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    It's hard being green ChunkyC's Avatar
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    Victoria Strauss -- (3 February 2006)

    Download a copy of this chat in the following formats:

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    A transcript of the chat with Victoria follows:

    Birol


    Welcome to the second ever AbsoluteWrite chat. If everyone has their drinks and snacks and are sitting comfortably with their feet on their desks so their fuzzy bunny slippers can see the screen and follow along, we'll get started.

    As a reminder, this is a moderated chat with Victoria Strauss as the guest speaker. Voice capabilities have been deactivated. Don't panic if you can't type in the main window. With few exceptions, you shouldn't be able to do so. Individuals may still Private Message (PM) one another.

    In fact, in a couple of seconds, I will encourage you get a message buddy. You can save time by finding one now if you like. For those unfamiliar with chatting tools, you PM another individual by double-clicking on their userid in the list on the right. A new window will open allowing you to converse with just that person.

    In our inaugural chat, people kept timing out, meaning the chat system would terminate their connection because they had not done anything for awhile. You may be able to prevent this from happening by occasionally sending a PM to another individual. If you haven't done so already, find a PM partner. Maybe someone you know from AW or the person just above or below you on the list of names might be willing to be your message buddy for the evening.

    Another thing we learned from our first chat is that two stagehands were not enough. This evening, we have four. As you may have guessed by now, I'll be serving as your Host. It's an easy job, but someone has to do it.

    Julia (JuliaTemlyn) is serving as our Q&A person. PM any questions you have for Victoria to her. You may PM Julia at any point during tonight's chat. Julia will hold all questions until Victoria is ready for them.

    Please do not PM Victoria.

    MacAllister is our Usher this evening. She will assist any late-comers as they arrive. Also, if the person sitting behind you starts throwing their popcorn at you or refuses to stop kicking the back of your seat, PM her for assistance

    Peter (Pthom) is working behind the scenes this evening as are Technical Guru. If you are having technical difficulties or if you know of someone who is, please PM him.

    If there are any other mods present, please de-op yourself at this time in order to avoid confusion.

    At the end of tonight's chat, there will be a trivia question. The first person with the correct answer will win a copy of Victoria Strauss's newest novel The Awakened City. The answer to the trivia question can be found on Victoria's website: www.victoriastrauss.com.

    A transcript of tonight's chat will be posted on AW within 48-hours. Charlie (ChunkyC) has graciously offered to edit the chat log from this evening.

    With all that said, allow me to introduce Victoria Strauss as tonight's guest speaker.

    Those of you who frequent the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler may recognize Victoria as one of the voices of reason on the Bewares & Background Check forum or as the experienced Sage from the Science Fiction/Fantasy forum, but she is better known as a dedicated scam-hunter and oft-published fantasy writer.

    Although Victoria has been described as "a fantasy writer for adults," she has published both young adult and adult fantasy novels. Among these are Worldstone, Garden of the Hills, The Arm of the Stone, The Garden of the Stone, and The Burning Land.

    She also serves as the Vice-Chair of Writer Beware, the SFWA's Committee on Writing Scams and has prevented more than one writer from making a regrettable mistake.

    With all that said, I turn tonight's chat over to Victoria Strauss. (APPLAUD)

    Victoria

    Hi, everyone. I've told my cat she can't help me type tonight. Hope she'll heed me.

    Many of the milestones in my writing life have been reached by accident. Writing my first novel, finding my agent, the novel that launched my adult fiction career, and starting Writer Beware--all were things I stumbled into in spite of myself.

    I wasn't one of those kids who knows from an early age that she's going to be a writer. Growing up, I wrote occasional poems and stories (my mother, embarrassingly, has kept them all), and enjoyed composing essays in English class. And I was always a voracious reader. But it never occurred to me to think of writing as a career choice.

    Right after I graduated from high school, my father (a university professor) got a year-long research fellowship in Germany. My entire family was going, and I wanted to go too, so I asked if I could defer college for a year. I thought I'd spend the time reading, exploring, and generally messing around. My father had a different plan. He gave me a choice: attend school in Germany, or come up with some kind of educational project to occupy my time. There was no way I was going to go to school for an extra year, even if I'd been able to speak German, so that left the project. I'd just taken an English class in which we wrote a number of short stories, and I'd been playing around with the notion of maybe pursuing the writing thing a little further. So I told my dad, "OK--I'll write a novel!"

