We declared 2013 Carpe Annum—Seize the Year! It was our way of encouraging you as an artist/writer to find your own path, listen to your inner iconoclast, and to be set free to explore your true writer/reader/human self. We invited a handful of writers and other publishing industry folks on the blog throughout the year to talk about writing, not writing, publishing, not publishing, and everything that goes on in between.
We’re thrilled to have them all back today, visiting from all over North America. It’s a bit squishy in here (next time, we’re booking a larger space!), but no one minds. Let’s eavesdrop on the conversation:
Don Pape (Publisher): We have seen through digital a real devaluing of intellectual property. Once we would buy a project with a reasonable advance and sell it for $15 in the hopes of recouping your investment. Now that consumer is wanting that same property – nah they demand – at $2.99 or heavens, free!
Nicci Jordan Hubert (freelance editor) I suggest that although the medium may change, the relationship between authors and readers will never change. There is no “end of books.” Books will live forever, of course, whether they’re read on paper, an iPhone screen, futuristic computer-glasses, or perhaps some kind of cool osmosis process.
Bonnie Grove: With publishing changing daily, how does great fiction happen? How does the great stuff get out there into the hands of readers?
Don Pape (Publisher): Nothing changes – a Really Great story!! Whether it is historical, contemporary – a really great story well told, amazing fully developed characters. And please, not another “in the tradition of Left Behind” or “Gresham-like” – let’s be original please!!
Chris Fabry: I can have a great publishing plan, a brand people recognize, and all the “right” industry choices made, but if I don’t have a good story, I don’t have anything.
Julie Cantrell: Characters. For me…it’s all about the characters. And I do consider the setting a character.
Nicci Jordan Hubert: If you really want to be a successful writer, there are no short cuts. Okay, if you’re related to a celebrity, you’ll have an easier time getting published, but for the rest of you… There is only one path to becoming a good writer: Reading lots of good books. Studying the craft of writing. Practicing writing a lot. Self-editing ruthlessly. And seeking out honest feedback.
Bonnie Grove: Feedback. Okay writers, dish about feedback. There’s all kinds, the helpful feedback you can get while working on a novel (and unhelpful), and then there’s the painful feedback that comes after the book releases.
Tosca Lee: You know, I remember my first one-star review. My heart started thudding. I felt anxious, defensive, and mortified. But my anxiety has ebbed with time. A few months ago I saw a one-star review that said Demon was "written with the deftness and wit of an inebriated three year old." And I remember thinking, "Who would give alcohol to a three year-old??"
Arthur Slade: I was more concerned about reviews at the start of my career and would take them more personally. But now, with the advent of Amazon and Goodreads, I actually get a kick out of the bad reviews. Sometimes they can be quite creative (my favourite had a line that went something like “I had to drink a Coke while I was reading Dust in order to stay awake”). The only time I am frustrated by reviews is when they say something that is truly false about the book. Oh, plus my mom always says the books are good.
Bonnie Grove: How does a writer move past bad reviews/feedback? Especially in this day of Amazon and Goodreads. Everyone is a critic.
Chris Fabry: I no longer see my stories as for some mass audience out there. Each story is for an individual reader. And each story is for me.
Julie Cantrell: “Whatever you do, don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You’ll be lucky if you ever publish a greeting card.” – My 12th Grade English Teacher . It took me ten years to get her voice out of my head. I didn’t write a thing for an entire decade because I was foolish enough to believe what she said as truth.
Lesley Livingston: I was an actor for years before I was a writer. I’m so very used to criticism (good and bad) and rejection (yay auditions! Bleh.) that it all pretty much just rolls off my back by now. It’s not always easy and sometimes I read a review and mutter unkind things but the truth is, if you’re going to believe the good reviews, you’ve got to believe the bad ones, too. It’s just what you said—opinions. Once the book is out there, it’s no longer just yours. And everyone who reads it has the absolute right to there opinion of it. (No matter how wrong they are!! Ha!)
Chris Bohjalian: I don’t dare read the reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or BN.com. I used to. I wrote an essay once for the Washington Post about my old addiction to reading the way anonymous people would eviscerate my work. But now, in the interest of my mental health, I give the reviews as wide a berth as I can. They can really screw up a sunny day.
Tosca Lee: I think just realizing that readers’ responses are a reflection of where they’re at. It’s not about you. It’s about what resonates—or doesn’t—with them right now. For me, I know that any time I choose to get offended, I’m the one who suffers.
Bonnie Grove: What keeps you going on rough days? None of you have thrown in the towel, and you’ve all reached wonderful success as writers. Is it going according to plan?
Christa Allan: In the beginning of my writing life, my path reflected the opening of Genesis. It was without form and full of darkness. I doubt I knew a path existed or even cared. So delirious with joy over my first contract, I didn't think beyond it. Sort of like being more prepared for the wedding than the marriage, you know?
Chris Bohjalian: I was simply hoping to write a novel after (finally) selling a short story. I amassed 250 rejection slips before I sold a single word.
Arthur Slade: Long ago, a fellow writer said it’d take about ten years to get published. She was wrong. It took me twelve.
Ariel Lawhon: The only things that matter right now, today, are the words on the page in front of me. That’s what I can control. And I will never find joy in this profession—much less write another book—if I can’t enjoy the actual process of writing. So I have to touch the story every day. Even if it’s just a word or two. The only way to stay sane is to write.
Bonnie Grove: Share a bit about your writing process.
Chris Fabry: Writing was the path to freedom. If I could write through this devastation, if I could allow the pain I was going through to inform the story, my readers would connect with the character on an even deeper level. And I would find a measure of solace in the process.
Christa Allan: My process: Hooray! NYT Bestseller idea, write reams of brain urp on yellow legal pads, write three chapters, call my BFF and scream, "I don't have a novel, and why the hell did I ever believe I was a writer?"; go back to legal pads, write to the middle, make charts and graphs and index cards while consuming coffee, Coke Zero, chocolate, popcorn, Mike&Ikes ; write, stop and make more notes and consume any combination or all of the above foods, write...continue until "The End." I doubt that process has a name or that I'll be able to turn it into a writing book.
Bonnie Grove: Advice to writers?
Christa Allan: If I didn't pursue my dream, regret would pursue me.
Julie Cantrell: I’m begging you… write as if no one will ever read it. That’s the only way you’ll find your true, original voice and feel free enough to reach the level of honesty readers really crave.
Lesley Livingston: That’s the whole thing with carpe-ing. The act of seizing is a willful act. You pretty much just have to do it. Write. You can’t edit a blank page. You can’t revise an empty screen. The lion’s share of writing is re-writing. Get the words down. Then put them in the right order. For me, it comes down to writing every day. As much or as little as I can, but every day. If I’m away from the story for a day, it takes me twice as long to get my head back into the game.
Ariel Lawhon: Everything changed for me when I realized that if I wanted to have this job—and I did, I still DO—then I had to sit down and write a novel. I knew that if anything were to come of this dream it would spring from a finished novel and nothing else.
Arthur Slade: Don’t expect it all to happen overnight. It’s such a cliché, but write every day and always look for ways to improve your craft. Writing is like working out for a Triathlon. I’ve never done one, but they look hard and you have to train hard. Writing is the same. It takes training. And tea breaks.
Bonnie Grove: Thanks so much, everyone for sharing your wisdom with us this Carpe Annum year. Let’s all crowd in for a group picture! Mind Arthur Slade’s enormous feet.