Two Paths to Publishing: Which is Right for You?

This blog has often featured articles that writers might find helpful. Not because I’m an expert on this whole “writing gig” but because I’ve done some digging. I want your road to publishing to be smoother than mine has been.

One of the big questions I still find myself debating is about HOW to get published. Should I take the traditional path? Or should I self publish?

Recently, one of the writing teachers I follow wrote a long blog post on the subject. The teacher is Tim Grahl and you can read his post here.

Not that I’m trying to convince you not to click over to Tim’s site, but the post is LONG. And I can sum it up in two sentences.

If you want someone else to do the work of publishing your book, you want to go traditional. If you want to control all of the ins and outs, and don’t mind spending time as an entrepreneur, self-publishing is probably the road for you.

Too simple? Yeah, that’s what I thought too.

Traditional

This used to be the path of “authentic” authors. But it’s a LONG and arduous path with a lot more querying and pitching than actual writing.

Here it is:

  1. Write a book
  2. Revise, edit and polish the manuscript
  3. Research agents and publishers
  4. Craft a killer query and synopsis
  5. Start emailing your query to the members of your list
  6. Attend conferences to pitch agents and editors in person

Don’t sit around and wait, my friend. You’ll grow old and might ruin your computer from repeatedly clicking the refresh button on your mail inbox.

Once you send the queries out, it’s time to begin writing something new. Authors from either path agree on this.

Self-Publishing

This used to mean your manuscript couldn’t get past the gatekeepers. Let’s be honest, we’ve read some books that weren’t publish-worthy by snagging up free reads on Amazon.

But there are plenty of books that debuted as self-published and made their way into a movie deal or a television series. I’m thinking of The Martian not 50 Shades.

The traditional path generally takes long and probably won’t net you as much of a return on a “per book sold” basis, but check out all the steps for self-publishing:

  1. Write a book
  2. Revise, edit and polish the manuscript
  3. Research editors
  4. Hire an editor
  5. Research cover designers
  6. Hire a designer
  7. Fix manuscript according to editors suggestions
  8. Hire a proofreader
  9. Deal with changes to the cover
  10. Upload the final products to your publishing platform of choice
  11. Figure out how to market the book

Yes, I could have added a step for researching and hiring a formatter because it isn’t as easy as one might think to get the book ready for publishing. But it can be done with a minimum of hair pulling and several review phases with CreateSpace.

I’ve been guilty of including my small indie publisher in it’s own realm because it doesn’t require the wait times (nor have the distribution) of the big publishing houses.

There is a third path. It’s the one I’ve been traveling for the past three years.

Hybrid

I have manuscripts I’m actively trying to sell to agents or publishers. This is me on the traditional path

I’ve contracted many stories and novellas with a small publisher, so this is probably me on the traditional path, too.

I also have a novella and two Bible study books that I published myself using CreateSpace.

Some authors have books on Amazon they’ve published, and then they sign with a big house and contract for other books that will soon be on Amazon under that publisher’s control.

Either way, that’s the hybrid path. You aren’t sold on getting published ONE way.

Although Grahl suggests giving yourself a year on a path before deserting it, I think you can walk the middle line as a hybrid author. You’re likely to discover which trail appeals to you and you’ll see your name in print rather than waiting for an acceptance letter from an agent or publisher.

Maybe it really is as easy as deciding if you want to spend your time writing (and marketing because you do that on either road) or if you want to embrace the business side of publishing while you’re writing.

What experience do you have with publishing paths? Do you have other advice that will help muddy clear up this issue?

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Waiting for News? Write on!

By the time you read this post, it will have been four weeks since I mailed out my queries for Doomsday Dragons.

The first week after they were gone, I was still combing through the manuscript. I read it aloud. Strengthened the sentences with stronger verbs and more precise nouns and descriptors. Tried to polish it to a sparkling gem.

Then I closed the Scrivener file and moved on to a different project.

What? Did I check my email every ten minutes looking for manuscript requests?

Not really. But I didn’t need to.

Early Responders

Shock of all shockers, I had answers to some of the queries in the very first week.

