Every showgirl knows

“Every woman knows that prim is proper/but every showgirl knows that prim will stop her!”

Today’s wisdom comes by way of Mel Brooks in The Producers musical.

I realized, as I was trying to analyze why I haven’t managed to better promote my own work, that I have been hamstrung by the very idea of self-promotion. (I can preach it, but if I don’t practice it, then I’m just  hypocrite, so it behooves me to figure out why I don’t.)

I did one of the readings for my First Communion. (Let’s all hop in the way-back machine so I can take you to a time and place where I was a practicing Catholic. I’m still somewhat bitter about not being able to be a priest. Il Papa, please get on that before they assassinate you.) The reading was about praying and not listening to those who pray in public on the street corner. Aw, Hell, I better find the actual chapter and verse. Matthew 6:5.

And as I have just gone to look that up, I realize that while I remember the “don’t trust televangelists” was the thrust of the memory. I also internalized Matthew 6.1. “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” This is why you’ll rarely see me talk about my charitable works. (This doesn’t include those people whom I have strong-armed into helping me.) Or the fact that our company is partnering in charitable works. Ten percent of the royalties for my book Cherry Blossom Express go to the National Historical Trust. (For work supporting the preservation of data on the Japanese Internment.) I have not trumpeted that fact and I really should.

I should belt it. Help me, help the Trust, and it’s all good right? And yet, my entire self cringes at the idea of telling people about it.

Just the way it cringes about screaming about my book from the rooftops. My friends books? Oh, Hell yes, I can promote those until the cows come home. From These Ashes by Tamela Ritter. Undiscovered Country by JM Beal. (One link to B&N. One to the Evil Overlords Amazon. Just to be fairish.)

My own work? I would rather spit out my own teeth.

So, my biggest step? I asked a blogger to review a copy. (Disclosure: JM threatened to do it *for* me, which was worse.)

That was the first one, but it cannot be the last.

Time to pull off the top and work the tassels while I belt out my song.

Tasteful self-promotion here we come.

*gulp* Please throw money not tomatoes.

 

The only thing to fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – FDR

True enough, since fear is the basis for almost everything we do. Fear reactions.

This post is going to be a little meta, but hopefully not too rant-filled.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to the Dark Side.” – Yoda

Master Yoda is getting closer to the heart of the matter. I have a background in psychology. This gem of Jedi wisdom is very close to some of the things I used to talk about with the women in the group therapy for whom I was the assistant leader.. (We also discussed the biology and psychology of addiction, but that’s a different post.)

Humans, when they are scared — for whatever reason –, produce adrenaline. This is what increases your pulse, widens your eyes, speeds your breathing, and sharpens your processing of everything around you. Your body sends blood to the muscles that need it most. You are ready to run or fight. This is the basic physical response to anxiety.  It is not something conscious.

What is conscious, is our reaction to this stimulation. Our fear receptors are activated. Our conscious mind analyzes the environment and decides that we are clear to stand down because it was just a popping balloon. We might even laugh it off or smile at the over-reaction. Or it decides that we need to run — RIGHT FRACKING NOW — because that was a gun-shot and we need to be under cover. Or it decides that we need to run straight at that knife-wielding idiot because he is threatening our child and we’ll be damned if we’re not going to take him down now while he’s startled at our violent response. This decision is in a fraction of an instant for most people. (Though many people state that the perception of time slows down in these high-stress situations.)

But what happens when the fear is not something we can physically see or react to? What if the fear is being drummed up by a media story, or a random firing of our own brain? What if it’s a low-grade fear that we’re going to lose the one thing most precious to us? What then?

This is also the gnawing fear of self-doubt. The crippling sense that we’re not good enough. That what we’ve produced is not good enough.

What happens then? Then, the fear turns into poison. It nibbles at the back of your brain in a little voice. And that little irritation is a constantly running zip of adrenaline. We don’t even notice it anymore, until our body, which is primed for action, says we need to act. But our conscious brain looks around and says, well, there’s nothing happening right now. But George just left my cube after talking about the project. I must be upset.

But we don’t interpret it as fear. We’re not afraid of George after all. Maybe we’re afraid he’ll go to the boss, or he’ll railroad the project into the ground. So we defend ourselves mentally. We’re angry. We’re angry that George is going to scuttle all of our hard work. God damn that man. He is always getting in the frelling way. He never listens to anything.

I HATE THAT MoFo.

