Tag Archives: writers

Remember, Remember, The Fifth of November

Revolution, transformation, reform- for some, these words can sound sharp and lethal. But why? Well, for starters, their definition suggests change- perhaps unwanted depending on your circle. The words also insinuate that what you once depended on is no more. Nevertheless, like it or not, change is in the air.

Now I’m not talking about a change in government, religion or anything else so grand. I’m talking about a change in publishing. It’s a reworking of procedure. It’s a change in how manuscripts are published, books are reviewed, and new authors become popular. While classic publishers might tell you that the latest makeover is the beginning of the end, other, more modern thinkers would argue that its just the adjustment that the book world needs.

For years, the publishing world went something like this- a writer labors over a story. They then pitch it to an agent. If an agent agrees to represent them, they propose the manuscript to a publisher. If the agent is talented enough, the publisher agrees to publish it, and depending on the book’s popularity, eventually a newspaper or radio show might review it, helping the book earn additional readers. The cycle repeated itself for decades, and only the strongest survived.

With modern technology, and a little something called the “internet”, things have changed. Authors can now submit their work to certain publishers without representation, or elect to publish it themselves. If a pitched publisher decides they like the manuscript, they contract the work, with an emphasis on sales instead of advances. Bloggers and other readers then write reviews for the work on social media sites and if enough followers and fans enjoy the book, an author can expect a better chance at publishing their next manuscript.

Where once a writer was forced to depend on the system, the ball is now in their court. It’s no longer about crossing your fingers as much as it is effort and determination. If you want to publish a book, you obviously need to still be a great writer (some would argue even more so now), but you can also take hold of the business side if you’d like. And while many classical publishers would argue these new methods have helped destroy the publishing world, the final numbers don’t favor their mentality.

Take for example the latest column in Yahoo News’s The Exchange. According to columnist, Aaron Pressman, while certain publishers and bookstores are on the ropes, the sales of ebooks are at an all time high. Take for example a consumer report that studied electronic book sales throughout the last decade. While ebooks started as a 68 million dollar industry, in 2012, it improved to an all time high of 3 billion dollars- the most that the publishing market has ever seen. In addition, this study is only focusing on published ebooks. It does not include the countless self-published works that consumer reports have difficulty tracking.

Now take in to consideration that in 2012, hard and electronic copies made a combined total of over15 billion dollars. This sales milestone is not only record breaking, but also a forecast in the rising numbers we can expect to see in the future. When added up, you quickly realize that while the procedures for producing books may have changed, the publishing world is by no means at an end. So why the bad blood?

Well, for every action, this also an equal or greater reaction, and the latest practices are no different. Publishers fear the change in publishing procedures gives way to monopolies like Amazon cornering the market. Publishers also fear that they’ll be held prisoner by ebook sales, which eventually may have more demand, but will sell for much cheaper. Most importantly, small publishers, self-publishing, and online book websites take the power out of the publisher’s hands. Major publishers can no longer dictate the rules of what is and isn’t a good book, and what they’d like to push onto the market. It gives a bit more power, perhaps only temporarily, back to the writer and reader.

Now to add the final piece…my half-witted opinion. Paradoxically, though I might sound like I’m siding with the change in atmosphere, I’m not. I’ve always been a firm believer in hybrid solutions, and the recent publishing change is no different. Do I think that the classic method of publishing is outdated? Of course. Do I want the domination of the book market to simply change hands to companies like Amazon on Kobo? Heck no. The truth of it is though, while I’d personally love for mid sized publishers to regain power and start signing authors due to talent and promise, I know that there’s a lot of work in order to get it to that point. In the end, what I’m actually trying to say is that like it or not, the publishing world is changing.

So, this Fifth of November, when some of us celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, a commemoration that celebrates the failed attempt to blow up British Parliament, why not ask yourself if change is really so bad? In the publishing world, it seems to be inevitable. Let’s hope that with a little bit of care and effort, readers and writers alike can take back the publishing world. If we can embrace the change, then we can use it in order to make sure that publication is no longer an activity that one is powerless to control. It can be change that we use to our advantage- a change that we remember.

A Request to All Amazonians!

I’m not sure about the intelligence of Amazon’s suggestion-engine, but it what cool to see the below e-mail this morning (see attached picture). On that note, if you haven’t already, I’d greatly appreciate it if you went to my book on amazon and reviewed it if possible. This will be my only shameless blog-post about the subject, but unfortunately, amazon reviews tend to have strong influence in our modern day publishing world. 

My thanks!

