes real effort!
Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve published lots of articles, six digital non-fiction books, three or four large-format ‘How To’ manuals, and a fiction paperback for kids. You’d think it would be less exciting to get this paperback in my hand. But it’s not.
It never gets old.
It’s a wild and giddy thrill to see tangible proof of all your hard work. You hold in your hands not just your words and ideas, but the white-hot optimism that complete strangers will appreciate what you’ve done, and the absolute conviction they won’t.
Pretty powerful stuff for 247 pages and a glossy cover.
I guess that’s what publishing a book gives you … power. Not brawn, not skill or mastery, but energy. Courage. A way to steam ahead, full of peppy faith in yourself.
I mean, if you can publish a book, who knows what else you can do? But you’ll never know until you try. So get busy … quit playing in BeckyLand. Get outta here and seize some power for yourself!
I read this article in Time Magazine about Harry Potter and all the associated fan fiction. (It’s well worth your time to read it, whether you’re a writer or not.)
Pardon me if I’m being too technical with this definition, but fan fiction is fiction written by fans. They take the characters from Harry Potter or Twilight or Star Trek or Bewitched or Glee and put them in scenarios of their own imagining. What if Kirk and Spock were gay? What if Harry Potter went to school at Hollywood High instead of Hogwarts? What if Luke Skywalker went to the Dark Side? What if Quinn kept her baby? What if Larry Tate wasn’t so stupid?
Sometimes there’s sex in the stories. Sometimes they project the characters into the future. Or the past. Sometimes the authors are amateurs, but often they’re other published writers. Regardless, each story they tackle answers that age old question all writers ponder … “what if?”
There are many authors who are very proprietary with their characters, never wanting anyone else to touch them. Other authors are thrilled that fans love the characters so much they want to manipulate them into scenarios of their own.
I’ve never written fan fiction, nor do I have characters that other people want to write about ”” yet. Honestly, I don’t know what I think about this. But I sure would like to see a story with Spock and Larry Tate teaching Luke Skywalker the advertising business at Hogwarts. Of course, their neighbors, Kirk and Quinn, would keep their baby and it would grow up to be Sue Sylvester. They wouldn’t invite the neighborhood vampires to their backyard BBQs, though. It would only lead to heartache. And indigestion.
So which is it? As Lev Grossman asks, “Do characters belong to the person who created them? Or to the fans who love them so passionately that they spend their nights and weekends laboring to extend those characters’ lives, for free?”
Occasionally, I’ll say something stupid out loud. (And, yes, I’m defining ‘occasionally’ quite liberally.)
Here are three recent examples:
1. “Which one is the old timey guy, Henry Cabot Lodge or Adam Clayton Powell?”
2. “No, it’s that cheese with the Mexican words on the label.”
3. “I love paying bills.”
I will take my lumps for the first two, but I really do love paying bills. My friend mocked me, but I stood my ground, retorting, “It’s better than paying dues!”
I’m fairly certain I won that argument, but it was hard to tell, what with all the laughter and finger-pointing.
What I meant was, I’m no Pollyanna ”” wait. I am a little Pollyanna-ish, but I draw the line at saying, “I’m thankful thorns have roses!” In fact, now my keyboard feels sticky from all that syrup I just typed.
But I would always rather pay bills than pay dues.
I’m thankful I have money every month to pay my bills. I’m thankful for clean water, electricity, magazine subscriptions, blazing fast internet, and the ability to pick up the phone and talk to my kids scattered all over the world.
Bill paying feeds into a ”” I’ve come to realize ”” unique (some say ‘weird’ or ‘crazy’ but that’s probably because their vocabulary is limited) part of my personality. I love plastic storage bins, sharp crayons, lists, and balancing my checkbook, too.
Sometimes I even get the satisfaction of actually paying a bill off ”” owning a car outright, no more college loans, finally paying off the remodeling, burning the mortgage.
Dues, on the other hand, never get paid off. Well, not for me, anyway. Not my publishing dues.
I’ve spent many years now without much tangible to show for all the effort I’ve put into writing. The intangibles are many, however ”” lots of like-minded friends, better writing skills, the ability to dabble in many different genres.
