Instructor Q&A: Deanna Roy

“Self-publishing is really about believing in the words you’ve put together, no matter what an agent or editor is saying.”

-Deanna Roy

Deanna Roy is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Succeeding in the Current Self-Publishing Market.”  This class will give writers a better understanding of what the self-publishing market has to offer, to help them make a better decision about whether or not self-publishing might be the right track for them.

Deanna RoyScribe: What is one of the best benefits of going the route of self-publishing? One of the greatest challenges?

Deanna Roy: Biggest benefit: Your success is completely on your shoulders. Greatest challenge: Your success is completely on your shoulders.

Self-publishing is really about believing in the words you’ve put together, no matter what an agent or editor is saying. Are they right that your book is not marketable? Maybe. But most likely they are only right that your book is not marketable by them.

Scribe: One appeal of the self-publishing route is the assumed quicker turnaround than the traditional publishing route. Is there any truth in this, or any unintended consequences that people often overlook?

DR: This made me giggle a little. Traditional: 18 months average. Self-publishing: 12 hours average.

The beauty of traditional publishing is that the system is all in place. Acquisitions, legal, editorial, then placement in a catalog and orders by bookstores. It’s a system that does what it needs to do for print. Ebooks are a bonus.

Self-publishing is really about preparing for an online digital market. Paperbacks are a bonus.

So if your book is written and edited right now, could you be selling it by this time tomorrow? You bet. Upload your Microsoft Word doc to Amazon, let it convert it, and go. (Sometimes it goes live within an hour.)

These days, I do about six months of marketing prior to the release of anything big. But I have done fast turnarounds if the market demands it. The fastest I’ve gone from “Readers want a sequel?” to “Here are buy links!” was seven weeks. Was it a terrible book? Maybe. It sold about 20,000 copies and has a rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon. That’s good enough for me.

Scribe: In the spirit of supporting local authors and businesses, do independent bookstores play a significant role in the process of establishing self-published authors?

DR: Independent bookstores have evolved a little to help with local self-published authors who want to do book signings or have books in stock. They have consignment agreements and group signing events. It definitely happens. But self-publishing is really about digital books. That’s where we have taken publishing by storm. We market directly to our readers through online platforms using primarily email lists, social media, and virtual reader groups.

Scribe: What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to self-publish their work?

DR: PLEASE watch out for scams. With the rise of self-publishing, the opportunists have set up shop. They want you to think this is so hard that unless you want to “spend all your time formatting your book,” you should pay them to prepare your book for the market or (EEK!) let them upload it for you.

Learn what you need to know before handing your book baby over to anyone. Take the time you might have spent researching agents or querying publishers to instead figure out the steps you need to take to get it into the hands of readers yourself. The more you know, the more you maximize the return on your investment of time and creative energy (Your success is completely on your shoulders!)

Thanks, Deanna!

Click here to register for Deanna’s class.

Click here for our current online class schedule.

About the Instructor

Deanna Roy is the six-time USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction, college romance, and middle grade books under three pen names. She is a regular speaker and instructor for authors who choose the self-publishing route for their books.

Instructor Q&A: Lindsey Lane

“Often writers think they have to add a bunch of characters and conflicts into their short stories, as if a very simple, inevitable story isn’t enough. That’s not true. What writers need to focus on instead is building the indelible richness of how that short story unfolds.”

-Lindsey Lane

Lindsey Lane is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “The Craft of Short Fiction: Telling the Story with Fewer Words and More Punch.” Crafting short stories requires great openings, vivid details, escalating tension, a tightly choreographed climax, and a perfect ten ending. This class is for all writers (beginning to advanced) who want to sharpen their short story writing tools.

lindsey-laneScribe: Some people consider short fiction to be a stepping stone for novel-length work. Do you agree?

