Loree Lough

At last count, best-selling author Loree Lough had 70 books, 59 short stories, and over 2,500 articles in print. Dubbed “edgy, heart-tugging adventures” by reviewers, her stories have earned dozens of “Readers’ Choice” and industry awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, government agencies, book clubs, college and high school writing programs and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to ‘learned-the-hard-way’ lessons about the craft, and 600 (and counting!) of her former students are now published authors. Loree splits her time between an Allegheny Mountains cabin and a home in the Baltimore suburbs, and shares both with her husband and a formerly-abused, now-spoiled Pointer whose numerous vet visits inspired the nickname ‘Cash’. She loves to hear from her readers, so feel free to write her at loree [at] loreelough [dot]com. “And please,” she adds, “visit my blog (www.theloughdown.blogspot.com) and my soon-to-be-improved web site (http://www.loreelough.com) where, if you’re patient, you’ll hear some hauntingly beautiful music.”

To Teach or Not

I just got back from one of my favorite places on earth, the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania. I’ve featured the furry, four-legged residents in about a dozen of my novels, and in my last book, Shawnee is the star. She’s a lone wolf and has to fight for every scrap of food, every treat, every nanosecond of human and visitors’ attention. (Personally? I think the other wolves—especially the girl wolves—are just jealous ’cuz she’s a natural blonde.)

What’s that got to do with today’s topic? I thought you’d never ask!

To learn all the fascinating and amazing facts now stored in my thick-skulled head, I’ve had to do some serious research on wolves, which included hanging around with people who, thanks to decades of one-on-one work with the magnificent creatures, understand what makes ’em tick . . . individually and as a pack. So in addition to their limitless patience and deep love for all things wild, these amazing men and women have been excellent teachers.

Teaching folks about writing isn’t all that different from teaching wolf enthusiasts about Canis lupus.. We’re all a little wild and crazy the first few times we park our butts in front of a computer screen, paws hovering above the keyboard to craft our debut novel. (Oh, who am I kidding? We’re always a little wild and crazy . . . we’re writers!)

While we’re in the process of “learning the ropes,” we don’t know who in the industry we can trust. How much research is necessary? What’s the right balance of dialogue and narrative? Should we join a critique group? Good idea to attend conferences? Smart to enter contests? The list of questions goes on and on!

Then we get a lucky break. An agent or editor takes a chance on us. We sell something! And, oh, what a wake-up call, seeing the offer on our first contract. It’s never as much as we’d hoped. It’s definitely not as much as friends and relatives presume, but we’re thrilled with our paltry advance check all the same.

Sadly, the thrill wears off as we plod from idea to development to submission and the long editing process that precedes publication, all the while trying to make that advance check stretch until our first royalty payment arrives.

We have to learn about marketing and promotions because these days, unless your name is John Grisham or Nora Roberts, publishers never invest in cross-country book tours. So we do book signings, bookmarks, postcards, newsletters, Web sites, blogs, and a dizzyingly lengthy list of “stuff” to help sell our books.

So how do we make ends meet while all that’s going on?

I have writer pals who don disguises so friends and family members won’t recognize them: waitress aprons, McDonald’s caps, plumbers’ tool belts, and cleaning lady sweatsuits. Not to worry . . . if anybody catches ’em at work, they’re prepared to smile and whisper, “I’m researching my next novel . . .”

Me? I write articles about writing, give speeches on writing, but mostly, I teach “Where Do Writers Get Ideas” to “How to Submit a Professional Proposal” and everything in between. I’ve been to Canada and Europe and a whole lot of cities in the good old U. S. of A., sharing learned-the-hard-way lessons about the craft and the industry with audiences of a host of writers’ organizations. I’ve taught online, in college and university classrooms, at corporations that encourage their employees to write. Why, I even taught classes for the National Security Administration’s Pen and Cursor Society!

One-hour gigs. Three-hour sessions. Weekend workshops to help writers of all genres and ability levels discover what’s keeping them from getting that first contract, or making the leap from one genre to another.

Teaching has paid more than a few bills at my house over the years. It also helped garner some free publicity (as schools and organizations “hawked” the upcoming events in an attempt to increase attendance). I enjoy every “light bulb moment” I see in the eyes of my students. I love editing their manuscripts, sharing the joys of their victories . . . and assuring them that the agony accompanying rejection is only temporary.

But teaching, sadly, hasn’t kept up with inflation. These days, believe it or not, it’s actually costing me money. And because I’m whittling time from my writing schedule to update and photocopy handouts, to show up on time for every session, to edit and critique student submissions . . . well, I think you can see where I’m going with this.

So when the local college approached me to learn if I planned to re-affiliate next year, I had to ask myself a tough question: Can I afford to say yes?

The answer was even tougher than the question. Because if I hope to stay on the right track in this oh-so-competitive industry, I literally can’t afford to say yes!

Will I miss sharing lessons with hopeful, talented writers? You bet I will! Will I miss seeing their eyes light up every time an “I get it now!” moment happens? Absolutely! Will I miss helping them understand that with perseverance, persistence, and patience, they’ll achieve their goals? Sure I will!

But I’ll have to do all of that from a distance now, in a word-of-mouth way. And isn’t it a dirty rotten shame that this part of my writing life, the “pay it forward” part I’ve so enjoyed, must end?

I refuse to see the situation as a slamming door. Instead, it’s a different door opening to a new phase of my writing life. Just as my students hope for that magical moment when an editor or agent calls to say, “We’d like to offer you a contract!” I pray that along the way, I can continue mentoring and making friends with writers who share my publication dream.

Love Finds You In Paradise