Sometimes I still can’t believe I sold a book

I’m feeling a distinct torpor, but I’m trying to shake it off. Not sure what’s happening. Maybe just that my novel’s text got finalized, but it still has another year to come out. It really feels like right now, at this moment, no one wants anything from me. I definitely have the space to just sort of dilly-dally. Unfortunately, when you dilly-dally at these moments, it shows up years later as a gap in your output. That’s no good! I’m trying to move forward in life, make a career of this.

Sometimes I still can’t believe I sold a book. It feels completely unreal. When did this happen? How? What did I do? It definitely doesn’t feel like I did anything. I mean, I don’t feel any different. I still get plenty of rejections. When I write something, I still assume it’ll never get published. Even in terms of my daily schedule, I’m writing full-time now (sort of), but when I was in graduate school I had plenty of free time too, so that feels very similar.

The book is sold, though, and it’s coming out. And it’s sooo good. My publisher just forwarded me the jacket copy they’re including with the book, and it’s amazing. That’s one thing where genre fiction has literary fiction completely beat. The jacket copy on literary novels is always incredibly dull (genre writers would say that this is because literary fiction is inherently dull, but I disagree with that). I think it’s because literary jacket copy always tries to convey the experience of reading a book, even though that’s an inherently unexplainable thing. Whereas genre jacket copy just tries to convince you to read the damn thing. The jacket copy on a literary novel is like your college professor telling you why the book is important, whereas the jacket copy on a genre novel is like your best friend telling you why the book is fucking awesome.

Anyway, after reading my book’s jacket copy, i was like, whoah. That sounds like a good book. I’d read that book.be_stoked_poster-r1d9d780a65cb480d897fe5017564565c_zejf1_8byvr_1024

Am readjusting to life on the inside!

bomb2June was not my most productive month. Went to two week-long conferences, and, from a productivity standpoint, that is two too many.

However, now I am back home, and am trying to get work done. Today I finished a draft of my proposal for my next book (yes, another proposal…writing your second book is such a saga, even when you’ve already sold it!)

Now I’m going to try to do some revisions on the middle-grade novel that I wrote LAST June. I’ve been dragging my feet on this one for ages. I’m really going to need to learn faster turn-around times if I’m going to do this author thing.

I’ve been having anxiety regarding this writing thing. I haven’t finished a novel since last June. Of course for much of that time I was working on revisions for Enter Title Here, but still, it feels like a very long and very unproductive period. All of this revision is okay and all, but I’m really excited to start working on something NEW.

At this point, though, I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.

If my proposal goes through, then I’ll need to write that book, which I think is going to be fun. But that book is just a rewrite of a book that I’ve already written, so I feel like there’s a lot less excitement in that than I’d like there to be.

A novel is an amazing thing. It’s an entire universe. You can write literally anything in a novel. And whatever you write becomes so real. When I think of the books I’ve written, each one seems amazing to me. Like, all these worlds came out of nowhere and then became such a big part of my life.

I miss that experience–the experience of being in the grip of something NEW. But it’ll come again, I suppose.

Trying not to stress out about book / career stuff

revisingLike everyone, I get stressed about stuff. I worry. I try not to, but it’s difficult. I’m trying my best to just accept the stress. Like, yes, maybe my book will flop. Maybe I won’t be able to sell my MG novel. Who knows? These things happen. Because the alternative is to go around and around and around in circles, trying to convince myself that the possible is actually impossible, and that’s simply not productive.

The annoying thing, though, is that it sometimes works. If worrying never made anxiety go away, then no one would do it. But sometimes–every once in awhile–I do manage to worry hard enough and examine enough alternatives that, in the end, I feel like I’ve planned for every eventuality and that the worst cannot happen. It’s an illusion, of course, but it’s a comforting one.

And giving up on worrying means giving up on that possibility of relief. It means, on some level, accepting that the anxiety that’s seated in the skin of my arms and on the base of my spine isn’t really going to go away. Or at least I’m not going to be able to MAKE it go away. Instead, it’ll just be with me–not predominant, it’s true, but sitting there in the background, hour after hour, until, for some mysterious reason of its own, it finally dissipates.

So far, that’s the only real solution I’ve found. Not to fight the anxiety, but to avoid giving in to it. Not to suppress anxious thoughts, but to avoid arguing with them. I know this is really banal advice, because the first thing anyone says whenever you’re anxious is that you should just be mindful and accept the thoughts. But I never understood, until very recently, that acceptance wasn’t a shortcut. Acceptance isn’t like the 3rd act of a movie, where a hero faces his deepest fears for like a second, and then is able to use that power to vanquish the bad guy. No, acceptance means realizing that the bad guy is never going to be vanquished and that your fears will never truly be overcome–instead they’ll just stay with you, day after day after day.