Justin Alcala

http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin-Alcala-ebook/dp/B00NJ5CGM8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413381655&sr=8-1&keywords=justin+alcala+Consumed

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The Well of Inspiration

Well of Inspiration

Ah, October, the best month in Chicago by far. Why might you ask? Well, that’s easy. Not only does it bring forth the most beautiful of seasons, autumn, and not only is it the month that my wonderful wife and I were married, but for thirty-one days we prepare ourselves for one of the best holidays in the world, Halloween. Every year, just about the time when the scary decorations are put on store shelves, a certain spark erupts in my belly, waking me from my slumber like some revenant crawling out of its grave. Sugared thoughts of frightening costumes, spooky lawn decorations and haunted attractions stir in my mind as I watch ghost shows, drink Octoberfest brews, and reread the classics such as Poe, Stoker and Shelley.

It’s also a peak time for me as an author. It’s as if my fingers are starved to devour the keyboard in order to spin tales that make blood curdle and spines tingle. Countless monsters are born, and even more victims slain across the pages of my works during this wonderful season. Yet, for as much as I could spend countless hours talking about my relationship with the holiday, babbling about the fire that Halloween lights under my cauldron, the excitement of it all also begs another question, one more so related to writing. What is it that makes writers tick?

Some writers are just always on. For them it’s a gift. They have this endless well of ideas and inspiration that allows them to constantly create at anytime, anywhere. For the rest of us however, creativity takes energy, stimulation and motivation. Even the most prolific writers of all time had habits that helped them create their best works. For T.S. Elliot, not only did he sneak away to a quiet porter’s lodge to write, but he also did so while wearing green ghoulish makeup that made him feel like a cadaver. For Faulkner, he wrote his bet works only after a glass or six of whiskey- the good stuff mind you. And as for H.P. Lovecraft, the man of weird fiction could only pen during the darkest hours of night in order to invent his Cthulhu mythos or legends of the Necronomicon.

So what is it that makes you excited to write? Perhaps it’s being somewhere special or reading a book that encouraged you to write in the first place? Being a writer, be it poetry, journalism, fiction, nonfiction, blogging, can be extremely challenging. What takes most people seconds to read may have cost you hours to write, and in those hours, you probably had to drive yourself to stay motivated. Sometimes it’s easy, but often, we must dig down deep and sip from that inspirational well that keeps us excited to create.

Recently, I read an article that had surefire ways to keep a writer motivated. In the column, there were tricks like creating tight deadlines, removing distractions, and forcing yourself to pen even when you were exhausted. While I agreed with what the author was trying to express, their suggestions sounded more like punishment than inspiration. Writers shouldn’t have to physically or mentally abuse themselves in order to create a great story, poem or blog- it’s quite the opposite.

Ultimately, all that we have to do is remember that writing is different for everyone. Simply know yourself, know what keeps you ticking, and use it to your advantage. Anything else is subjective.

So writers, the next time you are having trouble finishing a story, completing a blog or finding that last line of a poem that would really make your work feel complete, remember what makes you want to write. Go back and read your favorite book, visit that place that makes you feel alive, or in my case, listen to Halloween music in the middle of April. I think that you’ll find it truly works. Because so long as you find what makes you tick and continue to feed it, you’ll also find that you’re often writing your best works.

FUN FOR WRITER’S (Contests and Grants)

NEW VISIONS AWARD

https://www.leeandlow.com/writers-illustrators/new-visions-award

NO ENTRY FEE.

STORIES OF RESILIENCE CONTEST

http://ourstoryproject.herokuapp.com/pages/contest

NO ENTRY FEE

THE FEMINIST WIRE GRANT

http://thefeministwire.com/2014/06/feminist-wires-1st-annual-poetry-contest/

$10 ENTRY FEE.
The winner will receive publication in The Feminist Wire and $200. The 1st runner up will receive publication in The Feminist Wire and $100. Deadline October 1, 2014. Submit up to 3 poems (no more than a total of 5 pages).

“Consumed” Book Signing: Days of the Dead Horror Convention

                                            Days of the Dead Large

Join me November 21st-23rd, 2014, at the Chicago Marriott Convention Hotel for the “Days of the Dead” Horror Convention. I’ll have copies of Consumed, and will be signing them, as well as giving away great prizes. There will be vampire babes and drawings at my booth, “Consumed.” And don’t forget that Consumed is due September 11th, 2014. 

Days of the Dead Convention..

Chicago Marriott Hotel

50 North Martingale Road, Schaumburg IL 60173

Continue reading “Consumed” Book Signing: Days of the Dead Horror Convention

Getting Back to the Basics

When was the last time that you wrote without worry? I mean really wrote without hearing the naysayers, critics and self doubt in your head. If you’re an everyday writer, then it’s probably been a while. But why is that? Regrettably, a big part of it almost certainly has to do with the writing world today, and the emphasis it puts on book ratings, author critiques and reader reviews. It’s become so bad that for some writers, doing what they love also means having a nervous breakdown. But allow me to send out a plea to all of the bloggers, novelists and poets out there. This isn’t how it should be. We should be thrilled to write. We should be hungry to start our next piece, thinking about it while cooking breakfast or trying to get some sleep. Maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time for us… to get back to the basics.

