How To Get Published

When my writing group came over Saturday for breakfast and critique, I showed them the book stack photo I’d posted on Instagram. The book stack was all the books we’ve published since we’ve been together, but I had a feeling there were a few I’d missed. Turns out yes, there were even more books.

What I was right about is that none of us had published any of the books in the stack before we became a group eight years ago. And now we’ve got 15 books of fiction published between us, with four more on the go. Two of us had published a few books before, but the other two had not published anything, although they had lots of novels in manuscript form. We accomplished the getting published part together. Our monthly Saturday morning meetings have made me (and I hope, each of them) a better and more prolific writer.

Maybe because I knew I needed them, I started the group. It went through a few iterations before it became the firmly committed four of us, two women and two men, novelists all. And look at what we’ve done together. Everyone in the group seemed as stunned and satisfied as I’d felt when I had gathered those books into a stack and snapped that photo. It’s real, it’s tangible proof. Writing groups help writers get published.

I’ve been in many writing groups though the years, and all of them have had benefits, but this small group is the one that I count on when it comes to publishing a new novel. It took me a long time to find these folks, or rather, they found me. And I’m endlessly grateful. My life has been enriched by each of them, and not just my writing life. We’re all married forever types and the spouses are an extended part of our circle. They join us for breakfast before we get down to work. We see each other socially with our partners, too.

They stick by me, loyal even as I absent myself from Michigan for a few months these last few years. I can always count on them to tell me the truth, even when it hurts. None of us is a cruel critic, but we are honest. We are not simply cheerleaders for each other, although we are that. Our highest priority is to help each other write the best books we can, and sometimes that means saying the difficult things. In our favor is the fact that we all understand our core function: to help each other get it right, and get published, again and again.

Writing is a lonely job. You really won’t understand that until you’ve spent the time required to write and publish a book or ten. And that’s another key ingredient to a writing group: friendship with others who are committed to the writing life. I value these writers so highly. They get it, the writing thing, like nobody else, not even a spouse, does. I’m grateful to have them in my life. They help make being a writer less lonely. And they absolutely are the reason I have published such a satisfying number of books.

Wanna get published? Join a writer’s group. Or start one yourself.

Home Not Home

A few days ago I returned to Michigan from Florida. This photo is of my writing room, the place I missed the most. My husband took a six week leave of absence to spend time with me in our Florida home. I called this time our “practice retirement” although he doesn’t like when I say that. I’m not sure what his problem is with my characterization of our time in Florida. He’s a mystery to me, one I was unable to solve in six short weeks.

I have been retired four blissful years. Al was supposed to retire a few years ago, when we bought a sweet little condo in St Pete, but decided not to at the last minute. Thus I spent two winters alone in St Pete, falling more and more in love with it. Al assures me he is ready to retire (for real this time) by the end of the year. One of the things we are trying to figure out as we go forward is where to live. Michigan, where we both grew up and have lived our entire lives? Where our dearest friends and much of our families live? Or Florida, where we love taking walks on the beach? I feel less anxious in Florida. Michigan winters are misery for me, with the bad weather and worse driving conditions.

After six weeks, I know what I want: to live in Florida in a larger place. One with a writing room. Al is not so sure. And that is the heart of our biggest problem as a married couple. We can’t agree on this. The plan I see rolling out so perfectly appears not to suit him. We don’t have easy agreement. This bothers him less than it does me. He seems willing to take every day as it comes. He throws out suggestions that strike terror into my heart, like the one from last night. Why not sell the Florida place and keep our Michigan home?

We’ve been married 34 years but have not spent any significant time together in at least a decade, maybe more. Al has been working every day, including weekends, and I’ve been writing books. We are each happy in our own way. Yet we both yearn for something more. I want to travel more, to see my grandchildren (and their parents!) more. I want to spend lots more time with the man I married. If we could just agree on where to spend this time.

