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

Write and publish with love and fury.

The Author Selects the Agent Scam

Writers’ magazines occasionally run stories on “how to select an agent” or some such nonsense. Sure, you can check Preditors and Editors and ask around about particular agents, but the power differential between authors and agents is, well…the word “egregious” comes to mind. (In fact, that’s the same word that came to mind for Kristine Kathryn Rusch. See below for that most excellent link.)

When you submit work to an agent (note you’re already in submission and they are in dominance from the get go) it’s kind of like applying for a job. You send out a resume (your manuscript proposal) and agents say no. And more agents say no. Repeat until doubt and self-loathing kicks in.

When you do finally get the call, you’ll say yes to anybody.

Pick your metaphor: 

1. It’s the end of the world and don’t you want to experience the act of physical love just once before you die?

2. You’re a serial killer/diabetic and the warden says they’re fixing the electric chair and would you like your first and only chocolate éclair before they electrocute your ass?

3. The vampires have risen and this is the last sunset before Dracula’s armies of the undead close in on you, the last human survivor on the roof of The Mall of America. Suddenly Carrie Moss shows up piloting a helicopter. Do you jump on the rope ladder to safety? Or do you negotiate so she wears an even tighter leather outfit like the one from The Matrix?

Answers:

1. Of course, devirginize!

2. Eat that éclair. The sugar won’t have time to migrate to your rotten pancreas.

3. Board that helicopter and maybe you’ll live long enough for the sequel!

If you’ve run the long gauntlet of trying to find an agent, or just heard a few horror stories to that effect, you sign that contract as fast as you can. You’re closer to publication than you were, so an agent calling must be good, right?

“Must” is a strong word. In fact, read The Passive Voice  and you’ll be running to publish yourself after all. It’s about enslavement via contractual obligations that go on forever. This is scarier than anything Stephen King could possibly dream up. 

Passive Voice also links to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which you should also read before you do anything. Don’t even poop before reading this.  

Before you put on that electric collar and tie the leash around your genitals, read your contract carefully. Make informed choices. Show contracts to a lawyer. Negotiate the egregious. Take responsibility so you hire the agent, not the other way around. And always be willing to walk away from any deal. Walking away may be the only way to get a decent deal.

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Filed under: agents, authors, DIY, publishing, queries, Rant, Rejection, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , ,

Controversial blog posts, hate mail & puppies on fire

I write a column for a trade magazine. I get a lot of fan mail (he said modestly). I have a folder stocked with happy reader feedback so if I ever need talking in off the ledge, many kind subscribers’ letters to the editor might stop me from the jump to pavement lasagna. But,  of course, it’s the negative reviews you remember.  

What’s surprising about negative feedback is how surprising it is. Let me explain that obnoxious tautology: I’ve written columns I was certain would stick in somebody’s craw. I’m reasoned, but sometimes provocative and I do poke the odd sacred cow through the skull with a nail gun.

But it’s often the posts

I consider more bland which spark  readers’ ire most!

For instance, I wrote a humorous feature that detailed the uses of therapeutic laughter. The tone was light, though I did stir in an interview with a neurobiologist and instructive tips. Most people didn’t just like it. They loved it. We got a lot of really nice letters. It’s a special thing when people take the time to say good things about you. The spur to action usually skews the other way. Angry people write more letters than happy people do.)

As great as the response to the article was, from that same feature there was one letter from the reader who did not just like it. In fact, she loathed the piece (and me.) She objected to the jokes. It was clear she didn’t get the jokes. There are, perhaps, billions of people who don’t share my sense of humor. Not only can I not change that, I wouldn’t want to appeal to the humorless.

People who get all angsty and vituperative about your writing share a common trait. They act like the one thing you write is the sum and totality of your writing. It kind of amuses me (okay, it amuses me after some time passes) when people get bent out of shape from one thing I wrote. I write lots of stuff. Read it all and get really pissed, or realize that if you don’t care for something, there’s always the next page. There’s always something else to read.

Don’t say something you don’t believe just to be provocative. Satire is fine. Parody’s good. Be fun and playful. Be as funny as you like, but make time to be sincere when you’re making a serious point. Don’t pander.

People sometimes accuse Bill Maher of saying outrageous stuff just to get a reaction. Not true. One survey showed that Maher’s die hard fans only agreed with him 14% of the time! He’s funny, insightful and can be cranky. But he’s not a crank easily dismissed. He’s thinking and doesn’t fall to one side of all issues all of the time.

