Short Story: Surely You Know

Surely you know there’s a knife in my chest every time you talk about how beautiful another girl is. Surely you hear the unsaid “I love you” at the end of all our phone calls.

For seven years I’ve loved you and for at least six you’ve known. The age difference, you said, because at fifteen and nineteen, four years feels like a lot. Twenty-one and twenty-five, though?

A pittance.

Now you say it’s the distance.

Seattle to Los Angeles? Do you realize how minimal that is? My sister and her husband sustained a relationship from the US to the UK until he could come here. Seattle to LA is nothing.

But somehow nothing becomes everything when you say it, like it’s a finality and I obey, because it’s in my nature to do that with people I love, especially those I love so much I’m terrified to lose them.

That’s a rather short list, darling, but for seven years you’ve topped it, and so I’ve carefully gauged every shift in your life, praying to my god-of-the-week that one day nothing could just be nothing.

Surely you realize how many times I’ve cried over you. I shouldn’t have to tell you how I cried each time you got a girlfriend; the day you basically said I wasn’t beautiful, in not so many words; the time I realized that since you went to college you’d never called me sober.

I haven’t waited for you patiently. I’ve had more boyfriends in seven years than you’ve had girlfriends. I even thought I’d marry a few of them. I had crushes of various degrees. But that’s all they ever were…crushes.

Surely you know that.

My mother always liked you. Maybe she wasn’t fond of how close we were at fourteen and eighteen, but she always said what a nice boy you were. And your mother always liked me. Do you remember, she called me your guardian angel?

And you know, they say mothers know these things.

What with all the times I’ve saved you, morally, spiritually, emotionally, physically, one would think you’d know it too. Surely you know; you just don’t want to see. Just like the fact that you never would have admitted that your first call when you got yourself into trouble with alcohol was a freshman girl who’d never even been to a party. I was your excuse, your way out, your helping hand, and I was glad to be. But I never wanted to be just, just that.

Surely you’ve noticed that whenever you tell me all about some girl you tack on the words, “She actually reminds me a lot of you.”

Always.

Surely you know what this means.

This means that you don’t want me, but some better, prettier, funnier, more exciting version of me who never teases you or makes you feel small but is still out-going and intelligent and confident.

I’ll tell you a secret: you’re looking for a girl that doesn’t exist. Because I will never be your type, and those girls will never be me.

No, I’m not as fit as I could be, that’s true. I’ll never have a doll-like face like so many celebrities we both admire. I’ll never have good skin. I gave up on that dream years ago.

But you know what? You’re not perfect either. You know it as well as I do, and you tell me so every time I tell you how perfect you are.

Surely you know that when I say perfect, I mean perfect for me. We’re both human, after all, with all our frustrating idiosyncrasies.

The difference is, I’ve accepted this, embraced it, even, and I’m not sure you ever will.

That’s the thought that terrifies me, because if you can’t accept that I am what I am, that I’m pretty as I am, then you can never love me back.

I don’t know if you know how it feels to be alone in love, but it’s a beautiful and terrible thing. After all, there’s nothing more beautiful in this world than being in love. But there is nothing more terrible than knowing that you still see me as that fourteen-year-old girl who wrote you a letter every day she was on family vacation, so desperately in love with you that the whole world knew.

They still know. They still make comments, like they used to, about how good we’d be together. My mother still says how much she likes you, hinting. And I still wait for the right chance to actually slip those three words in and have you not judge them wrongly.

But surely you know.

 

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Today’s Publishing World by Natalie Cannon

Hello again! This is the third installment of Natalie’s Notes from Ventura County Writer’s Weekend. The first post on Social Media for Authors is here. The second post on Book Marketing 101 is here.

As has been said and will no doubt be said again, today’s publishing world is a mess of opportunities. There are so many things you could be doing that the only visible truth is that there’s many ways to go about publishing a book these days. The main problem plaguing writers isn’t that their book can’t be published: it’s garnering enough attention for readers to slow down their fast -paced, digital lives to read your blog post and buy your book, no matter what format it’s published in. And you have to do that while everyone else is vying for attention as well.

Ignoring the minor stomach ulcers and groaning from everyone who knows what I’m talking about, the Ventura County Writer’s Weekend panelists did a broad sweep of what every sort of writer could do to get published, and I’ll try to organize their thoughts.

