Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Job of Writing, with Guest Lisa Brackmann


Iraq vet Ellie McEnroe is down and out in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

“Finally a Western writer has taken China’s domestically bestselling genre of wild, louche-life youth and re-imagined it as a highly original expat thriller. It’s a wild ride—but don’t turn the pages too fast. Brackmann’s evocation of China, funny, frustrating, frightening, sometimes tender, and always real, is worth savoring.”


I am happy to welcome a writer I've known all my life (no, I'm not gonna tell you how many years!) and who, in fact, is responsible for my love of reading. Lisa and I are in the same online writers critique group and I read the first incarnation of what is now Rock, Paper, Tiger and loved it. I've since read all the rewrites and an already excellent book just kept getting better with each incarnation. The final draft, which is coming out this June with Soho Press, is amazing. The cover art is absolutely the best cover I've seen in terms of reflecting the contents accurately and being kick-ass, eye-catching artwork. She just got her first official review on Library Journal. And I'm sure there will be many more positive reviews to follow.

Can you tell I love this book?

One of the reasons RPT is so damn good is the work Lisa put into it, the willingness to put the time and effort into making it the best book it could be. She wrote an excellent post about the job of writing for Sia McKye's Thoughts Over Coffee and I asked if I could snag the post for MMM today. I wanted to 'reprint' Lisa's post a: because it's an excellent post, b: because I had a major brain fart trying to think of a topic, and c: because I just finished reading The War of Art by Stephen Pressman, which Lisa references, and had the same type of breakthrough she discusses. So I thought I'd share her thoughts, as well as introduce you to a very talented writer! Please welcome Lisa Brackmann to Make Mine Mystery!

A few years ago, back when I first seriously started writing novels, I came across Stephen Pressman’s book “The War of Art.” Pressman talks a lot about overcoming resistance and facing your creative fears, but for me what really resonated was one simple principle: writing is a job. The first rule of a job is, you show up. Whether you feel like it or not.

For whatever reason, viewing my writing this way was a huge breakthrough for me. It wasn’t about waiting for a Muse, or having to be in the mood. It was about putting my butt in the chair, opening up the document and doing the work. Discipline alone could nourish talent and inspiration. I liked that.

Seeing my writing as a job to do, while perhaps not the most glamorous or inspirational perspective, certainly has come in handy on the road to publication.

Last summer, my novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, was acquired by Soho Press, for Spring/Summer 2010 publication. That is actually a pretty fast turnaround in the publishing world, and it meant that I had a lot of things to do in a fairly short amount of time, with lots of deadlines.

Acquisition and publication processes vary greatly from house to house, so some of my experiences may not apply to every situation. But I hope to give you a sense of what your job as an author will be like, once you score that publishing deal and have signed your shiny new contract.

Generally you will have editorial revisions, requests for changes concerning story and character. Sometimes these come in the form of an editorial letter, where the concerns and suggestions are outlined. Without going too much into the specifics of my experience, I’ll just say that my editor was awesome and this was not a huge deal for me (for which I am seriously thankful).

At the same time, you’ll have to deal with a number of “housekeeping” issues – things that have to be done that are not directly connected to writing and revising.

The wonderful publicist at Soho (excuse me if I run out of superlatives, but everyone I have dealt with there has been fantastic) told me the single most important thing an author can do in terms of publicity is to have an easily findable web presence. That means a website that comes up when people search your name and the name of your book(s). So, mine is , and in addition, permanently redirects to the page about the novel on my website (try it! You’ll see!).

Unless you are a web/graphic designer or someone with a lot of talent for design, I strongly recommend that you bite the bullet and hire a pro to design your site. Yes, it costs some money. But you’re going to need tax write-offs anyway, and a professional-looking website signals that you are a professional author. Which, once you sign a contract, you are.

Show the world that you’re a pro. It’s worth it.

Likewise…you’ll have to get an author photo. Yes, you really will. Even if, like me, you are a fairly publicity-shy sort of person, It Must Be Done.

Again, while you may not need to hire a professional photographer (I did, and I’m glad), your photo needs to have a certain amount of polish – in other words, a good portrait, not a casual shot of you and the kids and the dogs and/or cats. Think about your genre too. What sort of “look” helps promote what you are writing?

You will need a short bio.

While I was never asked to write a synopsis (and for that I am extremely grateful!), at many houses, you will be. I definitely have needed blurbs – thankfully I’ve been generally been able to use variations on my original query.

You might be asked to fill out an author survey. Again, this varies a lot from house to house. The purpose of the survey is to identify potential markets for your book and to provide information that will help Publicity and Marketing sell it. Any authors you can compare your work to, whose readers might like yours? What are the most original features of your book? Who might you be able to enlist to review or publicize it? Are there conventions or conferences that might be relevant? In what cities do you have particularly good networks?

