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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Frazzled? Frustrated? Going Mental? 6 Ways to Beat the Breakdown

I think it gets worse at this time of year. The holiday frenzy adds its own brand of crazy to our already pressured lives. I talked about that pressure a couple of weeks ago in my post on White (or Red) Queen Days: Why Are We Running as Fast As We Can to Stay in the Same Place?

It seemed to resonate with other writers, because the post got thousands of hits, and Porter Anderson mentioned it in his Writing on the Ether post last week, agreeing that it's increasingly hard to survive on "the accelerating authorial treadmill."

Now here's some advice from Ruth Harris, who's been surviving in this crazy business for a lot of years now and has figured out how to keep the frazzles at bay.

Six Ways to Beat the Breakdown
by Ruth Harris

You’ve got a book to write, a cover to create, tweets to tweet and pins to Pin. There’s metadata, pricing decisions, giveaways, keywords, tagging, liking, formatting and facing FB. Your lists have lists, your back is killing you and your eyes are crossed from so many hours in front of the computer.

There are 1000 things to do and, sometimes, it feels like 999 of them are driving you batshit crazy.

You feel overwhelmed and out of control.

We’ve all been there, done that. Anne and me included. We decided it was time to take a step back and figure out how to be a writer in the Twenty-first Century without going bonkers.

1) Know your trigger points.
What is it that absolutely, positively guarantees a meltdown? One more email that must be dealt with? A blurb that resists your creativity? A looming & leering deadline?

For me, it’s dinner when I’ve been working hard all day and am running on fumes. I don’t even always know how I feel when I’m in that state but Michael has learned to recognize the warning sighs (You think a crabby, cranky wife might be a tip-off?) Even though I love to cook, he knows when I’ve had enough and should stay the %#%!! out of the kitchen lest the pots & pans feel my wrath.

Born and bred in Manhattan, he’s a true New Yorker who reaches for the phone. There’s Afghan, pizza, Turkish, Chinese, A+ hamburgers, deli sandwiches and the long-running pasta palace nearby so when dinner is the tipping-point, we (he) knows the warning signs, has learned how to deal & keeps me out of trouble.

Whatever your own trigger points, it’s essential to recognize them (or have a spouse/kid/best friend who does) and can come up with a strategy to fend them off before you have a meltdown.

2) Recognize your limits. You’ve uploaded your new book to Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Apple, approached 10 book bloggers requesting a review, edited the first half of your next book, tweeted and posted to your blog. You took your oldest to the dentist and your youngest to ballet class. You hit the supermarket, the dry cleaner and the drugstore.

Uh. Really?

Don’t you think you might be pushing it? Don’t you think you should learn to prioritize? Don’t you think allowing a little space in your schedule might be a good move? Haven’t you heard of delegating? Does the laundry really have to be done tonight? And addressing those Christmas/Hannukah/ Kwanza cards? Can’t one of the kids help? Wouldn’t one of the neighbors, recently retired and sort of bored, enjoy lending a hand in exchange for a free book or a tray of your fabulous brownies?

You don’t need me to tell you’re not superman or superwoman. You need to tell yourself and keep reminding yourself. Take the pedal off the metal, back off, slow down, pace yourself.

3) Dump the OCD tendencies. IOW, don’t torture yourself with perfection because perfection is a fantasy. When I was preparing my backlist books for epub, I was sort of shocked to find a few typos and other minor mistakes. Not many, to be sure, but a few. Books published back in the day went through an editor, a copyeditor, and a proof reader. Not to mention the fact that the author (me) had two more go-rounds: galleys and page proofs.

You’d think that with that many eyes, no mistake would survive but you would be wrong. You should aim for an excellent book but not a perfect book because perfection simply doesn’t exist and the big advantage of cyber-pub is that if a reader spots an error you missed, you can fix it. Not possible in TradPub.

Mr. Monk solves crimes, but you aren’t going to solve the riddle of the perfect book. Hire an editor if you need to. Get your best friend, your crit partner, your neighbor who loves to read to do a careful proofing, then let it go.

4) Don't become a tech wreck: get help. Does uploading a cover image to specified measurements in KBs and MBs and pixels have you tearing your hair out? You mean you don’t even know what KBs and MBs are? And pixels? What’s pixels? Drunken elves? Does creating a text link cause you angst? Is Photoshop your Rubicon? And don’t even mention HTML, JPG & PNG.