In fact, within six days, three agents responded with “no thanks.” I was impressed by this because all of them requested between four to eight weeks to get through their queries.

One of these only allowed query letters. Their only taste of my story came from the query description. Obviously, they weren’t impressed by dragons.

The others? I guessed they also probably weren’t piqued by a dragon story. It takes a very specific sort of person to imbibe the myth and fire.

The fourth response was a notice of an undeliverable mail. So even though I checked all the links and double-checked all the email addresses, one of the agencies was no longer receiving mail at the address they advertised on their website.

Four of twelve responses within one week. Not too shabby.

Except they all amounted to 100 percent rejection.

Non-Responders

There were just as many who made no promise to even respond to every query.

Of the twelve, four of them said that hearing nothing after a certain time frame would be equal to a “no thank you” email.

The surprise? The amount of time given before drawing this conclusion ranged from two weeks to twelve weeks.

Talk about holding out hope.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to assume dashed hopes. And then if an email magically appears, it can only be good news.

People I Pitched

Of course, the two people I pitched my idea to at the writer’s conference will get the full 90 to 120 days before I begin to assume the worst.

At least they’ll respond.

I hope they’ll remember me favorably enough to offer advice if they decide the project isn’t for them. Don’t I deserve at least that much?

The Rest of the Pack

That leaves only two out of twelve agencies that will still respond to me sometime during this lengthy waiting period.

Fortunately, I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not sitting on my hands or biting my nails.

I’m following the professional writer’s prescription for winning this waiting game: write something new.

In fact, I had to polish a novella that’s coming out in a month or two and deliver it to an editor. Then I nibbled on the idea for another short story.

And, of course, the women’s fiction novel I’d begun writing while waiting for the last of the beta edits on Doomsday Dragon still needed finishing.

The best way to insure a watched pot boils is to walk away.

In writing terms: write something else without constantly checking your in-box.

What about you? What are your tricks for making waiting bearable? Please share. Not that any of us our impatient or anything…

Road to Published – Finding an Agent

In the new publishing paradigm, some authors seek editors at small houses instead of an agent. If you want to walk the traditional path (like me), the best idea is still to find an agent to represent you.

Even though the number of agents is high, finding the perfect fit for you and your work takes research and time.

Lots of time. At least six months to a year.

The traditional path is traditionally – slow. Up to three years to see your book in print after you’ve hired an agent. No, I’m not kidding.

Again, this is why many authors cut out the middle man and go straight to editors. Which is fine if you don’t want to be published with one of the big houses. All of these don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, although most of them have imprints that might look at unagented work.

Databases

Fortunately, there are several databases of literary agent listings. Some are provided online which is very convenient. Others can be found in printed guides that are updated annually.

The most well-know listing of literary agents is from the Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest each year. They also have an online database, accessible with paid membership.

This Literary Agent Directory was also helpful. However, I didn’t enter my information. It says access is free, but I don’t know that for sure.

Make sure you don’t shoot in the dark. Read up on any agent before you query them. What do you need to know?

  • Are they accepting new clients?
  • Do they represent your genre?
  • What authors do they represent? Similar to you or not?
  • What are their specific guidelines for submissions?

This final one is important because if you narrow your list down with the other questions and then fail to follow these “rules,” your query will find its way into the trash – rather than the slush pile

Perfecting your Query

If you’re like most writers I know, writing query letters doesn’t top your list of favorite things. Seriously. I would rather go to the dentist.

Never fear! There is a formula for writing an excellent query letter. Do I guarantee it will get you noticed?

Sorry, no.

Query letters should be short and specific.

  • First paragraph includes your logline, title, genre and word count.
  • Second paragraph embellishes the major plot points of the main story line, naming your protagonist and possible the antagonist, but probably not any other characters
  • Third paragraph might be why you chose this agency – or why you are qualified to write this story
  • Final paragraph lists publishing credits or awards that relate to the genre/form you’re submitting
  • Use a professional tone, but keeping it conversational appeals to many agents who want to know you would be someone they could work with

Send queries in batches. Many authors recommend sending to ten agencies at a time. No need to tell them you are querying others, but if you get a request for the full manuscript from more than one agent, you should divulge that to both parties.

