Category Archives: writing

Writing Career Reboot

Determined to fulfill my dreams of being a published author, I realized I’d have to write full-time. Given my aversion to risk-taking that meant I would have to be financially independent, with a little help from Social Security. Toward that end, I developed a list of must-dos:

  • wait a few years until eligible for Social Security benefits, including Medicare
  • no big purchases I couldn’t justify and pay off quickly
  • pay off car loan early
  • pay off house mortgage early
  • save as much money as possible
  • depart from my job in an orderly fashion by giving plenty of notice, documenting job descriptions and procedures, organizing files and archives, and locating and training my replacement.

There were a few bumps along the way, but by March 2014 everything fell into place. In May, my replacement fortuitously transferred from a sister store and required very little time to train. I stuck around until early July to fill in for an office vacationer and to tie up some loose ends.

Through the end of 2014 my primary goal was to put my house and yard in order—cleaning, culling, organizing, and fixing things that had been ignored for a decade or more.

But I also began the reboot on my writing career. All I had to do was finish the second book (ultimately titled Connections) of my mystery series and maybe polish the first one along the way, then sell them both to a publisher. Piece of cake, right?

The first draft of Connections was completed in September of 2015. It would be another eleven months before reviewing, reworking, and revising were “completed.”

Nevertheless, from October 2015 through March 2016 I submitted numerous queries via email and made many pitches at writers’ conferences for both Mistaken Identity and Connections. Two regional publishers expressed interest and I signed a contract with one of them in April 2016 for the publication of Mistaken Identity. The publisher hoped the book would be in print by October 2017.

My experience working with an editor over the next several months was illuminating and beneficial. My editor’s suggestions gave me a new perspective. It turns out that the best advice writers are given is to engage a professional editor to objectively review your work and make suggestions.

Bad news first: Due to unforeseen circumstances with the publishing company work on Mistaken Identity stopped in January 2017. I did not become aware of the situation until May and did not realize until August that it was unlikely work would resume.

Good news: It’s easier to “re-reboot” one’s career when you’ve done it a few times. And so I have begun anew making pitches and submitting queries. And I am working on the third novel in the series.

There’s always hope!!

Publishing My Novel– The False Start

After the early years—discussed in a previous blog—which ended in 2002, my writing career lay dormant. I thought about writing, even spent a couple minutes working on novel ideas occasionally, but that was it. My day job dominated my life, at least in my mind.

In 2005, I read an article in the regional paper about local authors who had published books through on-line publishers. I did some research and decided to give Mistaken Identity another shot. I converted the old manuscript file to my new computer software and brushed it up a bit, then sent the sample via email to PublishAmerica.com. They soon requested the full manuscript and subsequently offered me a contract for publication. Their only request:  to change the title to Suspect because there was already a Mistaken Identity in their catalog. I agreed and signed the contract.

PublishAmerica.com was basically a print-on-demand publisher. I didn’t know what that meant, but the terms of the contract seemed okay—I didn’t have to buy any books or pay for publication, I would get a royalty, and they would send an announcement about publication to my list of up to 100 people. Sounded really easy.

Once the book was released, I bought some books at wholesale cost. I did a few book store and library events and sold quite a few (emphasis on few) books, including to some of my friends and relatives.

Unfortunately, my job took a turn and became more demanding in 2006 and I was unable to continue marketing the book myself. PublishAmerica.com had completed their end of the bargain, so they were no help. Of course, the reality is that most publishers can do only so much for a writer, especially a new one. The bulk of the marketing and sales work is on the author.

Although I tried unsuccessfully to activate my writing career in 2008 and 2011, the efforts were short-lived. I’ve read about many individuals who have been able to carry off a demanding “day job” and a successful writing career. Alas, I was not one of them.

I set my eyes ahead and began strategizing toward a goal of “retiring” to write fulltime. More about that challenge in a future blog.

Fulfilling a Dream

In 1989 I took a major step toward fulfilling a life-long dream. I sold my home, bought an RV, and quit a very good job in order to begin a career as a writer. I’ll admit at that time my motivation was not strictly about writing, although I did enjoy it and wanted to provide that joy to other readers.

In retrospect I realize I was really tired of the crazy bureaucracy of the Washington, D.C., area where I worked and lived. In other words, I experienced a “burnout.” And so, when my mother—and biggest fan—suggested we sell everything and go on the road so I could write, I scoffed, but soon began wondering, “Why not?” It took a year to accomplish the deed.

We traveled for about a year, during which I completed a book about the evils of working for a federal contractor. I call it my first cathartic novel. It lived in a big box on a garage shelf for a while, but it’s in my office closet now with other first attempts at becoming a published author.

Through some miracle, call it Divine Order, my mother and I took root in Branson, Missouri. The city was still small and sweet and unassuming. It wouldn’t become That Branson for a few more years.

I joined the Ozarks Writers League (OWL), a group of one hundred or so regional writers and writer-hopefuls. I was also lucky to find a small feedback group. The OWL quarterly meetings provided much information about the writing craft and business. But the five other people in my feedback group provided me incredible personal support and guidance regarding my work.