In Florida, I missed working on my novel and he missed having a sense of purpose. He wants to find something rewarding to do with the rest of his life. I understand that, because I derive great satisfaction from writing. Still, I assured Al I was ready to stop writing novels when he retired if our new life, whatever it turns out to be, makes it difficult. I will always write. But maybe not novels. I enjoy handwriting my morning pages with my favorite pen and notebook. I still love blogging after 17 years right here. I did those things in Florida. What I found was it wasn’t enough. In six short weeks, I learned giving up writing novels will not be so easy. I missed writing my book.

One of the methods I employ when writing a novel is to not worry about what happens next. In my first draft, I don’t plot or outline. Every day, when I am in the rhythm of writing, I know what I need to write that day. By the time I’m done for the day, I have an idea of what comes next. This is how I write books; it’s much more difficult to apply this to living a life. There are no rewrites in life. No revisions. No delete key.

Maybe that’s why Al dislikes my idea of “practice retirement” ~ these past six weeks brought up more questions than answers. The future is hard to plan. Maybe it’s like writing a book. You just take it one day at a time and edit as needed.

Blind Faith

If you want to be a writer, start with what you know. What do you like to read? Newspapers, magazines, blogs, short stories, novels? All of the above for me and maybe for you, too. When I first began writing, I tried short stories. I figured they were short so I was pretty sure I’d finish one. I did finish one, then another, and then another. A few were printed in literary journals. My biggest check for a short story was $700. That may sound like a lot of money, but don’t quit your day job. You may find homes for your stories, but the pay rate varies wildly. Sometimes the magazine can only pay you in free copies. And it takes time to write and then sell your work. If you sell 2-3 stories a year at the really decent rate of $700, that’s still only $2,100. Can you live on that for a year? Maybe you have a partner or parent who supports you. That’s the only way you’ll be able to eat, at least for awhile, if you decide to dedicate your life to writing short stories.

After some long years of writing for magazines, I decided to try writing a novel. I was a teacher, I had the summers off, it was perfect! Except as I went into writing my first novel, I had nothing but blind faith and my serious novel-reading addiction to guide me. The internet had not been invented yet, so I read Writer’s Digest magazine for clues on how to publish a novel. Writers often think about how to get published before they actually write the book. Publishers ask that we finish the book before we send submissions.

Writing a novel in three summer months can be done, but not by me. Not then. I had kids at home and a husband, too. We took vacations in summer. I needed summer to wind down from teaching, which is a tougher job than you might imagine. I did get some chapters done every summer but it wasn’t until I went back to school for a master’s degree so I could teach a few days a week at university that I really had enough time to finish a novel. These part-time college teaching jobs are abundant and many published writers need these jobs on top of their writing paychecks. Once I had that second degree, I only taught a few classes, with five days free for writing novels. Friends learned that if I was home, I was writing until 2 o’clock every day. Blind faith that this novel writing thing would work out plus the hard work of actually completing and revising and submitting a novel…that’s all it takes.

The most important thing you need to be a writer is blind faith. In yourself. In your ability to craft a novel that someone will want to publish. In your tough skin when the rejections come in. Rejection is part of the writing gig and if you are super-sensitive, as so many creative people are, you may give up after one or two rejections. Again, you must have blind faith that at some point, someone will say yes. It is often said that persistence is more important than talent in writing. That was certainly true for me. I got rejected dozens of times before I found a publisher. I’m proof that persistence pays off. Persistence and blind faith.


Writing Native American Characters

There’s an author interview I read every Sunday in the New York Times Book Review. It’s a pretty much set in stone list of questions. One question, about what these writers read, gives me glimpses into writing practices of wildly successful writers. All writers read widely in several genres. They have their quirky likes and dislikes. One thing mentioned often is if the Famous Writer reads in the genre they are writing in while working on a book.

Some do, some don’t. I will read mysteries when I write a mystery, so I was relieved to be in good company there. My problem has never been answered in these interviews, but that’s fine, I have a mind of my own and I can figure out that there is one book–There There by Tommy Orange– I should not read while writing the current WIP. At first I thought it was essential I read it, but now I’ve changed my mind.

