29 June 2015

Ok. I'm giving this self-publishing thing a shot.

Preview of the book cover!
(c) Kristina Elyse Butke
I've heard about self-publishing for forever. I knew about it long before graduate school was a spark in my brain, and I continue to hear about it all the time. I'm all for it, but there are a couple things that have prevented me from diving in a self-pubbing everything, and it involves a simple, personal wish of mine: I want my books on shelves in stores.

The draw of self-publishing is strong. I don't like the idea of not being able to control how my finished book will look (they say don't judge a book by its cover, but, you know...) and I like having my hand in all of the creative processes, because I really am that much of a control freak in this regard. The potential for profits (if you count royalty percentages) is higher if you go indie vs. traditional. You can find niche audiences and explore multiple genres, unbeholden to what your publisher or agent prefers you to write. The production process is faster; and so on and so forth.

Yet there are some things I know for sure: in 2010, over three million books were published in the US alone (2.7 million of them non-traditional, which includes indie publishers). While the news is full of self-published authors raking in the dough, the reality is that over half of all self-publishers didn't break $500 in book sales in 2012. While the same article mentions $10,000 as the average for indie authors for that year, the only reason why this amount is so high is because millionaires like Amanda Hocking and EL James (both who are now traditionally pubbed) skewed the numbers.

The pay structure for indie authors changes all the time, anyway; and now that Amazon's considering paying authors per the amount of pages the consumer reads, expect more instability when it comes to finances. And for those of you who want to see your books on shelves in stores, bestselling author Tess Gerritsen shows the reality that booksellers can't take the financial risk, so they aren't going to stock your books .

Last but not least, there's a reason why the phrase "self-publishing shit volcano" exists.


When it comes to publishing, I know that for works of mine like The Name and the Key, I don't want to go any route but traditional. The prestige-factor, or sense of exclusivity (warranted or not), has its appeal. Traditional publishers can still put books where indie publishers can't; they have a dedicated team that knows the business better than anyone--as Amanda Hocking says, "I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling emails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc." And while the impetus for marketing still falls to a certain degree on the author, a traditional publishing house once again has a greater reach. If I cast my little book into a pool of three million other books, I think a traditional publisher, rather than myself, would do a better job of keeping it afloat.

I feel safe with my older writing. I feel like they've reached their lifespans in terms of personal fulfillment. If these older works fail, it won't hurt me, because I've already taken them to the places I intended them to go, so there's nothing to lose. That's why I'm self-pubbing one of my plays, In the Hands of Mr. Hyde, which has a long and storied history, including performances in 2001 and 2007.

I'm self-pubbing Hyde because I want more people to read it. I'm self-pubbing it because I think it's a relatively risk-free way for me to experiment with the entire process that is indie publishing, from design to distribution, publicity, and beyond. I'm self-pubbing it because I'm too lazy to query it to drama publishers (I would much rather do that with my books). I'm self-pubbing because I'm ok with not seeing the book in a store (and if you run a theater, you order scripts through catalogs, anyway). I'm self-pubbing it to provide theaters with an inexpensive show to perform (more about this in a future post). And I'm self-pubbing because I want to add a formal credit to my bibliography, and to get my name out into the world a little more.

I'm in the process of reformatting and editing the script from its 2007 state; the goal is to have the book available for purchase in August. I'll keep you updated on its progress, and my experience, every step of the way. 

I plan on self-pubbing other, older works as well, but right now, Hyde is coming up, and coming up soon!

25 June 2015

I lost my original design files & have to tweak the site now. ヽ(o`皿′o)ノ

FINAL update (The next morning after original post): I wasn't very happy with the script choices Blogger had to offer so I hopped into Photoshop to make a quick transparent png of my name. I was also sick of my "Author, Playwright, Composer" description I'd given myself, and wanted something new, so I came up with this title: "Purveyor of the Literary Fantastic." This is happily ambiguous because it allows me to let you know I'm a writer, but doesn't limit me to form (plays, fiction, etc.) and suggests I write fantasy, yes, but in general, things of a fantastical nature. (Horror can be fantastical, too.) I hope I will sit on my hands and calm down enough with my design to let this exist as-is for a good, long while. I made extra-certain to backup my files this time, physically and in the cloud. Woo!

