The Writer’s Lens – E45: The Affirmation of Finished Work

What does it do for us when we finish what we start? If you’re the type of person that struggles with unfinished projects, then maybe you are in need of a morale boost. Or a gentle reminder of what you feel strongly about. Something to kick-start the juices and make it to the finish line.

Or perhaps on an even deeper level, maybe your unique message just isn’t clear yet.

Episode 45: The Affirmation of Finished Work

In my case, finishing a book is what I aim to do. Not an easy task; not something one does in a weekend. For writing a book can feel like running a marathon. But here’s something to remember: we aren’t alone in our pursuits.

In this episode, I talk in depth about the things we can learn about ourselves as we work through our passion projects. And how there’s a unique voice each of us can cultivate by bringing that message to completion.

Website: www.jclfaltot.com

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Interviews with Brian Del Turco, The Voice of “Jesus Smart: The Podcast”

Welcome to the #NarrativeWars.

Brian Del Turco is a fellow creative in Cleveland and is the voice of Jesus Smart: The Podcast as well as the owner / operator of LifeVoice Quest. He is passionate about emerging voices – those looking to broadcast and share their message with others – and I’ve been fortunate to dialogue with Brian about this topic. For we live in the digital age and we are surrounded by hundreds of incoming messages, all vying for our attention.

That being said, how do we sort through them?

How do we know what is true?

How do we know what is not true?

Brian and I begin our discussion on the #NarrativeWars in part 1 below.

034: Take the Red Pill — Wake Up to the Narrative Wars with Joshua C. Faltot! 

In part 2 of our conversation, Brian and I dive deeper into the concept of #Worldviews and what they mean to each of us.

On my podcast, The Writer’s Lens, I take a look at things through the lens of a writer. I believe human beings tell stories to help them interpret their world. To make sense of things. To exchange information and share experiences.

This can ultimately shape our individual worldviews. The conclusions we make; the stories we believe; the ways we think the world ought to be.

For this second half, Brian and I discuss in greater length how we are not only in the midst of a #NarrativeWar, but a battle of competing #Worldviews too.

039: War of the Worldviews with Joshua C. Faltot

Brian is a commentator on society and culture with great and helpful insights who can also be found on SubstanceTV’s podcast at SubstanceTV.org.

The Book’s Out! Now About Those Expectations….

Sure, I’ve released books in the past. And yes, I’ve told people about it. And yes, I’ve worked hard to tell those people to tell even more people about my book. That’s all well and good. But, that doesn’t change what comes next – the expectations. I have expectations for my work just like anyone would. The only difference now is that I’m a little older, a little wiser, and a little better prepared. For instance…

If you self-publish, don’t expect to quit your day job. Not right away anyway. It’s probably one of the biggest myths about self-publishing. Ask anyone in the publishing industry and they’ll tell you the same: don’t quit your day job. Not until you can financially provide for yourself. Or in my case, for a familOne Does Not Simplyy. A lot of folks get into publishing and think they’ll sell books like Stephen King. Well, you may be able to write great thrillers like Mr. King, but does anyone actually know you? Do you have a dedicated base of ready-and-waiting readers? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you hand in that two-week notice. Pay the bills first. Then, ride off into the sunset with book in hand.

Get the word out. I laugh when I think of how my first book release went down. My book went to the market and after it did, I think I checked my sales rank on Amazon about twice every 15-30 minutes. Up I’d go, then I’d be down again. Up, then down, up, then down… you get the picture. It was maddening. But then again, I was totally new to this publishing thing. And remarkably impatient. So there were some lessons to be learned before I could call myself a true “author.” Namely, I had to be more conscious of marketing myself. Do I have a Facebook page now? Yep. Twitter? That too. A blog to talk about this stuff? Self-explanatory. And lastly (and perhaps most important of all) was I reaching out beyond my own social circles? Or was I content getting a thumbs up from my aunts and uncles? Well, that’s another item I can check off these days. Guest blogging, for instance, is something I’ve been fortunate to do as of late (you can check’em out here and here for the latest). So I’m becoming less and less afraid of telling people about what I do. Because in the early going, the books just won’t sell themselves.