Or not. Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m scared from something else. I’m scared that I’ve screwed up everything and now everyone’s going to know. I always frack up things. I’m a piece of trash and I know it. I HATE MYSELF.

Every time we hear a report about bad things happening in our area, we get scared. We attend to media — in all of its forms — because that media helps us protect ourselves. So what happens when the message we get from that media is that extremists (who are scared of difference) are fighting? We internalize the fear that those extremists who hate what we love are going to come for us. We hype up the need to fight against them. We HATE them because they are going to come after us for what we believe. And we are right!

But what if we aren’t? A little voice whispering, tremulous, in the back of our minds asks us, “what if they’re right and we’re wrong?” And we build up that little fear until it’s hidden under righteous anger. We’re right — they’re wrong!

And we build our barricade of FEAR.

There is a way to decrease that fear through creative media. We can confront the fear in horror movie. We can purposefully scare ourselves on a roller coaster. We can write a play about warring factions coming together at a wedding. We can write a novel about two dying teenagers. Or we can dive into those stories as a viewer, a reader, an intrepid explorer of emotional depths.

We cry. We scream. We jump. We fall in love.

And the fear fades.

Catharsis.

 

Crossposted on BitterSuites.

Deja Vu is Totally Coincidental.

Jules Week: Part 2 is in danger of becoming List Day. I promise next time I’ll find something else, but for today I’m going to leave you…

The Top 5 Ways to Claw Your Way Out of the Slush Pile.

1) Be Interesting.

ehehe. Yeah. You’re allowed to throw tomatoes at me for that one. Because you’re not already trying, right?

And I get that because obviously I’ve been there too. And I know like every writing book in existence is all ‘no no no don’t try to be cute they see so much of this stuff they won’t appreciate it’ and that’s absolutely true. I don’t want the equivalent of pink scented paper, or your submission taped to a fruit basket full of specially crafted, kissed by a monk, shipped on a winged angel pears. Don’t try too hard.

The best way to make me interested in your book is tell me the thing you like the most about it. Tell me what drew you to the story, why you love it, why it’s special to you. Much as I sometimes wish we had a robot to read the slush, we do not. I (and everyone else reading it) am a human being and sometimes I even like other human beings. Be one, and you stand a better chance of getting my attention.

2) Read the Tin.

I cannot stress this enough. No matter how good your book is, if you can’t follow simple submission directions I can almost promise you’re not going to follow editorial directions and aint nobody got time for that. I can also promise I probably wont even read it. Like more than a page.

Because sometimes an hour into the slush I’m petty and vindictive and it’s probably not fair, but you are forewarned.

3) Don’t be a Jerk.

I shouldn’t have to say that, right? That should be obvious. Asking someone to consider your work by being superior and (insert any number of inappropriate words I thought of but am not going to write in a professional setting) is almost guaranteed not to get you any traction. I know everyone knows like one story where so and so in Hollywood walked up to Famous Person A and brashed their way into a movie deal.

I am not Famous Person A, and all you will brash your way into is the curtest rejection I can muster.

4) Do Your Research.

Still–still–we see submissions targeted at utterly the wrong place, written for the wrong market, scatter shot at our inbox. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again. If you want out of the slush pile with good results then pay attention to where you’re going in at.

5) Know Your Craft.

Absolutely nothing is as disheartening as getting to the end–or the middle–of something I really liked, and having it go to pot. Now with books there’s more leeway with this. If I make it halfway through your book and it goes horrible and I’m disheartened then I liked it enough to care, at some point there, and we’ll probably talk about it.

Short stories and poems aren’t supposed to really get an editorial process. And sometimes with us they do, because emerging markets and all that, but the point still remains. Find someone who writes the things you want to write, and make sure all their story bits (beginning, middle, end, twist–if you can manage it without making me hate you) wind up in your story.

Of Pricing Models and Other Imaginary Things

Last weekend Golden Fleece Press put out it’s first children’s book. And I’m not actually going to pitch The Case of the Armadillo on here (more than that link I just snuck in) because I feel like that’s not really the point of this blog.

But filling out all those little boxes, when you throw a book into the world, about what it costs and where it’s going to distribute and all of that always makes me think of monkeys at typewriters.

A quick tour of the e-book market on Amazon, or anywhere else, especially the children’s side of it, is like wondering into an LCD-inspired cartoon from the seventies. You know if you try hard enough it’ll make some kind of sense, but right now it just looks like colors.

