Monthly Archives: August 2012

Turning Over the Reins: Education and E-Pubbing

Eldest left the home this weekend. As he begins college tomorrow, he will be firmly in control of his life. Successes and failures will be his. Choices will be made–sometimes impulsively, sometimes not. And while they will not always be the choices I would have made, the outcome of these decisions will be entirely his. He controls his future.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s why we have kids in the first place. It’s why we mold them gently, challenge them and teach them as much as we can in a few short years. We want them to become viable members of whichever community they decide to inhabit. We want them to earn their freedom.

Writing used to parallel parenting. Writers toiled over their pages and perfected their manuscripts. We then turned over the reigns to agents and editors and marketing departments. They controlled the final output. They shaped our careers and decided which books to print or not and who best to market them to. It worked out really well for a lot of authors for a lot of years. And still does, for that matter.

But, this traditional method isn’t always used in today’s publishing world. In fact, it’s not always desired. Some writers have taken publishing matters into their own hands and maintained control of every aspect of their novel’s successes or failures.

Take Ruth Cardello, for instance. This entrepreneurial dynamo tackled self-publishing and took charge of her writing destiny. Roughly one year ago, she struck out on her own and e-published her romance novels.

She put up with readers and writers believing she wasn’t a “real” writer because her books were not traditionally published. Instead of giving up, she persevered. She worked harder and smarter. Good, bad or indifferent, she took responsibility for the choices she made.

Ruth Cardello just turned down a seven-figure deal with a traditional publishing house. I repeat, “She just turned down a seven-figure deal.”

Seven figures.

Yeah.

All so she could remain in control. All so the responsibility of failures or successes would rest on her effort, not on the decisions of someone else.

Ruth has become the parent and the child. The writer and the publisher. The agent and marketing director.

I can only hope that Eldest’s transition into adulthood will follow a similar path. I hope he takes up where we left off and strives to give himself the best possible future. I hope rebellion isn’t just around the corner and tightening of the reigns in ours. I hope we can work together to make him a viable and successful member of whichever community he chooses to inhabit.

Dang, I miss him already!

Optimizing the Query Process with Fewer Mistakes

Eldest leaves for college tomorrow. We–or should I say, I?–have a ton of checklists to keep us on track. And yet, I’m not overly concerned because a giant Walmart lives four blocks from his dorm and he’s only 45 minutes from home. Even if he forgets his tennis shoes, he or we can easily make the trek–on a weeknight if need be–to get them returned to their rightful owner in a timely manner.

And yet, after years of writing, I can’t help but check my lists to make sure we do this thing right the first time.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard exasperated, frustrated or terrified cries of, “Oh for the love of all that’s holy, guess what stupid query thing I did now?”

Yep, more than I can count.

So I thought it would behoove us all to remember that move-in day isn’t the time to first start thinking of how to make a smooth transition. Rather, we need to bear certain things in mind long before we show up at the dorm room with only  Doritos, goldfish and pony keg in hand.

The first and only truth of querying is that first time queriers are often impulsive. We’ve worked hard to polish our manuscripts. We’ve researched agents and have A, B and Z lists. We’ve even had our query letter beta-ed, line edited and tweaked to near-Godliness. We’re ready to go.

And so we forget things like our names or the agent’s name. We attach the wrong file or send blanket queries to a thousand and one agents–only to realize we never changed the agent’s name, so Agent Awesome, Super Agent and Agent Incredible all received a query addressed to Dear Mr. Agent.

We hang our heads in shame, climb back into the closet and vow never to query again–or at least not until our pain subsides and we can once again look ourselves in the mirror.

To help curb those last-minute mistakes, keep a checklist close at hand. Because nothing is worse than showing up for the main event ill-prepared. This list can be used for agent or editor submissions, though I use the term agent almost exclusively.

