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Sisters Who Sold: Our Cluestick Moments

Jamie Michele’s recent blog entry, “Writer, GMC Thyself,” concluded with a question: “Have you ever fought to achieve a goal, only to get it and realize that it wasn’t what you really wanted?”

I mentally edited that question to read, “Have you ever fought to achieve a goal, only to get it and realize that it wasn’t what you really EXPECTED?” and I responded (in part):

“…But I’ve written that book and started another, and sold them. I fought hard to achieve that goal, and I’m still sorting out the ways my expectations have been met – and the ways they haven’t.”

Expectations can be strange things, based upon knowledge, a complete lack thereof, or something in between. It’s the “lack thereof or something in between” – the surprises! – that I’d like to chat about today.

If you look at the right hand column of our blog’s home page, you’ll see that the Ruby Slippered Sisters have had a very productive year since being named 2009 Golden Heart finalists. Some have signed with their dream agents; some have sold their manuscripts. Several Rubies have already experienced the thrill of seeing their book(s) in readers’ hands.

But man oh man, have we experienced some cluestick moments along the way. D’oh!

Clue’-stik (n.) – a metaphorical stick used to beat information or understanding into a slow learner.

Today, the Rubies reveal which aspects of the publishing journey have surprised us. What do we know now that we wish we’d known a year ago? I’ll start us off with a few of my personal cluestick moments, in no particular order. Please, be gentle with me.

CLUESTICK MOMENT #1: realizing just how much time can elapse between an offer to a signed contract. In my case the process took 3 months, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that this turnaround time is on the quick side of average. During this time period, I was half-convinced that my publisher was going to change their mind and withdraw the offer at any moment. My sale didn’t feel real until I could hold the contract in my hands.

CLUESTICK MOMENT #2: coming to terms with how challenging it can be to balance revising one book, writing your next, holding down a day job, and trying to retain some semblance of work/life balance. (And I haven’t even mentioned promo time yet.) I don’t know how parents do it; some days it’s all I can do to remember to feed the cats. My advice? If you haven’t already learned to say no to the small stuff, it’s time to learn.

CLUESTICK MOMENT #3: if you were anticipating that there might be stats, metrics, or ROI data available to help you decide where to allocate your (limited) promotional resources… negatori, Grasshopper. This is a particular source of angst for me, because so many of the promotional activities that we as authors are urged to undertake don’t influence my book purchase decisions in the slightest. No easy answers on this one, folks.

CLUESTICK MOMENT #4: remember that carefully crafted pitch you used at RWA National? The one that took two weeks of precious writing time to develop? You’ll probably need to adapt it for the muggles in your life after you sell. My family members, coworkers and friends didn’t and don’t have the slightest clue what a ‘paranormal’ or an ‘urban fantasy’ is. I need to put in a few more cycles on this one.

CLUESTICK MOMENT #5: keep good notes about your characters’ GMCs and physical appearance. I finished my GH finalist well over a year ago. Right now, I’m hip-deep in the next book, and I can’t remember what color Lukas’s eyes are to save my life.

CLUESTICK MOMENT #6: self-doubt doesn’t go away once you sell – the angst simply migrates to other topics. 😉

Rubies, what are or were YOUR cluestick moments? What have you learned about this business in the last year that you’d like to pass along to our readers?

As always, questions are welcome.

Tammy

UNDERBELLY, the first book in Tamara Hogan’s urban fantasy trilogy, will be published by Sourcebooks in March 2011.

52 responses to “Sisters Who Sold: Our Cluestick Moments”

  1. Hi, Tammy. I hear you on feeding the cats. Though, one of mine conveniently taught herself how to open the kibble tin, so she can fend for herself if necessary.

    My cluestick moment? Well, being a GH finalist was one of the most exciting, amazing events of my writing life, but…it didn’t necessarily mean a book contract was going to fall into my lap. So the best way to deal with that was to step up my productivity and try writing something even better than the GH book. ‘Cause it’s true what “they” say, you can’t rest on your laurels.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Your comment about not resting on your laurels is so important, Vanessa. It’s important that we write the next book. And the next. And the next. The more books you write, the more opportunities you have to sell.

      One reality about selling is that there’s an expectation that every book you write, from this point forward, needs to be of Golden Heart caliber – or better. That’s quite a kick in the ass.

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  2. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Congrats again on your success with Underbelly, Tammy.

