Crane’s Guide to Writing and Baking

Okay, we’ll try another version of this.

In other words: writing is work. Often very hard work, that might pay little or nothing for an insane amount of time and labor. There is no set ‘destination’, since your career can skyrocket to best-seller and movie status, or crash into obscurity with equal speed.

If you want to write as a hobby, as I did for 20+ years, that’s fun and admirable.

But if you decide you want to publish your work, whatever genre it might be, you owe it to yourself and your book to do as much widely-ranging research as possible.

Don’t just look up ‘Publishers’ on Google or Bing, and go with the first one you see, maybe in your area. And please walk away from any publishers or agents who want you to pay upfront (or in anything but commissions off sales) to work with them. Take some time to look up other authors who’ve written something similar to your book, generally within the last two to five years. Did any agents represent them? Who published them? What do their sales look like on Amazon? Have you met these authors at book signings or conventions? Are you on a writing-oriented social media site?

For more information, gleaned from my mistakes and those I’ve seen in the industry, go here to see all the ways writers can be led astray on the publishing quest.


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Why enter pitch contests?

Other than sheer masochism? They offer a slight shortcut to the usually long query process, they let you meet fellow writers and industry professionals, and they offer the chance to get agent offers and free feedback.

I’ve blogged before about some dangers and darker sides of online pitch contests. Now for a spotlight on the second valuable gift they offer: feedback and editing.

Very few people can write in a vacuum. We need feedback in developmental stages of a mms, and capable editing at the later stages.

Would-be self-published writers, do you know that it can cost between $1500 and $5000 for qualified professional editing of your mms? Most self-pub authors don’t bother, and it shows in the final product.

Many pitch contests offer author-peer and professional feedback, for free or a minor donation! Some offer the finalists or winners a few weeks to a couple of months of pro editing, as well as a final showcase to tempt agents and acquisition editors.

Sure, it’s a long shot, but why not try?

I just finished a rewarding and humbling experience: tightening up my smutty M/M space opera MORO’S PRICE, which is being re-released (in a heavily revised version) from NineStarPress this summer. I have an awesome editor, and I really need her skills. (So many mistakes!)

The experience made me look again at my newly revised high fantasy mms. It’s a better book that the version I shopped last year, but I know it needs editing.

So I’m bashing my head against the mostly-so-far-fruitless pitch contest scene again, and entering this mms in the upcoming Pitch 2 Publication melee.* I have a teeny chance at getting anywhere in that event, but I’ve got to try it.

Because even if I don’t snag an agent, I’ll get strong feedback. All the ‘unsuccessful’ contests last year, plus agent and editor feedback, led to my recent revisions and a much stronger book.

If I need to, I can then self-publish that book.

(I have been known to submit work to top SFF short fiction markets, just for their personalized rejections, for similar reasons.)

*Which has now been postponed and replaced with Revise & Resub.


Character names and titles

Character names and titles are important in fiction (duh!)

Different genres have different naming trends and types, if not outright rules. A clever writer can exploit or twist those, while a tone-deaf writer can suffer for them. Of course, it helps to read massively and currently in your target genres.

I have a perennial problem with names. Many of my characters go through name changes during their story’s evolution (Tel from ‘Bloodshadow’ has had five different names). Or they’re called by different names by different people or groups (Moro from ‘Moro’s Price, poor lad.)

Some characters will stubbornly keep their names, no matter what plotty bribes I throw their way.

I’ve got two naming problems right now, with two separate projects.

My editor felt uncertain about a 52nd Century character calling himself ‘Bill’, with a given name of William (which he hates, hence the nickname). Realistically, linguistic drift and culture changes should result in very different name structures.

But this is a smutty M/M space opera, not literary fiction with scholarly linguistic projection.

The character has good reason to go by a jaunty, unassuming nickname. So I left him as ‘Bill’.

I gave him an Eastern European version of ‘William’ that links back to part of his family’s heritage. He still hates it, because it makes him look even more like a rich mobster. And, like the rest of the book, it offers an indirect political comment on RL current events.

My second name problem is an honorific, a job title, a threat, and an insult…applied to one of the founding characters in my secondary-world high-fantasy Lonhra Sequence books. I’ve had this (mostly background) immortal character in his/her/their current form for over three decades. (What happens when you worldbuild as a hobby.)

That character’s given name changes often due to marriage and politics, but their title is a bedrock of Lonhran history.

Imagine my reactions when I read today about a new YA author using almost that same title in her fantasy book! After the initial jolt passed, I examined my problem logically.

I doubt she ‘stole’ it, even though my version has been trade-published since early 2012. The title is a combination of two common English language words. It’s likely many people have used it.

Could I use the Lonhra language version: Tilurak? It means the same thing. I like both, but the longer English version is more familiar and approachable for me.

If an agent or editor brings up the coincidence, I’ll have to explain and justify my reasons.

Until then, that character title stays.

