Month: December 2011

When You Allow Others to Decide Your Dreams

As much as I keep telling myself I won’t put up these kinds of posts anymore, I just can’t help it. And it’s my blog, anyway, so I have to keep reminding myself that I can do whatever I want here. So here goes some thoughts and rants and everything else in between – all colliding into a final realization that will change the way I think about the coming year and the rules we make for ourselves.

I took some needed time away from blogging and networking and when I came back yesterday morning, I had a panic attack. I looked at other author’s book stats on Amazon. I started comparing. I read blog posts about how well people are doing with their sales and such. I looked at what I’ve sold with my 99-cent sale this month on all of my books, and I got depressed in comparison to how I wanted the sale to go. And yes, I know 99-cent sales are not magical cure-alls, but no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to catch up to everyone else I think I should be caught up with. Authors who have released later and fewer books are soaring past me in almost every way possible. For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve screwed my career by not writing in one genre. I wonder if I’ll ever be bigger or if I’m doomed for the rest of my career to lackluster sales. In my pitiful self-wallowing, I threw a wad of tissues across the room.

Poor, poor me. My poor little ego being deflated so terribly. Over and over and over.

*insert eye roll here*

And if you’re rolling your eyes, too, because you think I have no reason or right to be depressed and feel sorry for myself, just read to the end of the post.

My little panic attack is all really just stupid and pointless because wallowing and crying isn’t going to fix a damn thing. Comparing isn’t going to fix anything or do anyone any good. Spending the little time I have on marketing to the pool of readers whom I’ve already reached isn’t going to do any good. Online marketing, period, doesn’t seem to do much good. At least not for me at this point in my career.

Yesterday was my nine-year wedding anniversary. NINE YEARS. I swear it was yesterday we got married. This made me stop and think. When I first married my husband, I had these morphine-drip-like dreams that the rest of my life was going to be perfect. The night before last we went to a movie and dinner, and between the two we stopped at Barnes & Noble where I went up and down the aisles touching all the book spines. I found books belonging to friends of mine. I found my friend Tess Hilmo’s book and took a picture because her writing path seems to have been more difficult than most, and I’m really proud of what she’s accomplished.

Michelle D. Argyle with A Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

I’ll admit that while I’m thrilled for Tess, a part of my heart broke that my own books aren’t on the shelves of my own city’s large bookstore without me having to go in there and ask them if they’ll stock it. Which I doubt they would short of me giving them copies on commission. Then I thought of my nine-year marriage again, and I thought of everything we’ve been through together – how the years have been completely different than I thought they would be. We don’t have a house yet. My husband isn’t through school yet. We only have one child (which is all I want, but when I first married, I thought I’d want more). We’ve had stints of time where we can barely buy food. We’ve had our share of arguments and hard times. It seems in a lot of ways, though, we are behind a lot of others our age, but the point about all of that is that I’ve made peace with all of the things I thought would happen by now, and haven’t. I didn’t marry my husband on the condition that we had to reach certain milestones or own certain things to be happy. I married him because I love him. Period. And I’m lucky to have him and my daughter. So lucky it makes me humble just thinking about it.

So I stop and I think about my choices so far. I think about why I chose to go with a small press, and in a lot of ways, it’s like a marriage. I didn’t sign with them on the condition that I would only be happy with a certain amount of sales or marketing or fame or whatever. I knew going in that they are small and the pros and cons that go with it, just like pros and cons with any sized press. And for some stupid reason, I keep forgetting the reasons why I’m doing any of this. As a friend of mine made it very clear to me yesterday morning, I’ve been allowing everyone else to decide my rules. I’ve been ignoring my own wants and goals for so long that the only option left was to let other author’s dreams determine my own.

Except…

Well, for the first time in a long time – because I’ve been having such a hard time lately inside my head and heart – I stopped to examine my own dreams. MY OWN. Like holding up a translucent piece of tracing paper to the dreams I’ve drawn all over the walls, I started sketching what I really want against what everyone else seems to want. It didn’t surprise me when I saw how everything differed. Before I knew it, I was looking at a very familiar picture – one which originated when I was a child: a picture of me writing.

Writing stories and learning to tell them better. That’s it. Unlike many authors, my dream doesn’t include making a living from my writing. It doesn’t include impressing others or making a certain amount of sales or securing 5-star reviews or a huge advance or gaining a million followers or landing on that bookstore shelf where I thought my book should be or any of that. None of it. Like a marriage, I’ve entered into something that will be affected by how I think of it every single day. It will mold itself to the respect I give it. It will see ups and downs, and like any good marriage, it will grow richer and deeper every year if I work with it instead of against it. My dream is incredibly personal, private, and quiet, and that’s just how I want it.

