Promotion

It turns out there’s a lot more to book promotion than spamming social media with pictures of a book and the first few lines of a nice review.

While I’m waiting to hear back from my editor, I’ve been reading up on different ways to utilize social media. There’s a lot I didn’t know about! For example, there’s such a thing as book trailers? That blew my mind when I first heard about it. I’ve been dabbling in photo editing and making mock book covers. Surely, I thought, I can figure out how to make a short promotional trailer or GIF. 

Oh, I figured it out. It just took me five hours. (If interested, you can see the finished product here.) Finding the right royalty free pictures, editing them, applying filters and the right text took time. Finding an easy to use website that was also free took some time too. (I tried to make an actual movie clip but couldn’t find the right images for free, so I went with the GIF creator.) My incompetence frustrates me sometimes, but now that I know how to do it, I can do it again and much quicker! That’s the encouraging part.

While reading about all these different methods of book promotion, I started to feel overwhelmed. There’s so much information out there, so many different things to try. How am I supposed to keep track of it all? Plus, the concept that readers want to get to know me before they decide to give my book a try keeps popping up. It makes me want to run and hide. I’ve heard that before but I’ve somehow been able to convince myself that, if my book is amazing, it’ll sell itself. (That’s why we write, right? So that we don’t have to talk to people? The John Green quote on my home page says it so beautifully.) Starting a blog was hard enough. The idea of being interviewed is downright terrifying.

But things are changing, especially the way advertising works. I have to study up if I want to keep up. All of these different tactics might make my head spin now, but I have to believe that I’ll conquer it. I’ll learn, slowly but surely, what works for me and the book and what doesn’t. I’ll pick up a skill or two (might even get better at public speaking!) in the process and become a better person in the end. I have to see it that way, I have to be hopeful, otherwise I’ll spiral into an anxiety attack. This is what I wanted. This is what I’ve been dreaming about and praying about and working toward for all these years. Maybe I didn’t know what it was going to require of me then, but I do now. So let’s get started! (Before I lose my nerve…)

The blank screen

So I’ve made it. In the Dark is scheduled to be published in January of 2018 by Tirgearr Publishing. Hooray! Now, I’m waiting. My newly appointed editor is supposed to go through the manuscript with me and give me some feedback. I then have to work on revisions, turn the new manuscript in by no later than October, approve a front cover design, wait for the launch party, and promote the finished product like crazy. None of which can happen until I hear back from my editor.

What am I supposed to do in the mean time?

“Work on one of your other stories,” you might say.

Well, here’s the situation: In the Dark, as you know, is waiting to be reviewed by my new editor. I can’t touch it. Asta and the Barbarians (I submitted it to Tigearr Publishing some time ago without even realizing it) is also being considered for publication. I can’t touch it until a decision is made. I Dare You to Love Me is being considered by someone from Filles Vertes Publishing. Guess what. I can’t touch that one either.

“What about The Sentinel?” you ask.

Ah, The Sentinel. The one story I can’t seem to get right, but the one story I can’t seem to give up on. This is the story that started it all.

I was in the fourth grade, my sister in sixth. She was tough, out-going, smart, and pretty and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Only problem was…she didn’t like me very much. Who could blame her? I was the kid sister she had to tote around wherever she went, take care of, and share all of her things with. She finally complained enough times to my parents and they decided it was time for her to have some privacy. She moved into the guest room and I suddenly had an entire room to myself. It was a hard time for me; despite her wild temper and all the “mean” things she said to me, I still looked up to her and thought of her as my closest friend. I hated that locked door between us, a constant reminder that there was nothing I could do to make her like me as much as I liked her.

I don’t remember how or when it happened exactly but, one day, that door was unlocked. One day, she let me in on a big secret: she was writing a story. Her love of Tolkien’s Middle Earth combined with the drama that she and her friends were going through at school created a fantasy adventure unlike any other. The novel came with hand drawn maps, dress designs, banners and family insignias, and strange new creatures that my artistic sister had come up with herself. And she shared all of it with me! She wanted to hear my opinion! Over countless hours spent sprawled on her bed, listening to her read and discussing ideas, we bonded. And she inspired me to write a story of my own.

Before then, the longest story I’d ever written had been four to six pages. Each page had a few lines of story and an illustration courtesy of my sister (when she had been in the mood to play nice). This was probably why she thought of me when she needed a second opinion on her story. She knew I could be creative and she knew I loved The Lord of the Rings so I would enjoy her fantasy world. I didn’t want to copy her story. I just knew I wanted to write. So I picked out a composition notebook from the stack my mom had and put pencil to paper. The plot didn’t flow well. The villains were pathetically two dimensional and cliche. The main character was too perfect. But it didn’t matter. I was creating something and I loved it.