Making a book is a three legged journey: writing is only the beginning, and the second leg is producing the book, and the final leg is marketing the heck out of it until everyone you want to know about it, knows about it (and hopefully has a copy). Writing and marketing are their own things and discussed in previous blog posts. The panel wanted to focus on the production aspect of the book-making process, which you should focus your energies on when you’ve finished writing and revising. First, we’ll speak about what it takes to produce each portion of a book (cover, pages, back cover etc.), and then I’ll go into different ways to go about this production.

Note before we begin: what you take away from this blog post will depend on how you answer the following two questions: why are you making a book and what do you hope to get out of it? The panelists repeatedly said writers should ask themselves this question, and it’s an excellent starting point.

The answers to these questions vary greatly and determine what you’re going to do with your manuscript. Writing for money and fame is very different from writing for the enjoyment of a group of family and friends. Let’s examine what the perfect book looks like, piece by piece.

Front Cover—This is where an author’s going to make the majority of their first impression. The average browser spends 7 seconds looking at the front cover, 15 seconds reading the back cover, and, if still impressed, will go on to the first paragraph. You’ll want to be completely obsessive about your covers: have an eye-catching title; make the font fit your story and easy on the eyes; don’t put “by Author Name” but just “Author Name;” have a tagline for your novel discretely in the corner. Another thing most professional covers have is reviews. Once your story is polished, ask a magazine, newspaper, blogger, friend, fellow writer, or anyone with recognized reading authority to review your book. Make sure to give them at least three months to read it, and, assuming they get back to you put positive quotes from their reviews on your book jacket. These mini-reviews can go on the front, back, or even on the first few pages of a book. It lends authenticity to your book and encourages doubtful buyers. Moving on, the images on your cover say a lot about your book. There was that whole #Coverflip shindig about gendered covers, but, whatever you have on there, make sure it suits your book and is suitably eye-catching. For the digital age, it’s good if your image looks recognizable in thumbnail size—or at least not an incoherent blob.

Copyright page—Make it look as professional as possible. Even if it’s just a Smashwords copyright, it’s yours and you don’t want people messing with it. If it looks professional, then people will assume you’re a professional. Sketch copyright pages make your book look sketch, and so help me I will blackmail any plagiarists.

The part you wrote—Overall, the quality of your writing is your best business card and your best insurance for future business. You can have fantastic ideas, but if you can’t coherently get them down on paper, then no one will be able to read it. Hit the reader with your best shot—no matter what manner you publish in, have someone you trust give your manuscript a once over. Besides having your best writing foot forward, you want to be internally consistent. The chapter heads, page numbers, page headers etc should all look professionally neat and clean. Chapter heads must be in a larger sized font, if not a different font altogether. Page numbers. Please have them. (Charlotte inputs that if this is an e-book you shouldn’t have page numbers because it will be different on every device and is distracting if they’re wrong.)

Back Cover—This is similar to your front cover in that you want it to be aesthetically pleasing and nicely designed. A brief, cliffhanger summary of the book—called a blurb in the pub biz— should be on it. In traditional publishing houses, copy editors write your blurb because they have more distance from your book and an eye on the market. Reviews can also be on the back cover. One thing you’ll also want if it’s not already on your book’s back pages is an author bio and photo. As discussed previously, your name is your brand and attaching an image to that name will make it all the more memorable. Depending on your photography chops, you may want to have your photo professionally done or at least professionally retouched. If you want an example of a good author photo, just think of your favorite author—do you remember their face? Then they had a successful photo.

Book Jackets & Other Formats—Above are the basic bits and pieces for a good cover. They may be moved around depending on the specific book—hardcovers’ book jackets usually have the blurb, author picture, and author bio on their flaps and reviews on the back cover. If you’re looking for guidance or need an example, go to your local bookshop or Barnes & Noble and examine the book covers you like, want to emulate, and/or are in your same genre. This can generate ideas for cover images, font style/size, and overall design and formatting. The same goes for e-books too—notice how they’ve transferred the traditional book format to the Kindle or Nook. If you have a series, having the cover of the next book at the end of the preceding one is a great marketing tip, as it encourages the happy reader to immediately purchase the sequel.

The above is the anatomy of a book’s production, and there are many achieve all the different parts. The author has an unprecedented about of say and choice in the process, and I’ve tried to lay them out in an easy-to-reader manner. I’ve also summarized the cost and benefits of each choice at the end.