Keep Track

All these submissions! How will I ever keep them straight?

I have a handy Excel spreadsheet that keeps track of what manuscripts I’ve submitted. There are also online databases that will help you organize this information.

I had access to the Writer’s Digest Agent Database when I took a class from them. However, that expires unless you become a VIP member by paying a fee.

These are the columns on my spreadsheet: Agent/Editor/Publisher, Contact email, contact Phone, manuscript title, date queried, and date returned.

There is also a “days” column that automatically keeps a running total of how long your submission has been circulating. It’s interesting to note that the agents on my list have taken much longer to respond than the publishers.

I recently added another column: “Results.” This way I can note whether they asked for more pages, rejected or accepted my work.

Here are some links to databases or information to build your own:

Once you send out that first batch of query letters, get to work on your next writing project.

This is what writer’s do. Chewing your fingernails and checking your email every hour won’t get the next story down on paper.

Did you find this information helpful? Please comment and SHARE if you did. This author thanks you.

Young Adult Paranormal Might Not be Passe

Imagine my surprise when I won a physical, hardbound copy of a book just for sharing a Tweet. That book, Hexed, will now be subjected to my non-paranormal reviewing powers.

Before I begin, I’d like to give a shout out to Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary for promptly mailing out the book. She’s doing a great job representing Ms. Krys, getting her first book into the hands of readers as the second book is being released.

I admit this log line from the book’s cover and Amazon description had me salivating to read on: “ a snarky sixteen-year-old cheerleader is forced into a centuries-old war between witches and sorcerers only to uncover the first of many dark truths about her life…”

You’re ready for more now, too, right? Even if you aren’t a fan of paranormal stories starring witches and sorcerers (Harry Potter books excluded, of course).

Summary

Indigo Blackwood seems to be the typical snobby cheerleader at the beginning of the series (think Mean Girls). Her best friend is the head cheerleader and treats Indigo poorly because she’s jealous of her 8-month relationship with the quarterback of the football team.

Sounds cliché, right? I mean cheerleader dating quarterback with a mean girl head cheerleader antagonizing things. That’s been done a million times.

Not like Krys does it. Indigo’s mom is a member of a Wiccan society and owns a witchcraft shop. Indigo things she might be crazy because her mom has been known to bury books in the back yard – digging with her own two hands.

Actually, she’s paranoid about only one book, The Witch Hunter’s Bible. Not that Indigo believes there are such things as witches.

All that changes as a series of events throws Indigo into danger. A handsome stranger stalks her, until she realizes he’s trying to help. Aside from the theft of the book and further terrorizing at the hands of the sorcerer group, The Priory, Indigo faces the teenage torture of walking in on her boyfriend and best friend.

Finally, Indigo accepts that she might be a witch and struggles to learn her powers. After all, she’s tired of being everyone’s victim.

My Review

Indigo Blackwood won my heart. Her thoughts, actions and commentary remains true to the character of a junior in high school. This first person narration does the genre and mode proud. This alone earned the story a strong 4.6 out of five stars.

I appreciated that Indigo never really mastered her emotions. What teenage girl can? Maybe for ten minutes. This also helped the story ring true. And allowed for more conflict and tension because readers realized she would run straight into the arms of trouble unprepared.

The minor characters of Paige and Bishop were well-drawn, as well. Of course, we only get to see them from Indigo’s perspective, and she isn’t an unbiased observer.

Paige is the unpopular next door neighbor who comes through as a true friend (more cliché). Bishop is an orphan warlock (male counterpart of witch in this series whereas Potter had wizards) with plenty of secrets of his own.

It was difficult to put this book down. I ended up reading it on three consecutive evenings. By the last 100 pages, there was no chance I would stop reading until I finished.

I don’t spoil stories with my reviews. Suffice it to say there are several wrenching twists that are unexpected. However, they aren’t unbelievable or unsupported.

