After the great Nanowrimo November writing bust of 2020, I am somewhat hesitant to lay out my writing goals and resolutions for the New Year. However, I am coming up close on completing at least one of my larger writing goals I'd set in place for 2020 (another editorial pass at Iron Curtain) and it seems like the best time of the year to hunker down and plot the course for the next year.
In terms of writing accomplishments, 2020 had a lot to offer. I submitted Tin Road and it was accepted into the 2020 Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. I graduated with an MA in Book Publishing from Portland State University, where I served as Managing Editor at Ooligan Press, helping to usher half a dozen books through the editorial gauntlet. I am now working as a full-time editor AND doing freelance editing gigs on the side.
Perhaps the biggest 2020 takeaway, was the print publication of both Metal Heart and Tin Road. Are they completely perfect? No, not really. Would they both benefit from some professional copyediting and proofing? Probably. But I kind of love them for all their imperfections and I'm pretty emotionally attached to these stories and not really willing to turn them over to anyone else at this point. I'm never going to make a million dollars on this simple little trilogy, but for the sake of my love of these characters, I'm excited to see these books through to conclusion and to have them available in print for posterity. ;) Especially for those out there who love my imaginary friends as much as I do.
So, what's next for 2021?
Resolution #1: Publish Iron Curtain (Spring 2021)
While I am loathe to say a final goodbye to my favorite idiots, the Universe is telling me that...it is time. I've been working on these books and these characters for a decade, and so it seems fitting that 2021 is when I finally write "The End" and part ways with them. I spent summer 2020 writing the ending to the trilogy, and now, after getting notes back from my beta readers, I'm doing an editorial pass where I write fun notes to myself like "This scene has entirely too much blocking. Fix it, it sucks." I even took out the entire first chapter because I usually always start the story just one chapter off from where it needs to be.
Once this round of editing is completed, it goes back into the willing hands of my beta readers (who I made cry last time around, I MADE THEM CRY) and then, after another copyediting and then proofing round, it will be submitted to the Library Writers Project collection for 2021. No matter what happens (whether it is accepted into the collection or not), the book will go into print publication by mid-to-late Spring 2021.
Resolution #2: Finish Astrid vs. the Asteroid (Winter 2021)
My burning secret and shame is that I still haven't finished my first lovely little stand-alone, Astrid vs. the Asteroid. It needs an ending and I guess maybe I'm bad at endings or I just avoid them because I know it means I am saying goodbye to the dear, dear characters I spent months and years creating. Whatever the case, they are most deserving of a good ending and I want to do good by them, so I will be giving Astrid the send-off she so richly deserves very, very soon.
Resolution #3: Draft Rosita Ruins the Heist (Summer 2021)
A memory stealing bank robber. This one has been kicking around in my brain for a few years and I've been itching to put her down on paper. I figure if I can log 1,000 words a day for three months, that should put me around 90k words which would be a very sweet spot indeed for this simple little caper.
Resolution #4: Draft Untitled Horror Novel (Fall 2021)
I have a handful of different horror novel ideas, and it's about time one of them floated to the surface and saw the light of day. My biggest beef with most haunted house stories is that they take place in these GIANT labyrinthine mansions with endless spooky corridors with doors that open to giant dusty rooms. They're almost always situated on huge sprawling estates with tunnels and trapdoors and haunted greenhouses or something. I say thee nay! Give me seedy, creepy little houses in a neighborhood littered with needles and condom wrappers and graffiti and poverty. I want a story set where the bus line ends and drug dealers hang out on the street corners and everything smells like weed.
OR I might end up drafting a book based on this dream I had the other night about a girl who quits her job on her birthday and adventures with a coworker (named Michael Anthony, a very specific dream detail), which just so happens to be the first night of the apocalypse. You know me and a good apocalypse story. ;)
Those are all the writing goals fit to print at the moment. As always, they are probably loftier than their practical and realistic application. I will be lucky if I get Iron Curtain published, finish Astrid, and draft Rosita.
And that's, of course, not counting any of the other goals I have for my editing gigs and we can't forget the writing workshops and critiques and social media marketing, blog posts, eventually putting out that newsletter I keep teasing/talking about, maybe some book club appearances, and maybe a digital reading of some kind plus thinking about converting some of the books to audio...
There is always a lot to do. But without the writing first... none of that other stuff matters as much.
I am pleased to announce that Tin Road, the exciting sequel to Metal Heart, is now available on Amazon for purchase via paperback and ebook. For those who loved the first book and want to continue following the journeys of our intrepid heroes, you don't have to wait!
Tin Road is the second book in the Metal Heart series that follows the exploits of young women and men conscripted into "national service."