But there are self-esteem issues and frustration ”” mostly low-grade, but also mostly constant. Another rejection?! Am I good enough? Why won’t they buy this? Why don’t I know how to plot better? Shouldn’t I know more words by now?
And then I remember what Sue Grafton says: “Writing is a craft that takes many years to develop. The publishing world is full of talented, hardworking writers who’ve struggled for years to learn the necessary skills. I counsel any writer to focus on the job at hand ”” learning to write well ”” trusting that when the time comes, the Universe will step in and make the rest possible. Writing isn’t about the destination ”” writing is the journey that transforms the soul and gives meaning to all else.”
Frankly, I love this journey so I guess I’ll keep paying my bills and paying my dues and trusting that the Universe knows what it’s doing. And, of course, I’ll continue to say stupid things out loud.
How ’bout you? Do you like paying bills? Have you “paid your dues” yet? Will you confess to saying stupid things out loud?
For everyone worried about kids and reading and books and publishing … and for those of you who are just awed by ridiculously excellent marketing campaigns …. Watch this!
I love this kid. I hope it’s true that he’s really an 8th grader from New Jersey and not some jaded writer or industry professional. Publishers Weekly printed this essay written by Max Leone. It makes me crave his adolescent approval, which seems weird, possibly creepy, now that I write it. But for a long time, my goal has been to write something ”” anything ”” that teenage boys will love.
Take a look ….
Read This B4 U Publish 🙂
A 13-year-old boy tells the industry what teens want
by Max Leone — Publishers Weekly, 11/10/2008
I am of that population segment that is constantly derided as “not reading anymore,” and is therefore treated by publishing companies as a vast, mysterious demographic that’s seemingly impossible to please. Kind of like the way teenage boys think of girls. The reason we read so little in our free time is partially because of the literary choices available to teenagers these days. The selection of teen literature is even more barren now that the two great dynasties, Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, have released their final installments. Those two massive successes blended great characters, humor and action in a way that few other books manage. When they went for laughs, they were genuinely funny, and their dramatic scenes were still heart-poundingly tense, even after I’d read them dozens of times.
And so, after weeks of brainstorming and careful consideration (three months of procrastinating and two hours of furious typing), I will now attempt to end this dark age of adolescent prose. I will start by stating the main problem with books aimed at teenage boys. Then I will give some examples of what teenage boys actually want to read.
The first problem with many books for teens is archaic language. Seriously. It is the kiss of death for teenage boy literature. Any book infested by it is destined to become an eternal object of derision around the cafeteria lunch table. It is a problem that applies not only to the “classics” (yes, I will use quotations whenever I use that word. Live with it.), but also modern teenage literature. “Methinks”? “Doth”? Really? So we are constantly ridiculed for “lol,” while these offenses go unnoticed? To all writers of books aimed at teenage boys, I beg you: please use only modern language, no matter what time period or universe your book takes place in.
Another giant, oily blemish on the face of teenage literature (that was entirely intentional) is whatever urge compels writers to clumsily smash morals about fairness or honor or other cornball crap onto otherwise fine stories. Do you not think we get enough of that in our parents’ and teachers’ constant attempts to shove the importance of justice and integrity down our throats? We get it. I assure you, it makes no difference in our behavior at all. And we will not become ax murderers because volume 120 of Otherworld: The Generica Chronicles didn’t smother us in morals that would make a Care Bear cringe.
And then there are the vampires and other supernatural creature that appear in many contemporary teen novels. Vampires, simply put, are awesome. However, today’s vampire stories are 100 pages of florid descriptions of romance and 100 pages of various people being emo. However much I mock the literature of yesteryear, it definitely had it right when it came to vampires. The vampire was always depicted as a menacing badass. That is the kind of book teenage boys want to read. Also good: books with videogame-style plots involving zombie attacks, alien attacks, robot attacks or any excuse to shoot something.
