Missed Deadline Damage Control

When I mapped out the publishing schedule for Crowdfunding for Authors in January, I didn’t know a few things about what the rest of the year had in store. I didn’t know that I would be moving, not once, but twice in six months; that I would have an unexpected summer job; that furbaby number three would show up just weeks on the heels of number two; nor that planning even the simplest of weddings – for only six guests! – would take up so. much. time. So, my book was supposed to be (self-)published in October, and now it’s November, and the book isn’t out.

Graphic courtesy GO media

Graphic courtesy GO media

I’m frustrated and embarrassed. I’m typically an organized, on-time – even early – person. I’m not only behind schedule on the book at this point, but I’ve missed some key marketing deadlines to set up selling opportunities for 2017. The whole thing is feeling unprofessional, and I spiral into worries about the knock-on effects this is all going to have on my career.  But the hand-wringing doesn’t help. Instead, what helps is getting practical.

Here are a few things I’ve done, with my readers in mind, to minimize the damage from missed deadlines:

  1. Communicate. In email, phone, text, and in person, I’ve updated my readers and marketing contacts on the delays. I’ve kept out of the weeds of detailed explanations, which can sound like excuses, and simply let them know I am behind schedule.
  2. Send ARCs. Everyone who preordered the book has received a digital ARC. And, I’ve offered printed galleys to those who preordered a physical copy. The material in the book still works – it just doesn’t look as good as the final product will.
  3. Update online language. I’ve updated my website and everywhere else that talks about the book to communicate that ARCs are available but the book is not. I’m still in the middle of the maelstrom, so I’m also avoiding making promises on when the final book will be out. Right now, I just don’t know.
  4. Update preorder options. I originally offered eBook, paperback, and workbook versions of Crowdfunding for Authors. For now, I’ve taken the paperback and workbook down, so only the eBook is available for preorder on Indiegogo. This is the closest version to being ready to put up for sale, and it is fast and easy for me to send digital ARCs now.
  5. Take a breath. A favorite Taoist principle of mine is “flow like water”. This is very hard for me when I want to fight like rams or flee like deer. Really, though, I don’t want to fight my book, or run away from it. For now, I’m doing my best to just accept that its timeline is different from what I planned earlier this year, and do my best in the current framework.

Once Crowdfunding for Authors is published, I’m also going to take some time to go back and review the original publishing timeline. Right now, in the thick of things, I’m not sure if I just didn’t set a reasonable timeline in the first place, or if it actually would have been reasonable, absent some of the surprises. And, of course, it’s always good practice to budget time for a few surprises – that’s life, after all.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a BACCA co-founder and owner of The Artist’s Partner, which has helped raise a quarter of a million dollars for creative projects, including books.

PS – Event Notice: One of the marketing opportunities I’ve missed for my book but am still very excited to attend is the Local Author Book Fair at WriterHouse, 508 Dale Ave in Charlottesville, VA, on Saturday 12/4 from 1-4 pm. Two fellow BACCA co-founders will be there – Anne Carley, debuting her book FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers, and Carolyn O’Neal, with dystopian eco-thriller Kingsley.

Becoming Unstuck for Writers – Two Tools

It happens to most everyone. From time to time, the words just aren’t there. You may have set aside time for writing, you may have a good idea, even a supply of your favorite food and beverages for writing. No matter. You’re just making false starts. It feels bad. You’re stuck.

Becoming unstuck is a topic I’ve given some thought to this year. My book-development clients face down stuckness now and then, as do my fellow BACCA writers, and, oh yeah, I do too. In fact, I’m writing a book about how writers can become unstuck.

Here, I offer you two tools – one larger, and one lower-impact, for your consideration, the next time you feel that stuckness in your vicinity.

The Big Idea

One of the tools I recommend is — dum – ta- dum – dum — The Deadline.

And not a fake deadline that only you need to pay attention to. For this to be effective and more likely to be resistance-proof, you need to set up a deadline where you’re responsible to others. A deliverable to a third party. A date certain. An event. That sort of thing.

Fake deadlines – for instance, putting an event in your Google calendar – can be persuaded to postpone themselves. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it’s super-easy to grab one of those quiet little fake deadlines and slide it over a day or two. Or month. The possibilities are limitless, really.

Courtesy Pixabay

Courtesy Pixabay

To make the deadline strategy work for you, do yourself a real favor. Make a plan with someone else, someone you respect. Make a solid promise to them. Did the odds just increase greatly that you’ll deliver something good, and on time?

