So You Write: A webcomic about being a writer

Published June 10, 2012 by swankivy

This is my webcomic about being a writer.  It’s very silly, with autobiographical details about my life as a writer and what sorts of things we creative types deal with while interacting with the outside world.

There is no update schedule planned; I’ll add a new one whenever I feel like it.  It’d be too demanding for me to try to keep this one regular too since I already have another webcomic that has been updated every Friday since May 20, 2005.

Please send me a message if you’d like to leave private feedback or ask questions about any of my projects.

Keep Me Waiting

Published August 28, 2018 by swankivy

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I understand why authors feel frustrated when agents (or other publishing professionals) keep them waiting, especially when it could be indefinitely. But sometimes, especially for in-demand agents, they have to think about what matters for their work. Serving their existing clients is their work. Answering authors they’re not interested in is polite, but not ultimately important to their livelihood.

As an author, it’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling slighted that you don’t get back the care and consideration you put into researching representation. You may even feel like you deserve to lash out or scold publishing professionals who don’t even do you the courtesy of a response. But at the end of the day? At least in agenting, these folks will be taking a chance on you if they say yes, and they have to be reasonably sure about the selling potential of your work since they’ll literally be agreeing to work for free if they sign you.

If you start your relationship with them making it clear that you’re Difficult to Work With and Very Entitled, you are not showing them who’s boss or making them think you’re a big shot who deserves their attention. You’re showing them that you don’t have the patience or humility you’ll need to survive in the publishing industry. Plus, just for your own good, you should never burn a bridge with someone in publishing just because they rejected something of yours. People take other positions in publishing all the time, so you never know when you might find yourself facing someone you insulted in a publishing decision, or maybe you want to offer them another project they would have otherwise taken if not for your attitude.

Anyway, short version: yes, it sucks to get ignored, but no, you are not entitled to a response (even though yes, it’s nice to get).

Not Me

Published July 31, 2018 by swankivy

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It’s hard to imagine that someone will leave a bad review on your book, but even the most universally loved books have bad reviews on them. The only way you’re not going to get any bad reviews is if very few people ever read the book.

This is not to be pessimistic, though–far from it! I’m not trying to stride in here with doomsaying and jadedness. The truth is that not every book is for every person, and some of those everypersons who aren’t a good match for your book will still be reading it. Even if you don’t deserve a bad review for simply not happening to fit that person’s tastes, you will get one. And it will probably hurt, but it is not a big deal overall. Setting yourself up to believe no one will crap on your book will make you much less prepared to handle it if it does happen to you.

And look on the bright side: occasional mediocre and bad reviews make it clear that your reviewers aren’t a bunch of loved ones and sock puppets.

My favorite one-star review is the one where the reviewer calls my book “garbage,” urges readers not to waste their money, and says I should not be writing books. Sometimes I go look at that review and giggle, because someone on this planet thought this was a worthwhile sentiment to type up.

Influence

Published June 30, 2018 by swankivy

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Look y’all, it’s true that your stories shouldn’t just be recitations of your own life experiences unless it’s an actual autobiography. But the whole reason we make art is to communicate! And your experiences are obviously going to influence what you want to communicate about! Use your own experience as liberally as you like. It will certainly add an air of authenticity to the story if nothing else.

You might also be overestimating what looks like a ripoff. Stephen King doesn’t own scary clowns and J.K. Rowling doesn’t own redheaded families. Just make sure you look at how you’re using elements that seem similar to other authors’ work and make sure you’re not doing the same things with them. If you actually are ripping off the Weasley siblings and all you did was make them blonds, that’s going to show anyway; it’s not the superficial details that make something a ripoff. But there’s no rule that you can’t do something if you got it from somewhere that didn’t originate in your head. That’s what living in the world is about, and you can and should make art about it!

 

For Kids

Published May 27, 2018 by swankivy

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Comic pretty much says it all, but I’ll reiterate:

a) As an author you MUST read the genre you write or you will have no idea about its norms, your author peers, or what’s going on in the world you’re trying to enter/already part of;

b) WTF dude books for younger readers are often GREAT. Nobody belongs judging someone else’s choice of literature based on perceptions of what’s age appropriate. If YOU’RE not interested, that’s up to you, but shaming other people for what they like to read is totally weird and unnecessary. Go away.

Infodump

Published April 23, 2018 by swankivy

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I promise, your backstory is probably fascinating! But it is not reasonable to ask your reader to sit there and let you explain it to them before it’s relevant to any characters or plot elements that they care about. Blaming the reader for impatience isn’t practical. It’s not their job to humor you, and you shouldn’t want to be humored. You’re writing this story for them, to bring them into a world you made and to make them care about the people in your world. Don’t reject feedback like “You infodumped and I zoned out.” It’s not that your information isn’t important. It’s that the way you’re giving it to us is inaccessible.