This is counterintuitive to how many people act as they write their (unread) blog pasts. People often think that only people who agree with them will like them. If you’re funny and interesting and reasoned, thinking people will listen. Your blog’s grasp can go beyond the reach of your mom.

When I read blog posts I dislike, I rarely comment on something with which I disagree unless I know the people involved or think it will make a difference. I won’t be phoning Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck to try to disagree with him on air, for instance. People don’t listen to Rush to get ideas. They listen to confirm their own fears and prejudices. Echo chambers aren’t designed for more than one loud voice. Life’s too short to pursue debates with people who will never change their minds no matter what. (And I won’t change my mind on that.)

“Pearls before swine,” as Jesus said.

(Note to Mr. Beck: Jesus is an important guy in the bible whose words are written in red so they are easy to find. Like you, he talks about economics a lot, too. You appear unaware of the things Jesus said. Take a look.)

Real world example: Today a friend linked to a post so I checked it out. I found it utterly vile. The essay was an extreme so-serious-I-hope-it’s-parody, divisive, lying hit piece that underestimated both liberal and conservative thought. I didn’t comment on the post itself because I’m not giving that hateful essayist the satisfaction. Instead I left a comment on the original Facebook link to let my friend know I thought his link choice was disturbing.

To be fair to him, his intent puzzled me. I’m really not sure if he linked to it as an example of a good thing or a bad thing. Whatever his opinion on that issue, he’s still a great guy and a great friend and I’m not writing him off if he shares those (crazy) views. He no doubt has a lot of other views I agree with and I know he is an admirable, heroic fellow. (And no, I don’t know if he reads this blog or not since he’s not in publishing.)

Mental note:

Don’t provide links to hate-filled sites.  

Debate and dialogue of substance? Okay. 

Stupid shit? No time.

The take away? Don’t let negative feedback throw you. If what you write is so bland it never offends anyone, it often isn’t worth writing. There’s nothing new and interesting about your blog posts if every one of them is the equivalent of a basket of puppies. If you’re going to keep readers, you’re going to have to be compelling, informative or at least engaging. Don’t tell me about the weather. Say something you believe. Make me laugh. Make me spew my coffee over the screen. Set a basket of puppies on fire once in a while.

Case in point: You might expect conservative readers to object to me condescending to Glenn Beck. Perhaps defenders of the mentally unstable will chime in on that score, too. You might expect liberal readers to object to any mention of Rush or Beck since they already get too much attention everywhere. Maybe you think people will get angry about the notion of setting fire to a basket of puppies.

Personally? Since a basket of puppies set afire is an obvious joke in terrible taste, I’m betting someone will object to the reference to a nail gun through a cow’s skull. Vegans are fascists worse than Hitler. (Kidding! Kidding!)

As Bill Maher says, “I kid! I kid because I love!” 

Heh. 

Filed under: blogs & blogging, Intentionally Hilarious, Rant, Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Publishing is sick. You should quit. Take up knitting.

I attended a lovely writing conference. The best value of these get-togethers is often not in the classes, but in the networking, either by finding an agent, getting  useful feedback or networking with writer allies who can hook you up with what you need (e.g. a graphic designer, beta readers, a photographer, an inexpensive website developer, software you didn’t know existed etc.,…)

A couple of instructors at this conference gave me some really great technical information. Much of the discussion was about stuff you’ll find on this very blog (Shameless plug. Subscribe and send love.) Much of the talk was yet another rehash of commonly known information (e.g. get yourself an editor for your self-published work). A bunch of it was stuff you see spread across the internet endlessly for free (e.g. a rehash of the Amanda Hocking/Barry Eisler unfoldment).

(Heh.Unfoldment. I like that.) 

There was also some bad advice. But today, let’s focus on the health of the publishing industry: It’s sick. Really sick. Especially for the ones upon whose brains and bones rest the cracked foundation: writers.

Of course, it has been thus for a long time. Even when it was healthy, publishers operated on thin margins and predicted imminent doom. Many of those publishing companies anticipating the end were right; I worked for several that are long closed. (I didn’t kill ’em, but I helped hold ’em down. Good times.)

We all know the common complaints today: fewer editors, the corporate profit-push squeezing the midlist, the crash of the bookstore (ask your parents, they’ll tell you what they were), the discount tyranny of the chains and the crush of all that self-publishing pressure and the ennui that sets in when you realize you’re a rusty cog in an old machine that needs a lot of parts replaced.

I’d like to  suggest a new measure of the health of the industry:

How many jobs do the major players have?