Lindsey Lane: Short fiction can be a great way to practice and hone craft elements like plot and character development. In many respects, it’s whole lot easier to shape a story that is 2,500 words than one that is 60,000 words. But if you’re talking about a short work being a precursor to a long work, it definitely happens.  Sometimes a short story feels like it has more potential. In my own case, Evidence of Things Not Seen began as a series of stories. My critique group saw potential in one of the stories that featured a missing boy and suggested I expand that character (or lack thereof) and weave his story line through the entire town. There a lots of other writers who have expanded short stories into longer works. Stephen King and Chris Bohjalian come to mind right away. So yes, writing short fiction can be a stepping stone to writing novels both in terms of practicing craft and seeing a greater potential in a story.

Scribe: What can writers expect when trying to submit short fiction for publication?

LL: The good news is there are a lot of digital and print outlets for short fiction. The bad news is they are often understaffed. So we need to make sure we are patient and persistent. And organized. It’s important to keep track of your submissions.

Scribe: Do you ever come across stories that are simply too ambitious for short form fiction? How do you suggest writers go about making the decision to commit their story to short form?

LL: I’ve coached writers on trimming and shaping their stories so they aren’t so “rangey.” Short fiction has to be leaner. What’s common to both long and short fiction is that writers need to begin at a place where the story that follows is inevitable. In long form, that inevitability has to be sticky enough to sustain a whole world. In short fiction, the inevitability can be much simpler. Often writers think they have to add a bunch of characters and conflicts into their short stories, as if a very simple, inevitable story isn’t enough. That’s not true. What writers need to focus on instead is building the indelible richness of how that short story unfolds.

Scribe: Short stories have been growing in popularity in recent years. In your opinion, are there any specific aspects of the short form that might be more appealing than the long form to contemporary writers and/or readers?

LL: Most obviously, we’re all pretty squished for time so it’s easier to dip into short fiction and experience (or create) a bit of another world. Especially an emotional one. I love that about short stories, how they suggest a mood or a feeling. It’s almost like you get to step into a world with a delicate fragrance. Some short stories feel like a light kiss on the cheek. You can step into a suggestion of a world without having to plod through the whole mess of it. I love that brief interlude with short fiction. Also, as a reader, I suppose you could get a taste for a writer’s style by reading her short stories before you commit to reading her novel.

Scribe: Do you have any short fiction you’d like to recommend to readers?

Everyone should read Vonnegut and study how he does humor. Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women is outstanding for its richness. Sherman Alexie’s use of dialogue in his short stories blows my mind. And short fiction for kids? I love Tim Wynne-Jones’s Some of the Kinder Planets. It is excellent.

Thanks, Lindsey!

Click here to register for Lindsey’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Lindsey Lane is an award-winning playwright and children’s and young adult author. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut young adult novel Evidence Of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2014) is a “unique, powerful novel,” said Francisco Stork, author of Marcelo and the Real World. Publisher’s Weekly said, that “offers a gripping and genre-bending mosaic centered around the sudden disappearance of physics-obsessed high school junior Tommy Smythe.” The Horn Book said, “Complex and rich, the story hints at Tommy’s fate, but with an open ending that is perfect for sparking discussion.” Lindsey is also the author of the award-winning picture book (Clarion) and iTunes app (PicPocket) Snuggle Mountain, illustrations by Melissa Iwai, which was named Best Children’s Book of 2004 by Bank Street College of Education. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

Online Class Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Noll

“When you choose a point of view, you are choosing the lens through which you want your reader to see the world you are creating.”

-Stephanie Noll

Stephanie Noll is teaching an online class for the Writers’ League called “Whose Story Is it? Playing with Point of View.” Choosing a point of view shapes how you—and your reader—experience any narrative. This class will give students the tools to determine how to best tell a story using point of view.

12418907_10207882495915523_8038592689268215250_o-1Scribe: Which points of view will you be discussing? 

Stephanie Noll: We will discuss 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person limited and omniscient.

Scribe: Why is it important to consider the different points of view a story can use? 

SN: When you choose a point of view, you are choosing the lens through which you want your reader to see the world you are creating. Each POV option has its advantages and shortcomings, so a writer should be clear on which POV they are selecting and how that choice will best support the story they are telling.

Scribe: In the class description, you ask, “What if Gone Girl had been told through a 3rd person omniscient point of view?” What would have happened?  

