Paying Sensitivity Beta Readers

There was a kerfuffle in the queer YA writer Twitterverse a short while back about some service that was offering a sensitivity beta reader service who was paying the actual readers some ridiculously low percentage of the fee they were proposing to charge the authors.  I’m glad that sensitivity beta readers are becoming more widely utilized, but this just illustrates that where there is a need, there are people who will want to profit off the backs of marginalized people.

When I hired a sensitivity beta reader for Surviving the Plague for feedback on my biracial character, I paid about $80, which was less than I thought the reader deserved but literally all I could afford at that time.  For Flight (when I get the revisions done… when I get the revisions started…) I have someone lined up for $200, which makes me feel a little better about myself as a human being.  Ideally, I’d have more than one, but since I’m not making money at writing yet I just can’t afford to.

I know a lot of us who aren’t actually making money at this yet don’t really feel like we can afford sinking ANY money into people to read for us.  But from the other side, a lot of us who are trying to write for a living are trying to pull in money in whatever way we can.  And when you’re looking for someone to give you honest feedback based on their lived experiences, to point out your bias, when they do not know you, not only paying them to educate you, you’re paying for their bravery while doing so.  It’s a tiny bonus that you’re supporting other marginalized writers trying to make a living.

So if you are looking for a sensitivity beta reader, I’d strongly encourage not cheaping out on this.  Pay someone directly.  A lot of writers have blogs where they advertise additional services.  Or at the very least, go through a reputable connections site.  Justina Ireland over at Write In The Margins has a sensitivity reader database that is legitimate.

When I Start Feeling Too Old For This

At 31, I often catch myself wondering if I’m too old for this.  Especially when my queer YA Twitter feed is filled with talented younger people like Camryn Garrett, people about my age who have already ‘made it’ like Chelsea M. Cameron, and on and on and on.

A lot of times when I start feeling down about writing and about the fact that I decided I could actually Do This Thing relatively late compared to other people starting their careers, the well-meaning descend with the platitudes: so and so got so many rejects, a lot of people didn’t start writing until their 50s, etc.  I’m lucky to have so many friends who want to cheer me up.  I know that what they’re saying is supposed to make me feel better about myself, but they really don’t.  By and large, they’re things I already know.  And my mind doesn’t work well with generalities.

I was reading a recent article that was no doubt linked to me on Twitter about the ages of various debut authors.  If I could find it again I would link it here for reference, but I can’t, so alas–it’s something that comes up fairly frequently, so I’m sure a Google search could find you a wide variety of similar articles. But seeing the actual debut ages of authors that inspire me made me feel a lot better about myself.  My brain loves specifics.  Long story short, I’m re-convinced that I’m not too old for this.

Why Go To A Writers Retreat?

As I mentioned in my last progress update post, I applied for the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat last weekend.  The application fee by itself was $25, but room and board for the week are $800 each, and I would also have to fly out to LA and physically get to the retreat.  There’s no guarantee that I will be accepted.  But even if I am accepted, why would I shell out upwards of $2,000 in room, board, and traveling costs to do some writing?

This was definitely a question I asked myself as I was filing out my application, while I was looking at needs-based scholarships that I’m sure I wouldn’t qualify for, and applying for an Editor of the Anthology Scholarship/position that I’m not sure I’ll receive.  So it’s very possible that I will end up being accepted and pay out of pocket to attend.  So why.

In the first place, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to get together with people who are specifically writing what I am writing (YA with queer characters).  I get a lot of writing energy from networking online with other queer writers, and I get a lot of writing energy from networking with other writers generally in person, so I imagine the energy from meeting queer writers in person will be immense.  In the second place, I saw that the mentor for the YA group was Malinda Lo several months ago when I began considering the retreat.  That is really what tipped me over the edge.  In the third place, the organization is Lambda Literary, instead of a for-profit writing retreat.  Not that I think that for-profit writing retreats are bad, writers gotta pay their bills, but the purpose of the organization definitely played a part in deciding to apply.

In the fourth place, think of how much work I can get done while having all that fun!

So in the end, I talked myself into doing it.  This is probably not something that would become a regular thing for me, if only because I couldn’t afford it to.  But I think something this targeted, with a good organization, is something I can save up and make an exception for.

Query Hell

A robot devil with a top-hat and a pitchfork standing over Bender from Futurama, while Bender holds his hands to his forehead and looks distressed.
I may currently have the robot hell song from Futurama stuck in my head.

It’s January.  I’ve finished a new manuscript, which means it’s time to query on my old one.  Why does it mean that?  Because I’m full of the finished-novel high and it’s a time of boundless motivation and energy.  So I’m putting the to good use to conquer something I dread.

