Wednesday, March 24, 2010

WRITING IS A JOB

My guest is Lisa Brackmann. Her Debut book will be available June, 2010, from Soho Press. Be on the lookout, I will be reviewing this book for the blog soon.


Lisa is a friend and she's like the fifth friend of mine that received a contract this past year. It's been quite an eye opener to watch all the work that Lisa and other friends have had to do after they've sold the book. I hear about it from them all in varying degrees.


Why do I say that? Simple. Most writers are focused exclusively on the work involved in writing the story, editing and polishing the manuscript. Then they embark on the querying process and creating the right query letter. Looking for an agent and publisher. Granted, there is a lot of work involved in this part of the process. Somehow, you get the idea this is the brunt of the work. Once you sell, it's just a matter of waiting for the book to be released. Oh so wrong.


One of the benefits of having friends selling their books is seeing another aspect of work involved and just as hard, but in a different way, as the creating and selling it that book. Wow. If you think it's easy street after the sale, think again. It's a lot of hard work.


Lisa explains what it's been like for her.



A few years ago, back when I first seriously started writing novels, I came across Stephen Pressman’s book “The War of Art.” Pressman talks a lot about overcoming resistance and facing your creative fears, but for me what really resonated was one simple principle: writing is a job. The first rule of a job is, you show up. Whether you feel like it or not.

For whatever reason, viewing my writing this way was a huge breakthrough for me. It wasn’t about waiting for a Muse, or having to be in the mood. It was about putting my butt in the chair, opening up the document and doing the work. Discipline alone could nourish talent and inspiration. I liked that.

Seeing my writing as a job to do, while perhaps not the most glamorous or inspirational perspective, certainly has come in handy on the road to publication.

Last summer, my novel,
ROCK PAPER TIGER , was acquired by Soho Press , for Spring/Summer 2010 publication. That is actually a pretty fast turnaround in the publishing world, and it meant that I had a lot of things to do in a fairly short amount of time, with lots of deadlines.

Acquisition and publication processes vary greatly from house to house, so some of my experiences may not apply to every situation. But I hope to give you a sense of what your job, as an author will be like, once you score that publishing deal and have signed your shiny new contract.

Generally you will have editorial revisions, requests for changes concerning story and character. Sometimes these come in the form of an editorial letter, where the concerns and suggestions are outlined. Without going too much into the specifics of my experience, I’ll just say that my editor was awesome and this was not a huge deal for me (for which I am seriously thankful).

At the same time, you’ll have to deal with a number of “housekeeping” issues – things that have to be done that are not directly connected to writing and revising.

The wonderful publicist at Soho (excuse me if I run out of superlatives, but everyone I have dealt with there has been fantastic) told me the single most important thing an author can do in terms of publicity is to have an easily findable web presence. That means a website that comes up when people search your name and the name of your book(s). So, mine is
lisabrackmann.com , and in addition, Rock Paper Tiger permanently redirects to the page about the novel on my website (try it! You’ll see!).

Unless you are a web/graphic designer or someone with a lot of talent for design, I strongly recommend that you bite the bullet and hire a pro to design your site. Yes, it costs some money. But you’re going to need tax write-offs anyway, and a professional-looking website signals that you are a professional author. Which, once you sign a contract, you are.

Show the world that you’re a pro. It’s worth it.

Likewise…you’ll have to get an author photo. Yes, you really will. Even if, like me, you are a fairly publicity-shy sort of person. It Must Be Done.

Again, while you may not need to hire a professional photographer (I did, and I’m glad), your photo needs to have a certain amount of polish – in other words, a good portrait, not a casual shot of you and the kids and the dogs and/or cats. Think about your genre too. What sort of “look” helps promote what you are writing?

You will need a short bio.

While I was never asked to write a synopsis (and for that I am extremely grateful!), at many houses, you will be. I definitely have needed blurbs – thankfully I’ve been generally been able to use variations on my original query.

You might be asked to fill out an author survey. Again, this varies a lot from house to house. The purpose of the survey is to identify potential markets for your book and to provide information that will help Publicity and Marketing sell it. Any authors you can compare your work to, whose readers might like yours? What are the most original features of your book? Who might you be able to enlist to review or publicize it? Are there conventions or conferences that might be relevant? In what cities do you have particularly good networks?

