Monday, January 27, 2014

Booktalk Nation Interview with Andrea Cremer

I am so excited to about my interview with Andrea on Tuesday! For those of you who don't know, here are the details:

WHEN: Tuesday, January 28th, at 7pm EST
WHO: Me and Andrea Cremer, author of SNAKEROOT
WHERE: Online! Through Booktalk Nation
WHAT: An online interview open to the public, live as it's happening. I'll be interviewing Andrea for the first half, and then we'll open it up to other questions from everyone watching--so YOU can participate in the interview.
ALSO! You can order signed books from both Andrea and I through Booktalk Nation.

Reasons why this is super cool and you should participate:

  • Short of attending a live event, it's often rare to get a chance to see authors in person, not just through the written word.
  • And you get to participate! Half the questions will be from you, the audience. 
  • This really is just like being at a live event. Except you get to stay home and wear sweatpants and pick your nose and NO ONE will know because you're in the comfort of your own home.
  • We're going to be talking about all the nerdy book stuff that I know you LOVE because you're cool like that.
  • I don't promise to behave.
I hope to see you there! And if not, the interview will be available online afterwards. But YOU SHOULD TOTALLY COME HANG OUT ONLINE WITH US YO.

Friday, January 24, 2014

On the Value of a Book, Sunk Costs, and Being Ready to Publish or Trunk

I'm at the point where I figure basically everyone I know knows that I wrote ten trunk novels before getting my eleventh book published. I'm not ashamed of this fact--actually, I think it's important for people to know that often, "overnight successes" are really a decade + an overnight success. But perhaps because I have so many trunk novels, I've been hearing a lot of the same question, couched in different words:

When did you know to quit working on a book?
When do you know when a book is ready?
When do you trunk a novel and move on to the next?

The problem, of course, is that there's no answer to this. It's not like I can say, "invest exactly THIS much time, and you're done!" This isn't true of nearly anything at all. 

Across the Universe was one of the easiest books for me to write, and I got paid exactly the same amount to write it as Shades of Earth, which was the hardest book for me to write. The editing and rewriting phase for Across the Universe took me about five months, but the editing/rewriting for my new book have taken twice as far. Is one book better than the other? Nope. Much like a mother with children, I love them all equally, regardless of the labor time. (Pregnancy pun!)

Perhaps if I invested more time and energy into any of my trunked novels (something my mother would very much like me to do; her favorite of my books is one that's not published), one of those trunked novels would be worth publication. But I have decided that it's not worth my time. For each of those novels, I invested at least a year in writing and critiquing and editing. I treated writing as a job during that time--I basically considered myself to be working two jobs during that time, even though I was only getting paid for one of them. I probably spent around a hundred dollars each for printing costs and a hundred more for postage and mailing materials to send to agents. Several thousand in attending conferences (two of which I attended specifically to pitch my books to agents). Nearly a thousand in paying for critiques from publishing professionals. 

I hate math, but let's add this out:

$100 in printing costs X 10 novels = $1000
$100 in postage costs X 10 novels = $1000
$3500 in attending conferences 
$1000 in paid critiques

10 years x $50,000 (close to the median income of an American citizen) for the time spent working this job = $500,000

For a grand total of: $506,500

I spent more than half a million dollars (in time and materials) on ten trunk novels that have never--and probably will never--sell. 

I recently came across an economics term that sums this all up rather well: sunk costs
In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a retrospective (past) cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken.
In layman's terms, this basically means:

Sunk cost is the amount of money something costs you to do. If you want to bake a cake, your sunk costs is the money spent on the ingredients required to make it. Your prospective costs is what you'll make when you sell it. Hopefully, you gain more than you lose. So if it costs you $5 to bake a cake, and you sell it for $10, you did good. But if it costs $5 and you sell it for $2, then you lost money.

The sunk costs for my trunk novels is: $506,500.
The prospective costs for my trunk novels is: $0.

That's a rough number to face. And I think I should add that despite the fact that I'm more than half a mil in the hole with those numbers, I do not think that it's a waste--they were each learning experiences, and it can absolutely be argued that, much like paying for a higher education, they were investments in my future.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is about how and when I knew that a book's sunk costs were worth exactly so much and no more.

At the end of the day, after I invested time and money into each of my trunk novels, I...trunked them. I put them away. I consciously decided that they were no longer worth any more time or money.

So, when people ask me the questions I wrote out above:

When did you know to quit working on a book?
When do you know when a book is ready?
When do you trunk a novel and move on to the next?

What they're really asking is:

At what point do I accept the sunk costs of a novel as a loss and move on?

Unfortunately, there still isn't an answer. For me, I started out with the idea of giving myself a year a book. I wanted to write YA, and the YA market seemed to have authors releasing a book a year. I figured I should do the same, if I wanted that to be my career. So I started out knowing that one year would be my sunk cost. Not that it was always that neat--it's not like I gave myself exactly from January 1 to December 31 and no more, and it's not like it was easy to move on. But from the start, I did give myself permission to accept the sunk costs and move on, and that was the defining attitude of accepting my trunk novels and the fact they weren't worthy of publication. As I've said many times before: knowing your goal and striving for that without settling for less is hugely important. My goal was a career in writing, not one specific book published.