    As for a cluestick moment, I’ve had quite a few of late, but few pertaining to writing. Besides, I can offering nothing for those facing the reality of a writing career. All I can say is a first book is like a first child; all your time, energy, and love can focus on that baby for nothing else demands your attention. Once you sell, however, the honeymoon is over. Now there is another child, along with the first, crying for your attention while teachers and various government agencies (editors, agents, etc.) stand in the wings telling you what needs be done and the time frame in which they expect you to do it.

    And to think we CHOSE to be writers. We must be either driven or crazy because, if we aren’t, we soon will be driven crazy.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks so much – and what a fabulous analogy, Gwynlyn! I don’t have children, but that’s exactly what it feels like to me.

      To extend your analogy until it snaps (!), my experience finaling in the GH with my first manuscript, and then selling it, has sometimes felt like what I imagine it must be like for young women who accidentally get pregnant the very first time they have sex. Big stakes, and next to no experience. Ya gotta grow up fast.

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      • I felt totally unprepared to sell. Didn’t have a clue. Barely had a web-site. Now a year later, I feel unprepared for publication.

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        • Tamara Hogan says:

          Me too, Kelly. I’m just starting to have title and cover discussions with my editor. Even something as simple (and as huge) as “Do they want the heroine on the cover, or the hero?” made me aware of some of the assumptions I carry into this process.

          I always envisioned UNDERBELLY as being more Lukas’s story than Scarlett’s – he seems to me to have a more challenging emotional journey to take to get to the HEA. The title is more his than hers. If Scarlett’s on the cover, the title makes less sense.

          Discussions continue. 😉

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          • I sent a few photos of what I wanted, and my cover is almost exactly like the photo, only it’s not a photo…it’s…well I don’t know what you call it, a graphic. Anyhow, I got pretty much what I wanted. My title, story and cover are all about Lily. I had a contest judge tell me my hero needed some sort of angsty childhood problem to overcome. His problem is Lily.

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          • Hope Ramsay says:

            I was really surprised when they asked me to put together information for cover art on the week after the deal memo was reached. They needed it within three days. So I worked all weekend answering questions. And that was months ago. That was definitely the hurry up and wait scenario. Meanwhile I know my website will need to be redone as soon as I get cover art, but I’m sitting around twiddling my thumbs getting nervous.

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  3. Wonderful post, Tamara.

    The fact that the time between the offer and a contract takes a long time makes me understand why some writers “hold back” news of their sales. Like, if you hear that a publisher made an offer but you don’t have a contract, you might feel presumptuous announcing it from the rooftops.

    Off to the zoo. Fingers crossed that I come back with all my fingers.

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  4. Elise Hayes says:

    Thanks for the post, Tammy! I haven’t yet made it to the “published” side of the curtain, so it was great to get this glimpse behind it. I had no idea that it could take so long between an offer and a signed contract (and you said that your experience might be on the shorter end of things!)–thanks for sharing!

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  5. Great post, Tamara. I wish I had known more about the editing process and how many times you actually review your story. You’d think you’d remember your hero’s eyes afterwards, but no. I thought I sold, we’d tweak and bam on the shelves. LOL. Does not work that way.

    I sold my GH book, Evil’s Witness, before I knew it was a finalist and had just started the editing process when I sold a second, Obsessed By Wildfire. I was going through 1st round edits with one and 2nd round edits with the other and trying my best to work on a new story. Throw in the Golden Heart obligations and a few other life-family priorities and yes, you could’ve called certifiable. The spring, summer and fall of 2009 went by in a blur the colors of steel gray, neon pink and aqua blue.

    Now with one book out and the other to be released mid-June, promo has been thrown on the table for study. The good news is, I finished my next work this AM. If it sells, I start the editing process again. In the meantime, my new friends featured in the next book are going to have lunch outside in the sunshine today and discuss goals.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Congrats on finishing your manuscript! One more down. You’re on a roll!

      I’m so glad you and several other Rubies (Vivi, Kelly, Addison, and others) are out there ahead just a little bit. You’ve all been so generous with your knowledge.

      Have fun in the sun today. While you’re talking GMC with your characters, I’ll be considering making some tweaks to my website.

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  6. Hope Ramsay says:

    OMG, Tammy, your cluestick moments match mine stick-for-stick.

    I’m almost at three months since the initial offer was made. Two months since the offer deal was agreed to and I still don’t have the signed contract. This weekend at the WRW Spring Retreat I told my agent I was getting angsty about it. She smiled. She said this was normal and everything was just fine.

    And since my book isn’t going to be published until NEXT April, I’m a while away yet from a revision letter. The angst there is driving me nuts as I busily work on finishing the third book in the series (Book Number 2 is already written, thank goodness.)