Finally, here is what I consider the cardinal rule of writing for young adults: Do Not Underestimate Your Audience. They actually know a lot about what’s going on in politics. They will get most of the jokes you expect them not to. They have a much higher tolerance for horror and action than most adults. Most of the books I read actually don’t fall under the “young adult” category. I can understand the humor in Jon Stewart’s or Stephen Colbert’s books as well as any adult.
Publishers can stop panicking and worrying that the teenage boy market is impossible to crack, that teenagers hardly ever read anymore, and that they have only a few years before books become obsolete and are replaced by holograms or information beamed straight into people’s minds. Okay, they probably do have to worry about that last one. But if they follow the simple rules I outlined above, they’ll be able to cash in on the four or five minutes each day that teenagers aren’t already spending on school, homework, videogames, eating, band practice and sports.
P.S. I have very good lawyers, so don’t bother trying to sue me if none of these suggestions work and your company goes out of business.
This is the last in my series about the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts. If you missed the others, I talked about what I got out of the Retreats, Nancy Sharp Wagner explained how they came to be, I gave the details of the three Retreats, and I showed the fabulous monastery where they’re held.
Today, I’m posting some of the past participants’ thoughts about the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts so you don’t have to take my word for how great they are!
I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Teens, and while I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, I can honestly say that these retreats offered some wonderful, practical, hands-on information that I never got in the masters program. (It had many wonderful benefits, of course, but different). So the Novel Retreats were absolutely worth it! I’d definitely do it again. I wish I’d had a chance to do this many years ago!
I’d been drooling over the idea of getting a MFA in writing for children for years, but always, the money, time, distance, and application process stopped me. (Transcripts from more than 20 years ago? Admittance essays?) I’ve been learning to write for children for a decade, attending local workshops, participating in a great critique group (mostly picture books), and reading craft books and current kid lit, but I still wasn’t accomplishing much new work … and, thus, not sending out a whole lot of submissions.
Finally I made a list of what I hoped an MFA program would accomplish in my writing. It boiled down to this: deadlines, accountability, and novel-writing partners — so I would finish projects instead of dithering around with them year after year.
When the 3-Act Novel Retreats came along, even though they would cost me airfare from Atlanta in addition to the retreat costs, I jumped at the chance. For a mere 10% (including airfare) of the cost of an MFA I could get a year of deadlines, accountability, and writing partners to spur me on.
And it’s been great. I started with a vague idea for a novel, and a year later I have a manuscript that will be ready for submitting in a few weeks. If these retreats were within driving distance of Atlanta, I’d participate year after year. Nothing like a deadline to spur a writer to sit in that chair and write!
For me, it was absolutely worth the 90 hours of driving to and from Montana, the money, the time, the deadline stress, and the no-cell-coverage. I feel that through this retreat series I’ve learned the tools to take my writing to the next level. I feel like a writer now, not just a writing enthusiast. I have learned what I need to do with my writing to make it the best it can be. It’s actually very liberating and exhilarating.
Before I signed up for the series, I thought about it for a long time. I was having a hard time justifying the expense and the time commitment in my own mind. Time was huge for us Montana participants because of the extra drive days. I’m too busy! But then Elaine Marie Alphin said to me that if I wanted to be a serious writer, I needed to act like a serious writer, and be involved in serious writer things. She was so right! I’m glad I jumped in.
I’ve always loved writing, but I’ve also always known that I needed more tools to make my writing better. This series was a huge leap forward for me. I loved every piece of instruction, and have been able to directly apply what I was taught into my own writing processes. Working with a small critique group was fabulous, and the support system we’ve established will be beneficial for years to come.
I recommend this retreat series to anyone I talk writing with. I’ve learned more in the last year than in all the years before.
My expectations? I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of the retreat presentations. But I hoped by participating to jump start myself into finally writing this story that has been in my head for years. I was delighted by the retreat — the formal presentations, the participants, the retreat center.
Where was I when I started? I had an idea and 20 pages from a creative writing class 25 years ago. Where am I now? Well, I didn’t quite meet the deadline, but I do have a draft of 60,000 words and am still fired up to write the last chapters and then revise using the tools I gathered. Like others, I feel validated. I am a writer of a novel.