A short, relevant aside: I am currently a part-time massage therapist, columnist, feature writer, writer-writer, blogger and editor. Also, I’m a house husband and stay-at-home dad. That’s plenty of hats. Okay, I’m a freak, but not as much as I used to be it seems. And I’m cutting down my number of roles soon (Hint: keeping the sexy wife, brilliant kids and the horror writing that chills my victims’ readers’ blood.) 

Aside over. To business: 

Now watch what happens when we look at instructors at writing conferences:

People at the top of their game aren’t making their living from writing.

Of all the people I encountered at the writing conference, two were at it full-time. Andrew Pyper wrote a book I loved called The Killing Circle and gave a funny, charming and wise speech. Wayson Choi spoke briefly and he’s also plenty charming. (Just read Not Yet, liked it.)

Mr. Choi gave the same encouragement he did last year: You aren’t alone in this. We are all together in this. (As if writing and actually getting published is equal to a struggle with a terrible disease and all caregivers and support for the afflicted must be rallied.) As if the diagnosis is in and it’s not good. The doc is giving you that look that says you might make it, but the treatment is so horrible and there is so much pain to endure, refusing to undergo medical torture is a worthy consideration. Getting better (or published) is sort of like winning the lottery.

(Trivia bonus: Wayson Choi is not only published but once won $100,000 in a lottery. He also survived terrible lung and cardiac problems so he might be the sweetest, luckiest sumbitch you’ve ever heard of. Sure, lots of people win big prizes and survive heart attacks, but to be published? That’s rare!)

But are writing conferences really about getting published? There’s a lot of amateur desperation in that big hall. Nice people, but not all writers. Dilettantes and the terminally confused are also a large component from what I could tell.

I don’t count delusion against people, by the way. To be a writer at all, you must be deluded…well, for fiction writers,  it’s a job requirement.

Are writing conferences helping these people get published, or are they just  another income stream or promotional avenue for poverty-stricken writers? Several presenters used their seminar teaching position to flog their books and editorial services pretty hard (though I didn’t mind the guy who had the grace to be funny about being spammy.) The rest were so fed-up, sad or desperate they were perspiring audibly.

When the “stars” in an industry have to spend a lot of time doing non-writing activity to eat, that’s another indicator of an industry on life support.

If any other industry had this much necessary moonlighting (go ahead, name any one you like), you wouldn’t want your kid on that career path. Imagine if all the civil engineers also had to work as mail carriers and mimes to avoid starvation. Suppose all the doctors were also telemarketers/poets/screenwriters/dog walkers/financial advisors/supply teachers, just so they could cobble together one living income from all their part-time jobs. There’s nothing wrong with any of these jobs but…

But if you have to do it all…well, my point is, sorry…you should quit. 

If you think you can quit, then good. You’re free to move on to something that could give you the security of three squares, dignity, hope for the future and some level of satisfaction.

If you can’t quit, either….

Maybe my writing as a disease analogy wasn’t so inept after all. 

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Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Writers: Chazz Law versus Masnick’s Law

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Thanks for all the nice feedback and e-mails about Monday’s blog post on Amanda Hocking. There was so much, in fact, that I need to do a follow-up about the mistakes we make when we compare our potential for success with another’s. Some people see another author’s success as a door slamming shut on their own noses. These are people who believe Masnick’s Law (which comes from the music industry.) The idea is that only a certain band at a certain time had certain advantages that can’t be replicated. They came along at the right time or had just the right choice of sound, or the moon was in alignment with the stars etc.,….

In other words, if they make it, you won’t.

Wussies.

You might make it in a different way (Elvis ≠The Beatles) but if you have a great book, success can be yours. Amanda Hocking isn’t stopping you from succeeding. Not writing your book is keeping you from succeeding. (Not revising or hiring an editor, too.) Hocking took a machete and cut a path into the jungle. JA Konrath, Barry Eisler and many other authors who went the self-published way are forging ahead. When you see others succeed, take it as inspiration. Masnick’s Law isn’t a law. It’s a self-defeating fallacy.

CHAZZ LAW:

Art inspires more art.

Read it.

Rock it.

Roll it out.

(And don’t be a wuss.)

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, Editing, Editors, getting it done, links, publishing, Rant, Rejection, self-publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Amanda Hocking Effect: She didn’t sell out. Trad publishing bought in.

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Successful e-book author Amanda Hocking has signed a six-figure deal with a traditional publisher, St. Martin’s Press. No sooner was it announced,  some haters emerged in website comments sections. I’m pleased to say that most people were happy for Ms. Hocking—as they should be—but of course there were some trolls, one of whom said she was a sell-out and a traitor to the digital revolution’s cause.