Traditional—This is a very familiar, well-trodden path. It’s also the most difficult to get going. Traditional publishing means a book with the Big Six aka Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, or Macmillian. These powerhouses also own 20+ “imprints” that specialize in publishing a certain type of book or genre, but are still owned by their parent company. For example, HarperCollins owns Amistad Press, which specializes in works by or about people of African descent. To garner the attention of these publishing gods, you can send a cold query to their acquisitions editor, but your best bet is to find yourself an agent who has established personal relationships with the publisher’s editors. Agents will make sure your manuscript is as polished as possible and present it with a few marketing ideas for the company, which makes the publisher’s job much easier. For any press, it costs around $5,000 to print an initial order of your book and $1 after that, so publishers are only interested in books that are more or less guaranteed to sell a minimum of 10,000 copies. This means that only authors appealing to a broad audience will do, and preferably these authors already have connections on the web or in large communities. However, the Big Six will do most of a book’s production and marketing for you: they’ll polish your manuscript even more, design your covers, get your reviews, put your book on the right shelves, organize book tours and author appearances, pay for adverts, organize/pay for your copyright, deal with publishing rights, manage your image/publicity, and the thousand other little things that make for a monetarily successful book. If your book does well, they’ll ask you for another and even organize a writing timetable. Some authors become disgruntled over profit percentage or their lack of say, but these companies will work hard to get the best bottom lines.

Cost: It’s really difficult to get in, they are very concerned with bottom lines, and the author’s percentage of the profit is lower.

Benefit: Most of the marketing and production is done for you, they’re very concerned with the bottom line (that’s a cost and a benefit, depending on how you look at it), and the amount of copies sold & therefore profits accumulated is high for a successful book.

Small/Indie/University/Specialty Press—Small presses are basically publishing companies not owned by the Big Six. There’s hundreds, if not thousands online and in real physical places. They can digital, print, or some combination thereof. Academic presses like Columbia University Press (http://cup.columbia.edu/) and presses that strictly publish a certain type of book fall under this category. For those not wanting a huge amount of pressure to be instantly super successful, they have lower expectations—they’d ideally like 3,000-5,000 copies sold. Their size also means authors are given more say and individual attention, which is a plus, though in turn the author is expected to be more involved in promotion and marketing. The thing to watch out for with these is they are the definition of mixed bag. Some are fantastic and lovely, their staff filled with talented designers, editors, and publicists, but others are plain scams. LearningIsland (http://www.learningisland.org/) is an excellent digital children’s book press, filled with pleasant, hardworking people that will do their best for your book. iUniverse and Xlibris have been known to ask you for $3,000 and then do nothing to help you sell (http://www.iuniverse.com/). Before you sign anything or agree to give your book to these presses, make sure its run by people who know what they’re doing and have a long track record of happy authors. There are excellent small presses out there, but be careful.

Cost: They have less promotional and marketing resources, you are expected to do more, and you must watch out for scams.

Benefit: It’s more hands on with the production process and perfect for books meant for smaller audiences. There are many presses to choose from.

You & Freelancers/other groups/Print-on-Demand—Alternatively, you can mostly do everything yourself. There’s a near endless amount of freelancers looking for work (says the freelance editor looking for work). You can be your own small press and do as much of the book production process as you like and hire other people to do the rest, from manuscript editing and publicity to graphic/cover design and the actual printing. You can even hire book shepherds like Ellen Reid to guide you through the whole process (http://www.bookshep.com/shepherd.html). Again, make sure the people you hire know their stuff and are worth their salt. See if they’re listed anywhere, part of an association, or have a record of happy customers. For example, here’s the website for an Editorial Freelancer’s Association http://www.the-efa.org/. If you’ve been following Charlotte for a while, you know she went this route with Those We Trust—she hired a freelance editor (me) to polish her manuscript, enlisted some help from the Invisible Ninja Cat (http://invisibleninjacat.wordpress.com/) with the initial cover design, and then put that fantastic, heartbreaking novella up on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Those-We-Trust-Charlotte-Blackwood/dp/1483944875/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1371063176&sr=8-2&keywords=those+we+trust+amazon) , BN.com, iTunes, and Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/248902) herself.

Cost: You have to pay the people you hire, and there’s varying amounts of author involvement, depending.

Benefit: All profits go to you, and you’re the boss.