SN: Part of the success of a novel like Gone Girl is that the writer is asking the reader to consider multiple points of view and determine (or not!) what is reliable. The book is written in a way that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, and had it been told using the 3rd person omniscient POV, some of that would be lost.

Scribe: Once you pick a point of view for a story, do you need to stick with it? Can you ever change it?

SN: When revising, you might determine that the POV you initially told the story from is not effective. But there are lots of books that vary the POV from chapter to chapter.

Scribe: Are there certain kinds of stories that are better off told through particular points of view?

SN: I think it can help to look at the genre that you are writing in. Young adult novels are often written in the first person, I think because that POV offers and immediate intimacy. Mystery novels or crime dramas seem to use a 3rd person POV–it’s escapist fiction, right? Using that POV really can allow for the author to create a character–one that might even be the fixture of a whole series of books. With literary fiction, it’s definitely anything goes, and I think it’s in that genre where you’ll see writers experiment with POV.

Scribe: What are some of the stories and novels that you’ll be using as examples?

SN: We’ll read excerpts from The Great Gatsby, Gone Girl, and ZZ Packer’s fantastic story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.” We’ll take a look at pages from Mary Karr’s Cherry to consider how to use the 2nd person POV, and we’ll look at work by Mary Helen Specht and Ben Fountain when talking about the 3rd person POV.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current online class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stephanie Noll taught the Advanced Craft Workshop in Fall 2016. She studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.

 

Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Barko

“It’s never too early to find the readers for your next book.”

-Stephanie Barko

Stephanie Barko is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Start Your Author Platform” on February 4 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class will be appropriate for writers ready to promote their books and writers still working on manuscripts but thinking ahead. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

stephanie_barko-4671-1Scribe: How important is it for authors to take an active role in promoting and marketing themselves and their work? Isn’t that their publisher’s job?

Stephanie Barko: Ha! An author would have to be at the top of an imprint’s heap to get much attention at all.

Many publishers don’t spell out in their contracts what marketing they agree to do, if any. It is always the author’s responsibility to promote their work, regardless of publishing track.

Scribe: What if writers have never done any marketing or promotional work–they’ve just worked in solitude and written their books? How difficult is it to begin promoting themselves?

SB: I would substitute the word “necessary” for the word “difficult” in this question. Considering how many books are published each year, I consider it necessary to build your following a year in advance of release date. It’s never too early to find the readers for your next book.

Scribe: How essential is social media to marketing? Is it one piece, or is it the whole thing?

SB: Social media is one element in the trifecta that is author marketing. Come learn the other two in my class.

Scribe: When you talk about an “author platform,” what exactly do you mean?

SB: A book platform establishes a forum and following for your book. An author platform defines your brand and who you are across your entire body of work.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stephanie Barko is a literary publicist whose award-winning clients include traditional publishers and their authors, small presses, and independently published authors. She has been shepherding nonfiction and historical fiction for American authors since 2006. This spring Stephanie will speak on the publishing industry as a SXSW Interactive Mentor/Presenter.

Instructor Q&A: Stacey Swann

“Keep submitting to the journals you love and don’t be daunted when the best story you’ve ever written is rejected forty times in a row.”

-Stacey Swann

Stacey Swann is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “How to Submit to Journals” on January 28 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. If you are a writer stories ready to send out into the world, this class will help you arrive at that elusive understanding: what editors really value and expect. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

swann-photo-2-1Scribe: What’s the biggest misconception that writers have when they begin sending out submissions? Are there any common mistakes?

Stacey Swann: Misconceptions are often rooted in the writer’s own background. For example, writers who have worked in journalism or other nonfiction writing often assume that journals publishing fiction work the same way. Sadly, the response time for many fiction publications is 3-6 months, and some take longer than that. And upon acceptance, you will typically wait longer for publication than with other forms of writing like journalism. New writers often also assume that they will get constructive feedback from editors and are disappointed by the form letter rejections. But always remember that it isn’t because the editors don’t care! Literary journals are labors of love, and often the staff have other full time jobs. The move to electronic submissions has been a great boon to writers but also means that journals are dealing with twice as many submissions as they were fifteen years ago.

