What I learned at KY Writing Workshop

Friday I attended a day-long writing conference in Louisville hosted by Writers Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino.  In addition to his talks on agents, publishing (self vs traditional), author platform and marketing, we also had a fun session called “Writers’ Got Talent,” a first page-a-thon where three agents and an acquiring editor heard anonymous first pages aloud, raising their hands when they would stop reading if it were a submission.  Then they’d tell us why they did or did not raise the hand; what they loved, and what they hated.

I pitched two agents.  For those of you smart enough to never try getting a book published, this is where you get ten minutes to sit down with an actual literary agent.  You halt and stammer your way through a bad community theater-esque memorized speech (which you totally had NAILED last night, but now, sitting there facing a perfectly nice human who only wants the best for you, all you can do is mumble, “so I have this mystery…there’s this guy…he got murdered…there’s this other guy…he’s trying to, um, you know, like, solve it?), then spend the rest of your ten minutes answering the questions that the agent kindly asks to try to get your brain out of mashed-potato mode so she can tell if there’s any chance in hell she might be interested in your book.

It’s a lot scarier than I make it sound.

I pitched two agents, and whether out of kindness or true interest, both made requests.  One asked for queries and first pages from two of my books, the other asked for the FULL!!!! of the mystery.  Full requests are fairly rare, and really encouraging.  I might not be able to string three words together on a page, but at least she likes my idea.

So you send in the requested material, and you wait.  I’ve had agents get back to me within a week.  I had one who ignored me for eleven months, then when politely nudged, said she would read my submission that week and get back to me.  That was three weeks ago.  You just never know what else they have going on, and how fast they’ll even pick your stuff up.  Agents get between 100 and 500 query letters (that’s the letter you write telling them about your book, and asking if they want to read any of it) a WEEK.  Most take on maybe 5-10 new clients a YEAR.  Not good odds.  But it’s the way the game is played, so I’m playing.

That’s not what this post is about.

This post is about Chuck’s advice in the “author platform” speech.  An author’s platform is their reach…the number of people they’re connected with that they can easily contact with book news.  It’s your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends, your blog followers, etc.  If you’re a celebrity, that’s huge, because lots of people care what you have to say about stuff you probably know nothing about.  If you’re a small town vet, it’s kinda limited.  But since even the largest publishers have axed most of their PR teams over the last few years, most of an author’s publicity comes from their own networks now.  Unless your last name is King or Coben or Koontz, you’re mostly on your own, even if one of the big five publishers picks you up.

So what you need to do is get a lot of people to follow your site.  You do not do this by writing about what you’re writing.  Because until you’re somebody, nobody cares what you’re writing.

The secret is content.

Write something so people will find you when they Google something.  It doesn’t have to have anything at all to do with your book.  If there’s a tie-in (like you’re writing cozy mysteries about a chef who solves crimes, and your blog is recipes) that’s cool, but it doesn’t have to.   It just needs to get people to find you, and come back to you.  And then when you DO have a book, you can end your recipe post with, “hey, like my recipes?  Buy my book!”

I thought about what I could blog on.  What do people want from the interwebs that I’m in a good position to blog about every week?

So this post marks the transition from “DrWendy’s Writing Site,” about which maybe twelve people gave a crap, and they’re all related to me, to “DrWendy’s Writing and Pet Care Site,” about which hopefully lots of folks will care.

None of my books have anything to do with pet care, unless you count dinosaurs as pets.

But lots of folks look for pet advice, and once I get you, I’ll keep you.

And when it’s book time, I’ll have you.  And maybe enough of you will think, “Gee, I really like her post about cat litter, let’s check out her epic fantasy,” and then we’ll have something.

The mandatory End of Year blog post

It’s that time of year again, when we look back on what 2014 brought us and imagine what the coming year might have in store.  Everyone is making their “best of” lists and resolutions.  So here’s the obligatory New Year’s Eve blog post.

What did 2014 mean to me?

The end of cancer treatment.  OK, that’s not technically true, since I’ll be on tamoxifen for at least another 8 years, and the active portion of my battle (chemo, radiation and double mastectomy) has all been done since 2012.  But I’ve been doing reconstructive surgery every three months since then, and just two weeks ago I had the final procedure.  I’m as close to “back to normal” as I’m going to get.  I have boobs, and I have hair. These are good things.

My primary career has reached the point of small victories.  The big milestones are long behind me (getting into vet school, graduating, finding a practice that fits me well, becoming competent).  Now my veterinary wins are on an individual scale.  A new case to solve.  A new procedure to master.  New recent grads to mentor.  I am aware every day that I am what I always wanted to be.

