Author Olivia Boler

writing is fun
October 26th, 2012

Been There Done That: The Agent Search Revisited

I’m starting the quest for an agent again. Why would I do this to myself? Why would I endure this agony? This time, I’m looking for representation for a children’s chapter book I drafted over the summer. I won’t say too much about it (no jinxies, please), except that I think it has a shot, yet I can’t really say why. And that’s why—it’s been said, but I’ll say it again!—authors should not be relied upon to promote their own work!

Someone I know and respect in the biz read my query letter and said I need to point out what makes my book special. What makes it different from all the other children’s chapter books out there? At the same time, how is it similar? Why would kids want to read it, and why would a publisher want to buy it? What’s commercial about it?

This is the stuff that drives me crazy and makes me want to call it quits. I went for a walk/errand-run this afternoon, which is often how I work things out that are bugging me. But my brain is tired. I imagine what it would look like if I got an MRI. There would be this dark, dead zone where creativity and problem solving happen. I’m pretty sure of it.

I should try to end this post on a positive note, so I’ll put this out there: Maybe all I need is a nap.

Go, Giants!

August 13th, 2012

Holding Pattern

Ever since I got back from a week of camping (bliss: no cell phone or Wi-Fi access!), I haven’t been writing, or promoting, or much of anything. I’ve been reading, trying to find a book that will hold my attention and get me jazzed, but that’s been tough too. As far as writing goes, I’m at a bit of a standstill. I finished a draft of a children’s chapter book, and my first readers (my kid and the husband) gave it a thumbs up. My writing group will critique it later this week, and I’m going to a workshop in a couple of weeks at Book Passage with Amy Novesky, so I hope to get some good insight there as well.

What I Did on Summer Vacation
What I Did on Summer Vacation

Here’s the brutal truth: sales have slowed way down on The Flower Bowl Spell. I know I can only hold myself responsible for that. Most sales have been to friends, family, and the occasional acquaintance. I doubt a total stranger has bought the book (not counting the freebies downloaded during E-book Week on Smashwords back in March). If I could “break in” to the stranger market—sounds weird, I know—then maybe sales would take off. But for now, I’m dialing back promotion because it hasn’t really paid off. I did two blog tours this summer, working my butt off writing guest blog posts and answering interview questions and visiting the host blogs. Yet there wasn’t a pick-up in book sales.

Consequently, at this point I can’t justify the cost (editing, book cover) it would take to put out a second book. I’m in a wait-and-see mode. A holding pattern.
Part of this limbo has to do with my non-author life. My kids are about to head back to school, which means soon there will be more of a routine in place for us all (although more stress as we navigate homework and after-school activities, among other things). Another part is my freelance-writer life, and thank goodness it’s alive and kicking to help with the bills, etc.

Things are bound to change—of course I want to put out a second book! Most likely it will be a short-story collection, because that’s what is the most ready and polished. I also hope to query agents about the children’s chapter book sooner than later. I would love for it to be out there, published by a traditional press that can support it as a series.

We shall see. Time will tell. It always does.

February 7th, 2012

Olivia’s author interview with Dina Santorelli

Blogger Dina Santorelli, who is a fellow freelance writer working on a novel, posted her interview with me this morning on her blog, Making ‘Baby Grand,’ the Novel. I have been following this series of author interviews as well as Dina’s weekly writing tips, which I think are just so helpful. You can read my interview by clicking here. Cheers!

November 9th, 2011

Getting down to the funky business of writing

Not to toot my own horn, but [beep beep!], it’s Day 8 of NaNoWriMo, and so far, so good. I’ve somehow exceeded the 1,667-per-day requirement (to make it to 50,000 words by November 30), and even managed to write over the weekend when my family was in the hizzie. And they actually did not feel neglected as I shut myself away for a few hours to get the job done!

I don’t have many “writing buddies” on NaNoWriMo, so if you are doing it, be my friend there! My handle is livyink. I’m also doing a Facebook NaNoWriMo page with fellow scribe Jeremy Nisen, so check that out too, and leave your comments, observations, gratitudes, affirmations, complaints, etc.