This installment focuses on Scarlett Buford and Rabbit Santiago as they escape from the Fort Columbia base and travel to Mexico City, carrying with them a cure for the nanovirus. At the same time, a mysterious clone awakes on the East Coast and joins forces with a super artificial intelligence with the same goal of eliminating the nanovirus. But do all of their purposes truly align? Who will get to the cure first, and who will get lost along the way?
AND it's been newly revised and streamlined for print, which makes this the SECOND edition. I spent Fall 2019 and Summer 2020 reducing word count and otherwise cleaning up errors and fitting it better into the overall continuity of the trilogy. It's the second book in the series to be included in the Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection.
The third book in the series, Iron Curtain, is in production now and will be available in Spring 2021! You don't have to wait long. ;)
PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to purchase a copy, shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will mail you a signed book plate to attach to your book (yagirl has a jobby-job now and signed special deliveries won't fit in the holiday schedule).
Purchase your copy today!
Hey Everyone! Another Ooligan Press book baby is entering the world!
Please join me at the Laurel Everywhere launch party on Nov. 10 at 6:30pm via Zoom. Along with the editorial team, I'll be interviewed by author Erin Moynihan about the behind-the-scenes book making process.
You can pre-order a copy of the book or register online for the event at: https://linktr.ee/ooliganpress
About the Book: Fifteen-year-old Laurel Summers couldn't tell you the last words she spoke to her mother and siblings if her life depended on it. But she will never forget the image of her mother's mangled green car on the freeway, shattering the boring world Laurel had been so desperate to escape. Now she can't stop seeing the ghosts of her family members, which haunt her with memories of how life used to be back when her biggest problem was the kiss she shared with her best friend Hanna.
After the accident, Laurel and her dad are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Her dad is struggling with his grief and depression, unable to cope with the loss of his family. He seeks a way out of his pain, leaving Laurel behind while he struggles to cope with his own mental illness. She is desperate to find a way to hold everything together again and help her father come to terms with the loss so he can come back to her.
Laurel tries to make sense of her pain with the help of her grandparents, her two best friends, and some random strangers. As she struggles to understand who she is without her family, she must come to terms with the items on her List of Things Not to Talk About, learn to trust her dad again, and on -- on top of it all -- keep her heart open to love in the wake of her immense loss, eventually learning that it's OK to not be OK.
Hope to see you there!
I knew I wasn't ready. I knew it wasn't the right time. I'd JUST finished up the long road to completing my MA Book Publishing thesis and the accompanying oral exam last Friday and was staring down the barrel of an agent first 5 pages evaluation on Saturday morning that I'd signed up for MONTHS ago during happier times with stars in my eyes and more hope for the world.
I knew it wasn't going to go anywhere. I could tell the night before. I could tell when I woke up that morning and felt my guts already twisted up in knots.
I was not mentally, emotionally, or spiritually in the right place to go forward with this manuscript evaluation but I'd already paid $50 so I gamely put on a blazer and red lipstick and posed myself in front of a virtual bookcase in the middle of my untidy living room for 14 minutes of feedback that was akin to drinking poison.
The strangest part is that I smiled and laughed and repeated the phrase "that's fair" to this agent over and over again without the slightest indication that they were cutting me deep with their words. I've never had this extra power of looking at my own face while my poor little artist heart was being broken and the impact of staring into my own eyes during an agent evaluation was profound.
When I finally shut the lid of my laptop and immediately set to the task of deep cleaning the bathroom, I replayed those moments over and over again and the biggest noise in my head, besides the cranky whirring of the bathroom fan, was "I paid for this shit?" And I wasn't talking about the toilet.
I am wrapping up 18 months of deep diving into the publishing industry (ostensibly now, a master) and I just need to remind my fellow writers of something...
Agents need us. Publishers need us. Editors need us. The entire publishing industry needs writers to submit their work. They truly do. Without writers, there is no content to push. There are no agents. No editors. No publishing industry.
And it goes beyond that.
Agents and publishers aren't just acquiring our content. They're acquiring our networks. They're looking at our social media presence and backgrounds and pondering just how many people are in our contact lists. They don't just need our work. They need our personhood, our authority to tell and sell this story. And, if you look at the writing conference industry of which I am a willing participant, it looks like they also need our money.
Writers dump SO MUCH MONEY into their craft, into writing communities and workshops and MFA programs across the world and into the publishing industry. And yet somehow, SOMEHOW, there's this constant background chatter that WE are wasting other people's time. That other people's time in this industry is almost always inherently more valuable than ours and we should be paying for the privilege of their time.