Here’s a not-so-random illustration of how this can operate: I’d been planning and drafting this book for a while. And maybe I’d been sliding over my self-imposed soft deadline dates in my online calendar once or twice. No one would know the difference, I told myself….

Now, I’m leading a workshop on the topic next month at Andi Cumbo-Floyd‘s writer’s retreat in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. And when I agreed in March to do this, I committed to having in hand a beta version of the book in time for a late-July event. See how that works? It’s simple and powerful. (And check out this retreat!)

The Littler Idea

Sometimes, all it takes is a walk around the block.

Do this for real, on ‘shank’s mare‘ (as my dad used to put it), or more virtually (standing up and stretching, your favorite deep breathing routine, a journaling break, and so on). A simple refreshing change brings you back to the same place, only it’s so barely recognizable that it has become a different place.

Ah, words don’t do justice to the beautiful simplicity of this concept. Check out the illustration to get a clearer idea of how brilliantly this can work.

(Courtesy MediaGiphy.com)

Here’s to becoming unstuck.

May all your stuckness be resolved. May you scratch your right ear and get on with your work.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors develop their books. Her first nonfiction book, FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers, is forthcoming in 2016.

How One Little Idea Turned into $70,000 for Books

My how-to guide Crowdfunding for Authors is coming out in October. It’s based on three years of experience at The Artist’s Partner, working with authors who have used Kickstarter and Indiegogo to finance their publishing projects. Since 2013 these authors have raised $73,972 for novels, memoirs, children’s books, and more. And it all grew from one little idea five years ago.

author mosaic

Read more about these crowdfunded authors below.

It began when BACCA decided to periodically incorporate the “biz” of writing into our critique meetings. At our first such “biz” discussion, I floated the idea of teaching an eBook publishing class. I received an enthusiastic response, and some useful suggestions. I submitted a proposal, and was teaching my first “eBook DIY” class at WriterHouse in the spring of 2012.

It was in a subsequent class that author Stefan Bechtel (Roar of the Heavens, Mr. Hornaday’s War) was a student. He was then writing the memoir of retired action bowler Bob Perry. Bob is a quintessential New Jersey hustler, so in retrospect it’s no surprise that he and Stefan were the first to suggest that maybe this “Kickstarter thing” could be used to fund their book. They hired me to orchestrate the campaign, and in September of 2013 we raised $6,945 for what was then titled Bowling for the Mob. By the following April it had been picked up by Rodale Press for a sizable contract, national distribution, and a makeover that included the title change to Redemption Alley.

By the fall of the next year I was guiding four crowdfunding campaigns simultaneously. I was onto something! It’s been a steep learning curve, with many mistakes and victories along the way. Crowdfunding books is hard – only 29.5% make it. That makes me all the more proud of my authors’ success rate of 97%. Here are what I’ve observed are the top five reasons for their impressive levels of success:

  1. Great cover design purchased prior to the campaign. People judge a book by its cover – even on Kickstarter.
  2. Firm commitments of 40% of their fundraising target locked down prior to campaign launch. Only 29% of books succeed – but 97% of books that cross the 40%-funded threshold succeed.
  3. Email and social media lists right-sized to cover the additional 60%. There’s too much math involved to explain “right-sized” here in this post, but suffice to say: these authors had, or developed, good connections with their prospective readers during the 3-12 months prior to their campaigns.
  4. Photos of their faces. Many (introverted) writers hate this, but people respond to faces. It’s called Facebook.
  5. Commitment to the process. Crowdfunding is a marathon, not a sprint. These authors put in the training, and then ran their best race.

crowdfunding for authors draft coverI’m thrilled to be publishing the guidebook that helped these authors to crowdfund their books, because you can crowdfund your book, too. Crowdfunding for Authors is itself available for preorder on Indiegogo, and will be released on Amazon in October.

Bethany Joy Carlson

Here are the amazing authors who have raised over $70,000 with The Artist’s Partner since 2013!

Organized as follows: Author / Platform – Title (availability).

