TGIF! I hope you’ve all had a terrific week, and have some equally terrific plans lined up for your weekend. It’s the final weekend in February, so it might be a good time to take a quick peek at your goals for the last month and for the year and see how you’re doing so far. Are you on target? Are there some areas where you might do a little better? Set aside an hour or so to check in with yourself so that you can steer the ship back in the right direction if need be, or by all means treat yourself to a mini celebration if you’re ahead of you’re ahead of the game. But regardless of where you are, it’s important to do these small reviews periodically throughout the year so you won’t be facing big surprises come December.
But of course it wouldn’t be Friday without Friday Links. I have a great assortment for you this week and I hope you’re inspired to do some new writing or work on your current project as a result. Enjoy, and happy writing!
One of the best books I’ve read this year — indeed, in a while — was Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person. Rhimes, for anyone who might not know, is the powerhouse writer/producer behind such television shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. In an industry under assault for inequity of pay scale and a significant lack of diversity, Rhimes is a strong, intelligent black woman whose hard work has garnered wonderful success. However her book is not about how successful she is, but rather her year of facing the fears and bad habits that hamstrung her in spite of that success.
Recently, Rhimes recorded a TED Talk, presenting just one small piece of the story she recounts in her book. I offer it up here not just because she is an example of a successful writer but because of the way she presents herself. This is a writer who understands showmanship, performance, rhythm, repetition, and voice. It comes across on her television shows, it shines in her book, and it certainly makes itself known as she stands on a stage in front of a group of strangers and speaks about, among other things, curing her fear of public speaking. So take a few minutes to listen, and maybe then listen again. Not just to what she has to say, but how she says it.
It seems impossible to start off today without mention of the sad passing of Harper Lee. Last year was her year, no matter how you look at it, with the release of Go Set a Watchman and the controversy that accompanied it, and the number of people reading To Kill a Mockingbird either for the first time or as a refresher. She had an interesting life and career, and left us with her art to remember her by.
However this week’s links are not about Harper Lee’s writing, but about yours. How goes it? Need a little push? Some easy references to help you over the tough spots? A touch of inspiration? Something to aim for? Today’s Friday Links should help you along. There are few fun things thrown in to mix it up, but for the most part this week’s links are aimed at giving you a little boost on your writing journey. Enjoy, and happy writing!
As part of The Paris Review‘s ongoing series of first-time videos — interviews with authors about their first published works — Ben Lerner shares the experience of writing and publishing his first book, which happened to be a volume of poetry. Lerner writes both poems and fiction, and much of what he says here about knowing work is complete, the release of publication, and the ways in which having a finished book help make you part of a community can be applied to writing in any genre. Enjoy!
I find old and rare books fascinating. There’s something about the duality of them — the story of the object that goes with the story between the covers — that piques my interest. I cannot claim to know much about collecting rare books as a serious hobby, however. The practical side of my personality insists I’m better off spending my money on many new books rather than just a few precious old ones, so I try not to delve too deeply into the subject for fear of temptation getting the better of me. But this weekend I ducked into the California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which takes place each year in Pasadena, a stone’s throw from where I live, because an entire exhibit hall filled with books is just too much for me to resist. It was like someone delivered a book museum to my doorstep.
Wandering the aisles, I came across too many treasures to describe them all, but a few stuck out in particular: A first edition of Charlotte’s Web going for $25,000, inscribed by author E.B. White to actress Elizabeth Taylor; a beautiful four-volume, leather bound edition of Middlemarch; several lovely early editions of works by Jane Austen; a complete set of first edition Winnie-the-Pooh books.
Most of the truly valuable books were in glass cases, but plenty of fairly impressive volumes were out in the open where anyone could thumb through them. Booksellers had come from all over the country, as well as England, France, Germany, etc. In addition to the books, there were comics, beautiful maps, framed illustrations and cover art, letters, autographs, and the odd novelty item on display. This year’s theme was Alice in Wonderland, so many of the displays included editions of Alice’s Adventures and Through the Looking Glass, and the lobby boasted a wonderful Alice collection, including several of the printing plates for the original Tenniel illustrations.
With so much emphasis on the shift in publishing from paper to digital, it’s impossible not to wonder what these sorts of events might be like in the future. New book sales seem to be settling, with paper editions still holding onto a fair share of the market, but there’s no denying that print runs have shrunk in recent years. Smaller print runs, in part, lead to more valuable books in the future, as fewer copies survive to be collected. Could be that rare book collectors will one day applaud this upheaval in the publishing industry for its boost to the quality of their ongoing treasure hunts.
