I guess I still have this blog?

So, it’s been about 7 months since my last post here. I suppose that makes sense, as I went back to work full-time at about that same time. While it sounds great in theory to piece together enough odd jobs to make a living while writing, in practice it makes a lot more sense to use the marketable skills that you have developed over the past two decades to work a single job with regular hours, a guaranteed salary and benefits, and write in your free time. Yes. I quit my last job with nothing lined up, with no plan other than publishing my book. No. I didn’t realistically expect that I would suddenly be well off and able to jump into making a living writing after self-publishing a single book. What I did do is overestimate my ability and desire to piece together a number of odd jobs and freelance work to make a sustainable living, which ultimately meant having less time to spend on writing. Which was part of the point of all this to begin with.

What I also did, was use my book as a catalyst to remove myself from a situation that had been making me miserable for years. I had tried making some changes within the company on several occasions, but nothing worked out, or made enough of an impact. Writing Paralysis gave me something to hold onto as I leapt from the ledge that I had been standing on for quite some time. I won’t say that I landed gracefully, or without a few bumps, bruises, or breaks. But I’m still alive. And I’ve ended up with a company that takes care of its employees, and one that makes every effort to practice what it preaches. I’m in a better situation than I was when I left my last job. I also had a great opportunity to work with my friends at Neilly’s Foods in York, PA for a while there (they’re expanding like crazy, so check out their products!).

In short? No, I’m not a novelist that is just sitting on a beach somewhere writing. For those that were worried about me, I’m gainfully employed, and once again a “functioning” member of society. I’ve also been working on a few other personal things over the past several months that I’m not quite ready to go into detail about just yet. And, of course, I’m still writing. And I still dream. I find that to be one of the best parts about writing fiction. The daydreams about everyday situations that begin with the eternal question, “what if…”

 

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Publication for “Paralysis”!

Ok, so I’ve been a bad blogger. I haven’t made a post in months, but it was somewhat intentional. I made the decision to self-publish, and wanted to get my book out instead of writing blogs about writing it. And I did! The kindle edition of Paralysis is available for $2.99 at www.amazon.com/author/michaelknapp  Over the past few months I had my book edited, made changes, my friend Mae designed the awesome cover below, and I had it professionally formatted for paperback, which I am hoping to be able to launch next week! I have also been working with an almost 2 hour commute each way when I was in the office, so I guess I chose to put the blog on a temporary hiatus until I got Paralysis ready for publication.

Deciding to self-publish was a difficult decision for me. Part of me wanted to go through the traditional route of trying to get an agent, a publisher, and the potential for a book deal. But there was a larger part of me that wanted to see what I could do for myself if I tried it on my own. I also realized that most of my adult professional life has been waiting for things to happen. Waiting for another job to open up within the company, waiting for “approval” to apply for it, getting shot down with no legitimate reason, waiting for the next one, waiting for a review to get a raise, and the list goes on. I looked at the process of getting an agent as waiting to catch the right agent, on the right day, when they were in the right mood for my story. Then waiting on said agent to shop around for a publisher under the same conditions. I kind of decided that I was tired of waiting, and wanted to take control for myself.

I had a lot of conversations about self-publishing versus the traditional route, and one of the deciding questions for me was “what kind of writer do you want to be?” My answer is one that tells stories and shares them with the world. Not a writer that has a big contract, not a writer that makes a ton of money. Sure, those things would be nice, but first and foremost, my honest answer is just to be someone that writes and shares his stories. That in itself was the deciding thought that led me to self-publication.

There is no way to know how Paralysis will do, or how I would have fared had I tried the agent route, but I feel confident in my decision. I have to admit, it’s kind of surreal for people that I don’t know, with no mutual friends, liking my author page and posts on Facebook. I have somehow found myself with three current (and vastly different) works-in-progress, and I’m waiting for one of them to catch my focus and demand my full attention as I work on them. I also have an idea for a fourth, but I want to let that one simmer until I get a handle on the three that I’m already working on. So, I hope that you all enjoy Paralysis, because there are a lot more to come!

If you do read Paralysis, I would like to ask that you please rate it on Amazon. Self-published authors can’t compete with the thousands that big publishers pay for placement in the Kindle store, so our only resource is our readers, their purchases, and their ratings. Also, people are hesitant to buy anything with no or few reviews, so your reviews will be incredibly helpful! On a personal note, I would also just love to hear what anyone has to say.