road-to-mars-cover-6x9-bleedThe Road to Mars is a fictional novel, not a non-fiction or a short story. My first two books were non-fiction works. And in addition to that, they were satirical in approach and delivery. That’s a stark contrast to what I’ve done recently. But in order to make that transition possible, I started a little project where I’d try to write a short story every month. I tentatively called it #12Months12Books and I did this for much of 2014 and 2015. It was probably one of the most difficult – and asinine – things I’ve ever taken upon myself to accomplish. Not only was I under the delusion that I could write a short story every month, I also thought I could polish, edit, and release said short story in a timely fashion (without staying up all night wondering if I’d done right). In hindsight, that was a really difficult undertaking. But, I got through it. Till about June. Which is where reality sank in and I had to stop. But as always, there’s something to learn from the experience. Namely, writing short stories are like writing miniature novels. They force a storyteller to break down the mechanics of storytelling as a whole. Character, plot, setting, motivations – the works. All of these elements have to be trimmed down so that when you’re ready for the “big leagues”, you can have something to work with.

Reviews, reviews…and hey, more reviews. If there’s one thing an artist appreciates, it’s feedback. Whether it’s showering praise or having tomatoes being flung (does anyone still do that?), the result is the same: it’s a response. A reaction. An opinion to what the author has put out there for the enjoyment – or disenchantment – of his audience. Which is why I am humbly asking any and all who read my book, to please review my book too. Five stars? Four stars? No stars? Well, I suppose that’s up to you to decide if it deserves a “zero” rating. In which case, I might offer an apology. Or cry for a while. I just won’t write about that part if it happens.

The Road to Mars is out and only available on Amazon so by all means, check it out if you haven’t already! Have a great weekend, folks.

 

 

 

Post-Showcase, More Thoughts

In my last post, I opened up about some things I learned from the author showcase. The environment, the presentation, the reception – all of the good and the bad of what made the experience memorable. And what I need to do to improve for next time.

But, now that I’ve properly digested everything, I want to get down to business. I’ve been self-publishing my work for a couple years and Amazon is my current distributor. Overall, I’m happy to be working with them. The platform is solid and remarkably user-friendly. Those are the pluses. And though I have no aspirations to find an agent at the moment, I’m always open to the possibility of having one.

All that being said, here’s my debacle: talking with others about self-publishing. To any aspiring writer, self-publishing has been sold as “the way to go.” You can “make it big overnight” and do so without the hassle of paying an agent or big publisher. And as I spoke with other authors last Saturday, the consensus was this: “give self-publishing a shot – it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it lets you reach a wide audience, faster.”

I want to address each of these statements separately. And hopefully do so without sounding like a curmudgeon. Here goes:

1) It’s easy. Yes and no. First of all, self-publishing has changed the landscape of the reader’s experience. Aspiring authors can go directly to a mass distributor – like Amazon – and publish a story within hours. This puts their work among thousands of others like it, leaving readers just a search away from finding the writer’s work. That’s the easy part. And it’s the most attractive one to an ambitious writer.

Now, here’s the dose of reality: writing a book is hard. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Most people will tell you, “I have an idea for a story. I’d like to write a book someday.” But, how many people actually go through with that idea? Not many. Why? Because it takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to bring an idea to completion. If you want to do it right, you can’t rush your work. Again, this is not easy. I spoke with an individual at the showcase who told me she’d had an idea for a book for the past decade. Yes, a whole decade! Can you imagine beginning a business that takes 10 years to kick start? That’d be asinine. And you’d quickly have to consider other options for your career.