Because there are so many writers out there and any one of them could fill our shoes and, and, and...OK, let them. They gotta do what they gotta do. Everyone does.
But for me, especially right now when so many things have been thrust into stark relief, I have to look myself in the eyes. I am forced by circumstance to stare in a digital mirror and be accountable to myself for what choices I make and what things I perpetuate in the publishing industry by participating in them.
I am done paying agents for their counsel.
In fact, the bigger reveal is that I knew I was done paying agents before I even had that fateful meeting. I knew I was done earlier last week, when I registered for a writing conference and had no desire or motivation or interest in signing up for an agent evaluation.
There are others ways I need to spend my time that will boost my craft AND grow my contact list AND allow me to create content. The possibilities are almost dizzying. And if I look myself in the eyes while doing any one of those things, I don't think I'll wince inwardly and feel the need to tell myself, "you deserve better."
Not at all.
Very swiftly, everything changed. A global pandemic has emerged over the last few months and shaken the foundations of countries across the world. Everyone has felt the impact. Everyday life continues to change and evolve as time passes. What was the norm last month or a week ago or a day ago may be dramatically different today or tomorrow.
The big economic and societal changes are also shaking up the writing and book world. Libraries are shuttered, book release events are canceled or retooled, and major publishers and distributors are pushing out release dates in hopes of salvaging print book revenue. Small to medium bookstores are struggling and major retail chains like Barnes and Noble and Powell's have closed their doors to the public. Everyone is subsisting almost entirely online now.
Students. Entire workforces. Almost the whole damn country is struggling to maintain social constructs via the internet as we've been faced with building and public space closures, social distancing, sheltering in place, and all sorts of phrases that only recently in the last few months made their way into common usage.
These changes have absolutely impacted my personal writing plans, as I'm sure they've fractured yours. We are not alone if having to adjust our lives, our way of thinking, and our priorities.
But some of the beauty of this change is that much can be shifted from the in-person format to the digital realm without having to sacrifice the content. There is valid loss to the human connection inherent in conferences and workshops, but that's the sacrifice we have to make right now.
Yes, video chatting services are awkward and technology sucks and we sometimes talk over one another and everything is tough, but I've personally found a lot of comfort in both the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and the ebook publishing platform Smashwords stepping up to the plate.
In a time where so many are financially hurting, they are offering free digital writing workshops for their members and published authors. They have given me, and maybe you too, something to look forward to in a future that has dramatically reeled into uncertain territory. I had plans for my graduation and post-graduation life. I had plans to attend conferences in-person and create print and audiobooks.
Many things are now on indefinite hold. Except these awesome free workshops that are going to fill my April and provide me with much needed inspiration and information. Maybe like me, you all just need something to look forward to.
I also discovered recently that the opportunity for a manuscript evaluation through SCBWI is still available and that sparked some hope in my chest. Sure, maybe almost everything has been postponed or rescheduled or cancelled.
But I'm clinging to these little nuggets of workshop shaped hope where I can find them. Maybe you can too.
Technically, it's a "final research paper" but part of my Book Publishing masters program is to complete a research paper VERY similar to a thesis, that entails doing some kind of data collection. I've chosen to do both surveying and interviewing to collect data on how writers and editors employ authenticity readers and how they help shape the editorial process. So far I've received a couple dozen responses, but my goal is to get at least 100 survey responses before April 24, 2020.
The survey link is here: https://forms.gle/JNtTJgxsa9jkg9eU7
The big question: How do authenticity readers impact the editorial process of a manuscript?
If you’re an author, editor, publisher or authenticity reader in the book publishing industry please consider taking this survey to help gather data for a graduate thesis in the Portland State University Book Publishing program.
The paper is seeking to understand the ways in which authenticity readers are employed in the editorial process, by whom they are most commonly employed within the industry, and how their inclusion helps shape the overall editorial process of a manuscript.
Personal information in the survey will be kept confidential. Interested parties can also indicate if they’d like to participate in a short interview with some expanded and more detailed questions, along with completing a consent form.
This survey will close on Friday April 24th, 2020. All survey participants who include their emails will be entered into a random drawing for a $10 Powell's e-Gift Card.
Please share this survey with your networks in the book publishing industry and help spread the word.
My 2020 Pubwest conference experience took place on Friday, February 21, 2020 and was very much centered around the idea of growth.
Professional growth: I was roped into a publishing speed-dating circle which quickly stripped me of my fear of networking although didn't compel me to hand out any of the 20 newly printed business cards I'd brought along with me. Haven't yet perfected the skill to move from introduction and conversation to pressing a card into someone's palm yet. One of these days?