Kids grew up with tech & if tech is turning you into a wreck, look for a kid—maybe even your own kid or the neighbor’s kid—to bail you out. Make a deal and pay them because what they do in saving your sanity is well worth it. Or, as the ad says, priceless.

5) Recognize burnout and deal with it. If you’re running on empty, give yourself a break (literally). Meditate, take a yoga class, have a 10-minute massage (most manicure places offer them). Read a good book. Watch a season’s worth of Homeland. Go to the movies, a concert, the ballet. Make a lunch date even if it’s only with yourself. Take the time to catch up with an old friend—gossip is a superb refueling technique & a great source of new ideas.

Here ares some suggestions for dealing with burnout ideas from other writers at the top of their game—

Mark Chisnell: Ace thriller author of the Kindle chart-toppers, The Defector, The Wrecking Crew and The Fulcrum Files—as well as contributor to leading magazines and newspapers including the Guardian and Esquire.

His advice: balance mental with physical:

“I've always felt that because writing is such a sedentary job, it's really important to balance the mental stresses with some physical ones—usually with some sport. So I try very hard to do a mix of yoga and aerobic exercise, and do some sort of physical activity every week. Football, surfing or mountain biking are my preferred forms of torture, but I'll take whatever the weather and geography will allow, even if it's just a run round the block. If I keep to this routine I find that I can keep everything else in perspective, and don't get to the frazzled and overwhelmed stage.”

Donna Fasano, superstar author of bestselling sweet romances—her latest is Her Fake Romance which earned a "Top Pick" 5-star rating from HarlequinJunkie.com.

She deals with the frazzle like this:

“There are always those two great and well-known standby remedies in my house: chocolate (for daytime frazzles) and wine (the perfect solution to evening frazzles). However, several other coping strategies have served me well. I find solace in nature, so I take a lot of walks. I visit friends. I take in a movie, usually a comedy because I love to laugh. I often will find myself up to my elbows in flour (I love to bake), or stirring up some new recipe in a pot (I love to cook). One of my favorite coping mechanisms is to switch gears, literally. I love my manual 6-speed convertible Miata. When I return from a glorious top-down drive, I don't seem to mind picking up my much-lighter Ms Overwhelmed, slinging her over my shoulder, and getting back to the endless tasks that come with the job of being an Indie Author.”

6) Go Noir. Scream it out and laugh about it. Considering all the things that go wrong, that get screwed up, that have you in fits, a sense of humor is your Number One offense & defense. When all else fails, when you look in the mirror and see Quasimodo, don’t scream: laugh. Be bitter, be outraged. You have the right, damn it!

Now that reviews are disappearing, your buy buttons have mysteriously evaporated and ancient covers from a long-forgotten Transylvanian edition have replaced the elegant & expensive covers on your author page, noir does the job.

You can even write a blistering email to the guilty cyber vendor invoking every known noun, verb, adverb & adjective deriving from the ubiquitous and much-loved f-word--as long as you don't hit "send."

On second thought, make that a capital F!

How about you, scriveners? Are you feeling the burnout? Is your family begging you to take a vacation...preferably alone? Is it all getting to be too much? How do you cope with the frazzles?

Blog News: Anne will be visiting Romance University on Friday, November 30th, where she'll be talking about Slow Blogging--another way to combat the creeping enfrazzelation.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's Next in Publishing? Literary Agent Laurie McLean Looks in Her Crystal Ball

This week, we're honored to host Laurie McLean, a senior agent at the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency who is also a pioneer in the indie revolution. Since she's been pretty good at predicting the big changes in the publishing industry in recent years, I asked her to look into her crystal ball and tell us what she sees coming up in 2013.

Laurie is one of the driving forces behind the San Francisco Writers Conference and San Francisco Writers' University. For more than 20 years she ran a public relations agency in California’s Silicon Valley, so she is wise in the ways of marketing and business. She is also a novelist herself, so she can empathize with what we're all going through in these wild and crazy times in the publishing business.

Laurie McLean’s Crystal Ball
by  Literary Agent Laurie McLean

I am really taking a risk by making any kind of prediction here, since there are startling developments in publishing every single day. But what Anne demands, Anne receives. She’s got that kind of blogging power! So here are my predictions (with a little perspective) on the next steps for the book publishing industry.