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

And now I must give credit where credit is due:

My header image is comprised of various elements that are all licensed, royalty-free images purchased through the proper channels. Specifically:


Update: (about 1 hr 30 min after original post): This is how I've changed this since losing everything (and I'm not happy with the cursive options Blogger offers...may change this again):


What originally happened:

I was tired of looking at a low-res version of a photo I tweaked to serve as the header background for this website...

Screenshot I took in 2014.

So I tried to find the original high-res version I purchased from Bigstock and add it again. Which made the header of this  blog look like this:

Screenshot at the moment of posting

While I like that the image is higher-quality, the colors are too dark for the logo of my name I made in MAKR (their iPad app. I no longer have an iPad, sigh). Also, it looks like I added some sort of bokeh/glitter texture to the original Bigstock file which also changed the colors. 

I've tried locating the original web files in Picasa Web, and while I found something close to the original (black frames and bokeh and everything!) once I added it, the alignment of everything went out of whack. Which means, I don't actually have any of the originals I made from over a year ago. 

This is a big bummer, because I am unable to revert to the original image after loading a new one. The color of the fonts, the layout, and color schemes are all crazy now.. 

I don't have the original sized MAKR logo file, either, and when I tried to edit it in Photoshop with a new color, the resolution was pretty bad. 

So, due to my own craziness of not having the original files (if you remember, my PC died in the fall and while I spent hours burning cds and loading up flash drives, I lost many things), I may have to very spontaneously revamp my site and related sites' artwork. 

Basically, my logo/script isn't getting along with my background, and I've already been working on this since about 5pm trying to fix things. 

...I suppose this means stay tuned for something completely new. 

21 June 2015

Plotting Your Character-Driven Novel? Get Wiki with it!

Image (c) JDawnInk, licensed from iStock.
Anyone who knows me personally is aware of the fact that I have trouble planning things out, especially when it comes to writing. I'm a serial pantser who tends to let the story go where it may. While this is a fun, exploratory way to write, it's not fun when you find yourself in a bind and unable to move ahead. I decided I wanted to get better at plotting, and come up with a plan for a clearer, more cohesive structure that still allows some wiggle room for discovery.

My inspiration, and current plotting plan, all came about through my reliance on wikis. If you're unfamiliar with what a wiki is, it's not too different from what Wikipedia is--a compendium of information collaboratively presented to the public. While Wikipedia breaks down almost every topic you can think of, a wiki is more like a "themed encyclopedia." Most wikis are a part of the website Wikia, a free hosting site founded by the creators of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. There is a wiki for practically anything. The wikis created by fan communities are particularly loaded with information, and they offer a place for fans to discuss and disseminate their fandoms and favorite franchises. 

My plotting eureka (and this is still a fresh epiphany) came about through reading wikis on some of my favorite anime series. A lot of anime are adaptations of popular manga (comics) or light novels, so while the medium may change, for the most part, story structure tends to carry over from the page to the screen. The repeated trend with anime and manga plot structure (although this is not exclusive to them) is the use of story arcsand it was only through consulting the wiki of each specific series did I catch on to this concept.

Since I'm a character-driven writer, I think that interest carries over into what I like to read and watch. When I have questions about a series I'm into, it usually revolves around a specific character. So I pull up the wiki, search for the character article, and then a clear pattern emerges within the post: the character's vitals (statistics) are presented, followed by a general background that consists of a couple paragraphs (usually appearance, history, and personality descriptions). Then, the character's detailed contributions to the plot is presented, organized by story arc.

According to Jenna Blum from Author at Work (source): 
"The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to [a]ffect change. [...] In a story arc, a character undergoes substantial growth or change, and it ends with the denouement: The end of a narrative arc [...] shows what happens as a result of all the conflict that the characters have gone through."
Within anime and manga, each story arc has a specific title that indicates the main narrative plot, and then the character's actions and contributions to that story arc are listed in detail.  If you like to write character-driven stories and have trouble with plotting, following the organization in an anime or manga wiki is like using a blueprint.