Scribe: Are there tools and resources to help find places to submit and track those submissions?

SS: Definitely! Duotrope has been around for a long time, and you can try out a free trial for a month. Poets & Writers and New Pages also have great lists. Recently, a student turned me on to Submission Grinder, which is much like Duotrope but completely free. A good chunk of journals now use Submittable for submissions, and they have a great interface that tracks all your submissions through their system.

Scribe: What do editors really look for (good or bad) when reading submissions?

SS: Editors really are looking for the same things any reader is when they pick up a new story—they want a narrative voice that they trust and enjoy listening to, characters and a plot that engage them, and a fictional world that feels concrete and believable. The added wrinkle is that, because they read so much more than a typical reader, they are also looking for something that can surprise them or feels different than other stories they have read before.

Scribe: What are reasonable expectations that writers should have as they begin sending out their work?

SS: The good news is that there are more and more journals out there publishing excellent work. So if you put in the time and effort of sending out your work to a wide range of journals, including ones new to the scene, chances for publication are very high. But for writers concentrating on the more competitive markets—the ones whose stories often wind up in the Best Of anthologies—the best trait to have is patience. Keep submitting to the journals you love and don’t be daunted when the best story you’ve ever written is rejected forty times in a row. There’s a certain amount of luck at work in this process, but I truly believe that hard work and persistence beats luck every time.

Thanks, Stacey!

Click here to register for Stacey’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Stacey Swann’s fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals. The former editor at American Short Fiction and former Stegner Fellow, she teaches with Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio. She’s at work on Olympus, TX, a novel-in-progress she is whittling down from Texas-sized to a more modest Montana or New Mexico size.

Instructor Q&A: Charlotte Gullick

“Prose writers can struggle with being succinct, effective use of imagery, and with the rhythm of sentences. Studying poetry can help us enliven and streamline our material.”

-Charlotte Gullick

Charlotte Gullick is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Better Prose Through Poetry: Using Rhythm, Repetition and Other Poetic Tools in Your Writing” on January 21 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. From novice to rising novelist, to seasoned, successful writers and screenwriters, this class will provide a broad spectrum of perspectives on poetry’s richness as foundation, catalyst and lively companion. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Charlote Gullick bwScribe: What does it mean to use poetic devices in prose? Most novelists or memoir writers might probably resist using alliteration because it might sound too poetic. But is it? 

Charlotte Gullick: I am defining poetic in the broadest senses such as precise and extended use of metaphor and/or symbol; strategic use of sentence length so that the prose has a compelling and varied rhythm; use of white space; use of slant rhyme, and the occasional and effective alliteration.

Scribe: What are a few problems in prose that reading and thinking about poetry can address? 

CG: I think prose writers can struggle with being succinct, effective use of imagery, and with the rhythm of sentences. Studying poetry can help us enliven and streamline our material.

Scribe: Is the strategy of reading poetry to inspire prose only applicable to certain kinds of prose writers? What if someone doesn’t have a lyric voice in their work? 

CG: I think writers in genre, of any style, can benefit from studying poetry as a means to improve their prose. One key aspect to this is finding YOUR kind of poetry–in other words, not every poem is for every prose writer. Once a prose writer has found his/her style of poetry, then the poems can spark deep insights.

Scribe: What is a poem that you return to often? How has it inspired your own writing? 

CG: There are three: Mary Oliver’s “White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field,”Patricia Smith’s “Skinhead,” and Sherman Alexie’s “The Summer of the Black Widows.”

All three pieces are very intense in their unique ways – and all three offer, for me, a perspective shift. Of course, they have the expected poetic devices that I admire and learn from, and on a larger scale, they give me ideas about how to see the world differently.

Scribe: Who is a novelist or memoir writer whose prose you admire for its poetic qualities?

CG: I love how Justin Torres uses repetition and white space in We the Animals; I also love Lia Purpura’s essays for the ways she weaves rhythm and image. Natalie Diaz’s essays knock my socks off with their precision, rhyme, and honed voice.

Thanks, Charlotte!

