Friday, November 17, 2006

Snarking on the Snarkstress?

I don't know if you'll answer this, but I'd love to hear your take on Miss Snark. She scares me, and I have some questions I'd like to send her, but I'm worried she'll rip me to shreds.

Ah, I smell a challenge - dare I take on Miss Snark? Well, anyone who knows me knows that, ahem, I rarely shy away from competition (another reason, barring the fact that I can't deal with sleep deprivation in any way at all, that I'd make an excellent Amazing Race candidate), so I'll rise to your challenge.

But here's the thing: I'm not going to take her down. Miss Snark has a style that is It's not my style or at least not the style in which I choose to write my blog. (Though strangely, in real life, I'm actually very, very snarky, probably too much so.) It works for Miss Snark, and she's never hidden the fact that if you send her a question that she deems idiotic, she'll let you know that indeed, she finds it idiotic.

My take on this is that newbie writers (and even established writers) have enough anxiety and paranoia, they don't need to send me a question only to be snarked upon. There are so many seemingly basic questions that litter the minds of aspiring writers, and yes, they're basic, but that doesn't mean that they aren't valid. (I'm not trying to intimate that Miss Snark thinks they're not valid either- not at all. I've seen her answer plenty of questions that I've rolled my internal eyes at.) But I guess that as a writer, I've been in the position of not knowing what the proper etiquette is for following up to a query or sweating over my agent search or whatever, and God knows that the last thing I needed at the time was someone who made me feel like a moron. (Again, this isn't to say that Miss Snark makes people feel like morons! Really. I'm more addressing your question of why you don't want to send a question into her blog. Though I will say that I read far too many industry blogs these days that insinuate that writers are idiots. If people in the industry find us to be such imbeciles, perhaps they should consider switching industries...just a thought.)

Here's the thing: I think that Miss Snark is a fabulous resource for writers. She clearly takes a lot of time in answering questions, and she does it because at the end of the day, snarky or not, she cares about helping writers. Thus, I read her most days of the week. And honestly, I have no idea how she has the time or patience to deal with something like the crap-o-meter, but she does, and again, the folks who benefit are the readers.

That said, when I get questions from you guys, I just choose to answer them in a different tone, but that certainly doesn't mean that her answers aren't valid, wise or on-target. Often, I agree with her sentiments. Sometimes, I don't. Which brings up another point entirely: I think it's very dangerous to place too much weight on anyone's opinion or advice on how to go about navigating this industry. Hell, sometimes, I'm sure that my advice isn't universally applicable and won't work for everyone.

Miss Snark is one agent. That's it. She dishes the straight skinny on how she likes to conduct business, and she's never claimed to do anything other than that. In fact, just knowing her likes and dislikes, I can confidently say that she'd hate having me as a client, and I can pretty much return the feeling. So remember when you're reading her blog or quivering at the thought of sending her a question, that truly, she's one opinion - often a good one - in a sea of many. She'd probably be the first to tell you that.

But one thing she and I WOULD agree on is that this industry requires a very, very thick skin, and if the thought of getting called a nitwit by an anonymous agent shakes you to the core, you might not be cut out for a long-term career in publishing. Because you're likely to hear a lot more of this as non-anonymous rejections pour in, and if you don't bolster your armor now, you're as good as history.

So...have you guys sent questions into Miss Snark? And have you been deemed a nitwit? :)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Throwing in the Towel

Random shout-out of the day: Whoohoo! Supersized Office episode tonight! Is it sad that this might be the highlight of my week? Reviewers who have seen the epi say it's the best of the season. I'm SO there. You?

Question of the day: I've been slaving over my manuscript for several years now, and after a few revisions and some critiques from a writing group, I'm stuck. I *think* it can get better, but I don't know if it really can. I guess what I'm asking is, have you ever given up on a manuscript and if so, how did you know to abandon it?

What a timely question for me because I've recently more or less conceded that my current WIP is a washout. As in, I've written 40k words but I think that's as far as I'm going. Here are my reasons why:

1) The actual writing process felt like an absolute chore. Look, I was really spoiled when I wrote TDLF: it was so effortless that words flew from my brain to my fingers without hesitation, and I wrapped the entire ms in just a few months. I don't really expect to repeat that process. BUT, I'd almost come to dread my daily work on the WIP - I'd set a goal for myself of 1000 words a day, and while I was meeting that goal, I was also constantly checking my word count to see how many more I had to squeeze out. That's not what I consider fun.

2) I put down the first half of the ms and have had NO desire to pick it back up. I'm someone who needs to be inspired in order to pull out her best work. Clearly, I'm lacking inspiration.

3) I haven't once thought about the characters or their problems since I've put it down. When I was drafting TDLF, I was constantly mulling over my heroine and her entanglements. I mean, seriously, they would wake me up at night. With my WIP, not only have I not thought about my heroine, when I do, I'm not even sure where I should take her for her next step...which is a big problem. If you don't know where your characters need to go or where you want them to end up, you can take them down a very rambling path that can lead to nowhere. From the get-go, I knew where and how TDLF was going to end, even though I couldn't predict all of the stops along the way.