And 2014 saw the first promising signs that my writing might someday reach people.  First published short stories.  First published poem.  First blog of my own.  There are people in the publishing world right now reading novels I’ve written.  Will they like them?  Will they like them enough to want to publish them?  Who knows.  I’ve written a lot of words.  I’ll keep writing more until I find a string of them that together make a novel that people will want to read.  I hoped 2014 would be the year that saw me get a book deal.  Now I’m just hoping it was the year in which I wrote a book that will someday get a deal.  If not, then it was the year that saw me improve my craft such that a book deal will eventually occur.

I’m making new friends in the writing world, and enjoying my old friends who’ve supported me in all things.  Today is my wedding anniversary.  Andrew and I will celebrate at a friend’s party…the same party where we married eleven years ago.  Nearly all the same folks will be there.  We’ve all changed; some of us more than others.

But in the end, the turn of the year is just one night.  Tomorrow is no different from yesterday.  In some parts of the world, it’s 2015 already.

Happy New Year.

Sci-Fi Anthology is here!

Well, this was quick.

My third publication releases today!

It’s a science fiction anthology put together by Word Branch Publishing called Stories in Future Tense.  I’m a contributing author and, along with several others, an editor.  I won’t tell you which stories I got to edit, but in this book I get to be proud not only of my own story, but of other authors’ as well.  Pretty exciting, and so happy to have been trusted by Word Branch to help bring this book to life.

I’ve read all the stories in it, and we have quite an eclectic collection.  There’s something for everyone to enjoy.  Proceeds benefit literacy charities.

I’m told that if you want to be sure of having the physical book to give as a Christmas gift (and you DO, don’t you?), you should do expedited shipping just to be safe.  We’re cutting it pretty close, here.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I still smell like a camel’s backside.  The bandages come off tonight, and I get to see my amazing plastic surgeon’s latest attempt at perfecting my new boobage.  In case anyone’s wondering about the procedure, check out http://www.miamibreastcenter.com for details about this no-implant way to build boobs from nothing.

Meanwhile, enjoy some fun Sci-Fi stories.


Stories In Future Tense

I’m a poet

It’s official.

My second publication is out there.

It’s not a smutty romance story, and it’s not a sci-fi/fantasy.  It’s a poem.

I wrote it in response to Indiana University Simon Cancer Center’s call for submissions of short prose or poetry from warriors, survivors, and caregivers about the cancer experience.  I couldn’t think of a story I wanted to share, but I came up with a poem and shared it.

It’s about bees.

But it’s not really about bees.

That’s what’s fun about poetry.  Stuff means other stuff.  It’s all very deep.

It’s available in their collection, “Writing About Cancer,” from IU’s Simon Center, and the proceeds go back into their programs, which, as you might imagine, are pretty important to the folks in the middle of this.

The timing on this one is good for me.  I’m writing this post swathed in bandages from my eighth (and hopefully FINAL) reconstructive surgery to replace what cancer stole.  I look a little more like my old self every day.

I also smell like a monkey’s armpit because the bandages stay on for four days after the procedure and not only can’t I shower, I can’t even reach to smear on deodorant.  It’s as lovely as you might imagine.

But that’s the price I (and everyone downwind of me) must pay for me to look like a girl again.

And sometime next week I’ll get a little package from The Bookpatch self-pub site, and in it will be my author’s copy of Writing about Cancer.

My first physical book, since the smutty romance was e-only.

Cancer takes, but in tiny ways, cancer also gives.

I hope you enjoy my poem.


Writing About Cancer

When does writer become author? Today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am thankful for the publication of my first short story!

A few months ago Fuse Literary put out a call for submissions for a sexy holiday romance anthology, and I thought, “Why not?”  Having never actually read any romance, nor attempted to write it, I thought, “How hard can it be?”

Turns out, kinda fun, actually.

It was as much a personal challenge for myself to write something that didn’t have magic or demons, aliens or dinosaurs in it.  Just a sweet, sexy story about a post-cancer woman getting her groove back.

I think it turned out pretty cute.

And apparently, so did the fine folks at Fuse Literary, because they chose to include it in their anthology.

Today it got published.  Writer becomes published author with the push of a button.

It just happened overnight, so I haven’t even had a chance to read the other stories.  Can’t wait to dive in and see what everybody else sent in.

It’s kind of funny to me that my first official publication is this one…my other soon-to-be-published short stories are quick, snappy little numbers–one of them a sci-fi, and the other, suspense.  And the one that’s out there first has the word “penis” in it.  I debated long and hard (ha) about that word.  It seemed to me as I was writing the story that its inclusion changed the story from sweet and sassy to graphic and erotic.  But that’s what they asked for in the submission, so “penis” stayed put.

