Time for a pit stop

Today’s writing analogy is brought to you by my long-overdue viewing of the 24 hours of Le Mans. Yup. That’s right.  I’m about to compare my writing and publishing experience to racing cars.

 Let’s say I can do the writing part. Let’s say I’m a great driver of a fantastic writing machine. All my talent and passion and hard work with my vehicle won’t get me to the finish line of a race. I can’t fix the car’s tires, pump the fuel or tinker with the gearbox. I can’t keep up with the maintenance, do the repairs and drive at the same time. No one can.

This is not a writer’s pit crew.

I need a pit crew. There are aspects to this publishing gig that I cannot do myself. I need to face that reality as I move from amateur to pro status.  I am an unknown beginner entering a race right along with a field of seasoned professionals.  I need a solid team of devoted backers with me for every trip around the track if I ever expect to fight my way into the standings.

This isn’t about requesting a little help when I need it, or fielding opinions here and there. This is about not having to ask.  It’s emotionally exhausting to have to repeatedly approach others with metaphorical hat in hand, begging for crumbs of attention over and over. It poisons every conversation I have with friends, and it reduces my fragile psyche to the useless, disgusting texture of pink slime.

When a race car goes into the pits, people swarm all over it without hesitation. The driver doesn’t ask for help. The need is anticipated. A bunch of specialists work together to get the vehicle ready for the next stage. The crew members tag in and out of the action, and they don’t do the same thing on every visit, but every time, that team works with the driver to get the car moving again.

After two solid years of writing effectively in isolation–years spent learning how to race, to stretch my analogy–I’ve spent the last few months struggling over each new word. The reasons finally gelled for me while I was watching that never-ending race coverage. I’m patching the gas line when I should be concentrating on the track. I’m concentrating on my weaknesses instead of my strengths. That’s a traumatic thing to do, mentally, and stressed minds do not create. They disintegrate.

I’m looking for a few special people willing to step up and say, “Yes, rely on us. You don’t have to wonder what will happen when you pull onto the shoulder with smoking tires and a bumper hanging loose. We will be there–ready, willing and able to put you in order and keep you up and running. We officially want to be part of your unpaid crazy venture into independent publishing. We want shoulder patches and matching teeshirts and mentions in the dedications. We want free books.”

Pit Task Descriptions:

Like members of a real pit crew, you might only be able to do one thing, or you might want to be on the line for every check-in. Beloved In-House Reader has volunteered for all these duties except cover art, but there’s only one of him. The idea is to get as many people doing each job, all at the same time.

Alpha Reader
“Be willing to read short snippets of work in progress and offer basic critiques and encouragement in a timely fashion.” This means that when asked, you can respond within a few days and cough up basic commentary within a week. An example of basic commentary would be, “It doesn’t suck. Keep going. The first page was a little confusing. Also, where did the owl come from?” I need this now, I need this regularly. I am a needy person.

Beta Reader
“Be willing to read a completed rough work from beginning to end and offer extensive feedback on plot and character.” I would provide some ideas, but your input could come in whatever form you prefer. Example questions might include “Did the beginning catch your interest right away, or was there a point when you would’ve put it down? Was there any character who didn’t feel real?” Etc. You could provide feedback in any form you like. Lists, track-changed docs, crayon on construction paper, whatevs. The kicker piece is time again. If a month isn’t enough time to skim through a story and throw your gut impressions down in print, then don’t sign on for this job.

“Be willing to proof completed beta-passed manuscripts prior to official electronic publishing.” This meshes well with beta reading for some people. Some beta readers can’t work without proofing as they go along. I’m one of those. The thing is, an editor who’s been a beta reader might have to read almost-the-same-manuscript twice.” I wouldn’t need this for novels — I have a great pro editor, but I don’t have the money to spend on pro editing for short pieces.  I would gladly shower gratitude on any and all volunteers who would tackle those.

Cover Art: I am not an artist. I always need suggestions, stock art, and feedback on my dumb ideas…

Every pit crew has a guy who stands in front of the car with a little sign that says “stop” on one side and “go” on the other. I always wanted that job. Anyone could do it. That’s promotion, on my pit crew. Anyone can brag to their friends, family and total strangers about this fantastic author they know, the one who writes kickass stories about men and women living in worlds a lot like ours, only different.

As a matter of fact, I would beg everyone on the pit crew help with promotions now and then (for reasons that will get a post of their own)  plus keep an eye out for creative ways to get out the word about my amazing books. “Help Karen get the word out” could be the team motto.

Anyone want to sign on for this insanity? Anyone? The perks are not stellar. You get free reading material. You get to participate in the nitty-gritty of the creative process, with the potential to see your ideas become part of a story. There might be baked goods. There would be free books.  The obligation is there too, though. This is asking for a real commitment. Don’t feel bad about saying no, or voting no by silence. It’s all good. I will still love you all as much as I do now. (I love anyone who reads anything I write a whole lot. Buckets worth. Boodles, even.)

But if you do step up to the line, if you join my crew, then we can get started designing a teeshirt logo. And a badge. Dawnrigger Publishing Pit Vipers, maybe. I dunno. What say you?

We Win!