You may be asked for a list of authors who would be appropriate to blurb your work, including authors you might actually know and can personally ask.

I found the Author Survey to be one of the toughest things I did. It forced me to think of my book in ways that don’t come naturally to me (I’m notorious for writing stuff that doesn’t quite fit neatly into genre categories).

Meanwhile, what about that book you wrote? You did your editorial revisions, the MS has been officially “delivered and accepted” (which you love, because that means you get Part 2 of your advance!). So you’re done, right?

Uh, no.

Here’s another instance where different houses have different processes. In my case, I next worked on a line edit. This involved minor editorial changes (clarifications, fact checks, fixing awkward prose) and copy edits. After that, the copy editor did another pass.

Then come the galley proofs.

This is kind of exciting, because the “galleys” are the typeset version of your book – what your book will look like when it’s published. But it’s also a challenge, at least for me – by this point, I had read the book so many times, I worried about my ability to catch mistakes. I strongly recommend that you come up with a careful system of checks and double-checks, because this really is your last chance to fix problems and make small adjustments in the text. (Well, sort of. In my case, a proof-reader did an additional pass and had a few questions, plus I had a little issue that I just had to address. Again, procedures differ; your mileage may vary!)

Finally, your book is off to Production. Does that mean you’re done?

Well, I’m not.

I’m just a little over two months away from my publication date. I’ve had letters and essays to write for various promotional efforts. Bookstore events to calendar (and I guess I’d better start thinking about what I actually might say when I get there!). Interviews to conduct, conventions to attend, blog posts to write. Like this one!

So, yes. Being a professional author is a lot of work. It’s a job. And like any job, there are deadlines, and tasks that are kind of a pain in the butt.

But you know what? It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. She still takes pride in her karaoke-ready repertoire of bad pop hits and an embarrassing number of show tunes. A southern California native, she lives in Venice CA and spends a lot of time in Beijing, China. Her three cats wish she’d stay put.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

Making writing my primary job is still an issue for me. Lots of time has been wasted and I really do need to get it together.

Inspiring column.

Kat Sheridan said...

Outstanding column! So many folks dream of publishing their book, without really knowing all the really hard work that happens beyond just writing it. Great insight, Lisa!

Other Lisa said...

Howdy all! Let me know if you have any questions -- I'll do my best to answer them.

Lisa Brackmann (AKA Other Lisa)

Dana Fredsti said...

Dang it@ My intro is not showing up... I'm gonna try and reformat!

Dana Fredsti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana Fredsti said...

Okay, apologies for the wonky formatting - I have no idea why it didn't show at first, but here's the ENTIRE post, including the intro!
Let's try this all again. :-)

Thank you, Lisa, for guest posting today!

Other Lisa said...

My pleasure!

Other Lisa said...

And thanks, Dana, for that lovely introduction! (I can read it now!)

David Fitzgerald said...

LOVE this post...

Olivia Cunning said...

Being an author is the best job there is, even though it's more work than I ever expected.

I'm so looking forward to reading Rock Paper Tiger, Lisa. Congratulations on your hard work paying off!

Dana Fredsti said...

See, I DID write an intro (I'm not totally worthless!), but for whatever reason it vanished into the black background....

Hi, David and Olivia! Thanks for stopping by. Olivia, Dave is going through the same sort of realization of how much work it is to have a book contract... :-)

Lisa Lane said...

I really enjoyed reading your insights on the publishing biz. Writing, promoting, and everything in between takes a lot of work, and you highlighted well the numerous hats a writer must wear in order to be an "author."

Congratulations and good luck on your upcoming new release!

Dana Fredsti said...

Ms. Lane, lovely to see you here today! Thank you so much for stopping by to welcome my guest!

VA said...

The realization that it is a job and you need to put in the time, every day is a critical breakthrough and one I am personally still struggling with.

Yes, I am leaving that dangling participle for the ratatouille is demanding attention. Congratulations Lisa. I am eagerly awaiting my pre-order.

Jill Lynn said...

Lisa, I bet you've always displayed that same work ethic in any job you've had. The difference now is the reading public will recognize and benefit from it. Way to go!

Dana Fredsti said...

Hi, Viv and Jill! Thank you so much for stopping by and supporting Lisa. I can't wait for my own copy of RPT!

It's an eye-opener when an artistic type realizes their art is, in fact, a job and not just a hobby. Once you treat it that way, things really do change. I'm so glad Lisa recommended that book. And she is so lucky her current job lets her wear pajamas to work!

Other Lisa said...

I love my pajamas!

Thanks for having me!