When I was caught up on my sister’s story or when she was having  writer’s block, I would read to her from my story and we’d work on improvements together. We still share stories and story ideas to this day, across the miles and miles that separate us. I do more of the writing and she does more of the advising now, but we’ll always have this in common; the love of fantasy. We both want to see my first story published, despite the many, many changes it has gone through over the years.

But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to tell the story right. I’ve written up draft after draft, shared it with two beta readers other than my sister, tried to listen to everybody’s counsel, set it aside for months at a time only to pick it up again and make more changes. Each time I finish, I think I might’ve finally gotten it. I send it out to my sister and my beta readers with confidence. Then they give it back with more red marks than ever. I manage to improve some things only to make other things more unbelievable or dramatic or flat or whatever. I love these characters. I love this story. I love this world I’ve created. Why can’t I weave the plot correctly? Why can’t I tell it in a way that’s…whole and real and not cliche?

Thinking and writing about it now, I want to try again. But I know the moment I open up the document and stare at that blank page, it’ll all come swarming back to me; the problems, the criticisms, the questions that still need answering. The very long story that still hasn’t been told. And…

“…the blank piece of paper wins.”

Uuuugh.

There are three other works in progress I could focus on. I could write a sequel to In the Dark or Asta and the Barbarians, things I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time and just haven’t gotten around to. I’m sure I could pass the time until I hear back from my new editor. But The Sentinel keeps calling. Can I muster the strength to answer the call? Can I bear to face that blank screen again?

On the subject of querying

I met an editor thanks to my grandmother.

She heard about a creative writing class being taught at a community center in Phoenix and thought it was something I’d be interested in. She paid the fee and told me to have a good time. This was the first writing class I’d ever taken. Up until then, all I’d learned about creative writing I’d picked up from my favorite authors. I was excited to learn more about the writing process and get a glimpse of the publishing world. More importantly, I wanted to meet the teacher. She was an editor. As shy and awkward as I was, I was suddenly determined to talk to this person and get her to look at my fledgling manuscript. She would be honest with me. She wouldn’t have any bias whatsoever. If I didn’t have any talent, she would tell me. And if she told me I should give up and choose another career path, I would do it. (Or so I kept telling myself.)

Most of the techniques and terms I heard about in this class were things I already knew; she just gave them names. But the most rewarding part of the class was that she gave us her contact information at the end, and told us to email her if we ever needed someone to edit our work. I thought this was perfect! I didn’t even have to give her the speech I’d been preparing. I let some time pass before I contacted her, partially because I didn’t want to sound desperate and partially because I wanted to read through my manuscript one more time. Once I was convinced it was as perfect as I could make it, I emailed her. I got a response about a week later. She was interested in my story. She wanted to take a look.

I worked with her for five to six months. She edited through my work, we met up at a nearby Barnes and Noble to talk about some of the things I could improve or take out of the manuscript, then I went home and worked on it. Then I emailed her again with the newest version and waited for her to have time to look at it. All the while, she was convinced I had talent and could get my story published. It was a dream come true. An adult, a professional, thought I could make it as an author! It was all the validation I needed. I saw her one more time with the third and final version of my manuscript, and she declared that there was nothing else she could teach me. Not really, but she said it was as polished and neat as it could possibly be. She gave me some tips on query letters and some good articles to read. Then she wished me the best of luck, telling me I could email her any time with questions or future projects.

And so my querying journey began. I had very high hopes despite the voice of reason at the back of my mind, murmuring that I should probably prepare myself for a few rejections. I spent several weeks doing research on the elements of a perfect query letter, reading query letters that succeeded in hooking an agent, and applying some of those elements in a letter of my own. I spent several more weeks doing research on agents, hunting for the select few who advocated for my genre and had published books similar to mine. I made lists, I wrote and rewrote my query letter until I thought it was perfect, edited through my manuscript one more time, and then I began emailing agents. I must have emailed at least fifty agents. Then came the horrible period of waiting. I lost track of the months and the many times I checked my email, holding my breath as the page loaded, wondering if that day would be the day when I would be discovered and my dreams would come true.

That day, unfortunately, never came. Instead, I received a plethora of polite rejections and assurances that just because one agent wasn’t interested didn’t mean no agent would ever be interested and that I should keep looking for that perfect fit. After almost a year of this, I had experienced a range of emotions from confusion to anger to determination to hopelessness to self-deprecation. I read more articles, did more research, worked on my query letter some more, and tried again with another fifty or so agents. I kept telling myself I had been stupid to hope I would hit gold on the first try, but maybe the second time would be different. No such luck. More polite, sickening, heart-breaking rejections. Then one kind agent added something else to their rejection letter: a website for beta readers. The only people who had read my manuscript at this time were me, the editor, and my sister.