    I told someone this weekend that it felt like just the opposite of hurry up and wait. I’m waiting for the hurry up to start, which will come with the revision letter . I know it’s coming. I’m bracing for it. But it hasn’t yet arrived.

    Maybe it will be okay and I can juggle everything in my life without dropping something. But the anticipation is surprisingly stressful.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      My agent talked me down a couple of times. I think the last email she sent me on this topic read simply, “IT’S REAL. Work on your next book please.” In the very nicest way, of course.

      I’ve heard it said that in the publishing biz, the author is the teeny-tiny cog whose mad spinning keeps the larger and slower cogs rolling smoothly. The description seems apt to me.

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      • Anne Barton says:

        “…in the publishing biz, the author is the teeny-tiny cog whose mad spinning keeps the larger and slower cogs rolling smoothly.”

        I love this description, Tammy! Some days I feel like a hamster running my heart out on a wheel. Now, instead of worrying I’m going nowhere, I’m going to imagine my running is powering that little cog…”

        Thanks for all the insights. I’ve loved reading all the cluestick moments.

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    • Kim Law says:

      I think this is sort of funny, Hope. Waiting to hurry up! I can totally get that though. I’m currently going through some of that in my day job, and can imagine doing the same while waiting for a revision letter. Good luck when the time does come!

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Ditto on Cluestick #1. It was so long between each step, that I felt the people around me were starting to think that I’d made it up. I really didn’t sell a book. And the doubt that the publisher was going to change their mind? Pretty much continued up until the book appeared on Amazon. Too late to turn back now, right?

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  7. Vivi Andrews says:

    Hmm… I don’t feel like I’ve been surprised by too much since selling. I expected the time suck of juggling different phases on a bunch of books. I expected not to have control over the timeframe, cover art or blurbs. Writing is solitary, but publication is a massive collaboration. My goal was to just make sure my piece of the puzzle was as smooth a fit as possible.

    I suppose three things startled me…
    1) I like edits. I was terrified of them before the first time, but they really do make the book stronger and I now have the confidence to know I can implement suggested changes without killing the book.

    2) I had this idea that after my first sale things would just domino from there. I was really shocked to get a R&R letter on my second sub – not because the book couldn’t be improved by the suggested revisions, but because it hadn’t occurred to me that I could be rejected after I sold. I had this foolish “Once you’re in, you’re IN” attitude that I’m glad I don’t have anymore.

    3) The book you love the most won’t necessarily be the one the readers love the most or the one that sells the most. And the one that gets the best reviews may get the worst sales. Predicting reader buying habits and reactions… I’d sooner herd cats.

    I guess getting published has been a lesson on letting go of what I can’t control, while putting my heart and soul into making the things I *can* impact as awesome as possible.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —-> publication is a massive collaboration

      This is so true. I’m just learning how many other people, and how many departments, are involved in the publication process. Everyone involved in the process wants your book to be the best it can be. My perspective is that I’M the one who’s new to this process. THEY know how to sell books. And I’m pretty chill when it comes to revisions etc. – in part because, other than my agent and editor, my CP is the only person who’s read this book cover to cover. No alpha or beta readers, nothing. I’m still learning which portions of the story resonate with people, and which don’t – and need punching up.

      —-> letting go of what I can’t control

      SUCH an important point. The majority of the muggles that I talk to about publishing are absolutely floored that authors don’t get final say on the title of their book, and that cover design is a collaborative effort into which the author gets some input, but by no means the final say.

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    • Excellent points and well put, Vivi.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      >> 2) I had this idea that after my first sale things would just domino from there.

      Great point Vivi!

      I didn’t expect the next sale to be easy, but…going to avoid too gory of details, I was rejected for another opportunity after selling Butterfly Swords. It hurt more than I thought it would because I let myself get my hopes up. Darynda can attest to how jibber-jabbered I was when I was trying to explain. 🙂

      In short, you’re never completely “in”, but I do admit, you do have a little toe in the door after selling.

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  8. Elisa Beatty says:

    Wow…so many more things to be nervous about!

    I love Gwynlyn’s “second child” analogy, b/c I know in that realm at least that all order and good intentions and planning go out the window once a second baby comes.

    As for books, I’ve intentionally been holding back on seeking publication until I get my second book really finished and polished. I’m starting to have the sense (given how overwhelming the rest of my life is with job and kids) that I’d better have a goodly pile of work ready to go before jumping down another rabbit-hole.