Zack Bonnie / Indiegogo – Dead, Insane, or In Jail: Overwritten (Coming fall 2016)
Marc Boston / Kickstarter – The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff (Amazon)
Ramgiri Braun / Indiegogo – HeartSourcing (Amazon)
Lizzy Duncan, B. Cunningham, G. Jackson / Kickstarter – Camila’s Lemonade Stand (Amazon)
Jenny Edmondson / Kickstarter – GroomsDay (Amazon)
Mary Buford Hitz / Kickstarter – Riding to Camille (Audible)
Peter Kalifornsky and Katherine McNamara / Indiegogo– From the First Beginning, When the Animals Were Talking (iTunes)
Priya Mahadevan / Kickstarter – Princesses Only Wear Putta-Puttas (Amazon)
Belinda Miller / Did not fund – published anyway! – Above the Stars (Amazon)
Carolyn O’Neal / Kickstarter – Kingsley (Amazon)
Bob Perry and Stefan Bechtel / Kickstarter – Redemption Alley (Amazon)

 

BACCA Literary Is At It Again

BACCA Literary just can’t stop organizing these mixers for writers. This time, it’s an evening session at Downtown Charlottesville, VA’s Central Library at 201 East Market Street, one block up from the Downtown Mall. (We’ve done ’em before, at the Virginia Festival of the Book, and the Virginia Writers Club Annual Symposium.)

Free Session! Free Parking!

Local writers are welcome to attend free of charge. Parking is validated for nearby garages, too!

Here’s the flyer that Reference Librarian Hayley Tompkins just sent us. She’ll be there on Wednesday, 7 October, 2015, at 7pm, to welcome participants to our session.

BACCA Literary welcomes area writers to a mixer on Wed 7 Oct 2015 at 7pm in downtown Charlottesville, VA

BACCA Literary welcomes writers to a get-acquainted mixer on Wed 7 Oct 2015 at 7pm in downtown Charlottesville, VA. The Central Library is at 201 East Market Street.

Arrive a few minutes early to get yourself situated!

We hope to see you there.

— Bethany, Carolyn, and Anne

Getting Your Book (Cover) On 21st Century TV

How do you get from only an idea for a book cover, to one that was recently requested for use on the set of Grace and Frankie, a popular new Netflix TV series?

This happened to Sue Mangum and me for our book, Braver Than You Believe: True Stories of Losing Love and Finding Self, which just celebrated its 2nd birthday. We found that like good writing, creating an attention-getting cover is a process that unfolds over time. It helped that Sue knew the artist she wanted to work with: artist Amy Michelle, based in Atlanta. She also knew she wanted an image of a heart being sewn up.

Here’s the first try, from early April, 2013: painting by Amy MichelleSue and I were both excited about the potential, but we felt the last word in the title, “Believe” was too separate, making the title look at first glance like “Braver Than You.” Sue requested a change, and by the end of May, we were pleased as pink lemonade with this: painting by Amy Michelle, May 2013In the meantime, I was taking an eBook DIY class with Bethany Carlson of The Artist’s Partner I learned about the importance of bold colors, readable fonts, and having a cover pop out even as a thumbnail-sized image. For a class assignment, I mocked something up, and chose the red, white, and grey colors from Amy Michelle’s work. Those colors echo the themes of grief and romance from our book.

If we had offered a teaser free e-download, we could have used this…
cover draft by C E Cameron…but we decided to just go forward and publish the book on Aug. 10, 2013.

The last step for the official cover was deciding about the font for the subtitle and author names. Sue and I emailed back and forth, and considered several options including the infamous Comic Sans, which some design enthusiasts actually want to ban.

We eventually decided on Calibri, a font that is now Microsoft Word’s default for new documents. Why? Because it works. Combined with the emotive, hand-lettering of our book’s main title, the Calibri choice was simple, modern, and professional.

Here’s the final cover…

final cover, copyright Sue Mangum and C E Cameron

…And here’s where the work paid off: A month ago, I received a request through our self-publisher (Amazon’s CreateSpace), from Act One Script Clearance. Script clearance is necessary whenever a production team creates a set, using books, posters, or other products that are copyrighted. Act One staff were seeking books that looked like plausible reading for the characters played by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda on Grace and Frankie. In the show, these women are left by their husbands, when the husbands decide they are gay and fall in love with each other.

When I asked how they found our book, I learned that the production team searched Amazon for books their characters might be reading during a time of great turmoil. And while I’m sure our book’s title was key in the search, an attractive cover didn’t hurt. In fact, the cover was the main copyrighted work requested for use in the show. The production team sought permission to show it throughout the season, on bookshelves or coffee tables. It is now a part of this season’s permanent set.

Hollywood, here we come!

