Freakin’ Out


So the title of this blog post is a reflection of what I’m doing right now: I’m freakin’ out. Not in an omg-I-just-effed-up kinda way, but in a holy-!@#$-this-is-awesome kinda way*. It’s an important distinction.

As to the source of my freak out–last night I got home from welcome drinks with my new coworkers (I just started a new job last Wednesday) to a private message in my Wattpad inbox:

Hi Sally, I work for a company that books panelists for the Digital Hollywood conference. Our next one is March 5-6 and we wanted to see if you would be on a panel about modern book publishing and reaching your audience. As you can see we are currently booking the panel (we have a few TBDs to fill....)

It’s probably worth reiterating that when I’m not moonlighting as a wannabe author, I work in public relations. Part of my job is vetting speaking opportunities for my clients, so of course when I receive a speaking opportunity myself the first thing I think to do is vet the event. I conveniently forgot that a) I’m not the CEO of a company and b) I’m not a renowned expert on anything. I don’t need to be vetting opportunities.

But while I was still pretending to be this vastly important person who gets asked to be a guest on panels all the time (I also conveniently forgot that the last time I was asked to be a panelist was, oh, never), I did some research on the Digital Hollywood conference…

Holy shit (shite? should I just make that my permanent staple?). This event is LEGIT.

I was looking through some of the previous guests they’ve had attend this thing, and they’ve had some seriously big names. People like the founder of Wikipedia, the EVP of Sales of Photobucket, the president of Scholastic Media…and you can see the March 5-6 conference’s impressive lineup in this link.

So this leaves me scratching my head. How the heck do I fit into this event? I mean, I know me. I hang out with myself everyday and I can tell you that I’m really very normal (well, normal in the sense that I’m not Mark Zuckerberg. Otherwise I’m arguably very weird). It’s not like you hear the name “Sally Slater” and you’re immediately filled with recognition (although let’s be real, my parents gave me a bad ass name). I feel like I just won the lotto, and you know how those stories always end.

But I’m no dummy–this is a great opportunity and there’s no way I’m passing it up. The conference and the panel itself are sure to be filled with folks in the publishing industry and I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of interesting people. Besides, I’m a total ham: I love talking to people. Stage fright shmage fright. This will be fun.

I did ask the event organizer why he chose little ol’ me to be on this panel, because in all seriousness I’m beyond flattered and am super excited, and I’m also a little shocked. He explained to me that my success on Wattpad with Paladin is an interesting and relevant addition to the conversation on modern book publishing. I can kind of see that–I recently attended a panel on book publishing myself, and while the panelists provided a lot of insight on the differences between traditional and self publishing, writers’ communities like Wattpad, Figment, Authonomy, etc., didn’t come up at all.

And sites like Wattpad are increasingly relevant, I think. According to their blog, Wattpad surpassed 10 million uploaded stories in 2012. I think Amazon Kindle–and don’t quote me on this–only has around 2 million e-books. Although as a caveat to those numbers, not all 10 million (and probably not even half) uploads on Wattpad are completed stories. 

But what does success on Wattpad really mean? I’d like to think that the traction I’ve gotten is a result of Paladin being a good story. Certainly, publishing houses are paying more attention to the website–all of you on Wattpad have probably seen the advertisements for Simon & Schuster’s What the Spell?, which originated as a Wattpad story. Most of the books that do get traditionally published have upwards of 10 million reads (meanwhile I’m stuck around 1.2 million). And I hate to say it, but some of the books that have millions upon millions of reads are not good books. I think Wattpad can be about good stories, but it’s also somewhat of a popularity contest. Which is funny, because I’ve never been the popular kid before. I was always the popular kids’ nerdy friend, or alternatively, the loser. I doubt I’ve changed my stripes.

I’ll have to give some thought over the coming weeks as to what I’m going to talk about on this panel, especially as it relates to publishing. Would you consider having a completed book on Wattpad “being published”? Up until now, I haven’t, but now I’m not so sure.

*I really love portraying swear words as numbers and symbols. I have no objection to using actual swears, but I’m obsessed with !@#$. Well, that and the word “shite”.

Bienvenue, Wilkomen!

*Scratches the microphone* Is anybody out there?

So I decided to join the 21st century and start a blog. Let’s face it — if I’m going to claim that I’m a writer, I have to have a blog, right? It’s practically a requirement. Writers, you know, write. All the time. To keep their metaphorical pencils sharp, or something.

I’m actually finding it quite freeing to write in a blog format. I don’t have to spend 30 minutes trying to come up with the perfect word or wondering why the English language doesn’t have a serviceable synonym for “eye”. I think my fifth grade English teacher called this style of writing “stream of consciousness.”

Speaking of English teachers, whenever I look at my completed manuscript for Paladin, I can’t help but think of two college professors who had a very significant impact on my writing “career”, although I doubt they know it.

One professor — who shall remain nameless — taught me creative fiction my junior year of college. Now, mind you, I was a Poly Sci major and just wanted to take the class for fun. I always thought I had a story in me, and here was the perfect chance to find out. Besides, all of my previous teachers had always praised my writing, and I was convinced it would be an easy A.

Wrong. I got the first B I have ever received on a writing assignment — a short story about a good girl named Sam (I really like the name Sam) who goes horribly bad. Now, you might be thinking, You’re whinging about a B? That’s not so bad. In fact, that’s pretty damn good. And had this been a math class, I’d fully agree with you. Heck, I’d be gloating about it. But I’m miserable at math, and writing has always been my thing. How the heck could the professor have given me a B?

So I asked her about it. She said things back to me like, “Uninspired” and “boring”, and finally: “Maybe you should stick to nonfiction.” 

Ouch. That pretty much squelched my dreams of becoming the next J.K. Rowling.

But then I had another professor my senior year, the very talented John Bresland, who taught my Creative Nonfiction class. I wrote an essay for him entitled “Leave it to the Slaters”, which essentially explained why I could never become a writer (you can read it here if you’re curious). In short, I lacked the tortured soul that is requisite of an artist. I should probably also mention that the previous story I submitted for that class was about going to the bathroom. The first line of that piece of brilliance was: “I think it was Aristotle who first said, ‘Girls don’t poop’.”

So after every assignment we completed for that class, we had a one-on-one meeting with the professor to talk about how we can improve our work. And the first thing he asked me was just about the last thing I expected: “What are your plans for the future?”
I just said, “Huh?” It was a sensitive subject; I was a senior in college, after all, and graduation was a couple months away.
“You want to be a writer, right?”
I literally laughed in his face. “Oh no, nothing like that. I’m thinking about going into the health field.”
“Oh”. It was a really surprised oh. Like he couldn’t believe it. And then he said something that I will never forget: “If you don’t have a career that lets you write, you’re going to be miserable for the rest of your life.”

That was a pretty big statement to make, and I took it to heart. My job — public relations — is truly a great career for a writer. I write every day – client emails, pitches, proposals, press releases, and if I’m lucky, I get to ghostwrite an article or speech. But never in a million years did I think I’d write — and complete — a novel. And I honestly don’t think I would have had the courage to try if Professor Bresland  hadn’t said what he said to me.

Whatever may come of Paladin, whether it gets published or just stays on Wattpad, I owe John Bresland thanks. So, thanks, Professor.