There are more bad guys in this story than good. We get the impression we’re supposed to side with the witches, but their ruling body, The Family, doesn’t win my adoration. If you prefer an obvious black and white in your good and evil battles, this book won’t give you that.

As in life, plans never go as planned. Indigo loses more than she gains. The ending is happy – sort of.

My least favorite thing about the book was the fact that the resolution included the set-up for the next book in the series. It was done well, not coming off as a cliffhanger. If you don’t want to bite, just don’t read the Epilogue.

While this book has several hundred reviews on Goodreads, it earns less than four stars overall there. There are only eight reviews on Amazon with a 4.2 out of five-star rating overall.

My Recommendation

Charmed coverTeenager girls and women readers of YA fiction will enjoy this book. Not a fan of paranormal? This book doesn’t try to explain the magic or give a history of it, which made it easier for me to accept.

There is murder, blood, gore, and disturbing images. It doesn’t have the gut-wrenching suspense of a thriller, however, and was too believable to read like horror. Since it didn’t give me nightmares, I’d say it is PG-13 rather than something heavier.

Because I like Indigo, I will be reading the sequel, Charmed. Currently, the Kindle edition is going for $1.99, and I’m all about that good deal.

Have you read Hexed? What did you think? Is paranormal still as “in” as it has been the past several years?

Newbie Author Seeks Publishing Contract

In the world of authorial experience, I’m still a newbie. One published short story, an independently published novella and a contract for another short story: those are my publishing credits.

As for writing, though, I’ve had a long and arduous journey. And I’ve written close to a half-million words since doing this “writing thing” full-time. Some people say once I’ve written a million words, I’ll finally be through my apprenticeship.

Hopefully, I’ll have a few readers who love me by then, too.

I spent my first year polishing and perfecting the first novel in a young adult fantasy series. I wrote the entire trilogy at the suggestion of a writing teacher I regard highly. It helped to disgorge the full story.

DOW CoverIf you’ve written one novel, you know the exhilaration (or maybe utter exhaustion) of typing the final sentence. Since I started writing full-time in July of 2013, I’ve written four 70,000+ word novels (all young adult fantasies) and a 40,000-word historical fiction novella. Every time I finished the first draft, I wanted to sing and dance (and take a LONG nap).

My first novel made the rounds:

  • It attended a first ten pages workshop. The beginning got rewritten.
  • It went to another class about hooking a reader. Another new beginning.
  • The first twenty pages and a synopsis were submitted for critique by a published author of the fantasy genre. More work was needed.
  • After pitching the idea at a writer’s conference, I sent the first fifty pages to an agent.

Even before I heard back from her (“The story has potential but isn’t right for her needs”), I knew the story needed a complete overhaul. Why? I had been learning about structure, conflict, and character motivation.

The first novel was a novelty, but it wasn’t marketable. It needed to be rewritten.

doomsday1Meanwhile, I had birthed a new, exciting idea. There were dragons and volcanoes and a snarky teenage girl. Who could ask for more? So I wrote that novel.

The first third of this novel found its way to a professional editor for a developmental edit. Guess what I found out? The story was strong. The characters? Not so much.

I’m climbing the learning curve, but it’s a steep one. Writing a novel is no easy task. It’s complex. A brain surgeon probably needs fewer hours to learn how to remove a tumor than an author needs to perfect a novel-length story.

That novel is still in the process of being revised. My beta readers enjoyed it, but they found flaws. Namely: everything happens too easily. That’s right. I like these characters and I want something to go smoothly in their otherwise crappy lives. But smooth sailing doesn’t make a good story.

“We learn the world is at stake too early in the story.” When a volcano erupts in glorious splendor in the first scene and the seer envisions a dragon in the second scene, things are moving along. But not doomsday in the fourth chapter. Even if it’s in the title of the book.

And the characters don’t grow much. What? They save the world but seem unchanged? More. Development. Needed.

So, that’s what I’m working on this summer. The Willamette Writer’s Conference nears, and I’ll be pitching this new project to an agent and an editor.