I wrote my next novel, taking a chapter a month to the feedback group. Some chapters returned for additional scrutiny. I didn’t keep a writing log between 1990 and 1994, but during that period I finished the second novel and sent the manuscript (paper copies!!!) to various agents and publishers.

I struggled through a nameless novel and a couple more false starts before beginning  “Byline” in June 1995. Because of a full-time job and other responsibilities, it took me—still with the feedback group—over two years to finish and polish Byline, which was renamed “Mistaken Identity” along the way.

The queries and submissions for Mistaken Identity proceeded slowly. Keep in mind, the internet as we know it now did not exist. Submissions were sent by the good old US mail in brown envelopes, first sample chapters then—if you were lucky—the entire manuscript. Agents took months to respond and most responses were form letters of rejection. Occasionally one would throw you a crumb—I love your characters, but . . .

I worked on other books with the feedback group through June 1998, when I became discouraged and quit the group. I spent some time revising Mistaken Identity for additional submissions and started sending it out again. A sequel—after several tries—did not progress beyond a thirteenth chapter.

In March of 1999, an agent called me at my day job requesting the entire manuscript. I sent it. He called again and wanted to represent me. After almost two years of trying queries by mail and personal pitches at writers’ conferences, I was elated. His explanation that a small “copy fee” would be required sounded reasonable to my desperate and naïve ears. Each month he sent a report about submissions and rejections and each month I sent the “copy fee.” In January 2002, I severed the relationship.

By then, I had given up on Mistaken Identity, the sequel, and writing itself. My mother passed away in 2000, so I lost my most ardent encourager. In 2001 and again in 2003 I was promoted at work and I rationalized that I didn’t have the time to write. My writing career would have to wait.

Writer’s Feedback Groups

Writing is a solitary endeavor often taking place in a workspace carved out in a bedroom, the den, or perhaps the basement (or attic) of the writer’s home. The more co-occupants in the residence, the smaller and more remote the area set aside for her creative sessions.

An author can spend hundreds of hours alone crafting each sentence, paragraph, and chapter, lost in a world inhabited by characters of her own imagination. Subsequent periods of editing and rewriting, including restructuring and major plot deviations, add to the total time the novelist, poet, journalist, or playwright spends to complete her masterpiece.

But all the time spent in solitude is not enough to achieve a truly polished product ready for publication. It is crucial for the author to receive impartial analysis of the work.

Such independent review can come from a friend or relative—an interesting and helpful, but not always effective, first step. A more expensive option is to engage the services of a professional editor. Between these two extremes is one of the most useful tools for any author, regardless of the stage of her writing career: the writer’s feedback group.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in my personal experience with feedback groups.

  1. Group “meetings” can be in-person, via email, in an online chat-room, through private website exchanges, or even via snail mail. Personally I think the group dynamic is more active and, therefore, more helpful when the meeting is a face-to-face encounter. This is not always practical or possible, but this century’s internet options are almost as good.
  2. Group members are typically “selected” by fate and opportunity. This is not a bad way to pick a group or a new member. The important thing is for all members to respect one another’s opinions and to agree on the format, such as that described in item 3.
  3. Group members should establish a time limit for each reviewed item. Author of work being reviewed should specify what and why work is being presented and, in particular, what assistance Author needs. Another member of the group—not the Author—should read aloud the piece being considered. Members should offer only positive comments, suggestions, and questions, keeping negative criticism to themselves (remember what Mom said—“If you can’t say …”). Reviewers should be brief and to the point to allow everyone to speak. Author should accept comments graciously, avoid rebuttals, and ask for clarification if a comment is unclear. Additional discussion should be taken offline from the group.
  4. Leaving the group is okay. A day may come when you are not getting everything you need from the group. Perhaps the membership dynamics have become uncomfortable for you or are no longer helpful. There are many reasons to leave and you will know when it’s time. Be courteous, give some notice, suggest a new member to replace you, and be on your way to your next writer’s feedback group.

Retirement: Things to Consider

Retirement used to mean an individual stopped working and spent the rest of their days bowling, golfing, traveling, and doing other fun things. Of course, life-spans have increased over the decades. Now a truly retired life-style requires personal financial resources beyond Social Security benefits, such as savings, pensions, investments, or a rich relative.

For a fortunate few traditional retirement is still possible, but most individuals either work for someone else well-into their senior years or choose to switch to a self-employed career. If you do both, you are not retired.

When & Why to Retire

Writing full-time has always been a goal for me. When I was in my early 40s, I decided to make a clean break—quit a well-paying job, sell everything, go on the road, and write the great American novel. I actually deluded myself with this track for a year or two. But survival soon required a steady-paying job. During the next decade or so, I finished a couple novels (unpublished), started another, and dabbled in the art part-time. In other words, I compromised. And then

I was unexpectedly promoted when my boss left the company. More responsibilities, longer hours, and less energy at the end of the day moved my writing career back to my wish list.

