Publication Is a Question Generating Machine

Prior to publishing my first book, I spent five years writing. My goal was not publication; in fact, in the entire half decade of practicing, I sent a paltry seven short story submissions to literary magazines. My goal was to write. That’s it. To write was both the means and the ends. Back then the question everyone asked was, “Have you published?” My answer was a short, happy “No.”

Most of the time, I didn’t even share my stories with anyone. A few of my works were read by select handful of temporally and geographically disparate readers. In almost all cases, those occurrences can be linked back to participation in a workshop or online critique group. The online critiques helped, paradoxically, by providing too much help! The deluge of criticism initially led me to stray from my own intuition. I began to revise stories to take everyone’s suggestions. Can you imagine the steaming mess? A trusted critique partner, IrishJohnJohn, told me that he wept when he read a revised version of a story I had revamped to gain (of all things!) higher critique ratings. He was the one who told me to trust my voice – not by shutting out comments, but by learning how to evaluate all suggestions from the perspective of what I was trying to do with any given piece. The experience taught me that I cannot take a conglomeration of suggestions that may or may not be contradictory, incorporate all of them, and expect the resulting mash to read like something that is authentically mine. My friend, Jonathan Allen, discusses his experience learning this lesson in a recent blog post. I think he’s correct in saying a conscientious writer should “incorporat[e] feedback in an active, intelligent manner.”

During my five years of ‘going to the mountain,’ I wasn’t hiding that I was a writer, but I didn’t mention it often, either. The same old question would always rear its curlicue of a head: “Are you published?” By the end of the fifth year, my “No” began to feel hollow. I’d done good work. Not perfect, but I’d put in the time, practiced, and come out of it with increased skill and a completed novel.

Well, I thought it was complete.

Revision is a beautiful, time-devouring beast. Hereby amend the record!  Five and a half, not five, years elapsed before I had a work I felt was worthy of readers.

What I’ve learned in my one month post-publication interval is that where there once was one question, now there is a horde:

Who published it? Do you have an agent? Can I read it on my Nook/Kindle/Smartphone/PC? Why do you write horror? Did you try to run me over in the parking lot as a plot device? How are sales? How much does the book cost? Did publication cost anything? Did you hire an editor? Who is the person on the cover? Can I have an autographed copy?  Will you be using this in your next book? What is your next book? When will it be ready?

Do you want to know the answer to these questions? Do you have any of your own? I’d love to answer them!

You can leave your question in the comments, tweet @anikocarmean, or send an email to anikocarmean at gmail dot com. The plan is for me to record a video where I divulge all the secrets… um, answers to your questions. I’ll post the video here on my blog.

Feel free to be creative! In fact, feel free to try and stump me. You never know, I might be a Blade Runner replicant!

 

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17 thoughts on “Publication Is a Question Generating Machine

    • I’m glad! I’ve gotten some really nice feedback from other readers about Stolen Climates, too. Someone tweeted that it is “strange, unsettling and engrossing” and someone else (it was Jonathan) said it has a Twin Peaks vibe.

      And, everyone, please don’t be shy – ask me some questions, be they as random or as meaningful as you want!

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  1. Yes, Stolen Climates offers a taste of Twin Peaks, along with a nict dash of Alfred H., blended perfectly into a unique new stew too good not to be hungrily eaten….while still alive!

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  2. I greatly admire your patience and willingness to write just for yourself at first. It’s really the way to go. I wrote many “drawer novels” before one was ready to see the light of day. And I’m glad for that.

    Question….I was supposed to ask a question….how about this one? Have you read any how-to books about writing and which one is your favorite?

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    • Margaret, hi! Some writers seem to feel a sense of shame or failure for having written ‘drawer novels.’ It’s refreshing to hear from someone who is thankful for those novels, and acknowledges the role they played in honing your craft.

      Thanks for the question! I’ll be sure to answer it in the video response! Everyone else, don’t be shy – ask away!

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  3. Oh man that sales question is a killer. Just a killer. And “they’re going well” is typically not enough – they want numbers. Then you try explaining that 150 copies sold is really pretty good for a first time self-pubbed author (I think I read somewhere that the average is something like 50) and you can just see the skepticism in their eyes. Sigh.