Have I moved from the apprentice stage of writing? Will this novel be deemed “saleable”?

I hope so. But, if it gets rejected, I’ll send it to another group of critiquers, get more feedback, make more changes, and NEVER SURRENDER.

Why Every (Newbie) Author Needs an Editor

I’m a newbie novice when it comes to writing novels. Not an ounce of shame taints this admission. If I send sub-par work into the world of readers because I don’t see the need for an editor, that’s when I’ll be ashamed.

In the past fifteen months, I have completed five first drafts. This amounts to about 350,000 words. I should be getting the hang of this writing thing after all that, shouldn’t I?

If I compare the first novel with the last, the improvement is easily identifiable. To me, anyway. A professional editor might see things differently. This is the reason you should hire one before you publish your “masterpiece.”

Lucky me, I won a 25,000 word critique from the amazing Jami Gold. As full-time writer who has not sold a single story, I appreciated this windfall more than a winning Lotto ticket. After experiencing Jami’s professional white glove treatment, I can recommend her services.

What I expected

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript – written within the document so examples of the flaws were showcased
  • Advice about my characters
  • Analysis of my story structure: the first turning point at least
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes

What she delivered

  • A thorough critique of the manuscript. Besides lengthy notations within the manuscript, Jami provided four pages of explanation about the larger issues – good and bad – in the story
  • Advice about my characters. She analyzed the character arc of both protagonists, discussed their shortfalls, remarked about how to improve them. In short, I saw my characters in a different spotlight after reading her comments.
  • Analysis of my story structure. Jami identified the story problem but couldn’t pinpoint my character’s driving needs. Because of this, she didn’t see the first turning point the way I had when I wrote the story. Obviously, this is an issue – with my writing, not her editing.
  • Identification of recurring writing weaknesses. Do I really need to list these? Suffice it to say that I’m still doing more telling than showing. My descriptions are over the top (quite surprising) and often unrealistically delivered. Too many participles. Not enough strong verbs. Even a grammar issue (when to use ‘the’ rather than ‘a.’)
  • Discussion of my overall writing voice and its effectiveness. My third person POV didn’t go deep enough. My characters could be heard loud and clear in only a few sentences. If I want my readers to buy in, I need to delve more deeply into the psyche of these people who tell this story.
  • Confirmation that my story premise worked. Right off the bat, Jami raved about how well I nailed this. My thanks to Larry Brooks and Kristen Lamb. I learned the importance of this from them. Looks like it penetrated my thick skull and became a part of my writing arsenal.
  • Discussion of the story problem and stakes. Again, I managed to strike it rich. Of course, the lack in my characters rubs off on the overall story problem. Since their motivations are unclear, it holds readers at arm’s length.

My revised opinion

I have seen recommendations from authors who are traditionally published. They tell you not to spend the money on an editor for your manuscript before shopping it with agents and editors. I sighed hugely when I read this advice.

Now I’m going to refute it. Time to face facts: you won’t hook an agent or editor with a manuscript that doesn’t shine. No matter how great of a writer you are or how many degrees you possess, you aren’t the best critic for your written work.

I can slash in red with the best of them (ask my sons who have experienced my unforgiving editing for more than a decade). With a critical eye, I can spot plot holes, weak characterization, telling passages and other major flaws.

No matter how much I squint, I’m too close to my own story to recognize most of these shortcomings. I know what I meant. The characters are my intimate friends so I read between the lines. I see subtext that doesn’t exist. Caricatures are the invisible woman.

If you’ve shopped your story and no one is biting, take the plunge. Spend the money on a developmental edit to ensure your manuscript is sound of structure. Look at it as an investment in your career – like workshops, craft books and conferences.

In the end, your manuscript will shine. You will learn how to write a stronger story. Best of all, your name will appear on the cover of the book you’ve envisioned. And you’ll be proud to have people read your work.

Have I convinced you? Great.

One more thing. Do you have an extra $1000 I can borrow? Really, my friend. Help me get a much-needed developmental edit on my manuscript.