Readers seem to be divided between those who love the content of the book, and those who love both the content and the book as an object of art. Which side of the fence do you land on? Do you own any rare or special books? I’m curious to hear everyone’s take.
Happy Friday, all! Apologies for the late post, but I was at the main Knight Agency office for a team meeting this week. As a result, I spent most of today on an airplane headed home, and then stuck in good old Friday afternoon Los Angeles traffic. That said, I do have links for you, and I hope you find them a good kick off for this holiday weekend here in the U.S. (Monday is President’s Day.) and the regular weekend everywhere else. There should be plenty of writing inspiration to get your creativity flowing. Due to the late hour — and the fact that I’m nearly ready to fall into bed — I’m just going to jump right to it. Enjoy, and happy writing!
Austin Kleon encourages you to steal in the name of art. Not plagiarize — nothing so mundane (or illegal), but steal and remake, to borrow from the greats who’ve gone before, to take their ideas and make them your own. In his TED Talk below, he explains precisely how he steals like an artist, and how you can too. Wonderfully inspiring stuff, especially for anyone facing a bit of writer’s block — the circumstance that first led Kleon to steal like an artist himself. Enjoy!
Happy Friday, everyone! I hope you’ve had a terrific week and are looking forward to an even better weekend. Personally, I’m looking forward to hunkering down with a good book, because I’ve had a couple of weeks that were pretty much full throttle. A little break is a good thing. Then next week I’ll be working for a few days out of The Knight Agency main office, getting some face-to-face time with my wonderful co-workers.
But plans aside, I’ve got some wonderful links for you this week. With Black History Month upon us, there are some excellent articles on black writers and increasing the diversity of the publishing industry. Of course, those are not things relegated just to February, but it’s an excellent excuse to step up our efforts to read and publish and call attention to more authors of color. And beyond that, I have the usual mishmash of reading recs, bookish goodness, and writing inspiration. There should be a little something for everyone, and I hope you discover something that sends you rushing off to get some writing of your own accomplished. Enjoy!
The Real Censorship in Children’s Books – Daniel José Older discusses the recent criticism and removal of a children’s books with inappropriate depictions of black characters in history, and the broader problem.
There’s a saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Well, writers often work in comfy sweats or their pajamas, but the underlying concept still holds true. Writing is a business like any other, and even if you can do the job in solitude, you will eventually need to create a network of colleagues and readers in order to advance your career. You want to consider your public image long before people know who you are, because the things you say and do now — whether in the real world or online — set the scene for your future.
Presenting a professional image starts before you sign onto social media. It starts with determining the image you wish to portray in all facets of your writing career, and that’s something you should think about before you have a book deal. Your professional image affects how you interact with your critique partners — even if they’re your friends, the way you portray yourself in a query letter or at a writer’s conference, and how you handle both your successes and your failures.
Some aspects of being professional might seem obvious. We’ve all seen the writer on Twitter who phrases something poorly or offers up an unpopular opinion and finds themselves in a fast-escalating situation because they refuse to apologize or back out gracefully. There might be name-calling and other rude behavior that’s easily pegged as unprofessional. But what about the less obvious aspects of the job? Here are a few things to consider when you’re fashioning your own professional demeanor.
Treat writing as a job, not a hobby. If you reach the stage where you’re sending out queries, you need to present yourself in a professional, business-like manner.
Have your own email address using your own name. There’s no reason to use your joint family email account with your spouse’s name in the From: field. Save that for personal communications, and get yourself a gmail or yahoo address that’s just for you.
Do your research. Send submissions per an agency’s guidelines. Be sure they’re looking for the sort of material you’re querying. If you’re cutting and pasting your query letter, double check that you’ve updated both the email address and the name of the agent before you hit send. Don’t forget to proofread.
Be sure to follow up with an agent if you receive an offer of representation from someone else, and either thank them for their consideration or ask if they can decide on your material within a reasonable window (depending how soon you need to respond to your existing offer). Don’t leave an agent to read your work a few weeks down the line only to discover it’s no longer available for representation.
Keep in mind that a writing career can span decades and you are building a community. You may work with a person down the line who initially rejects you, so maintain good relationships even if you’re not teaming up right now.
Use common sense at public events. If you’re attending readings, conferences, lectures, or any other event where you’ll be representing yourself as a writer, keep your business hat on, even if you’re there with friends and being social.
If there’s alcohol, don’t over do it. You don’t want to lose control of your actions or what you’re saying.