Benefits I received? Inspiring sessions. Elaine’s enthusiasm was contagious. All kinds of ideas for getting the draft down. Figuring out that laying a careful track is what I need. Darcy’s workbook with helpful revision tools. The support and friendship of a wonderful small group. The restorative atmosphere of the monastery combined with the fellowship of like-minded writers. Knowledge about the business end of writing and selling a novel. A helpful critique from an editor. And a critique group to continue the sharing of manuscripts. Pride in what I have accomplished.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat if I could. I only wish I had been able to do this 25 years earlier!
The facility? I love the retreat center. I always feel like I have stepped outside of time there. The quiet and the natural beauty of the place are centering. Great to have a private room and bath. Good food too.
I don’t know if I had a particular set of expectations when I started the retreat. I had a few HOPES. I hoped that I would actually be able to finish a novel. I hoped that it would flow well enough that someone would actually enjoy reading it. I hoped that I could figure out the publishing process. And I believe for the most part, I feel fulfilled. I DID write a novel and I DID have other people read it! Yay!!! I think it’s still far from publishable quality, but maybe I have the direction now to get a little closer to that goal.
When I started the retreat series, I had never even attempted to write such a long work before. And now I have. I feel like that’s an accomplishment.
The big benefit of the series was that the novel writing process was broken down step by step and we had access to experts to help us along. There were also clear DEADLINES. I work best with a deadline, so this was a huge benefit. It was also beneficial to be put in a small group so there was built in encouragement and feedback from others who were going through the same process.
I’m thinking that my small group will stay together, at least for a little while, so I can take
advantage of that if I don’t get to be part of the retreat series again.
I really liked the facility. It was so peaceful and away from all distractions. It was a place where you could really go to think and write.
This has been such an incredible experience! I stayed an extra night after Act 3 was over to try to maintain some momentum on the writing. When the writers go home, the St Benedict Center gets QUIET!
We’re talking tomblike silence, except for the howling October wind. (There were fish blown out of the lake lying on the sidewalk the next morning!) I had the solarium to myself all afternoon and very late into the night. It was great for working, since it was the first time I’d really had to think in about a year, but I have to say, I missed having all my writer pals to run to and chat with!
I don’t know how I’m going to get through this winter without another retreat to look forward to!
The tools we received to write and revise a novel were incredibly helpful, and I believe we all created better stories because of them. I would highly recommend this retreat for everyone who wants to write a middle grade or young adult novel. The connections made and critique groups formed will be indispensable. The retreat was worth every penny and then some.
The word “journey” is what I keep repeating in my mind. Eventually, we will all get there; I truly believe that. I’m glad I’m not out there alone in the woods ”” I have my whole Retreat group with me. The retreat was a wonderful gathering of talented and dedicated writers. In the words of Robert Frost, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. Keep writing.
I think the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts has been the single best thing I could have done for my writing career. Not only did I complete a novel in a year, but I also gained what I hope is long lasting friendships and a support system that will span my writing career. And I think that is what every writer needs ”” goals and friends.
The drive home was almost surreal, thinking about how much these three retreats have meant. It was a little depressing to think that after several months of anticipation before the first retreat coupled with the past year, this project has occupied a pretty fair amount of time and I do feel let down that it’s over!
Certainly everything we’ve been working on came together with the editor and agent reading and critiquing everyone’s first pages. It was the culminating and most powerful part of the three retreats. Obviously we all still have a ways to go but I know all three retreats have equipped us to deal creatively with every aspect of our projects.
I sincerely hope we can continue to meet in Schuyler on some kind of regular basis. I hope we can continue to read each other’s works and draw support, encouragement, and inspiration from one another, and begin to celebrate the success of the individual manuscripts that came out of this retreat as they begin to find acceptance and publication.
Thank you all for everything and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of our group in the months and years ahead!
I learned so much from Elaine in Act 1. She is a wonderful person and a smart lady. Her structure and organization was awesome and her handouts a tremendous help. I started way behind the curve ball, since I knew absolutely nothing about writing a novel.
I loved my critique group and I thought that was very beneficial. Darcy’s workbook is awesome and definitely got us to look at our novels in a different way.