Claire Cameron is an educational psychologist at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and aspiring science writer. Her dream is to write about human development, health, and science in a way that everyone will want to read.

Things I’ve Learned About Writing From Teaching Math

“Who would like to show their process on the board?”

joke This is a question I ask many times a week. I teach Algebra and Precalculus at Renaissance School. I love it.

One of the challenges I have teaching at a school like Renaissance, which is for high aptitude students in Arts, Humanities, and Sciences, is that some of my students have almost a spooky natural facility with math – but many of the artists, actors, humanitarians, photographers, and musicians have developed something close to a phobia of it by the time they’ve gotten to high school. Since math is a required subject for graduation no matter the track of their studies, one way or another, we’ve got to make it to the end of the year.

My main goal is for every student to finish the class with confidence. They don’t need to be a wiz; I just want them to be able to tell themselves, “I can do this.”

paranormaldistributionSo I focus on process, not outcomes. Getting the right answer the fastest doesn’t accrue any brownie points in my class. Instead, I encourage students to come up to the board and show their thought process. Like I often say, “There’s more than one path from here to the MudHouse.” And I often add, while they’re nervously approaching the board for the first time, “We’re all on the same team. We’ve got your back. Let’s get through this problem together.”

So, it was a HUGE thrill about two months into the school year when one of my most math-phobic students said, “Ms. Carlson, can I show my process on the board for problem 37? I’m getting stuck and I don’t know what to do next.” Yes. Yes you can.

find_x_lolNow that the school year is coming to a close, I’ve almost worked myself out of a job. The students work together in groups. The quick ones race ahead, learn the new formulas, and teach them to their peers. Everyone is going to be wrapping up the year with confidence. With a process for solving problems.

Which, finally, brings me back to what teaching math has taught me about writing. I’m not sure I appreciated it fully in the beginning, but one of the things that has made BACCA a great writing group for the last four years is the feeling that we’re all on the same team. We’re not competing with one another; we have different skills and aptitudes; we work together to give candid feedback and solve problems. We, too, focus on process, not outcomes. Naturally, we all harbor dreams of seeing this or that work published. But our esteem in the eyes of each other is based in the work we do in the small ways each month, not the grand finale.

Writing may be a solitary exercise, but improving as a writer is a team effort. Just like math.

Bethany Joy Carlson is a founding member of BACCA, a WriterHouse Board Member, and owner of The Artist’s Partner.

BACCA’s Back! Virginia Festival of the Book 2015

BACCA Literary Is Back at VaBook!

Virginia Festival of the Book 2015Yes, we’re presenting again in 2015, and on PubDay – the best day of the entire festival. Uh-huh. (We’re a bit biased.)

Come spend Saturday morning with us in the James Monroe Room at the Omni Hotel in Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. We start at 10am on Saturday, 21 March 2015. As I write this, there’s snow on the ground, but odds are overwhelmingly in favor of a charming spring day when you visit with us at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

What will we be doing this year?

Glad you asked. We’re coming to talk about writer groups – how to be in one, and how to find or create one.

When we did our session last time, we chatted with the Festival guests before and after our remarks about writer groups. It was a lot of fun, and good ideas came up. But there was something missing: More interaction with the Festival guests.

So, this time, we’re creating opportunities for Festival guests to meet one another and chat briefly, right in the middle of our session. Visitors to our session may possibly meet the future members of their new writer groups. And everyone will definitely have opportunities to learn more about writer groups, and what they can do to hone writerly and analytical skills. And cat-herding skills. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Where is The James Monroe Room at the Omni?

It’s easy to get to. From the hotel’s central atrium, turn toward the ballrooms. Catty-corner to the last ballroom entrance is our room, The James Monroe.

Map showing BACCA session

Shy, Introverted, Both?

Arrgh. So are some of us.

I know, I know. A Festival session with “activities.” The blurb for our session actually includes these words: “BACCA will guide Festival-goers in a fun and educational, hands-on mixer that will break the ice and start the process of building a writing community.”

It’s enough to make you run for the hills, isn’t it? Reconsider, please. Get an extroverted writerly friend to join you, and come join us. We’re gentle, promise. You might enjoy yourself. We look friendly, right?

The members of BACCA Literary

BACCA Literary Founding Members: Carolyn O’Neal, AM Carley, Bethany Joy Carlson, and Claire Elizabeth Cameron, after planning BACCA Literary’s 2015 VaBook session.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, and is a founding member of BACCA. Her company, Chenille Books, helps nonfiction authors get their books completed, polished, and out into the world.

