Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Click on me!

I've spruced up my blog homepage. I added labels, so if you wanted to, say, see all the posts that have to do with Chester, just click on that label. And look to your right... I added a Follow This Blog button. Please click on it and become a follower of The Leaf Blower!

Since I started this blog six months ago, I've been tracking my blog stats using this amazing free program called Google Analytics. It tells you the number of visits, absolute unique visitors, locations, and much, much more.

For example, in the past month, my blog has had 455 visits:
by 163 unique visitors
from 13 countries
and 29 US states

Now it's safe to say that 11 of those countries stumbled upon my blog by accident, but I'm pretty sure there's someone in the UK who reads it fairly regularly. Most unusual countries on the list: Qatar and Oman.

Most of the visitors are from San Francisco, but this month there have been visits from 33 other cities in California.

It also breaks visits down by network location. Usually it's something generic like "Comcast," but there are some networks I recognize. For example, in the past month there were 90 visits from Genentech!

Another interesting breakdown is by Traffic Sources. It shows you how many visits came from search engines and what keywords people typed to find my blog. Some of the keyword searches are by people legitimately looking for my blog (e.g. "Brian Crawford Writing Blog," or "Brian Crawford Leaf Blower") but some of them were clearly looking for something else and stumbled upon my blog instead, and then clicked on it. I'll leave you with a few of the more unusual keyword searches:

ernest hemingway plant a tree
ernest hemingway child molester (?)
who takes steriods
black and white drawing of a park bench (??)
build your own leaf blower
doggy blower
extreme leaf blowing
blower para maverick (???)
scary pic of a man holding a leaf blower
little giant leaf blower
little darlin leaf blower
shocing brasil (????)

Don't forget to become a Follower... everyone's doing it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Waiting by the Mailbox

My two-week book hiatus is over. I’m happy to get back to my draft, but it was refreshing to work on some other things for a while. One of my main projects during the break was to submit my first piece of writing for publication. I dusted off an old short story, polished it, and submitted it to a few magazines. It will likely be rejected, but I wanted to familiarize myself with the process so when I submit my novel, at least I'll have had a dry run.

Unlike for novels, magazine submissions don't usually require an agent; you can submit directly to the publisher. But the odds are stacked against you. Most magazines get thousands of submissions a year for just a few slots, and they publish less than one-half of one percent of what they receive. And these are the little-known literary magazines. For something like The New Yorker, forget about it.

If your story is accepted, you do get paid, but it's nominal - like 50 bucks. After you factor in materials (postage, envelopes, paper) and labor, you probably make around one cent per hour. And that's if your story sells. Good thing I'm not in this for the money. Still, coming from my last job at a company where we'd get a $1,000 check, a party and a T-shirt every time we accomplished anything, it's quite an adjustment.

The other maddening thing is the speed of the review process. Once you send out your story, you wait. And wait. The magazines’ average response times range from 2-6 months. That's months. This seems unfathomable in the age of sub-10-second blackberry replies and instant updates on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. One publication said it responds to manuscripts in ten months. It takes the FDA ten months to review a 300,000-page new drug application -- and they're a government bureaucracy.

Speaking of the FDA, while researching the publication process I kept thinking the magazines should implement something like the drug industry's Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA). This was the law which allowed the FDA to collect fees from drug manufacturers to fund the new drug approval process. In turn, the FDA is required to complete its reviews within a certain timeframe. In the years after the act was passed, the FDA was able to hire more reviewers, and the average drug approval time dropped from over two years to less than a year.

If magazines charged a reading fee, but guaranteed a personal response to your manuscript in, say, two weeks, I bet writers would jump all over it. Particularly beginning writers like me who are desperate for feedback. The magazines could probably charge 5 or 10 dollars a submission to make it a viable business model, but I'd gladly pay 50 bucks if it meant that in two weeks I'd either know if my story was getting published, or I'd know it was rejected and why. Plus, if there were a fee, writers would be more selective about which pieces they submit and to which magazines. And, with all that revenue coming in, the magazines could pay writers real sums. Maybe I'm onto something here... anyone know anything about running a magazine?