    I’m so impressed by those of you who are there already!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —-> I’ve intentionally been holding back on seeking publication until I get my second book really finished and polished.

      Elisa, there’s definitely something to be said for that perspective. I’m still coming to terms with the prospect of having written one book in my life, and having to write the next two on deadline and under contract. OTOH, I thrive under pressure, I’m already a ruthless prioritizer, and I negotiated delivery deadlines I knew I could hit.

      One year between books isn’t optimal, but … until the day comes when I can write full time, that schedule is the best I can do.

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      • Hope Ramsay says:

        Tammy,

        You sold your first finished book? Wow, I am so impressed! I’m like Laurie, if I had known how hard it would be to make a first sale, I wouldn’t have started writing in 1980–on a typewriter.

        I know I”m older than dirt.

        At least having all this experience of finishing novels has removed one of the concerns that I know a lot of newly pubbed authors have — that they won’t be able to produce the second novel on time and under deadline. Lot’s of finished books in my closet. I just have to watch it and remember that I should still be turning out a book or two a year, just to stay ahead.

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  9. My cluestick moment was learning how hard it would be to sell a book. If I’d had any clue ten years ago, I probably wouldn’t have started writing.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Laurie, your picture should be next to the word ‘perseverance’ in the dictionary. I can only aspire to your novel count.

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  10. Jeannie Lin says:

    My biggest cluestick moment since selling was realizing I didn’t know anymore about the market and what was marketable than I did before. So I had to stop second guessing what would sell and just write, no matter how far-fetched I thought my idea was. That’s the new fear that came about after selling — doubt about selling again and trying to change the way I did things because of that doubt.

    Other things I learned? I’m really super glad it took me a while to sell. Really. I had three almost ready manuscripts in my pocket. The downside is that the publisher wanted to just read all the manuscripts once they were polished rather than entertaining a synopsis or proposal, but the good thing is that I’m not rushing to write my next book. Instead I’m leisurely writing my next-next-next book.

    I still don’t have deadlines. Everyone assumes I do and that I must be super busy doing edits and revisions and all that along with writing, which I do have some of the time…but I don’t have a crazy writing schedule or feeling any greater pressure on me to produce. (yet…knock on wood) Some writers have expressed being worried about being able to handle the deadlines after selling and whether they really were ready for this, but from where I am, it looks manageable. And I still have a regular full time job on top of writing so it may help that I’m long from relying on writing as an only income.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      In hindsight, I think one of the healthiest things about having very little experience with the business side of publishing before my manuscript was named a Golden Heart finalist is that I just wrote a book I was passionate about. I didn’t really know (or frankly care) about “the rules.” I just wrote a book I personally would want to read. That’s how I ended up with an alternate-history urban fantasy series featuring creatures of mythology whose ancestors are … aliens.

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      • Jeannie Lin says:

        No one will ever know whether it was sheer genius or just plain cluelessness that brings those ideas to market. 🙂

        I think sometimes it’s a good thing not to know too much going in.

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      • Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

        I agree with Jeannie. Sometimes knowledge is an impediment.

        Once Hubble spent ours looking for the formula to learn the area of an odd shaped land parcel. I looked at it and drew two lines, creating two right triangles and an isoceles triangle. Seemed simple enough to me, but I’m no engineer so no one told me there is “A Way” (just one, mind you) to do these things.

        People who discover things, who forge new trails in every science, vocation, walk of life are those who ignore the accepted and look beyond.

        You are a member of an elite corps, my dear!

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        • Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

          Make that “hours.” One day, I’ll remember to proofread before I post. Or maybe not. 😉

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  11. Liz Talley says:

    Well, ditto to everything above. Mostly.

    My cluestick moment – selling is easier than getting an agent (at least for me). I kinda thought that people would want me. They don’t. LOL. I got an agent rejection today. So, yeah, being pubbed is not automatic approval of what you write.

    My experience is a little different. I sold in Sept, and my first book comes out in June, the next in Dec, the next in January. So for me, everything happened fast – long process to get there, but snowballing afterwards. But I think that’s rare.

    I think the thing that scares me is the doubt. Sure, my editor thinks I write great, but what if the readers are like, “Ugh! This is utter crap!” I mean, I get that there are going to be some of those people. But what if there are a lot of them? That’s scarier than agent rejections or even my editor giving me a “R&R.” I’ve already written based on revision letters, but I’ve not had to face someone who’s hacked she spent $7.00 on something she hates.

