Why Are We Here?

Look at that existential title! Look at it. Philosophy students, if you googled here in error, I am sorry to disappoint you. This isn’t that kind of blog post, but I will still give you your answer. Research is still yours to do, though.

Tacos.

We’re here for tacos. Yes, vegan philosophy major with the Che Guevara shirt, even vegan tacos count. Now, get that paper done.

I am talking about why we, or rather, why I am here at Stitched Smile Publications.

Before I really get into it, let me say that these thoughts are my own. No one else would want them anyway, but I am neither being coerced nor am I a sock puppet blogger of the publisher. While I am sure that if I went on a long pro-Nazi diatribe, they would step in and take this down (as they freaking should), they are pretty hands off on the blog posts contributed by their authors. I also point to these blogs from my own website taking ownership of my opinions.

So, why am I here? This question has been asked and oh-so-politely not asked several times recently. Usually, the curiosity comes down to dollar signs. Why would I submit my work to a small market that offers less than buckets and buckets of cash? Why would I use an indie publisher instead of self-publishing? These questions are (usually) not asked out of spite, but from genuine interest so that the other party can make an informed decision. Since they asked, there is a good chance others are curious, if not from me, then in general, so here we go.

First up, why would I submit to a market not giving me gold- plated royalty checks every week? There is a very vocal subset of the author community that believes that a publisher offering less than “pro-rates” shouldn’t be publishing. They also view any author submitting to these markets (a place that accepts and publishes your story) the same as a union views a scab. If you can’t sell at the pro-level, they feel you should either go back to school to get your MFA or attend high-level writing conferences to better your craft. Their mantra is “If you stop writing for them, they will pay more.”

What a lovely ideal. Let’s visit my reality.

Like the song says, “I got bills to pay. I got mouths to feed.” Going to college full or even part time isn’t in the cards for me. The money and time off from a day-job to visit some high profile conferences is out as well. So how to develop? There are writing books. These are often contradictory, and in reality tell you how the author developed, which may not work for you. Smaller token, semi-pro, and developmental markets have been my path to growing in this craft. I believe whole-heartedly that you should be compensated for your work, but- and this is where the “pro-rate only” crowd misses the boat- there is compensation besides money. Which segues nicely into the next question…

Why don’t I self-publish? Plenty of people do, and some make a decent living at it. This is not to disparage them. Go get that money if it works for you. Here’s what I get working with Stitched Smile Publications and their ilk:

  • Education – I can’t afford the time or money for big conferences or an MFA program, but by working with a developmental publisher, I have personal access to professional editors and writers to help me hone my craft.
  • Marketing – Many voices make louder noise. I figured that out when my third kid was born. A group of people working together to build something can garner more attention and promotion than me working alone. Plus, I learn tips and tricks that have been tested and work, and I get to see them in action.
  • Networking – Working together with others toward a common goal is not only fulfilling, it is one of the best ways to fill your social circle with supportive peers.
  • Education – Yeah, it’s here again. I can’t stress it enough, not just for writing, but for life. Keep learning. The best way to learn is from those who have something to teach. The greatest impact to date on my writing mechanics was by a college English professor working in her capacity as editor for a developmental publisher. Rather than paying for that one-on-one attention to my manuscript, I got paid to learn from her AND developed a professional and personal relationship that I value immensely.

Now, for my caveat boilerplate! Your mileage may vary. This is me. Every decision made as a writer is a balance of business and art that you alone are responsible for. Not me. Not the names on the spines of that stack of writing books I see sitting on your bookshelf. Just you. The most important rule of these “How to write…” resources is “Take what you need, leave the rest.”

Now, go get some tacos.

R. Judas Brown has appeared in several anthologies. Aside from his work with Stitched Smile Publications, he works with The Ed Greenwood Group and serves on the Board of Directors for the Quincy Writers Guild in Quincy, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @RJudasBrown, at www.facebook.com/RJudasBrown, or visit his website at www.rjudasbrown.com.