An example of a character wiki in action: story arcs for Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul (click to enlarge):

Screenshot from Tokyo Ghoul Wikia's
entry for Ken Kaneki (SPOILERS).

The character listing for Ken follows a traditional pattern: 
  • a brief intro that identifies his main role in the story and briefly breaks down how his character functions or evolves in the plot, wrapping with the character's current whereabouts (either the story so far, or where the character is at the story's conclusion)
  • "Vitals" which are displayed across from the introduction, mentioning things like height, weight, birthdate, family tree, etc.
  • A lengthy discussion regarding the character's appearance, including any changes or details that are significant to characterization (this goes beyond "vitals")
  • A discussion of the character's personality, which covers the character's behavior and emotions during the course of the story, and a brief elaboration on the character's history
  • The largest section is devoted to plot, which is actually the detailed blueprint of the character's actions, organized by story arc. 
Story arcs are named for specific actions, the introduction of new characters and their roles in the story, or for the specific plot tasks that need to be accomplished. Most importantly, each story arc adds a new layer of conflict to the story.  

In the above screenshot from the Tokyo Ghoul wikia, the two arcs listed are "The Doves' Emergence" and "Gourmet Arc." 

Need help blueprinting?
Check out wikia.
"The Doves' Emergence" is titled not only for a specific action (the appearance of the CCG in the ward), but also encompasses the introduction of several characters who all function as "Doves" (such as Amon and Mado) and introduces one of the main conflicts in the story: Humans vs. Ghouls.

 In the "Gourmet Arc," the title refers to the introduction of a major character (Tsukiyama Shuu); the arc also introduces a brand-new setting (the Restaurant/arena), and introduces a new level of conflict to the Humans vs. Ghouls motif--Gourmets are enemies of both humans and ghouls.

While each arc compounds the overall conflict in the narrative (while introducing new characters or settings), it's important to note that each conflict also involves the character being profiled. The plot arcs wouldn't be included if the character did not contribute to them in any way (something to think about as you plot your own stories!).

These plot arcs are included because the character profiled (in this instance, Ken Kaneki) plays an important role in them. The conflicts aren't just Humans (Doves) vs. Ghouls vs. Gourmets --it's very much Kaneki vs. Humans, Kaneki vs. Ghouls, and Kaneki vs. Gourmets. Even while Kaneki is allied with members of each faction, he's still fighting them off at the same time. This makes for very interesting stuff, to say the least, and perhaps most importantly, show that the events of each story arc contribute to his evolution (or devolution) as a character. 

Basically, the wiki clarifies the connections between plot and character. If you're struggling with this, it's not a bad idea to use the wiki organization to help organize your own story. Wikis, as they chronicle story arcs, clearly show how elements of the plot are used to define the character. In other words, it illustrates the very purpose of the story arc--to bring about change.

As I worked on The Step and the Walk, which has started and stopped over the past year or so, I decided to try plotting using the "story arc" method, following the organization within the character wiki articles. I'm not writing an entire wiki article by any means, but I am following the process of writing the entries for each individual story arc.

Screenshot of my notes for the "Meriveche" story arc,
which introduces an antagonist for Andresh.
Text (c) Kristina Elyse Butke. All rights reserved.
Since trying this plotting method, I've clarified a lot of what's been aimlessly rolling around in my head for a while now. My notes, which used to consist of a paltry three to five bullet points of vague plot goals for the entire novel, are now about 2-3 pages long for each story arc. While I don't know everything that's happening in the book (hence that room for pantsing), I am aware of where and roughly when it's supposed to happen; thus, my story arcs are named for settings in the novel.

I've completed the "Meriveche arc" and "Blau Blumenwald arc" descriptions for my book, which revolve around the protagonist Andresh's character. Each "arc entry" details what he does, what happens to him, what new characters or concepts are introduced, and most importantly, how this plot points change Andresh's character. 

I sort of stumbled into this method, but now that I've found it, I'm going to stick to it. It's pretty exciting, and gives me a great deal of peace of mind when I sit down to write, because I have a clearer idea of where I want things to go, and more importantly, why these things must happen.

If you're stuck, maybe consider giving this method a shot--and let me know in the comments if this (or something else) works out for you.

