C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

FAQs: How to write books agents will hate (but readers might love)

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

Yesterday I told you how a well-meaning friend with experience in traditional publishing gave me advice I thought was askew. As we struggle to gain traction in the marketplace, we get a lot of well-meaning advice we can’t take. (You’ve probably read that sort of advice here from me.) My friend’s other foray at saving me from myself was to tell me to court agents. “With World War Z, zombies are big this summer! Find horror agents and get traditionally published!” he said.

It’s not that it’s necessarily bad advice. However, it’s bad advice for me. Here’s a list of the things I do in my books that repel agents like fried bat armpits at the wedding feast:

1. Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus is written in second person, present tense. Unconventional scares agents away. They’re trying to make money after all. I don’t blame them, but I’m in the Art and Brain Tickle business first. I have this crazy notion that being me will lead to making money. Eventually.

2. The assassin/anti-hero in the Hit Man Series is neurotic and afraid of women. (Name another hardboiled gunner who has that problem. Take your time. I’ll wait.)

3. My hit man suffered childhood sexual abuse. He’s also hilarious. Those elements rarely sit side by side comfortably.

4. Hardboiled isn’t selling hard right now. Or is it humor? Or is it action adventure? Easily classifiable is really important to a lot of people who aren’t me.

5. The titles may offend some Christians, especially since it’s crime fiction with a lot of swearing.

6. The titles are confusing until you understand that the assassin, Jesus Diaz, is Cuban and it’s pronounced “HAY-SOOSE”. In fairness, agents and publishers should be repelled by these titles. It wasn’t the best strategy because any title that requires explanation sucks. After two books, I’m committed and in love. I also have a plan around this problem after the next novel in the series is published early next year.

7. In my zombie series, This Plague of Days, the zombies aren’t “true” and “traditional”. It begins with a flu pandemic. You get to see how society gets to dystopian before the action kicks into ever higher gear. The slow burn requires more buy-in from sophisticated readers. Underestimating readers’ intelligence is an easier bet.

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

8. This Plague of Days has an autistic hero who rarely speaks and whose special interest is dictionaries and Latin phrases. Sounds like sales suicide when I put it like that, huh? That sort of gamble can pay off in a book. It’s death in the tough sell of a query letter.

9. The table of contents is a long, dark poem embedded with clues to the bigger story. Reread that and tell me I’m not silly. I know it.

10. Who will serialize a book unless I do it with my imprint? (Amazon Serials didn’t bite but readers are buying in.) Besides hooking up with Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com for his awesome covers, serialization has been my best sales strategy yet. This Plague of Days is a sprawling story tracking action over two continents with a big cast of characters. (At times you may wonder, is Chazz British or American? Split the difference. I’m Canadian.) It was too long to publish as just one book and the serialization model fit best.

When you look at that list, which idea comes across stronger? A or B?

A. All agents are evil, lazy and lack imagination.

B. I am determined to fail.

It pains me to say that all agents are not evil. I’ll save further discussion of agents for my next post.

For more on the why of this post, the writer’s character and how this relates to Joyland by Stephen King

click here for my latest post on ThisPlagueOfDays.com:

Writing Against the Grain: B Movies, A Treatments and the Deceptive Familiar

 

Filed under: agents, book marketing, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, self-publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top of the Pack

See on Scoop.itWriting and reading fiction

I said I would write a bit about my experiences with literary agents. Here is the first one that is worth noting: A few years ago a friend who is in the publishing industry allowed me to use her name…

This post, among others, got into some interesting discussion of trad vs self-pub vitriol across blogs (Nathan Bransford’s blog, Sarah LaPolla scolding us for calling ourselves indie authors and The Passive Voice‘s wry take). I report Laura Novak’s link here as a tale of endurance ending in success. For the record, I don’t think Ms. Novak’s post is vitriol at all. It’s reportage on dealings with a specific agent. I replied in the comments thread on the Passive Voice blog because I felt the crowd was a tad more evenhanded in the discussion there. As for the whole, don’t call yourselves indie thing, please don’t tell me what to call myself. I don’t wear a collar and you’re not holding my leash so I call myself an indie author proudly, even if you scream at me in all caps. As someone pointed out in one of the comment threads, self-publishing connotes less than all that I do to publish and arguments over semantics might get somebody riled up but it’s doubtful anyone will be moved to change.

If you read across the blogs, you’ll also notice a recurring theme: Some folks in traditional publishing seem to resent indies and don’t like it if we complain in a similar fashion. Then you’ll see stories of agents and editors who gushed about how great a manuscript was just before they rejected it. Gee, why is this model not working? Of course, there doesn’t have to be an enemy. We could tend to our own businesses and respect each other’s choices. We could be happy for each other’s success. We could, but sometimes we choose otherwise.