I hate querying.  I hate trying to sell my work, and myself, to people who don’t know me.  I don’t like random contacts and I feel like everything about these interactions is judged, even though I know that in reality there’s probably just some tired agent on the other end shrugging and sending a form rejection.  I invariably screw something up (like the first query, in which I typoed my word count at 77,000 when it’s really 70,000, whoopsie) and it gives me something to beat myself up about for the rest of the day.

But I keep doing it, because I haven’t given up on traditional publishing yet, and if I’m doing traditional publishing, I want a professional to help me sell my work.  I think this is the lawyer in me.  Sure, you CAN represent yourself in court, but you really really REALLY should have a professional do it.  They know all the sticky little rules and procedural stuff.

So here I am, assembling my list and paring it down and sending out my queries to the professional representers in the writing field.

When I hear of authors querying hundreds of agents, it boggles my mind.  This year, my list of agents I’m looking at for Surviving the Plague is… eight.  Eight whole agents in the entire world who I feel like would be a good fit for this manuscript based on their stated interests and the story I’m trying to sell.  Eight letters before I shrug, set aside Surviving the Plague for another year, and wait for the rejections (or hopefully maybe the lucky R&R but I’m not holding my breath but man that would be nice) to roll in.

I have prepared my querying materials, the basic body of the cover letter, the synopsis, the sample chapters, anything they might ask for, long in advance.  Long enough in advance to revise those just like I have revised the story itself, trying to polish until they shine.  So really, Query Hell is just three days of research and querying, while I’m at my highest of novel highs, and then it’s over.

I can do this.

Belated ‘Monday’ Post on Self-Publishing Short Stories

As well as being utterly down and out from the flu while having to work my day job from home because Things Are Due And I’m The Only One Who Can Do Them, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about writing.

I have a lot of short stories in my stable, and a lot more that I want to write.  But the time and energy I put into shopping them around to an ever-decreasing supply of professionally paying magazines is really not paying off.  Even doing a simple numbers crunch, if I sold one of my stories at a market rate (rather than accepting the below-market rate that many ‘but you get exposure and you’re published!’ places offer), I’d be making less than a dollar an hour in most cases.

I honestly think I could do better self-publishing these stories on something like a Patreon.  Because I love writing short stories, and I have so many other short story ideas floating around in my head, but the amount of energy I put into marketing them is not only not worth the payoff, but it detracts from the amount of energy I have to market my novels.  Which, honestly, that energy is at a premium right now.

If I did that, would I only publish short stories on it, or would I move my blog over there as a ‘perk’ of supporting me in my writing?  And what about my idea to pass a part of the proceeds on to other deserving artists?  These are all things I’d have to think about before doing an official Patreon launch.

But the seed has been planted.  And I think I might water it and see what it grows into.

Brainstorming Through Writers’ Block

Once I’ve figured out whether I’m suffering from writers’ block or depression, if the answer is writers’ block, the only way is forward. But that’s like saying that to solve a maze, you just have to solve the maze. It’s not a strategy.

The strategy that I use is a mix of fixing writers’ block advice that I’ve picked up from various places on the Internet.

First, I have to identify the problem. Am I arguing with what the characters want to do? If so, I should just let them do what they want and revise my outline. Am I frustrated with the way the last scene came out and where it put the characters? Then maybe I should write that scene again, from a different perspective or allowing the characters to go in a new direction.

But by far the most difficult for me is when I likeep where the characters are, and I like the ending I have in mind, but I just don’t know how to connect the dots. Usually this happens when I’ve diverged from the outline (which is very common for me) but I haven’t made a new outline and I still like the ending.

Clearly the solution is to update the outline. But how?

Again, I have to identify the problem. But this time, it’s the characters’ problem. I list out what could go wrong for each character based on everything I’ve already written.

Usually it’s best if multiple things go wrong. One of my weaknesses is that my first drafts are too linear. It’s a lot more dynamic and engaging to have the characters working through multiple problems and having to deal with wrenches as they are thrown in.

Hopefully, the end result is that I can merge their problems into an outline that gets them to the end. Fixing the block is an arduous process, but it’s worth it in the end when I can start writing again.

Writers’ Block or Depression?

As a writer who suffers from motivation-affecting mental illnesses that can be exacerbated by stress, it’s important for me to be able to identify the reason why I’m staring at a blank page and feeling like I can’t write. Writing is stressful. My day job is stressful. Living in this country as a queer person is stressful. So it’s possible that my “writers’ block” is early stage depression.

But sometimes writer’s block is just writer’s block. How can I tell the difference? And why do I need to know?

As for how, it usually boils down to how my chest and stomach feel (heavy and acid respectively usually signals depression), and whether the time spent staring at the page leads to distractability (writer’s block) or negative self-talk (depression).

If I’m actually crying, chances are that the answer is depression.