2) It’s cheap. That depends on where you go and who you shop with. Self-publishing was initially touted as the “new wave” for publishing material. A writer with some change in his pocket could search for and pay a publisher to distribute his work. Yes, pay the publisher to mass produce what he’d written. In the old days, agents would seek out hopeful writers. Now, it’s the other way around. And because of that, many publishing companies have become less concerned with the quality of their authors – only the volume. Possessing a large library of clients is far more attractive than one that’s without. Why advertise when you have hordes of people coming to you?

This is a conundrum. And it applies to more than just new and upcoming scribes. Established writers, those born out of the initial social media explosion, may encourage newbies to share work for free. Advising to do so because their success – the writers – was often found through sharing work on a blog or social media site. This helped them gain a following, but it also made them accessible to agents and publishers. As I talked with other authors at the showcase, most people seemed excited to share their work freely while others were holding their cards close to the vest.

As for me, I’m more inclined to believe in the latter. This blog, for instance, is a free service to any who want to read it. And that’s where I want to draw the line. I can share work all day long, but where is my investment meeting my reward? At what point do I break even and stop giving it away for free? Obviously, it’s when you have a few things going for you: the first being a readership, a definitive following that looks forward to every new piece you shell out.

Financially-speaking, it’s cheap to start up a blog or begin a new website. But, what about the time it takes to write one? There’s the daily, weekly, even yearly grind of posting material that may or may not catch the eyes of readers. This can be draining. And unless you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll find yourself at odds with what you’d been originally sold on: write a blog and the readers will come. Not exactly. Self-publishing is not the “Field of Dreams” on the Internet. A writer must be willing to invest deeply in what he’s begun. Success stories crop up after long hours – even years – of trudging through mud to come out looking clean.

3) It lets you reach a wide audience, fast. Am I going to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to this one too? Yes. And here’s an example why: let’s say you’re sitting on a bench, somewhere at a busy intersection, reading your newly hatched story as people pass you by. You’re talking loudly, loud enough for people to hear you, but no one is stopping to ask what you’re saying. So you talk louder. You repeat favorite phrases or lines from your manuscript, looking for a reaction. And let’s say you start to receive some. If the listeners like you, you encourage them to tell others – share what they’ve heard – and trust that when they walk away, they do just that. And feeling encouraged by this, you keep at it. Maybe you set up shop at another park bench and start reciting your lines again – the ones that worked – and stay at it.

This process, if repeated, may warrant some eventual success. You’ll establish a small following of individuals who don’t mind stopping amidst their busy schedule and hearing you for a few minutes. That’s the good news. And marks the end of this metaphor for social media spamming.

Now, here’s the difficult news: doing it all on your own is an arduous, grinding, and oftentimes, tedious task. Marketing a book requires HUGE amounts of attention and time on the part of the author. That’s why I shake my head when I talk with other writers who say, “Once I get a blog going, I’ll be doing it right.” No, actually you won’t. Where is your reading base? Do you have people all ready interested in your work? Have you created a strategy for reaching multiple channels without extending yourself beyond your means? These are business questions a writer has to be asking of himself, and if he isn’t, then he might want to consider another hobby or vocation. Readers just don’t appear over night.

Agents and publishing companies specialize in doing this kind of leg work. Their success, and their paycheck, depends upon how well they reach more than the passerby. That’s a team effort, not just the efforts of one.

Closing Thoughts: This is the longest post I’ve done in a while, but I hope you’ve stuck around till the end. Truly, the self-publishing “explosion” is something that shouldn’t be overstated or understated. Just keep this in mind: the quick route to something worth having isn’t quick, at all. It’s more than that. It’s full of persistence, diligence, and hard work. Self-publishing is merely another tool available for hopeful writers. It could be the future of writing, but it’s certainly not the easiest one.

Oh Agent, where art thou?

As the hunt for agent representation continues, I find myself on the short end of the stick. There’s plenty more growing pains to be had and this past week and a half was no exception. For starters, I decided to open my field of agents to include not only narrative, but pop culture, humor, young adult and essay. All of this within the confines of non-fiction. Why? Well, my manuscript covers each of those topics. And the amount of rejection letters I’ve been receiving haven’t exactly lifted my spirits. So why not broaden the scope and see what I find, right?