Platform growth: I sat in on a panel that quite nicely articulated the possibilities of growing audience platforms and really made me see that while my books continue to be downloaded at a steady trickle, I largely know nothing about the people reading them, what they think, or why the numbers keep going up. I'm ready in my author growth to start engaging with my readers in a more substantial way.
Publishing growth: I went to two different panels that gave me completely opposite feelings.
One, the Editorial: Own Voices imbued me with dread and frustration that important changes in the publishing industry are moving at a glacial pace. It felt like a reiteration of old conversations that I'd hoped the industry has moved past in the last few years. It also featured mostly cis-white individuals and that seemed like an odd choice for an Own Voices topic. I hope the conference planners take the feedback of the community and use it to a host a space for better conversations in the future.
The other, the keynote panel about "Ensuring a More Literate Future for All" on Friday featuring Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (Panorama Project), Andrew Proctor (Literary Arts), Laura Brief (826 National), emblazoned me with hope that books like American Dirt can start important conversations about how we can bridge the gap and start to address real solutions to the lack of diversity in the industry. Institutional change is slow and plodding, but individual change can happen at a rapid fire pace. Sometimes it's as easy as making a choice to change, and as hard as doing the work to implement that change.
The sentiments of that panel are nicely captured in this Publisher's Weekly article by Jason Boog: Pubwest 2020 Looks Forward to a Diverse Future.
Personal growth: On a personal level, as an author, I've recently begun asking myself an important question when it comes to writing and publishing: why are you the best person to tell this story? And sometimes I don't have a good answer and it's not problematic. And sometimes I don't have a good answer, and it is problematic. I've taken up various causes and lead the charge because I believed it was the right thing to do and maybe it was the right thing to do, but I wasn't the right person to do it. I think we could all benefit, especially white folks, from stepping back and asking ourselves that question more often. Are we the right person to do this thing or take up this space? And if we're not...then maybe we need to step back and give someone else that opportunity.
That all being said: I've been fortunate enough in my time at Ooligan Press to experience the hubris of fumbling through issues around authenticity and who gets to tell the story and I think some of the biggest takeaways for me as an author and editor are: do your damn research. The likelihood of getting something wrong statistically decreases the more work you do to really understand what you're writing about. ALSO: hire some sensitivity/authenticity/targeted beta readers.
Why are you the best person to tell this story?
At Ooligan Press we're working on some initiatives that reflect current publishing industry practices. I'm proud to be a part of the teams making those changes, and I'm proud to work alongside people who value those practices as well.
Little things add up over time:
1. We are changing our house style guide to foster more inclusive language in our manuscripts, marketing collateral and outward facing materials.
2. We are developing a database of sensitivity/authenticity/targeted beta readers who can assist in current and future Ooligan Press projects.
There are more things we could do to reflect the changes we want to see in the wider publishing industry, but we only have so much time in the program.
All the other change and growth is what comes after.
Following extensive revisions, cutting 30k words, and cleaning up the overall manuscript, I submitted Tin Road for consideration in the Multnomah County Library Writers Project collection. It was launched on Smashwords in December 2019 and without much marketing (digital or otherwise) it's been downloaded almost 200 times in the last month. Not bad for a sophomore effort. :)
After the last few weeks of professional highs and personal lows, and especially yesterday suffering a bleak morning of wallowing in my own failings as an author/writer who still has yet to be traditionally published...I received the heartening news that Tin Road has been accepted into the 2020 edition of the MCL Writers Project. I discovered this whilst riding on the MAX, so tears were most definitely shed on public transit. Hard to say at this point whether they were happy or sad. A little bit of both.
It's been a wild 2020 thus far.
It will be available for download in about a month, so prepare yourselves accordingly!
And really, this good news couldn't have come at a better time. I'm planning to re-launch a newly revised version of Metal Heart in the next few months, along with print-on-demand editions of both books available through Amazon. Literally just waiting on our tax return to make it happen.
I will take an audiobook production course this spring term, and hope to record these titles as audiobooks this summer (just gotta secure that MA first). Along with juggling finishing up/revising Iron Curtain and submitting Astrid and starting on a new WIP (Rosita Ruins the Heist).
It's taken me a long while to come to terms with the Metal Heart book series never being published traditionally, and I'm just happy to have the knowledge and skills to make this story available via different media. This doesn't mean I've veered completely off the path to traditional publishing. I'm looking forward to graduating soon and having time to properly submit Astrid to publishers, as well as work on other books that are currently rattling around in my head.
There should be room for individuals to both self-publish and traditionally publish their materials. Especially since the more I learn about publishing as a commercial enterprise, the more I realize the myriad reasons that Metal Heart would likely never be picked up by a traditional publisher, but at least will find some validity in being enjoyed through alternative means.