4) I know that I can do better. This is probably the most important reason for setting the WIP aside. When I reread it, it's actually very good, and my agent agrees. But, as I said above, I don't think that it's inspired: it's a well-written, smart 1/2 book, but it's not on the same level as TDLF (in my and her opinion), simply in terms of passion and enthusiasm, which definitely shine through in the writing. So...maybe one day I'll muster up a brilliant idea for the second half, and idea that will push me through and create a truly compelling read, but for now, I'm not willing to settle for a decent book when I know that I'm capable of a fabulous one.

So, I can't speak to whether or not you should set your WIP aside, but those are my reasons for doing so. If you're stuck and don't know where else to go with it, yes, I'd try something new. It's not as if you can't return to this one or you're abandoning it forever. You might even find that working on a new project allows you to figure out where you were going wrong with this one...

Anyone else ever abandoned a WIP? Why'd you do so?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

When a Source Gets the Ax

Have you ever had an editor cut someone you interviewed out of an article? If so, how do handle letting that person know?

The answer to this is a resounding, yes! It happens all the time, too often, in fact. And I hate it every time. But how do I handle it? Well, the flat-out honest answer is that sometimes, I don't always notice because I don't always read my stories after they've come out (I just quickly scan them onto my site) or they've come out soooo long after I've submitted them that I barely remember the subject matter, much less whom I interviewed. (Sad but true. In fact, I was just handed back a revision that I hadn't seen in so long I couldn't even remember what I'd written on.)

But, if, for example, I get passed the piece during the galley process and I see that a source has been cut out entirely, I often ask my editor if he or she can find a way to incorporate said source, especially if a source has really given me a lot of time. And many times, this works. If it doesn't, or if I notice that an expert isn't in the final version of the published article, I'll email him or her an apology and sincerely say that I really have no control over the editing process and that unfortunately, his quotes didn't make the piece. Which is the complete truth. I've never had anyone work himself into a tizzy over it: experts usually understand that while you try your very, very best to use them, it's not a slam-dunk...that's why it's PR, not advertising. Still though, I hate the thought that someone gave me their time, and I delivered buptkiss, so I usually tell them that they'll be my first call for my next story in which I can use them. And they are.

The other situation is, of course, when you interview a source and he or she has been entirely unhelpful. Which happened to me within the past week when an expert told me to call him, then literally had no more than two minutes to conduct the interview. Gee...thanks...I can really get great info in that timeframe! When this occurs, I wrap up the call by thanking them for their time, saying they've been helpful, and that I'll certainly do my best to try to use their advice in the piece. I think you can still be polite without letting them know that they were a complete washout. But yeah, if they really haven't made much of an effort with me, I often won't make much of an effort to track them down when the story runs. Frankly, the two-minute phone call probably won't register with them six months later when the story is published...and they won't have any idea or recollection that they were once contacted for an interview.

So how do you handle sources getting cut?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Art of Giving

It's that time of year where I'm struggling to come up with something other than a Starbucks gift card to send to a few select editors. Sigh. I hate shopping for my own family, let alone editors whom I've never met in person. Do you have any idea what editors want? (Yes, I know, you don't have to send them anything, but....) What are some of their fave gifts? Least favorites? What do they want us writers to know?

Okay, I wish that I had time to survey my editors, but with looming deadlines and a looming uterus, I'm going to stick to my own advice here. If I find myself with some extra time once I wrap up my work but before the baby arrives, I'll definitely take a survey. That said, I think they'd be embarrassed to 'fess up because all of them say (and I believe them) that this is a very nice but unnecessary step in keeping up writer-editor relations, so I don't know if they'd want to gloat over their favorite loot.

I'm sure that there are plenty of you guys reading this question and panicking, thinking, "Holy F, I'm supposed to send my editors a gift??? WTF?? How did I not know this and do I look bad for never having sent one?" So first of all, stop sweating it. As I mentioned above, gifts are a nice cherry on top, but certainly not required, and you'll hardly be blackballed if you don't give one.

That said, do I send them? Yes. They're my way of saying, "I realize you have a choice of airlines to fly, and thanks so much for choosing ours." Only swap out "airlines" for "writers," and swap out "ours" for "me." The thing of it is, that I AM truly grateful every single damn time that an editor sends work my way. I'm flattered and surprised and just really appreciative (and no, I'm not just saying this - I mean it 1000 times over), and while I always thank them when they do send me an assignment, this is my small way of saying "thanks once again."

What do I send? It depends on how well I know the editor, but generally, I keep it pretty simple since the holidays are crazy enough to begin with. Yes, the Starbucks card is a good stand-by. You might be sick of it, but I do know that editors appreciate it. I had one editor tell a colleague (who then told me) that every time she went to Starbucks and used the card, she thought of me. So clearly, in that sense, it's not only getting good use, but it's also a smart marketing tool. I'm also a big fan of Sephora gift cards: I've gotten a lot of raving thank-you notes from editors who enjoy being able to essentially treat themselves to a freebie lipstick. Amazon gift cards are also a smart route: you can buy anything on Amazon these days, so you know your editor will find something to suit his or her tastes. Of course, there are more personal gifts too: something for a pregnant mom, a hat for a rabid sports fan, etc. Truthfully, I think that in all of these cases, it really is the thought that counts - simply taking a second to acknowledge your editor, whether it's with a more generic gift card or with a personalized present, is what matters.