The first order of business was taking my inquires to agentquery.com. It’s the premier site for searching literary agents. Think of it as the Match.com for aspiring writers. You can scroll through hundreds of agent profiles, sorted by specialization, and as a bonus, you don’t have to look at some creepy picture that may or may not be the person in the profile (I would assume that any other Internet daters can relate).

So away I went. Searching, spelunking, looking, etc.

By expanding my criteria, I discovered several potentials who were interested in all 4 or 5 of my aforementioned list. So I wrote their names down, jotted some notes about their agency, and went to the agency website.

From there, it was a crapshoot. Let me explain: You are essentially trying to impress someone you’ve never met before; that’s first and foremost and can seem to be a little daunting. I’ve already gotten my feet so I feel less intimidated by the notion or the rejection that may follow but still, it’s tough trying to visualize just what you want to say via an email or a snail mail message. Do I boast about my writing prowess? How great the idea is? Or do I write a very formal, stuffy letter? Much of my research on the topic tells me to do two things:
1) Write with your personality and style that the book presents
2) Don’t get too casual (in other words, no “hey, what’s up?”)

Agents are professionals, after all. This is important to remember but easy to forget. Yes, you want to form a partnership that can assist you with your book idea, but you aren’t exchanging pleasantries at a house party either.

As I journeyed on, I found another interesting truth – not every agent is where he says he is. As it were, people can change jobs and positions rather regularly in this world, so be sure to follow through and check that the agent is still with the agency before you start crafting a letter. The yellow pages may say they’re with Super Great Literary Agents R Us, but if you try to contact them via their website, you discover that the agent has left the nest. Or found another place to land. And what’s more, if they’ve moved, then they may have changed their focus altogether too; no longer working on fantasy or fiction, but self-help books instead. Weird, right? Why yes, this was quite frustrating. The agent world is looking as fickle as a teenage girl, I thought.

Thankfully, not all agents were like this. I can’t speak for them all, of course. But wouldn’t you know it – there were plenty that fit the bill.

When this happened, I got discourage but I stuck to the original formula: find an agent by topic and then do the background check. When I found a few that were legit, I decided to dig even further. If there were indeed still at the same agency and still had the same interests as what I sought them out for, I decided to look at their past clients. This would seem like a very logical and natural thing to do next, but I can assure you that it was not. For after searching for a good hour, sifting through the muck, it’s rather easy to pass up this crucial step. Who have they represented in the past? What’s their track record look like? Are they established or not very established? And ultimately, which are you looking for? It might be a good idea to try and strike rapport with an agent who has less clients so you can have more hands-on attention. Once again, there’s no perfect candidate but it’s crucial to call upon these questions once you begin engaging a potential agent to represent you.

Additionally, I read interviews and blog posts that the agents wrote. One such agent, who will remain anonymous, gave a very engaging interview that was eye opening and insightful. He talked of the ebb and flow of the business, the need to be reactive to the market (what’s trending) and how to recognize a good idea when it comes to his table. A delicate thing to discern, but that’s what this is all about. Taking some chances, right? But still managing to not get caught up in those who may only have 15 minutes of success.

Reading what the agent writes is beneficial in that it allows you, the writer, to get a personal peek at what the agent is looking for. What’s their style? How are they communicating? And do they sound like someone you may want to pursue a relationship with? Tough to do, yes, but it’s one step closer to potentially building a partnership. And it’s one step closer than where you’d be if all you were doing was sending out generic letters with no sense of personalization.

