Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Surviving the Publishing Industry

Yeah, yeah, so it's been quiet around here again. Not only because I've been working on The Labyrinth of Flame, but because my husband and I are singing in two Colorado Music Festival performances of Ernest Bloch's Sacred Service at the end of this week.  If you've never heard Bloch's Sacred Service, it's not an easy piece to sing.  Some parts are hauntingly beautiful (like the a cappella Silent Devotion and Response). Other parts...as my husband muttered to me during one rehearsal, "Why don't we just bang tin cans together and wail random notes instead?"

But even though singing with the CMF this year requires a lot of practice time (we've got about a zillion rehearsals this week alone), which is hard for two busy parents like us to fit in - it's worth it, to spend time together doing something that's wholly unrelated to our day jobs, parenthood, or even our usual outdoor hobbies.  Or in my case, writing.  I've talked before about how it can be so, so tempting for an author with limited free time to try and spend every spare second working on their novel-in-progress - and why that's a truly terrible idea.

But it's hard not to feel guilty, you know?  You hear so much so-called wisdom about publishing.  You've got to put out a book a year, preferably more.  And don't forget the marketing - your books are sure to sink without a trace unless you get off your ass and plaster yourself all over the internet.  You see other authors seemingly following those guidelines to great success - putting out multiple books a year, guest-posting & schmoozing up a storm, their readership steadily climbing.

But if you're like me, struggling to balance writing with other responsibilities (day job, family, etc), you'll have to step back and ask yourself: how much of my life am I willing to let the publishing industry consume?

I read a great article yesterday by Harvard computer scientist Radhika Nagpal on how she avoided misery and burnout during her tenure-track years - an article that applies equally well to writers struggling to navigate the craziness of publishing (thanks to fellow author Kameron Hurley for tweeting about it).  I want to quote one part of the article that particularly struck me:

We (myself included) admire the obsessively dedicated. At work we hail the person for whom science and teaching is above all else, who forgets to eat and drink while working feverously on getting the right answer, who is always there to have dinner and discussion with eager undergrads. At home we admire the parent who sacrificed everything for the sake of a better life for their children, even at great personal expense. The best scientists. The best parents. Anything less is not giving it your best.
And then I had an even more depressing epiphany. That in such a world I was destined to suck at both.
Needless to say it took a lot of time, and a lot of tears, for me to dig myself out of that hole. And when I finally did, it came in the form of another epiphany. That what I can do, is try to be the best whole person that I can be. And that is *not* a compromise. That *is* me giving it my very best. I’m pretty sure that the best scientists by the above definition are not in the running for most dedicated parent or most supportive spouse, and vice versa. And I’m not interested in either of those one-sided lives. I am obsessively dedicated to being the best whole person I can be. It is possible that my best whole is not good enough for Harvard, or for my marriage; I have to accept that both may choose to find someone else who is a better fit. But even if I don’t rank amongst the best junior faculty list, or the best spouses list, I am sure there is a place in the world where I can bring value.
 This is so true.  The hardest part of setting boundaries in your life is that there ARE costs.  You can't have it all.  If you choose not to dedicate your every spare second to your career, then yes, you may fall behind those who do.  But when it comes to the game of chasing material success, my own private conviction is that the only way to win is not to play.  For me, I want to focus on the things that bring me joy.  One of those things is certainly writing: not only the heady excitement of creating characters and worlds, but the quiet satisfaction of completing a book you've worked your ass off to make awesome.  But if I focus solely on that joy, I'll miss out on a whole lot of others, and both my life and my writing will be the poorer for it.  Like Dr. Nagpal, I would rather strive to be a better whole person.  Not just a better author.        

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bias in SFF Publishing, or, Why It's Good To Venture Outside Your Comfort Zone

A quickie post to say that today I'm over at BookSworn, talking about bias in SFF publishing and how challenging yourself to read outside your comfort zone can lead to all manner of awesome book discoveries:

If you hang around online SFF forums like I do, you’ve probably seen the following: a blogger will post that they are challenging themselves this year to read X number of books by women (or writers of color, or LGBT writers, or what have you). Invariably, another poster will respond saying something like, “That’s silly. Books should be judged on quality alone, not on the race/gender/orientation/etc of the author. I pick my reads solely based on whether or not the story appeals to me – isn’t that how it should be?”

I sympathize with this reaction. It’s one I would have had myself only a few years ago. After all, there’s truth in it: the identity of the author *shouldn’t* matter. And personal taste is, well, personal – not something that can (or even should) be forcibly changed.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned since I’ve become an author and gotten a much deeper experience of the publishing industry: personal taste is not the only factor that affects our reading choices...

Read the rest: On the Utility of Reading Challenges

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Telluride fun, and my new Goodreads policy

Hope everyone had a terrific weekend!  My husband, son, and I had a wonderful 4th of July in our favorite town in Colorado: Telluride.  It's our favorite for good reason.  In winter, the skiing is incredible (assuming there's enough of a snow base to properly cover the steeps), and in summer, the valley remains utterly gorgeous - the town is deep in a box canyon surrounded by towering peaks whose slopes are covered in aspen and wildflowers.

Town of Telluride beneath the San Sophia ridge - you can't see it very well in this pic (our good camera died so this was taken with my cell phone!) but the ridgeline is gloriously jagged.  
Telluride is so small you don't need a car, the houses are cute brightly painted Victorian things (as opposed to Colorado's usual "squat, ugly box" mining-heritage architecture), the locals are both friendly and hugely outdoorsy, and scads of amazing hiking and scrambling awaits right outside your front door.  I have this wistful dream of one day renting one of those cute little Victorian houses and spending a year living in Telluride, exploring all the San Juan Mountains have to offer.  (Sadly, first I'd have to win the lottery.  Telluride's housing prices make Boulder's seem like a bargain.)  We didn't get to enjoy any fireworks this year - the San Juan Mountains are tinder-dry right now, so Telluride and all the other towns in the region had to cancel their planned displays.  But my son thoroughly enjoyed the parade and town barbeque, and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance for some hikes with spectacular views.