All by myself & Print-on-Demand/Online Platforms—Alternatively, alternatively, you can do everything yourself. Really. Once your book is written and revised, and your cover is set, you send it to a print-on-demand company and/or post it on Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, BN.com, or any other selling online platform you wish. Make sure to check out the design/formatting guidelines for submitting to these places.

Cost: It takes lots of time and everything is on you to sell this book. You do all the writing, marketing, and promotion yourself. Some people become wildly successful with this, but most do not, sadly. Please consult this article: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2013/05/27/survivorship-bias-why-90-of-the-advice-about-writing-is-bullshit-right-now/

Benefit: You receive 100% of the profits, and you do all the writing, marketing, and promotion yourself (some people like it).

Whoo! Long post is long. Next time’s notes are from the Literary Agents Panel. Hope to see you then!

GRE Blues

Standardized testing may have its purpose, but it’s a headache for anyone and everyone who has ever had to go through it (which should be just about everybody in the US and may people besides).

I am currently studying for my GREs, which I’ll be taking the last Monday of the month (prayers and crossed fingers appreciated). I’m consistently getting high enough verbal scores, but for one of my programs my math scores need to be at least five points higher.

This leads to me studying, and taking a test a day, because I decided I wanted to do this a bit late in the game and really should have taken the test last year.

That, and I really need to nail it the first time.

Why?

The GRE test costs $185 each time you take it. As if that wasn’t the most ridiculous pricing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not even like they’ve got a bunch of paper and ink they’re spending that money on because it’s all computerized. Isn’t that supposed to save money?

Anyway, here’s my advice on this test. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you have even an inkling that you’re going to need to take this for Grad school, start NOW, however far into college you are (and if it’s about to be fall of your final year, get going RIGHT NOW, don’t even bother finishing this post – well, maybe when you finish, then). Princeton Review has a single free test, although it doesn’t give the best analytics post-test. Kaplan also has free services, and they’re FANTASTIC. I really think this is a good place to start. Get a book if you can. Do an online course through Kaplan if you can afford it and your preliminary tests reveal that you need help in one or both sections. They actual have Verbal Only and Quantitative Only courses, which is great if you know one’s fine but the other needs work.

One thing I did for the math as well, since I was so out of practice, was do all the SAT II math practice tests we had around the house from mine and my brothers’ previous testing experiences. It’s a bit of overkill as this level isn’t all going to be on the test by any stretch, but I have to admit that my math scores were better off for it.

So that’s my advice on this particular part of Grad School Applications. I will go back to reading about MFA programs and leave you with that nugget of thought for the night.

Cheers,

C

Having Troubles with Blogging

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for my recent ineptitude in blogging. I blame these things: internet issues, camera issues, jet lag issues, inbox bloat, GRE preparation, and thesis research. Oh, and my computer had a couple of trojans. No big deal.

First of all, the internet was terrible for almost the entire time I was in the UK, so my grand plan of blogging every day obviously didn’t happen.

Secondly, when I was at the Harry Potter Studio Tour, a friend broke my camera. Simple drop, could have happened to anyone, but it was out of commission. I was tight on cash, so it took me at least a week to get a new one, and I did get some pictures, but they’re in different formats and of vastly different qualities, so I’m going through them and shall deliver the greatest hits in blog posts when I’ve sorted it all out.

As far as inbox bloat, my school email is looking a lot better, but my work email still has hundreds of emails I’ve yet to touch. I cringe every time I think about sifting through it, but I’m plugging along and I hope to be caught up by the end of the week.

As far as GRE prep, I’ll be taking my test at the end of the month, which will then free me up for… applications. Yup. So that might make me even busier, but those will be done in February, so…. count the months?

Thesis will pick up with intensity when I’m back to school and I hope to have regular updates for you on that as it progresses. It will be done well before the end of December, so that’s really not so far off at all. And that’ll free me up for… more applications.

Computer’s clean and behaving remarkably well, so hopefully it stays that way. I just need it to last the year, so keep your fingers crossed for me, and if you have any tips for speeding up a PC, I’d love to hear them.

Lastly, to fill that void, I have reiterated Natalie Cannon’s latest (I know, I’m pathetic in updating) blog entry that she sent to me AGES ago. May she slap me repeatedly when next we meet in the physical world, even though I know she won’t.

And speaking of Natalie, head on over to her blog, Letters to the World, and give her a congratulatory comment, or tweet her @NMCannon. SHE GOT AN INTERNSHIP. Woot. And well-deserved, may I say.

Cheers,

C