Before we get to the future of publishing, let’s all think back to 2008. A mere four years ago. The Amazon Kindle debuted. So did Smashwords. So did Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. This made it easy and profitable for authors to self-publish all kinds of writing. No more gatekeepers and hurdles. Just write and publish. Score a big one for our side!

In 2010 the first Kindle Millionaires were born, and vanity publishing was swept away in a tsunami of respectability once and for all. Sure, some assisted self-publishing options are still out there fleecing the unsuspecting. But for the most part, most writers know how to create an eBook and get wide retail distribution for free, and create a Print On Demand book for nearly nothing.


This year, traditional publishing fought back with eBook originals, higher royalty rates that even escalated the more eBooks you sold, a ramp up in work for hire projects, eSerials, price wars, free novellas as marketing vehicles, and a price drop for book one in a series when book two was about to pop. Whoa!

We also saw the agent’s role changing (I am an agent, so my views are both informed and tainted).

Agents became publishers, self-publishing guides, freelance editors and specialists. I love it because while each agent knows the business of publishing, they also each have special skills and now they can come to the fore. Plus it means we probably won’t become obsolete in this brave new frontier.

I started two ePublishing companies this year with two of my award winning clients: Joyride Books for out-of-print backlist romance titles; and Ambush Books for out-of-print classic tween and teen titles. Bringing classics back so today’s reader can enjoy them makes me feel great. I think we’ll see the trend of agent-hybrids, or what I call author managers, accelerating in 2013.

Also this year the Department of Justice dropped the hammer on big publishers. Some settled (Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins) and some are fighting the government’s charge of price fixing (Apple, Penguin, Macmillan). What this will ultimately mean for the future of eBook pricing (and author royalties) remains unknown. Will this benefit the reader or create a monopoly…or both? The jury’s still out. Literally! Most feel that Amazon has already won the day. But my high tech background taught me to never count on the dominance of a clear leader. Remember how IBM owned the PC market? That is until Dell and Microsoft pulled the rug out from under them. Then there was Apple. And Google. So Amazon, watch your back for the smaller, faster, more nimble tech innovators in publishing.


Okay, here’s where the big risk taking happens. What will happen in 2013?

I have been predicting for six months that one of the Big Six would be acquired. But I guessed that Amazon, who is the only publisher with beaucoup bucks, would buy HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster.

I was totally blindsided by the Penguin/Random House merger.

Will this open the floodgates for further mergers?

Will we have the Big Three instead of the Big Six?

  • I’m still holding out for Amazon to buy its way onto brick and mortar bookshelves through the credibility of an established publisher. Buying Marshall Cavendish’s and Dorchester’s backlist was a solid start. But let’s face it…they’re not HarperCollins. I think Amazon is not done buying publishers.
  • Next up: Mobile Publishing. There are six billion, yes, billion, mobile phones worldwide, with China, America, and India as the biggest markets with the most growth potential. Smart phones also make nifty eReaders and most people carry their smart phones with them everywhere. Some even keep them by their beds while they sleep (you know who you are). So watch for short content, serialized stories, cliffhanger endings, flash fiction, articles, novelettes, and more experiments in publishing designed specifically for mobile computers. Text walking (and crashing) could be minor compared to being lost in the virtual world of a novel and ending up lost somewhere in the city!
  • Publishing in the Cloud. Ah, yes, the cloud. It’s where data is going to be stored from here on out. It just makes too much sense not to do it that way. Regardless of your device, wouldn’t it be nice to have a ubiquitous library available to you anywhere? Google Play, the Kindle Cloud Reader, and iCloudBooks would be instantly available to you no matter what tablet/laptop/Kindle/Kobo/ iPhone/Android you have handy. Seamless bookmarking anyone? I’m in!
  • Digital Paper/Folding Screens: We’ve just shaved off the tip of the iceberg with cool reading devices. How about digital paper that you can shove into your briefcase and unroll to read a full-page article or book page or app? Or a folding screen that fits in your pocket for quick reads or unfolds for larger types of applications? This technology is already here, they just have to bring the price down so it’s affordable.
  • And talk about being affordable. How about the $13 eReader. Yes, you read that right. A German company has created the TXTR Beagle and is pricing it at $13 US, available worldwide. It is subsidized by the cell phone companies and it is bare bones basic. Works on AAA batteries. But for people who cannot afford even a $70 Kindle, this is inching us towards the razor and the blade with the eReader being the razor and content being the blades. I know what’s on my Christmas list.
  • And finally, an easy one. Apps and enhanced eBooks are going to explode in 2013. They’re already phenomenal for children’s picture books. To me picture book apps are the modern equivalent of the Fisher-Price baby dashboard with the cranking handle, clicking steering wheel, beeper button, etc. And that’s just scraping the surface in creativity. I predict apps are going to start popping up for all kinds of books in all kinds of genres. I can’t wait. I mean you can already turn your book into a basic app using Smashwords. For free. What are you waiting for?