I do have a word of warning, though:

Do NOT let the sunk costs keep you from moving on. 

Writers are very, very often told not to query too early. Particularly after NaNoWriMo, it becomes almost a mantra on every agent's blog: don't query too early. Take the time to let the novel rest, edit, revise, get crits, edit again, etc., etc., etc. 

But too often, writers are never told not to take too long. Some--not all, but some--writers sink into a spiraling time-suck of rewriting, revising, and tweaking the same novel, over and over and over. I think they start to feel that their sunk costs are too high--they've invested so much time, and so much money into this one novel that they feel they can't move on, they can't let it all be a waste. 

And that's where the danger lies: when you stagnate. 

There are some authors out there that don't know when to let go. You revise and revise and revise and tweak and fiddle and...the book still isn't good enough. But you can't just drop it--you've invested so much into it! 

If you're in this position, you need to evaluate yourself and your work. Are you holding onto the idea of the novel, the beating heart of the story that you love? Or are you holding onto your sunk costs? 

Recently, the husband and I went to a store that sells local art. There was a stick. The stick was painted with sketchy drawings and words. It was...well, it was an ugly stick. I could see what the artist was trying to do, was a stick. With paint on it. The woman who owned the store raved about how long it takes this artist to paint the stick. And the price tag on it reflected that: $300. For a painted stick. For a painted stick that wasn't really painted that well. 

The artist was obviously trying to recoup for sunk costs. She spent so much time making this, and she put a value on the time, not the object. 

This happens with writing, too. We work on an idea so much that it can't possibly be trunked. But every author--published or not--must consider when a novel's purpose was to be published versus when a novel's purpose was for the author to gain experience.

Your work has value. But sometimes the value is in what you learned, not what money you gained. 

Even now, with a few published novels and a new contract under my belt, I still struggle with sunk costs. At what point should I stop trying to make an idea that doesn't work, work? Some of this is about art and integrity--I of course want to make an idea be the right idea, and produce the right work of art to go with it. But some of it is also about economics: no matter what you do, whether it be creating art or baking a cake, you need to be aware of your sunk costs, and be willing to know when you have to cut those losses and move on. 

Cover Reveal & Giveaway for Elana Johnson's ELEVATED!

I am so excited to have a new Elana book! Elana is a dear friend of mine, and her new book, ELEVATED sound wonderful. Read on to the end of this post for a giveaway!

About ELEVATED: The last person seventeen-year-old Eleanor Livingston wants to see on the elevator—let alone get stuck with—is her ex-boyfriend Travis, the guy she's been avoiding for five months. 
Plagued with the belief that when she speaks the truth, bad things happen, Elly hasn’t told Trav anything. Not why she broke up with him and cut off all contact. Not what happened the day her father returned from his deployment to Afghanistan. And certainly not that she misses him and still thinks about him everyday. 
But with nowhere to hide and Travis so close it hurts, Elly’s worried she won’t be able to contain her secrets for long. She’s terrified of finally revealing the truth, because she can’t bear to watch a tragedy befall the boy she still loves.
 Doesn't that sound awesome? Here's my top five E-words to describe how ready I am to read Elana's ELEVATED
  • Elated!
  • Excited!
  • Eager!
  • Ecstatic!
  • Effervescent!
Clearly, I need to read this book, like, yesterday. And just in case you need one more reason to nab this awesome new book, here's the beautiful cover:

Buy Links:
iTunes: coming soon!
Amazon: coming soon!

Praise for ELEVATED:
"ELEVATED will take you on an emotionally gripping journey through the highs and lows of first love."
~Carolee Dean, author of Take Me There and Forget Me Not

"Poignant, raw, and intense, ELEVATED is a novel that will grip your heart and linger in your mind long after you turn the last page."
~Stasia Ward Kehoe, author of Audition and The Sound of Letting Go

About Elana Johnson: Elana Johnson’s work, including Possession, Surrender, Abandon, and Regret, published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), is available now everywhere books are sold. Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for download, as well as a Possession short story, Resist. School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog or Twitter. She also co-founded the Query Tracker blog, and contributes to the League of Extraordinary Writers.

Social Media Links:
League of Extraordinary Writers:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, January 17, 2014

Inspiration Shelf

There's an inset shelf built into my wall by my desk. For far too long, I've simply let it fill up with books--much like every other bookshelf in my house. But I've been thinking about turning it into something a little different, and slowly been gathering supplies. Contact paper for decoration, and--thanks to a generous husband Santa Claus, a few awesome decorations.

Here's my new shelf! Entirely lined with pretty paper. On the top shelf is a copy of each edition of each of my books, and on the left...

My space corner! The Antares rocket was a gift from NASA when I attended the rocket launch last year. And that specific copy of Across the Universe was the one that went up into space!