I’ve still never quite made up my mind whether or not praise is a good thing

After reading these Brené Brown books on vulnerability, I still am not quite sure whether or not praise is a good thing. Because, alright, one of the takeaways from these books is that the act of artistic creation entails a lot of vulnerability. This is a part of yourself that you’re offering up to the eyes of the world. And if the response isn’t good, then, well, it’s pretty devastating. And that devastation is also completely disproportionate to the crime. Writing a bad novel isn’t terrible. In fact, it’s good. Writing a bad novel is a huge achievement, and it’s a natural step on the road to writing a good novel. I don’t want to make people feel bad about writing bad novels.

And it’s all fine and well for you to be like, oh they shouldn’t be ashamed. You’re not criticizing them. You’re just criticizing the work. But I can’t affect how they’ll hear the criticism. Only people who are really at peace with themselves are able to hear criticism in a wholly constructive way, and writers aren’t noted for being particularly at peace with themselves. And I know lots of writers who’ve been shut down by negative criticism. They withdraw completely and either stop writing or stop submitting. And I believe that the most important way in which writers improve is by continuing to write! That, more than any criticism, is how they’ll produce better work.

Which seems to make it easy. I ought to encourage all writers and honor their future potential to create good work.

But where it becomes more complicated is that praise is also, I think, very harmful to writers. I’ve seen so highly-praised apprentice writers whose development stalled out.

And I think this is for two reasons. One, when you get praise, you assume success is imminent. And when it’s not, you get frustrated and give up. And, secondly, when you get praise, you assume that writing is not hard and you’re naturally good at it, and that’s not interesting. People want to be challenged. Not so challenged that they feel frustrated. But they want to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes with trying your hardest and then achieving something.

So both praise and criticism aren’t that great for writers.

Honestly, I feel like our current system is pretty good. New writers mostly get ignored–oftentimes for the better part of a decade–until they start to show a little progress. That decade of being ignored is terrible, but it’s also freeing. No one is telling you to stop. No one is telling you that you can’t do it. It just teaches you the two things you need to know as a writer: a) the motivation for doing this needs to come from within yourself; and b) no one’s going to pay attention until you write something that makes them sit up and take notice.

That having been said, I still do like to praise people. I figure that the folks who’re discouraged by praise will eventually find their field somewhere, somehow, while the folks who’re encouraged by it are the hothouse flowers who need a very special environment within which to blossom.514IYPfa5YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

So much work

Again, not a lot of work in an absolute sense. Just a lot more work than my current work management techniques are really equipped for. Really, it’s just the number of projects that are all happening at more or less the same time. Normally I like to do just one thing at once, but that’s just not doable. I just spent fourteen days, for instance, writing a story that’d been solicited from me for an anthology. If that’d been the only thing I’d done for those fourteen days, I can’t even imagine what kind of hole I’d be in right now. Instead, I was simultaneously doing the final edits on Enter Title Here. Of course, I have no idea if either of those activities would’ve taken less time if they’d been the sole focus of my work.

But the problem when you make something your sole focus is that sometimes you just end up spinning your wheels on a task–sometimes for months–and if during that time you’re not doing anything else, then you end up completely screwed.

Spent a significant period of time today messing around with my spreadsheet

One major thing I do when I’m trying to ‘kick it into the next gear’ is to mess around with the spreadsheet I use to track every aspect of my life that I care about.

Not all of my productivity improvements have been occasioned by spreadsheet improvements, but most have! For instance, my last major boost in productivity came about two years ago as a result of two fairly significant spreadsheet changes.

Right now, I set daily goals for myself in terms of: a) reading time; and b) writing time. And I’ve been very good at achieving both of those goals. What I am thinking about doing is creating two more categories: c) revision time; and d) other task time (time allocated to work on some other task that I’ll also determine beforehand).

Not entirely sure if this will work. It might end up being too much to track. The benefit, as I see it, is that I can write one project and revise something else, and, thus, eliminate the conflict between the two priorities. Additionally, I’ll finally be able to formally make room in my schedule for all the freelance / consulting work that I do which otherwise gets neglected.