So tell me…

What do you think is going to happen in publishing in 2013?

Laurie McLean is the Senior Agent at Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco. She represents adult genre fiction (romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, thrillers, etc.) as well as children’s middle grade and young adult books. To query Laurie, please follow the the submission guidelines on her submissions page.

Laurie is also the Dean of San Francisco Writers University,  which offers classes on the craft of writing, the business of publishing and technological advances in both. In 2012 Laurie co-founded two ePublishing companies with two of her client partners: JoyrideBooks.com for vintage out-of-print romance books with her client Linda Wisdom; and AmbushBooks.com for out-of-print classic tween and teen books with her client Douglas Rees. 

Many thanks to all the bloggers who hosted and mentioned Anne and this blog this week, including Porter Anderson, who gave us some nice cyberink at Writing on the Ether and Debra Eve, who spotlighted Anne's books at Later Bloomer and Write it Sideways. A big thank you to D.D. Scott at the Reader's Guide to E-Publishing for posting my travelogue/love letter to Lincolnshire, the setting of SHERWOOD, LTD. And I much appreciate the Golden Review of THE GATSBY GAME at Indie Authors Anonymous.

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Biggest Problem Facing the Beginning Novelist—And 6 Tips for Avoiding It

Creating compelling narrative takes more than great characters, sparkling dialogue and exciting action.  All those elements have to come together in one story. 

One story.

Not a series of episodes. 

As creatures of the television era, a lot of us tend to think in episodes rather than one long story arc. I know I do. My first book, which I worked on for a decade, contains what is probably my very best writing. Every scene is honed to perfection. 

But it's not a novel: it's a series of episodes. I had story, but no plot. The book is unpublishable. No wonder it got over 300 rejections. 

It took a very kind agent to read the whole thing and tell me what was wrong before I put it aside. "It reads like a sit-com" is what she said. Finally, that "aha" moment: I had episodes; not a novel.

I know I'm not the only writer who fights the episode habit. Episodic storytelling is the number one problem I see confronting the new writer. And sometimes seasoned authors run into the problem, too. 

One of my favorite movies about writers is Wonder Boys, based on Michael Chabon's prize-winning novel.  In the film, Michael Douglas plays a writer who can't finish his book.  Everybody assumes he's blocked, but—as we discover when he opens a closet stacked with reams of typed pages—the problem is he can't make the story end. 

I'm willing to bet that Michael Douglas's character's problem was episodic storytelling. 

Look at the trouble TV writers have ending a series. The weak last episodes of Seinfeld and The Sopranos come to mind.  And don't get me started with Lost...

Episodic storytelling happens when one scene doesn't generate the problem of the next scene.  You could shuffle the scenes around and pretty much the same things would happen. 

E.M. Forster illustrated this in one of his famous lectures on novel-writing: "'The king died and then the queen died' is a story. 'The king died, and then queen died of grief' is a plot."

You can just as well say "The queen died and then the king died." But the "dying of grief" makes no sense in reverse order. 

To write a successful novel, you need a plot. Just the one. Each scene needs its own story arc, but we also need one over-arching plot to compel us from scene to scene. 

So how do we do that? 

Here are a few things I've learned that helped me kick the episodic storytelling habit:

1) Start a novel with the ending in mind. I always do this now. After my disaster with the Novel That Would Not End, sometimes I even write the last scene first. It never ends up being the actual last scene, but it helps me enormously to have it sitting there as a goal. 

2) Write lots of short fiction before starting that first novel. If you think of your novel as a short piece stretched out, it can help you keep that plot in mind. If I'd spent that decade writing short fiction instead of polishing up that endless collection of chapters, I'd probably have reached my career goals much faster.  (And I'd have a ton of stories that can be published again and again. Stories have a long shelf life and are now pure gold in the age of the Kindle Single.)