The haters are wrong about that and here’s why: Ms. Hocking got to be a big-time author because of e-books, but she never signed up to lead a revolution. She just signed up to get readers for her books. Good for her! The traditional publishing model is useful to big-time authors and due to her solitary efforts, she is a big-time author. The larger issue is that publishing often falls down when the author’s success does not qualify as stellar.

I don’t see that this deal speaks to the limits of self-publishing at all. The deal must have been sweet because, as I pointed out not more than a week or so ago, with her 70% cut through Amazon, publishers would have to back up a truck full of money and provide an army of logistical support to justify any deal with that author. St. Martin’s is one of the few publishers big enough to provide that scale of mucho macho mojo. Hocking tried to get published the traditional way first and mainstream publishing turned her down. She proved herself worthy doing it her way. Now she can focus more on writing and less on the business side of publishing. Writers love to write first, and most of us only become entrepreneurs by necessity and circumstance.

Look deeper into the implications of this deal. Amanda Hocking didn’t sell out. Traditional publishing did. Hemorrhaging money fuel due to Wall Street’s global economic destruction spree, publishers cut back on editors and squeezed the mid-list authors. They failed to adapt to the changing digital environment to preserve the old media model as long as possible.  Many of those mid-list authors got squeezed right into self-publishing. For those with some experience and an entrepreneurial bent, the water over in digital publishing can be nice and warm.

Another author, Barry Eisler, recently walked away from a $500,000 deal because he decided he could make more on his own. Also, good for him. One of the joys of self-publishing is maintaining control and choice. Whether you choose to stay outside trad publishing or sign a contract, you’re making the best choices for you.

Amanda Hocking didn’t sell out. She made traditional publishing buy in.

(And she’s consistently more gracious about it than I would be. )

 

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, publishing, Rejection, Useful writing links, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

Opportunity knocks? Self-published writers could unionize (plus association links for writers)

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We started off The Writer’s Union of Canada symposium with the presenter announcing,Self-publishing is mainstream!” Dead on and right on, brother! Come to Jesus! Most of the day was dedicated to authors taking hold of their careers, navigating through the logistics of self-publishing and going indie. As I’ve mentioned in several posts since, it was a great event filled with exciting information that went deep. The kick in the nuts didn’t come until the end of the day.

As we wrapped things up with questions to the presenters, someone asked if she qualified to join The Writers’ Union of Canada. Nope. It looked by the show of hands that about half of the attendees (at least) were not TWUC members, but they couldn’t join to lend their voice to Canadian professional writers.  Publishers decide who is traditionally published and only if you are traditionally published does TWUC recognize you as a candidate for the union. (Yes, there’s an appeals process in which a committee could decide your worthiness on a case-by-case basis, but I didn’t get the feeling that opened a lot of doors for the great unwashed.*)

There are people within the union who want to change this, but there is resistance. Despite all the DIY enthusiasm and knowledge of self-publishing displayed at the symposium, so far it seems the only writers the union recognizes are — and will be for the foreseeable future — the traditionally published. The concern, they say, is about quality. I’ll grant you many self-published books suck. They often are not edited or are not edited well. (In fact, I wrote a blog post not long ago entitled Why self-publishing sucks (and what you can do about it.)

However, the larger point is, you don’t professionalize a group by shutting them out. You raise the standard by bringing them in. Amateurs often become professionals by mentoring and community interaction. Self-publishers can also bring a lot to the table. Many DIY authors will have a lot of information and support to share when many trad authors switch to independent publishing. (Gasp! We talk and share and know things, too! Imagine that!)

Here’s a secret: quality is a myth. You don’t use traditional publishers as gatekeepers. Not anymore. You already refuse to read much of what they publish. You have your unique tastes. You use curators you trust to let you know about a great book to read. Anyone reading this post could name several books traditionally published that, according to their lights, do not constitute “quality.” It’s all, trad or indie, subjective. Do I have to remind anyone that The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis was rejected by trad publishing? That book  only saw the light of day  (and won the Stephen Leacock Award and CBC’s Canada Reads contest) because Fallis self-published first.

The presenters were not necessarily against letting self-published writers in. They seemed to say that it was the system that was slow on the uptake. “It’s an evolution,” said one.

Yeah? Since we spent the day talking about the publishing revolution, maybe we should splice some DNA and catch up!

“Apply anyway,” another presenter advised. “If they (meaning the admissions committee) get enough applications, maybe they’ll be moved.”