 

New Edition

Published March 30, 2018 by swankivy

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So here’s the thing, querying authors. Number 1, if you’re still messing with the manuscript, wait until you’re NOT doing that before you query. Querying is for manuscripts you think are as ready as you can make them.

Number 2, notice I said “as ready as you can make them.” Keep in mind that many agents are hands-on with manuscripts they’re considering, and they will likely suggest changes if they’re interested in representing your idea. You can incorporate any small changes you’ve made at that time if you find yourself there. Small changes are not going to be what tips a rejection over into an acceptance.

And if you’re still making big changes at this stage . . . see #1.

The exception might be if you’ve gotten some intense feedback from a professional and your work has changed significantly as a result, AND an agent currently considering your work has a long response time. If you get to the point where you need to nudge the agent and ask if they’re still considering your work, you may also want to mention that they may want to review the latest copy if they’re still interested.

What you want to avoid is pestering agents with “the latest,” because truly, they don’t care. You need to learn how to put a project down and stop messing with it. I understand that feeling very well, seeing things you want to change, but at some point it’s finished and you have to be content with that.

Be patient and wait until you’re ready to keep your hands off it for a while before you start querying. Your job is to write a book, and you shouldn’t interact with agents to ask for their representation if you’re still treating your book like an active draft.

Flavor

Published February 27, 2018 by swankivy

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“But Ms. Teacher,” say the students, “if those words exist, why aren’t we supposed to use them?”

I’m not saying you can’t.

What I AM saying is that the labels for who’s talking are not the part of the writing that’s supposed to be colorful.

When you write, the job of the words is to get out of the way of the story. Be as invisible as possible. Tell the reader what they need to know without individually trying to get attention. If you need a special speech tag to identify, specifically, how something is being said, then you should use it. But most of the time, you should be able to write well enough that we know HOW the character spoke based on WHAT they spoke.

No need to say “‘But I don’t want to go,’ they protested.” The words themselves are a protest. No need to say “‘Sorry,’ he apologized.” The word is an apology by itself. In rare cases, dialogue will be enhanced by dressing up a speech tag or adding an adverb. But in nearly all cases? It’s a distraction. Enhance the dialogue, not the words that come after the dialogue to tell us how we should have read it. Let us hear it by braiding the intent into the context of the lines, into the lines themselves. Write them so there’s no other way we can interpret them.

“I know you can do it,” she assured you confidently.

Diverse

Published January 30, 2018 by swankivy

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Just to clarify, y’all, being afraid of doing it wrong and being a marginalized person afraid mainstream authors will do it wrong/take your spot is pretty legit. In the broadening awareness that diversity is important and representation helps people, some people whose hearts are in the right place are still going about it wrong, and it’s common to worry you’ll mess it up. And for those of us from a marginalized population, you know that twinge you get when you hear someone’s writing a book about your group but the author’s not in it? Yeah. The best you’re hoping for is for them to not put a terrible stereotype or misleading narrative in the story.

Fortunately, properly representing people from different populations from you isn’t as hard as you might think. It’s like any other aspect of a story that isn’t taken entirely from your own life: you have to think it through, research it sometimes, and when you’ve written it, ask others what they think. DiversifYA is a site that can help; people from various backgrounds volunteer certain aspects of their experience as resources for writers, and when you gather a critique circle, actively look for people who can make your work more authentic.

It is sometimes tough to get the balance right between “writing a marginalized person as if they’re someone from your background with one small change” and “writing a marginalized person as if their marginalized identity is their entire being.” Their identities should be incorporated into who they are to the extent that that makes sense, but no one is asking you to start spitting out books that have a Diversity Message. We just want authors and readers to stop thinking of certain traits as the standard, with other traits as deviations from that standard, and we want populations in books to reflect the reality of living in a diverse world. It’s true that not every book will have certain kinds of diversity, and no one is asking you to cram it in there no matter what. But think about why your characters are the sexes, genders, races, religions, etc. that they are. After all, if “white straight able-bodied man” is code for “everyman,” couldn’t they be anyone?

Absorbed

Published December 31, 2017 by swankivy

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We get a little sucked in sometimes when we’re absorbed into a project.

Try not to nag us to get back to it if we’re coming up for air, ‘kay?

Like, ask how it’s going if you want! But we could do without the judgy faces and the opinions on how we should balance our writing time. It’s probably not all that balanced and may even be unhealthy sometimes, but I think everyone does temporarily unhealthy things when they’re focused on something important to them. It’s okay guys. We’ll be fine.

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