By the way, Anne Milano Appel, a translator of Italian works into English, mentioned my post about reading your work aloud in a Hersilia Press blog today. Read what her experiences have been like.

In addition to finally getting some writing done, I have to say, the best thing about this year’s NaNoWriMo (Could I please just shorten it to NNWM? Does that stand for something horrible I don’t know about?) is engaging with other writers about writing instead of concentrating the conversation so heavily on publishing. Of course, publishing is a business, but it feels like the past few months have been spent by yours truly doing nothing more than marketing and promoting something that I haven’t even had the time (or made the time) to do.

That’s not to say I’ve escaped the business side of publishing all together this fine November. Family and friends who haven’t logged on to this blog o’ mine yet have been “hearing” from those who have that I’m “starting a publishing company.” Say what? I did not get that memo. I suppose I’ve been living in denial that I will have to approach self-publishing (if my book gets rejected by all the e-publishers I’ve queried—there’s still hope, folks! A golden sliver of hope.) as a business. Yes, I have skimmed Amanda Hocking’s extremely inspiring and honest blog posts about the hard, sloggy work involved (not to mention the money one has to shell out). I recently read a very helpful post on the Making Baby Grand blog with guest author Robyn Bradley that reiterates much of that.

I would love to know, fellow bloggers, whether you’re self-published or traditionally published or still figuring out the business side of writing, how much time you spend writing and how much businessing? 50-50? 60-40? 70-30? Does blogging count as writing or writing business or a little of both? And whatever your answer, are you OK with it?

 

August 10th, 2011

Genre fiction, or what’s in a name?

I admit, I haven’t done a lot of research on the whole e-publishing microcosm—I don’t know what e-publishers are out there, the ones that are following the rules of traditional publishing with submissions, rejections, standards…you know, not vanity presses but “real” publishers. Oh, and that handle editing, cover art, distribution, publicity, and royalties (of the two I’ve checked out so far, they do not give advances). So just this very minute, I did a Google search and found this site, ebook crossroads. The link is a list of ebook publishers they’ve compiled. I’ll study it in more depth and invite you to do the same. Let me know what you find, if you don’t mind.

Like print publishers, many ebook publishers specialize in particular genres—romance, science fiction, westerns, etc. A few years ago, I interviewed author Clare Willis, who wrote Once Bitten, a paranormal romance about mosquitoes. Just kidding. It’s about vampires, of course. She told me an interesting tidbit—the best-selling genre of all genres is romance. Could I beef up the romance in my own paranormal novel? she asked. I wasn’t even sure if my novel could be labeled “paranormal.” For a long time, I thought of my book (and still do, although what do I know?) as “cross-genre”, like, if I may be so bold, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, or a part of the magical realism subset of literature. (Remember, I’d been trained by my creative writing program to think like this: literary fiction=good, genre fiction=meh.)But my book might be too plot-driven or mainstream-ish or—gasp!— accessible to the reading masses to be classified as any sort of literary fiction. Anyway, I had discovered the genre of urban fantasy and thought that might be a good fit.

But romance? Well, again, my snoot radar went up. I didn’t read romances. Well..sometimes I read chick lit, but it was like a dirty little secret, an indulgence. But romance novels with busty ladies in corsets and long-haired, steroid-riddled pirates hovering over them on the covers? Not since a brief foray into the romance shelves of the local used bookstore back when I was in high school. I preferred the ones that took place in the Old West.

But I digress…I do like a good love story. A tantalizing triangle. There is an element of that in my book. Sure, I could beef it up. And it might even make the story better, more crackling.

Plus, once I checked out these publishers (and not all of them require lots of steamy sex, sometimes just “elements of romance”), they had clearly moved beyond corsets and pirates. There were fairies, vampires (of course), witches, space rangers, and normal everyday people. Other genres that have been around for 40, 50 years, I’m just learning about like steampunk and cyberpunk. Even if I’m not writing for those audiences, it’s exciting that other writers are, and that readers are demanding more.