And if it helps, develop a personal tracking system. I’m all about trying to keep my head on straight so I devised a small chart to keep my things in order. You don’t want to be sending out the same letter to the same person three months later so keep tabs on who you’ve been in contact with. I would suggest the following table:

Name of Agent / Agency / Criteria / Sent? / Response

Simple and effective. The first two columns are easy to fill out and you can track sent and response dates with little trouble, but try to focus on what the agent wants in a cover letter or sample too. For example, many agents only want a cover letter. Some want snail mail while some only want email. Others desire a page of your work to accompany the letter. The list goes on, but be sure to see what’s required before you make grand plans about creating the perfect “agent snare” for your book idea. And if you’re viewing it as a snare then you should probably reevaluate your methods for contacting an agent and start at square one again. Just saying.

But that’s where I’m at. It’s been a little more than 2 weeks into this quest and I’ve learned my fair share already. Are there are other methods for bettering one’s agent search? Yes, I’m sure there are (outside of driving to the front step of a building, camping out and outright stalking your person of interest), but those are things I’m looking forward to uncovering. In the meantime, back to it.

The first rejection letter

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Nearly a month ago, I made a decision to leave my full-time job and really go after this writing thing. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved stories. Not just hearing them, but telling them too. And now, I’m trying to make this passion of mine a reality.

Anyone who knows me personally, or follows this blog, or is fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have picked up one of my recent works, understands that I’ve tried my hand at self-publishing. I’ve published two books in the last two years – all within the realm of self-publishing – and I’ve learned a great deal from the experience. Some good and some bad. But what it’s taught me is that you have to be serious about a dream. Sure, it comes from within, but you have to be disciplined with that inner feeling. Otherwise it’s wasted. Wasted time and wasted energy.

I can certainly say that I got absorbed in the hype of self-publishing. This is not to say that self-publishing is a bad thing. No, do not hear me wrong on this. There were so many great stories about writers who began their careers in self-publishing so naturally I wanted to do the same. The recent craze involving Hugh Howey’s new sci-fi series, Wool, makes me think that there is a place for self-publishing success. That someone can, and will, be successful at self-publishing if they are ambitious enough and know how to tackle the marketplace.

But that’s Hugh Howey’s story. Not mine. I have since resolved to try another route: to go beyond self-publishing and find representation from an agency. Though I may return to my roots someday, I feel like this is the road I’m headed on. And to my benefit, I will have the opportunity to republish and reprint my original works on a larger scale if I choose to do so. What’s more, I can further learn how the industry works and how it truly functions. That, I’m sure, will be an ongoing process. One that I’m looking forward to with much anticipation.

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In the spirit of that new road I’m on, I’ve decided to share my first rejection letter. What I’ve attached is the image of my first email query letter. To those who are unfamiliar, the query letter is intended as a means to gain interest for your work. If you’re a writer looking to get a book deal, you would address one to a writing agent or agency, all in the hopes that they will be interested enough to back you and your manuscript. You could call it an open solicitation to sell your book and yourself. Believe in it. Own it. Because if you don’t, then nobody else will either.

I removed the names of the parties involved, as well as their contact info, as I don’t want to be responsible for a lawsuit (that would be bad). I just want this to be a good reminder that all things take time. Not every hit will be a homerun, but I’ve seen homeruns hit before so I know they’re possible. I also want to make mention that by no means is this a “I’ll show you” moment to the agent. I would hope that anyone reading this will be encouraged to keep moving forward because I’m sure I’ll get more of these rejection letters in the future. I can only hope that they’ll be as cordial as this one was. Nobody likes being told their idea is crap. That could require some counseling. In some ways, it feels like I lost my prom date. Which is fine because there are plenty of fish in the sea. Interestingly enough, the book I’m soliciting is about being single (a larger dose of irony, if I do say so).

So to wrap up, this is the new journey I’m on; a road to representation and more publications. A friend of mine recently told me that every failed attempt is another step towards inevitable success. That’s a great way to survey the landscape of one’s own life. We usually hear about the success stories and momentary triumphs, but we easily forget how many missed shots there were in the lead up to that final breakthrough. This letter, marked up with my notes and my thoughts, is just one of those stories. From here, I’ll just need to keep stepping and see where it goes from there.