3) Write a logline before you start.  I'm not telling you to outline. I know we should, but I can't bear to outline myself. Stories are so much more interesting to write when you don't know exactly what's going to happen. But you want to have the basic story in your head.  Try plugging your idea into this formula: When______happens  to_____, he/she must_____or face_____.  (More on loglines in my post on Hooks, Loglines and Pitches.) 

4) Make sure your story has an antagonist. Again, just the one. This doesn't necessarily mean a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash bad-guy. But you need a force working against the hero that's powerful enough to keep the plot going for an entire novel. Your hero can't just slay a new dragon in each chapter. He needs to live in constant danger from the Big Momma Dragon who never lets go and can't be slain by ordinary means. And Big Momma Dragon has to get meaner and more dangerous as her little dragons get vanquished.

5) Create characters who act rather than are acted upon. The protagonist's actions and choices should cause each new event. When you have a hero who causes things to happen by her actions (no matter how stupid) the story is propelled forward. You can do E. M. Forster one better with something like: "The king died, then the queen faked her own death to run off with a hot young dragon-slayer."

6) Consider writing your first novel in a genre with built-in structure. Romances and Mysteries have firm story structures. Romances need a HEA (Happy Ever After ending) with lovers united. Mysteries have to end with the revelation of who dunnit.  This doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite genre. Women's fiction can have a traditional romance story structure. So can historicals, fantasy and sci-fi. The mystery structure can be used in almost any genre from chick lit to scifi, and the unsolved mystery doesn't have to involve murder.

Many thanks to Pip Conner for his email this week that sparked this blogpost. He asked how to deal with that nagging feeling something isn't right with the WIP--even though you've been polishing forever. I told him most first novels have structure  problems. It's always worth a check of your story structure if something doesn't seem "quite right." 

Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Could you remove a scene or two and still have the same story outcome? 
  • Does the plot build from one inciting incident to an inevitable climax? 
  • Do you have both a protagonist and an antagonist? 
  • Does the protagonist have a goal that isn't achieved until the end?
  • Does your book have three well-defined acts? (Here's a nice graphic on the 3-act structure.)

That scene that doesn't quite work may turn out to be a detour that moves us away from the plot and you may have to eliminate it. (Don't you hate that? Remember to save it for another novel or a short story someday.)

Obviously, it helps if you start the novel with some of the above things in mind, but even if you didn't, you can often fix a structure problem if you step away from the manuscript and re-examine it later with fresh eyeballs. 

Here's what I advised Pip:  

My strongest piece of advice is this: put it in a drawer and walk away. Close the file and don't look at it for two months. Go read a book in your genre. Then read another. Then read some books on story structure.

Robert McKee's STORY--although it specifically addresses screenplays--is the structure Bible. (But I just saw the Kindle edition is $23--yikes--so get it from the library.) Another oldie but goodie is James N. Frey's HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL. And Kristen Lamb's blog  has some fantastic advice on structure and the antagonist. Do a search on her blog for "The Big Boss Troublemaker." And if you're a techie sort, GalleyCat has a whole list of programs this week that help you outline your novel.

Then start a new book or story. Do not open that file for the whole two months.

When you get back to that old WIP, I'll bet you'll see a solution.

How about you, scriveners? Do you have recommendations for some good books or blogs on story structure? Have you ever written a Novel That Would Not End? Do you struggle with structure in your novels? 

COMING UP ON THE BLOG! Next Sunday we're going to present "LAURIE McLEAN'S CRYSTAL BALL"-- a visit from the dynamic literary agent Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada, talking about what she sees coming up in the publishing world. And on December 16th, we'll have our annual visit from Romance author and uber-blogger Roni Loren talking about how authors can best use Facebook and Twitter.

OTHER NEWS: I'll be interviewed at WRITE IT SIDEWAYS on Monday, November 12. and I have a GOLDEN REVIEW at Indie Authors Anonymous on November 14. Plus I have a guest post about traveling off the beaten path in the UK at the READERS GUIDE TO E-PUBLISHING on Thursday November 15th

And don't forget that SHERWOOD, LTD, a Camilla Randall mystery, is FREE on Kobo and Smashwords. The Smashwords blurbitude didn't come out quite right--so it's credited to Saffina Desforges, who wrote the forward. But it got a nice review the first 24 hours it was up.

Reviewer David Keith said "It's not yer typical whodunnit, nor is the protagonist anything like a cop. Ms. Allen (or Ms. Deforges, as the case may be) has crafted a wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book." FREEEEEE!