What are your thoughts on critique groups, beta readers and professional edits? Do they all serve the same purpose? Do you believe spending money on an editor is a waste if you’re a newbie seeking traditional publishing?

How to pitch your novel to an agent

Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk
Image from www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Most of the time, authors must impress an agent with a query letter. At a writer’s conference, a new (and nerve-wracking) avenue for getting your story idea heard crops up. They call it a pitch session.

I might rename it “An exercise in stressing out without giving in to the urge to vomit or run screaming from the room.” Whatever works.

All conferences are not created equal. Different groups organize these events with different priorities in mind. Attending a conference hosted by a group of writers? You can expect opportunities to pitch and improve your work.

I experienced my first one-on-one agent meeting on August 2, 2014. In the process, I learned a few things to help writers prepare.

Months Before

I scoured the page of prospective agents attending the conference before I even registered. (I signed on the first day registration opened, but that’s a different story.) I read the brief bio provided and followed the link to their agency webpage.

Some people I spoke with at the conference did likewise and still ended up pitching to someone who said they didn’t represent that sort of project. Thus, research and research again before investing your money to sit across the table from an agent and pitch in a genre they don’t accept.

Still online, I surfed well-known writing blogs for advice on how to make the best of this pitching session. I’ll admit, I learned the most profitable tidbits from those articles and posts written from an agent’s point of view. Go figure.

A pitch:

  • Should be short (100 words)
  • Include your protagonist and their desire
  • Include the major conflict in the story
  • Showcase your logline (more on how to develop one here)

So few words, really? You will say more, but as far as the story goes, those four elements will get the job done.

Days Before

I wrote and rewrote my pitch. I practiced my top choices on my friends and family to weed out the things that didn’t work. Then I combined those voted “most likely to hold the agent’s interest” and read the result aloud several hundred dozen times.

Whatever it takes for you to embed the essence of your “elevator pitch” in your mind – do that.

Practice saying it aloud. I tried the mirror presentation, recommended by many articles on the subject, and it distracted me. I got distracted by how big my teeth look and how I move my hands when I’m talking.

In the end, I found sitting in a chair and staring at an invisible person worked best for me. Again, whatever you find eases your tension and helps you imagine speaking to a real purpose – do that. Over and over.

Eventually, the words will run through your mind like a live broadcast. This is a good thing as long as you can spill them with an ease that sounds unrehearsed. Rehearse so I sound unrehearsed? Yes, that’s the ticket.

I also prepared a One Sheet on my novel, which includes the log-line, a short synopsis and the character’s journey. It also has a short biography, photo of the author and contact information.

Minutes Before

Read over the pitch. Recite it in your mind.

Pace – because sitting with the others who are waiting raises your nervousness factor exponentially. Or maybe you’re a sitter and that will relax you.

Try to relax. Visualize yourself strolling confidently up to the agent. You are a professional. They want to hear about your story.

Do not throw up. I felt like throwing up while waiting the first day. Then I found out I had to reschedule the appointment for the next day. All that terror wasted.

During

Most of the time, a herd of pitchers will enter the pitching arena at the same time. I was (un)fortunate enough to be the only person scheduled to present to anyone when I made my pitching debut.

I strode over to her table, keeping eye contact. Reaching toward her, I shook her hand and introduced myself. I handed her the One Sheet and sat across the small table from her. So far, so good.

I asked how the conference was going and told her I enjoyed her workshop on the perfect pitch the day before. “I hope I can demonstrate I was paying close attention.” Laughs. Laughter conquers nerves for me.

Introduce your novel: title, genre and word count. Give an idea about what your writing is like: “Lord of the Flies meets Survivor.” I used two authors who write in the same genre as my book for my comparison.

Now it’s time to deliver your 100-word pitch. I started with my premise question “What if…?” The second sentence was my logline. The rest of the words included what the protagonist wanted, what stood in her way and a hint about the journey she would take.

Stop. Breathe. The hardest part is finished and you did it.

Let the agent ask questions. They will. Answer each question with simplicity and clarity. If they don’t ask for pages, ask them if they want you to send pages. (Thankfully, I didn’t have to ask that.)