In my WIP, I have a sprinkling of Native American characters. I don’t have any other reason for this decision other than I see urban Indians in the town I live in. They are lives off the reservation. They are just neighbors. Well, on the surface. Their lives, their grief, their heritage and the prejudices against them go deeper than that, as did the beyond my scope of experience black characters in Lily White in Detroit. With the characters in Lily White, at least I had some knowledge of black culture from my years as a white student at a black college.  

The only truly American Indian person I know is a good friend from my pre-college days. I never thought of Jesse as Indian and he never talked about it. He was just one of us, part of the gang of friends from high school. Then years later he began to embrace his heritage and it came out in subtle (and sometimes blunt) ways. The pow wow he was attending. The regalia he’d wear. His rage over the pipeline that was meant to be built over a sacred burial site. His mixing in Indian words from his tribe in Facebook posts. Reading Tommy Orange’s book right now would certainly give me a much wider perspective of how it feels to be Native in America today. But the question is–why do I need to know for my work in progress?

When I began this book, I was sure I wouldn’t have to deal with race. It’s a tightrope for a white woman to understand what life feels like to any other person, especially if they are from another segment of society, like black or Indian. I finally figured out as I was writing this brand new book that needs so much revising that this writing experience is not the same as writing about a black cop working with a white private detective. I had to know something about black culture just to make my black police detective live on the page. For the Native Americans, things are more removed.

At first I thought I’d do a lot more with the Indian community. I read up on the natives of Florida and the 100 year war fought in Florida over the territory. I still want to visit some of their museums. I have a scene set at a casino and on a reservation in Tampa, where the powerful Seminole tribe thrives to this day. And I can still do all that, do the research and field trips required. But I’m afraid to read Tommy Orange’s book until I finish my own because I don’t want to inadvertently use any of his characterizations. There are 12 Indians and each has his or her own story in Orange’s novel. It seems like I could, without knowing, easily take something from them.

And that would make me no better than my ancestors who took much more from a people who were here in America far longer than my white ancestors had been.


Not So Social Media

Last week, almost on a whim, I deactivated my Facebook account. I was just going to quit the one, but then they make it difficult to quit a personal page without also quitting the business page. I did a few things that are supposed to help you keep the business and toss the personal but nothing worked so I thought about it for two seconds and deleted both accounts.

The reasons for letting Facebook go are different for each of my pages. On the personal one, I left a goodbye note up for 24 hours and then when I saw people asking why I said “Trying to simplify my life.” Which is true. But also as much as I tried to block people who said plain crazy things, or horrible racist or homophobic things, it finally came down to people I care about very much saying these things. Not that I don’t think they have the right. Free speech, I get it. But every time someone I cared about wrote crap that was just so wrong it felt like a punch in the gut.

Getting punched in the gut on a daily basis is not fun. It’s only going to get worse as we ratchet up to 2020. I have plenty of friends who I agree to disagree with over politics and religion. We’ve had the conversations. It’s the more personal stuff, the plain hateful stuff, I can’t stomach. Also, some people are just a pain. Slightly annoying. So simplifying was a way to just get out of that town. It felt (and feels) great. But what about the business page?

I have had a lot of advice and help in my writing career that has served me well. One thing almost all the gurus say is You Must Have Social Media. You Must Have An Online Presence. Well, okay, but it doesn’t have to be Facebook. I still have Instagram. I had it BEFORE Facebook bought them. I still have Twitter and Pinterest and I have this blog. So I am still here, just not in that one crowded corner. On Twitter, I don’t hear from the haters. It’s like a little universe so it’s easy to stay in your own lane. Pinterest? I’m crap at that but maybe I’ll get better now. Bottom line: I don’t think my Facebook business page sold many books.

I’m not even on social media to sell books. I’m here because I am a writer who works alone all day and this is where I meet others who do the same strange thing I do. I meet lots of those people on Twitter and some of them from the Word Press thingy where you see a little capsule of every blog WP posts. I want to read more blogs. I miss my blog roll, where every morning I’d read blogs like they were my newspaper. Somehow reading other writer’s blogs got crowded out by all the other stuff. After I quit Facebook I realized I could go back to reading blogs. Just that simple!