    Can I have an autographed copy??? *ducks*

    I don’t have any questions myself – have sort of watched this unfold from a distance. Curious to see the questions you get, though!

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  4. Thanks for this post, Aniko. It’s always refreshing to hear another writer’s perspective and to be able to compare it to one’s own.

    I too have written quite a few ‘drawer novels’ and, while I wouldn’t dream of publishing them – their flaws are all too obvious whenever I re-read them – I’m very glad that I wrote them. They were my apprenticeship.

    Anyway, my question: as a fellow horror junkie, I wondered whether you find horror writing particularly cathartic. I seem to remember reading an interview with Stephen King in which he commented that writing and reading about bad things is almost like a charm whereby (we think) we can avoid their actually happening in real life. Is horror a means of exorcising our demons, or is it just fun to be scared?

    Thinking about it, I’m not sure I could really answer that one either, but if you have any thoughts…

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    • Mari, great question! I look forward to answering it, or at least giving my thoughts on it, in the video response!

      I like the analogy of ‘drawer novels’ as apprenticeship. A lot of practice goes into writing well. I agree, though, that it’s worth the effort.

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  5. I begin to think all writers (at least those who care) go through that process of trying to please all the critics. Those that survive that process learn how to pick and choose what criticisms make sense to them.

    Sales: I get that one a lot. It strikes me as an impertinent question, when it comes from friends, family and neighbors. I don’t ask them how much money they made last week. My usual reply is, “It’s too early to say,” or “Satisfactory.”

    I’m highly satisfied when I see another sale. As long as there has been a sale in the last week or so, I can make myself believe I’m satisfied…at least long enough to answer the question.

    Autographed copy: it can be done. And you don’t have to use a sharpie on the glass. Dunno how well it works, but here’s a link, if you’re interested:
    http://www.geekwire.com/2011/kindlegraph-authors-sign-kindle-books/

    There may be other options for autographs.

    Like

    • I like your responses to the “How are sales?” question. I always feel like no matter what number I name, it’s never going to meet the overbearing expectation of the millions of copies bestsellers move. I reply, “Better than I thought.” Which is true – but I hadn’t given the question of volume much thought. The readers who are meant to find my work will find it. Whether that happens tomorrow, ten years from now, or after I die, I can’t predict – but I have faith those who are meant to will find my stories.

      Thanks for the links to autographed copies! That’s cool!

      Pleasing all the critics is such a learning experience, but I agree that surviving it helps galvanize a writer’s authentic voice.

      Thanks for taking time to chime in – I know you’re a busy woman.

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  6. Your post reminds me of Stephen King’s On Writing, which is wonderful if you haven’t read it yet, it’s not a fictional story but a semi auto-bio with great writing tips, well tips that go on for half a book … he says that you should first write with the ‘door closed’ where you just write write write and then write the book w/ the door open where you fix things, correct weapons, characters, etc.. and then put the book away for 3 months and then re-read it, and only then let someone else read it, not before. I had friends who wrote things and changed them to the point of the story losing the original focus because too many opinions muddled the main idea. I cant wait to read Stolen Climates, it looks fantastic, congratulations andgood luck

    Kasia S.

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    • I love On Writing! It is one of my go-to books for writing. Anyone else stopping by, if you haven’t given Mr. King’s On Writing a try, you should go get a copy now. Well? Shoo! :-)

      Now that you’re back with your own copy of On Writing, I can continue my response to Kasia in good conscience.

      I have an absolute door-closed policy for the first three revisions. I need to have the story and my intentions (and those of my characters!) clear in my mind before I accept other’s comments. Otherwise I just end up ‘muddl[ing] the main idea.’ Muddling is a real danger, and not one that baby-writers are often made aware of, especially given the prevalence of group-based workshopping. There is value to getting help, but as a writer, you owe it to your story to know it so well you can’t be rattled by the time the deluge of input arrives. Then you can pick what enhances your work, and what would have been a great enhancement for some other writer’s version of the story.

      Hope you enjoy reading Stolen Climates!

      Like

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