After

Dance a jig, jump up and down, or, at this point, feel free to vomit if the urge persists.

Now, you’ll be thinking about how to prep your manuscript pages. If they ask for a synopsis as well, you might find yourself researching how best to write one.

Send what they requested as soon as it represents your best work. Within a week or two is probably best. In the query letter (yes, they still want one of those hideous beasts introductory pages), mention the meeting at the conference and remind them they requested to see your work.

They should have given you an address that will bypass their towering slush pile (up to 2,000 manuscripts per week). Check their website to find out how long before you might hear back from them (usually 4-8 weeks).

If you want to polish the rest of that manuscript in hopes they will be requesting to see it, that’s a great use of time. Write something new. Don’t sit by your computer staring at your email inbox.

What is your experience with pitching a project? Your words of wisdom are welcomed.

Missing a Deadline

 

 

While traveling away from home, deadlines are left behind not packed in the suitcase. If only I could have avoided the electronic age of mishaps while in Las Vegas this past week.

Murphy’s Law:

“Anything that can go wrong will do wrong.”

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. The house could have burned down or been robbed. My cats could have been slain in the street by a speeding car.

Instead, the electronic age crucified my cozy bubble of retreat with three nails.

Nail One: Un-synced Data

About halfway to the airport, I realized this first one. I had not synced my iPad files with my computer.

Not a big deal, right? Sure, as long as I didn’t make any changes to existing documents on my iPad while on vacation. If I did, the software would notice and give me some crazy error message.

Is it perfectly fine to make changes on the computer but not the iPad? Actually, if you make changes to either of them without re-syncing the devices, Mr. Error Message flashes the red exclamation point.

Did I need any other excuse not to work on my writing projects while on vacation? I’m pretty sure you can surmise the answer.

Nail Two: Lost Files

Imagine sitting by the pool, warm sunshine kisses your skin and a desert wind ruffles your hair. Even with sunglasses on, you’re squinting against the brightness. After all, you may as well be a mole; the sun hasn’t made much of an appearance for six weeks or more.

“I’ll check my email before I settle in to read that Brandon Sanderson novel,” you think. Your index finger taps the mail icon and you begin the process of deleting emails.

A mail from the agent you submitted a query and five pages to surprises you. Yes, you paid good money for a critique, but the agent has six more days before their self-imposed deadline.

A quick scan of the mail is not enough. Clouds settle over the sun and a tight fist clenches your stomach. You read it again – hoping it doesn’t say what your brain understood during the speed glance.

She didn’t get the pages. Perhaps they were lost in cyberspace. Could you please resend them?

I would love to. Small problem: I’m a thousand miles away from my computer and those saved files. I took care of all that before I left. Blood pressure rises. Pounding begins behind the squinting eyes.

Thankfully, I sent this using my gmail account and the outgoing mail is automatically saved. With the help of my husband (since some features refuse to work on my iPad, don’t ask me why), I find the previously sent mail, copy and paste it into the reply.

Crisis diverted. (In unrelated news, my credit card was also on hold until I logged in and authorized my recent shopping trip. The fraud department is watching my back again.)

Nail Three: Missed Payments a.k.a. What’s My Password?

At least I was just chilling in the hotel room when I checked my email for the final bad news alert. No need to jinx the poolside, you know?

This message was syrupy and chipper. My gag reflex kicked in before I could stop it. “We know things come up and your payment slipped your mind.”

Sallie Mae. She’s such a Pollyanna.

Yes ma’am, I thought about scheduling my student loan payment several times. At my age, my brain equates that to completing the task. Apparently, I still don’t have those telekinetic skills I requested.

I try to log in. I don’t even know my user name and therefore can’t request my password. The handy cheat sheet containing this information my brain locks away in an inaccessible location? At home.

Not helpful. I guess Sallie will wait a few more days for the missed payment.

All these electronic shortcuts to make life easier added two cups of stress to my four days of rest and relaxation. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

Have you had any similar events in your life? What sort of unexpected news stalked you on vacation?