You may be asked for a list of authors who would be appropriate to blurb your work, including authors you might actually know and can personally ask.

I found the Author Survey to be one of the toughest things I did. It forced me to think of my book in ways that don’t come naturally to me (I’m notorious for writing stuff that doesn’t quite fit neatly into genre categories).

Meanwhile, what about that book you wrote? You did your editorial revisions, the MS has been officially “delivered and accepted” (which you love, because that means you get Part 2 of your advance!). So you’re done, right?

Uh, no.

Here’s another instance where different houses have different processes. In my case, I next worked on a line edit. This involved minor editorial changes (clarifications, fact checks, fixing awkward prose) and copy edits. After that, the copy editor did another pass.

Then come the galley proofs.

This is kind of exciting, because the “galleys” are the typeset version of your book – what your book will look like when it’s published. But it’s also a challenge, at least for me – by this point, I had read the book so many times, I worried about my ability to catch mistakes. I strongly recommend that you come up with a careful system of checks and double-checks, because this really is your last chance to fix problems and make small adjustments in the text.

(Well, sort of. In my case, a proof-reader did an additional pass and had a few questions, plus I had a little issue that I just had to address. Again, procedures differ; your mileage may vary!)

Finally, your book is off to Production. Does that mean you’re done?

Well, I’m not.

I’m just a little over two months away from my publication date. I’ve had letters and essays to write for various promotional efforts. Bookstore events to calendar (and I guess I’d better start thinking about what I actually might say when I get there!). Interviews to conduct, conventions to attend, blog posts to write. Like this one!

So, yes. Being a professional author is a lot of work. It’s a job. And like any job, there are deadlines, and tasks that are kind of a pain in the butt.




But you know what? It’s the best job I’ve ever had.


ROCK PAPER TIGER:

Iraq vet Ellie McEnroe is down and out in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.



“Few writers would be up to the challenge of blending the worlds of urban China , Iraq , and a virtual online kingdom–but Lisa Brackmann wildly succeeds. Prepare to taste the smog, smell the noodles, and rub the Beijing dust between your fingers. Rock Paper Tiger is a fresh and vigorous work that vividly captures the roller coaster that is life in modern China .” –Eliot Pattison, THE SKULL MANTRA

~*~*~*~*~



Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. She still takes pride in her karaoke-ready repertoire of bad pop hits and an embarrassing number of show tunes. A southern California native, she lives in Venice CA and spends a lot of time in Beijing, China. Her three cats wish she’d stay put.

Blog: Papertigertail








32 comments:

Other Lisa said...

Howdy, Sia! Thanks for having me.

~Sia McKye~ said...

You beat me to the punch, Lisa. I didn't even get the chance to welcome you. Hey, aside from coffee, tea and homemade goodies on the Coffee Bar, I even have Kittehs snacks. How's that for a warm welcome?

Other Lisa said...

Awwww, the kittehs are very happy to hear this!

Just so your readers know, I'm on the West Coast and tend to be a night owl and late riser, but I'll check in here as soon as I wake up. Maybe even before I have coffee! Which might be dangerous...

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Great tips! Most people don't understand the amount of work that exists at evrey level.

Tonya Kappes said...

Congratulations Lisa! It's amazing how much work goes into seeing your dream realized. When people ask me what I do and I say writer, they all say 'oh, I want to write a book or I was thinking about doing that.' When I discribed showing up everyday and the query process, they generally run away.

Have a wonderful ride!

Olivia Cunning said...

I was grateful to watch you go through all this on the sidelines. It prepared me (somewhat) for my own journey as a published author. I'm currently waiting for galleys. And my rewrite process was a complete revamp of the last forty pages. I was so sick of looking at that manuscript by the time I was done, I was ready to jab pencils into my eyes. BUT now I'm back to loving the book.

I'm very much looking forward to reading Rock Paper Tiger. In my free time. Which I find gets scarcer every day.

Someday I'll share the "joys" of trying to write a series, when your editor is making you make changes to book 1 that affect book 2 and you're trying to write book 3.

Judi Fennell said...

And then the next book goes into production...

;) Yep, it never ends - we HOPE!

Congrats, Lisa!! Can't WAIT to read this!

Kat Sheridan said...