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

The White Queen Age: Why Are We Running as Fast as We Can to Stay in the Same Place?

This week I finished the first draft of my fourth Camilla Randall mystery, NO PLACE LIKE HOME, and sent it off to my editor. What a relief!

All my books are comedies, but they have a darker subtext, and this one, dealing with homelessness here in San Luis Obispo, CA— "The Happiest Town on Earth"—took a lot of soul searching. Finishing it left me feeling drained. But satisfied. I'd succeeded in doing some writing I was proud of, and I could enjoy the feeling of job well done.

For about 8 hours.

The next morning, I was confronted with a pile of procrastinated projects that literally brought me to tears. Huge, already-overdue writing projects, this blog, guest posts, plus falling fences, overgrown gardens, put-off doctor visits, unpaid bills, neglected family and friends. And my inbox is crammed with requests to help newbie authors, new literary magazines, and start-up reader/author sites. All worthy enough to be set aside for "when I have time"--whenever that may be.

No rest for the weary.

So I asked myself—when did I sign up for "weary"?

Do I really have to live this frenzied life that is taking such a huge toll on my health and home and friendships...and seems to get me no farther ahead?

In the final three months of last year, I launched five novels and two anthologies--all while keeping up this blog (which I couldn't have done without the wonderful Ruth Harris. Thanks, Ruth!) But it was pretty much the most exhausting thing I've ever done. I thought I'd get to rest afterward. But after a bout of pneumonia in January, my pace went back to frantic. I had a nonfic book to co-author and launch in June, the new Camilla mystery to write, plus dozens of guest posts, bloghops, blogtours, radio interviews, daily Tweeting, Facebooking, etc., and presentations at a seminar and a writers' conference to prepare

I know my schedule is nothing compared to what most authors face. In fact, I'm constantly hearing the message that I should be doing more. Lots more. And I have a wonderful, helpful publisher--so I have nothing like the workload of most indie authors.

But I know I can't keep up this pace for much longer without facing another health crisis. And a health crisis will eat up any profits I might make from producing and marketing more books.

On the morning I woke up to the tsunami of procrastinated tasks, I saw a tweet from a reader who has taken my Slow Blogging posts to heart. The wonderful Marcia Richards wrote a plea for blogging sanity that reminded me of something kind of important:

I'm a "Slow Blog" person, not a "work-24-hours-a-day-and-sleep-when-your-dead" person.

My nonfic book is called HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…and Keep your E-Sanity! (co-authored with Catherine Ryan Hyde.)

So why have I been willing to give up my own "e-sanity"?

I think I started to forget who I am.

I call these crazed times "White Queen Days," after Lewis Carroll’s White Queen, who ruled a chessboard kingdom where "It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place." (Yikes. I stand corrected. it's the RED Queen who said this--the picture above should have been a clue, Anne. The White Queen did say the quote below. She also said, "Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never jam today,"which is almost as good. Thanks Lexi Revellian for the correction! Yet another reason why we shouldn't write when were're on burn-out.)

The White Queen offered Alice this advice for surviving in her "Looking Glass" realm: "Speak in French when you can’t remember the English for a thing; turn out your toes as you walk, and remember who you are!"

Pretty good advice for the surreal world of 2012. Well, the French and the toe thing—not so much—but “remember who you are” is true wisdom.

Wisdom that I’ve been ignoring. I hope to remedy that.

The dictators of the new publishing paradigm say the average author should have followings in social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, RedRoom, Libararything—and all the new and wonderful sites emerging daily. (There's a new reader site that looks like a nice alternative to the sometimes cumbersome Goodreads, called Readmill, which really does look intriguing if you've got more time than me.) Oh, and then those are those book trailers we're supposed to be filming...

And we're also supposed to blog three to five times a week.

All while we churn out twelve novels a year

Plus keep a day job and a tidy home, exercise daily, contribute to the community, and perform all the duties of the perfect parent/spouse, of course.

I think it's wonderful so many authors out there have the remarkable superpowers to be able to do all that.

But I'm not a super-hero. (You do not want to see me wearing my underwear over spandex pants. Seriously.)

I'm not even "the average author."

And you know what? Nobody is. We're not machines. We each have our own gifts to bring to the table.

I remember an old folk song from the pre-Civil War South I heard as a kid. It had a verse that resonated in my small, way-too-sensitive soul:

Blue jay pulled a four-horse plow
Sparrow, why can't you?
Because my legs is little and long
And they might get broke in two.