The first step in carrying this out was to divide the daily log on my spreadsheet into two separate sheets. The first I call my “Project Log” and the second is my “Lifestyle Log.” On the second, I track all the things I measure which don’t require any time commitment on my part (i.e. what I eat, whether I write a blog post, whether I’ve hit snooze today). And on the progress log, I’m going to track the four items above (i.e. my four big time expenditures on any given day). Still not sure exactly how this will work in practice, but we’ll see!

Gonna try to kick it into a higher gear

bike_gearsI haven’t exactly been unproductive for the last nine months, but, well, no…since finishing my MG novel last summer, I’ve only completed six short stories, and I’ve done two revisions of Enter Title Here (soon to have a name change, according to what my publisher is telling me) and one revision on my MG novel (as well as assorted other revisions).

When you’re writing all alone, it’s easy to know when something is finished, because it’s finished when you say it’s finished. But once you get an agent and an editor (or, in my case, four editors) involved, then things become different. Everything goes through multiple rounds of revision. You spend a month revising, then you send it off and it’s gone for a month, and now you have a month or two to work on other things. It’s pretty choppy.

I draft things pretty fast (when they’re working), and I have no trouble switching focus, but even for me it’s gotten hard to get used to the idea that I’m always going to have several things going on at once. For instance, right now I’ve got:

  • Enter Title Here (YA) — My debut novel. I’m currently working on line edits that’re due May 6th
  • On My Knees 4 U (YA) — My popstar novel. Currently it’s wending its way through Disney, and they’re going to give me word on whether or not it can be my second book. Even if they want it, though, it’s going to require a fairly significant revision.
  • Everyone Hates You (MG) — I’m expecting notes on this from my agent any day now, and, knowing him, it might need to go through multiple rounds of revision before it can be put on submission.
  • Hugs and Kisses (Literary) — My sociopathic mom novel. I sent this out to a number of friends for their comments, and my plan is to revise this sometime during the next year?
  • Sequential Events (Literary) — The novel I’m currently working on. I’m about halfway through at the moment, and I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to write the other half. Hopefully it’ll be after I finish line edits on ETH.
  • ” June”(short story) — This is a short story I wrote. I think it’ll only be a day or so of work to revise, and then I’ll send it out.
  • Three other stories — I’ve mostly either revised or abandoned my MFA stories, but I still have three that I think are worth sending out

And aside from all these books, I also need to do something about my debut. The self-promotion thing, you know? I’m on all the social networks, but there are other things to do. Mysterious mystical magical other things, whatever those might be. And I also have my consulting work.

Finally, too, I think it’s important to make time to just write. I’m not like all of these people with a huge backlog of ideas that they’re planning on writing. I have no backlog. If Disney turns down the pop star novel, I have zero idea what my next YA novel will be. The way I come up with stuff is by sitting down in front of the keyboard and writing things until finally something coalesces. And I think it’s important to make time to do that. In my opinion, given the way I’m working now, about one third to one half of my writing time needs to be exactly that sort of less-structured writing.

None of this, truth be told, adds up to a full-time job, so please don’t think I’m complaining. What I’m saying, though, is that I feel like I’ve once again approached one of those breakpoints in my life where my ambitions have started to exceed my ability to carry them out. Given the way that I’m currently working, I’m not organized enough to do all of this stuff. For instance, my MG novel was completed last July. I only sent it to my agent at the beginning of March. Between that time and now, what work did I do on it? Very little. I went through it once and cleaned up some stuff. Then I sent it out to two friends for their comments. I made the comments. And that was it: 20 hours of work on 6 days. But the lack of that work led to a six month delay!

There’s a concept in manufacturing of limiting the amount of inventory you keep on hand. Inventory is money that’s just lying around, in the form of spare parts and not-yet-sold products. The quicker you can sell those products and use those spare parts, the quicker the money can come back to you and be reinvested in the business. In my case, inventory is everything I’ve written that’s waiting for revision. And when it sits around, it’s not doing anything for me–it’s not making me money–but it’s still draining time and attention. Furthermore, it means that I’ve become the bottleneck in terms of my career’s progress. In publishing there are so many potential bottlenecks where your career can slow down–agents, editors, the economy–and it doesn’t make sense for me to add to that w/ my own dilly-dallying.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to structure my time so as to work on everything at the moment when I need to work on it. Fundamentally, my problem is that I feel like I need to produce new material, not just because it’s important, but because I enjoy it more. However, I feel like if I’m quick to revise something, then I’ll wing it to an agent or an editor, and it’ll come back to me needing more revision. Thus, if I focus too much on revision, then all I’ll end up doing is revising.