Am I a romance writer? I wouldn’t go that far. Is my book a paranormal romance? If I can find a wider audience for my book, I’m open to the idea that it is. If you’ve changed your mind about genre, have always written genre fiction, or have some thoughts about e-publishers, do share.

 

August 4th, 2011

OK, traditional publishing, I’ll give you one more try

So, I’ve been obsessing about this whole e-book phenomenon, and it’s no wonder as I plow through the first Sookie Stackhouse novel (yes, I’m one of those True Blood fans who’s finally found her way to the source material) on my iPad. The app that truly legitimizes this basically rather expensive toy, although my kids would argue accessing Disney movies and Angry Birds is reason enough, is OverDrive Media, which I highly recommend to anyone who is an advocate of library usage. Through OverDrive, you can “check out” e-books and audible books (i.e. books on tape) for free. You get the file for 3 weeks and then it disappears. No late fees! Pretty awesome. Oh, and the app is free.

Anyway, e-books haven’t completely replaced real books in my personal library. An author I admire can’t sign my e-book, can she? I recently scooted down to a wonderful local bookstore, Bookshop West Portal, because I knew one of my favorite authors Ann Patchett had done a signing there for her new book, State of Wonder, and I’d be able to get a lovely autographed copy. Granted, I have yet to read her book (but it’s going to be good! It’s getting excellent reviews) because the e-books I requested keep rolling in from the library, and I have to accept them or they disappear from my “hold shelf.” But I’ll get to Ms. Patchett’s book soon. Don’t you worry! And for now, I can admire the lovely cover.

Of course, there are e-book publishers out there that specialize in digital books, and because this whole indie e-book publishing thing is kind of daunting (just found out, for example, that hiring an editor is going to cost mucho dinero), I might give one of these publishers a try. Yes, give them a chance to reject my beloved book one more time, then head off on my own, as Planned B. Let’s see…if I send out my manuscript by tomorrow to the editors, it could take three to four months before I hear back from them.

What say you, dear readers. Should I do it? Should I invite more rejection into my house?

August 3rd, 2011

Once upon an agent

Yes, at one point in my life, I had an agent. It was an amazing feeling when this complete stranger said she would like to represent my first novel. I was about 26 or 27 years old at the time, and it seemed like the work I’d done in grad school, despite my extremely yeasty doubts and insecurities, actually had some merit. I had found her in a heavy tome my thesis adviser had recommended, along with the advice to look for younger, newer agents, because they are “hungry” and more likely to take on an unknown writer. Plus, they will work really hard for you.

My agent was in Colorado. Not the hot bed of publishing, but I wasn’t prejudiced. She also wasn’t a member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives), saying she had the qualifications, so why pay the big fees? Fine, fine. I understood about that. She asked for $600 to cover expenses like photocopies and postage. Red flag: all my grad school professors (at the time, these were the only published people I knew personally) said this was a big no-no. NEVER give money to an agent. They should make their money on the commission only. But I had a good job as a paralegal and could spare the bucks. Plus, she was the only agent, out of those I’d so far queried, who had said she wanted to represent me. What can I say? I was in love. Head over heels.

We had lunch once. She was in San Francisco for some reason. And I won’t give any specific personal details, but that meeting planted the seeds of doubt about her commitment to my work. She had not actually read the whole novel, she said. Well, I wondered, how did she know it was any good? But I shook it off. We went dutch on the lunch.

Rejection, rejection, rejection. One big nibble from St. Martin’s Press, but in the end, no thanks, the editor said.

Every day, I waited for my agent to call with news. Sometimes, when I couldn’t take it anymore, I called her for an update. It was like being in a relationship with a boyfriend who ignores you most of the time, and you wait by the phone, can’t eat, can’t sleep…you get the idea.