Yes, there are blue jays out there doing the work of four horses. They are amazing and due all the credit in the world.

But a lot of us are sparrows--and we're quite good at being sparrows.

The fact we aren't horse-impersonating blue jays shouldn't be held against us.

I think Harper Lee made as important a contribution to our culture with her one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, as Prentiss Ingraham did with his 600+ books. (Note I had to provide link to tell you who Mr. Ingraham was, but not Ms. Lee.)

I think we all benefit from diversity. I know I learn more from reading books by a  lot of different authors than I would reading the same number of books by one author.

Agent Rachelle Gardner reminded us recently that it's going to take quality, not quantity, to stand out in this rapidly expanding marketplace. She says "The quality of your writing is going to determine if people want to read what you write."

And after telling us a year ago that all authors should have daily blogs with 15K hits or more a month, she's finally come around to the idea that blogging may not be for everyone.

I'm not saying that some authors can't produce a huge number of quality books in quick succession while blogging and Tweeting brilliant bon mots every fifteen minutes.

But personally, I can't.

Natalie Whipple, a successful children’s author, has a popular blog. Last year she wrote wrote a post about what she wished she’d done differently in her career. It was enlightening.

Here are a few of the things she’d do if she had a second chance:

Spend less time online
Spend more time reading
Spend more time with her family
Spend more time “living”
Spend less time “waiting”
Spend less time on news

She realized she’d been running in place so long, she’d been missing out on the things that mattered. I re-read that recently and it really hit home for me.

Maybe we can keep running like Alice, clinging to the White Queen, for a certain amount of time. But every human has to rest sometime. Hey, even the Lord rested on the seventh day.

We are bombarded with constant White Queen messages on the Interwebz: What—you’re not on Pinterest yet?! There’s another blog hop you’ve GOT to join!! Social media is 24/7!! Look what you missed while you slept, you lazy slacker!!! Whatever you do will never be enough!!!! Look at all the people who are writing/selling more than you!!!!!!

But yanno--I'm pretty sure all that tech is supposed to be here to serve us, not the other way around.

So if you're feeling as pressured as I am, be brave: shut out the noise. Write at your own pace. Ignore social media for a while. Read the “Slow Blog Manifesto”.

Compare yourself to no one. You may not be keeping up with Prentiss Ingraham's stats, but you may be creating the next To Kill a Mockingbird.

Take the White Queen’s advice: remember who you are…and keep your e-sanity!

I'd love to have writers at all stages of their writing journeys weigh in here. Are you feeling pressure to do endless tasks that get you nowhere?  This is NaNoWriMo month, so a lot of people are busy trying to access their own White Queens.  I think NaNo is a fabulous exercise if you've got the time to do it--at least once. But for the rest of us, maybe it's good to remember that we don't have to be in a state of frenzied activity to be productive...and that slow and steady can still win the race. What do you think, scriveners? 

TO ALL THE SURVIVORS OF SUPERSTORM SANDY: Our prayers are with you. I hope you have your power back or that you will soon. A catastrophe like this gives all of us a reminder of what's really important. Ruth Harris lives in Manhattan, but she seems to have come through it relatively unscathed. I thank her for being such a trouper and keeping up with the blog last week in spite of everything.

BOOK NEWS: SHERWOOD, LTD, joins THE GATSBY GAME and FOOD OF LOVE in HARD COPY. They are all now available as very nice paperbacks for only $8.99 (£6.29 UK) on Amazon. And in ebooks, SHERWOOD, LTD is FREE for Kobo! And free on Smashwords, too. (Please ignore the glitches. My publisher will correct my name and give some description besides "blah" very soon. )

When the Manners Doctor, Camilla Randall, flies into Robin Hood airport with a suitcase in one hand and a book contract in the other, she thinks she's leaving all her problems behind and is about to start a new life. If you look very carefully you may just spot the Sheriff of Nottingham, Maid Marian and even Little John hidden away. But as for Robin Hood himself... You'll just have to read it and find out.

COMING UP ON THE BLOG! On November 18th, we'll have a visit from the dynamic literary agent Laurie McLean of Larsen-Pomada, talking about the exciting new happenings in the publishing world. And on December 16th, we'll have another visit from uber-blogger Roni Loren talking about how authors can best use Facebook and Twitter.

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