Lots of people have asked me what happened to that book. It was mounted to a weather balloon and attached to a rig with a camera and a geo-locator. When the balloon popped, the crew found the book and camera thanks to the geo-locator, then Penguin was kind enough to send me the book! At which point I screamed with joy. The first thing I did? Sniff the pages. Mmmm, space pages.

On the second shelf is my Christmas presents this year, on display! I'm so happy to have gotten these. They're from a brilliant UK artist at Vinegar and Brown Paper, and I'd wanted them for ages.

It's hard to read here because of my flash, but in the pink jar is "Creative Juices." (In reality, it's some slightly shimmery body spray, and when I need a bit of inspiration, I can actually use it as perfume!)

Here we have the centerpiece--two ink bottles, one labeled "Stories Yet to be Written," and another labeled "Keep Writing." I have a few calligrapher's pens I plan on placing around them later. And let's not forget "A Drop of Good Luck." Currently filled with plain glitter, but I might mix it with oil or something so it can be more liquidy.

And finally, a vial of "A Shot of Inspiration!" I've filled it with a jar of pigments from Coastal Scents, and it shines a slightly different color in different lights and angles.

Isn't it great?! The light here isn't the best, but in real life, the items really pop. I have them in front of a tray from my grandfather made of butterfly wings. The whole thing just makes me so happy to look at, and reminds to stay inspired.

And if that doesn't work, the shelves below this one help, too. The third shelf holds all my favorite and most inspiring books, and the fourth holds a copy of each foreign edition of my books that I have so far.

What do you think? Overall, I was trying to make a little display to just remind myself of the whimsy and joy of writing, to keep writing, and to remember that I have to refresh my well of creativity every once in awhile. Also, I think it's cool :)

Friday, January 10, 2014

On Being Alone and Not

One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis, but there's a quote by him that I just never really understood.

I always thought it was a nice enough quote, but it didn't really make any sense to me. If you pressed me for an explanation, I think I would have said that books give us comfort when we're alone, or something nebulous like that. 

Recently, I stumbled across another quote, this one by Kurt Vonnegut. 

And suddenly I understood what C.S. Lewis meant about not being alone in a very real, visceral way. 

Let me back up a bit. Recently, I've been visiting the confessional website Emotional Baggage Check. The concept behind this site is simple. You can "check baggage," and leave a message about something that's bothering you, whatever emotional baggage you might have. Or you can "carry baggage," and reply to someone else's baggage with an encouraging note and a link to a song. It's all anonymous, so no one knows anyone's names at all. 

After reading message after message from people, I realized two things. One, people have an inherent need to confess--not just sins, but also sorrow. A confession is a release. But the second thing I learned was that most people feel they are alone, at least in some aspect of their lives. Many of the confessions explicitly state that--they feel they have no one else they can tell this secret, so they share it online. You can see a similar experience with the hugely popular Post Secret project.

It is important for people to know that they are not alone. That's what Lewis was saying, and Vonnegut. That's the point of Emotional Baggage and Post Secret. I inadvertently touched on it in my post about representation, but then I was thinking in terms of physical appearance. But it's just as important for people to know that they are not alone in the way they feel, the secrets they keep. The anxiety, the fear, the sorrow--you are not alone in it. If you learn that from a character in a book or a stranger online or a friend or a lover or a chance meeting on the train or a child--the thing to remember is that, simply, you are not alone. 

And that one idea--you are not alone--is a deep truth, and realizing that truth can change everything.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Don't Be Afraid of Change

I wrote ten novels over the course of ten years before my eleventh novel sold. Each of the trunked ten novels were fantasy, and they were all written basically the same way: no outlining, but with an idea of the end, followed by minimal editing. All fantasy, all third person past tense.

I think the eleventh novel, Across the Universe, sold mostly because I tried something different—still no outlining, but also no real idea of what the end would be. And this was a science fiction novel, told in alternating first person present points of view. It was different for me, and it became the novel that changed everything.

After writing the sequels to Across the Universe, I realized that I needed another change. My method of writing meant a lot of rewriting, and it was killing my time. I could be more efficient, I knew that, I just wasn’t sure how.

So I read. I don’t really like a lot of writing self-help books, but I did like Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, and Hague and Vogler’s DVD on the hero’s journey was great. I started to piece together a method that worked for me. For the current book I’m writing, coming in 2015, I still wrote without an outline—but I edited with an outline. I changed the method I wrote, too, using different features in Scrivener I’d previously ignored.

I’m also now writing a totally different book…at the same time as the current one. Different genre, different style, and different method of writing, relying on a notebook rather than a wall chart, and sketching out a bit of an outline as I go.

People would always tell me before that there’s a certain method each writer prefers, and you just have to find the way that works for you. But what no one really told me is that the method changes for the writer with each book—sometimes more than once in a single book. Outlines don’t help with some novels, but work for others. Editing takes different routes. Styles, tones, and tenses change. The writer changes.

Writing isn’t a static activity. It is constantly dynamic, constantly changing, and the best thing you can do is seek out the change rather than fear it. You’re not either an outliner or a pantser—you can be both, simultaneously, or one for one book and another for another.

Writing for the long haul isn’t about writing either/or. It’s about finding the best method for each story.