    This really was just a ploy to get my year off (I still don't know why my dad said yes). I didn't have any expectation of actually completing the novel. I figured I'd fiddle with it for a month or three, then tell my dad it wasn't working out and spend the rest of the year doing something else. But that's not what happened. I got hooked. The research, the plotting, the writing--I loved it all. Not only did I finish the novel, I discovered that writing was the passion I'd been searching for without realizing it, waiting for me in a place I'd never seriously thought to look. So really, I became a writer by accident.

    Accident number two arrived a few years later. Having finished and polished my novel, I began to submit it. This was the 1970's, before publishing became a realm of conglomerates; you could easily submit direct to publishers, with no literary agent involved. Despite what I now realize was an atrocious query letter, I had no trouble getting readings from most of the publishers I approached. Lots of complimentary rejections later, I sent my ms. to a publisher that, unbeknownst to me, was going out of business. It landed on the desk of an editor who was planning to become an agent. She liked my ms., and offered me representation. I hesitated before saying yes. Those really were different days--it was unusual for an unpublished novelist to have an agent, and I wondered if I really needed her. But since I wasn't having any luck on my own, I decided it couldn't hurt. Luckily for me, she went on to become very successful.

    I'd written the novel (as I thought) for adults, but it had a teenage protagonist, and when it eventually sold, it was to a YA publisher. The editor who bought it became a mentor and a friend. Though my real interest was adult fiction, I wrote two more YA novels so I could continue to work with her. At last I decided to make my move on the adult market with an ambitious fantasy-historical novel about Hernando de Soto's strange and violent trek through the Southeastern United States. I did a lot of research, created a careful plot synopsis (a new technique for me, as I'd always been a seat-of-the-pants writer), banged out five chapters, and mailed them off to my agent.

    She called and asked me to come down and have lunch. I assumed we were going to talk about how terrific my chapters were and how she planned to market them. Imagine my shock when she told me that she wouldn't represent the book. It was over-researched. It was dull. It had no interesting relationships. In fact, if my chapters had come in as a submission from someone she didn't know, she would have stopped reading after the first ten pages. As I listened to her eviscerate what, until that moment, I'd thought was the best writing I'd ever done, I realized to my horror that she was absolutely right. The book was crap.

    I was crushed. I seriously thought about quitting. I didn't want to write YA anymore and I obviously couldn't write adult fiction--if I could be so wrong about my de Soto book, how could I ever tell if what I was writing was worthwhile? To try and figure out if there was any merit at all in my work, I picked up one of my YA books, WORLDSTONE, and began to read through it. And something completely unexpected happened. In that book, I found an untold story, a story that really wanted to be told: the story of WORLDSTONE'S villain, Bron.

    That was accident number three. Bron's story became THE ARM OF THE STONE, my first adult novel, which my agent not only agreed to represent but sold, with a sequel, in three months.

    After I signed the contract for ARM, I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America--something I'd always wanted to do. I also went online for the first time, and got active in writers' forums and bulletin boards. I was amazed to see how many writers had gotten mixed up with disreputable agents, publishers, freelance editors, etc. My own publishing experiences had generally been good--I'd never been victimized by a scammer, at any rate--and naively, I'd thought that my experience was typical. It was a real shock to discover this slimy underbelly of the publishing world.

    One day I was looking at the "help wanted" section of the SFWA website, and saw a call for a volunteer to create a section of the site warning about literary scams. With my interest in the subject, I jumped at the chance. At the same time, Ann Crispin, who was then SFWA's Vice-President, was taking the first steps to establish a committee to focus on writing scams. Neither of us had any idea what the other was doing until a mutual acquaintance put us in touch. It was like the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercial, where the guy with the chocolate bar slams into the guy with the jar of peanut butter. We decided we were better together. The warning website plus the Writing Scams Committee became Writer Beware. That was accident number four.