Being able to tell the difference is important because my strategies for adjusting my writing life to accommodate my issues are vastly different. The only way through writer’s block is to power through it. I have to shut off the devices and just sit there until my only choice is to write my way out.  I need to sit down and make myself write no matter how hard it is. But trying and failing to power through when the underlying issue is depression just leads to, you guessed it, deepening depression. I need to walk away and engage in some self-care and when I’m feeling better, the motivation will come back.

And there you have it: the effects of depression and writer’s block are the same, but being able to tell the difference can save tons of time and emotional pain.

Rejections Suck, But You Can Help

Rejections suck. They really, really suck. You would think that after you rejections have long-since stopped climbing into the double-digits that they would suck less, and you would think wrong.

But there are some things that make them suck less. So if you see me post on social media about a recent rejection that stung, or talk to me about it in a coffee shop, I have provided this handy guide to what helps when engaging me about rejections.

Things that help:

  • a good hug or cuddle
  • having my feelings that it sucks be acknowledged
  • probably just letting me playing video games for a day or two, including letting me out of social engagements guilt-free
  • being told that my writing is good, especially how I nailed [aspect]
  • being asked if there’s anything they can do to help (there isn’t, but the sentiment is really sweet)

Things that I find less-than-helpful:

  • being told that all writers get rejections (I know)
  • being told that [famous writer here] got lots of rejections (I Know)
  • being told that I just need to keep at it (I KNOW)

Thanks, all! With your unstanding and support I’ll be better able to just keep at it until I have as many rejections as [famous author] because all writers get rejections.

Surviving and Thriving During NaNoWriMo, Part 5

This is the fifth and final post in a series of posts based on a talk I This is the second in a series of posts (you can find  based on a Surviving NaNoWriMo talk I gave to the Capital City Writers Association.  You can find the first post here, the second post here, the third post here, and the fourth post here.

In Closing: Good Luck, Have Fun!

Repeat after me: in the end, it doesn’t matter whether you win NaNoWriMo.  You have written words.  If you haven’t finished your novel, you will hopefully continue to write words into December and January and onward until the book is finished.

But by putting words on the page during NaNoWriMo, you have taken the first steps toward having a finished manuscript.  It won’t be perfect at the end of the month.  It probably won’t be perfect even after a couple of passes of revision.  But you can’t start the revisions process without something to revise, and you have officially started down that road.  Go you!

This is also the part where I remind you all about why you are doing this.  For some bizarre reason, you have decided that engaging with the voices in your head is fun.  You are already a weird, strange creature who is compelled to spend hours sitting by yourself, essentially talking to yourself.  You do this because you love writing.

Don’t forget that you love writing, or you wouldn’t be here, doing this crazy thing.

Treat yourself.  Good luck.  And have fun!

Surviving and Thriving During NaNoWriMo, Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts based on a talk I This is the second in a series of posts (you can find  based on a Surviving NaNoWriMo talk I gave to the Capital City Writers Association.  You can find the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here.

OMG I’m Stuck, What Now?!?!

No matter how experienced or amazing you are at writing in general or NaNoWriMo in specific, there will come a point during the month where you will find yourself stuck.  Either your characters have backed themselves into a hole or they have deviated from your outline to the point where you have no idea how to get back on track.

The temptation will be to turn on your devices and distract yourself from how hard writing is.  Do not give into that temptation.  DO NOT TURN ON YOUR DEVICES.  The answer to getting unstuck does not lie on the internet, it lies within you!

This is the time to remind yourself that your characters drive the plot, not the other way around.  Most of the time I get stuck, it’s because I’m trying to force my characters to do things that they do not want to do.  Now is not the time to argue with your characters.  Now is when you want to get words on the page.

The best way to do that is to put yourself in your character’s head and start describing.  What are they seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and physically feeling?  What is their thought process?  What are their emotional feelings?  How does the environment reflect their thought process?  What are they thinking about doing and why?  If you transfer the problem to the character, you might be surprised at the ways THEY think of to get you out of your writing hole problem.

If that doesn’t work, now might be the time to try a word prompt, insert a random plot element, or play a simplified game of “yes but, no and.”

By way of an oversimplified example: your goal is for your character to leave home, but they are so content at home that they are just not leaving.  “Yes they are content at home, but now their home has burned down.”  … what are they going to do about it?  “No, they aren’t going to leave home, and they are going to discover that there is a ghost in the home.” … how is that going to affect them?

Some people recommend just writing down words about how stuck you are and how frustrated you are with writing.  I do not recommend that.  In my experience, that will only get you more into your head about how stuck you are, and while venting might make you feel good, it won’t extricate you from the situation.  That is why I recommend leaning on your characters.  Trust them to find a way out of their situation.