Relearning How To Write When I’m Happy

Writing and I need to work on our relationship. My new year’s resolution is to learn how to be a writer when I’m happy.

I’ve been a writer since 2007, when my depression and anxiety drove me to put pen to paper as a means to survive. I shut myself in my room with my laptop for up to 12 hours a day, hammering out stories about betrayal, loss, illness, death. I had a seemingly endless well of conflict inside, fuel to drive fables, screenplays, novels, poems… I wrote a lot.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

doodle by bethany

Thankfully, over the last 8 years my mental health has improved. Happiness is no longer a figment; it’s where I spend significant amounts of my time. Writing is not what pays the bills, but I’m enjoying my jobs, I love my friends, and I’m thankful for the little things, like a cup of coffee with a big red-headed Viking of a man each morning.

So, I’m no longer desperate, panicked, get-the-words-out-or-I-will-drown-in-them. I still love stories, to get absorbed in a book or a daydream. But the truth is, if I’m not awakened by a nightmare at 3am jumping out of my skin, I have a hard time sitting down and getting down to actually writing.

I’ve had relationships in the past based on complaining, gossip, lamenting, and grief; misery does love company. Some of these friendships have not survived my transition out of depression. But my very best friend has hung in there with me: the scary start of the slump, the increasing dark days, the long struggle, and the climb back into the light. We’ve had some rough patches, but my sister has not resented the ways I’ve changed, we’ve both adapted, and our relationship now is now stronger than ever.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

doodle by bethany

This is the model I’m hoping to pattern my writing life after in 2015. My laptop and I do not need to be in a codependent relationship. I’m hoping to learn that I can sit down to write because I want to, not because I need to. I can let go of the fear that my creativity dissipated along with my anxiety.

I can write for the joy of it.

I find that starting new habits requires some practical little guidelines to help them along. To facilitate my new year’s resolution of learning to write when I’m happy, I plan to:

  • Put my dream journal out at night before I go to bed
  • Honor the blocs of writing time I have set aside in my schedule
  • Leave space for other creative pursuits I enjoy, like drawing, collage, and origami

I don’t want to break up with writing because I’ve changed. So I’m working on it. Wish us well.

Bethany Joy Carlson is the founder of The Artist’s Partner and a co-founder of BACCA. And she’s still a writer.

Some Tech Tools for Writers

calendar of Oct - Nov - Dec 2014

What’s Left of 2014

It’s fall. Everyone’s back at their desks, and signs of the November->January holiday madness are still faint enough to ignore. So in other words, we’re all on the brink of overwhelm. If, like me, you are juggling writing projects with other work, you want to feel you’ve got the materials you need, wherever you happen to find yourself when the time opens up to work on your writing projects.

Lately, I have found a few tools that really help keep overwhelm at bay, particularly in collaborative environments.

Tracking Shared Projects

To keep track of shared projects (in my world, that usually involves 2-5 people), I used to make a table in Word of the topics and tasks within each topic that were to be managed. The parties involved each received a copy by email, and wrote back happy emails about how organized we all were. That part usually went pretty well. Then the ugly part began when it came time to update it, and keep track of version numbers, and revision dates, and who had received an emailed copy of the latest version, and on and on. It became a minefield, not a helpful tool. So many accurate and true things in that table could become wrong and out of date, so quickly.

Now for shared projects I encourage my book coaching clients and other project collaborators to use Trello. It’s a web-based tool, free for basic use, for listing items and adding comments, files, checklists, calendared deadlines, images and other media, and more. A page, known as a Board, in Trello’s default format, which is easily edited, shows three vertical lists headed To Do, Doing, and Done. One oddity: You can’t delete items from Trello, but you can archive them so they aren’t on your screen.

Sample Board in Trello

Sample Board in Trello

Search is nice and fast. It works on devices with a web connection – which includes computers, tablets, smartphones, and so on. And it’s always up to date. When people add their two cents, or a new task, or check a box in a checklist, everybody involved will know about it the next time they visit the Trello board. The ugly part from the old days of tables build in Word just pretty much disappears.