The lesson for other writers? Names can be a battleground. Be prepared to fight for, alter, or jettison them as needed.

My Pitch Wars bio

So, apparently I’m doing this thing called Pitch Wars next week. I have my first chapter reasonably polished, hammered together something that might pass for a hook, cooked up an 800-word synopsis, and achieved a query that didn’t make my current CPs barf. I am exhausted but happy.

For people stalking my mms, there’s plenty on that buried in the rest of this blog. I’ll make it simple. It’s a big secondary-world high fantasy quest/romance novel about music, ancient bio-weapons, sentient amnesiac black holes, oppressed populations, incipient civil wars, and three people who really need to talk honestly to each other more often. Like I said, simple.

For people stalking me, I’m really rather boring. The most interesting thing about me right now is my hair, which is partly cobalt blue right now. And my terrible taste in socks.

I’ve been a commercial and fine artist for a couple of decades. Some of my areas of expertise chosen obsessions are silversmithing, beadwork, embroidery, acrylic painting, costuming, couture clothing, masks, book art sculptures, and digital art.

I’ve had art in some national exhibitions and fancy coffee-table art books. My book art pieces are represented by two incredible galleries, who sell my work to collectors around the world. I have art online at a few sites, both for display and for sale.

By day I write marketing and catalog copy for an international jewelry-making supply firm.

In my spare time, I write science fiction, fantasy, fanfiction, and original erotic romance. I’m apparently not supposed to let on how much I’ve written.

Some of it has even been published by royalty-paying publishers.

What do I want out of Pitch Wars? Nearly everyone wants an enthusiastic, skilled agent and maybe a very nice deal down the road. But my years in art have taught me that the outcomes and odds can be so improbable that you’d better be doing something you love. That you would do anyway. That you cannot not do. That the journey itself may be more important, and lead to even more amazing places than you ever dreamed.

So I’m hoping to connect with some more mentors who will become good friends, that maybe I can help as much as they could help me. Even if I don’t make it into the later rounds, just doing this has helped me clarify my goals.



Apparently this is how I write

I’m not as precise or as disciplined about creating character hinterlands as this article suggests, but it’s pretty close to my process.

Of course, this is only fashionable to admit if one becomes a success at it, I suspect. Otherwise, we are told ‘Don’t write so much backstory’, ‘You’ll never finish the actual story, will you?’, and ‘How long have you been writing this?’


Dear reader, I’m sorry my book was too short

(Because usually I have the opposite problem, clocking in SFF tomes of 130K to 160K, which must all be pruned.)

Anyway, I’m glad the reader liked the book. I was a little puzzled at first, when they mentioned, “The book is too short” And I fired off a generalized funny tweet about it.

I’ve seen this before, from readers who call short stories ‘novellas’ or ‘novels’. My inner accuracy wonk squirms a bit, because all of these forms have their limits. They are not interchangeable. Some topics are best served within Twitter’s 140-character-limit zing. Some in vast novels. Some works can never be fully encompassed, even in huge series. In the past, I’d fall back on a sanctimonious listing of SFWA or RWA story length guidelines. But I’ve realized that, while some readers may not know their genre that well, they also don’t care. They are there for the damn story.

So of course, over the day, I realized this reader is absolutely right. That book is too short. It was based on a short story and extended to a skimpy 16K very quickly. I’m well aware there’s more story here, so I’m writing it. I had only the excuse of rushed time and unfamiliarity with a new setting and characters, and that’s not enough of an excuse. After all, I’ve read precise and breathtaking novellas that explored everything they needed to about a story, in 15K to 30K.

Only my fear of a new story set me back. I’ll stop with that, and get on with writing absurdly deep and big whenever I can. Thank you for bringing me gently back to what’s important: the story.

Rejections happen. What do you do next?

In writing, art…really, in life, rejection happens. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our efforts don’t match with what the other side needs or wants.

How we address those rejections can have a vast impact on our future efforts, our risk-taking, and well-earned self esteem. Here are some tips I’ve learned in some 30-odd years of lobbing projects out into the wild blue yonder, and getting (mostly) rejections thrown back.

  1. It’s not personal. Unless the other party is a complete troll or a personal enemy, the rejection is about the project, not me. If they’re a troll, I ignore them. If they are an enemy, I’ll have had other reasons for engaging them, and they will have other reasons for responding. Mostly, impersonal rejections just mean the project wasn’t a good fit. That’s good! Why would I want to work with a business or a partner who wasn’t 100% supportive of the project? Or me?
  2. Learn from it. If the other party has been kind enough to include why they rejected something, maybe that will give clues to either fix or amplify the problem area. ‘Fix’ is a given, if it’s a real mistake. ‘Amplify’ only means that I struck a nerve with the other party, and it might actually be a selling feature to other people.
  3. Was I ready to advance on this project, to begin with? Like all creative people, I sometimes think I’m ahead of where I really am. Rejections and critique from qualified professionals and astute amateurs can give me a better baseline.
  4. Don’t dwell on details. Once I’ve logged in the outcome to a spreadsheet and learned what I can from Point 2, I forget about that particular rejection. No means No. Anything other than Yes is still No, no matter how much it’s dressed up in form-letter blandishments or personal advice.
  5. It happens to everyone. J.K. Rowling just shared on Twitter some of her rejection letters for the first Richard Galbraith book. ‘For inspiration, not revenge,’ she offers. In response, many other writers and artists shared some of their rejection stories.