Bewildered, one participant asked, “Why wouldn’t you be proactive and lead” by going ahead and accepting self-published authors? Good question. I asked him if he wanted to be president of a new self-published writers union. He grinned and said, “Sure!” The presenter looked at me with…was that disdain?

Opening up the TWUC membership means a larger, more powerful and better-financed union. Look at the Romance Writers of America. If you’re interested and actively pursuing a writing career, you’re in. That is a big tent that’s open to anyone interested in romance books. They’re big enough they could stand up to their biggest sponsor (Harlequin) when necessary.

A powerful union filled with fresh blood and entrepreneurial, proactive people makes a small union into a big (and relevant) union.

But why should you care? What’s the alternative? Well…I’m not trying to start anything here, but since TWUC isn’t being especially proactive, there is a huge opportunity to start up a union for self-published writers. If you’re DIY, you could join, hold events, help with disputes, etc.,… Oh, and get some fucking respect.

I’m not saying we should. I’m saying we could if TWUC continues at a glacial pace while the old media models implode around them. The crazy part is there are forces within TWUC that agree. Apparently there aren’t enough of those like-minded individuals on the admissions committee. We could unionize. Should we? There are benefits, though if TWUC loosens up we wouldn’t have to invent that wheel.

Maybe they better move before you take the idea of a Self-published Writers of Canada and run with it. (SWOC? Nah, that’s the Steel Workers.) Shutting out the self-published is a major tactical error considering the self-published are a determined group of people who don’t take kindly asking permission to do things. We are all about git ‘er done, DIY ASAP.

Brain food, comrade. If they aren’t as forward-thinking as their own symposium, they could go from The Writers’ Union of Canada to A Writers’ Union of Canada.

*Alternatives? Where you live, there’s some kind of association of varying applicability to your writing career, amiability and varying strength.

Here’s a list of links which is by no means comprehensive: The Canadian Authors Association, the Editors Association of Canada and the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, the Horror Writers Association, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, SF Canada, Crime Writers Association (UK), Crime Writers of Canada, Mystery Writers of America and the aforementioned Romance Writers of America . Check each association’s membership criteria and see if their goals match your own. Another aspect to consider is how active each organization is in your area.

Tomorrow’s posts: If you’re up early, a style ruling on when to use “each other” instead of “one another” (well, never ‘use’ another human being) and at 11:45 EST, one of the good things The Writers’ Union of Canada is trying to do. You know me, I’m all about the yin/yang balance of the universe.

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, getting it done, publishing, Rant, Rejection, self-publishing, Writers, Writing Conferences, , , , , , , , , ,

Come for the flash mob VIDEO. Stay to think about why word choice matters.

 

The power of the pink shirt inspires me. When I was in high school, a guy would have definitely been harassed and probably been beaten if he wore a pink shirt. (Notice I didn’t say beaten up. For some reason, “up” trivializes what it really is.)

I don’t even care for the word “bullying.” I know schools everywhere have anti-bullying campaigns, but that trivializes the act, as well. If an adult tries to bully another adult, we don’t call it that. We call it assault and we call the police and a lawyer. Children are more vulnerable because we say “boys will be boys” and “girls are just like that sometimes.” Boys fight. Girls typically employ social shunning behaviors to manipulate their victims. Both sexes do damage that lasts.

What is the point of videos like this? I think it shows kids there are better ways to be cool than to be angry loners. The kids in this video are having fun doing something positive together. Kids who bully or are bullied are not having fun. These issues tear me up now more than ever because I worry for my son. Perhaps because he’s profoundly colorblind (or way cooler than his dad was at his age), social anxiety around the color of clothing is a mystery to him. He’s much more open to trying new things than I was. His life is richer because it’s not ruled by fear of criticism, failure, derision or violence.

Unlike me. I was an angry loner. I was bullied until I learned self-defense. That’s how I coped at the time, but it wasn’t the best way. I mistook fear and wariness for respect. You can’t have a sense of humor when you’re wound that tight. You don’t try new things or go out of your way to meet new people and make friends because everyone is a potential risk.

Bullies and victims come to share something: oversensitivity to any slight, real or imagined. (Maybe they’re that writer in your critique group that went home enraged and never came back.)

My training did give me some confidence, but it also made me suspicious and hyper-reactive.  I was still trapped in fear. I was afraid I’d have to fight. I was afraid of getting hurt. I was afraid my rage would boil over and I’d go too far. (And yes, sadism breeds sadism and victims can become victimizers.) I was afraid to be honest and connecting with others was a risk. Community is a threat when all you expect is violence and criticism. Violence in our words and our actions  breeds life’s bystanders.