Be prepared to network. Have business cards with you that include your website and email address, and keep a small notebook and a pen or pencil handy.
Be aware of any behavioral guidelines set down by the organizing body, and be sure you adhere to them.
Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if harassed or put in a vulnerable position. Part of being professional is holding other professionals to the same standard.
Approach social media as if dealing with a group of gossipy teenagers. Understand that as nice and intelligent as everyone might seem, there will always be a few people out there looking to get the dirt, to start an argument simply to gain a higher profile, or just to be mean.
Keep the business details of your business to yourself. I don’t mean you shouldn’t announce when you’ve signed a book deal, but be careful not to discuss it before you know it’s finalized. If you’re unsure what’s safe to disclose, you’re better off not sharing it. But you can always talk to your agent or editor to find out when certain information — that you’ve sold the book, what your cover art looks like, your release date, etc. — can go public.
Never talk about the who/what/where while things are still in play. When your agent has your manuscript out on submission or is negotiating a deal, you should never discuss the process online: not which agents or which imprints or how you think it’s going. It’s tempting to get excited and want to provide updates, but editors can go online, too, and you don’t want to inadvertently weaken your agent’s ability to negotiate by giving away vital information. So keep it off your blog and Facebook and Twitter.
Remember that the internet rarely differentiates between your private and professional selves. Once you put yourself out there wearing your writer’s hat and people get to know you, it will become impossible to have personal moments online except in spaces you lock down. Take precautions to stay safe.
Consider maintaining a friends-and-family-only Facebook page separate from your author page, with security settings that keep anyone else from seeing your photos and vacation chatter. Only “friend” a small, select group of people. This will give you a place to engage with those you love without worrying about policing yourself.
Be careful about announcing easily identifiable information about yourself on the internet, such as landmarks near your house, your day job, or where your kids attend school. Most people are lovely and will respect your privacy, but stalkers do exist and you don’t need to be a best-selling author or hugely famous to have someone decide they want to follow you in real life.
If you will be traveling for personal reasons — as in, not a conference or book signing, etc. — wait until after the trip to share with your readers/fans. Don’t talk the trip up ahead of time, or announce where you’ll be.
And yes, the internet is forever. Or at least close enough. Things you say and regret, even if you delete them, have a habit of turning up when you least expect it.
Apologize if you say something that hurts other people. Whether you phrased something badly and it was misunderstood or you genuinely did not understand what you said was offensive, apologize, and state that you’ll do your best not to make the same mistake. Everyone’s human, and most people will understand if you’re genuinely contrite.
Realize that there will always be things that will cause an argument online, and pick your battles. Some issues will be more important to you and you will take a stand. Others will probably still be important but maybe less of a priority. Decide what is worth fighting for and what you’re willing to walk away from, in the interest of having time to write and live your life outside of social media.
Avoid knee-jerk reactions. If something gets you hot under to collar, take a breath or two before you respond. You may change your mind, or you may not, but decide how you’re going to respond (or if you’re going to respond) with a clear head.
Welcome to the new home of Writing and Rambling! I’ve been talking about making the move to a self-hosted site for a long time but just never seemed to get around to it. Although I write about topics related to work, this site has always been a labor of love, somewhere I can chat about books and writing and agent life. It lets me reach out in a small way to all the aspiring writers and die-hard readers and the folks who are simply curious about the world of publishing. Moving Writing and Rambling to this new space will allow me a little more flexibility in terms of changing the appearance of the site and adding more features, and I’m excited to have finally taken the leap. So please update your bookmarks and join me!
Those of you coming over from the previous location will note the shiny new look, but rest assured that all the posts have migrated and the links all seem to be working. I’ll be adding new pages and other features to the blog as we go — you might notice a few new social media links to the right — as well as updating existing features, but for now the content remains pretty much as it always was. If you’re looking for a specific post, all you need to do is update the root of the URL to http://nepheletempest.com/ and leave everything after the .com on your old link the same. That should take you to any page you wish to find.
Anyone who previously subscribed to the site at the old location in order to receive an email when I update, please hang tight as I’ve put in a request to the good WordPress people to migrate my subscription list over to this site. As soon as that takes place, notifications shall resume. If you don’t wish to wait, there’s a subscription opt-in at the top right of the navigation section, but you may end up with duplicate notifications if you received them before.
Business as usual will resume here in a day or two, and the old site will begin to redirect to this location. Thanks to all of you have been reading and commenting for the last few years, and welcome, everyone, to this new, relaunched version of Writing and Rambling. Have a wonderful day, and don’t forget to get some writing done.