13 June 2015

Two Years Later...is an MFA worth it?

 Ah, the creative writing MFA: hard work, and occasional
 solitary madness. Drinking and smoking may result.

The Internet is full of various articles on whether or not you should get that creative writing MFA degree...or a graduate degree, in general. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Now that it's been two years since I walked onstage to collect my diploma from Seton Hill, I'm going to share with you my personal experiences. If you're considering getting an MFA, and especially if you want to teach at a college, I hope you'll find this helpful in some way. 


In early 2009, I applied to New York University's MFA in Musical Theater Writing with the hopes of starting the program that fall. NYU invited me to their Applicants Weekend and I was waitlisted, but withdrew because the Weekend showed me I clearly didn't have what it takes to write musicals for a living; I also learned that my heart wasn't 100% invested in the program, which was a surprise, but the truth. And...I realized that I actually hated Broadway-style musicals. Oops.

After walking away from my musical theater fantasy, I returned to my mundane life with my mundane retail and customer service jobs. I started having a quarter-life crisis, exacerbated by some significant health issues that had me in and out of hospitals and on disability and FMLA leave. I was pretty miserable with my life during this time and felt like I was moving further and further away from what I was meant to do: writing and teaching.

A few months later I tried to apply to grad school again, this time focusing on writing fiction--my first love--and after being accepted to almost all of my choices, I selected Goddard College. After paying my deposit and trying to plan for the Vermont residency, I found out my employer was not cool with the amount of work I'd have to miss for residencies. I didn't want to lose my job or upset anyone at work (which was silly, because I ended up having to quit anyway), so I withdrew my acceptance and got my deposit refunded, and settled on Seton Hill University instead. SHU was only four hours from where I lived in Columbus, which cut down on travelling time; their residencies were also shorter. Plus, SHU was all about learning to write excellent commercial genre fiction, which is what I wanted to write. I love literature, but I do not consider myself a literary writer by any means. I've always loved fantasy and horror, and I felt SHU could teach me quite a bit about that. And as you all know, I graduated SHU in June 2013 and wrote my very first novel, The Name and the Key.

After that preamble, this is what I can conclude about my MFA experience. And honestly, I loved it, but made a lot of stupid mistakes about my MFA, too. Please try not to make stupid mistakes if you can help it (but please forgive yourself if you do).

I became a better, smarter writer.

My mentors, critique partners, and workshops all played an integral part in this. I look at my old writing--even my shows--and kind of scratch my head. I thought I was good then, but, nope, not really. Not by a long shot. Now that I know what I'm capable of, I know I want to write fiction for the rest of my life. Even if I make mistakes, I know I won't make the same ones as before. I also know that what I'm writing is good, and it's something that can be verified by professionals--it's not ego this time around. And I can honestly say I don't think I could even stand a chance at publication if I continued to write the way I did before grad school.

Graduate school, despite its stressors, improved my well-being overall.

You can't deny how ridiculously ecstatic I look!
During graduation, before receiving my diploma,
June 2013. (c) KEB.
What can I say? I was miserable before I started graduate school. While enrolled in school, I had some stressful moments (and a bout of depression when my dad unexpectedly died during first semester). But I felt for the first time in years I had something to look forward to. It was a feeling like "coming home." For every step in my life that took me away from my dreams, grad school brought me back to them. It was one of the happiest times of my life; a genuinely wonderful and life-changing experience. It is this happiness that makes me not regret my decision to get my MFA.

I've met amazing people in the industry and formed a wonderful support system.

Fangirl moment here--I never imagined I'd meet literary agents, New York Times bestsellers, Bram Stoker Award-winners, etc. These are creme-de-la-creme writers, who also happened to be my fellow students, mentors, and teachers. I never in my life imagined I'd meet, let alone work with, such fabulous, highly-qualified people. Ever.

I should've worked harder to graduate on time. 

When Dad died September 2010, I sank into such a depression that I failed one of my courses because I fell behind on the work, then ultimately withdrew from the course after the 'W' period. If I would've just kept it together, I would've completed the course no problem--with my teacher's permission, I made up every assignment I missed, but withdrew before the final project was due. So, I failed with just one assignment short of passing. D'oh!