As always, thanks for reading!paralysis_book_cover_front

If you ask for it? Please read it.

Yeah, I’ve been slacking on this blog. It’s been a few weeks since my last post. I may have mentioned before, but this whole process of writing and trying to get published is a great learning experience, as is maintaining a blog and creating an Author page on Facebook (check it out – there isn’t much of anything there yet, but at least it exists: https://www.facebook.com/michaelknappbooks/ ). My general use of social media has primarily been restricted to photos of food, anecdotes about and photos of Charlotte, along with the occasional random thought. I found myself in one of those “what the hell are you doing!” panics over the past few weeks, so I skipped a few posts to try to figure some things out. Rejection and the waiting game can do that to you, no matter how prepared you think you are for it, and how well known a part of the business it might be. I was waiting on another agent (another rejection, but with some encouragement and less of the “form letter” feel), and sent my book to an editor several weeks ago (more details below), and waiting on feedback. I guess I kind of focused my energy elsewhere for a bit to take my mind off of things before I came back to it.

I had a nice lunch with my friends James and Steph almost a month ago (man, time doesn’t just fly, it really just disappears in large swaths these days), re-read the review that James was kind enough to provide, and saw that there were a lot of positives along with the suggestions. I don’t think that it is unique to myself to read feedback for the first time and only remember the suggestions on what could be better. As has been suggested several times by friends and writers alike, my book is currently off to an editor for a professional review and critique before I make final edits and move forward with deciding to continue pursuing an agent or to self-publish. I should have the review and notes by this Monday, then will make edits for a true final draft. Well, as final as a draft ever really is. I find that there is always the urge to tinker. I also listened to Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” again for the umpteenth time over the past two weeks, and a line stood out as I was driving along one afternoon:

“The truth is that most writers are needy. Especially between the first draft and the second, when the study door swings open and the light of the world shines in.” – Stephen King

Since my own final revision, and before I sent it to the editor, I experienced something that I am sure many writers experience; incredibly well-meaning friends and family asking “when can I read it?” It’s great to have people interested in your book, and it’s great to get feedback from multiple people with different perspectives. However, I suppose it is a learning process for new writers as to who should be the recipient of unpublished work, as well as to those asking for it. I do want to take a second to thank Livi, James, and my sister, Dawn, for reading through quickly and sending notes, questions, and corrections shortly thereafter.

PSA: If you ask for it? Please read it.

I don’t mean this as an admonishment to those that didn’t read it. It’s more just a gentle nudge for everyone that if you request an unpublished manuscript from a new writer (or an established one for that matter), please read it. As the quote says, most writers are needy. In the sense that when you say nothing, we assume the worst. Or if you are reading slowly, we assume that the whole thing needs to be ripped apart, burned to the ground, and re-built from scratch or canned. We write fiction; it’s literally our job to make up stories in our head. Which is exactly what we are doing every day that you have that book and have nothing to say about it. You don’t have to love it. You don’t even have to like it. But if you ask for a book before it’s published, please read it, and please provide your feedback in the most constructive way possible. If you are having a hard time getting into it? Please power through and include why you thought that was. If it’s not really your preferred genre, but you’re reading it anyway? Please include what worked for you, and what didn’t. If you don’t like it at all? At least provide some insight as to where we lost you.

As for my end of this, I have learned the lesson that, as with most things in life, if the request starts with any sort of quantifier; “I don’t really read, but…”, “I don’t read horror, but…”, “I don’t read fiction, but…”, then the quantifier is not going to change. Find the people asking with no quantifier, and give them the chance to be the beta readers. I’ll update next week when I get the review back from the editor, and see where I go from here.

Chase Tradition, or Embrace Technology?

When I started writing again, it was primarily for me. Because I wanted to, because I used to enjoy it, and because I wanted to see if I could still do it, or if it was just a creative muscle that I allowed to atrophy to the point of being useless. As I kept writing, and as the story kept developing, I realized that I do still enjoy it, I can still do it, and I would love to be able to do it for a living (if even just partially or supplemental). I decided that I was hell-bent on doing this through the traditional pathways – agent, publisher, brick and mortar bookstores. But a large portion of the traditional route is waiting. Lots, and lots, and lots of waiting. Which has given me time to think. Which, for an over-thinker, is seldom a good thing.

