Books, Glorious (and Not So Glorious) Books

pexels-photo-264635Chances are pretty good that if you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. Books are glorious! But chances are also good that you’ve read a not-so-glorious book, one that left you scratching your head. As in “how did an agent, then an editor, THEN a whole acquisitions team at a major publishing house think this was good enough to publish?”

Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. I just finished a middle grade novel like this, and yes, I did finish it. I kept reading even though the protagonist was whiny and unlikable. I kept reading even though the plot was something I’d seen a hundred times before. I kept reading even though the other characters were mostly undeveloped and/or stereotypical. I kept reading to the whiny, predictable end.

There was a time when I would let a book like this get the better of me. I’d stew and sulk and possibly–I’m not saying I did this, I’m just saying maybe–throw the book across the room. But not any more. Now, I read those books from start to finish. Because I want to know the why. What did an agent, an editor, and a whole acquisitions team see that I’m not seeing? Why did a book get published?

And while I’m pondering, why are kids reading this book? Because this particular book had a ton of reviews–great reviews! (Except for one which funnily, listed just about everything that had annoyed me.)

Publishing is a subjective business in some ways, but more importantly, it’s a money-making business. So if a publisher sees dollar signs, it’s a book they’ll acquire, in spite of cardboard characters, tired plots, or a boring protagonist. My mission, when I’m reading so-so books, is to see why it sold.

And here’s what I’ve found again and again: concept trumps everything. There are some subjects ( plots) that middle schoolers are always going to read. And there are emotional concepts that are highly relatable to the middle schooler. If I can find that relatable concept in a tried-and-true yet fresh plot, I’m halfway to the shelf.

You can be, too, in whatever you write. But first, you gotta read a lot of books.

(P.S. You might want to check out the Great American Read for more glorious but also head-scratching books. I mean, Fifty Shades of Grey? Seriously? On the other hand, look how much money that book has made…so yeah. I rest my case. Feel free to share your strong opinions.)

 

 

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TV Research and Writing

file511249349101I read something recently about millennials and TV and their viewing habits but what struck me most was the number of hours they were watching daily. I think the average was around four hours. Four hours! That seems like a lot of TV.

Even though I work at home, I don’t have the TV on during the day unless it’s a weekend afternoon and there’s football. Or baseball. Or golf. But even then, I’m not watching so much as pacing. Getting stuff done and checking scores. Because if I sit to watch, it gets a little scary. Not for me so much, but Mister Man has been known to run screaming from the room when I get worked up.

But in the evenings, I watch a little TV for relaxation purposes. I have specific programs I like so I’ll watch for an hour or so and I’m done. Which is a long way to go to get to The Voice and how I love it. And how it inspired my latest post over at The Muffin called “Turning An Agent’s Chair.”

The writing of that post was downright zippy, but the research? That took hours.

Why Are You Reading?

Goodreads pic close upI know most people ask what are you reading. But I often choose books because I have a specific need in mind.

That’s not to say I don’t read for the pure joy of it; I do. But I also read to learn a little something something. And I don’t mean the non-fiction books on writing (though I certainly learn a little something something from those pages, too). I’m talking about the stacks of kidlit fiction I read and what I glean from those pages. Today on The Muffin, I explain The Business of Reading and why I read the books I read.

But I’m afraid you’ll have to read just a bit more to get your answers.

Shaking Loose the Sand in September

ImageEven though it’s been forever a long time not so long ago, really, that I went to school in September, I still get totally excited after Labor Day. I just want to go out and buy a bunch of pencils and sharpen them into really, really sharp points.

That is to say, I’m ready to get down to business. Thank goodness, I have a wonderful conference to attend in October and the presenters are zipping around on a blog tour right now. So any sand left between my toes (or in my brain) shakes out along the way.

Maybe you have a few grains of sand you’d like to shake loose. Follow along with me and get your pencils ready to take notes. 

And oh, look! Agent Jennifer Rofe from Andrea Brown Literary is going to be HERE on Friday! So y’all come back now, you hear? (Uh-oh. It appears a little Southern has slipped into my writing. I’ll work on that, too.)

Blog Tour Schedule:

Aug. 28            Author Matt de la Peña at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews

                        Editor Lou Anders at F.T. Bradley’s YA Sleuth

Aug. 29            Author Doraine Bennett at Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s Once Upon a Science Book

                        Author Robyn Hood Black at Donny Seagraves’ blog

Aug. 30            MFA program director Amanda Cockrell at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog

                        Illustrator Prescott Hill at Gregory Christie’s G.A.S.

Aug. 31            Author Heather Montgomery at Claire Datnow’s Media Mint Publishing blog

                        Editor Michelle Poploff at Laura Golden’s Just Write

Sept. 3             Author Nancy Raines Day at Laurel Snyder’s blog

                        Author Jennifer Echols at Paula Puckett’s Random Thoughts from the Creative Path

Sept. 4             Editor Dianne Hamilton at Ramey Channell’s The Painted Possum

                        Author Janice Hardy at Tracey M. Cox’s A Writer’s Blog

Sept. 5             Author / illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews

                        Agent Sally Apokedak at Cheryl Sloan Wray’s Writing with Cheryl

Sept. 6             Agent Jennifer Rofe at Cathy Hall’s blog

                        Author / illustrator Chris Rumble at Cyrus Webb Presents

 

About Blogging: Just Do It (And Here’s Why)

ImageWhen I attend writer events, I bring along my cards and pass them out willy-nilly. The card’s pretty basic: my name and my website/blog. Invariably, I’m asked the same basic questions about blogging. 

What in the world do you blog about?

Why do you blog?

Do you really think blogging’s worth all that time and effort? 

So after nearly six years of blogging, I have my answers down pat. To wit: (And skip ahead if you’ve heard all this before.)

I blog about writing–my path to fame and fortune along that glorious, challenging road to publication. That’s what I said in my very first post and I think I’ve stuck to the topic. (Well, Fun Friday posts can be a little whack-a-doodle, but all work and no play make Cathy a dull girl.) So far, I haven’t run out of things to say about writing. Which isn’t surprising because I love to write. Isn’t that a serendipitous way to move on to the next answer?

I started blogging because I thought it was something serious writers did. And though I make my living, more or less, in writing funny stuff, I’m pretty serious when it comes to the actual writing. I didn’t know that I’d refine my writing voice, or that I’d meet so many other writers. I didn’t even realize that blogging was an exercise that was building my writing muscle. I’m kind of like that ugy duckling hack that turned into the beautiful swan writer. (Um…beautiful swan may be a stretch, but I’m going for the metaphor here, people.) Which brings me to my last answer.

I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t written that first blog post–and made the time to stick to blogging. And sure, there have been times when it was an effort to blog. I mean, I love writing, but sometimes, writing doesn’t love me. Pushing through has made me a more disciplined writer.

But maybe I still haven’t convinced you. Yes, you–the writer I meet who smiles and says, “I don’t know…it just doesn’t seem worth it.” Maybe you should read agent Mary Keeley’s post about writers who begin as bloggers. She makes lots of excellent points about the value of blogging.

But I think she may have left out one that’s not so quantifiable. Probably because it’s just impossible to measure influence.

It’s true that I wouldn’t be where I am today, writing-wise, without blogging. But I wouldn’t be where I am today, Cathy C. Hall, writer-wise, without each of the bloggers who’ve taken the time over the years to comment, encourage, to laugh or commiserate along this up-and-down path to publication.

So yes. A thousand words, yes. Totally worth it.