By the way, I have had a few editors return gifts in the past because their company's policy dictated that they had to. Don't be offended if this happens.

How much should you spend? I'm pretty sure that a lot of companies have requirements as to how expensive a gift can be in order for an editor to accept it (or regretfully turn it down), and I very vaguely recall that there's an IRS write-off limit that mandates you spend less than approx $25 (or in that ballpark), so I usually spend about $20 per editor. Can it add up? YES. But is it an investment that almost always pays off? Double yes. Not only do I often receive assignments from them (again, which isn't the point but isn't a bad result either), I really do believe that little things like these can bolster a relationship.

Finally, if you don't have the money to spend, don't worry about it! A nice holiday card with a "thank you for thinking of me this past year" is equally effective. Again, it's about the message, not the money. As every writer knows, sometimes it's just nice to feel appreciated, and editors are no different.

So...what have you guys given in the past? Favorite gifts to give?

Monday, November 13, 2006

But Enough About Me

(I just realized that the title of this post is also the title of a book I just started and am totally loving. I didn't mean to steal Jancee Dunn's thunder! Sorry, Jancee! Once I'm done the book, I'll give you my thoughts, but so far, I adore it. Laugh out loud good.)

So...many moons ago, I got tagged by Manic Mommy, which means that I have to spill five sordid details about my life, things that you guys would otherwise not know. So, she asked, I'm answering!

And while I'm sharing, check out Larramie's blog for today, where she kindly discusses moi. I'm so, so flattered! But check out her blog anyway because she's a smart, fun writer with savvy things to say about the world and pop culture.

1) Many people have seen me nekkid. Okay, get your minds out of the gutter, you pervs. No, I'm not a big old ho-bag. What I'm actually referring to is that in college, back when I was active in a lot of theater productions, I appeared in Hair, and yes, we did the nude scene. Wow, let me tell you, there is nothing so terrifying as stripping down and walking on stage in front of hundreds of people whom you would see the next day in class or at a fraternity party. Do note that I opted to skip the scene the night that my parents and brother attended. TMI, indeed.

2) I'm a picker. Not my skin, rather my food. I have some weird eating habits that my husband has come to mock over the years. Case in point: I only like the crusts of rolls, so weed out the insides and place them on his bread plate. I buy pints of Ben N Jerry's Half-Baked Frozen Yogurt, then spoon the actual ice cream onto the lid or down the drain or to my dog, while pretty much eating only the cookie dough chunks or brownie bits. (I know - why not just eat a cookie or brownie? I dunno.) I adore pizza, but cheese makes me sick, so I'll pick off almost all of the cheese and leave it sitting in a congealed mound on my plate. (Yes, it's pretty gross.) I also love raw oatmeal. I know, seriously, what's wrong with me?

3) I dated a celebrity. Ha! That got your interest, right? Okay, he's really more of a B-lister, but still, it's sort of a fun thing to spill. Truth be told, he was a very good friend for many years, and I had no idea that he was interested, probably because he was SO different from my type and it never occurred to me to entertain anything romantic. Anyhoo, long story short, he finally wooed me and things went sour. No hard feelings here (really - we were friendly for a long time afterward and then just drifted out of touch), though my husband mocks me endlessly for it. (And no, I shan't reveal said celeb's name! I don't smooch and tell. But I will say that he has a new show that's debuting this month on a major network. So there's a clue.)

4) What do Angelina Jolie, Madonna and I all have in common? Yes, I am the adoptive mother of an African child! Okay, well, not as literally as them, but I was so inspired by that One concert (I can't remember the official name) a few years ago that I went all Sally Struthers and adopted a boy named Duncan (yes, really!) in Uganda. I send him occasional letters and toys and presents, and I like to think that my $20 a month is helping him in some small way. (And yes, my husband also laughs at me for this one too.) I adopted him through PlanUSA, a very reputable charity, if anyone is interested.

5) Ricky Schroeder was my first celebrity crush. Thereby setting off a looooong string of celebrity crushes. Seriously, I remember fawning over his picture in Dynamite magazine and putting up "The Ricker" in my fifth grade locker. Other celebrity crushes over the years have included, but certainly aren't limited to: Tom Cruise (pre-crazy, pre-gay, during his Top Gun phase...I know, I know, I'm ashamed to even admit it, but 'fess up, you had a crush on him too), Kevin Costner (during his Untouchables through No Way Out period), Ethan Hawke (ew, I know, but it was during the whole Reality Bites slacker-chic era), Scott Wolf (Party of Five did it for me), Michael Vartan, Scott Speedman, Hugh Grant, a certain Office actor (ahem, I believe that I've mentioned him a time or two before), and I'm adding a new one as of this weekend: Leonardo DiCaprio. I just saw The Departed and holy sexiness, I'm on that train!

So...who were your celebrity crushes? Anything else you want to share, now that I've done my own spilling?