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      >>I think the thing that scares me is the doubt. Sure, my editor thinks I write great, but what if the readers are like, “Ugh! This is utter crap!” I mean, I get that there are going to be some of those people. But what if there are a lot of them?

      Ugh…not going to think about that. Not thinking, not thinking…La la la….

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Wow, what a roller-coaster ride, Liz. Yeah, I think your experience is more the exceprion rather than the rule.

      As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I find the prospect of exposing my private imagination to the public- to people i KNOW! – to be very intimidating indeed. Intellectually, I know that my books are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But reading an email or a blog posting stating so will certainly be a challenge.

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      • Vivi Andrews says:

        –> As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I find the prospect of exposing my private imagination to the public- to people i KNOW! – to be very intimidating indeed.

        Just wait until your grandmother reads one of your sex scenes aloud to your grandfather and then calls to tell you about it. (Yes, I am speaking from experience.)

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        • Tamara Hogan says:

          OMG. Grandma will cackle with laughter, and Grandpa’s cheeks will match her Betty Boop lipstick.

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  12. Jeannie Lin says:

    To add one more thing — Agents and editors really are busy. They take a long time to work in reads for their established authors. It makes me understand why the query/submission process takes so long as well. So it’s not that they hate you if you don’t get a quick response. They probably are just booked full.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —-> Agents and editors really are busy.

      Good point, Jeannie. Obscenely busy. Query reading is an important part of their job, but their first priority is managing the work of their existing clients.

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  13. Rita says:

    I am not published yet but on the road there I’ve learned the business changes every day. Last week publishers wanted skinny teenagers who slay dragons. This week they want full figured woman who poison bad guys and bury them in the basement. Each new step that thrusts me up the ladder of success is frightening. Each new step requires as much hard work as the last and then some. The more you learn the harder it gets and no matter how high on the ladder you are there will be a certain amount of rejection. We all suffer from self-doubt. The only thing that does not change is things constantly change.
    I am grateful to have sisters on that ladder to publication above me so I have an idea of what to expect. I’m happy to be where I am and look forward to all those steps up.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —> Last week publishers wanted skinny teenagers who slay dragons. This week they want full figured woman who poison bad guys and bury them in the basement.

      Ha! One thing that was so eye opening to me at last year’s Golden Network Retreat was just how specific an agent or editor’s personal likes and dislikes could be. And when you think about it, the traditionally published books that were popular last week were written two to three years ago. All the angel books that are hitting the paranormal market right now? The “next big thing?” Written two to three years ago. That’s the danger of attempting to write to the market. It’s a lagging indicator.

      Excellent point about change. It’s the only constant.

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  14. Addison Fox says:

    Tammy:

    Great post!!!

    I *thought* I posted earlier but it seems to have gone into the blog ether… 🙂

    The biggest thing that has surprised me (after, of course, being beaten with the clue stick on all the items Tammy named….) was the amount of time promotional activities take. I think it’s incredibly important to connect with readers and writers so it’s time well-spent, but it is also time I hadn’t originally factored into my schedule. That’s been a definite eye opener – juggling the business/promotional aspects of the writing life with the actual writing….and the rest of life!!

    Addison

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Promo. (shudder) I’m not quite there yet, other than taking some notes about things to discuss with my publisher. OTOH, I received a tax refund this year, and at least some of it is budgeted to promo.

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  15. Darynda Jones says:

    Tammy, we’re like twins or something. Every one of your cluesticks nailed it for me as well. I am worried about the promotional part too. How am I going to find the time? (I’m so behind on the class we’re taking, it’s unreal. I can’t even keep up with that!)

    But here is something that I am wondering about now that had NEVER crossed my mind in the past. If I’m mean to my neighbor, will she give me a bad review on Amazon? What if my neighbor was mean to me first?

    I know. I think about weird things. It’s a good thing I’m nice for the most part. I’d be in trouble.

    Hugs you and WONDERFUL post!
    ~D~

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I hear you on the class. Right now all I’m trying to remember to do is grab the lectures and find some time to read them later!

      You crack me up. You’re concerned about your neighbors and bad reviews; I’m more concerned about people I might piss off with my language use, or mortally wound when I admit I don’t watch book trailers. Ever. (shrug)

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  16. Enjoyed reading your cluestick moments, Tamara, and all the comments. Now I’m picturing writers frantically spinning a giant cog wheel and it now makes perfect sense. Congratulations again on Underbelly!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, Bev! No wonder we feel so dizzy all the time. Here I thought it was just hot flashes!

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