See on www.lauranovakauthor.com

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , ,

Publishing: Ownership

Ever see the follow-up to Get Shorty? It was Be Cool with Uma Thurman and John Travolta. While generally entertaining, there was a sour note and just didn’t feel at all right. It’s a problem with a lot of artistic gestation.

Uma’s character confesses her life’s ambition. She wants to turn on the radio and hear one of her songs. She says, “A song I produced.”  But she’s not talking about a song she wrote or sang or drummed or strummed. She’s talking about the bureaucracy that brings the art out and to the masses.

Producers talk about “their” films, “their” writers, “their” stable of talent. Like they own that talent, or at least rent it. When I hear an editor or agent refer to “their” writers, entitlement and ownership creeps into their tone. “I tell my writers…” “My books….”

But they aren’t your books, films and music, are they? Bureaucrats, like the rest of us, are each the star of their own movie. Money and access has been the root of that uneven power relationship.

Key words: Has been. Now agents and publishers are struggling harder to justify their roles. Why do you need an agent for access to digital publishing when you can DIY? Why should an author only get 25% for ebooks? (Or Harlequin’s egregious offer of 8%!) Meanwhile, some agents are morphing into writing coach services, expanding their offerings to stay in the role of taking care of authors. Some authors want to be taken care of. That’s fine, as long as they know their options.

The writer has been the last to get the cash. The writer has written on spec and often been a “speck” in the way they’re treated. It’s upside down. Writers are content providers. We make up things from nothing.

If you still feel powerless before the system, a small cog in a great machine, a serf among lords, a peon The Man pees on—now you’re just doing it to yourself. Take ownership of your ambitions and destiny.

Don’t blame them.

If you want power, don’t ask permission.

Just go take it.

I did. I’m now president and chief bottle washer, turd polisher and executive in charge of toilet paper replacement and Creative Arts at Ex Parte Press. Boo-ya!

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editors, getting it done, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

The Writer Rejection Scam

Stephen King signature.

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I hear writers take pride in the number of rejections in their file cabinets. The idea is that they compete with writer friends to pile up the rejection slips. The person with the most number of rejections by a certain date…er…”wins.” Riiiight. I don’t know how this myth got started but it’s a popular one.

It’s not that this is a totally useless strategy (and I’ll review the advantages in a moment) but first, let’s burst the rejection scam bubble:

If you are writing fast without second drafts or third or umpteenth drafts in order to pump up your submission rate, you’re losing. More rejection slips? That’s no measure of how close you are to publication. If that were true, the worst writers in the world submitting the most illiterate crap across the planet are all just on the cusp of bestsellerdom.

If you get a lot of rejection slips that don’t actually include personal notes on how the writing didn’t work for the reviewer, you’re losing.

It’s also very hard to get any personal notes on your work, by the way. Many agents and editors don’t believe in detailing the reasons for rejection. There are so many variables to evaluate writing that are idiosyncratic and peculiar to the editor, it doesn’t profit you to hear they rejected you for subjective reasons.

Neither does it profit them to take the time to give you a heads up that you were a near miss. Many editors have so many submissions on their desk that they really don’t want to encourage more people to resubmit. The mailbox will be full tomorrow regardless and your persistence is expected without free coaching and hand holding. (And just because you submitted a manuscript, no editor owes you free manuscript evaluations, feedback or reasons for rejection.)

If you’re clearing an alley of bad guys, use the twelve gauge with the .00 load. With manuscript submission, however, scatter shot is less effective than picking and aiming at your targets.

Submit everywhere without careful thought on how to target your market? Then you’re losing. It’s time you’re losing primarily, though the loss of confidence and self-esteem can’t be glossed over. It takes a lot of ego to put yourself out there, so choose carefully how you put yourself out there. Artists need all the narcissistic hope and unreasonable aspirations of a lottery player.

If you’re submitting everywhere in the slim hope that an agent or editor will take the time to take you under their wing, build you a nest and show you where you went wrong with your flightless novel, you’re losing. When dealing with mass submissions, editors and agents get impatient with bad writing, or even writing that isn’t bad but doesn’t suit them. I’ve seen it personally. Behind closed doors there’s even a lot of laughter at published writers’ work that’s bound for publication. (Oh, yeah, that’s right! I said it! I’ve seen it and endured it!)

If it’s feedback you’re after, alpha readers, beta readers, hired editors, writing and critique groups will get you more feedback than can be fit on a tiny rejection slip. Plus, you’ll be getting much more careful evaluation.