Any shyness or insecurities were tossed out the window then. I couldn’t understand how a manuscript could be liked and approved by an editor, and then not get any bites in the agent pond. I needed to be bold. I needed to try something different. So I joined this writers’ forum and got a few beta readers for my manuscript. And then I found out the truth. My editor had been nice. Too nice. I still had a lot of work to do if I wanted my story to appeal to the age group I had in mind. I admit that I was officially done at this point. The amount of work I still had to do was overwhelming. I thought, “There isn’t enough time in the world to fix everything that’s wrong with this story!” I took a break from it. I dabbled in other stories and edited through older manuscripts, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I kept thinking, “Why does it matter? No one will ever read these stories anyway.”

It wasn’t a good time in the life of Becca. I was pretty much questioning my whole existence. Ignacio from Nacho Libre summed it up best. “Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”

But there was something about this particular manuscript, this story about faeries and a minotaur tyrant who wanted to take over the world and a group of friends who were closer than sisters and were strong enough to bring down the big bad together. Something about the magic of this island, the battles, the lessons, the drama. There was so much this story could teach young adults, so much hope it could give even though it was set in a mythical world. I thought of J K Rowling and all the rejections she received before Harry Potter was published. And look how that turned out for her! It was a major success and is still touching the lives of people to this day. (I don’t think I want to be as famous as J K Rowling, but I still greatly admire her work.)

I gave up on querying, but I didn’t give up on my writing. Obsessing about getting published was sucking the joy out of creating new worlds, characters, and plots. I went back to the basics, the simple task of putting words on paper. I kept my beta readers, though. With them, I slowly began to improve my craft.

That was three years ago.

I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m not the only one who thinks so either. My beta readers and fellow members of writers’ forums seem to think so too. I’m still not done with the faerie manuscript. I’ve managed to finish three other stories, but I’m still figuring out the best way to tell this story (The Sentinel’s Test). I’ve gotten confident enough in my other manuscripts to try querying again. I still haven’t gotten anything other than polite rejections, but I’m surprisingly okay. The desire to be discovered is still there, just buried a little deeper. I have a slightly more realistic picture of the publishing process and what it’s going to take for me to hold my printed book in my hands. It’s going to be hard, but I know now that I can’t allow myself to get discouraged. Or if I do get discouraged, I can’t stay there for too long.

As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Surrounding myself with other authors and aspiring authors has helped. (Thank you, Twitter!) It turns out, I’m not the only one who has gone through this. That is always good to know. Hopefully, someday I’ll be finishing my querying journey and adding to this post. Someday, I’ll get my happy ending. For now, I’m just going to keep writing.

Communication

I usually do the dishes in our house.

Despite the fact that both my husband and I make dirty dishes, the kitchen is my domain and he “wouldn’t know where to put the dishes anyway” if/when he ever got the overwhelming desire to clean. (Insert an eye roll from the wife right here.) But every once in a while, I’ll come home to find that the once large pile of dirty dishes is now gone, there are clean dishes in the dishwasher, and there are random plastics lined up neatly in the drying rack. I always make a big deal when I notice this in the hopes that my big hug, kiss, and a thousand thank-yous will encourage him to surprise me with a clean sink more often. Well, Monday after work was no different. He only got around to loading the dishwasher and left the plastic Tupperware containers for me to wash, but I was still thankful because most of the work was done.

Too lazy to actually take the dishes out of the dishwasher and put them away in their proper locations, I resorted to taking out the silverware I needed right from the washer. (We always run out of silverware before we run out of plates, cups, or bowls for some reason. At times, I think we just need to buy another 48 piece set of silverware, but I’m not so sure that would really fix the problem…) Anyway, it wasn’t until yesterday morning that I ran out of clean bowls and reached into the dishwasher for one. There was still chocolate syrup in the supposedly clean bowl I held, quite a bit of it. Which lead me to the dreadful conclusion that, if this bowl was still dirty, every other dish in the washer was too. (Insert gag reflex here.)

Whenever I load the dishwasher, I always run it whether it’s a full load or just half of one. I do this so that we can at least have some clean dishes at the end of the day. So, when I noticed my husband had loaded the dishwasher on Monday, I assumed he had run the washer as well. I was mistaken. As I washed the chocolate syrup from the bowl, I experienced a series of emotions ranging from anger to exasperation to self-pity to resignation. I know what people say about assuming. I concluded we were both at fault in this situation.