For those that don’t know anything about the publishing industry, here is a brief run-down of the process as I understand it. I don’t pretend to be an expert, and there is no single direct path, but through my research this is what I have learned. First, you write a book (duh). Then, you edit, re-write, edit, re-write again, send it to people you know that want to read it and give feedback, possibly pay for a professional editor out of your own pocket, and deliver the closest thing to a finished product as you can, as agents and publishers do not want a rough draft, especially from an unknown writer. Then, you write a one-page synopsis, a query letter (basically a one-page sales letter for the book with a “book jacket” summary, and a little info about yourself, along with why the agent should represent you), and look for agents that represent your genre. As you seek out these agents to query, each have different requirements for what to send. Some want the query letter and synopsis plus 5 pages, some want 10 pages, some want 5 chapters; but the one thing that all agents want is time. It seems that the standard timeline among agents right now is 5 weeks for a response. Query letters are piling up from hundreds of people just like me for every agent. Rejection is a standard part of the process. If you are sending targeted queries to individual agents, this can mean weeks of silence while you wait. The alternative is sending mass emails to multiple agents and hoping for the best. I have heard of some people that go directly to publishers, but the big houses and other names in Horror that I have found do not accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from authors. There is also the potential to visit Writing Conferences, and to join the masses perfecting their “elevator pitch” at these events -a two minute sales pitch to convince an agent or publisher to consider you. Sometimes this whole process can take months, or even years, until you find an agent that is willing to give you a shot. If you are fortunate enough to get an agent, there are contracts with them. Then it’s the agent’s turn to play the same game that you just played with them, but on their end it’s with publishers and trying to find an outlet for your book, and more contracts. Everybody along the way gets a percentage of the end product. But, that’s the standard for traditional publishing.

As I play the waiting game, I have come across a few articles and spoken to quite a few people about Amazon, and how they are impacting the world of publishing. Self-publishing used to be largely considered “Vanity Publishing”, or “Vanity Press”. Something that people would do because they were unable to get an agent, and those that did self publish were questioned as to whether or not they are “real” writers. These Vanity Presses still exist, and can cost several thousand dollars for a few hundred physical copies of a finished product that you can then attempt to sell. A quick Google search will tell you that the stigma of self-publishing is still around today, but not to quite the same extent. Amazon has made it possible for writers to self-publish at low (or no) cost, including the option for paperback copies available through print on demand when customers are looking for physical books (like myself), still at no up-front cost to the writer. This eliminates the need to print large quantities of books, store them, and figure out shipping or getting them into stores. The writer holds all rights to their book, has final say in pricing, promo-pricing and timeframe, and publicity. The downside is that your book is one out of roughly three million available and publicity is entirely up to you, so it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. The upside is that Amazon is up front about their costs and charges, and payment is generally much more beneficial to the writer than traditional publishing. I have also heard a number of writers that found publishers for their work after self-publication through Amazon.

So, that’s where I find myself. I still have queries out, and I’m waiting to hear back. I’m far from being discouraged about the traditional path, as I believe that I have a solid story and will get through at some point, and have really just started the process. I just find myself wondering if I should stop chasing tradition, and open myself up to the new electronic world that’s available and see how it goes. If I am taking my fate into my own hands, why not just go all-in, instead of trying to find an agent and hoping that they will do everything possible to represent my work? Like most everything else in life, there is no one right answer or correct path. I’m just trying to figure out what is best for me, and not screw it up along the way.

As far as the other part of the blog goes, no real update this week. For one thing, I realized that I do not have a working scale in my house…

 

To tell you the truth? Sometimes, I lied.

Hello again, and thanks for coming back (or visiting for the first time). I still find this somewhat strange, as I think of what to write and wonder why anyone would read it. But, I enjoy it, and it’s been good practice to write this weekly. I got my first rejection letter last week, and sent out another query. At least the first one is out of the way. I’m also working towards a few other project ideas that I had when I left Whole Foods, trying to get those up and running. I find myself entertaining different jobs as they come up, as there are no guarantees as to when (or even if) I could make a sustainable living piecing everything that I’m trying out together. As I do all of this, I watch my windows of time to actually sit down and simply write dwindle, and as I am starting a second book, I’m reminded of how I managed to write while I had a demanding full-time job.