 

Being Professional

What makes a writer a professional? It’s not money, though I can see where you could think so. Deriving your entire income from writing may very well make you a self-sufficient writer, but I have seen writers who are self-sufficient without being one whit of a professional. Panel appearances aren’t the litmus. Not all panels are created equal. All that means is you got to sit at the front.

If you want to be a professional, you have to exhibit an air of professionalism. I know. Go figure, right?

Yet, many writers neglect this part of their development. I suspect it is because it doesn’t get written on the paper, no one cheers you for it on Twitter, and, in reality, it just creates more work for you in the long run by setting expectations. Still, it can be a rewarding part of your writing career.

Professionalism is how you handle yourself. As a writer, you are a business entity unto yourself. There are certain straightforward, responsibilities that are expected in a business arrangement. Delivering a product on time, delivering quality, being responsive to your customers (publishers and readers) are all good business practices. But, it doesn’t have to be quite that cut and dry.

While you are a business, you also get to be a person. Not the fake kind of person corporations are so they can buy senators, but a real person. That means you get to fudge those hard business lines a bit, but be careful how you fudge them. Using your personal agency to enhance a business deal is what puts your personal brand on your business deals, but that brand can speak good or ill, depending on your actions.

I recently had the pleasure to be included, through a competitive selection process, in a fantasy anthology. Somewhere between the selection process and the publishing, one of the authors decided that despite a full explanation of the terms of the anthology being available upfront, that she had a few problems with them. This is not a big deal.

Once again, you’re a business, also a person. People can ask questions, clarify, even change their minds. Granted, these would be better asked before hand, but the heat of the moment and all…

But…

The problem came from the manner in which it was addressed. Rather than keeping this discussion private with the publisher, she chose a forum that was open to the other contributors. She then proceeded to have a meltdown of fairly epic proportions. This included a pontificating speech right out of any number of writing manuals about the importance of creating her brand (her phrasing). She had obviously read but did not understand that material.

Whether she was right or wrong, the other contributors, several of which were themselves small press publishers, saw a conversation that should have been private devolve into allegations and not-quite-accusations. That was the impression they were able to form of that author right before she angrily quit the anthology to protect her image.

Now, she was young, and I truly hope that she is able to find a niche in this industry where she is comfortable and successful, but by sacrificing her professionalism, she didn’t ease her path.

For many of us, writing is a second job at best, possibly beer money. It is still a job, though. Give and expect the same respect you would want to see in your day job. It will make the business side of writing much more enjoyable for you and your customers. Who knows, maybe you can even turn a professional writer into a self-sufficient writer.

 

Deciding to Write

9a. When did you decide to be a writer?

I stared at the question on my screen. I don’t know that I have seen more than a handful of author interviews where this question was not asked, so it wasn’t a surprise to find it here. I skipped it, finished the blog interview form I was filling out and came back to it. According to my friends, I am prone to overthinking simple things.  No idea what they mean.

Most answers I’ve read go something like this:

I made my own books in junior high. I have written my own stories since I was three.  My mom played Mozart while I used my fetal typewriter to compose sonnets. 

I’m not saying I don’t buy it.  Hell, I envy the certitude if that’s the case.  I have said that I always wanted to be a writer.  I also wanted to be an astronaut and a marine biologist.  One of these things is not like the others. I had an equal understanding of what it would take to be any of the three (none), yet one is actually happening. As I stared at question 9a, I started thinking about why writing turned out different.

No, this is not a, “Write everyday-BANG!-you’re a writer.” post.  While semantically true, that isn’t what the question is asking either.  If it were, I suspect the question would be asked far less.  As much as that is good advice for output, what the reader really wants to know is when and how you developed the mindset that drives you to do what they want to do.