People going through a slush pile aren’t there to help the writer. They are there to evaluate whether your manuscript is a good bet for a business deal that suits their purposes and interests.

Much is made of Stephen King‘s pile of rejection slips. I think too much has been made of the rejection slips impaled on that spike in King’s attic. It’s not that some magic kicks in once you hit a special number of slips. It is, instead, what the rejection slips symbolize: sweat equity and time invested in improving craft. I’m not suggesting you submit fewer manuscripts per se. I’m saying, offer your work wisely.

A higher number of rejection slips is not an achievement to be celebrated any more than failing to complete every race you enter makes you a better runner. It might make you a noble aspirant. Or maybe you’re too bull-headed to train properly and learn. Either possibility has validity.

It was all the writing and reading King did while the slips piled up that mattered

It was the feedback he got from a newspaper editor that mattered

That editor sat down with King and went over a story about a high school basketball game. He showed King how to tighten his writing. A little mark up, some rearranging and red pen work et voilà!: The magic of editing improved the writer’s craft. (If you haven’t read Stephen King’s On Writing yet…well, just go do that and thank me later.) 

What are the advantages of piling up rejection slips? If you need to compete with a friend to get you to write, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Everybody needs some gentle  motivation (or a kick in the bum) sometimes. (Okay, maybe you don’t ever need a writing crutch, but that makes you an inhuman freak, Trollope!)

If you get personal feedback and encouragement from editors and agents, that’s a good sign you’re on the right track. If you just get a note or two though, that doesn’t constitute a trend you should necessarily heed. Editors and agents have their own agendas that may reflect very little on your writing and you’ll never know what’s in their minds.

Don’t rush to produce writing at the expense of quality. As Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, “That’s not writing. That’s typing!”  (Granted, Capote could be a bitch and lots of people like On the Road.)

Still, getting a big pile of rejection slips is not the end game. Writing extensively (and well), reading broadly (and well) and getting righteous feedback will get you where you want to go.

Yes, I know: Rejection is part of the process. But neither should rejection be fetishized and assumed useful. Some lucky few writers are a hit right out of the gate. Are they still bad writers because they haven’t “paid their dues” and “jumped through hoops”?

That thick skin some say you’re supposed to develop through rejection would be used more effectively if you  got a manuscript evaluation or joined a critique group. (And thick skin is another thing that’s overrated and fetishized. Thick skin helps you take writing advice, yes. But when the reviews come in and someone writes something nasty in a comment about your book —your baby!—on Amazon, veteran author or newbie, you’ll be just as pissed.

Now, how do you target your submissions to likely editors and agents? 

Well, that’s a post for another day. Another day that will come soon.

Stay tuned. 

Filed under: Books, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Top 10 of the 2010 Top 10 Chazz Writes posts

Top10

Early last year I considered going back to school to become a librarian. (I dumped that idea before I saw this graphic, but it does make me feel better about my choice.)

After some career counselling, I decided to refocus my efforts on my writing and editing. I needed (and need!) to bring art to the front burner. I began this blog as part of reorganizing my life to that end. Since last May I’ve posted 402 times and gained lots of readers, friends and even some clients (hurrah!) Things progress.

 For lucky #403, this is a look back through the Top 10 lists of 2010:

1. Authors! Part II: Top Ten Lessons from the Networking Master

2. Top 10 Ways Writers Waste Time

3. Writers & Editors: Top 10 Editorial Considerations

4. (Top 10 Things +1) Writers Love

5. Top 10 Reasons We Write Sci-fi

6. Top 10 (plus one) Publishing Conference Lessons

7. Top 10 Things Writers Fear

8. Top 10 Reasons We Write Horror

9. Top 10 Reasons We Write Romance

10. Writers Top Ten: Why blogging about publishing is important

Filed under: authors, Books, ebooks, Editing, Editors, getting it done, Horror, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Top Ten, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers : How “hands-on” do you want your agent to be?

A diagram of cognitive dissonance theory

Image via Wikipedia

I ran across an interview with an agent here. She sounds very nice. But the first couple of questions got me to wondering…

The agent mentions that she’s been lucky to never have to work on a book she didn’t “love.”

Okay. That’s great. Or is this a red flag? It’s a common sentiment among agents across the board. They want to be “delighted.” They have to love it to sell it. Hm. As a former sales rep of hundreds (thousands?) of books, I can tell you I sold many books I hadn’t even read. I’m not recommending that. I am saying that’s real. I fail to understand why agents have to love books to sell them. Shouldn’t the question be, would others want to read this? Do I know an editor who would like this?