It’s no wonder I’ve been miserable lately. First of all, I’ve been ungrateful, but mostly, I’ve been trying to live other people’s dreams. That’s impossible to do and stay sane. Nobody’s goals and rules are ever going to match up to my own on the unique path I’m on. Even if I met all those goals I see floating around online on so many blogs and Facebook statuses and Twitter feeds, I still wouldn’t be happy because I would not have met the deepest desires of my own heart – the ones I have been ignoring for so long.

I think we authors often forget what we really want. I think we often delude ourselves into thinking we want what everyone else wants, and it’s creating this insane sense of urgency in our heads. We pump out our work faster and harder and less carefully than we would otherwise. We feel pressured, more than anything else, to meet certain criteria, follow the lists and rules and advice others post, and it hurts us deeply when we can’t meet that criteria at breakneck speed. For me, at least, this urgency transformed itself into an energy-sucking, emotionally-draining need.

Until I realized that for me it was an illusion and unnecessary.

I’m not saying anybody’s advice or lists or advice are wrong. I’m just saying that when I opened my eyes, I was surprised at how easily I had let so many voices drown my own, and I’m wondering if others might be under the same spell. Maybe not. Maybe this is all just me. Either way, this year I vow to remember my OWN dreams. I vow to erase the foreign dreams I’ve painted on my walls. I vow to love my stories and hold them close to my heart until it’s time to let them go. I hope if you have dreams, you can hold onto them. Protect them. Because if you don’t, you might be on the path I have been on for awhile – left standing with nothing when you thought you knew exactly what you wanted.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 46 comments

My Top 5 Ways of Dealing With Reviews

One of the hardest things for an author to face is someone who doesn’t like their work. I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I dealt with it in high school, college, and recently with my book releases. When I released Cinders, I attended a book group where half the group hated my book. They had expected a traditional Disney-type fairy tale. One reader admitted she was expecting talking animals and pumpkins. One reader said she didn’t like the story because of the ending and how unlikeable Cinderella is. It was an interesting conversation, but a good one. I learned how to deal with that kind of rejection in person, how to compose myself in a way and adjust my thoughts to a perspective which allows for the possibility that the entire freaking world is not going to love my work and bow down to my big ego and obvious genius. Because, well, I’ll admit, sometimes that’s what we writers think deep down, isn’t it? We are geniuses for what we’ve written! In a lot of ways, it’s true, but in more ways, it’s so not true. Not even close.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that yes, what I’ve written and what is published and out there is genius for me to have written at the time I wrote it and for who I am and what it took to get it out there the way that it is. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s genius for everyone. As we all know, that tiny little word, SUBJECTIVITY, is not tiny. It’s huge. It’s so huge that it shapes our world and every single thought and person in it.

So back to reviews. Guess how I deal with them?

#1 – Respect

Before I move onto #2, I want to make it clear that I respect and appreciate every single reader who takes a chance on my work, and I respect even more those who put up reviews and rate my fiction – no matter what that review or rating says. REVIEWS ARE IMPORTANT AND HIGHLY APPRECIATED!!!!!!!!!! They help a book’s visibility and perception, even if they are negative reviews. That said, I must move on to #2.

#2 – I Stay in My Own Space

Please don’t kill me, but I don’t read reviews anymore outside of a few exceptions. Unless a reader emails or messages me about their review, I do not read them, and even then, I click with caution. I especially don’t go looking for reviews. It’s my very strong opinion that reviews are not for the author. They seriously are just not any of my business. If reviews are written for the author, the reviewer will email the author with their thoughts. Or at least that’s how it should be. Besides, reviews are posted everywhere. I don’t have time to go looking for every review posted, anyway. Not even Google Alerts serves up every review to an inbox. I guess what I’m saying here is that if you want me to read your review, let me know about it by emailing me, because there’s very little chance that I’m going to run across it online.

#3 – Some People Just Don’t Like Uncomfortable Fiction

Cinders is uncomfortable in a lot of ways. So is True Colors, my collection of literary short stories. I knew it wouldn’t grab a lot of people, which is why I didn’t even consider asking my publisher to publish it. I just did it myself. I’ve already received several emails from readers informing me that they don’t care for the book. At all. (I’m adding this later, but some of those emails are from people who signed up to review the book, so that’s why they emailed me). A year ago, this would have hurt me a lot, but now? Well, I just shrug and figure it’s not their cup of tea. Sometimes I think the book needs a warning on the front that says, CAUTION: CONTAINS EXPERIMENTAL AND LITERARY FICTION, AND NONE OF THEM HAVE TRADITIONAL HAPPY ENDINGS. Okay, I’m being silly, but still, I’m always afraid that everyone expects purely entertaining and happy fiction every time they pick up a book. When they get something that is completely different, it’s uncomfortable. College taught me to adore uncomfortable fiction. It makes me think. It makes me see my world and myself differently. It broadens my scope and gives me a huge sense of satisfaction when I really let it sink in. So why doesn’t everybody like uncomfortable fiction? That’s easy! They read for entertainment and happy escape only, and I get that. I so get that because there are times when that’s why I read, too.