What I need, probably, is a two-track system. Either to spend a portion of each day on revision. Or to spend a few days in the week on revision. That way, my writing has less pressure. I can take my time in writing new things, because writing new things doesn’t hold up the revision process. And my revision will still get done.

I don’t know if that will work. Maybe I’ll find it too difficult to switch projects in that way.

However, that’s my process. Whenever I start to face constraints of this sort, I just try more and more things until something finally works.

Is it possible to conquer envy? The answer might surprise you! (But there’s also a very good chance that it won’t)

envy2I’ve always thought of myself as being a very envious person. Hearing about good things happening to a peer of mine has, in the past, sent me into black moods that have lasted for weeks! It got so bad that, for a time, that all of social media became a minefield for me, and I had to take special effort to shield myself from other peoples’ good news. In fact, I’m part of a writer’s group, the Codex Writer’s Workshop, that contains a message area where people report their acceptances, and I actually went into the settings and made it so that section didn’t appear for me, because otherwise the whole board was causing more negative emotions than I could handle.

And yet, when I talked, a few posts ago, about being friends with writers, it somehow didn’t seem right to talk about envy. Not because it’s a taboo subject (although it is), but because I’m not sure that I’m as susceptible to it as I used to be.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, though. Making friends with other writers can, for many people, dramatically increase the amount of envy that you feel. When good things happen to someone you don’t know, it’s hard to be envious. Envy only kicks in when good things happen to a peer. And when you make friends with writers, you start to develop a rough idea of who your peers are, and you start to develop a weird ranking system–a ladder that exists only in your own head!!!–in which you’re constantly gaining or losing status relative to these other people.

But now I don’t do that as much anymore. I don’t know why. It’s not something that I consciously tried to avoid. In fact, I still experience a twinge of envy when I hear about someone winning an award or selling a market to I haven’t sold to or getting a great book deal. But it’s only a twinge, and it rarely lasts for longer than a second. Before, that feeling used to ruin entire days! It would dramatically undermine my whole self-image!

Again, can’t say what’s up. It’s possible that I have other concerns now, and other areas where I compare myself to other people (i.e. I’m no less shallow, I’m just shallow about different things). It’s also possible that I’m more psychologically healthy and have a better self-image overall, so little things don’t shake it as much? Or maybe I finally became close enough to my writer friends that I’m able to be happy for them? I thought maybe the answer was that my ego was SO inflated that I’d always think, despite any evidence to the contrary, that I’m the greatest writer, but I recently had dramatic proof that that wasn’t true.

As I posted on Facebook:

When Courtney Sender–a 26 year old classmate of mine at Hopkins–told me she’d just finished the first draft of a novel that spanned 35 years, three countries, and ten viewpoints in only 96,000 words, I was pretty skeptical, but now I’ve read it, and I can say: [her book] is amazing. It’s so good. Unbelievably good. Junot Diaz good. National Book Award good. So good that halfway through I texted Courtney and was like, “Umm, why did no one ever tell me that you were _this_ good?”

Reading that novel was quite an experience. I cannot overstate how good it is. Let me tell you, when you read a friend’s novel, you do not expect it to be THIS good. You expect it to be, like, goodish. Good in comparison to the usual dreck on the shelves. You do not expect it to be as good as the best that literature has to offer. You don’t expect it to be incredibly self-assured and observant and beautifully structured.

Courtney’s novel is better than anything I’ve ever written. And maybe better than anything I’ll ever write. And she’s significantly (at least two years) younger than me. I’ve gradually grown used to the idea that I’m not the best writer in all of space and time, but now I’m not even the best writer out of all the people I know who are my age or younger.

But, you know, it’s okay. I’m not really upset. If the novel had been bad, it wouldn’t have made my work better. And what’s more, I’m glad it was so good. Both because it gives me hope–wow, it’s actually possible to write real next-level type novels–and because it’s exciting–It’s really exciting when you read something special. At some point, it’s not even about status anymore. It’s about something new coming into the world. And there’s something very pure and refreshing about admitting, both to yourself and to others, that you’ve read something really good. I don’t know. It’s a prayer, of sorts. Or a gift, maybe. A gift to your own aesthetic sense. If you’re able to see the good in something even when you have incentive to dislike it, then you’re honoring and strengthening the sense of beauty that we all rely on in order to create good work. (Which is why I always make a sincere effort to enjoy the work of people who I don’t like.)

And, conversely, when you start letting your personal gripes and jealousies get in the way of your ability to recognize good work, then you do real damage to your own sense of aesthetics and harm your own long-term ability to produce anything that’s worthwhile.