I think the most important point about rejections: I cared enough to try, in the first place.

Continuing positive notes

1. Mission Foods now has Gluten Free tortillas that approach the taste and feel of wheat tortillas. This is important. I am from the Southwest, and I know one great secret truth of everyday cooking out here: no matter what the filling is, once it gets folded into a tortilla, it is a taco. To celebrate, I made SloppyJoe tacos last night.

2. I made a leap of faith last December and joined a story prompt swap with a bunch of online friends. Our stories were exchanged this week. The one I wrote turned out far better than I expected, and made its recipient very happy. The prompt I gave to someone else…oh my. She turned it into a masterpiece. You’ll be seeing it in a pro SFF market soon, I hope. And voting on it for next year’s Hugo, I expect. It’s a fun and gorgeous story, and I’m proud to have inspired it in a tiny way. I’m certainly going to do the story swap again next December.

3. Last month I sent out 21 queries on a novel. I’ve received 4 rejections so far. This is also a positive thing. It means the agents involved didn’t keep me waiting for six months to a year*, as I tried to outguess them: “Okay, if they don’t respond by such-and-such date, is that a ‘no’? Or should I wait?” Nope, a swift rejection is a good rejection. If they don’t love the story, they can’t help sell it. And a quick ‘No’ means I can move on all the faster with other plans (like making lists of great freelance editors, cover artists, and book designers).

*I’d never wait that long, anyway. My query policy is to count it as ‘No’ after four months, and move on.

4. I’m finally getting around to uploading jewelry onto my Crane Artifacts page at Handmade at Amazon. I’ve pulled the necklaces in question from the remaining boutiques who had them, so they’ll now be an exclusive to Amazon. And I’ve found some great new sources for high-quality pearls and gemstone beads, so I can make more.

Spring Mist 1 Nest Necklace 3-16

My ‘nest necklaces’ came out of a single proof-of-concept piece I made in 2000, after a friend challenged me to make her a stylish non-metallic necklace. I used semiprecious gemstone beads, waxed linen, and a gemstone disc for a toggle clasp. I couldn’t figure out how to terminate the end opposite the toggle, so I settled for continuing it in an extravagant tassel. When I held out the finished piece, cupped in one hand, my friend said, “It looks like a little bejeweled nest…”

Those necklaces went on to become strong sellers at several local galleries, before the economy tanked and the galleries faded. I think it’s time to bring them back. Even with Amazon’s listing and sales fees, it still comes out as less of a bite than the standard 40% to 50% gallery commission. So that means I can offer great jewelry at an even better price.

Happiness is…

…submitting an erotic romance short story to a new publisher, on a lark, and having it contracted as an expanded 12,000-word novella three days later. And having the characters suddenly wake up and start *talking* to me about actual plot elements beyond the bedroom.

…realizing that a ten-year-old painting has the perfect theme to fit an upcoming art show AND online entry in the show is free! And it’s in a lovely neighboring city, so delivering it would be a great excuse for a road trip. And if I time everything right, also a perfect excuse to visit a great little spec-fic convention in that same city.

…knowing that somewhere out there, an editor is reading the fantasy novel that has been kicking my ass for almost twenty years.

…having absolutely incredible friends.

…surviving to 50.

Paths to Publishing – Jennifer L. Carson

Path to publishing s

Today on the Snarkology blog:

Jennifer L. Carson started imagining worlds – and people to fill them – when she was six. An award-winning editor at her high school newspaper, she realized in college that fine arts arts degrees are generally not good ways to fund necessities like bacon.

But: “Editing made money.”

So she became a sought-after contract and freelance ‘rescue editor’ for some major Big Five imprints, taking on foundering projects and authors, and setting them right. She put aside her own writing for years. After starting an online writing group to help a younger friend, Jennifer took another look at her original writing:

“In teaching, I learned so much more than I ever suspected I would.  I began writing again, and to my surprise, better than ever.  The interceding years that I thought would make me rusty had not.  The countless rewrites bordering on ghost writing and lots of bull sessions to fix failed text had solidified in the back of my brain. I reaped a reward I never expected.”

She’s leaving professional editing this month, armed with new resolve and a shiny new manuscript.

We wish her good luck, and can’t wait to read her book.

It takes enormous courage to do what Jennifer has decided to do, but she’s well equipped to succeed. Luck is mostly just being responsive to opportunities around us. Jennifer made her luck, or at least catapulted her career far ahead of many other would-be authors, by having a strong, time-tested foundation in language.