When I left Whole Foods, I told them (along with everyone else) that I had written a book, positioned myself to take some time to finish it and make a go of that along with other endeavors, and that I did not have anything concrete lined up. The first question that I expected from everyone was, “Are you crazy?” The first question that most people actually asked was, “When did you find time to write a book?” Not having prepared an answer for that one, I politely smiled and shrugged my shoulders with an answer of, “when I could.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, working as part of the regional office involved crazy schedules at times. When we opened remote stores, it was not uncommon to be on the road for the better part of 4 to 6 weeks, with a day or two at home here and there in-between. 12 to 16 hour days were also a part of the routine, and even when working a “normal” week at the office, I often put in long hours. Longer than the standard, anyhow. The true answer as to how I found time? Sometimes, I lied. To my friends. To my family. Sorry, I know that you are just finding out now if you are reading this. But yes, I sometimes told a half lie and said that I was working. I missed parties. I missed get-togethers. I missed a lot of things that I really did want to do.

Why did I lie? Because the same can be said for many things that people see as “hobbies”. If you don’t say that you are working and make the time, then it’s easy for well-intentioned folks to tell you that, “you can write tomorrow”. Or, “just come out for a little bit and write when you get home”. And, if you bite, it’s easy for you to start to believe it as well. Well, easy for me, anyhow. I had to treat writing like it was part of my job, so that I would always approach it that way, not just as a “hobby”. If I’m sitting in this chair, then I’m working. Not having a few drinks while I write, not popping in and out, but actually working until I’m done for the day. I would offer the same advice to anyone who is always told to put off something that they are working on outside of their job that they are incredibly passionate about. When people ask, tell them that you’re working. Because you are – just on something that you want to. As I continue to expand the projects on which I am working, I have to remind myself to build them around what I set out to do. If I don’t, then I’m just a fool that quit a decent job.

The same can be said for exercise, but unfortunately I dropped the discipline for that and replaced it with writing (something to be said about balance there, I suppose). As I said in my last post, I would share the results of my starting point as an exercise in putting myself out there. Given how I feel and the extra weight that I’m carrying, I was expecting to hear that I was near death when I walked in to see the Doctor this past Tuesday (or at least setting myself up for a heart attack at 40). The good news is; my numbers are better overall than they were the last time I had them checked. Even with the extra 35 lbs. Everything is in the “normal” range as far as blood work goes, albeit slightly on the higher end of normal for Blood Pressure and Triglycerides. So, my starting point is 289 lbs. Although it’s not so muuch about the number as it is about just being healthier and how I feel, the number is a tangible measure. As are the photos that I took. Let’s see where I go from here!

One last thing – if you enjoy reading, please sign up for email updates! Part of writing this blog is to start building a “Platform”, or social media presence. Somehow, publishing has come to a point where they want you to have an audience (or at least a modest following), before you ever publish a single page. Backwards as it may seem, I guess I’m playing the game. Thank you!

 

 

Contradictions In Writing

Over the past week, I thought about my month long procrastination in crafting my query letter and synopsis for submission to an agent. Writing, editing, and re-writing the same letter. Sitting on it for a bit. Starting over and going through the whole process all over again until I came up with something that I was willing to submit. It was very much a product of one of the contradictions that comes with writing. Well, as far as my process goes, anyway. It’s a very private and personal process, until it’s time to put it out there. You spend a great deal of time alone for months. You live in your own head, working on a story, creating a world. You keep it to yourself, trying to limit the outside influences, allowing the story and the characters to develop on their own. Then comes the day when it’s time to release it into the world, exposing all of your personal thoughts, feelings, and neuroses into the view and criticism of other people. And who’s to say that anyone else is even going to be remotely interested? It’s intimidating. Especially for me.

I’ve never been one to open up easily. Sure, I can make friends fairly quickly, and I have always been a good listener and fairly observant. When it comes to my own thoughts, opinions, and feelings? Well, let’s just say that most generally remain inside of my own head, or are shared with a select few. Honestly, this has had an impact on many aspects of my life. At work, I was often categorized as “reserved”, or “quiet”. In my personal life? It’s hard to ask someone out when the entire conversation with someone shooting you down is all in your own head. I realize that if I’m working towards becoming a published writer, putting myself out there and feeling vulnerable is something that I’ll have to get more comfortable with.