I also received a lot of miscommunication from the school on how financial aid worked when it came to how my student loans were applied and how the time-tables and credit hours worked. Also, I was given a lot of mixed information when it came to my own class requirements and deadlines for the larger projects required to graduate. I had multiple emails with very different details from varying, but credible, sources, so I made choices that I thought were necessary in order to keep myself from losing financial aid to attend the school. One of these choices was not attending a residency, when after the fact it turns out I should've (it would have worked out!); another was taking more electives than necessary; and lastly, enrolling in a course after I graduated in order to qualify for the federal loan I was awarded for Fall semester. So even though I had a diploma June 2013, I didn't actually wrap school until December 2013 (because June is considered "fall semester").

If I had more information, or the correct information, in addition to not withdrawing from my class,  I would've graduated a year earlier, period. This would've saved me TONS OF MONEY.

But...I wonder if I would've cracked under the pressure. Taking my time definitely helped keep me sane.

Between undergraduate and graduate school, I am over $90,000 in debt.

Goodbye, money! I'll never see you again!
Image licensed by Stock Unlimited.
I chose to attend private schools for both my undergraduate and graduate college experiences. I don't really know why. I don't remember anymore. I just picked the school I liked the most, and that was that. I wonder if I was brainwashed into thinking "private schools are more prestigious than public schools," which is a really stupid way to decide on which school to attend.

For undergrad, I secured a good deal of scholarships and awards that individually, weren't much, but compounded, meant a lot of money. However, despite the awards, my school was still expensive, and I had to take out subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans each year. I also borrowed the full amount (more than I needed for tuition) because despite also being employed while I was in school, I wasn't making enough money anyway.

Borrowing more than what I needed was a pretty big mistake. And I stupidly repeated it in graduate school.

SHU offered very little in terms of financial aid (but to its credit, none of the colleges to which I applied did, either). While I did snag some free money from the school, I had to take out student loans again to even afford classes. Because I didn't have enough money for residencies, I borrowed more than the cost of tuition to afford the travel and lodging expenses. While I was employed full-time for my first semester, the stress from work, and the grief from dealing with the loss of my father, played a role in me quitting my job. When my health improved dramatically from not working while in school, I did have to move back home with my mother, and borrow more money from the government to pay for the period I was unemployed.

I did find another job towards the end of school, so I was employed during my last semester. But once I left my full-time job in 2010, well...it turns out, that might've been the last time I'd be able to get a full-time position. Because, since then, every place I've worked and applied to only offers part-time hours. I honestly wonder if I will ever be able to work full-time ever again. I sure hope so.

Getting an MFA just so you can teach in college is not worth it financially. Yes, I teach at college. I love it to death. It is a satisfying and emotionally-fulfilling job. But...it doesn't pay.

My top choices, Goddard and SHU, were my top choices precisely because they both had a mandatory teaching component. I was not content to just learn how to write, but I genuinely wanted to teach writing at colleges, workshops, conventions, and conferences. But, mostly colleges.

This is something I want to smack myself in the head over, because while I did some research on this while I was enrolled in school, I didn't know how adjuncting worked, and I based a lot of my decisions on misinformation again.

When I was an undergrad, I saw the word "adjunct" in front of some of my professor's names, but never fully understood what it meant. I was told it meant "travelling professor," in that they rotate between colleges (didn't realize it was a euphemism!) and it wasn't until I was in graduate school that I was told an "adjunct" basically meant a part-time professor.

I didn't know about contracts, or contact hours, or any of that stuff yet, so I didn't see part-time teaching as an issue. I still thought it was a decent way to make a living, and here's why:

I thought of my professors at Capital and knew some of them made some major bank, and even if they were lower on the totem pole, they still were able to have houses or apartments of their own, own their own vehicles, have the opportunity to socialize, to travel, etc.

It never helped that this kind of information was floating around (click to enlarge):

The annual salaries of English professors in 2012-2013 school year. 
Screenshot from Higher-Ed Jobs website. Data is from the"Faculty in Higher Education Salary
Survey by Discipline, Rank and Tenure Status in Four-Year Colleges and Universities," conducted by CUPA-HR.