As I neared the Federal Government’s standard for early retirement—62 years young—I began to think seriously about taking the plunge. Although tempting, for various reasons, I decided it would be another premature move for me.

For me to write full-time I needed financial security and I wasn’t there yet. I was committed to my “why” (writing) but wanted to select “when” in a logical fashion, thus, a “to do” list:

  1. Complete estate planning
  2. Develop long-term budget considering options such as down-sizing and relocating
  3. Pay off home mortgage and car loan & don’t incur new debt
  4. Research Medicare/Social Security and determine best time to apply for benefits
  5. Give boss plenty of notice (turned out to be 2-years)
  6. Leave job in positive manner—document job specifics, find and train replacement, and schedule departure at an appropriate time, in particular, not at end-of-year
  7. Say “Good bye”

Settling Into Retirement

My first activities following my departure included doing things I had put off for years:

  1. “Deep cleaning” each room in the house (waiting to do the garage months later)
  2. Completing repair/improvement projects in the house and yard
  3. Resuming old and starting new writing projects

Adjusting to the New Lifestyle

Whether you start a new career or just do fun stuff, there will be a transition period. Here’s a list of suggestions and things to remember:

  1. Complete house and yard chores ANY day of the week, not just Saturday or Sunday.
  2. Don’t try to accomplish major projects, e.g., a vegetable garden, in one session.
  3. Set up a budget based on new “salary.” In particular, avoid knee-jerk purchases. “I want” does not necessarily equal “I can afford” anymore. And, even if you have a nice savings and pension, your funds must be stretched through the rest of your life—hopefully many years.
  4. Go to bed when you want and get up when you awaken naturally. Use alarm clocks sparingly and only if necessary for special event.
  5. Exercise more and eat less and healthier.
  6. Volunteer in your community. A few hours per week can help the organization and be rewarding for you as well.
  7. Join a dance club, book club, bowling league, travel club, or other social group. There are people out there who can’t wait to meet you.

Writer’s Conferences: Ten Reasons to Attend

Hundreds of conferences for writers are held each year in the United States. If you aspire to a career in writing or simply want to expand your expertise in the field, you must consider attending.

Expending the funds—including conference fees and travel—to go to any conference must be weighed against what will be gained.

Here are ten potential benefits to evaluate, in no particular order.

  1. Learning new skills/techniques for writing
  2. Learning about publishing processes—traditional, small press, and self-publishing
  3. Selling your writing products
  4. Pitching your products to a publisher/editor/agent
  5. Speaking to other writers—sharing experiences, difficulties, successes, & questions
  6. Making professional contacts
  7. Participating as a speaker—discussing your products or writing/publishing experiences
  8. Entering your unpublished products in contests
  9. Taking a break from your normal life-activities
  10. Visiting cities/states away from your home

To Write or To Not-Write

Being a good writer requires many skills, creativity the chief among them. In addition, an appreciation for rules of grammar, spelling, plot development, and character development are extremely important. It is also good to have a few reference books—ones about writing, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases. Of course, today the World Wide Web—via Google and others—has replaced the need for a physical library. Personally, I like to touch the books.

Not-writing, on the other hand, requires only one ability—procrastination: the action of delaying or postponing something AKA stalling.

If you are a professional writer, you must be able to skillfully accompany procrastinating with a solid excuse. The fact that a piece is not written, edited, or outlined is not generally acceptable. There has to be a reason your publisher or editor—and even yourself—will understand, i.e., believe and forgive.

Here are a few suggestions with important caveats. Please note: overuse can be risky.

  1. Sick Pet—make sure you have a pet; long-term symptoms add credence; veterinarian receipts may be required
  2. Sick Friend—make sure you have a friend; long-term symptoms and an explanation why you are only friend who could assist may be required; pictures of friend in doctor’s waiting room are a bonus
  3. Sick Relative—make sure relative named is alive and living close enough for you to assist, although having to travel to the relative’s city is a bonus; distant relatives may require additional explanation
  4. Pet ate manuscript—make sure pet is large enough to do the deed (no fish); use only if desperate or speaking to gullible individual
  5. Computer problem—offer details and horror stories about losing files; invoices from computer technician may be required; be prepared to explain why you didn’t buy a new computer
  6. Yard work—make sure you have a yard; grass and/or weeds must exceed height limit for your neighborhood/city/county; planting a vegetable garden does not qualify
  7. House chores—provide a long list (cleaning, laundry, painting, etc.) with last completion date for each; back up with pictures of dust, grime, spider webs, dirty clothes, & dirty dishes
  8. Overtime at day-job—make sure you have a day-job; time card records may be required
  9. Hospital Admission—for yourself, magnitude of illness must be raised; include reason for not taking your laptop with you; hospital invoices may be required
  10. Day off for good behavior—works only (but not always) if speaking to yourself
  11. Creativity on fritz—clever, but amateurish
  12. Funeral of friend/relative—use only if true