I have opinions about pricing in children’s books, even more than just because I write them. Because arguably even more than with regular books I pay attention to children’s books because I have childish thing I am responsible for and I very much would like him to use his e-reader for actually reading once in a while.

This weird straddling position where I understand what I’d like the world to be as a consumer but also what I’d like it to be as a producer happens to me a lot. So I get that a lot of books, particularly children’s picture books are a little difficult to manage, in the e-book thing. Screen scaling and file formatting and all that. Got it.

But I promise you, when a consumer looks at a listing for an e-book that costs $11 and a paperback that costs $8 it’s not making a lot of sense. And also, I’d argue that the big guys should have the tools in place to not need to fight with file formatting, or use heuristic processing, etc. So why do we price things the way we do?

Some of it is an attempt at consistency. Because distribution channels often have minimums they’ll allow you to set as the price (and you happily go with those, because it means you make more than pocket change off each book). Actually, scratch that. A lot of it is consistency. And then a little of ‘well, I think the market is somewhere around here’ and the rest is ‘I’d pay that.’

Which, I grant you, doesn’t sound all that professional on the surface. Except I believe to the very blackest depths of my cynical soul that’s how ‘marketing professionals’ do it too. They just have bigger words for it and a lot of extra numbers.

This happened this weekend too.

Follow Your Own Rules… in Worldbuilding

This could be considered a writing post, but I like to think it’s a little more universal. You could, for example, use it while creating a D&D scenario for your adventurers, or making a film, or building a video game.

I’m talking about worldbuilding. In particular, I’m talking about building worlds where you’ve set the rules. (This is different from Chekhov’s Gun. I’m not talking about foreshadowing.)

When we create worlds, we make decisions. For better or for worse, we have to live with those decisions. If the naming convention for your elves requires that that all have a glottal stop in the middle — ie: Tel’iv —  then you cannot name one of your elves Bob. B’ob, yes, but not Bob. (I warn you right now, keep that in mind. By the time you’ve finished typing out the forty-seventh elf name with an apostrophe it’s safe to say that you’ll be willing to throw the next elf against the wall and inform him that hence-forth in the land of men, he shall be known as Bubba.)

This is where the rules for magic come into play. If you have created a ritual magic system, even the most basic spell needs a ritual. (“St. Ant’ny, St. Ant’ny, come around, something’s lost the must be found.”) You might say that all magic rituals in your world require a poppet. That means that your magician needs to carry around a bundle of poppets in her bag. Compare this to the wand-based magic in the Harry Potter stories where a single form and word can create a spell. Let’s do one more — Harry Dresden uses potions that sometimes involve the smells — like home-baked cookies — or sunlight, which means that Dresden (let’s not get confused) can capture sunlight and store it. Potter uses plants and animal products, but not intangibles. Different magic types, mean different potions.

If you work in the science fiction realm, and your create a species, then members of that species need to follow the rules you’ve laid out. If you have a Betazoid, s/he will be an empath. Even a half-Betazoid, will have some empathic traits. It’s a dominant gene. If you have a Klingon, s/he will be adverse to Tribbles.

On the other hand, you may create societal rules for a species, those may be broken — as Terry Pratchett has with his dwarves. It is a given in dwarf culture that any female who wishes to work, will present as male to the world. However, when a female dwarf decides that she wants lipstick and a dress, she can modify that societal rule. (There are always consequences good and ill to subverting a societal rule. Remember that too.)

When you don’t follow the rules you’ve laid out, that’s where you get into trouble. This is the ranty part of this topic, where the idea all began.

Example: In the first few episodes of Voyager, it was stated that Kes’ species only lived for seven years and that she was three. Her boyfriend (a different alien species) knew he’d outlive her, but was willing to make it work.

First thoughts: Wow! That’s brave. Let’s show how aging can affect relationships. Let’s show how the compressed life expectancy changes cultural pressures for breeding. How will the crew deal with her inevitable death.

Reality: The writers changed the rules and said that suddenly, because she was in space, she wasn’t going to die.

My reaction: RAGE. RAGE. WTF! Don’t be cowards.

Also, if you decide that magic has a certain cost — calories, mana, premature aging — stick with it. Jim Hines’ Snow White ages prematurely every time she performs high-level magic. She makes the choice to make that sacrifice for her magic. If your magician can’t wear clothing that contains polyester because magic makes it melt? Give me a scene where he bitches about men’s fashion and the cost of pure cotton flannel shirts.