Lisa, I can hardly wait to get my hands on this book! I'm really loving hearing you describe the process, and the whole ugly underbelly of writing that so many either don't know about, or disregard. Some days, it makes me happy that I'm still living in my little unpublished dream world. Thanks for blazing a trail, and leaving warning posts and bread crumbs for those of us following in your footsteps.

Dana Fredsti said...

I know what I want for Christmas, Ms. Brackmann!

Writing the book itself is a pain in the butt, but yeah, the promo part is never ending, whether you have a good in-house publicity dept. at your publisher or are doing most of it yourself.

Showing up at the job really does make a difference, dagnabbit. I had to give on my muse for motivation, but sitting down and writing every night no matter what seems to be working...

~Sia McKye~ said...

Olivia, that would be a hard one. Having one change to a book in a series and the subsequent changes that would have to be made in the remainder. I imagine you have your frustration with it all. Actually, I'm looking forward to *hearing* that story, here, Over Coffee. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, that whole blazing the trail is the good thing to see and understand. We've seen several going through the process. I like learning what's ahead. Gives a clearer vision of the whole process.

At least you don't go into it all blind.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lisa and Dana: the idea that you can't wait for your muse to finish the project is a good point and one I think that writers tend to forget at times.

Showing up and sitting the butt in the chair is a big lesson when you are in business for yourself. And yah, it has to be done whether you feel like it, or feel inspired, or not.

I've learned that even if the word count is low for the day, it's still forward movement.

Dana Fredsti said...

"I've learned that even if the word count is low for the day, it's still forward movement."

Sia, this is one of the hardest things to accept for me even though I know it's absolutely right. I get bad cases of word count envy. :-)

Lana Griffin said...

Lisa, you are so right! The fun part is writing the book. Then comes the job. Editorial comments and possible revisions; at least one copyedit cycle; galley proofs. In the print world, I've been asked to write cover blurbs and approve cover art -- before writing the books. The deadlines can be fierce: turnarounds on copyedits and galleys are usually 1-2 weeks and often even less; and I've signed for a lot of my print books with 2-3 month deadlines for final mss. It's hard work.

Other Lisa said...

See, you guys are doing fine on the conversation without me.

Need. More. Coffee.

Dana Fredsti said...

Get coffee and come back! You must chat!

Morgan Mandel said...

And that's only the beginning of all the fun ahead of you!

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Other Lisa said...

I have my coffee!

Jennifer Walkup said...

Great post, Lisa and Sia!

VA said...

Snork! I just refilled cup #3 of java.

Lisa, you make the obvious point that so many people want to ignore, every job is work! There are no workless jobs.Key is finding the job that is most like a hobby and less like work ;)

Having pre-ordered RPT, I'm impatiently waiting to read it. Btw. love the cover Lisa, just gorgeous! Did you get any imput?

Other Lisa said...

VA, no, I did not. But I can't tell you what an awesome surprise it was when I received an image of the cover -- it sells the book so perfectly that I can't imagine anything better. I really lucked out.

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Other Lisa said...

Hey, Spammer kills threads dead!

All of you who are doing more than one book in a year, I salute you. I honestly don't know how you do it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

They live on coffee which amps the drive to create? lolol!

I also think many have several books already written when the contract comes along. Which isn't a bad idea, since I'm noticing a trend in publishers to release next in the series or stand alone books 2 and 3 rather quickly.

Dave Fitzgerald said...

Thanks for the good advice, Lisa! It's great to get the inside scoop, particularly re:the publicist advice.
-D

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey Dave. Good to see you here. How's one of my favorite Celtic Swordsman today?

Plus, you're damn fine rah-rah section to have. :-)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Lisa, thanks for the great post. Love the butt in chair because writing is a job quote. :)

Hi Sia, thanks for hosting. Cheers~

Other Lisa said...

Hey, I consume mine and somebody else's share of coffee, and I don't think I could write two novels in a year..

Howdy, Nancy! Nice to see you!

Helen Ginger said...

It's mind-boggling to writers how much there is to do after the manuscript is "accepted." It's so good to hear from someone going through it!

Helen
Straight From Hel

whiteshark0121 said...

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

bryngreenwood said...

I'm finally schlepping over here and I have to say that this list of work to be done after the book is written wears me out. Seeing it piece-meal as you did it, Lisa, that wasn't so bad. Seeing all tallied up...whew!

Other Lisa said...

I'm sure I left a few things out, too!