LAST MINUTE CHECKLIST

  • Start by sending only one query at a time, and start each query new. It’s easy to forget that each agent might want a little something different.
  • Go through the checklist with each new query. Until querying becomes second nature, it’s important that you pay close attention to each detail with each new query. Fast fact, the mistakes we make generally occur when we send batches at a time.
  • Check to make sure your agent information is current. Even if you compiled your list two weeks ago, things do change. In fact, agent/editor shuffling might be the only thing in the publishing arena that moves quickly–at least from our point of view–and it does us no good to shoot an email to Uber Agent when he’s been replaced by Agent Incredible.
  • Check the spelling of the agent’s name (and address if snailing it). Nobody likes having her name misspelled and it leaves a bad first impression. In fact, some agents get quite jaded about it over the years. Not that I blame them, as nothing irritates me more than telemarketers massacring my name. Now multiply that by 100 times per day and you’ll understand the importance of getting it right.
  • If you are sending a different query/submission package to each individual agent, double-check the guidelines of the agency and make sure they match the query you are sending. Agents get good at sniffing out blanket submissions. Especially when a query tailored to someone else finds its way into their inboxes.
  • Imbed, paste, attach or collate hard copy sample pages only after you’ve checked and double checked your guidelines. Yes, some agencies still require snail mail submissions and it’s just as important to send the right info to them as it is to e-agents.
  • SASE if snailing it and the agency requires it. The self-addressed stamped envelope is sent so agents can respond with ease. In fact, many agents will leave you hanging forever and ever amen if you don’t provide one for them.
  • If submitting by snail, sign your name. You laugh, but don’t. This is a frequent mistake.
  • Now hit send or hike it down to the post office. Just make sure you have enough postage or your precious letter will never make it to your intended destination.

One of the things I do when researching my agents is create a graph that tells me step by step what to do. It makes it easy to know who gets what, when and how. For example:

  1. Agent Awesome
  2. Address/Agency Info (for snail) or Web Address and email for e-queries
  3. Submission Guidelines (query, query and synopsis, query and 10pp, etc…)
  4. Special Notes (such as attachment directions, credential requests, request for clips, etc…)
  5. Simultaneous or Exclusive Submissions and SASE requests
  6. Time Frame on when to hear back (if this info has been imparted in guidelines)

By combining both lists, I’ve kept my mistakes to a bare minimum. Just like I hope I can do with Eldest tomorrow.

What query/submission mistakes have you made? If you know the outcome of making such a mistake, please share it with us, so we can learn. What things have I forgotten?

Curious minds want to know.

The Question of Rape and Dark YA

I recently came across an essay written by Eve Ensler that is powerful and heart wrenching. It’s a must-read for any woman who has suffered or potentially will suffer at the hands of a rapist. And yes, every last woman is at risk no matter your age, religion, race or socio-economic standing. It’s also a must-read for fathers and grandfathers, uncles and brothers and church leaders and politicians. All of whom are also at risk of being assaulted by another human being or of loving someone who has been.

Ms. Ensler’s essay is one of the most articulate, honest and heartfelt answers to the question of what rape does to the human soul.

It is one of the reasons behind YA’s dark nature: reality is terrifying. Also, for some kids, fictional characters–found on their library shelves at school–are the only people they trust to help them navigate the tragedies of their lives. They are the ones who don’t judge.

Dark YA does not perpetuate dark themes. Rather it examines all angles of tough issues and gives kids hope. It declares that they are not alone in their struggles. It proves that someone, somewhere cares. It shows that someone inexplicably gets it. Gets them.

It strengthens and helps heal as it gives voice to the reality–so tragic and terrifying–that many of us will never understand. Knock on wood.

Read Eve Ensler’s letter on rape. Support the ones you care about. And for the love of all that’s human, don’t be so quick to decry dark YA themes that sicken you or make you uncomfortable. Because reality is such that someone already experienced the pain you can’t stand to read, and more will follow.

Hurt does not discriminate. People do.

Dark YA can help break down the walls and heal a nation that suffers by its own hands. So, please help me make a list of novels that aim to do just that.

I’ll start: Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman

The New Death and others Book Review

I received a book I didn’t buy. And no, I didn’t steal it. Though for this little gem, it would be apropos. In fact, it might actually be considered a compliment.

Alas, however, I received a random email request one day from a brave author asking me to review his anthology: The New Death and others.

Now don’t get me wrong, I usually go out of my way to help my fellow scribes in whatever way I can. But this was a book of dark fantasy. I don’t read fantasy and had no feckin’ clue what would happen to regular fantasy with the adjective dark slapped in front of it.