#4 – I Do Not Respond to Negativity/I Appreciate the Negativity

I’ve had issues with this in the past, and I’ve slipped a few times, but for the most part, I just don’t respond to negativity. If someone emails me about hating my stuff, or if I’ve run across a terrible review, there is no point to responding with an argument. In fact, there’s no point in getting upset at all. I used to. I’ve spent a lot of time ranting and getting pissed off about people’s opinions. I’ve taken things personally. I’ve thought, “Why can’t people see how mean this is to say such awful things in a way that tears me down?”

First of all, I don’t think 99% of the negative/constructive reviews out there are meant to tear an author down. They are opinions, and oftentimes the reader feels so passionate about the book that an author should be pleased that their work inspired such passion! Nothing is worse than feeling nothing at all for a piece of fiction.

Diverse reviews = diverse fiction.

I, for one, adore diverse, complicated, and/or controversial fiction. Mixed reviews usually mean I’ll like it.

#5 – Art is What it Is

Perhaps this should be #1, because I think one of the most important things I’ve learned about being an author is that what I create is an expression of myself. It’s art. Much of it may not be high-brow and important art, but it’s art nonetheless, and art is not something anyone should put up for negotiation. This is why it’s so difficult to attach a price to a book, which in turn attaches a value to the work that the artist might not feel does it justice. And in actuality, a price tag never does art any sort of justice, even if it’s crap. This is also why reviews can feel so harsh and unfair, and I’ll be the first to admit that even glowing reviews are forgotten in my head. For some reason, all I ever remember are the negative ones I’ve happened to read. The brain has a funny way of doing that. At least my brain does.

My point here is that I have to constantly remind myself that my writing is not up for negotiation from me. I’ve put it out into the world because I want to share it – and at that point, I have no control over that piece of art anymore.

It is what it is.

And because it is what it is, there is nothing I can or want to do differently for that piece of art. It’s out there to be enjoyed, hated, ignored, whatever. And that means it’s time for me to write another book! Writers like to do that!

My question today is do you expect authors to read your reviews? If you’re published, how do you deal with reviews?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 31 comments

The Need for a Human Connection in Publishing

In the rise of technology, something frightening happens within human interactions. Automation becomes the norm. We’re used to dealing with non-human interactions over the phone and on the Internet. I’ve noticed it’s quite simple to go through a whole day (or two, or a week) without interacting with hardly anyone if I don’t want to – and yet still get a million things accomplished. I don’t have to talk to anyone to get gas. I can order everything I need online (even groceries). I can even publish a book without interacting with a soul. Amazing. This is all very convenient, but I’ve noticed in the past ten years of my life that it’s much too easy to distance myself from people. In all honesty, I’d rather talk to a human being on the phone than go through an automated system.

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine a few weeks ago about this automation in our lives. She said that she feels like it creates an us vs. them mentality, and she’s absolutely right. You get big corporations running all this automation, and all those hands and faces are unseen, and quite frankly, it’s easy to question their true motives. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen that humans actually like to interact with other humans. In fact, it’s a need. Most of us need to belong, and most of us need to feel like we are part of something important and personal. It creates a safety zone. For me, that safety zone is best when it’s small and intimate and within my control. I know motives. I know intentions, and those people know mine.

Ever wonder why zombies are so big lately? My friend pointed out that this automation may have something to do with that and all this dystopian craze going on. We’re scared. We’re scared of becoming so disconnected, that we are dealing with zombie-like systems because everything has become so automated. A theme I see far too often in stories is the us vs. them mentality with technology (especially a computer gaining too much intelligence and taking over). So overdone, but understandably so.

Where does publishing fit into this? When you step back and think about it, those Big Six publishers are pretty big. They might seem a bit faceless, and even automated, if you aren’t part of the system (or maybe even if you are part of the system, I don’t know). I think it’s impossible for them not to feel that way because they are so big, so there’s no way around that, but it explains why publishing might feel so impossible and frightening to a lot of writers. It also explains why agents are such a necessity in this business when dealing with larger publishers. Not only does an agent help an author navigate through those huge organizations, but an agent also provides that face – that connection between a huge faceless organization and the lone author.

This is why I’m much more comfortable with a small press where I can call up the president most times of the day on Skype and we can actually take face-to-face. It’s very personal and connected, and I need that in my career right now because, especially as of late, I’m beginning to see that I’m really not made of what it takes to jump into anything and make it huge right off the bat. I can see why authors working with larger publishers and very busy editors need that agent connection. It makes a lot of sense.

So I have not ruled out going with a larger publisher in the future. If I ever do, I will most definitely need and want an agent, but for now I’m really happy with the close, accessible relationship I have with my publisher – and for the first time I understand a different reason why.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing, 21 comments