Your words matter. Choose them carefully. Use them well and they can stimulate, educate and entertain. Choose them poorly and you may rob yourself and the victim of dignity for a day. Or the victim may live a smaller life forever after because of your influence.

Are people glad to see you coming? Think about that.

And this:

Adults shamed as children.

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Filed under: getting it done, movies, Rant, Rejection, What about Chazz?, Writers, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Take a penny, leave a penny

New York City Serenade

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The agent talked about her latest sales: This fabulous author and that little debut. She called them her authors, her books. It sounded like such a glamorous world. The writer hadn’t seen any of it for herself, but she had a writer’s mind so she could imagine every tantalizing detail.

“Good for you,” the writer said.

“Well, it’s not all cocktail parties, you know. In fact, it’s not nearly enough cocktails. Sometimes I hate it. You should see our slush pile. Long nights. No down time. I’d love to read the latest good books, but I have so much to read, I end up reading more bad stuff than good. You know how it is.”

The writer nodded and smiled, but she didn’t know how it was. She only read the good stuff. She aspired to be one of those writers who get a book launch and get to gripe about not getting paid enough as they examine royalty statements.

She glanced down at her own manuscript in the middle of the desk between them. She had changed the title five times over the course of as many drafts. Now she thought the words on the cover sheet should read: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

The writer thought of the bills that had been piling up as she wrote and rewrote multiple drafts of her book. She wanted to ask, “What do you think we can get for it? Any chance of an auction?” The writer didn’t have dollar signs blinding her vision. Her family had been supporting her efforts to get published for a long time. She wanted to finally have some money to show for it. She thought of all those nights she said, “Mommy’s working.” Everyone else she knew who worked got a paycheck.

But the writer knew those questions would sound impertinent. Unprofessional. Instead, she acted cool and casual and nodded at her manuscript. “Is it any good?”

Is it benign? is what she meant.

Sure, it’s good,” the agent replied. Then, a deep breath and a furrowed brow. “A lot of people might even think it’s great.”

The writer’s shoulders relaxed.

“But it’s not just a question of it being good.”

The writer’s shoulders tensed again. “It’s not?” Uh-oh…

The agent picked up the manuscript, felt its weight a moment and then placed it back on her desk. Then she slowly slid it back toward the writer. “The landscape has changed a bit since we last spoke.”

The writer sat up straight in her chair. She didn’t want to pick up her manuscript. Not yet. If she took it back, it would signify something she didn’t want to see.

“There are a lot fewer bookstores. The economy isn’t recovering as fast as we’d hoped. E-books are really screwing things up, I can tell you. There’s a lot of flux in the industry,” the agent said.

“Flux.”

“Yes.” The agent pushed back from the desk and stood. “I tell you what,” she said. “The market just isn’t ready for this sort of thing right now. I could have sold this a year ago, maybe even a few months ago.”

A few months ago you told me to take another swing at it, the writer thought.

“But it’s just not hot enough with my editors—”

There it was again. My authors, my books, my editors. It was if her agent held the keys to the whole world.

“…and I’m not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. If I take something to them which isn’t really double-plus ready for prime time, they’ll never let me in the door again. I have to love it to sell it. You understand.”

The writer thought of all those years her father sold Fords. He didn’t love every model, but he had sold a lot of cars. The writer refused to rise from her chair. And she would not touch her manuscript. Promises hadn’t been made, no. But the agent had always sounded so positive. It had taken her two years to find this agent. Everyone said two years was lucky.

“Can I…? What could I do to fix the draft?” She hated the desperate tone that crept into her voice then.

The agent shook her head, but she was smiling in a way the writer guessed was supposed to be reassuring. “I wouldn’t worry,” the agent said. “Eventually, with a stick-to-it attitude, you’ll be published soon enough.”

Soon enough? What did that mean? The writer winced.

The agent put up her hands in a soothing gesture. “Relax and persevere. Your writing shows so much promise.”

The writer had heard this phrase many times. She thought if she heard it again, she might just throw a very embarrassing, very childish tantrum.

“So what should I do?” the writer asked.

“Oh, I think you should start fresh, of course,” the agent said. She was still smiling that infuriating smile.

Fresh? The writer had begun this manuscript (her third unsold manuscript) four years ago! The weight across her shoulders felt like an ox yoke.

“Don’t be discouraged,” the agent added breezily. “This is how this business works.”

“This business doesn’t seem to be working for me,” the writer said. I’m not even sure you’re working for me. She thought it but she didn’t dare say it.