In my mind, if full-time English professors made $54,000 to $61,000 a year, then part-time professors made half as much ($27,000-$30,500), which was comparable to, but slightly less than, what I made at one of my full-time retail customer service jobs. With only myself to live for (no dependents), I lived incredibly well off of this type of annual salary. I was able to pay off all of my credit card debt, live on my own in a downtown apartment, and take small vacations to NYC to visit family. I was even able to make some payments on my undergraduate student loans, though not as much as I liked to (hospital bills are a bitch).

As you can see, my math and logic were very naive. But when I was looking for teaching work while in graduate school, I was comforted by actual numbers from job postings for adjuncts that I saw online. Like this, for example (what I'll call College A):

Screenshot from a real community college job posting in Ohio.
For professional reasons, I am not naming the college or source of this information.

Another example (aka College B):
Screenshot from a real community college job posting in  Ohio.
Again, for professional reasons, I am not naming the college or source of this information.

With these specific numbers, I did the math, believing that the hourly wages quoted were the actual rate of pay for every literal hour worked. So of course, when I was thinking about budgeting and what I could potentially make at either college, I came up with these numbers (click to enlarge):

(c) KEB.

I knew that it would be very difficult to get a teaching job right after graduation, so I expected to hop right back into retail or customer service again; in the meantime, I thought that if I did get to become an adjunct and teach part-time, it would be plenty enough for me to live off of.


Since becoming an adjunct professor (although I'm called a "lecturer," despite my terminal degree), I realize that these hourly wages quoted from the job postings are not literal wages for every hour that you work at your job; these are rates for the number of hours you spend in contact with your students in the classroom. So, if a class is 1.5/hrs a session, and you meet twice a week, that's 3 contact hours. This, and nothing else, is what you are paid for. 

Additional meetings with students, lesson preparation, grading, meetings with faculty and administration, writing recommendations--all of which I do or have done--is unpaid, but at the same time, is still counted as the part-time workload, which should never be more than 29 hours total, regardless of the amount of classes you teach. If you go above 29 hours, you've become a full-time employee, which entitles you to health care benefits, which colleges seem to be unable to afford. If you work more than 29 hours, regardless of how many classes you teach, you're violating your part-time contract--so you can definitely be fired over something like this. It is like this at nearly every college in the United States.

If you've ever seen headlines that mention professors on food stamps or how adjuncts are sucked into poverty due to their low wages, it's because of the contact vs. actual hours situation, and a slew of other issues on top of that (budgets cuts, low enrollment, contracts only lasting the duration of a semester, etc.).

Let's play with the wages posted by the two community colleges above in their job listings section of their websites, so you can see how the contact-hour payments really work (click to enlarge):

(c) KEB

The numbers in these charts are still not accurate, though, because they assume that whatever you teach each semester will be exactly the same for all twelve months of the year. Since contracts are only awarded on a per-term, as-needed basis, it becomes really difficult to budget when you're not entirely sure what your wages will be every five months or so. And good luck if you want to teach during the summer; these jobs are snatched up quickly. So 12 months of wages end up being more like 10 months of wages instead, with two full months completely unpaid (usually June and July for most colleges, if you can't teach summer classes).

With lower enrollment, budgeting constraints, and restructuring, you have absolutely no guarantee of the number of classes you'll be teaching. If you expect to teach four classes, but three are cut a week before the term starts because not enough students enrolled, it's tragic, and there's nothing you can do but scramble to find additional work, or have saved enough to accommodate sudden, substantial drops in income. In fact, many adjuncts work multiple jobs or teach at multiple schools just to make end's meet. And what that does is hurt students, because you can't give them the time they need when you're hopping between locations trying to stay out of poverty.

When newspapers and blogs say that adjuncts work for less than minimum wage, it's because of this math: say for example, you have a week where you need to do additional conferences with students, plus some departmental meetings, and you have to grade 15 five-page essays. Say this takes you the 29 hours maximum you've been allotted. However, you only teach one course for this school term, so even though you're working 29 hours, your paycheck reflects only 3 hours of work. Take your weekly contact hour pay and divide by actual hours worked, and the numbers get depressing. If you work for College A, that means during the week you were worth $4.96/hr; for College B, your work was worth $3.20/hr. Minimum wage in the state of Ohio is currently $8.10/hr, if you want some perspective. 