Click here to register for Charlotte’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Charlotte Gullick is a novelist, essayist, editor, educator and Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Austin Community College. A first-generation college graduate, she received her AA with High Honors from Santa Rosa Junior College, a BA with Honors in Literature/Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a MA in English/Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis. She began a MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Institute of American Indian Arts in July 2014.

Charlotte’s first novel, By Way of Water, was chosen by Jayne Anne Phillips as the Grand Prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Program, and a special author’s edition was reissued by the Santa Fe Writers Project in November of 2013. Charlotte’s other awards include a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship for Fiction, a Colorado Council on the Arts Fellowship for Poetry, a MacDowell Colony Residency, Faculty of Year from College of the Redwoods as well as the Evergreen State College 2012 Teacher Excellence Award.

Instructor Q&A: Donna M. Johnson

“The best memoirs are always an interrogation of the self, the historical self, yes, but also the hidden, more mysterious aspects of the self.”

-Donna M. Johnson

Donna M. Johnson is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “Deepening the Narrative: Moving Beyond the Self in Memoir” on January 14 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. This class is for anyone who wants to learn how to add depth and resonance to their memoir. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

donnajohnson-1Scribe: The title of the class is “Deepening the Narrative: Moving Beyond the Self in Memoir.” This might seem like a contradiction in terms to some people. After all, isn’t a memoir inherently about the writer? What does it mean to move beyond the self? Why is it necessary?

Donna Johnson: The subtitle “Moving Beyond the Self in Memoir” could have easily read, “Moving Beyond the Historical Self.” I think the best memoirs are always an interrogation of the self, the historical self, yes, but also the hidden, more mysterious aspects of the self. For example, the fact that one day my daughter and I stumbled upon what became a dig site may be more important to my story than when and where I attended college, or how long I was on the dean’s list. This relatively inconsequential event may become a recurring motif in my story that makes the memoir about so much more than what happened to me. We’re talking about using the self as a way to explore the universal human experience.

Scribe: Can you give an example of a memoir that moves beyond the self? How does it do so?

DJ: H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. The author’s father dies at the opening of the book, but instead of writing about their relationship or her grief over his death, she focuses on training a goshawk, which she calls a killing machine. She tells the story of her relationship with the hawk and of how she enters into its bloody world. She also relates the story of the author T.H. White’s (The Once and Future King) attempts to train a goshawk. White is a sadist who, in trying to escape his sadism, ends up inadvertently torturing his hawk. The result of this book is a layered, complex story that speaks to how one very idiosyncratic person deals with grief and in part, about how we come to accept our place in the world. It’s also about how we humans interact with wildness.

Scribe: A lot of memoir drafts (and some published ones, too) run out of steam before they reach the end. Part of the problem seems to be that the writer has run out of story. This is probably a worry that some writers have. We tell our stories all the time, but no one ever tells a memoir-length story. What is it that memoirs need to do besides tell what happened?

DJ: I think memoir is really concerned with exploring what happened rather than simply telling what happened. My favorite personal narratives circle around a group of questions as Helen MacDonald does in H is for Hawk. One way to explore is to reflect directly on what’s going on. Another way is through the use of motif. As memoir writers we can’t write about something just because it happened. Yes, Aunt Hattie may have made that dress for you–but what does it mean? Why are you telling me, the reader, about it? What significance does it have in your story? What does it say about Aunt Hattie, about your family in general, about the part of the country from which your family originates? How does it relate thematically to your larger story?

Scribe: Will students in the class be reading excerpts from particular memoirs? Which ones can they look forward to learning from?

DJ: Memoir is such an exciting and experimental form. I haven’t made my final selections but I’m considering The Ticking is the Bomb by Nick Flynn, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, as well as a few others.

Thanks, Donna!

Click here to register for Donna’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Donna M. Johnson is the author of Holy Ghost Girl, a memoir deemed “enthralling” by the New York Times and “compulsively readable” by Texas Monthly. The book made the Oprah.com Memoirs We Love list twice and took top honors at the Books for a Better Life Awards in New York. Donna’s work has appeared in several anthologies as well as the Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun, The Rumpus, Psychology Today and other publications. She is currently at work on a second memoir as well as a journalistic project.