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A Writing Career - with tips

Posted by bebowreinhard on September 23, 2015 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I began when I was bored on a temp office job one day, and submitted a poorly formatted short story to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine. This was back in 1979.

Now it’s 2015, and I have a full-time job in Madison to earn money so that I don’t feel broke, because of bad business ventures over the years. Well, I do still feel broke. There are times I feel I’m on the homeless track. But it is what it is, for now. I always thought my writing career would take off because I’m so devoted to it, and we could live off my income, ala Stephen King.

Here’s the career, abbreviated. After toying with short stories, in March 1983, I created Arabus Drake. Arabus is still my license plate, but since I moved to Madison, I will go to a regular plate when it comes up for renewal in January IF the book still has not sold. Not that I’ve been working on the same book since 1983, not at all. Adventures in Death & Romance in 2015 is an incarnation of a book of short stories that I first pulled together and got Llewellyn interested in back in 1994. Then it was called Journal of an Undead.

Shortly before I created him, I thought my writing career was taking off with the publication of My Most Memorable Christmas in the Press Gazette in December 1982. I’d sent them versions the two years previously, but this version got accepted (reward: turkey) because it actually made me cry.

Arabus came to me in a dream and both frightened and enticed me not too long after, and I’m sure he regrets it! But I began pulling short stories together by first researching what he actually was—a vrykolakas, Greek vampire—and placing him in different events throughout history. With Arabus I became an amateur historian.

I continued to crank out short stories for marketing but with little success. A short vampire scene, a couple of Boone stories, and a couple of my early Grimm offerings all found markets in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s I sold several short articles, some for over $100.

In 1992 Bonanza writing came into my life because of free fanfic magazines that were being produced. By 1994 I had a full Bonanza novel and by 1996 I met David Dortort in LA because of timing and miscommunication (see article on Bonanza page).

I got an agent for the novel Dortort authorized, Felling of the Sons, in 1997 quite by a fluke of misdirected mail, but Claudia had no luck because of the Calder books, so in 1998 I produced an ebook copy and signed a contract with Electric Works Publishing so that I could sell them at the convention in 1999 at Lake Tahoe. I made 100 print copies of the book myself, and before that, was printing copies for people off my computer. Those 100 print copies are pretty valuable, actually.

In 2001 I cancelled that contract because I wanted it to be at Amazon (he went OOB a week later), and picked up Write Words, Inc., after yet another publisher told me to cut it in half and make it more “western.” I wanted an authorized cover and continue to pay 20% to Bonanza Ventures for that right, rather than giving them 10% to continue it with a generic cover.

While all the above was going on, I was getting my BA in history at UWGB. And raising three kids who were too darned easy! (Now they barely have time to talk to me, but that’s Cats in the Cradle, right?)

I was also penning movie scripts. I started with a Bonanza script, wrote a Rawhide for Clint Eastwood (an agent said he rejected it, but couldn’t prove it), and then turned Journal into The Becoming. In 1999 I went to the Cannes Film Festival when it won first place, an honor that quickly turned sour when it turned out to be a scam. In 2003 this script was in the top finalists for the Chicago Indiefest, but the four-day festival turned into two when my laptop was stolen.

By 2004 I was going for my master’s in history, having developed the intense desire to research my relative’s 20 years in the army between 1862 and 1884 after seeing the movie Dances with Wolves.

Along the way the internet grew, as did the self-publishing capabilities, and suddenly the competition for publisher’s attentions skyrocketed. With all the internet distractions, reading became a luxury few were having time for. My husband’s friend self-published two novels that were awful, second one unreadable, and I decided that I would never self-publish. If a publisher didn’t think my work was ready, all I could do was keep working on it (see my blog on the negatives of self-publishing here).

I got that agent to promote Journal of an Undead in 2000, changed to first person with a third person narrator with her approval, but she got nowhere with it, and I severed the relationship. I continued to promote this version, though, until I had the chance to sit down with it and realize the third person had to go. I continued marketing Arabus in first person, but was told to remove the alien story at the end. So I switched it out, and the alien story remains an unpublished but very marketable long short story. One publisher wanted me to remove the background to his becoming undead, but that was the one change of six he wanted that I couldn’t do.