That takes more than wanting something. It takes full knowledge of the cost involved and a willingness to pay that price. You have to find a reason to want it when you shouldn’t.  Being a writer takes active, constant determination. I have heard it said, in the Norse religion you are gothi (priest/chieftain) when you can stand up, say you are, and no one, yourself included, laughs you out of the hall.  That fits.  Somewhere along the way, I said I was a writer, meant it, and didn’t feel the need to justify that statement.  I simply was.

So, when did that happen?

It happened when I wrote a story in high school that turned the stomach of my classmates but lit up the face of the teacher (Shout out Ms. Bashara). I knew I had made a world they believed in and reacted to viscerally.

It happened when I submitted my first story to a magazine, five or six years later, that promptly shuttered the windows, locked the doors, and never appeared again.  I always imagined the editor reading my story, setting it aside, and calmly saying, “Well, I am done with all this.” Right before purchasing gas cans and matches for the office.  I try not to take it personally.

It happened over a decade later when, spurred by the happiness of a friend living her dream, I sat down at a keyboard with the intent to write stories again, for myself, if no one else. She still says I place far too much credit on her for this.  I say when you are lost and stop to ask someone for directions (I’m a guy, I have this information only second hand) you thank them.

It happened with every rejection.

It happened with the first acceptance, the first edits, the first contract.

It is a decision you make every step of the way to append that title to your name.  Good or bad.  It starts silent, a secret just for you.  Eventually, it slips out, you try it on, and realize now it fits. Then you keep wearing it because now you are naked without it.  You put it on every day.

9a. When did you decide to be a writer?

Today.

R. Judas Brown has appeared in several anthologies, is working with The Ed Greenwood Group, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Quincy Writers Guild in Quincy, IL. You can follow him on Twitter @RJudasBrown, at www.facebook.com/RJudasBrown, or visit his website at www.rjudasbrown.com.

 

 

 

 

Why I Write, or Obligatory Author’s Post No. 1

 So, there it was.  I said it.  I laid out the foundation of every insecurity I have about myself, and now a room full of people sit, silently rolling it around in their heads.

Just another monthly meeting of the local writing group.

Of course, they weren’t actually thinking about my flaws.  Maybe a couple who are closer to me than most saw my personal investment, but for most it was an analytical exercise.  They were evaluating a character I created for an upcoming series. That’s what we do as writers. “Write what you know!” is a mantra oft repeated.

As a writer, you accept your pain, put it on a character, and send it out into the world for passers-by to gawk at.  They poke it and prod it, roll it around in the dirt a bit, then, if you are lucky they review it. They grade your pain. 5/5 would anguish with again. That is writing.

Now for the question every writer has to answer at some point, if only for themselves. Why do you do it?  Why write?

Catharsis.

When a certain wizard insisted on using the name of he-who-must-not-be-named, that was a statement.  When you refuse to confront something, it feeds on that fear.  It gains power over you.  So, to take back your power, you name it.  You face those feelings.  You say what you need to say.

You tell your dad you miss him.

You mourn the child that didn’t make it.

You find a way to do the things you wish you weren’t so afraid to do.

You tell her you love her, even though you can’t be together.

Writing gives you a space to work through all the baggage you carry around day in and day out.  That makes sense.  In fact, many hobbyists write for that very reason.  It is a safe little environment you create… until you send it into the world. Then it feels very not safe. Why share such personal baggage, then?

Because you are not alone.  Someone out there feels the same, but can’t get the words out.  More likely, a great many feel exactly that way.  As they read your story, they say “Goodbye.”, “I miss you.”, and “I love you.” You do it because you know what it is like to feel alone, and you want to let them know they’re not.

What’s the character’s motivation?  Why does he feel this way?  I talk about his fears.  His loss and hunger. Then, I see one person’s eyes unfocused, far away in thought. They get it.  They’ve been there.  For one moment, both of us are a little less alone.

That is why I write. If I can exorcise my demons while helping someone else get free of theirs for a bit, then throwing my anxieties, aches, and pains out there is worth it. Maybe it’s maudlin, but one personal connection can make all the difference.  I know.  I’ve been there. – R.