When I got back from work and found my husband gaming on the Playstation yesterday, I told him what happened as graciously as I could manage. His expression of horror and disgust was further proof that he had not done this terrible deed maliciously and, after he apologized profusely for the eighteenth time, I reassured him that it was all right. He explained that he was in the habit of leaving half-loads unwashed in the dishwasher with the hope that more dirty dishes would come later and he would be able to run it with a full load, thus saving water and soap. I asked him to please just run the dishwasher every time for peace of mind and he promised he would. We had a laugh about it later and I said the same thing I always say when something like this happens.

“We need to work on our communication.”(For those of you who don’t know, this is a quote from Independence Day, when Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum are flying the alien aircraft.)

It’s funny to both of us whenever I say this because, when we were dating, we were so sure we had that communication thing down. We talked about everything. Literally. He found out about my problems with dairy and constipation the first month into our relationship. He texted me while he was on the toilet numerous times and wasn’t embarrassed to inform me when he had a surprisingly large bowel movement. We thoroughly discussed the pros and cons of home birth versus hospital birth and the possibility of aliens. We talked about what we would do if we won the lottery or were stranded on an island. We shared about our dreams (the ones we had while we were sleeping and the ones we wanted to accomplish in the future) and voiced every random question that flitted through our minds. When I did or said something that bothered him, he’d let me know in the nicest possible way and vice versa. We just had that kind of relationship.

Still, certain bits of information seem to fall through the cracks now and then. It can be frustrating, but mostly it’s humbling.

Our friends and family have commented on the ease of our relationship. I can count the “big arguments” we’ve had in our three and a half years of knowing each other on one hand, and even those can’t be considered big when compared to the fights other people have. I mean, we’ve never raised our voices at each other or thrown things at each other or spent a night apart to “cool off.” In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever gone to bed angry at each other. It was a struggle to admit he was right and his ways were best at the beginning of the marriage (I’m not just saying that; 99% of my husband’s methods have proven to be smarter/more efficient than mine.) But I was able to overcome my pride and get over that after a few months. There are things he does that bother me, but he’s made an effort not to snap his fingers to get my attention or whistle for the dog when I’m standing right next to him (he whistles through his teeth and it’s the LOUDEST sound I’ve heard to this day) or turn the water ice cold and jump out of the way while we’re showering together.

These trivial things we “suffer” through might sound small to other couples, but they mean a lot to me. These little things are what keep me from getting a swollen head and thinking I have a perfect relationship. They help me relate and be compassionate to other wives. They are the funny stories I can share with my single friends much, much later, when neither my husband nor I harbor negative feelings toward the matter/event. They are what makes my husband and I human. So, when you look at it that way, you can say that miscommunication and mistakes are things to be thankful for. (Insert cheesy thumbs up here.)

The truth about creative writing

There is no right way to write.

There are different methods, different formats, different verbiage, different voices to choose from. But there is no right, guaranteed-success way to write. I’m continuously reminded of this thanks to the different people who have read my writing and given me constructive criticism, and the articles that have been written about the subject. But it’s still frustrating.

Some readers say I don’t give enough details about the setting, while some articles encourage writers to leave certain things to the readers’ imagination. Some readers want more verbs throughout the dialogue, want to know what the speaker is doing while they’re speaking. Others would rather not have the dialogue interrupted. Articles speak about the less-is-more concept when it comes to words and how important it is to be concise, while I’ve gotten comments about my transitions being too “choppy” and “sudden.” My creative writing teachers stress showing rather than telling, while some readers suggest I write a prologue to explain the rules of my little world. Teachers and agents recommend using writing tests, prompts, outlines, and lists while writing a story. Some writers claim to use none of these things. They just write, go wherever the story takes them.

Personally, I get annoyed at those characters in books who do a lot of inner monologuing; I don’t need to know how the main character feels or what they are thinking all the time. Yet other readers do want to know. I am easily frustrated with female characters who make stupid decisions, especially when it comes to romance. If you’re on the fence about Peeta, don’t kiss Gale. I love you, Katniss, really I do but come on! Nothing good ever comes from leading a guy on. (Catching Fire was a hard book for me to read.) And yet, if my female characters don’t make similar mistakes, readers don’t find them relatable. I love it when authors describe everything to me; the furnishings of a room, the architectural structure of a building, the clothes people wear, the smells in the air, the sounds echoing through the woods, the feel of the brisk morning breeze against the character’s face. Being able to picture everything brings the book’s unique world to life inside my head. Many readers (and agents, I’m told) don’t share this opinion.