I first started writing when I was just a boy, no older than nine or ten. I was one of those weird kids who was obsessed with comic books and spooky monsters, and decided that it was about time for someone to combine the two. I constantly wrote short stories and drew pictures about the misadventures of my favorite ghouls and ghosts as they tried to save the world while dealing with the pain of being a misunderstood. Back then it was simple. Someday, I’d give my homemade penny dreadfuls to Stan Lee or R.L. Stein, and they’d shake my hand and say, “Justin, I want you to write for me. When can you start?”

As time passed and high school struck, I continued to follow my favorite horror authors, getting into classics like Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. But this was a confusing era, and my writing had been put on a brief hold for more “palpable” desires. After the girl craze passed, I delved back into writing, this time for my friends. I started to pen roleplaying campaigns for the guys, telling tales of eerie dungeons and nightmarish crypts for their roleplaying pleasure. The joy it brought both them, and myself, was enough for me to decide that someday I’d write professionally.

Then college came. I majored in English, concentrating in Creative Writing at a downtown university. I’d write whenever I could find time, mostly after night shifts or on the early train to school. While my professors mostly enjoyed my work, it was the first time I’d begun receiving critiques. I don’t recall ever being offended, but it was confusing to hear teachers occasionally suggest toning down the weirdness. What I also didn’t foresee was that these opinions were only the first steps towards the inevitable…self-doubt.

Cue my mid-twenties. I was in love. My fingers wouldn’t stop typing sentimental poetry and short stories involving the woman of my dreams (who would one day become my wife, score!). Later, with her encouragement, I’d convinced myself to take a serious stab at becoming an author. After several months, and with the connection of a family member, I handed my manuscript to an editor. The results, well, were not so much what I’d been hoping for.

But as tough as the criticism was, I needed it. After taking a few months off, I jumped back on the horse with new fervor and tales to tell- one of those being Consumed. For years I concentrated on the book, bleeding over my computer. I’d share my work with respected family and friends. Their assessments were constructive, but as expected, sometimes tough to swallow. Finally though, after several serious edits, the manuscript was complete. After sending it off to dozens of publishers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had several takers, and in early 2014, signed with Zharmae Publishing. My first novel was born.

But getting your manuscript published opens you up to another world, one that involves marketing and promoting. I began doing my research, and found that sites like Amazon.com and Goodreads had some real tough critics. I read unnecessarily harsh reviews about my favorite books, some of the best of all time, and it scared the hell out of me. Who was I to think that I wouldn’t receive similar disapproval? No one wants to read a horror novel about a drug-addicted detective investigating a mysterious murder. Come October, it would be the end of my writing career. I was doomed.

Then it hit me. Call it a bitch slap from God or life’s cup of morning coffee, but I’d finally awoken from the anxiety driven stupor I’d put myself through. I’d been so crushed by the weight of what people might think, that I’d completely forgotten why I started doing it in the first place. It wasn’t to become the most popular author of all time or make tons of money. No way. I didn’t want to be trendy. I wanted to write bizarre and interesting stories as I’d done as a kid. I wanted to honor the horror novels I loved in high school. I wanted to make people happy like I did when I wrote for my friends. I wanted to be myself again, free of any worry.

Perhaps it was Paulo Coelho who put it best when he said, “I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.”

It may sound strange not cater to readers, but you’re honestly doing them a disservice by not writing from the heart. Readers can pick up on someone who is writing scared. I know I can. Instead, write for yourself and let the reader fill in the blanks. I think that you’ll find that far more people appreciate your work (even the critics) when you do it this way. Hell, maybe you can even apply this “apologize to no one” attitude to the rest of your life. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So writers, please, keep doing what you do. I beg of you. Don’t make the mistakes I did. Write those great blogs, short stories and novels, worry free. Keep penning what makes you happy and everything else will fall in place. It’s time that we put away our fears of the critics. It’s time for us to get back to the basics.

 

Are Writers Artists?

What comes to your head when you hear the word artist? For the majority of people, it’s usually Picasso attacking a canvas or Bob Dylan playing his guitar. Very rarely does someone imagine Mark Twain or Agatha Christie in front of a typewriter, regardless of the fact that they are the most prolific authors of all time.  So, why aren’t writers typically considered artists? Does one have to cater to the five senses in order to be one, or is it the emotion one stirs from their work that makes them what they are? Well, as usual, the answer isn’t simple, but requires exploration nonetheless.