I've found incredible value in pursuing both routes and very much appreciate that they both exist.
WHAT IS AUTHOR BRANDING?
And why do I have to learn about it? Like it or not, readers buy books based on their own interests and they buy authors based on the type of book an author creates. Most readers are usually not at all interested in publishers.
Publishers don't have brands. Authors do. And in the social media age everyone has a brand for their online image. It's just the way of the world now and yeah it kinda sucks but it's also how writers are able to more directly connect with their audiences. As a born introvert, the internet is the perfect distance for me to do so.
Don't get me wrong, I also love meeting people in person. But can only really handle a limited amount of that interaction before my batteries get drained. That's where the delightful internet comes in.
WHAT'S MY BRAND?
I fully blame the Next Level workshop I attended a few weeks ago through the Oregon SCBWI chapter specifically about author branding for putting this kernel in my head. This one in particular was led by Oanh Jordan of Tiny Triumph Co.
I've attended workshops about author social media presence and author marketing but never specifically about "building an author brand." It's tough, as human beings, to step outside of ourselves and think "how am I a micro corporation and what is my brand?" We're not products, dammit. We're people! But also...an author is kind of a product. That sounds worse than it really is.
And honestly, how does that sort of thought process feel authentic? The authenticity arrives when you start to ask yourself some simple questions. The first big one: what are your core values? How can you use those core values to guide your online presence and create content that will appeal to your audience?
I had to really ask myself who my audience is and what I'm hoping to communicate to them. Not gonna lie, my current beta readers and my ideal reader ARE NOT teens. And that conflicts with the fact that the primary YA audience are, in fact, teens. At the SCBWI Great Critique, I was made VERY AWARE that teens will be reading my material (hopefully, at some point) and it's definitely given me something to chew on.
I didn't create Metal Heart with a target audience in mind - just a really strong desire to dump a story out of my head onto the page. Most of my stories start out that way. I think that's pretty common for writers. But when you're revising it and getting it ready for the world, thinking about a target audience and what the story is saying to the world shouldn't be a shameful or embarrassing thing.
It's the same with building a brand. The ultimate goal of a published author is to find and connect with an audience. Branding is literally the same thing, but on a regular basis. It's figuring out who you are, what you want to say, who you want to say it to, and then saying those things.
QUESTIONS TO BUILD A BRAND
As part of my Intro to Publishing course we read A People's Guide to Publishing by Joe Biel, founder and publisher of Portland, Oregon based Microcosm Publishing. It's a pretty engaging text so far, and I stumbled upon a personally useful passage pretty early on in the reading.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to start a publishing company. But as a self-publisher, I'm basically doing all the damn things a publisher would normally do, just by myself. And so this series of questions posed in the introduction, coupled with the recent author branding questions really hit home for me.
I hope they will be useful for you too.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
Every author seeking to be published, like it or not, is a small business. It's not enough to just do the creative thing. You gotta do the hustle thing too. You gotta have a website and social media presence and be actively involved in the writing community and engage your readers and your peers. You gotta think like a small business owner and you gotta think like a publisher AND you gotta write too.
I'm not saying it's easy. Not at all. But I'm saying, some aspects of it will eventually get easier if you put a little thought into it.
Of course, my brainstorm has led me to a natural conclusion: I need more teen beta readers. Any volunteers? ;)
I'm pleased to announce I will be co-leading an Editing Seminar at the 2020 Write to Publish conference hosted by Ooligan Press and the Book Publishing program at Portland State University. My current position is Managing Editor at Ooligan Press and even though I only started my book editing journey in 2018 and have edited precisely 14 books total thus far, I've been editing my own personal manuscripts and been in marketing and communications and editing roles pretty much my entire life.
I'm very excited to share both my professional knowledge and my personal experience around the craft of editing, and hopefully inspire and inform writers to choose whatever style of editing is most appropriate for their manuscripts.
And it's not just me filling the void. Des Hewson, the current Acquisitions Editor at Ooligan Press, and a former professional copyeditor will be co-leading this panel. Very hyped for them to share their experience when it comes to real world editing.
The Write to Publish conference will take place on January 11, 2020 from 9am-5:30pm at the PSU Smith Student Union building and will feature a wide variety of panels specifically geared towards writers who are interested in being published through traditional means, as well as offering self-publishing tips and tools.
The editing seminar will focus on teaching the basics of editing, will briefly review the editorial process at Ooligan Press, and will likely feature an editing exercise plus a brief Q&A session. The seminar will take place from 3:45-4:45.
Conference registration is open now. We hope to see you there!
Melinda Jasmine Crouchley, YA science fiction author and professional editor.