You’ve bought a lot of books. You’ve read quite a few of that number, even to the end. How many books have you read that you really and truly “love”?

Then the agent discusses being very “hands-on.” There’s kind of a cognitive dissonance here, isn’t there? I’m not picking on this one agent. Again, she’s saying stuff that a lot of agents say. But on the one hand, the agent has to love the manuscript. On the other, there’s apparently lots of work ahead before it’s presentable for submission to an editor. Uh…whut? Shouldn’t it be one or the other?

Here’s a take on this from an author who sees the agent-author relationship a different way, and by that I mean upside-down from the way it’s usually portrayed. Dean Wesley Smith sees the agent as his employee and is not interested in jumping through their hoops. He doesn’t want to be slowed down by the agent’s process (though he has used agents.) He’s not interested in any employee slowing his process, production or sales. I recommend you read all his posts on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. It’s refreshing.

So here are my questions:

Do you want your agent to love your book or is liking it good enough for you?

Do you want your agent to edit your manuscript to make it better up front?

Do you prefer that your agent be more hands-off and just get it to market?

Addendum: The agent adds, “Basically, build yourself as big of a social media platform as you can before your book ever comes out.” Good advice for both the indie published and the traditionally published. But, if you can get your social media platform big enough, do you need a traditional publisher at all?

My new BFF Jason Alexander Greenwood asked himself these questions and came up with an indie answer. If you missed my link to his post on Sunday, read Shoot the Gatekeepers here.

Filed under: agents, authors, Editors, getting it done, links, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, , , , , ,

Authors: Networking Lessons from the Master (not me!) PART I

Cover of "Get Known Before The Book Deal:...

Cover via Amazon

 

By master, I’m not referring to me. I’m referring to my friend Peter. We are each other’s oldest friends and he’s a master of human relations. I have lots to learn from him. I’ll get to that in very straight forward terms (i.e. the ever-popular Top Ten List in Part II coming this afternoon), but first, a concrete example:   

I attended Word on the Street with Peter in Toronto. I got Peter his first job in publishing and he was fabulously successful at it. He’s now a shipping magnate, but he still has a keen interest in books (reading and writing them.) After we met up at the book fair, we’d made it about twelve feet through the crowd before an author offered him a bookmark to advertise her book. If it were just me, I would have smiled, thanked her and moved on. That’s why I’m not the master networker. Peter is, so he asked what her book is about. The author, Sue Kenney, wrote of about her pilgrimage on Spain’s Camino. Sue was very nice and her book sounds interesting. Peter had travelled the Camino so he was especially enthused. (Peter’s a world traveller, too, so he’s been everywhere and sometimes it seems like he’s done everything. Somehow, he never makes you feel bad about that. Ever watch The Amazing Race? That’s Peter’s life without the humiliating mini-games along the way.)   

Peter asked Sue a couple probing questions and it sounded like she was well on her way with her book (and two others.) Most important, she already had a movie deal, she’d already sold a lot of books on her own and she had a spirit of adventure and a great personality. What she needed was an agent and a publisher to break out. In a few minutes I’d suggested a couple of ways to search for the right agent and Peter threw out a couple of names of Toronto agents he knew. We then went on to discuss a publisher to avoid and a big publisher to approach. After a few more minutes of discussing some fine points of sales, Sue said, “Thanks! But…who are you guys?”   

“Just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Here’s a card, read my writing and publishing blog…” (Okay, I didn’t say the first part.) Sue’s going to be a success. She already has all the elements she needs in place and her publisher and agent will love her. As is required more than ever these days, she’s already done the heavy lifting for them. All she has to do now is concentrate on getting to be a known entity. (I also pushed her to get Christina Katz’s book Get Known Before the Book Deal to that end. Yes, I confess I’ve flogged that book already on this blog several times. Why haven’t you gone and bought it yet, hm?) Besides writing My Camino, Sue is already a speaker and filmmaker. She’s on her way. Come to think of it, one more thing about Sue and her book…   

My Official Sue Kenney Plug: Her book is My Camino.

Agents! What’s not to love? Snap her up while she’s still available!

Go to www.suekenney.ca

  

THIS AFTERNOON: Part II and the ever-popular Top 10 LIST!

Filed under: agents, Books, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, , , ,

Writers: Massive Links Week Continues

The Blood-Red Pencil: Self-Publishing: The Numbers Game‏

Some interesting math on self-publishing.

 

From Conversation Agent:

 Letter.ly, a simple way to sell email subscription newsletters.

 

Looking for a literary agent?

(Hint: Pay special attention to new agent listings. They aren’t full, too full of themselves or jaded yet!)