Waiting on main street for the parade to start.
Anyway, while I was off enjoying some quality family time in the mountains, The Whitefire Crossing was also having a good start to the month: the brand-new r/Fantasy Goodreads discussion group voted to make Whitefire their inaugural Book of the Month group read.  It's not the first time Whitefire's been nominated for "book of the month" in a Goodreads discussion group, but it's the first time it's ever won out in the decision poll, so I can't help but grin in delight.  My fingers are crossed that people have fun reading and discussing!  And hey, that's not all - Whitefire also picked up a nice new review from the Coffee, Cookies, and Chili Peppers blog.  Hooray!

Speaking of Goodreads, I'm trying out a new approach to using the site. I adore Goodreads as an author, but after an initial flurry of rating/reviewing books back when I first joined, I quickly found that I felt pretty uncomfortable as a reader about rating books on a 5-star scale.  Part of it was that I felt really awkward about rating fellow SFF authors' novels, period.  But most of it was that I found it so hard to rate books on such a compressed scale.  I mean, how do you rate a novel which you LOVED in spite of some hiccups of craft, compared to a book that you were deeply impressed with craft-wise but didn't actually enjoy?  I kept wishing there were multiple categories to rate, like theme/craft/character/plot, and agonizing over the rating decision.  For a long time I stopped rating/reviewing, or even adding books to my library on Goodreads at all.  But darn it, I really like the idea of having a detailed record of what I've read...so now I'm trying a new policy.  I'm still not going to rate books, but I'll mark what I'm currently reading, and when I finish, I'll leave a few sentences with my impressions of the book.  I've started already with the books I read over the holiday weekend; so far, I'm feeling good about my new approach, but we'll see how it goes.            

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wednesday Update: In Which I Am In My Happy Place

Man, this has been a great week so far for me.  Finally declared victory over a troublesome chapter of Labyrinth (well, okay, not total victory, but I feel it's in decent enough shape I can move on to the next chapter!), landed all my double jumps at skating practice (my coach, throwing up her hands to heaven: "My God, I thought I would never live to see such a miracle!")...and I got word from my agent that I have indeed been paid for The Tainted City, at long last.  (The best words you ever hear in authorhood are "Wow, I loved your book!", but I won't lie...the words "Your check just arrived" are pretty sweet also.)

In addition, the magic of google alerts has shown me The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City getting a little love, lately:

  • Review of The Whitefire Crossing at Fantasy Review Barn (always lovely to hear that someone enjoyed the book despite having no interest in climbing!)
  • The Tainted City is one of Bibliotropic's top 10 books read in the first half of 2013 (woot!).  The others on the list I haven't already read look pretty interesting - I've been happily adding to my TBR pile.
  • The Whitefire Crossing showed up as one of Renay of Lady Business's top 10 reads so far this year - haha, it totally made my day to see that my story has inspired someone to want to write fic. (I know some authors detest the idea of other people playing with their creations.  While I certainly would be annoyed if someone tried to actually profit off my work without permission, 99.99% of fanfic is written solely for the love of it - and to me, fic is a sign that something about your story/characters spoke so deeply to a reader that they felt compelled to explore it further.  Personally, I find that awesome.)
Last but not at all least, I'm looking forward to some serious fun in the mountains over the next few days.  Hope those of you in the US have a wonderful 4th of July holiday, and for everyone else, may you have a generally terrific first week of July!  I leave you with a picture from where I'll be spending 4th of July tomorrow (bonus points to anyone who can identify the location!).

Mmmmm, mountains....

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Boosting the Signal

If you haven't already read Elise Matthesen's excellent post on sexual harassment at SF conventions, then go.  Read now.  Elise discusses how to properly report an incident of harassment - important information to know for everyone who ever might attend a con, because even if you are never the subject of such harassment, you might witness it happening to someone else.  Since Elise spoke out about her experience being harassed by a senior Tor editor at a con party, there's been a veritable blizzard of posts and tweets from other women about their negative experiences at cons (here's a post from Tansy Rayner Roberts with links to a few).  I can't even tell you how sad and horrified I am to hear that so many of my fellow female authors have had to endure such awful behavior.

To extend a shred of hope, I myself have had nothing but good experiences at cons.  I've been to WorldCon the last two years, World Fantasy and my local convention MileHiCon the last three, and had a wonderful time at each, without any inappropriate remarks or touching or anything that would make me feel the least bit uncomfortable.  I don't say this to deny the prevalence of harassment - I know I've been lucky - but to say that I've seen what cons *could* be like for women in an ideal world, and I want very, very badly for every woman to have my experience of a safe, fun event.

But to make that happen, we need people who feel safe enough to do so (women AND men) to stand up and say, THIS IS NOT OKAY, when inappropriate behavior does happen.  Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a great post on why it can be hard to do this - and why you should do it anyway.  More and more cons are putting policies into place, so people will have official recourse.  I know as the organizer for this year's BookSworn party at WorldCon, I'm going to make sure those of us hosting have a plan set in advance for how to handle any inappropriate behavior at our party.  Because con parties should be FUN, dammit, not places where women have to fend off creeps.

ETA: Carrie Cuinn has a great post on how to stop sexual harassment at conventions