Another archaic part of the process is that, while a few of the magazines accept electronic submissions, the majority still use regular old snail mail. You can't even send via FedEx because many of the addresses are P.O. boxes. But there is an upside. If you send a hardcopy of your manuscript and include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE in the publishing world), you are more likely to get it back with an actual human comment on it (a so-called "good rejection"). Also, there's something supremely satisfying about dropping packets into the mailbox. I felt like I was applying to college again.

The best part is I have a rekindled interest in my bricks-and-mortar mailbox. I get all my bills electronically, and no one writes letters these days, so I used to go weeks without getting a single viable piece of mail. I would check it every few days, only to find a ball of junk mail jammed in there. Not anymore. Now, I'll be excitedly running to my mailbox like Ralphie in The Christmas Story, hoping for that Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring. Because there's always the possibility that behind those Nordstorm catalogues, I'll find a letter from a publisher that says, we want to buy your story, and we loved your writing so much that we were wondering... do you have a novel?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hannah Moosh Babushka Houshmand VanPortfliet, 2000 - 2008

I lost one of my writing buddies last week. Hannah passed away unexpectedly after a short battle with cancer. Amy's friends and I put together a donation and tribute to Hannah with the Animal Cancer Foundation.

You can view Hannah's dedication on the website, or read the text below:

Hannah was as ornery as she was beautiful. You had to work to gain her affection. It took me about six months, but it was worth it. She was my girlfriend Amy's cat, and when I moved in, Hannah made it clear whose house it was.

Our black lab Chester was deathly afraid of her. When Hannah was perched in a doorway, as she often was, Chester wouldn't cross it. We could've dumped a truckload of tennis balls into the kitchen, and Chester would just stand there and whimper.

Hannah was a rescue cat who'd been through a lot. With her fiery personality and toughness, we just assumed she'd live forever. Then we found a host of tumors spanning her breast area. When the tumors were removed and biopsied, we learned that Hannah had an aggressive adenocarcinoma that had spread to her lymphatic system.

The oncologist told us Hannah probably had eight months to live – maybe twice that with chemo. We elected not to put her through chemo, and, in retrospect, we probably should've passed on the surgery as well. It didn't do anything except stress her out.

We only got two more months with Hannah. She passed away on election day. Her breathing got shallow and I took her to the vet. She died there on the vet's table before Amy could come say goodbye.

I'm sorry we didn't have more time with her, and I'm sorry she couldn't wait for Amy. But if you knew Hannah, it's the way you'd expect her to go out. More than anything, she hated being vulnerable. I think she just didn't want Amy to see her that way.

She died her own way, in her dramatic fashion. On my way out of the vet's I saw I'd gotten a parking ticket. I know Hannah was up there having the last laugh.

Even Chester seems to miss her. The first day without Hannah, I watched Chester approach the entrance to the kitchen, where Hannah so often stood guard. At the threshold, he paused and sniffed the air. Then I swear I saw him give a small bow, like someone entering a dojo, before going in. It's still Hannah's house.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Historic Day

Today is an historic day. Yes, there's that little election going on. But it's also the day I completed my first draft!
Six months after starting this odyssey, I've reached my goal of 80,000 words. 
In book format it'd probably be around 325 pages.

Don't get too excited. This draft is ROUGH. I have a ton of work ahead of me. Last week I rewrote and polished ten pages to submit to my writing group, and it took DAYS. But I've at least made an attempt to write each scene. I was going to toil around until Thanksgiving before calling it a draft, but I found myself slipping into rewriting mode, so this is as good a stopping point as any.

Now what?

Now, I ignore it. In order to reread my draft with a fresh perspective, I need to distance myself from it. Some writers put a draft aside for months, even years, before returning to it. I don't have that kind of time, so I'm going to give myself a few weeks. This isn't a vacation. I'm not going to stop writing. During this hiatus, I plan to work on a few short stories and conduct some of the research I neglected while stampeding along on my draft.

To tell you the truth, I was getting kind of sick of my book; I can't wait to work on some other writing pieces.

Now is also a perfect time to thank all the loyal Leafblower readers for your continued support. Your thoughtful comments and words of encouragement mean a lot to me. Special thanks to my family, the Mason family, Chester and Hannah, and to Amy, of course.