In my previous corporate life, I found that I had great difficulty speaking in front of crowds, and would also struggle on group interviews. I mean, aside from spiders (which any sane person avoids), public speaking is one of the most terrifying things in life for many people. In order to help myself with this, I started participating more in karaoke, and singing a wider variety of songs that I wasn’t comfortable singing. I figured that if I could have a few drinks and sing in front of friends and strangers, then getting in front of a crowd to discuss a topic on which I was knowledgeable wouldn’t seem as intimidating. Guess what? It helped. I’m still not an amazing public speaker, but I can get through it. And I did remember how much I enjoy singing through the process. I’m still terrified every time I get in front of people to speak or sing, but I know it’s something that I can do, so I push through.

With that same thought process in mind, in order to get past my fear of putting myself out there in the world, I’m tinkering with an idea to really put myself out there in this blog which will make me incredibly uncomfortable in the process. I mean, the blog is the first step, because it’s something that is written, posted, and free for anyone to see. I was thinking along the lines of the karaoke method, where I’m more exposed on that personal “makes you squirm” kind of level.

As a result of being miserable in my job (and life overall for that matter), I became sedentary, went out a lot, ate a lot of comfort food, and found myself closing in on 300 lbs. I made an effort, exercised, ate better, and got down to 215 lbs. That was 3 years ago. Well, the cycle repeated over the past couple of years as my time at Whole Foods was winding down, and as I type this, I am closing in on 300 lbs. again.

So, here’s my thought. In addition to blogging about writing, I’m thinking about blogging a real time improved health effort. I mean, what’s more personal and terrifying than putting a “before” picture out there to the world at the beginning of the process, before you have the “after”? Especially when it’s something that has been of some personal concern for years now? I had blood drawn this past Tuesday, and I go for my first physical in a few years next Tuesday. I’m thinking to share the results, my starting point, and where it goes from there. It’s the best that I can come up with to face my fear of opening up. As with any work that I might publish, I’m sure people will have their opinions, criticisms, and negative comments. But, if I’m planning to make it in a harsh, blunt world where those things are common, why not prepare myself now?

Writing and daily life will always be front and foremost here. I won’t be offended if you want to skip the second half, as I try to get myself comfortable with opening up. I guess when I realize that I need to work on something, I like to face it head on. Except for spiders. Screw them.

 

 

 

How I Got Here

I will try to keep this as concise as possible, as I will likely delve deeper into some of the topics below in greater depth in the near future. In my first post, I just wanted to tell you a little about me, how I got here, and where I hope to go. Thank you for reading, and maybe you’ll decide to follow and come along with me.

When I was young, my mother would take me and my sister to the library on a regular basis, and we would each check out stacks of books. Unlike many children, we both loved to read. It seemed that no matter how many books we checked out, we would each finish our pile before they were due. Along with this voracious reading habit, I developed a desire to write, and a love for the process. As I grew older, I let my passion for writing fade in pursuit of a career in the culinary arts.

I had intended to go to culinary school after high school graduation, but with a free ride in front of me to the University of Maryland, my parents convinced me to take that opportunity first. After working in restaurants and eventually graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in American Studies (pop culture and the media with a focus on film), I finally pursued my dream to become a chef. I attended culinary school, and after receiving my Associate’s degree, I bounced around restaurants in DC, MD, and VA. After landing in a restaurant in which I worked as a Sous Chef (including three months straight without a day off, covering for the Chef who was attending culinary school in Canada) I decided to try something new.

After training my replacement at the restaurant, I started working for Whole Foods Market. I started in a store, ran a department for a couple of years, then moved to the regional office. While not working with food directly most of the time, I still enjoyed writing menus, building programs, and working with the teams as we opened new stores. However, after almost 8 years into working for regional, I realized that I had sacrificed my passion for writing, my passion for cooking, and essentially my life as a whole for a paycheck, and decided that I was ready for a change.

I began writing my first novel in November of 2014 while participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The first draft was mostly finished by March of 2015. I began editing in May/June 2015 whenever time would allow, given our often outlandish travel and work schedules and demands. I found that I was tired of being a corporate cog that wrote when I found that I could make the time, and decided that I would rather be a writer who does what he has to do to pay the bills. I gave my notice to Whole Foods in December of 2015 in order to strike out on my own, and to pursue writing and other ventures full time.

I finished the final draft of my novel earlier this month, and after much procrastination, trepidation (and a considerable amount of nausea), I sent off my first query letter today. I do not recommend that anyone follow my lead. I know that it’s a long road to publication, with plenty of rejection along the way. I know that trying to break into the world of published writers that can make a living at it is NOT a sure thing. But people do it. So why not give it a shot?