At the end of our year contract, she gave me a 3-month extension. But about a month in, she called me and said, not at all kindly, “I don’t want to work on this project anymore. No one is interested, and the writing isn’t very good, and I just don’t want to spend any time on it anymore.”

Was I devastated? Hell, yeah! All of my insecurities were totally validated! I let it sink it, numb me, then went home and cried on my husband’s shoulder.

“What happened?” he asked.

“My agent broke up with me!”

I called her a few days later. She was polite. I asked her if I rewrote the book, would she consider representing it? She said she’d take a look if I had something in a few months, but she didn’t have any specific advice for changes, or maybe I was too dumb to ask.

But instead of calling her back, I went into hibernation. After a while, I might have done some editing of the book on my own. Maybe not. But I did decide not to go back to the agents. I went back to the heavy tome and looked for small publishing houses. And  that’s how I found Dry Bones Press.

July 30th, 2011

Should Olivia Give Up on Traditional Publishing?

To e-book or not to e-book? That is the question.

Okay. Let’s back up a sec. *sigh*

Discussing my struggles with writing is not one of my favorite pastimes, but I also feel I have to be honest when people ask about my latest endeavors. I can’t just say, “Great! Everything’s great!” They want proof. Those not in “the game” seem to think finding an agent is as easy as going to the Yellow Pages (or Google), calling the agent of your choice, and having them sign you up. No. Not a bit. I’ve had introductions to agents from friends who are their clients. No cigar. I’ve sent out more queries (that’s a one-page letter telling a bit about your book and yourself) than I want to admit (in the dozens, people, in the dozens). I’ve come soooooo close, with agents asking for sample chapters or even the whole manuscript, only to tell me that the writing is good but the story isn’t compelling/special/great. Or, they might think the novel’s idea is fantastic, but the execution in too plodding, etc. Or, they think the market is too saturated with the kind of story I’ve written. What it comes down to for agents—can they sell this thing?

I guess I thought success would come a little faster—or at all—when I published my first novel Year of the Smoke Girl with a small press. This was back in 2000, and the publisher, Dry Bones Press, Inc., consisted of one guy, Jim Rankin, who was using his disability money and some incentives from Lightning Source—a print on demand printer owned by Ingram—to publish books, first in nursing, then in other genres. I will always be grateful to Jim for giving me a break, although the whole process was rather frustrating. But I’ll save that for another post.

Back to success, or lack of it.  I had hoped with my next novel I’d move on from the small indie press world to a larger, mid-sized press, perhaps with the help of an agent, but that didn’t happen. In 2003, I told one of my writer friends that I was thinking of giving up. She said helpfully, “Maybe writing can just be your hobby.” She wasn’t the greatest at pep talks. But maybe she was right, I thought. Maybe I should just slap that L on my forehead and admit I’m a big old LOSER.

About a year later, however,  I started to draft another book (my fourth), because you see, writing for me is like some kind of disease, even if it’s bad writing. What was my subject? Well, I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (high school angst combined with the supernatural–awesome combo!), although at the time I hadn’t read any adult supernatural stuff and had only read YA horror when I was actually a YA (remember, when I started writing my novel, this was pre Twilight). Of course, like most people, I’d read the Harry Potter series and loved it. I had done some research on modern Wiccans, and I thought it would be funny if a witch who had been raised in this religion actually had superpowers and didn’t know what to do with them. As a person who is half-Chinese, half-white, I thought it would be even more interesting if she was biracial. I had once attended a Samhain potluck, where basically everyone was white except one Asian woman, and I thought, What the hell is she doing here? I’d love to know her story. So that’s how my character Memphis Zhang was born.

Here’s another little tidbit about me: This fall, I turn 40. I have always been blase about getting older, but as I actually do add on the years, I’m taking aging more seriously. I had hoped to be further along in my fiction writing career by this point. Some of my writing friends have started to encourage me to self-publish—excuse me, I think the term used today is independently publish or indie publish—my book as an e-book and hope for the success of Amanda Hocking. Maybe as a birthday gift to myself, I will. Come along for the ride—it’ll be fun!