Overall I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t get enough. I loved being surrounded by people who share the same passion and are as passionate about writing as I am. I wish I could have attended Act 3.
I would love a reunion – writing time, critiquing time, just spending time with writers, talking, breathing, eating, writing. I would also love to attend all 3 retreats again!
The retreats were AWESOME!!! I learned so many things and drastically improved my writing. Since I didn’t get to go to Act 1, I was thrilled that Elaine did a refresher, and answered my gazillion questions.
Overall, I discovered I could write a whole manuscript without agonizing over it for many years hounded by self-doubt … I met some of the coolest writers ever … Darcy and Elaine both ROCKED! … and I loved my beyond awesome critique group. Good idea putting together small pods like that!
The Novel Retreat in Three Acts is held at the Saint Benedict Center in Schuyler, NE. (The town is pronounced ”˜skyler,’ by the way. You don’t want locals to think you’re a hick when you get there. You’re welcome.)
This is a gorgeous, peaceful, non-smoking facility ”” just right for writers.
Main hallway off the lobby ….
As a participant of the Novel Retreat in Three Acts, you’ll be assigned a private room. Mine had a twin bed, an easy chair, plenty of light, a desk, closet, sink, toilet and shower. No TV, no radio, but a clock.
We met as a group in one of the large conference rooms, which had all the modern amenities.
Meals are served buffet style in the dining area at specific times ”” 7:30 for breakfast, 12:15 for lunch, and 6:15 for supper. If you’re late, you miss them and there ain’t nuthin close enough to drive to, so we wandered down at the appropriate time and stood in line, ready for the doors to open. This is at the very end of that long conference hallway.
A word about the food … it’s fabulous. Very homey, lots of comfort food. Always a well-stocked salad bar, homemade soups, and entrees like fried chicken, roast pork, and fish with side dishes like mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh vegetables, homemade bread and rolls and delicious desserts. Everything real and made from scratch … definitely not your typical institutional food. I’d go back just to have more of that homemade chocolate pudding! When you register, tell Nancy Sharp Wagner if you have any dietary restrictions. They’re very accommodating as long as they know in advance. This is a tiny bit of the dining room. Behind me while I took the photo is at least three or four times this space.
The St Benedict Center is an enormous brick and concrete structure built in a bit of a valley. It’s bounded by farmland growing all kinds of crops ”” but I could only identify corn, apple trees and a vineyard, being a city girl and all. Sad, but true.
In April, when I attended Act 2, my room overlooked the sparkling lake behind the center.
In October during Act 3, my room overlooked a huge cornfield surrounded by trees covered in glorious autumn colors.
The Center is surrounded by lovely, meticulous landscaping.
But the unintended consequences of having thick brick walls in a valley out in the middle of the Nebraska prairie is no cell phone service. Personally, I like it that way. But you’re not entirely cut off from civilization. The landlines at the Center work and they have two computers available with high speed internet access. The guest rooms and most of the conference rooms have jacks for connecting your computer to the internet. But don’t use them. Cut yourself off from the real world for one weekend.
In our group, we had participants from Iowa, Minnesota (2), Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, Montana (3), South Dakota (3), Georgia (2), North Dakota, and nine from Nebraska. Read some of their testimonials about the Retreats.
At Act 1, everyone is assigned small critique groups of three or four people. I was added to an existing group when I joined them for Act 2, and the four of us bonded immediately. For Act 3, one of my small group critique partners picked me up at the airport and several of us met for dinner in Omaha before driving to Schuyler. We also had some time to poke around The Old Market in downtown Omaha, which was lots of fun. Another of my critique partners, Lisa Stauffer, writes travel articles. She wrote about Omaha after she attended Act 2.
So, that’s an overview of The Saint Benedict Center and some general information about the weekend. Remember to tell Nancy Sharp Wagner if you’ll want to come a day early or stay a day later, if you have any food issues and if you need to be picked up at the airport. She’ll handle all those things for you.
And when you go, think of me when you scarf down that fabutastic pudding!
Isn’t this a glorious location? Can you see yourself basking in the glow of writerly adventures here?