I also debated about using a pen name, and decided that if I was willing to put a story out there at all, I should be willing to sign my own name to it.  People like to talk about “author branding,” and the worry is that publishing in disparate genres will confuse people about who I am as an author.  My answer to that is, “As an author, I write a lot of different stuff.”  Maybe someday if something hits really big, I’ll get pigeonholed as a Sci-Fi writer, or a Paranormal writer, or a Fantasy writer.  And I’ll be just fine with that.

Meanwhile, enjoy my sexy little Christmas story.


Why aren’t you published yet?

Hardly anyone knows I write.

I have a few trusted beta readers (those are the first people who read your stuff after you, the alpha reader, have finished it.  Or at least, finished it enough that you need somebody else to tell you what doesn’t make sense, because you’ve been through it so many times that you can’t even see the words anymore).  These friends have read my novel-length stuff, and haven’t hated it.  They’ve been helpful and critical and absolutely necessary.  I owe them all.

Cincinnati Fiction Writers knows I write, because I started showing up at the meetings last year and they can’t make me stop going.  I’d never met any of them before my first meeting, but several have become trusted critique partners, which is a two-way street.  I think I’ve been useful to them.

My husband knows I write.  He plays Grand Theft Auto while I toil.  The sounds that echo from downstairs are sometimes quite horrific.

But other than that, hardly anyone knows.

That’s because once you start telling people you think you’re a writer, you have to answer the dreaded Three Questions.

How many books have you written?

Are you published?

How much money have you made?

The current answers are: three and a half, no, and negative couple hundred bucks.  The first two answers should be self-explanatory.  The third is because I’ve spent a bit on books about writing, attended a small local writers’ conference, and paid for a couple of professional critiques of my stuff (highly recommended for noobs).

I’m not published yet because it takes forever.  Here’s everything I’ve learned about traditional publishing.

You don’t just write a book and send it off to Penguin or Random House or Random  Penguin or whatever they’re calling themselves this week.  The big five publishers don’t accept work from authors.  They only consider books sent to them by agents.  So to get a deal with a big publisher, you need an agent.

There are hundreds of agents in the US and abroad.  Each of them gets between 50 and 200 unsolicited queries a week (that’s writer-talk for the letter you send saying, “wow, my book is awesome, don’t you want to sell it for me?”).  Of those, maybe half are total garbage…from well-meaning folks who have written a whole lot of words but not, in all honesty, a real book.  The rest are varying degrees of decent to great.  Of those 200 queries, most agents request manuscripts from maybe 10 writers a month.  They have those manuscripts for anywhere from a month to (my current record) 10 months (so far), and during this time you just have to wait.  They’re really busy, and their existing clients come first.  Hopefuls wait their turns.

Of those 10 or so a month, most agents take on maybe 6 new clients a year.  So you can do the math on that.  The odds are horrible.  Even if your book really is awesome, chances are really poor that you’ll entice an agent to even read it, and if they do, it has to really blow their socks off for them to take it on.

This is because they have to truly love a book to sell it.  I’ve been doing some editing for a small publisher to help out a friend, and I’ve read the stories I’ve worked on at least five times, making a new pass with every revision the authors made.  That’s pretty easy on short stories.  Very time-consuming if it’s a novel.  And that’s what an agent does…leads you through those necessary revisions to get your novel ready for them to send to the editors they think might like it.  So they have to not only love it, but want to read it five times, AND truly believe they can sell the thing to a traditional publisher when the time is right.

“That’s simple,” you scoff.  “I’ll just have my brother-in-law pretend to be my agent.  He can submit my compilation of grocery lists, and sign his emails The SuperAwesome Great Books Agency.  They’ll never know.”

Yeah.  Trust me, someone else already thought of that, and ruined it for you.   They know who the real agents are, and your brother-in-law ain’t one of them.

So the search for an agent to represent you is a soul-crushing experience, full of rejection and waiting, waiting and more rejection.

What are your other options?

You can self-publish.  That’s a whole ‘nother post.

Or you can look to the smaller publishers.  There’s a new class of small publishing companies out there who accept unagented submissions.  You still have to wow them with your manuscript, but there are a lot of them, and taking on new authors is the mainstay of their talent pool.  Most of them are primarily e-book, with Print on Demand options.  It’s a lot cheaper for them to do it this way, because they (and you) aren’t stuck with a thousand copies of The Crapola Novel that didn’t sell, but they still paid to print.  It allows them to take more chances than the big publishers, because if a book flops, all they have invested in it is the editing time and the cover design.  These things are valuable, but to a publisher, not that expensive.  Your book isn’t going to be at Barnes and Noble, but it will be on all the websites, and you can take printed copies in to your local indie bookstores, who might be interested in them.

Why is this a better option than self-pub?