    Here's a brief summary of what we do, for anyone who isn't familiar with Writer Beware. The website (www.writerbeware.org/) provides warnings about literary scams, schemes and pitfalls, advice on how to avoid them, and links to online resources. There are sections on literary agents, vanity publishers, freelance editors, contests, print-on-demand, electronic publishing, writers' services, and copyright, as well as a page of Alerts for writers and a series of case studies of actual scams. Our most recent addition is a blog, where we talk about scams in a more informal (and hopefully more humorous) way. The Writing Scams Committee collects documentation on questionable agents and publishers (right now we have about 600 files), provides a free research service to writers who want to know about agents' and publishers' reputations (email us at beware@sfwa.org), and assists law enforcement with criminal investigations.

    So that's my largely accidental career so far. I'm sure that more accidents are waiting further on.

    Here are a few things I'd like to pass on, both as a writer and as a scamhunter.

    Read voraciously--and think critically about what you read. Apart from actually writing, it's the single best way to hone your craft.

    Educate yourself about the publishing industry! Knowledge is vital not just to your success, since you'll be able to submit your manuscript much more effectively if you understand how publishing works, but to your protection, as it'll keep you out of the hands of scammers and amateurs. Find books about publishing. Read industry publications like Publishers Weekly. Check websites like Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors (www.anotherealm.com), which teach you how to recognize literary fraud. Contrary to what some writers seem to believe, it’s actually very easy to identify and avoid the bad guys, if you have the proper knowledge and the right approach.

    Do your homework. Research the people you approach BEFORE you approach them. Make sure the agents and/or publishers you query are appropriate for your work. Never query an agent without checking to be certain she has a track record. Never submit to a publisher unless you’re sure it can market and distribute its books.

    Don't believe the mythology. Urban legends abound in the writing world. You may have heard that successful agents aren't interested in first-timers, or that publishers don't want to take a risk with new talent, or that original writing has no chance because publishers are only interested in cookie-cutter copycats of bestselling authors. 'Tain't so. Publishing is a tough business, and rejection is a given--but it IS possible for a new writer to break in.

    The search for publication is not a crapshoot. Sure, thousands of manuscripts are produced every year, and only a tiny percentage of these find commercial publication. But this isn't due to whim and serendipity, as many aspiring writers fear. The truth (as anyone who has ever looked at a publisher's slush pile knows) is that very few of those manuscripts even approaches publishability. If your work is marketable, your ms. isn't in competition with every other ms. out there--just with the small number of marketable ones. In fact, if your work is marketable, your odds are better than not.

    Be persistent. Talent is important. So, to some degree, is luck--being in the right place at the right time. But one of the things that characterizes working writers is persistence. Writers write. They keep writing, even in the face of rejection. (How do I know this? Because for five years I failed to follow my own advice.) If your current manuscript can't find a home, maybe your next one will.

    Be realistic. It's important to believe in yourself. But while consistent rejection by the commercial market may be shortsighted and unfair, it's also possible it may be justified. There may come a point at which you have to reassess your writing goals, or, as I did, abandon a beloved project.

    That's it! Thanks for having me here this evening, and if anyone has questions I'll be glad to answer them now.

    Birol

    Thanks, V!

    * Peter puts up the applause sign

    Birol

    As a reminder, send your questions to Julia.

    * Birol steps aside and lets Julia have the floor.

    JuliaTemlyn

    Alrighty! Our first question comes from yeyeman9, who asks: I would like to know if you would suggest AuthorHouse for my first book. It is a 30,000 words Time Traveling novella. If not, what self-publishing company would you suggest? I’ve heard normal publishers won't touch 30,000 words Novellas anymore...and much less time traveling stories.

    Victoria

    Novellas are indeed a tough sell. However, rather than go the self-publishing route initially, I'd suggest you submit to one of the SF/fantasy magazines...such as Fantasy & Science Fiction or Black Gate (there are a lot of others). They do publish at least some novellas, and many people read these magazines. If you publish through AuthorHouse, on the other hand, it's very likely that the only people who'll read your novella will be the people you personally contact. Self-publishing is appropriate for some projects (usually nonfiction with a niche audience the author knows how to reach directly)...but for fiction it's really not the best choice. Try selling your novella professionally first, and turn to self-pub only as a fallback option--that'd be my advice.*

    JuliaTemlyn

    Thanks, Victoria! Our next question comes from MacAllister. MacAllister asks: How has your education influenced the world-view presented in the novels? Arm of the Stone is sort of grim but with overtones of hope. Is that a comp. religions perspective?