I also tried to sell Arabus’ short story Lightning for years. It finally got accepted into an anthology of historical horror, but this was poorly produced; I have since turned that story into third person, and am continuing to market it.

As my dislike for first-person published Lightning grew, I decided to try turning Arabus into all third person again, with just a hint of the relationship that turned this short story collection into a cohesive whole. That with some further modifications is now being considered by a publisher with their requested changes. But if that gets rejected, I might go back to the first person version, and see if Arabus is made for the new virtual reality art that is developing.

I never pay to be edited, but hope instead in writing groups to find readers. It feels impossible these days to find a beta reader. People seem to think they’re only wasting their time, or being forced to help edit for no pay. All I ever want is for people to read until they’re bored and then tell me why they stopped. I make that clear, but still, no takers.

In the early 2000s, the progress I’d made in the late 1990s came to a screeching halt. Perhaps my early success was due to being on the forefront of internet writing technology. That’s one of the reasons I got to Dortort, in fact. Perhaps I became lax with the belief I’d made it, and became too focused on other things. But I kept submitting. Where I used to sell four to five pieces per year, now it’s maybe one, if I’m lucky. My last good year of over two pieces sold in a single year was in 2002.

By then, however, I was more focused on researching master’s programs. I first hoped to get into environmental writing and promotion with at master’s at UWGB but couldn’t find any references for it. I finally ended up moving away to Eau Claire in early 2004.

In 2006 I picked up an editing job for a fellow in South Africa, but his book was such a mess I don’t know if he wanted it to be fiction or nonfiction. I told him in 2007 I couldn’t continue unless I got 50/50 authorship, and he agreed to this (I still have the email). In 2012 we got Spartan to contract Dancing with Cannibals, but by early 2014 it was obvious to me that they weren’t focused on putting out quality material. Dicho grew very angry over this cancellation, and bad-mouthed me everywhere he could. He later apologized, but unknown to me, he was seeking another editor for it, a book mostly ready for publishing; when I grew uncomfortable by his last email, I did at search this past June at Amazon. Sure enough, he published our novel without my name attached. I got a sample, and found it to be my edit, with the addition of one line that was badly punctuated. I had Amazon remove it, and am now proceeding with the idea to publish the authorized one there with both our names. I have not heard from Dicho yet, but his editor wrote me a nasty email filled with lies.

Since the Chicago Indiefest, too, I’ve not had anything more than a good semi-finalist award anywhere.

From 2003 to 2009 I worked sporadically on my second Bonanza novel with David Dortort’s blessing, but had to really focus to get it ready for the 2009 convention. It only had four edits, and my publisher Arline at Write Words thought it was too long. It was meant to be an epic saga, though and could have been longer. If I could find another historical publisher, I would be happy to make it longer. Felling is in second edition, so Mystic Fire could be, too. Felling became required reading at two college campuses between 2012 and 2014, and I’d love for that trend to continue, but I don’t know how to promote that. I also wrote another full novel that I give free to whoever likes these two. I was hoping it would promote sales, but very few are requesting it.

I ran a writing group for three years from 2010 to 2013, organized three book fests, but could not convince members to try traditional publishing before self-publishing so I quit. The group was taken over by self-publishers but they could not pull another book fest together. I tried joining a group in Madison – same problem. Self-publishers.

My major nonfiction is now on its third round of rejections, after being made as short as possible. I’m writing a movie script called Following Orders based on the Custer information that emerged by following Henry’s viewpoint, and am making Henry a character. This was one of my goals back when I first started this research. Funny thing about the rejections here—most think it’s a good idea, good work, but trade markets say it should be academic and academic think it’s better as a trade market book. I had a contract on it once with Sunbury, but they dragged their feet on assigning it an editor and I felt that this meant it was beyond their scope or they changed their minds, so I cancelled the contract.

I finally completed what I call a competent edition of Grimms American Macabre, my collection of modern fairy tales, and after some cajoling, got my publisher to consider it. She said she really didn’t like it but gave me suggestions for improvement. She then told me to go ahead and make the changes I wanted to her online contract, and to the novel with her suggestions. While doing this I came up with a new title, after blogging at Facebook for suggestions. She prepared the galley proof without changing the title. I like that she was proactive and didn’t even wait to see the contract, but neither of us could work with each other’s restrictions. Another contract cancelled.