The writer took a breath, held it a moment and then let it escape between her teeth in a slow hiss. “I don’t want to hear about flux. Give me something I can chew,” the writer said. “What’s wrong with it? You were so enthusiastic about the pitch.”

The agent came around the desk and took her elbow, ushering the writer toward the door as she spoke. “It’s a combination of elements. Not loving it enough is the main thing. If you’re looking for something more concrete to work on, I’d say this draft turned into a bit too much of a cross-genre issue. We have to be sure which shelf the book will be on so we can market it effectively. Is it a thriller or is it a sci-fi? I’m not sure. I bet you don’t know. It’s not…” the agent searched for the right word, “definitive.”

No, the writer thought. She’s appearing to search for the right word, but she’s acting. She’d said this many times before. She said it the way human resources people spit out, “…and we thank you for your years of service.”

“Wait. I do know. It’s a thriller, but if they aren’t sure—whoever they are—they can put it on both shelves,” the writer said. “And if bookstores are disappearing and people are buying books online so much, bookshelves aren’t really such an issue anymore are they? Shouldn’t we at least give some editors the chance to say no?”

The agent’s mouth was a line now. “You have to trust me,” she said. “I know this business. I’ve worked in it for almost twenty years.”

The writer said nothing. She was angry, but she wasn’t sure she should be angry with her agent. She wished she knew who to blame. The agent’s answer seemed to be that she should blame market conditions. Or herself. She didn’t know, but she wasn’t so far gone she didn’t wonder if the agent’s twenty years of experience meant she was now twenty-years stale.

The agent’s hand was on the doorknob. “I have a piece of advice for you,” she said. “I have to share it with all my clients at one time or another. Are you listening?”

The writer nodded. She could hold back the big fat baby tears until later, but she cursed herself still. She knew her eyes were wet and shiny. She wasn’t looking like a professional writer just now.

“Pick up the pennies,” the agent said.

“Wha…whut?”

Pick up the pennies! My mentor always told me that and now I’m telling you. When you see a penny or a dime in the street, pick it up. It’s your message to the universe that you’re open to receive your fortune. You’ll get good things eventually if you let the universe know you’re open to whatever it will give. When you pick up a penny, you’re telling the universe, God, Fate, whatever…you’re saying, ‘I’m patient and worthy of your grace. I’ll wait for my time and my turn.'”

With that, the agent grabbed her hand and pumped it firmly twice. “Good luck!” She seemed almost cheerful. “Pitch me again some day when you’re really really ready.”

Outside on a bench the writer searched her purse for tissues that didn’t look too well-used. Somehow she had the manuscript in her hands again. The agent had slipped it into her grasp so smoothly. She looked at the cover again. She felt the weight of it. It had seemed so valuable.

And what would she tell her family? Worse, what would her writing group say? They hadn’t been fans of the story at first but she’d honed it and they had come around. The people she had trusted most had loved the story, but now, obviously, their opinions had been wrong. All wrong. Not even close to right by accident.

This, she thought, had been needlessly humiliating. She should have just waited for an impersonal email instead of making an appointment. What had she been thinking when she picked up the phone? When she had spoken to the agent’s snotty assistant, the writer had said, “I’m in the city and I thought, hey, I can finally meet my agent in person!” As if she ever just happened to find herself in New York. As if she didn’t live three states away.

She’d felt so good about that move. It seemed so bold then. She had pictured the agent taking her to lunch where they could plot strategy over gourmet coffee with cinnamon swizzle sticks. The agent, she knew from her blog, was big on planning her stable’s careers. She felt like such a rube now that she hadn’t even stayed long enough for a stale cup of office coffee with lousy powdered creamer in a paper cup.

The city street bustled on around her. Hundreds walked past and they all ignored the woman snuffling on the bench. How much older would she be before it was her turn to get noticed? How much patience was reasonable? Maybe it was time to quit.

She had always dreamed of being a published author, but it was a dream with no known origin. She didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t beyond the dictates of her own will. Would she always be held hostage to the whim of her eight-year-old self? This was like running a marathon with no known finish line. Why not stop? No one was making her do this. She couldn’t call this a profession after this. Now it was just a hobby.

She could do something else, too. She had talents. She loved to cook. It wasn’t too late for culinary school. Maybe she would write a cookbook one day. She didn’t like the hours and the time it would mean away from the kids, but she could go for that real estate license. If she saved enough, there was still time to go back to university, she supposed. But what, besides english lit, would interest her? And wouldn’t all those books be a terrible, daily reminder of the beautiful dream she’d abandoned?