    Victoria

    I'm afraid that grim is my own perspective! No one who reads my novels believe that I have a sense of humor. I love to read novels with happy endings, and I enjoy feel-good movies, but as a writer I'm somehow drawn to dark themes. I don't really think it's a result of my comp. religions education--which, by the way, definitely does inform my writing, as just about everything I write is in some way about belief... The darker themes just seem to be the ones that inspire me most. What does that say about me? I'm not sure I want to know...*

    JuliaTemlyn

    Wow...I don't think we were anticipating that! ) Kelvin asks: My question to you, Victoria, is what advice do you have for young writers (as I am 17 for a few more days). I am wanting to start writing a book, what can you suggest to me?

    Victoria

    Well, I wrote my first novel when I was 17, so I'm very sympathetic to the aspirations of young writers. When I started my first novel, I knew nothing whatever about writing, had never read a how-to book... I just plunged in and started writing. That wasn't necessarily the best approach, and I think it makes sense to spend at least some time reading writing books... but by the same token, if you spend too much time thinking about HOW to do it, you'll never get started. So I'd suggest that you simply write. Just about everyone produces crap at first...don't worry about how good it is. As you keep writing, you'll get better--or not. Not everyone who wants to write actually has the ability. But you have to do it to find out."*

    JuliaTemlyn

    Excellent advice. SNantus asks: I have a novel coming out in 2007 from a small press and am unsure how to get it into stores, since it's not one of the Big Publishers. It's Mundania Press so it's reliable and "real" but I don't know how to get it into stores - your suggestions?

    Victoria

    That is a very tough question. If your publisher doesn't have a distributor (as distinct from a wholesaler), about the only thing you can do is to approach stores yourself. That is very difficult and very grueling, and you probably won't have a lot of luck with the big chains. The independents may be more willing to stock your book.

    Another thing... Press your publisher to send out review copies, and to follow up. Good reviews in industry venues or specialty magazines (like Locus for SF/fantasy) can really help persuade a bookseller to consider you for stocking.

    What DOESN'T work, IMO, are things like press releases. Booksellers get thousands of these, and they pay them very little attention. I'd concentrate on getting reviews and on approaching independents.*

    JuliaTemlyn

    Wow, that's really helpful info for the archives, Victoria. These days press releases seem so important. That's great advice and information for many of us!

    Okay, next question. Jenna asks: What's been your proudest moment as a literary scam hunter? Proudest moment as a writer?

    Victoria

    Proudest scamhunter moment--Martha Ivery's indictment. That was such a vindication and a victory for us and for the FBI agent who was instrumental in constructing the case against her. I can't tell you how thrilled we were when the wheels of justice finally squashed her flat.

    Proudest moment as a writer...hmmm. That's more difficult. I think what makes me proudest as a writer is the letters I get from readers (the ones who liked the books, that is. I get the other kind too). It's just a thrill that never fails to connect with readers that way.*

    JuliaTemlyn

    It's so nice to know there are still authors out there who really do appreciate what readers have to say.

    I'm really curious about this next question... curious asks: What is your favorite book on how to write?

    Victoria

    It's a tie between Don Maass's THE CAREER NOVELIST (really great, down-to-earth information) and Anne LaMott's BIRD BY BIRD (for some reason, that book really speaks to me emotionally and artistically).

    You didn't ask this one, but I'll answer anyway--my least favorite is anything by Julia Cameron. Just too touchy-feely and woo-woo for me.

    JuliaTemlyn

    Oooh, good question/answer of your own! Thanks for the recommendation of BIRD BY BIRD--it's on my to-read list. So, just because someone like Julia Cameron is so "popular" doesn't mean she's the greatest. ;o)

    Victoria

    Well, it's just an opinion. And you know what opinions are like...

    JuliaTemlyn

    True, true, but it's reassuring to those of us who try and get into some of those reads, and can't always enjoy them.

    We have one more... Jenna asks: Do you have a writing schedule/routine?