Including the contracts I rejected without signing, I’ve cancelled more contracts than most people have seen. (See my blog on reading contracts.)

I can’t say taking a job in 2015 is ruining my writing career, either. Instead it’s making me focus a little more on what I do create. All the time in the world did not make me a better writer.

This blog may seem a little self-indulgent to some, but in this story of my long writing career I wanted to see if I could spot any flaws or trends. Here’s a few things I’ve learned that others might find helpful.

• No less than six edits on any single piece of writing, and the 5th edit must always been a read-aloud. Mark each edit in its version as you do it, so you don’t lose track.

• Always put the first and second edits away, for a brief stewing period and work on something else.

• You can break this rule with deadlines. I recently sent out two articles I thought were good after only three edits. Two of those three edits were read alouds. The deadline meant I didn’t have time to put them away.

• Never say anything in anger to a publisher or editor. It will come back to bite you.

• Never use valet service at a hotel. I swear to this day that’s how my laptop got stolen in Chicago.

• Try not to distract yourself too much, and focus on one project as you’re writing it, including its research and markets.

• A stronger piece is generally one created with a market in mind.

• Nothing you write is ever a waste of time. It’s learning. It’s all learning.

• Develop your platform. Find people who love your writing and cater to them.

• Join a writers group. Listen to them. But don’t feel you have to self-publish just because they do. Think for yourself.

• They say if you market a book too soon, you’ll ruin its chances forever. My Vryk work is proving that’s not true. Try not to market too soon, but keep finding ways to improve it. Don’t fall into a rut and see something as perfect after the first or second edit. It never is.

• Never co-author with anyone you’ll never meet. Better not to co-author at all. Writing styles can be so sharply different.


Learning from Rejections

Posted by bebowreinhard on April 1, 2013 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

It could be that Arabus Drake is not publishable. He’s coming out as a short story in Horrific History by Hazardous Press, but will likely largely be overlooked in the midst of much more "capable" offerings.

And even though I’ve made a lot of changes to the novel over the years some things about Arabus Drake remain constant to my vision for him. Now you might say that’s why he’s unpublishable, but it’s not like I haven’t come close. I’ve turned down bad contracts, and put up with bad agents. I’ve won bad awards from script contests. I know there’s potential here and I love listening to comments and suggestions. I’ve gotten rid of the alien storyline, reworked the past life musings, minimized the reader chat, deleted the second voice storyline—all from listening to other publishers and readers. These are not insignificant changes.

But recently Divertir asked me to remove the backstory from the beginning and weave it into the rest of the story. Now they may have meant weave it into the rest of the first story—Vrykolakas Journal is actually comprised of five romance horror tales. The first tale is about his life, death and becoming undead. It is the story featured in the movie script that I’m still circulating. In fact, this last edit brought out some good changes for the script and it will be sent to Austin Film Fest. In my mind, the story has to be the way it is because it establishes him as human, first, so readers can understand how he becomes who he becomes.

Divertir Publishing has now the “privilege” of being the first publisher I chatted with by phone. The editor gave me five changes he wanted to see, and this was one of them. I feel he was dead on with his other requests. These were things I held on to because I wanted to know how they were hitting people. But he had good points about them and I feel each of these changes has made the book stronger. You will, now that they’ve done a final rejection on it, see the first three chapters at that page here on my website.

He told me he was disappointed that I didn’t make that one change. But after we had talked on the phone last January, I sent him an email about what I felt I could change, and couldn’t. And I told him why I couldn’t change the first story that much. He did not respond to tht email. He could have said, well, then, don’t send it. He didn’t. I sent it, as I said I would, and he waited six weeks to tell me he couldn’t get past the first five chapters.

To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of faith that he would take it. In my opinion, a publisher has to be right there in a writer’s vision. And no matter how many times I told him why it’s set that way, he wouldn’t respond with any kind of recognition of that vision. Did I sit these six weeks and wait for his response, while expecting this no? Of course not. I have a full page of other publishers it’s also been sent to, and believe me, doing that wasn’t easy because it was always in the back of my mind, maybe he’ll get it now.