I waffled and even rolled my eyes a bit at his line that this particular anthology had no “sparkly vampires” in it. Then I penned him a response letting him know that my reviews are honest, yet never cruel. If he could handle that, I’d be willing to review his anthology.

Thankfully, James Hutchings responded with enthusiasm and the okay.

Thankfully, I say, because I loved his delectable darkness, and was hooked by the very first story. And so I present to you, The New Death and others.

The New Death and othersDeath gets a roommate…

An electronic Pope faces a difficult theological
question…

A wicked vizier makes a terrible bargain…

44 stories. 19 poems. No sparkly vampires. There’s a thin line between genius and insanity, and James Hutchings has just crossed it – but from which direction?

Seriously, did you click? I’ll wait while you try again.

I think Mr. Hutchings’ book blurb gives you a peek into the kind of quirky mind he has. But if not, let me elaborate.

Every flash fiction and poetry piece within this anthology will make you think. They force readers to look at life in a very different manner than we traditionally perceive it. The writing is lyrical and quite magical in most places. It captures the imagination and delights the soul, even as the topic is death, humility and more death with sexual undertones.

It is visceral and ethereal. Modern day mythology of sorts. In some ways it reminded me of reading The Odyssey. The language is vivid and the adventures are both delightful and tragic, written as a song. A dark, fantastical song reminiscent of the old television series Tales from the Crypt.

Yet because each piece is so different, I can’t begin to provide an over view of the anthology. I can only provide a word of caution.

Reading this anthology is a bit like walking into a fun house at the fair.

There is no rhyme or reason to the placement of the rooms next door, and the hallways are filled with magical mirrors that distort reality for even the most sane of us. And yet, we feel compelled to seek out every nook and cranny. Some of them will bore you, or simply not impress. Yet the majority of them will send you on your way with a delightful shiver and a chuckle in your heart. With forty-four short stories and nineteen poems, I guarantee at least one piece will strike your fancy.

Kudos, James Hutchings, and thanks so much for letting me read The New Death and others. It was a genuine treat, and provided the opportunity for me to read outside my traditional genre zones!

Have you recently read a gem by an unknown author? If so, what have you done to help promote him/her? How have you supported your favorite authors in this economic crunch? Do you have an eclectic taste in literature or do you typically read within a tight genre range?

Curious minds want to know.

PS: beware of the cats the occasional misplaced comma. Mr.Hutchings’ writing style is unique and the felines plentiful.

Looking Forward One Step At A Time

In two days I get to go white-water rafting for the very first time. In five days Eldest turns eighteen. In nine days he moves into his dorm room and two weeks after that, I send my littles off to school.

It doesn’t matter what we have in front of us, as long as we have something to look forward to.

In life, it’s getting an education, securing a career, raising children and retiring comfortably. In writing, it’s writing a book, sending a query and getting published.

Yet, amid the myriad of dreams, goals and expectations we have for ourselves, things can get off track. I’m here to tell you that this is perfectly okay–as long as we keep something in front of us to motivate us. By our very nature, humans need emotional fulfillment. We need to accomplish things–large or small. We need to succeed.

But we often set humongous goals for ourselves and keep those so tightly focused in our minds that we forget all the baby steps along the way. We get so overwhelmed by this seemingly untouchable dream that we lose our spirit, our motivation and our passion. We let this unattainable goal press down on us to the point where it forces our failure rather than leads to our success.

Last week we vacationed with Dear Hubby’s family. All twenty-one aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were there. During the course of the week, Eldest must have heard 2001 pep talks about his upcoming college endeavor. One had a huge impact on him and he relayed it to me on our way to his orientation.

His uncle pointed out that college is like a trip to California. You know where you will ultimately end up, but you can’t focus on that. You can’t look at the map of California and expect to arrive safely from across the country. Instead, you have to concentrate on what is directly in front of you–what you can see in your headlight beams. Because if you’re only looking at pictures of the beach, you’re going to crash right into the deer standing in your way.

When you feel overwhelmed by your life path, what do you do to slow it down? How do you keep focused and keep moving forward?

Curious minds want to know.