The 2015 poverty guidelines for Ohio are $11,770/yr for a 1-person household and $24,250/yr for a family of four.  If you work at College A, and you're single, you'd have to teach two classes just to break the poverty line; if you have a family of four, you'd have to teach at least four classes. If you work at College B, and want to break the poverty line, you'd need to teach three classes if you're single; if you have a family of four, then six classes. Again, these numbers only work if you teach the same amount of classes for twelve months consecutively. In all likelihood, in order to break the poverty line, you'd have to teach more than what I've listed. However, it's incredibly difficult to find a single institution that will let you teach that many courses, so most adjuncts teach on multiple campuses (hence the "travelling professor" explanation I got as an undergrad).

Whether you teach one class or six classes, no matter what, you cannot work more than 29 hours a week for a single employer. While teaching more classes earns you more money, it comes with an additional set of problems. For example, if you're teaching six classes, or 18 contact hours, that leaves you only eleven hours for the week for things like preparation, grading, meetings, etc. That means you can't even give two hours of your time to each class, because if you do, that's over the 29, and you can get fired. Knowing that teachers can't really do all the work required for a class in less than two hours, colleges prevent adjuncts from teaching a certain number of classes, or the adjuncts simply work more than 29 hours to accomplish the necessary tasks, but lie about it.

I don't feel comfortable disclosing my actual pay or workload (in fact, I don't know if I'm allowed to) but the numbers don't reflect the data for College A or College B. I can say that for the 2014 tax season, I barely broke $12,000 for my adjusted gross income, and that was with working for more than one employer in very different jobs. I've been applying for more work like crazy (49 jobs in one month at the time of this post!) and have discovered that now I've got my MFA and have some teaching credentials, it's become much harder to get hired back into retail and customer service. Go figure.

In the meantime, I can hardly pay my bills; moving out of my mother's house is fiscally impossible; and because my income is so low, my official IBR payment to direct loans servicing is currently at $0.  While having a $0 payment sounds amazing, it's not. I was told after 25 years of consecutive, on-time payments on my income-based repayment plan, any balance would be forgiven. Do I think I can pay $90,000 off in 25 years (except it won't be 90,000 because of interest)? If I'm able to put $300-400 down every month just for student loans, it's possible. But, not with the money I'm making. Even with two and three jobs at a time, I'm not making that kind of money. So the idea of having a $90,000 balance wiped clean sounds like a blessing, except...it then becomes taxable income (because the government decided to give you the money you borrowed). If I'm single for the next 25 years, and the federal income tax rate is the same as 2015's (ha!), I'm looking at owing the government at least $18,481.25 from that $90,000 (source) for that year's tax season, and this is calculated based on an amount with zero interest (therefore, it's inaccurate).

This is the reality of college teaching: it's a beautiful profession but unsustainable for living.

Now that you've read everything, what should you do?

Do what you want. Seriously. If you want that MFA, you should completely go for it! 

I don't regret my MFA one bit, but I do regret some of the choices I made while I was in grad school, and some of the choices I made immediately afterward. Of course, this all has to do with money. 

I should've stayed employed for every semester I was in grad school (instead of just the first and last semesters); I should've worked harder to graduate on time; I should've borrowed only what I needed in order to pay for tuition, instead of the maximum amount; and instead of jumping into adjuncting right after graduating--which was an incredibly lucky, magical situation--I should've waited (like, an entire year or two), and talked to real adjuncts about how pay and hours actually worked before making any decisions. Before applying to teach, I should've made a home with another employer, and then only when it was financially sound enough to, apply to teach. And instead of making college teaching a career, I should've instead treated it more like a supplement to a career. If I made smarter decisions, I would've had an easier time post-grad school. But, I've made my bed, and I must lie in it.

To end on a happy note: I never thought I was capable of writing a single book, but here I am, working on four of them at the same time. I never thought I would get anything published, and I have. I never thought anyone outside of my closest family and friends would believe I was a good writer with potential, but now I know otherwise. I never thought I'd be a convention panelist or college professor so soon after graduating.  I never thought I would grow so much as a human being. I never thought I could imagine what I have imagined, and that I could put all of that down on paper. All of this happened from my MFA.