But now he says, because of my unwillingness to listen to him and even my belief that he wasn’t going to take it without that change, he doesn’t plan to offer comments to authors anymore. At first I felt guilty about that, but you know what? If a publisher doesn’t want to listen to an author’s reasons why such a thing is as it is, then maybe they shouldn’t offer comments but just go with things that are perfect to them right off.

Most of this is my own undoing, of course.  He has rejected this two other times in the past, but always with nice comments.  So whenever I made what I thought was a substantial change, I tried him again.  I should have known better.  But that's been one of the rules in submitting--if they make a nice comment, then you're close to having it right for them.

To publishers out there, and I’ve met a lot of you, don’t grab a piece because you think it might pay off, whether or not you understand it.  And while it’s great that you can help make a book better, make sure you understand the book in the first place.

But working with Divertir was not a waste of time. I really appreciate the time he spent on this book, and I hope he changes his mind and works with others, too. But I also hope, if he does offer comments again, he also listens to the author’s voice.

I don’t ever plan to self-publish this novel. It can, and probably will, die with me. But I want every publisher to know that while making comments on a writer’s book is a wonderful thing to do, very appreciated, if you find an author who is so willing to change everything to meet your specific subjective taste, then have you really found a writer who’s worth anything at all?

Or maybe I'm just being stubborn.


Dangers of Muslim Writing

Posted by bebowreinhard on September 19, 2012 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

We've all seen the news lately. Some hack director here in the States decides to film an anti-Muslim movie to insult Mohammed, and some radicals in the Middle East use it as an excuse to riot, ending in the death of an American diplomat. A few days later, someone in another country draws a naked Mohammed to stimulate fears of retaliation (I believe this was in France).

Sure, we believe in free speech. But such insensitive things should not be tolerated by a thinking government. I hear now that the actress in the movie is suing the producer and director, because the words she was given to say were not used. Other words were dubbed in. I am hopeful for her acts.

But what does all this mean? Well, first of all, don't insult a religion, especially one that has been the recipient of much U.S. hatred since 9/11, and subjected to what President Bush once called a "holy war." You get a few fanatics -- like those white shooters here in the States -- and suddenly all people are condemned?

Look, I'll be the first to say I'm not a fan of Christianity because a Christian killed John Lennon. But that's not the religion's only crime. Still, I would not take on their Christhead. He hasn't done anything wrong. It's not even Jesus's fault that Christianity was invented. I wonder if Mohammed can even take all the credit for Islam.

I should find out. I have a novel that features some Muslim history set in the late 1400s. A novel that I've yet to publish, and I think I know why. In fact, the movie based on the book was being considered by a producer, but was shot back to me one week after 9/11. One week. I've had nothing good happen with it since it made finalist in 2003 in Chicago.

Okay. Let's know what we're dealing with. IF the history is carefully and sensitively portrayed, it should be all right, right? Maybe not. Maybe since 9/11 there is nothing about a non-Muslim using Muslim culture that is acceptable anymore. Maybe there's just no way to know what will set someone off.

So what does that mean? I try also to write about American Indian history and I get a lot of negative feedback thrown at me. Why? Because I know how to research? Let's face it -- no one alive today was alive in the 1500s or even the 1800s. So I can research as well as anyone else, right?

Nope. Because I don't have the right mind frame. I don't live within that still existent culture. I'm not sensitive.

Does this mean I can only write from a German, Belgian, white historical framework? At least I can draw on my Grimm heritage, right?

Geez, I hope so. Or I might just have to give up writing altogether.

But the problem now is, how do I write the international adventures of a Greek vampire if I can't take him anywhere outside of Green Bay, or the confines of Germany? He's Greek, but I'll bet even they want hands off right now.

With the internet we now have so much access to the world. But we seem less and less able to use any of it. I'm not excusing that film maker. He was obviously insensitive. But are publishers rejecting my vampire because they fear the Muslim material? I don't know. No one's ever said.

There is nothing in my work meant to make Islam look bad. But someone somewhere might well take offense. Just because.

And that's a shame. Because we need to learn more about the religion, and the culture that extends from it, not less.