Type “what is an artist?” into your web browser and see what comes up. I did, and the first definition I came across was, “An artist is a person who creates paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.” Wow, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. Other definitions include, “A person who is skilled at drawing or painting,” as well as, “a skilled performer.” So, according to Webster and his friends, a writer is definitely out of luck.

As I continued to search, I found blogs and comments that support the idea that writers just are not artists. Certain opinions genuinely believe that authors, as talented as they might be, don’t fit the mold of what an orthodox artist should be. From these people’s perspectives, artists receive their title because they have a medium that is either visually or audibly pleasing. Painters create works that can be put on display. Musicians and actors perform on stage.  But a writer can’t showcase their work so easily, which to these folks, separates writers from artists. Writers tend to need time, organization, and systematical knowledge in order to fabricate their work (although there are certain types of poetry and short stories that are exceptions). In addition, a writer’s creation process doesn’t tend to be as intense or swift as other types of art. There’s no splashing of acrylics along a white wall or singing until your voice goes hoarse.

Yet, as I began to explore more online opinions, it became apparent that while some individuals feel that writers aren’t technically part of the art community, the majority of people argue that writers are in fact major players. While famous authors have always been celebrated, it’s only within the last few decades or so that a new principle for identifying an artist has developed- A principle that is paving the way for authors and poets everywhere. It’s an idea that recognizes true art for what it really is at its foundation. In the words of Albert Einstein, “True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.”

Supporters of this well accepted viewpoint feel that writing is not only a part of the art world, but one of the most complex forms of expression that there is. A writer is painting with words instead of color. They evoke emotion with their stories and accounts. They create something out of nothing, taking ordinary events and weaving them into written words that induce a mood or feelings. While a fine portrait or song can arouse happiness, anger or grief, an exceptional column or book can change lives.

Another reason why writers are increasingly being recognized as artists is that the urge that drives them to express themselves is parallel to the urge that any other artists feels. The fervor that compels a writer to convey a story through language is the same enthusiasm that a violinist uses when drawing their bow or a sculptor uses when he or she shapes clay. Most importantly, this new outlooks doesn’t just apply to writers. According to the majority of blogs and articles I read, other contemporary forms such as photography, computer graphics, film making, and fashion are just as vital, and long overdue for recognition they deserve. So long as there is passion, creation, and expression, there is art, plain and simple.

So the next time someone asks, “Who is your favorite artist?” try to resist the urge to answer with Monet or Pavarotti. Instead, try naming someone a little less conventional.  While Chuck Palahniuk, Carlos Baena, and Robert Kirkman may not make the traditional list of artists, they live and breathe the same creativity of Andy Warhol and Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Just because specific individuals that sculpt statues, dance in ballets or sing in operas get all the credit, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only artists out there. It’s up to us to recognize artists everywhere, be they stand-up comedians, cameramen, or writers.

SUBMIT, BUT DON’T QUIT

“It’s an awful feeling to write something that you feel is really important…and to feel that you’re being published by people who really don’t get it and/or don’t really care.”

-Alice Walker

Recently, I’ve made mention of “the do’s and don’ts” when submitting a manuscript. Since then, I’ve had a few questions from readers about how the process works. It can be tough to try and make the right decisions when sending out your work because different publishers have different procedures. It doesn’t help that many publishers have become a bit more cutthroat then in years past due to excessive inquiries. Nevertheless, there is a basic course that nearly all of them abide by. The following are some suggestions that will help upcoming authors when pitching their manuscripts. This advice comes from research, published authors, and literature websites.

First and foremost, there’s no rule demanding exclusive submissions. Anyone telling you differently hasn’t tried to submit an article as of late. It’s tough and you need to reach out to anyone who might take it. Submit the piece to several publications. While it might be considered a bit impolite to submit the same piece to competitors, there’s nothing saying that you can’t.

 

Secondly, understand that review time is considerably different depending on who you’re submitting a manuscript or article to. Magazines move fast and thanks to the Internet, receive and respond to queries relatively quickly. Typically, you can expect a magazine to respond within eight weeks or sooner. If you don’t receive something by then, either move on or write them a polite e-mail to see if they are interested. Please don’t expect magazines to send a professional rejection letter. It is a courtesy, not a requirement.

As for book publishers, first and foremost, learn how to develop a pitch letter. It is the key component to selling your book. With fiction, learn how to write a fluid, immaculate synopsis. With nonfiction, try to have your proposal emulate a business request. Publishers tend not to read a manuscript unless they’re interested in your query. And like with magazines, don’t limit yourself to a single publisher and don’t wait for a reply.

Most importantly, just keep writing. Don’t get discouraged by rejections, lack of responses, or insecurities you might have about your pitch letter. This industry is getting faster and faster, with publishers looking for that next great piece of work without consideration or apologies. If they don’t like your work, they’ll move on. So should you.