My writing is based off of my personal preferences and who I am as a person. Some of my qualities, life experiences, or moral convictions leak into the characters I write. It’s the greatest part about being a writer; having the power to create a world, story, or person the way you want. If you want anyone to read and enjoy your writing, however, you must also cater to their preferences. Grab their attention. Make them feel something. Ignite curiosity. I thought the best way to do this would be to ask a bunch of people to read one of my stories and listen to their advice. The result of this was a bout of depression and a migraine. There were just too many differing opinions. I didn’t feel like it helped my writing at all. And most of the time I felt like the readers misunderstood the whole point of the story. Was that my fault? Was there something I could have done differently? Who’s advice should I take? If I listened to everybody and changed all the things they mentioned, it would no longer be my story. But I didn’t want to be proud and change absolutely nothing about my story. I couldn’t grow if I didn’t change. So what was I supposed to do with all the feedback I received? It was maddening.

There were a few instances in which two or more people mentioned the same issues in one of my stories, and I’ve changed those things without a second thought. It has been my experience that, if a group of people agree on something and give the same advice without first discussing it between themselves, odds are their advice is sound. Doesn’t matter what they’re giving you advice about. If your mother, your co-worker, and the lady who lives two doors down think the popular nail salon on 82nd street is crap, they’re probably right. If your brother, your best friend, and your sister’s husband think the guy you’re dating is no good for you, you might want to take a closer look at your boyfriend. If your grandfather, your cousin, your roommate, and your childhood friend say you have to try the chocolate covered ants at a certain restaurant, you should probably try to ants. It’s basic common sense. I just wish there was more consensus when it came to my stories.

Sometimes, I think my life would be easier if there was a sure-fire way to make everyone fall in love with my stories. But then there would be no room for improvement, would there? Writing wouldn’t be a creative expression or an art or an experiment or a journey. It would be more like homework.

*sigh*

Now that I’m done ranting, I guess I should go back to writing, huh? So long as I keep going, my stories are bound to get better. That means there’s hope.

“Mr. Frodo, look. There is light…and beauty up there that no shadow can touch.”

The charred stump

We visited my grandparents in Mexico for New Years.

My family has done this every year for as long as I can remember, and my husband supported the tradition even after we got married. New Years in Mexico is a time of eating tamales and sugar cookies, sipping hot chocolate by the bond fire, playing Mario Kart and Super Smash on the Wii, watching well-loved movies with Spanish subtitles, and waking up with a jolt when the firecrackers start sounding at midnight. (For those of you who can stay up until midnight, I envy you. I haven’t been able to stay up past 10:30 pm since I got married. I think it’s made me officially old.)

The first time I brought my husband to Mexico to meet my extended family, I took him on a walk around the village. I spent the whole time pointing at landmarks and telling him stories of my childhood, all of which he patiently listened to and chuckled at. The second time he crossed the border with me, we found ourselves taking another walk. This time there was more silence between us as we each breathed in the moist air and simply enjoyed the scenery. It became our own little tradition of sorts. This New Years was no different. Despite the fact that it had been raining on and off for the past three days and the dirt roads had turned into mud rivers, we headed out of my grandparents’ house to uphold tradition.

We tried to stay on the drier parts of the road, the parts that were made up of more sand than dirt. But after a while the mud began to stick to the bottoms of our shoes and accumulate. We slid several times, reaching out with desperate hands to grab a hold of each other and steady ourselves before we could end up on the ground. Slowly but surely, we made our way around the fields and to my old, old, tree. (See previous post). Instead of the welcoming sight of pine-like needles and wrinkly, old bark, I saw a partially demolished hill and a charred stump. I stood there for a minute, blinking at the sight and trying to understand. The hill literally looked as if a giant had taken a bite out of it. The black stump and withering branches sat off to the side and at an angle, as if they had been carelessly shoved aside.

I can’t explain the grief that suddenly struck me between the eyes. It was just a tree, just a shady spot I used to escape to whenever I needed a quiet moment to myself. But it was also the place where I did all my deep thinking and dreaming as a kid. It was the place I always retreated to when I came to visit as an adult. After greeting the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and spending some time indoors…I came here. Now it was gone. My husband took me in his arms and said he was sorry. All I could think to say was, “Many of these trees were my friends, creatures I had known since nut and acorn. They had voices of their own…” (Lord of the Rings reference, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about.) Only a few tears escaped but the sorrow remained. This place, this village that was always supposed to stay the same, was changing. It had been for years but that change had been subtle. There was nothing subtle about this.

Where will this introvert go to think and reminisce the next time she visits Mexico? I guess she’ll just have to find another tree to sit under. But it will never be the same.