One reason is quality control. Anyone can self-pub anything now.  Write any length piece of garbage you want, and you can have it up on Amazon within the hour.  This doesn’t mean it’s good, or that anyone at all will or should buy it.  But you can do it.  Which means a lot of self-pubbed stuff is awful.  Some is pretty awesome, but it’s hard to tell the difference until you’ve bought it.  When you’re buying a book that’s been professionally published, not only do you know that someone besides the author thought it didn’t suck, but generally someone besides the author has edited and formatted it, which means more than you’d think if you’ve never read anyone’s first draft.  They’re always a mess, and they always need help.

The second reason is that even the small presses have some marketing help.  Not much.  But honestly, even if the big dogs pick up your book, you’re going to be mostly on your own to market it.  The days of nationwide book signing tours for new authors are long gone.  Even the big guys make their authors do most of the work themselves.  It’s the new reality of publishing.  But if you have a publisher on your side, at least you have someone who’s been there before to advise you how to do it.

Where do I fit into all this?

I’m in the waiting part.  I have a couple of manuscripts out with a couple of agents.  That’s pretty exciting, at least for the first few weeks/months of the wait.  Then it kind of isn’t as exciting anymore, but hope reigns supreme.  I have a manuscript out with two small publishers.  Fingers crossed.  And I have a Work-in-Progress that I’m just sure is “the one,” the book that will open all the doors, and make me a household name.  I thought that about the first three books, too, but this time I’m just sure of it.

And that’s it, right there.

That’s what you do.

You write something.  You mess with it.  You get folks to read it.  You mess with it some more.  You send it out, and get it rejected.  Then you write something else.  And it’s a little better than the one that came before it.  And I remain convinced that if I can keep doing that long enough, one of these books will be The One.  Household name?  Probably not.  But someday a stack of books is going to arrive on my doorstep in a UPS box.

They’ll be my books.

And that’s worth waiting for.

Why write?

So what makes a fortysomething veterinarian decide to start writing books?  Was it an overabundance of confidence, which only the soul-crushing novel query process can quell?  Perhaps it was a deep need for self-expression, the kind that eighteen years of spaying dogs, neutering cats, removing tumors, pinning fractures, and rebuilding knees just can’t fulfill?  Some kind of mental illness?


It was cancer.

One sunny afternoon in October, 2011, in the middle of training for my fifth marathon, I got the news.  The right breast had mutinied, and would have to go.  And it was taking my left breast and every hair on my body (including nose hairs…whose necessity you just don’t appreciate until they’re gone, and your nose runs constantly for six months) with it.

I worked full-time through chemo, because I am a BAMF.  I ran the first eleven miles of that marathon in the middle of that, because I’m half Jewish and I’d already paid for the race.  And who’s going to give shit to a bald girl who bails at mile eleven?  I took two weeks off for my double mastectomy, and was in the park jogging along with the drains still poking out of my now running-braless flat, scarred, horror-movie chest.  I had radiation, and learned way more than I ever wanted to know about blisters.  I’ve had eight reconstructive surgeries, and the new girls are pretty amazing, which is a post for another day.  I’m cancer-free, and plan to stay that way.

So why write?

Two reasons.

One was my cancer blog.  I started a private, invite-only blog when all this shit hit the fan.  It was mostly laziness on my part…instead of telling all my friends and family and well-wishers every new development individually, I just invited them to the CarePage and wrote a post every times something interesting happened.  And over time, I realized something.

My blog was hilarious.

That’s not something you usually think of when you think of a cancer blog, but I learned that my friends were eagerly awaiting each post, particularly the ones I wrote immediately post-op, high on percocet.  Some of them would read the posts aloud to each other, and laugh hysterically at my vivid descriptions of body fluid drainage, allergic reactions, and constipation.  Not much funnier than constipation.

So I knew I could write.

And, like everyone who’s ever read a novel and thought, “I could do that,” I read novels and thought, “I could do that.”  But now the ticking of the clock sounded loud in my ears.  Suddenly I changed from being a BAMF doctor, marathoner, SCUBA diver, etc. into someone just a tiny bit less invulnerable.  Trust me, once you’ve sat in a chemo recliner with the Red Death dripping into your surgically-implanted venous port, next to ten wheezing, snoozing, old husks who are thirty years older than you, but have the same damned disease you have, you’re just not quite as certain that all those things you’ve always said you were going to do are actually going to get done.

Cancer does that.

So I wrote a short story.  And I joined a writing club.  And I wrote a novel.  And I wrote two more novels.  And two more short stories.  The stories are all getting published in various anthologies in the next few months.  The novels are in various stages of readiness to unleash upon an unsuspecting public.

None of them are about cancer.

But in a weird way, they all are.


It’s official.

This is my first-ever blog post.

I’ve got three short stories coming out in the next few months, so I finally thought I could create an author website without feeling like a poser.

And here it is.

It’s not much yet, but check back soon.

You never know.