Keep an eye on Chuck Sambuchino’s blog:

Guide to Literary Agents

He’s also the author of the very helpful Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript.

Filed under: publishing, web reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , ,

Happy Sept 1st! Three Publishing Tips (plus one awesome link)

A cartoon image showing an action described as...

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1. If you’re looking for an agent, hunt for freshly minted ones on their way up at established agencies.   Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox has a useful newsletter. He identifies fledgling agents who aren’t too jaded and are actually looking for clients. Imagine that! Keep an eye on his blog if you’re in the market for an agent. I knew Brian when we both worked at Harlequin. He doesn’t remember me, but I’ve decided he’s not a bad guy despite that.

2. Don’t let rejection so your production and shipping. Like they say, it’s a subjective business. Hone it and then follow Heinlein’s rule: keep sending it out.   

3. If it’s good, you will eventually connect with someone who loves it. Or at least sees that they can sell it.   

(Or become a publisher yourself…but that’s a different blog post.)   

 

Filed under: agents, web reviews, writing tips, , , , ,

Agents and (Non)Acquiring Editors: A Word on Gatekeeper’s Remorse (Some don’t have any!)

J. K. Rowling, after receiving an honorary deg...

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When a book is a great success, the rumors eventually emerge. JK Rowling was rejected six times. Meyer of Twilight fame? Fifteen times. All authors have stories of deals that almost went through. Many tell stories of cruel writing groups, insensitive english professors or critics that were hypercritical. When one writer triumphs and rises above these obstacles, all us of share a little of that. In German, it’s called Schadenfreude. In English it’s called “Nyaa-nyaa, nya-nya-naaaaaah!”       

Editors who reject books that go on to great success interest me. First question: Do they still have their jobs? Answer: Yes, of course they do.       

In Hollywood, you fail up. (Getting any movie made is such an accomplishment, you can have a string of failures and be a working director like M. Night Shyamalan.) If the rumoured stats are trues (85%-95% of books not earning their advances) publishing surely has the  highest tolerance for failure of any industry. There is no product research. “Product research is the first print run,” as they say. (Due to technology and Seth Godin forces, that’s changing. That’s another post.)       

Agents who pass up gold and editors who turn their noses up at diamonds answer predictably: “It’s a subjective business.” Yes. It is.    

Second Question: “But if these people are the experts who are supposed to know better, why do so many of their books tank?” Should we put so much stock in the opinion of people who are so often wrong? Dick Cheney doesn’t get to make credible predictions on foreign policy anymore. Why are we held in such thrall by agents and editors who have similar track records?      

The other common reply is, “I can’t represent it if I don’t love it.”       

I call bullshit. I’ve slogged through the slush pile. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies. I represented, and sold,  many books I never even got to read. (There were too many–especially when I worked at Cannon Books which listed hundreds and hundreds of books each year.) I even sold some books I actively loathed.       

The key question is not, “Do I love it?”        

The key questions are, “Can I sell it? Will lots of other people love it?”       

The idea that you can’t represent something unless you “love” it can set a ridiculously high bar for manuscript acceptance. You’ve read lots of books you liked and were glad to have read. How many were so good you really “loved” them? No wonder it’s so hard to get an agent if love is the accepted standard. (Love is not a standard criterion in business practice. You may think art is exempt from standard business practice. That’s one of the reasons this industry is in so much trouble. Artists worry their art is compromised, but without the business side? No art.)      

CORE ISSUE:       

Writers, particularly those yet-to-be published, are expected to have a thick skin.      

That is useful, though any really successful author will tell you the harsh critics hurt just as much as ever. They feel the pain, but aren’t supposed to complain.     

Some editors and agents     

 (PLEASE NOTE: NOT ALL EDITORS AND AGENTS!)     

act as if their mistakes aren’t mistakes.      

Therefore, their mistakes will be repeated.     

When ego gets in a writer’s way, he or she can’t learn and improve. That same principle should apply to gatekeepers. However, when gatekeepers make mistakes, some seem to say, “Not my fault. That’s just the way it is. I didn’t love it enough.” I say, “The new economy is making million-dollar companies, often out of billion-dollar companies. The coffee’s brewing and it’s a quarter past Massive Industry Fail. Wake up! And open up!”      

When you see an agent blog wherein the agent rips new queries, keep in mind that of all the many queries they analyse, they may accept only a handful (some perhaps two a year…or less.) Also, don’t work with snarky people because mean people suck and eventually they’ll be mean to you.     

This post was critical, not snarky. If I were snarky, I would have named names.      

Filed under: agents, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

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An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

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Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

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"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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