The writer looked down. At her feet she spotted a penny on the sidewalk. It was so soiled it was almost black. This, she thought, was one of those plot twists that would make an editor with a MFA scoff. She smiled and, without thinking, reached for it. Before her hand touched it, she froze.

What message was she sending the universe? Patience and openness and receptivity? Like her place could only be a gift? Like the universe was deciding whether she was worth a favor?

No.

That’s when she knew what picking up pennies really meant: If she stooped for a penny she was really telling the universe she’d settle for anything.

No.

She would not settle for a grudging gift. She would choose the dignity of earning her place instead. She would go get it herself.

The writer marched down the street with renewed purpose as she shoved the manuscript into her bag. She’d print off a new one as soon as she got home. She held her head high. Her step was fast and her shoulders light. A plan was forming. There was so much to do. She had to research ebooks and POD and formatting. She had to figure out self-distribution. She had to hire an editor and recruit proofreaders. When she got back to the hotel she’d call her husband and announce the great news. She wasn’t just an author anymore. She was a publisher now, too.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to smile at New Yorkers. You were supposed to look straight ahead, avoid everyone’s eyes and blend in. Instead, the writer beamed at everyone she saw. “Bright lights, big deal.”

Filed under: agents, authors, Books, ebooks, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, , , , , , , , ,

Writers: Is writing therapy for you?

Reverend Billy from The Church of Life After S...

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Writing can be therapeutic. You can get some etheric vengeance, exorcise your demons and find peaceful transcendence.

But I don’t think your therapy should show. If you stray into telling the reader how to feel, your writing experience intrudes into their reading experience.

Don’t do that, please.

What writing teachers don’t say is, “Not getting preachy is really hard.” For instance, in my WIP, I touch on issues around censorship. In fact, I’ve noticed my penchant for not just touching on the issue, but hammering on it.

How do you know you’re hammering your personal issue too hard? Overexplaining irritates readers. Making two characters argue and leaving the opposing side too weak is another sign. Look for when the action stops and restart it. For instance, when your protagonist slips into a monologue that goes on uninterrupted, he’s at the pulpit and you’re losing readers.

You can still have a point of view, of course. Just lay out facts. Let your readers decide. Slip the facts amongst the action of the story. Don’t lay it all out at once. Instead of pontificating, let arguments percolate through the story.

Orwell’s 1984, for instance, shows the horror of the all-controlling state. Orwell doesn’t tell you it’s awful and list why. He shows cages full of rats. Chuck Palahniuk‘s style is another good example. He doesn’t tell the reader how to feel. Non-judgmental writing yields effective results.

Don’t write from your therapist’s couch. The benefits you get from writing may be every bit as personal and profound as a therapy session from In Treatment, but if you’re writing for an audience, please let your readers find their own therapy.  In Finding Forrester, Sean Connery says, “You write the first draft with your heart and the next with your head.” 

Filed under: Books, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Useful writing links, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Editing: How to take advice

qestion mark and exclamation mark

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Mostly people follow the advice that appeals to them. If five people give them the same uncomfortable advice, they’ll keep asking until lucky advisor number 15 tell them what they were hoping to hear. That’s not the way to progress.

Blogging about writing and publishing can be a quixotic adventure. For instance, I went through an entire short story one time and showed the writer precisely how he could improve his writing. These were very straight-forward craft issues that got in the way of readability. The next piece he sent me had the same problems.

Not everyone has to write like I do. However, since he was so enthusiastic about my original suggestions, I wondered if it was a question of the writer needing more time to absorb the information and practice.

In a writing critique group, you can spot the defensive people quickly. They write Stet! beside each suggestion (including that tell-tale exclamation point.) Defensive writers spend a lot of time talking when their critique group colleagues ask questions or are confused. Instead, they should be listening. Any writer is free to disregard suggestions, but not during the explanation of the concern.

Is advice all for naught? Sometimes. But professional writers take advice most of the time. They aren’t so attached to their writing that they expect it will be 100% perfect on the first draft. That’s crazy-talk. Professional writers respect writing too much to make that assumption.

Just remember: an editor’s focus is the text. They’re trying to help you.

However, if you sense an editor is looking at it as a game where they’re tracking points, zeroing in on every error as if it’s a moral victory…well. Delete them.

Also, I have to mention that sometimes the advice is just bad:

At Psychology Today I found a great post called 11 Types of Bad Writing Advice.

Filed under: Editing, Editors, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rejection, rules of writing, Writers, , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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