If my story isn't enough, you can also look at what published authors say about the MFA process, and get a pretty blunt assessment of pros and cons here

Whatever you decide to do, good luck, and best wishes to you!

11 June 2015

Reviews & Entitlement: or, how to look like a tool.

Original image licensed by Stock Unlimited,
Firefly font by Sean Coady. This image (c) KEB.
Two things popped up on my FB feed at around the same time today: this marvelous forum war over a simple one-star review; and this post where a reviewer receives a subtle response from an author when she declines his book review request.

Five days ago, Author Dylan Saccoccio totally lost it over a single poor review on Goodreads, despite the fact the book overall nabbed four stars from the public.

His initial argument is summed up as, I'm a self-published author and I've only marketed my books through social media and I've spent "over 100 hours a week" [his words] promoting my book and your 1-star review is hurting my business so you should take it down. Because, logic.

After a spirited game of ping-pong between the reviewer, the author, and other Goodreads members, Saccoccio's argument spiraled into, "Someone that leaves 1 star reviews on someone's work who didn't wrong them, who they've never met, that's IS [sic] THE MEASURE OF A BAD PERSON." Because, logic...and righteousness!!

...And now he's internet-famous for something incredibly stupid.

While Saccoccio's story is blowing up the book blogs, The Mad Reviewer's post from two years ago has also resurfaced. Even though it's from two years ago, it's another case where an author's bad behavior can come back to haunt you.

Carrie Slager, who writes as The Mad Reviewer, declined to review a book by author Robin Wyatt Dunn because he ignored her status ("currently closed") as well as her submissions policy.

Slager included links to this information in her rejection email to Dunn, and his response was a classy, "Here for my answer to your answer: http://www.ign.com/boards/threads/whats-a-cheap-quick-and-painless-way-to-kill-yourself.189242754/." Immortalized on the internet (and in his Google results) foreverrrr.


While many are saying the lesson from all of the craziness is for authors to never directly respond to reviews or rejections of any kindI think perhaps another key point to make is

No one owes an author a review.

Readers do not owe authors positive or negative reviews, regardless of the work involved on the author's part, regardless of the skill (or lack thereof) of the writing itself. Just because a reader possesses a book does not actually require him to read it; just because she reads the book, she's not required to review it. These things are gifts, not entitlements.

Authors should never forget that readers are what makes a work successful or unsuccessful (not "bad" or "good"--that's on the writer). It never works out in the author's favor to slam, belittle, or intimidate those who are so essential to a writer's prosperity.

The North Remembers; The Internet Never Forgets!

05 June 2015

My Convention Status...and life status

Image licensed
by Stock Unlimited.
TONIGHT marks the beginning of Colossalcon! Wahoo!

I've been a panelist regularly since 2012, teaching con attendees all about writing and publishing. I even had two panels approved for this year (one of them completely new, about writing comics)...

...And I'm not going.

I'm very sad about it.

The thing is, I've learned the hard way that adjuncting provides zero job stability and poverty-like wages. Since spring 2015, I've had classes cut at the last minute for a variety of reasons, and the huge drop in funds has had me scrambling like mad for a while now to find additional work. 

I was lucky to secure an additional job not long after my classes were cut this spring, but it's seasonal. I'm officially, completely unemployed at the end of this month.

So, no Colossalcon.

I purchased my VIP ticket the year before, back when I had money; but even with a prepaid ticket to the con, I couldn't afford to stay at the cheapest motel at the town just outside Sandusky. I transferred my ticket to another con-goer (someone who never had the VIP experience before, so that makes me happy!), and let Colossalcon know the first of April that I could no longer attend.

During this convention weekend, I'll be working some of the final shifts of my other part-time job. I'll also continue to look for more work (and I counted--I've applied for 49 different positions so far, in practically every field).

If you were curious as to why I've been mum about Colossalcon, this is why. Job-hunting and my seasonal job have consumed my free time. I've not updated this blog, or have even done much creative writing, because of this.

I hope the situation changes soon.