So, in summary, make a rule. Stick with it. And make sure you know the rules going in or else you’ll never make it out alive.

A list! My Kingdom for a List!

As per normal, when I’m scrambling a bit for what to offer you here, I’m going to craft you a lovingly, adroitly thought out, five point list.

You’re welcome.

Today’s List? Five Things I Wish to Never Be Asked Again.

1) But how much does it cost to publish with you?
Sigh. I need one of those little conductor stick things, so you can all follow the beat with me. Are you ready? Alright. Say it with me. A legitimate publisher will never ask me for money. Now. If we follow that to it’s logical conclusion, what does that say of any publisher that asks you for money? I am greatly saddened by how often I get this question. Someone in your baby writer life has done you very ill, my friend.

2) Why can’t I just self-publish, it’s the same.
Totally. If by the same you mean that you’re going to pay someone with some kind of quantifiable experience to edit your book at least once (probably more like six times) and then wrestle with the formatting until it looks right, and then try to promote you so it’s not just you in that empty room that is the internet trying to convince people to read your book. Totes the same.

There’s an addendum to this one. I do, actually, think in all kinds of places self-pub is a logical, legitimate business and publishing decision. There’s a growing trend, among all kinds of authors for Hybrid Careers, where you do your own stuff and you work with publishers, and you offer things for free on your blog and some pretty hefty people in the blogosphere think that’s the best way to go about it now, and they’re probably right.

But please don’t waste a publisher’s–any publisher’s–time if you’re going to give them this attitude.

3) Can you make any money at that? I mean no one reads books anymore.
I just can’t with this one. I’m going to assume if you’re here you don’t need me to go into it.

4) But you only publish books from people you know, right?
This one is a bit of a tricky question, because I don’t want to start slinging mud. There are a lot of small and independent publishers that only work with people they already know. And I have opinions about those, but I’m going to stuff them down in the dark recesses of my soul, where they belong.

It’s a safe assumption, as we have submission guidelines and things on the website, that we’re not posting those just for our friends.

5) Aren’t there enough publishers out there?
In the interests of honesty, I’ve only been asked this one about twice. Twice was enough. Both times I had to breathe really deep and not give them the answer I wanted to. I’ll write it here, just to give you a chuckle.

“Absolutely. Entirely too many. Like I was downtown the other day and did you know there are six churches in a seven block radius? Or seriously, the yellow pages has 47 law offices in just this town. And have you looked at all your TV channels? That’s just ridiculous, right? Who really needs a channel just for kids?”

Alright. There’s your five point list. The snark was part of my free service. You’re welcome.

And in this corner, your crippling guilt!

I’m going to start this post with a warning. It’s friendly, and mostly just so you know what to expect around here.

November and December are always going to be rocky months, here at The Art of Procrastination. They just are. Kate and I are both Nano participants, and we have families and lives that sometimes, for small bits of this slippery, strange thing we call time, they don’t involve a computer.

Case in point, I walked away from my computer on Dec 17th, to travel for the holidays, and didn’t get back to it until January 6th.

So, it’s early January, and it’s time to talk about goals. Ehehe.

Goal making in business, to me anyway, is like herding kittens. And not regular kittens, I’m talking the mixed breed spotty ones someone’s given caffeine and high-grade catnip. Because I can line up all the little markers for where I’d like them to go, and what I’d like them to be, but you can bet anything you like, as soon as I open that gate they’re going to just go where they want.

So, bearing the Spotty Kittens of Evil in mind, I’m going to give you a couple of big goals, so you can giggle at me as we watch them slalom by.

1) I’d like us to be in a position the very concept of our booth at AwesomeCon doesn’t make me break out in hives. And we totally can be. I even sort of cautiously, hopefully, think we will be. I still get just a little itchy thinking about it.

2) I’d like us to reach a point I don’t sit down at the beginning of every month and just utterly wreck the calendar. Because nothing’s going where I thought it was. This is mostly a me thing, and a lack of understanding what’s actually accomplish-able in a period of time (hint, it’s much less than I think it is).

3) All the normal business goals. Growing our brand, and increasing our market and blah blah blah. You know what all those are. They’re all over the place.

And I am happily open to suggestions about all of that, if you’ve got them.

ps– If you happen to write YA or NA, or anything ancillary, and you haven’t checked this out yet, you should.