Floating Research Library

It’s true what they all say about Evernote: You really won’t need to keep those scraps of paper any more. It’s amazing to me how readily I adapted from “Where the $%^& did I put that stick-it with that book title / idea for subplot / phone number / song fragment?” to “Oh yeah, I’ll just look in Evernote. I bet I put it there.” Like Trello, Evernote’s search is super-fast and thorough. Also as with Trello, you can make categories and sub-items, here called Notebooks and Notes, subject to annotation, media attachments, live URL links, etc. For me, Evernote is my great reference library in the sky. Nothing is too small to put up there.

I’ve been at meetings with only my phone, yet equipped to answer questions, back up my assertions, illustrate ideas, and keep the ball rolling because I’ve got Evernote on my phone. And when you come across that brilliant idea or crucial piece of info while you’re out and about, you can email it to your Evernote library with your special dedicated email address (that you remembered to stick into your smartphone’s contacts directory, of course). It works on most devices. Unlike Trello, the Evernote software is not web-based – you download an app, free for basic use, from the company’s website and it resides on your device, while sharing the contents of your library with other devices you authorize. There’s a username/password gate to pass through, securing access to your stuff.

Facebook Groups

I feel a little tacky admitting this, but you know what? Facebook can be a useful collaboration tool. Protect your privacy, of course, as you would with anything at all posted there, but within bounds, a Closed or Secret Facebook group can become a terrific tool for shared projects. Keep one another up to date, ask questions, post calendared events, share files and links. The biggest downside? You have to go on Facebook to access the good stuff your colleagues are sharing with you inside your walled garden. Time sucks lurk just outside the garden wall.

Image of a garden wall

Beware what lurks outside. Image from HGTV.com

Again, it’s free of charge, web-based, and platform-independent. A web connection is all you need. We BACCA members rely on such a group for keeping in touch between meetings.

Google Calendar

The interface is unbeautiful, old, and clunky, admittedly, and privacy is, uh, dubious, but inviting people to meetings, setting aside the time for them, linking to an agenda document, and other such administrative tasks can be handled pretty well from within Google Calendar. By the way, you can invite people who don’t have a gmail address. It’s web-based, platform independent and free of charge.

File Storage

When I have the chance to get some writing work done, I’m not always at my home office with access to the files stored on the server there. I switched a while back from Dropbox to Sync, as the place to keep drafts of works in progress. Truth be told, I prefer to use it only for temporary storage. (That’s probably my 60s-era bad attitude showing up, as it is wont to do these days.) Like the other products mentioned here, it is free for basic use. Sync says it uses encryption and otherwise is better at protecting my privacy than the competition.

Backup Is On You

With Trello and Evernote and Facebook and Google Calendar and everything else web-based, backing up your data is your job – not theirs. Procedures and file formats differ, so be sure to find out the ways to save copies from the cloud down to something local under your control. Then – and this is important – slot the time into your regular routine actually to DO those backups. It’s the old umbrella-toting-rainstorm-averting theory – if you make backups you’ll probably never need them. So make them.

Privacy

Yeah, not so much. I recommend assuming, at a minimum, that what you put up in the Cloud is or may be subject to anonymous data-mining. In addition, personally, I wouldn’t use any of these tools to store usernames and passwords, Social Security and other such valuable identifying numbers, large address books and contacts directories, valuable intellectual property, and confidential documents. Sync’s website includes a blog post itemizing some of the more egregious privacy policies out there.

The Monster in the Shadows

Okay, I admit it. Not covered here is a recommendation for the tool that facilitates easy collaboration on an actual document. That’s because I’m still looking for something better than Track Changes in Word. Please understand, by that I mean I really really really want to find something better. I have been known to wail, curse, stamp my feet, sigh, and otherwise demonstrate my utter frustration with that inadequate, inelegant, outdated tool. One that I’ve read interesting things about is called Draft. Here’s its info page about version tracking and revisions.

PS – In the day since this blogpost went up, I’ve come across a few more things on this topic. Two colleagues and fellow BACCA-ites chimed in: Bethany Joy Carlson mentioned Google Docs as a useful alternative to Word for some purposes (although I’ve also seen negative reviews of it for security concerns, for example), and C E Cameron is checking out Scrivener (as I am). And then I recalled having seen mention of Poetica for online document collaboration. And then I realized that Jane Friedman’s recent blog post about alternatives to Word may have been the place I learned about Poetica.

What do you think? Do these and other tools help you keep the overwhelm at a manageable distance? Please tell us in the Comments below.

— A M Carley writes fiction and nonfiction, is a founding member of BACCA, and is CEO of Chenille Books which provides editing and coaching services to authors.