    Victoria

    Yes. I spend the morning doing mundane things like email, because that's the time that I seem to have most energy for stuff like that. Then I go for a walk or a run, have lunch, and get to work on whatever writing project I'm doing around 2:00. I work till 5:00 or so, then cook dinner, then go back to work till 10:00pm or so.

    This schedule isn't totally my choice; it's a compromise based on the realities of living with someone else. I'm really a night owl, and if I had my druthers I'd work at night. But that just isn't really practical right now, so I stick to the semi-afternoon schedule.

    JuliaTemlyn

    Thanks, Victoria! I'd like to reintroduce Birol, to give the trivia question, and then open the room up for chit-chat.

    Birol

    Thanks, Julia. You did a great job fielding the questions and Victoria, once again, thank you for being here.

    Victoria

    Thank you!

    Birol

    We'll let you and J take a little break now and see if we can't figure out who your biggest fan is among the people gathered here today. As previously mentioned, the correct answer can be found on Victoria's website: www.victoriastrauss.com. In order to answer the question, PM me here, in the chat. PMs sent to Victoria, Julia, MacAllister, Pthom, or anyone else are invalid.

    The first person to PM me with the correct answer will win a copy of Victoria's newest novel The Awakened City. I will ask Victoria to verify the answer here.

    Is everyone ready? The question is: What was the title of Victoria's first novel? *Jeopardy music*

    (Spelling counts.)

    I've got one answer so far.... Want to see if it's correct, V?

    Victoria

    Sure.

    Birol

    yeyeman9 believes that your first novel was The Burning Land.

    Victoria

    Nope! Sorry.

    Birol

    Okay. I'm getting more answers now. Kelvin thinks it is: The Arm of the Stone.

    Victoria

    Oh dear. Wrong again.

    Birol

    I think they're looking at the list of novels I gave earlier.

    Victoria

    There's a clue in that list, Birol...

    Birol

    Just as a hint.... We are counting her YA books.

    Tilly believes it is: The Lady of Rhuddesmere

    Victoria

    Yay! Tilly gets the big prize!

    Birol

    YEA!

    Peter

    TADA!

    Victoria

    Spelled right and everything!

    * Birol cues balloons and streamers.

    MacAllister

    I suspect there was some confusion about the whether we were counting the YA books.

    Birol

    Congratulations, Tilly. Either send me a PM on AW or, if you aren't registered on the boards, I'll provide you with my e-mail address so you can send me your legal name and postal mailing address so your prize can be mailed to you.

    Probably so, Mac.

    If there are no objections, I'm going to revoice the room now.

    MacAllister

    I want to read the de Soto book </nonsequitor>

    Victoria

    I want to write the de Soto book. I plan to return to it someday.

    MacAllister

    YAY!!!

    Transcriptionist's Note – general hubbub and banter ensued, in which a few more questions folks might find interesting were asked....

    JennaG

    Vic, you still have the same agent from the beginning, right?

    Victoria

    Yes, I do, believe it or not.

    JennaG

    That's so cool. Very few writer/agent teams are that loyal.

    Victoria

    Well, part of it is that I'm not very prolific, and she leaves me alone--doesn't prod me about my career. But she's getting close to retirement, so I'm thinking soon I'll have to foray out into the scary world of agent hunting. Not looking forward to it.

    Yeyeman9

    Being a published author will make it easier to find agents, no?

    Victoria

    It should.

    JuliaTemlyn

    Victoria, would you mind one last question?

    Victoria

    No, not at all. Please ask away.

    JuliaTemlyn

    yeyeman9 asks: What is the most challenging things a published author has to face today?

    Victoria

    Ah. Good question. In my opinion... the toughest thing is to sustain a career. It's no harder for a first writer to break in than it ever was, but it's getting harder and harder to stay in the game. If your sales numbers are flat, or if they fall, after a few books you're toast. I know many authors who've changed their names in order to keep writing. This is a depressing truth of the industry. Getting first publication isn't the end of the struggle, just the start of a different one. I don't mean to sound too negative, though. Even with the ups and downs and the uncertainty, I wouldn't be doing anything else.

    I told you I was grim....
    Last edited by ChunkyC; 04-16-2006 at 08:34 PM.
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