Did my taxes today! And itemized my deductions for the first time! I have zero advice for you!

I’ve been making significant 1099 income (i.e. income from work as an independent contractor) for the last six years, which means that I was, for all intents and purposes, running my own small business, and all through that time I could theoretically have been itemizing my business expenses and deducting them. But I didn’t, because it seemed way too complicated.

Today though I finally did! Mostly baby steps. I downloaded all my credit card transactions for 2014 and went through and looked at which ones I could credibly characterize as business expenses. So not many things. Mostly my travel to Seattle for AWP and a few purchases. I wrote off some books, some internet data charges, and also all the submission fees for all those contests and magazines. Felt really good, though! Really liberating! I didn’t save an immense amount money by itemizing, but I think I ended up maybe a thousand bucks richer. And it was not as difficult as I thought it would be.

Itemizing increases your audit risk, which is what I was afraid of for years, but I know tons of writers who do tons of weird things and don’t get audited. I think the fact that we don’t earn much money saves us. Additionally, I think all my ducks are in order here. I’ve only taken legal deductions, and I can fully document all the ones I’ve taken. Anyway, only time will tell. But I’m glad that I took this step. It’s just one more of those little milestones in the writing career.IRS-agents-AR-15s-400x211

If you don’t have one, you should maintain a standard author bio

Had an editor get in touch with me today asking for my bio, and I sent them my standard bio, which I change quite frequently, but currently looks something like:

Rahul Kanakia’s first book, a contemporary young adult novel called Enter Title Here, is coming out from Disney-Hyperion in August ’16. Additionally, his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in ApexClarkesworld, Lightspeed, The Indiana Review, and Nature. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a B.A. in Economics from Stanford, and he used to work in the field of international development. Originally from Washington, D.C., Rahul now lives in Berkeley. If you want to know more you can visit his blog at http://www.blotter-paper.com or follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rahkan

Not a big deal. I have a file on my computer called Author Bio, and it contains the above. Some people are even more organized than me. They have THREE author bios. They’ve got a one-line bio and they’ve got a one-paragraph bio and they’ve got a full-page bio. Actually, come to think of it, I really need to write a one-page bio, because it’s not uncommon for people to ask me for one of those.

Anyway, I remember once upon a time I did not have this file. In that far-off day (which wasn’t actually that long ago), I’d write my bio from scratch each time. That’s not as silly as it sounds, because requests for a bio were so infrequent that I figured by the time someone asked for another one, I would’ve done enough things that it’d be entirely different. Then there was an interim period, where when I’d get a request for a bio, I’d go back and find a story I’d published and copy/paste my bio from that story. But then one day I got real and started writing a standardized bio that I could modify and tinker with over time.

My bio goes through plenty of revisions. It used to contain other information that’s now since vanished. I’m also thinking of dropping all the degrees, because they come off a bit elitist. I mean, let’s face it, they are elitist, and it’s a bit silly, since getting a B.A. from Stanford or an M.F.A. from JHU has nothing to do with being a good writer (and, moreover, it’s much harder to, say, sell a story to Clarkesworld than it is to get into Stanford, so it doesn’t really even add much to my impressiveness). But for now the degrees shall remain.

I also not infrequently find typos in my bio. In fact, I just found one (I’d omitted the ‘in’ between ‘forthcoming’ and ‘Apex’)! A bit embarrassing, actually.

Some people like to put quirky things in their bio. They’ll write about their cat or put in a nerd-joke about how they spend their days being chased around the house by a giant squid or I don’t know something like that. This is such a common practice that it’s hard for me to condemn it. I think it’s all about the image you’re trying to project. There’s often an I-am-of-the-people quality to SF writers’ images. They might’ve written this book, but they’re just ordinary people with mortgages and children, who put on their pants one leg at a time, just like you. And I think that the cat thing might help with that. Anyway, that is not how I roll.

Oh, you should also get a headshot! Some people use author photos that are a bit like, ehh, do you really want this to be a thousand peoples’ first glimpse of your face?

I got my headshot done in a hurry, on the day that my agent was sending our deal report to Publisher’s Marketplace. My roommate at the time, Summer Greer, is a semi-professional photographer, and I sent him a panicked text that was like, “Summer! Can you take a headshot for me FAST?!?!”

Me!
Me!

I’d recommend that you have one on hand before the need arises, so you don’t have to go out with something substandard.

These are little things, but they’re good to think about, and once you have them, you’ll be surprised by how often you use them.