 

The Stories We Tell

I loved to make up stories when I was a kid. It seemed a simple, easy thing to do, back then. As I grew up, I stopped writing stories. Later, I committed to other art forms, and when I wrote sentences, I wrote nonfiction, not stories. Not long ago, I began again. I dared myself to try making up stories, by signing up for classes at WriterHouse.

Since then, I have slowly gotten more competent through practice, practice, and practice. My writer group, BACCA Literary, is one reason why. We first met, in fact, in a fiction class at WriterHouse.

This writer group has provided me with a monthly deadline for producing – well, something. We’ve been sharing work with one another for at least thirty months. I’ve emailed a Word document out to the others by the late-Friday deadline, every darn month. Well, there was one exception, when my family life was too chaotic, a couple of years ago. So let’s say I’ve been sharing work for at least 29 months and leave it at that.

Good Enough?

Sure, I recognize that I haven’t always sent my best work to the other three writers in the group. “Best” is relative, measured on a sliding scale. Over time, I raised my standards for what’s good enough to send out to the writer group members. After I allocated more time each month to work on writing, I became dissatisfied with my earlier stories. Now I can predict with confidence that the stories I am pleased with now will one day look a little shabby to me.

Your Best doesn't always look the same

Your Best doesn’t always look the same

Meanwhile, I have become less able to turn off the inner voice whispering, “Go ahead. Send something out and see if it gets published.” It was easy the first couple of years to hush that voice. I knew my work wasn’t ready to travel beyond the writer group.

For new-ish writers like me, hushing that voice gets trickier over time. We want to believe we’re improving. We want to believe there’s going to be an audience one day, however small or particularly quirky that audience may reveal itself to be. We want to nourish the creative spirit that energizes our whole enterprise. We want to begin to send work out to people – strangers – not in our writer group. I considered how to start.

The P-Word

To prepare to send work out into the world, I set up a spreadsheet to track my efforts to get published. Then I let the spreadsheet sit for quite a while, untouched. Later on, I added a tab to my spreadsheet with key facts on the publications that most appealed to me – things like deadlines, formatting preferences, lag time before they decide what to publish, method of submission, categories they favor, contact information, etc. The enhanced spreadsheet sat again, for a long break. More recently, I actually sent a few things out and made entries into the spreadsheet. I’ve heard back with two rejections, which I dutifully entered into the appropriate cells. I’m waiting for replies from the others.

I hesitated to send out my work until I felt satisfied enough with it that it didn’t feel too embarrassing. I chose carefully the places I sent those first few submissions – not too grandiose, and yet consistent with who I am as a writer.

And that just begs the questions, doesn’t it?

Questions

Who am I, as a writer, and why am I doing this? Author Dan Holloway, in his recent essay, What Do You Want from Your Writing in 2014 and Beyond? at Jane Friedman’s blog, says:

“If you don’t know what you want from your writing, what on earth are you doing writing anything? How can you possibly tell whether your words do what you want them to?”

It’s actually not that hard a question. It rests on a more fundamental one. Why do you write?”

Please don’t tell me the answer is “I make art because I must.” To me, that feels lazy and self-aggrandizing in a “poor-me,” humblebrag kind of way. Besides it ignores free will.

the words, Why Write?

Oh. THAT question.

I could tell you I write because I’ve engaged with the challenge to improve my work. The challenge is difficult enough always to involve real effort, yet rewarding enough, because of the progress I am making, to continue to motivate me to get better at it.

I could tell you I write because my life with music was altered when hand surgery made playing instruments too difficult. I could tell you I write because I’ve grown old enough to take a longer and more loving view of life. I could tell you that there’s plenty to love about writing for its own sake. Polishing a story can make my day, even when no one else has seen it yet.

Also, the most fun I’ve had with my writing lately was when some visiting non-literary friends asked me to read them a piece after I cooked them dinner. That was a blast. My fellow BACCA-ite, Claire Elizabeth Cameron, touched on this recently when she wrote,

“People are doing work for free, work for fun, work for creativity all over the place, and it’s making this world a better place. Success [in writing] is making a connection.”

So why am I writing? To get better at it. To see how much I can improve. To see if my embarrassment-meter gives me the green light to send out stories to more publications. To see if I receive a green light in return. And, in the meantime, to keep telling stories.

#amwriting

A M Carley

A M Carley is a co-founder of BACCA Literary. She owns and operates Chenille Books where she works with nonfiction authors.